MAIA (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.64

“Mr. Johnson, Aldis isn’t moving.”

“I say, not moving? Isn’t he perfectly fine with an 18 hour workday and sleeping on cold tile?”

“Er… I think he might be dead, Mr. Johnson.”

Well, that’s a crap work ethic!”

Pictured: A Crap Work Ethic

MAIA remains a Very British Game. What do we do when we have to concentrate on power, oxygen and food generation, and our colonists collapse? Why, we call down another one, every ten minutes, until the bally problem’s solved! Hurricanes? Oh, we’ll bunker down, we’ve done this before, and it’s not like we need all that oxygen right now. Or cooking. Or light. Twelve earthquakes in a row? Anybody dead or anything damaged? No? Well, carry on then.

It’s interesting just how dystopic it all is, from the improvements to the solar stills (Oh, we’ll just add this drug that helps keep colonists cool… Yes, it has nasty side effects if we use it too much, but naaaaah, that’d never happen!) to minor descriptions (The Body Storage, on mouse over, reveals that it is, in fact, the Snuff Box. Care for a pinch?)

But it works. There are, as you might expect from early access, still some bugs, and it’s a game that takes a while to get going, but nothing is insurmountable, and that’s nice. Yes, there will be things that seriously screw it up (If a megabeast decides your Geothermal Generator is the perfect place to scratch their back, well… Scratch one Generator), there will be obstacles, but everything has at least palliative solutions, if not always actual solutions. Air and heat, for example, are pretty quick to solve, and, even without beginning research, there are basic food solutions, you can meet your power needs (Especially if you happen to find some Geothermal vents near enough to build with), and your colonists…

Since animal-proof locks were considered surplus to budget requirements, yes, the native flora can and will invade your base. Thankfully, *nobody* is truly defenseless.

…Well, they can be helpful. You’ll quickly spot the middle manager types, because not only don’t they do much, they have this tendency of calling for meetings or wanting to suggest plans. Meanwhile, others will try to make the IMPs (Your friendly mining droids) sentient, work on improving heat insulation, offer to set your crops on fire to solve a crop infection… And some of this, among other offers they make, are legitimately helpful. They even write nice little haikus and strange ambient tunes, when they feel like it.

Despite a sometimes slow pace to the game, I legitimately enjoy MAIA. It’s got a clear aesthetic, and due to the fact that, barring something that wipes out all your colonists within a 10 minute window, you can come back from disasters, it’s also a fairly pleasant ride.

It is the far future. Space can be colonised, but nobody particularly wants to build a toilet. In spite of this, life has become good…

Welsh and villainous
I control your lives now
Dance gaily for me.

Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.

GRIP (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.2.6

Ahhh, GRIP. A spiritual successor to Rollcage with much promise, but it does seem to make the oddest mis-steps sometimes. Nonetheless, I will begin by saying that the GRIP team are slowly, but surely, pushing the game to better heights, and I highly respect the fact that they aren’t going to be taking the game out of Early Access until they’re sure it’s good enough. Even with critics like me pushing, and occasionally moaning and bitching.

Pleasure, thy name is a missile up the jacksie of the racer in front.

Needless to say, there is going to be some moaning and bitching. But less than there was, and in different areas. So let’s start off with what’s good, and what’s improved.

Aesthetically, apart from something I’m going to touch on a little later, GRIP is good. Gritty industrial elements counterpoint well with pretty vistas, blend well into the landscapes they’re built on (Except where it’s obvious they’re the paving over of said landscapes with ugly metal), and similarly, the soundtrack is pumping, industrial, and decidedly cool. The various GRIP vehicles stilll have character, despite the constraint that they have to be boxy, and their wheels big enough to fit the main motif of the game (They have high downforce, so it doesn’t matter which way up they are) , and that the steering becomes less responsive the faster you go, so slowing down is important is good. Similarly, the new weapons appear cool, and my previous complaints about the blue-shell nature of the Assassin missile appear to have been dealt with somewhat. The AI appears to be somewhat less vicious, and this, too, is good (I spent all of the last session on Hard, and felt like I was earning my podium place without feeling cheated on all of the tracks I was familiar with.)

Atoll is *very* lovely, as is the wont of a sandy beach…

So far, so good. Equally good, it’s still early days, and the devs do have a quick response to considered critique. Cool. Now for what is currently less good, or needs some work. Starting with the dramacam, and signposting. Essentially, a bit of colourblind support, or making signage and the path more clear, would be very helpful in the WIP tracks, as the game has now started putting in tracks with some devilish features, and more attention to the signposting thereof would be very helpful indeed. Features like uphill to downhill U-turns, and quite sharp ones too on Atoll, or the 90 degree turn with little warning and no rails on the fittingly named Acrophobia track. Combining with this was the drama cam, which, when I have a sharp impact, or I’m moving very slowly, decides not to focus on where I’m going, but… Well, this screenshot from Atoll is emblematic of the sort of thing I have to deal with, and I will also add the disclaimer that, most of the time, it works, and adds all sorts of dutch angles and funtimes that make the experience quite visceral, working well when I suddenly have to flip between track elements. Finally, the Primer is quite intrusive, and I find myself heavily disagreeing with the decision that either the game pauses, or heavily slows down (while still requiring control) every time it wants to take up the screen to tell me what to do… Especially as, if I’m not quick enough, it’ll do it again until I’ve done the arbitrary goal that, in 90% of the Primer, is “Use this basic weapon on somebody” if I’m not quick enough to do so.

