Subnautica (Early Access Review 3)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Played: Eye Candy Update (Dec 2017)

Subnautica, it seems, has come a long way. From just puttering around, building what the heck you want, to an involved story of survivors distinctly unprepared for the unlikely circumstances they found themselves in, trapped on a watery world with a deadly mystery, and, more specifically, of you, the sole definitely surviving survivor.

Echoes of Lost In Space here… We wanted to rescue these folks, but… Well…

Oh, it’s come a long way indeed, and, at the present time? Things are largely in the cleanup phase, with prettifications and bug fixes abound in the “Eye Candy” update. But it’s been a few updates since I last covered the game, so let’s get into the meat of it. Last time, I asked if you really want to leave this un-named blue planet, with its intriguing mysteries, fascinating, and sometimes deadly life forms, extinct aliens, and, of course, your crashed starship, which is likely going to kill large swathes of that aforementioned life if you don’t fix the reactor anytime soon.

Now? Well, very early on, you get some signs that… Perhaps not all is well. I don’t particularly want to spoil things for you, because this game comes highly recommended in the survival genre for an interesting, balanced, and well realised watery world (Itself uncommon), but… Leaving is definitely not an option until you clean up, both after yourself and the ancient, possibly extinct aliens that didn’t exactly do great things themselves.

The game is, for the most part, pretty accessible, with story being largely a choice at the present time, and you can, if you wish, just tootle around the planet, exploring without having to worry about mean ol’ food, or even, at the cost of story, oxygen. Conversely, you can ironman the game, with one life, and no oxygen warnings from your friendly computer. Survival, the default, however… Really isn’t bad. Oxygen limits exploration somewhat, but as you get further in the game, more options exist, such as mech suits, minisubs, the big Cyclops mobile base/submarine. Each survival pod you explore, each base now has little bits of voiced story, to give you more detail, and, in a couple of cases, some mild bemusement at how the heck you managed to survive when your compatriots have done things like wave thermite flares around fuel tanks, or overclock their Seaglides (No, really, both of these things happen, and the results apparently weren’t pretty.)

“Bo-Chu-Da?”
“Er, we’re here to… Turn off the generator?”
“Five a dozen, ho ho ho!”
“…How rude!”

As you might have guessed, things are close to release. And, judging by the things I’ve done, the drama I’ve encountered, and the beautiful sights along the way, I have little doubt I’ll be saying much the same thing I have during the Early Access period for Subnautica…

…If you want a survival game with an underwater twist, that’s not terribly twitchy, has an intriguing world, some beautiful sights to see and treats for your ears… Subnautica remains a good pick. I look forward to finishing up the story, and, honestly? I’ll be a little sad when I leave this blue planet. It’s been so good to me, apart from the Reaper Leviathan.

Actually, can I elect to shoot the Reaper into space and live here? That would be just dreamy. Aaah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, crashing from high orbit hasn’t done the Aurora any favours.

The Mad Welshman would like to note that Subnautica comes out of Early Access next month. So we’ll be back to this watery world very soon. Very soon.

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City of Brass (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.2a

The City of Brass is many things. A cautionary tale about wishing for everlasting life. Proof that yes, whips remain awesome, and should be in games more. It’s also a game of twitchy planning. Yes, you heard that correctly: It’s a game that rewards very quickly coming up with ideas, and very quickly executing them.

As such, it’s a tadge tough, and your first hour with it is likely to be one of frustration. But when a plan comes together? Ohhh, yes. That’s a good feeling.

Okay, Guardian 1 tripped? Check. Flaming lantern nearby ready to chuck at both of them? CHECK.

Picture it: A big, open area. Traps, explosive vase, flaming lanterns, and, of course, a variety of enemies litter the area. Each enemy has different weaknesses and strengths, but nearly all of them will die to the humble trap. Then again, the traps also damage you, and, in the case of the spiked pitfall trap, outright kill you if you fall in. Here, a few Cursed Souls, armless, with head cages that prevent you stunning them with their whip. There, a passel of Guardians, more healthy than both the Cursed Soul and the Undead Merchants, but, until they get shields, you have a lot of options.

Okay, here, whip that explosive vase into my hand. Throw it at the Guardians. Whip the Cursed Souls into some spike traps, or trip them, and hit them twice each with the sword. Set the Merchant(s) on fire, and… Wow, yeah, that worked. That felt nice!

Conversely: Engage in a circle strafe sword fight with the Guardians, and… AGH, that Cursed Soul stunned me, a Guardian hit me, run away, pick my options, and… Wait, how did I forget that pitfall, AAAAAAAGH, start again!

Whoops.

