Hot Lava! (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Saying the words “First Person Platforming” is, in the majority of cases, a phrase to make one shudder. It’s rarely replied to politely, and, while there have been good games with first person platforming and movement elements, they’re rare enough that, for the most part, they don’t go down well.

Not pictured: The fifteen other attempts to get the sub 5 minute star, the buckets of sweat dumped over me, the grunts of EFFORT and the Body English. Also that this is a still of the middle of a series of jumps that take about a second, maybe a second and a half.

So it’s perhaps a good start for me to say that the most shudderworthy part of Hot Lava, a game that entirely revolves around first person platforming, was its attempt at a Saturday Morning Cartoon theme, and the lampshady humour about SatAm writing. Also the really thin poles, but we’ll get to those.

From what I can tell, the story of the game, such as it is, is that you’re a child with a highly active imagination (Who, as in my childhood, seems to be going through an “Imaginary self” phase), who is playing “The Floor Is Lava” , that game where the whole point isn’t to touch the carpet or flooring, because if you do… If you doooo… You’re sooooo dead. Because the floor is lava!

Now add in a score mechanic, collectibles, fake loot boxes bought with in-game currency, character customisation of your Action-Man jointed avatars, time-trial leaderboards, a pogo stick for some challenges, and a whole host of tricks and traps that could conceivably be how a child would imagine the danker and hidden parts of the school (like the ventilation being filled with deadly fans and crusher traps), and you have Hot Lava in its present, Early Access state.

Guess who gets the Boy Aquaman(TM) Short End of the Stick? #GiveSueNamiAChanceHackWriters

Aesthetically and accessiblity wise, insofar as a game about, basically, speedrunning a first person platforming level is pretty good. I never outright failed to notice something I could (in theory) jump to, there’s a checkpoint marker that is, unfortunately, not often all that useful, but it is there, and clear to boot, I had no problems with menu options or colourblindness issues, and things that can be swung from or grappled are highlighted well. The controls are, at their basic level, pretty simple: Tap space to jump, WASD to move, you control your jump mainly by mouse direction, rather than strafing, and you automatically grab anything that you can grab and have successfully reached.

Of course, for the “Pros” (ARGH) , there are tricks like perfect jump timing, a variation on Quake Bunny Hopping (If you jump, and both strafe and turn in a direction, then jump with the right rhythm, alternating directions, your momentum increases. A lot), and other such shenanigans. Oh, and a hidden comic and golden pin somewhere in the level, further cementing that one of the inspirations here (Beyond the child-to-tween-hood of a 30-40 something) is the Tony Hawks series. Or maybe Dave Mirra Pro BMX…

Scratch that, I have very unfond memories of playing the latter. In any case, the game, overall, feels alright, and you quickly get into the rhythm, except for the times you’re lost (The game relies on replay, so that’s less of a sin than you’d think), the times the way forward is awkward (Such as in the Ventilation Tunnels Of Crushing and Fanblades) , and… Thin rods that you have to jump on. The first person equivalent of “Pixel perfect platforming”, I despise them so, and am grateful that their somewhat easier to deal with cousin, Thin Rods You Can Jump On And Run Across, don’t have a tightrope or grind balance mechanic to – that is not a suggestion, Klei Entertainment… koff… Just to clarify.

Unlike either 80s playsets or loot boxes, the playsets of Hot Lava don’t ask for your blood, soul, money, or grandparents. All you need is to play. Plaaaaay. Plaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!

As much as it feels odd to say this, Hot Lava… Looks promising. And this, funnily enough, is why I didn’t delay this review until the second area (Billed for about a week after the review hits) arrived… Because, even at this early stage, it’s oddly fun. With the exception of the SatAm theme… Sorry, folks, I know some SatAm themes were abominable, but that’s no excuse, dammit!

The Mad Welshman, overall, recommends this. The lava has told him it will eat all his favourite socks if he doesn’t. Joke’s on the lava, he likes the game anyway, and never mastered the art of wearing matching pairs.

