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Hellsign (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Hellsign is an interesting concept, and one that hasn’t been done in quite this way very often: A paranormal investigator, using kit a paranormal investigator would, in a world where the supernatural threats are real, are dangerous, and are rising.

It is, then, perhaps a shame that the most common sentiment I hear when I’m having trouble in the game, right from the word go, is “Dip your toes into missions you can’t do yet, to get money to get better equipment.”

There is a phrase for that. Well, there’s a couple. Sometimes, it’s called Power-Levelling. When it’s throughout a game, however, it’s generally known as “Balance Problems.”

In the glare of a UV lamp, evidence is found. It's bullet holes... In a book.
The investigation aspect is interesting, using real world tools in a mostly sensible manner. Even if a book is not perhaps the best place to put this specific clue. 😛

Hellsign is, at the present time, a game where only a few of the builds on offer are truly viable without skilled play, even from the beginning. Pistols are openly a last resort, submachine guns require good handling to be useful, and the shotguns… Well, they’re videogame shotguns, alright. High damage, effective range of…A few feet. And currently, the best combat option I’ve seen in the game.

Dark Souls style Dodge Roll? Check. Shit Flashlight, upgraded to Marginally Less Shit Flashlight? Check. Fast, erratic ground based enemies that require specifically targeting the ground to fight as your earliest encounter? Check check checkedy check.

And this is a bit of a shame, as the investigation aspect is nice. Some tools are proximity based (EM Detector and EVP Recorder), some are more for seeing things that would normally be less obvious (UV Lamp, Thermal Imager), and all work in a predictable, solid manner that’s occasionally interfered with (Brief false positives or briefly not working, for example) that adds a tiny bit of challenge while adding to the mood, and fitting the narrative. There are even signs in some cases that the clue is there (Frosted breath for thermal, or quickly turning on the UV lamp to see if the blood spatter has a trail, for example.) It should be noted that some clues are outside the haunted houses you visit, so a perimeter check is advised. Very inconsiderate of those supernatural beasties bound to a location, counting the grounds!

Two large spiders rush an investigator. He has a pistol, and the aiming reticule is smaller than they are.
These little assholes will take away half my health by the time I’ve fixed my tiny reticule on them enough times to kill them.

From the word go, however, combat, and, more specifically, ambushes,are a common feature… And this is where it starts to fall apart a bit. As noted, the earliest enemies are fast, ground based, erratic, and… Oh, before I forget, arachnophobes can nope out right now,because yes, the most common early game enemy are cat-sized spiders in small groups, along with gigantic centipedes. Said beasties have an easily recognisable pattern (Attack, retreat, attack), but their speed, ability to glide under doors (despite their size), and the small combat reticule that, for ground based enemies, requires aiming mode, makes these encounters pretty deadly until you can afford some better armour and guns. It doesn’t help that these ambushes are generally from entering a room, and can spawn in even tiny rooms.

Enemy weaknesses exist, and entries on these can be purchased, but,in essence, most encounters follow this “Ambush, attack, retreat, repeat” pattern, taking advantage of poor light to up the encounter difficulty. Add in that larger creatures become bullet spongey, and that some are essentially immune to normal damage, and a lot of the difficulty comes down to “We don’t know what a thing does when we first meet it, and we have a crap light.” Narratively fitting, in a sense, but only the first few encounters are tense, after which…Well, it’s monster closets. Add in that dodging resets reloading (And anything with serious power behind it is slow to reload), and…Combat is a common aspect of the game, but also the weakest and most frustrating.

"Mate, I'm not gonna pull your dick for money" is not exactly a great dialogue option. In fact, it's kind of shit.
Content Warning: Dickheads.

Finally, we have… EDGY CHARACTER WRITING. Dialogue choices that make the main character seem like a homophobic prude. The main tutorial teacher liberally throwing the C-word around, bragging about having sex with twins, and generally being a loud shitheel. And, even in the intro, it turns out Hell wants to make you its bitch.

Hellsign is an interesting concept. But it has a long way to go before it becomes a workable interesting concept.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders why horror gets so obsessed with EDGE.

Posthuman: Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Second Update (2/8/18)

The post mutation landscape is one hell of a place, alright. A wide open world, filled with all sorts of folk. Death is pretty much certain, and if it isn’t from violence, it’s from losing all hope in a world where old Homo Sap has been replaced by Homo Instert-Here-As-Many-Times-As-Necessary.