The alpha nature of the game, to this point, is mainly showing in the balance. Health is very hard to come by, and item options are slim on the ground. Does that make it bad at the present time? Not really. Your whip has some possible options, but remains a whip, and it’s extremely useful. Your kick never changes, and is situationally useful. Your sword is not for button mashing, because it’s slow to swing, but since not a whole bunch of enemies (Mostly Gatekeepers, the bosses) take more than 3 swings that connect to kill, it still works, and its options can completely change combat style (from a cudgel that does only heavy knockback, not damage, lighter and heavier swords that trade damage and speed, and my current favourite, the torch. Set enemies on fire for damage over time? Yes please!)

It’s also, at the present time, an undeniably pretty game. The city’s gold glitters nicely, from the treasures to the spires, the environments fit well, the visual design of the enemies says a fair bit about them, and nearly everything’s clear enough that you’re only going to miss things while distracted. Which, considering that’s the whole point of traps? Fair. Musically, it works, and the screeches and groans of the enemies give them a little bit of extra character that I like.

I forgot to mention this, but see that ring up there? You can whip-leap from that. Errol Flynn’s ghost is crying tears of joy.

As such, while City of Brass is still in early alpha, it is a promising start, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

The Mad Welshman would like to add that playing this game while listening to Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” is pretty cool.

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ESSENCE (Early Access Review Fin)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15
Where To Get It: Steam

ESSENCE, by OneVision Games, is big. ESSENCE is sprawling. ESSENCE is mysteeeeerious. If these were the main qualities a videogame could be judged by, then yes, ESSENCE could be considered good.

One of the prettier areas, lighting and foliage wise, in the game. It has a single exit somewhere. That exit is the entire point of this area.

However, they are not. ESSENCE feels directionless. ESSENCE is very low on interaction. ESSENCE’s world is one where I find myself saying not “Gee, what a grand civilisation I wandered into the post-downfall of”, but things like “Gee, they sure did build some massive and largely pointless seeming architecture without consideration for living space” or “Gee, I sure do hope this large gateway leads me to the next McGuffinyBob that I’m looking for out of X McGuffinyBobs to progress… Wait, no, it’s a wall of some kind, invisible or not. Bugger.”

Even at the times I’ve found the mysterious, diamond shaped McGuffinyBobs, or their buckyball like containers, or their lighted buckyball guides, I find myself saying things like “Gee, how will I be bruteforcing this movement puzzle?”

ESSENCE is a game that disappoints me. But it took a while to disappoint me, because the scale, combined with slow movement speed (I often found myself holding shift and jumping, just to get somewhere faster) is at first misleading. But no, I find myself looking at that “3 hours of play” and thinking not only “Well, if I had a chance at a refund, I’d have no chance now”, but “Wow, that felt a lot longer.”

Oooh, this is big and MYSTERIOUS! Shame it’s not the exit. The exit’s to the right, and some jumping is required to reach it because it’s not a clear pathway like the rest of the area.

Now, don’t get me wrong, visually, these vast, pointless megastructures are pretty. The lighting is pretty good, and I like how it subtly changes (and sometimes not so subtly.) The ambient soundtrack is indeed ambient, chill, yet with segments that make me think “Gosh, I feel alone.” But, after a certain point, very early on… That’s all it seems to have going for it. In Genosa, the second (I want to say second) hub world, I found myself transported via the aforementioned Necessary McGuffinyBobs of Arbitrary Door/Obstacle Opening (Which is, with the lack of worldbuilding, basically what they are in mechanical terms) to a lush meadow, crisscrossed with vaulting arches, and there were lamp-posts. Getting close to one arbitrarily made a noise, and I remembered back to the first hub-world, where, in a vast, starry seeming glitter-desert of obsidian, I got close to some gusty gate of some sort, and it arbitrarily made a noise. “Ah,” my brain thought to itself “This will prove to be where I’m meant to follow these lamp-posts toward an eventual gate of some sort, but one or the other will be obscured and, due to the open area being a square of some description, I will, eventually, find the gate with or without the lamp-posts, go through it, and I will have solved the puzzle!”

Lo and behold, I got through the area without following all the lamp-posts, because, inevitably, one wouldn’t signpost me very well to the next one, so I just wandered to whatever lamp-post I felt like, and, lo and behold, I found a gate somewhat similar to the one in the obsidian glitter desert, albeit smaller, and went through it. Back to Genosa, McGuffinyBob disappears, only some number that I think is less than 3 left before I can progress, considering I saw a McGuffinyGate with six McGuffinyBobs active, and I’d dealt with three.

It’s a MYSTERY… Whether the sphere door is wrong somehow. I took the cone, and my McGuffinyBob vanished. For some reason, I don’t particularly have a desire to replay the game to find out.

I don’t know how any of these McGuffinyBobs do the thing they do. I don’t know what this terrible thing this grand civilisation that doesn’t appear to know what living space is was defending against (I was told, sort of, near the beginning. But I’ve already forgotten.) I don’t have any context for the actions I do, and so it doesn’t feel fun, or interesting, so much as going through the motions that are arbitrarily set, often getting lost because hey, in a big open area, you’re going to get lost without some obvious signposting. And redundancy in that signposting.