…Alas, it is also one of the places where DramaCam hampered me more than pleasured me. Yes, I am aware the beach is pretty… But the way forward is IN FRONT OF ME.

Overall, though, GRIP definitely looks like it’s improving, the addition of multiplayer is nice (Still in testing, and the game, as with all WIP content, politely informs me is WIP both in menu and game, and, in the case of Multiplayer, embargoed until it’s more polished. Which is perfectly fine), and I feel a lot better about recommending this to future racing fans who still want some wheels.

Vroom vroom.

Hacktag (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hacktag is an odd beast, all told. And beast is quite apt here, as it’s a hacking/stealth arcade game set in a corporate world of anthropomorphic animals. Lions, does, panthers… It’s a cat eat deer world out there, and yet… It feels a little bit empty at the present stage.

For future notice, screenshots show usernames, so the black bars are to protect player identity, not actually part of the game.

That’s not to say that it is empty, but some decisions feel odd, considering 90% of the game right now is procedurally generated missions that can only be played multiplayer (in pairs, one stealth agent, one hacking agent.) Let’s start with how it is a co-operative game, but… Is scored competitively. Not gonna lie, this doesn’t entirely make sense for a whole bunch of reasons. The hacker, for example, is nearly always going to get, if you’ll pardon the pun, the lion’s share of the computer thievery done, and whoever gets started on a computer first, unless they get caught, pretty much has the points from hacking. But this conflicts with the fact that, to complete the mission, you do have to co-operate. And yes, this has an influence on your XP (+1 XP per 100 points scored)

Still, that need for co-operation is an interesting feature, and I honestly like it. Yes, a hacker could race past doors that the stealth agent can’t get through (because they need the hacker to unlock them), but the hacker is also barred by firewalls, and there are some doors that require both players to progress. Now, some of this is done with holding a button and waiting, and some via recognisable minigames such as “Hit the right arrows in sequence” and “Both players scroll through a code-list, match the codes.” These are mainly made tense by guards and online watchers, neither of which can be defended against, only avoided, distracted, or, in the case of the watchers, temporarily trapped in a single computer node by the stealth agent, and, should you be captured? You’ll be herded into a holding cell, and the other partner will have to get you out. If both players are captured, or you can’t get them out in time, then whups, run over!

The hacker’s view is at once more colourful, and, in a sense, more empty. They also move a *lot* quicker without having to worry about noise.

The emptiness, mainly, comes from a combination of sameyness, and the fact that there’s just the teensiest bit of bias toward the hacker (Beyond what we’ve already mentioned, there is, overall, more the hacker can deal with than the agent.) For all that different corporations are being raided, there will be the same sort of rhino guards, the same amorphous blob of the watchers, and, indeed, many of the same threats. The pre-mission conversations, optional as they are, also feel a little samey, with the brief following a formula, and the responses ranging from “professional” to “Extremely unprofessional.” As such, they feel somewhat superfluous. One feature I’m not so fond of is that rooms in the newer maps can randomly trigger alarms. Yes, I get that challenge has to be added, but I don’t really feel RNG is the way to go there, and I hope future releases replace this “feature” with something else. It is, if that’s not your thing and you still want to play the game, only on the newer maps as of the Sept 15th release.

Is this to say the game doesn’t have promise, or doesn’t work in and of itself? No, and no. What’s in the game works (The hacker cannot stop once they’ve taken a path, but this is explained, and merely requires more care), and the single player tutorial ran me through the concepts just fine, although I’ll freely admit I often forget I have a holographic distraction device (and mainly do alright without.) But right now, for all that there are unlockable bonuses (Such as being able to screw up certain minigames some of the time, or having less options to choose between on co-op minigames), and customisation options, it feels like the game needs to build its world, its character somewhat. If you have a co-op partner handy, you can quite happily complete a mission or two in an hour. If you don’t, well, alas, this game is currently multiplayer only, and I am uncertain if there will be any SP content beyond the tutorial. Either way, the game is currently only in the 0.1s, so there is plenty of time to see change.

There’s a lot of friendly highlighting going on, and I definitely respect this feature. Capture radii, timers, unhacked computers being white highlighted… This is definitely a positive feature.

The Mad Welshman is perfectly willing to give stealth co-op games like this their chance to shine. As noted, it’s early days yet, and I wish Piece of Cake well.