The contour lines are a nice touch, visually speaking, and I like the clarity.

Welcome to Posthuman: Sanctuary, a not-quite adaptation of the survival board game of the same name. Although, at the present stage, the major shift from the board game, a story mode, is not available. Still, there’s survival mode, and, right now? That’s a fairly replayable doozy, with a few quibbles.

The overall idea is that you’re trying to get to three specific waypoints on the map, eventually reaching the fabled Sanctuary. However, to get there, not only do you have to unlock those waypoints by visiting certain tile types (Forests, Mountains, Rural Areas, and Cities) in a specific order before you get to them, you have to deal with hunger, morale, the loyalty of any fellow survivors you meet along the way, mutants… And the possibility you’ll mutate yourself (At which point you’ll no longer be welcome in this strictly human sanctuary.) Not having had the foresight to scan the surroundings yourself (and with Google Maps long gone), you don’t actually know much of what’s beyond your safezone, beyond the existence of the waypoints, and certain survivors.

Add in weather, the fact you take one action a day (out of Scouting, Moving, Foraging, and Camping), and it costs food per day, combat, and events, and… Well, good luck!

A fine example: Karl Marx murdered me just a turn or two after this picture. Turns out the Kommune are badasses.

Aesthetically, the game is currently fairly good visually, with a clear, comic like style, and musically alright, with tracks that aren’t intrusive, but fit their mood quite well. The UI’s pretty clear, although it must be said that it would be nice, certainly, to know how many survival points I have to my next character unlock.

It would also be a good time to point out that hitting the options at the start, minimalist as they currently are, would be a good idea due to the simple virtue of noticing that there are R Rated events, and turning them off if you don’t like that idea. They may well be on the level of “I slept with this person, and it felt good” , but I can understand that’s not for everyone, and the game has enough to deal with as it is. Funnily enough, post apocalyptic settings are not nice places to be, so I’ve dealt with lynch mobs, cannibals, mutant haters and human haters alike, and a bundle of other not nice folks.

Apart from that, and my other niggle that once you select an event, you can’t seem to unselect it (which has been rather trying when I misclicked) , the game, honestly, feels alright at the present stage. Combat is easy to understand, the board portion is easy to understand, and I haven’t felt dicked over any more than I would expect in a board game, in a post apocalyptic setting, where life is kinda rough. It’s nice to see a clear UI, and explanations of events easily accessible, the events are interesting, the world seems interesting, and I look forward to seeing more.

On the one hand, shades of grey, fairly nice. On the other, it’s basically Mutants/Humans right now, which… Well, that’s an approach that has its issues.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a bad survivor. An okay tyrant, sure… But a bad survivor.

Wayward Souls (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 8/8 Update.

Wayward Souls is, at the present time, a game with no in between. Not completely, as health is a bar, special abilities are ammo or inventory based, and, even with death, money is accrued which can be put into character abilities. No, I’m mainly talking, at the present time, about one of the core features of Wayward Souls: The enemies.

Swarmed by boars. Cause for concern? Well… Not really.

Enemies, in Wayward Souls, are either light speedbumps, or lethal terrors… And there’s no real in-between to the two. Bats? Well, they’ll hurt you if you’re inattentive, sure. But that’s usually because you’re worrying more about the five fellers throwing rocks and pickaxes, or the big crushy robots that only die when they charge into a wall twice. But pickaxe wielders are never really a problem on their own, despite their aiming. Rock fellers lose most of their threat once they switch to melee mode… Even within enemy types, there are states where the challenge swiftly moves from “Will most likely get hurt if I tangle with this (and I have to, because I’m locked in with it)” to “Will only catch me unawares if I’m literally asleep.”

The problem being that this feeling of the seemingly arbitrary bleeds over into other areas. Why are some areas of the mine, the first dungeon’s major locale, almost unreadably dark, while others are brightly lit enough that everything is clear? Unknown. Why do I feel absolutely nothing about spending a ramping amount on what may end up 16% crit chance (1,2,4,8,16), and may end up a measly, overexpensive 5% (1,2,3,4,5)? Well, the clue there is that both numbers aren’t exactly big, and spending money on an individual character is an investment you maybe want to feel something about (In the majority of cases, I don’t.) Why was switching healing at the end of the level with, er… Finding a healing fountain you can use once per level considered a change, rather than a restatement of “You only get one heal per level of the dungeon?” I don’t know. All I know is how I feel about them, and I don’t particularly feel great.

