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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.

BallisticNG (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.94

Those who’ve been keeping track of my future racing endeavours may have noted that I’d had my eye on BallisticNG for quite some time, but, for one reason or another, I’d never actually gotten round to a review. So you can perhaps imagine my surprise when, after a break, I’d taken a look at this Wipeout fangame, and found… A lot of polish. The game’s come a long way from its early roots.

Yup, this is a fitting opening. The only way is indeed up… 😀

So, yes, BallisticNG is a future racing game heavily inspired by the earlier Wipeout games (1, 2097/XL, and 3) , and the usual rules apply: Several craft, each with their own quirks, pros, and cons (such as the Scorpio, which steers awfully, but goes like brown things flung from a stick), undertaking tournaments at various speed classes, with time trials, races (with and without weapons), survival mode (where you speed up regardless, and merely control steering), airbraking for harder turns, and a low poly aesthetic. To say this is extremely my jam on many levels is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic’s a bit damp” , and, funnily enough, this led to a lot of early criticism from me during the Early Access process, mostly to do with track design and time trial times.

Thankfully, that critique, and that of other folks, seems to have been taken on board, and the track design and difficulty curve is quite pleasant. A low pressure series of tutorials, the easier tracks in various modes… It handles pretty well. In fact, a nice touch I’ve not seen elsewhere is arranging tournaments, not by difficulty class overall, but by track groupings, so the introduction to each track is on the easier speed classes. The higher speed classes are as twitchy and nightmarish as you’d expect (Spectre and above requiring good track memorisation), and the lower speed classes feel fair, yet frisky. Good!

A beautiful place to live, ruined only by the noise of AG racers certain times of the year…

Aesthetically, the game is very much on point, with a variety of environments, craft, and tunes, all feeling good and looking fine. Add in some modding ability, with the power to import craft, create track layouts, and the like, and, honestly? There’s not a lot I can say that’s more than a niggle on the negative side, such as the base sound balance needing work.

BallisticNG, it seems, has finally achieved its potential. One set of updates before release. And that actually makes me somewhat happy.

Fly me to the moon, and let me raaaace among the space debri- ah, wait, doesn’t scan quite the same. The sentiment’s there, though!

I mean, if I wasn’t after some of the moaning I did, there’d be no pleasing me… Ehehe.

Dungeon Stars (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: First EA release.

Dungeon Stars is one of those games that mostly does what it says on the tin… But what it says on the tin is not really my thing. Because what it says on the tin is “Repetitive, simple game with some minor depth, but mostly pandering to the lizard brain with shiny things and bigger numbers.”

It’s important, with screenshots, to get across what the majority of an experience will be like. Well… This is a good screenshot.

You pick a hero, of one of three elements, and some classes. This element determines who they do more damage to, and who does more damage to them (Fire → Earth → Ice → Fire), and each hero starts with a basic attack (hammering the left key), a slam attack that gets rid of shields (hold the right key), a block for when something swings heavily at you (hold the left key), and a special ability (later becoming two special abilities and a Pet special ability, plus whatever the heck your equipped loot gives you.) You go through dungeon floors from left to right, only stopping to casually murder goblins, trolls, mages, and other assorted dungeon monsters, some of which are bosses. Beat a level, and a nice tune plays, you get some loot, and you maybe get to heal up. That’s… 95% of the game, right there.

And you know, some baffling strain on the GPU aside for its aesthetic, it does all of this perfectly well. It even drops special daily dungeons, one possibly for a pet, one for a hero, if you play long enough. The main problem, for me, is that this, apart from the possibility of seeing new gribbleys to whack by ruining my left arrow key, is… About it. There’s the same music loop, the same end tune, my current crop of heroes differs only in how they look and their special abilities, and…

Fire -> Earth -> Ice -> Fire. Simples!

…For all that it’s meant to pander to my lizard brain desire, I find myself dissatisfied. Maybe it’s the shop, random drops, 25000 coins (or one dungeon trip) to reshuffle the store. Maybe it’s that I don’t really feel that much in control, especially when dealing with mages (Who, due to the “Always runs right unless slamming, blocking, or blocked by an enemy” , often hit with their spells.) Maybe it’s that there’s no real sense of impact to the weaponry, only either quick kills (in the case of the mooks) or a bar whittling down. And I can’t really say those aren’t working as intended, because the design is clear enough that yes, this is basically what it is: A level by level damage race, running from left to right, occasionally getting items, a “secret” dungeon, or loot. It looks alright. Its aesthetic is consistent. But it just doesn’t really appeal to me.

I’m willing to forgive missing descriptions this early in the process. The not being able to see all items when you have more than 4, less so.

The Mad Welshman sometimes wonders. He wonders a lot of things, sometimes.