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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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