Sometimes, there will be ghosts. Who have somewhat interesting things to say.

Thing is, Wayward Souls has some good ideas hidden in the murk of this oddly arbitrary feeling balance. Splitting up dungeons is good. Having different stories for the different characters (some of whom are unlocked via progress), giving different perspectives… That’s good. Being able to pick your playstyle, to a certain extent, with characters… That’s good. And some of the enemy designs are, to be fair, very nice, the music is nice, and the sound works well… Heck, it even has the nice touch that your grave messages can be seen by friends (or people with the friend code), and you can leave gifts with those grave messages. That’s a genuinely nice touch…

…But, at the present time, the core of the game, the fighting of enemies, feels not so much like a gradation, slowly moving upwards, but a chaotic jumble of the easy and the rough, slapped together. I have more trouble with levels than I do the bosses, and even that isn’t a hard and fast rule, and that… That just feels wrong.

Maybe Wayward Souls will improve. But right now, the enemies feel oddly inconsistent, the early levels feel muddy, and the interesting ideas the game is presenting just aren’t saving it.

On the one hand, an amusing message from a bud is its own reward. On the other, the protection buff definitely didn’t hurt either.

The Mad Welshman reminds developers: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and always consider interesting ideas when you see them.

Scythe: Digital Edition (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Hotfix 0.56.

Right now, Scythe: Digital Edition is pretty much what it says on the tin: A digital adaptation of a strategy and resource management board game. Which, accurate as it is, doesn’t really explain why I’m conflicted about it. So let’s get into how “Does what it says on the tin” isn’t, in this case, entirely a compliment at the present time.

Scythe is, at its most basic level, a competitive game in which six russian styled factions rush to achieve supremacy by… Ah, wait, intricacy has reared its intriguing, yet sometimes ugly head already, because no, getting 6 objectives doesn’t win the game, it merely ends it. What matters is a combination of power, popularity, resources, and territory, with multipliers for high popularity and building things over the tunnels that honeycomb the hexagonal, rural arena in which the six factions battle. And, in a normal game where you aren’t shown the score count, that’s a combined battle you’re not really sure you’ll win unless you’re heavily keeping track.

Spot the Rusviet Workers (DISCLAIMER: Difficulty determined by colour blindness type)

So, on the upside, the option to keep track and see this (Score Preview) does exist. For hotseat and single player, anyway. On the downside, this information pretty much requires you hover over the tooltips to remind yourself of the less common symbols. The… Rather small symbols. And the sometimes small text. Which is something else to squint at, as well as Rusviet workers on some of the backgro-

Look, I’m basically saying, rather clumsily, that this game could have done with some accessibility options planned from the start. While there is an option to change the colour of the map, this only actually applies when you’re zoomed out, which, not gonna lie, isn’t a view I tend to use, especially considering that the pretty faithful recreation of the models, the unpainted plastic mechs and heroes in six flavours, and the wooden, blocky workers, is visually appealing when colour issues aren’t making the latter (Arguably more important units than your mechs and heroes) somewhat hard to distinguish.

The event cards are evocative, albeit uncommon features. And some factions, the villains, get to pick more than once here!

The game is currently hotseat, with the option of bots, and, despite its cool boardgame aesthetic, and music with Russian instruments, this… Isn’t serving it too well. It’s definitely a game you want to play with friends, with the uncertainty, the diplomacy, and the nervous planning. As it is, the uncertainty over whether getting that sixth star is the best idea right now only exists when you deliberately avoid the option to remove that veil, and the diplomacy… Well, this is one of the few times I’d say hotseat makes a strategy game, tabletop adaptation or otherwise, less exciting.

It has a cool world, alas, mostly seen in the rulesbook (an outside PDF link), and hinted at in the game. It’s got a good aesthetic. But, at the current time, it’s a good example of how sometimes, you need a human face or two attached to a game to make it what it is. It’s definitely worth a go, and it’s definitely a faithful adaptation of an interesting game… But it’s a faithful adaptation of a game whose interest comes from the dual uncertainty of hidden scores and potentially irrational actors.