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OVERLOAD (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Normally, I try to avoid making references to other games in reviews, not least because it can introduce expectations that shouldn’t be there (see the Moonlighter review from earlier today), but, in the case of Overload, Revival’s 6 Degrees of Freedom shooter… It’s Descent.

“M’lud, if I could draw your attention to Exhibit A…”

For anyone young enough to not know why this is a big deal, Descent’s big selling point was the aforementioned 6 Degrees of Freedom. Want to float upwards and downwards, strafe sideways (that’s 2) , but also rotate in all three axes and move forwards and backwards in a science-fiction setting of robots gone wrong, and your mission to rescue the victims of what would eventually turn out to be both an alien invasion and Evil Corporation Shenanigans? Descent, and its two sequels had you covered, refining the formula.

Overload, funnily enough, refines it further. Although this is less surprising when you consider that the two Revival founders, Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, three of the original trilogy’s musicians, Dan Wentz, Allister Brimble, and Jerry Berlongieri, and more have been involved heavily in the development. They’ve had time to think about this. So… What’s the result like?

Undeniably fun and tense, is the very short answer. Last time I looked at it, I mentioned that the refinements to the formula are, for the most part, more to do with level design and quality of life than, for example, major rejiggings. Multiple difficulty modes, with the nice touch that challenge leaderboards are separated by their difficulty. Looking at the map pauses, and, considering the general gameplay loop, this is a godsend, and, while the maps are indeed mazelike, I never found myself truly, hopelessly lost like I did in the original games. Although, equally to its credit, I’ve felt ambushed, claustrophobic, and tense, aided by the often casually oppressive sounding music, the almost-screams and growls of the Automatic Operators. Logs being short and sweet, upgrades, secrets… It’s an interesting mix of the more traditional and the modern, and it works.

Particle effects can, on the one hand, obscure what’s going on. On the *other* , it makes this Auto-Op about four or five times scarier, even after it’s dead.

Good example: This is a game that has monster closets, in the traditional sense of the phrase (Secret places that open on triggers, usually once you’ve done something, to reveal… SURPRISE ENEMIES, HAHAHAHAHA) , and… I don’t mind. You know you’ve done monster closets right when they feel natural… And, just as nice, they have an actual, narrative reason to be there. I won’t spoil it, but the overall idea is that a set of colonies around Saturn have gone dark, and, carried in your slower than light craft, you have to work out why robots have gone bad, why colonists have been reassigned, and why the hell the company’s founder, Gabriel Kantor, seems so certain he can burn his bridges and unleash death and destruction for a set of colonies that are nowhere near self-sufficience. It’s similar enough to the plot of the original Descent (hell, it even has references to the Evil Corporation of the original games, the Post Terran Mining Corporation), but the differences, and the explorations therein, short as they have to be due to constraints, pleases me.

In short, this is not only an excellent addition to the 6 Degrees of Freedom Shooter subgenre, it’s also an excellent Descent game, and well worth a look. Oh, and there’s a free level editor too.

The mood in these tunnels can be described with phrases like “Somewhat tense”, segueing quickly into “AHH DIE DIE DIE PLEASE DIE”

Yes, The Mad Welshman freely admits the possibility of rose-tinted goggles. He also admits the possibility that it’s just fun as hell to blow up robots in space.

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City of Brass (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£19.48 w/soundtrack, Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

City of Brass, it’s safe to say, had charmed me pretty much from the first. It had some issues, which have mostly been resolved by the developers, and now, just a couple of short months from the last time I looked at it, it’s jumped from 0.5 to 1.0, full release.

And I’m happy to say that honestly, it doesn’t feel premature. In fact, it feels pretty good.

About as good, in fact, as the feeling of shoving this zombie into that spike trap.

City of Brass is a first-person, procedurally generated game in which our un-named protagonist has found the mythical City of Brass, a city cursed with immortal life by, as you might have guessed by the Middle Eastern aesthetic of the world, a group of asshole Djinni. With a talisman that grants you three wishes, a whip, and a sword, it’s up to you to enter the city, loot as much as possible, and hopefully beat the final boss and escape. It’s a game that uses smallish variations in its simplicity to add flavour and depth, and it feels good.

