Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

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Desolate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£22.30 for game and soundtrack, £4.79 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It:
Steam

It’s always dangerous on the Island, and it’s important to know when to creep, when to crawl, when to duck, when to jump. People have nice words for all the things that happen on the Island, pretty words like “Gravitic anomaly”, “Anomalous Localised Weather Phenomenon”, and a whole bunch of others, most of which translate to “Watch out for this, it can kill the unwary.” The traders are Uncles and Aunts, familial names for the vultures who claim to watch out for you while taking the lion’s share of your spoils, and eager scientists want to add to their store of pretty words… But not at their own risk. No, that’s for the Volunteers.

If there’s anything Victor Ognin’s gonna pay for, it’s this. Damn him.

If this is all sounding a bit like the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, then you’ve correctly noticed this is a heavy inspiration for Desolate. Although STALKER would be a closer comparison, considering that the disaster on this island, the strangeness… Is at least partly the fault of scientists being over-eager about Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot. Specifically a man called Victor Ognin. So, a scientist to hunt, strange abominations, bandits and madmen, anomalies… All the while worrying about the strange effects of the Island, keeping yourself alive.

It’s such a shame then, that it feels more hollow than its inspirations. There have been moments, it’s true: A camp, surrounded by Zapper anomalies (electrical anomalies, that, like most anomalies except the “Black Hole”, hurt, but, like all anomalies, can mostly be seen just fine, especially during the day) made for a tense few moments (Although throwing rocks wasn’t really needed), and some of the enemies (From the not-dog Dorg to the whatever-the-hell-vaguely-quadruped Sapsy) are visually and aurally well designed (Others, such as the Wanogah, just made me sigh gustily. Really? Naked vomitting teleporting zombie lady with an oxygen reducing cloud of flies? Bit cliché, wot?) Sometimes they fight among themselves, which is interesting, although sometimes comical (A Dorg, for example, failing to catch a fleeing Gorlan (Some kind of prey/food animal that got changed by whatever the Event is of this world)

He’s permanently angry. Although, to be fair, nearly everyone seems to be.

But this is a Zone that, moments aside, doesn’t really feel that alive. Nor does it feel that desolate, as you can’t go twenty or thirty feet without running into a Dorg or some other beast, immediately crouch or run away, and… Well, back to scavenging. But, for all the subtle worldbuilding (Here be a bunch of zealots holed up in a church. Here be the Basecamp of Uncle Misha, from where you’ll be spending a lot of your time foraging and questing. Here be the spooky ghost who may have a big role in the plot, but mostly pops up to give you jumpscares), it’s lacking… Something. Maybe it’s that the enemies have very predictable AI, or are relatively easy to hide from (or run from) in the early game. Maybe it’s that there’s not a whole lot of conversation going on, beyond plot requests and the occasional bit of dialogue (most trading, for example, is simply “Hit E. Start trading.”) But quests don’t seem to have that same spice, being mostly of the “find X things to fix Y thing” or “Go to X potentially interesting place to kill Y thing” variety.

I will indeed find the dome once the moon co- oh, no moon? Well, when morning comes.

When night comes, it’s black as pitch, and, while your flashlight never runs out of battery (Oh, thank the heavens for this!), it nonetheless… Ends up detracting from what is actually some interesting scenery. The radar domes, the inexplicable pod of beached whales, and other such sights just kinda vanish (Not literally, I mean they’re so much harder to see and appreciate), without, due to the aforementioned “Relatively easy to hide/run from” thing, upping the tension significantly. The game, meanwhile, runs on a single save system with options for “Open” play (Haven’t tried it, not a social Volunteer, thanks) or solo, and death… Well, death is mostly an annoyance, because it means you have ten minutes to reach all that equipment you gathered (Be it in a dangerous area or no), or… Well, it’s back to trying to regain some semblance of the equipment you lost, perhaps a bigger frustration.

Maybe it’s something that will grow on me. Maybe, somewhere over the next hill, I won’t feel like trudging halfway across the island to kill another hellbeast or investigate an anomaly for masters ignorant (deliberately or otherwise) of the danger is more than “Just another day.” Maybe that’s the point, and I’m missing it. But DESOLATE, unfortunately, doesn’t scratch my itch. Next time, Stalker, next time!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. The Island kinda speaks for itself, one way or the other.

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Subnautica: Below-Zero (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, sunny Subnautica, where the equatorial ice shi- wait, what? Equatorial region… iced?

Yes, folks, welcome to Subnautica: Below Zero, sequel to Subnautica where it appears either the world is stranger than first appears, or the crash of the Aurora was a major boo-boo that affected the climate drastically. It’s still a beautiful world, but now… It’s a beautiful, cold world, eyeball penguins and everything. And, like me, the player avatar is very excited to be there, being a xenolinguist who finally has a job.

“If you find useful tech, we’ll pay you less than it’s worth, and buy out your rights. If you find cultural items, we’ll just take ’em. Alterra, BECAUSE WE CARE [More about what you reap than you]”

Unfortunately for her, the Alterra Corporation is still a dystopian futurist hellscape, the alien artefact shenanigans are due for a repeat, but, like me, Robin Goodall loves the heck out of the world of Subnautica, even in the deepest of Arctic winters. Even when it really seems like she’s going to have a terrible time.

Right, quick refresher: Subnautica was a first-person survival adventure set on an oceanic world, where things started a little annoying (Grab X Lea- where the heck do I get lead? Oh, near the HELLBEAST. Great), but was able to shift its focus very quickly toward a more exploration based playstyle, with a moderately strong narrative about the sole survivor of a star cruiser being shot down, and their encounters with the lost technology (some of it very self-destructive) left behind by a now seemingly extinct alien species. There was a lot of swimming, submarining, and, while your goal was to leave the planet, many, myself included, felt the world was too pretty to really leave. Below Zero is, effectively, more of the same.

Since the MYSTERY starts earlier, I can post the obligatory MYSTERY screenshot now, yay!

There isn’t a whole lot of story in the game as of yet, but what Below Zero currently has going for it is that the main conflicts are established within the first couple of hours: An unfriendly remnant of the alien race that (indirectly) caused all the trouble in the previous game, the Alterra corporation (Who would want to exploit the alien tech that… Caused all the trouble in the previous game), and, of course, the world being colder, and somewhat different to the world we knew. Oh, still mostly oceanic, still beautiful as hell… But, for example, gigantic mantis shrimp are now a problem you didn’t have before, and the bubbling filter plants of the previous game have given way to other filter plants, that give a burst of oxygen, then deflate for a while. Cold hasn’t yet been implemented, but if the heating pads or strange, radiator like eyeball flowers (Which burn you if you stand too close to them) are any indication, it probably will be.

Subnautica’s world remains beautiful, and feels alive as heck. Example: This little Pengling is catching fish. Like a Penguin would. D’AWWWWW!

And there’s two parts to why I’m fine with this. In Subnautica, Unknown Worlds proved their mettle in making demand meters that add some challenge, without overriding their core exploration and narrative focus, and they appear to be bringing those same lessons to Below Zero. Good. Secondly, Robin Goodall is a bubbly, lightly snarky character who refuses to let her situation (Boring, then very suddenly rather dangerous) get her down. Just like me, she loves the world, and wants to explore it, wanting to know what’s going on, and demonstrating a fairly strong moral compass early on.

It is, as before with Subnautica, a relatively promising start.

The Mad Welshman, never having left Subnautica in the previous installment, is presumably to be found somewhere out here. Either as a popsicle, or drinking coffee and smiling at penglings playing from his vast underwater base.

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Project Warlock (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.

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DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

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