The AI victors, who would not have *been* victors if I hadn’t picked on myself. Alas, I didn’t win, I didn’t win, and I would have won if I hadn’t attacked myself.

The Mad Welshman, being a moustache twirler, is a rational actor. Death rays are perfectly logical and sensible time and money expenditures.

To Hell With Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

To Hell With Hell, if it could maybe tone it down a little, would be a cool, good, and interesting twin-stick shooting roguesortamaybekindalike with a main character I’m still not sure about. As it is, it’s definitely got two of those, and is working on a third.

The masks in this game are, even at their worst, quite interesting. Fine example: The ninja mask has a stunning harpoon that pulls enemies toward you. GET OVER HERE!!!

The game’s plot, such as it is, involves Natasia, a scantily clad woman who, as it turns out, is one of the many children of a Duke of Hell, part of their backup plan if, for example, they were deposed by other minions of hell and held captive. At the present time, despite the comic book presentation, this really is “Such as it is”, a somewhat flimsy justification for a scantily clad woman to shoot demons. I’d say more, but the game’s really not giving me a lot to work with here beyond that. So… Swiftly moving on!

There is, thankfully, more meat aesthetically and gameplay wise, because this is… A game that touts its difficulty. Wait, don’t run away, it mainly does this with enemies being bullet spongy, the player not being bullet spongy, limited ammunition (encouraging you to switch weapons, or use melee… The latter’s not a great option, unfortunately), and limited saves on a run (6 saves on the basic difficulty, which comes to one save every 2 levels.) That this is the easiest difficulty perhaps sets the tone (slightly offputting, at the present time), and if it were just this? I would be much less kind, considering some of the enemies, such as the goat-headed explosion summoner, the large toad-thing that fires fans of bullets, and the fact that even the lowest tier of enemies takes between 3 to 5 shots to kill. Oh, and melee enemies and minibosses. Let’s not forget those.

As I said, thankfully, there’s more to it than this, because not only are there random skill ups on successfully completing a level (such as slower enemy bullets, more damage, a chance of health on killing an enemy, so on), the health can be boosted, and further abilities gained… With masks.

I can’t seem to face up to the facts… I’m tense and nervous, and I… Can’t relax…

Seemingly inspired by games like Wonderboy, Kid Chameleon, or Magician Lord, not only are there guns, health, and ammo pickups, there are masks, of which you can normally carry two, one or two appears per level, and each adds both health and special abilities, of varying use. Lose health, lose the masks, but while you’re carrying them, things like eating guns for ammo (eh), shotgun blasts (fair), shields (the SWAT mask), and fireballs (the cacodemon mask, a very nice area of effect) are yours to command, and you can switch between them.

Finally, add in that you automatically reload from your save when you die, allowing you to bully on through in some (but not all) cases, and… Well, it goes from highly frustrating to moderately so. Maybe it’s because a pair of goat-heads can really ruin your day from a surprising distance away that you have to cover while probably being shot at, and they don’t have to worry about line of sight. Maybe it’s because the starter pistol is, far and away, the worst option for dealing with enemies. Maybe it’s because, despite the fact melee deflects bullets, it’s a little slow. It’s nothing obvious in the design that’s putting me off, mechanically… But it is, at the moment, putting me off.

As noted, aesthetically, it’s fine. Enemies are clearly differentiated from the background, the levels have been brightened up from when I last looked at it, so it’s less muddy, and its pixel stylings definitely say “Hell” while working within the constraints of a twin-stick shooter. Musically, it’s that most devilish of music, hard guitars, and I am perfectly okay with this. But, right now, although it’s hard to define, To Hell With Hell essentially needs to work on its balance. Maybe that means having slightly beefier guns. Maybe that means having less tanky enemies for what is currently the lowest difficulty setting. It probably doesn’t mean making the masks more powerful, because that, funnily enough, is one of the parts that feels right.

YES. PLEASE.

But, overall, To Hell With Hell isn’t quite my cup of tea, being a little too devilish for my personal taste.

The Mad Welshman is well acquainted with Hell, one of the many underworlds and places of punishment he visits for entertainment purposes on a semi-regular basis.