Let’s take the whip as an example. The whip, by itself, is a versatile tool. It lets you swing from certain places, grab loot and throwables from a distance, trigger most kinds of trap, you can pull enemies toward you with it, whip their projectiles back at them, or, depending on where you hit them, stun them, disarm them, or trip them.

And then, with a bit of money, and luck of the draw, you can give it a heck of a long reach. Or it can freeze enemies. Or it really stuns them. Clever stuff, and, if you want other examples, you can read the earlier reviews. But what’s new in the release version?

Enemies with shields remain something to be wary of. Which is still perfectly fine, gotta keep you on your toes!

Well, part of it is balancing. As an example, before, city guards were perhaps my earliest killers, because they weren’t stunned very long by attacks. Now, they stun longer when you whack them with a sword, so they’re less of a threat, and the early game is friendlier as a result. There’s also a new blessing that, on the one hand, removes your leaderboard score for the games you use it on, like all blessings (Meant to give you an easier time), but it totally removes the timer, letting you explore levels at your leisure. Nice!

But another part of it is Twitch Integration, allowing those of you who stream the game to add some interactivity and spice. While a niche feature, I can confirm from experience that this gets chaotic as hell, and, since planning around chaos is a core part of the game, I loved the heck out of it. To stroll through the first levels, only to be greeted by enemy cries in an empty room, for example, unnerved the heck out of me, which put my guard down a little later on, when my chat decided… To hit me with an entire group of enemies. Ouch. Also, nice work.

YOU DON’T FOOL ME, AND I HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE URN! WE’LL GO TOGETHER IF YOU VWIP AWAY, I SWEAR!

The Gatekeepers remain a fairly variable bunch, although they do seem somewhat more manageable overall, but, essentially, what I’ve said previously with City of Brass still stands: It comes highly recommended, a clever use of a limited toolset that makes me feel good when a plan comes together, with an interesting world, solid aesthetics, and clear, intuitive play.

Look away from the sceeeeene, I can take you anywhere! Spend a vision with me, a chaaaase with the wiiiiiind! (Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” remains an awesome accompaniment to this game.)

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Angels Fall First (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.37 (No, really. Soundtrack £4)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update 18

Flying through space in a giant brick with guns, with fighters swarming around me is, perhaps, one of the more powerful moments I have. Yes, the giant space brick (A Heimdall Lineship) steers like a cow, and it’s somewhat hard to see exactly what I’m aiming at, but that’s not really mattering too much, because all of my guns are firing, enemy ships are dying, and, in my own small, confused way, I’m contributing to the capture of the Ixion space station.

On the one hand, this thing steers like a brick with strings. On the other, goodness me, it makes things explode!

This is just one moment of Angels Fall First’s gameplay… In a 64 player botmatch. Well, 63, minus me. And it feels good.

A quick catch-up: Angels Fall First is a science fiction multiplayer team shooter, along the lines of a Battlefront, Battlefield, or COD, with space and ground based missions, a bewildering variety of builds, weapons, and vehicles, and locales, that essentially boil down to either taking an objective, destroying an objective, or defending an objective, supporting both multiplayer and solo, bot driven play.

Aesthetic wise, it looks good. Chaotic, but good. Everything has a chunky style that gives at least some idea of what people are using (I can tell, for example, a sniper by the long barrel as they run, or a heavy by the fact that their armour is bigger and chunkier), and the music is properly pounding and theatrical, changing as the battle comes to triumph… or disaster. Elements of the UI are somewhat confusing (The radar in the lower left, for example), and, sadly, the game’s loadout function isn’t as helpful or informative as it maybe could be, but being able to save your own custom loadouts for later use, working them out in botplay, then using them in multiplayer does help somewhat.

Yup, that sure is a thing I’m seeing… an LAV and a Mech fighting side by side, while infantry like me scream and hide.

So, it looks pretty good. It feels pretty good. It’s got its flaws, mostly to do with informing the player what their loadout does and what it’s good for. How’s the AI play?

Well, the AI is very objective focused. What this means in practical terms is that, on the one hand, defending in Incursion mode (where the attacking party has dropships that can be destroyed, but the defending party can’t regain any objectives they lose) is a tough proposition… But on the other hand, the AI is so mission focused that a player can, if they survive long enough to get to the dropships, do some serious, unregenerated damage, perhaps destroying a dropship in a single life. That’s highly chancy early on, when the enemy is pretty much streaming from a single LZ (so your chances of getting to the dropships are low), but once I got to the dropships… Well, the ship defends itself, but the AI infantry tended to only take potshots before heading off to their designated objective from the dropship. So that needs a little bit of work.

I don’t mind this *so* much… After all, I still feel like a badass for doing it. I just probably wouldn’t be able to against human players. XP

Still, for a small team, this is a big game, with customisation options out the wazoo, a variety of weaponry (and the weight of your loadout does matter), and a bunch of ships and maps. Even in Early Access, even with things it needs to iron out, this gets a thumbs up from one of the more multiplayer averse reviewers out there.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t really favoured multiplayer since Bad Company 2. That should give some idea…

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AMID EVIL (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update #3

AMID EVIL (an anagram of a lot of things, but MEDIEVAL seems the best fit) is, much like DUSK, a love letter to 90s shooters, taking inspiration from Quake, Heretic and Hexen, and Rune. It does all of these things well, with one, glaring exception. Which itself is somewhat 90s.

Super dark areas are also, to be fair, somewhat 90s.

Specifically, the menu is a godawfully unreadable eyesore, and the ammo UI has hard to read elements. If both could be made clearer, then AMID EVIL would gain the coveted (ha) “Does What It Says On The Tin.” As is, however, it does enough well that the UI is, accurately, that glaring exception.

Storywise, it’s there, and there’s not really all that much to say about it. Like the games it’s inspired by, the story is a framing device, a Raison de l’assassinat more than anything else. Ancient evil, exiled sorcerer/warrior, a multidimensional horde of death and blood, just waiting to be gibbed.

I’ll give the AMID EVIL team this: The gibbing is pretty good, and comes in many dramatically named flavours. Starting with the Axe of the Black Labyrinth, and moving, weapon by weapon, to the Star of Torment (a flechette firing mace with wall pinning abilities) and the Aeternum (the BFG of the game, a super slow, but deadly multi-dimensional murder machine), each has their own quirks, and their own changes when you’ve killed enough enemies, and collected enough soul, to unlock a surge of SOUL POWER, aka “The weapons get nastier for a while, so long as you keep killing.” Currently, my favourite is the Star of Torment, as… Well, it does a fair amount of damage, is easy enough to aim, and… Wall pinning, geez!

Soul Power makes even the pistol analogues of the game seem godlike. Which makes me sad that it requires a lot to wield it well.

Alas, the soul power is my other niggle, purely a personal dislike, about AMID EVIL. I can understand, somewhat, how it’s meant to be a force multiplier for the skillful, and an ass saver otherwise. But once that meter’s full, the next time you hit the fire button, regardless of whether you want it, it unleashes. It won’t unleash while you’re firing, a recent improvement I like, but it’s still a cool thing I don’t really get to enjoy as much of because I don’t have as much control over its use as I’d like.

Beyond that, and the aforementioned UI though, the game plays to its aesthetic well, making good use of its low poly worlds, with mostly clear level design, 3 worlds out of the seven planned already in the game, an endless wave mode, accessibility options, and, of course, the old school “Type the word in” cheats. If Indefatigable and the New Blood team could improve that UI, make it more readable while keeping the ‘tude, I would have very little to complain about with its fast paced, retro inspired action. Even as it is, AMID EVIL is a bit of alright, a fairly good first person shooter taking the speed and aesthetic of predecessors.

Nothing like a boss in silent, pre-death repose to close up a review. Beautiful.

The Mad Welshman knows what it’s like to be keeper of ancient weaponry, wielding the Quiet Blade of Holistic Criticism.

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