As this is part of Act One, considered finished… I think this is the time where ESSENCE and I part ways.

Sometimes, The Mad Welshman has to be hard on a game. It is, thankfully, rarely a mystery why.

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Secret Spaces (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $8 USD (Approx £5)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Secret Spaces is, in creator Heather “Flowers” Robertson’s own words, a game about being gay and in a hole. These things are true. It’s also a game about being in a strange, low-polygon world, moving ever deeper into the rabbit hole to, hopefully, find your girlfriend and get the hell out of this strange place.

It’s kinda dark down here, Elaine. I know sometimes we feel the need to hide in a deep, dark, hole, but… Literally?

At first, the game seems extremely simple: Finding notes and going downwards progresses things, cutting and growing ropevines to climb down safely, using berries to heal damage you’ve taken from falling too far (Although falling far enough will, as with any human being, kill you stone dead.)

The thing is, the more you take from this place, the less it will give. You’re almost in a relationship with the space itself, and working with what it gives you tends to give the best results. Take very little, and the Secret Space will give you help, in the form of seeds and berries. Take a lot, and the vines thin out, the berries don’t arrive as often, and you will need, more and more, to either be very skillful in climbing downwards, or plant the vines you have in the hope that it will make life easier down the road. It’s subtle, and being someone who prefers not to waste things, I didn’t notice this on a first playthrough.

Huh, that *is* odd. Some mysteries, unfortunately, are trumped by the immediate.

Aesthetically… Well, it’s cuboids and notes. The light (and thus the colours) change as you get deeper, giving it a little flair, but it’s a quiet place, and some might say a bare place, but, with this game, that feels just fine. I liked the character of Elaine as noted in the notes (Although, that dad joke… I make dad jokes all the time, and I loudly groaned at that one… So props!) , I liked the writing, and, from word one, I’ve been struggling with the fact that the developer has summed up the game a heckuva lot better than I have.

Secret Spaces is about being gay, and in a hole. It’s approximately £5 , takes around an hour to play through once, and my main “Do not recommend” here is if a very low-polygon world turns you off a game. If you like games where there’s something subtle going on in the background (The Hole is procedurally generated, yes, sometimes walls do move, and how easy you find it depends on whether you are, in game, a taker, or someone who works with what’s there) , then you may well like Secret Spaces.

Whoah… The plant… It wiggles. Kinda reminds me of you, Elaine… Hehe.

The Mad Welshman thinks love is cool. No snark, just… Passion is good.

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Conarium (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (OST £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Conarium is a… Look, it’s a horror game, and it uses Lovecraftian imagery. So cyclopean structures, Shoggoths, Elder Things, stars and fishies, and things wot man was not meant to know. It’s also a first person horror adventure game, and there is where its flaws lie.

The Plants Have Vines, a new horror film by Wes Craven!

If there’s one accusation that is often levelled at first person horror games, it’s that their pacing and reliance on documentation can be a problem. In the case of earlier first person horror games, there’s also problems of pixel hunting, timed puzzles, and the like. It’s a difficult balance, horror against frustration against the possibility of boredom. Conarium goes the whole spectrum. But how you feel about it really depends on how completionist you feel.

If, for example, you just want to get things done, you’ll ignore the documents, and occasionally hit brick walls. Some of these walls are against your patience, as evidenced by the difference in the amount of time it took for me to trigger a literal cat-scare (At least a few minutes), compared to somebody who’d played the game before (who triggered it in under a minute), while others are “Secrets” (More on that in a bit), and at least one is a “Gotcha” death, solved by… A non-obvious handle for something else you have that you probably spent time hunting for things to use it on.

You may recall I have a dim view of “Gotcha” deaths. Even one telegraphed by something like ten seconds of reading.

This is a secret.

If, like me, you’re somewhat of a completionist, you run into an entirely different kind of frustration. If there’s telegraphing of where to find documents, I have yet to notice it, and some of the documents I’ve missed… Have been hidden in an annoying fashion. Ah yes, the one hiding on the shelf you can’t quite see, behind a bunk. The one hiding in a cardboard box that, like many computer game cardboard boxes, cannot, in fact, be moved, and is facing the wall. The one in the pile of other documents that, somehow, are not as interesting.

And sadly, some of these things are “Secret.” Hidden behind brute force puzzles, or knowing when to use your Conarium gizmo, or when to use another item, at least some of them are more unsettling and interesting than the main plot itself. Pictured, for example, is something that claims to be your character. Something well animated, definitely not human, and more unsettling in motion than it is in a screenshot. And yet… It’s a secret. Meanwhile, a lot of the stuff that’s visible? Kind of lessens the horror. Oh… It’s, er… A blob. Yes. And this thing is what it is, I can sort of guess how it… Oh. Not… Too scary. Damn.

This, on the other hand, is a cat scare waiting to happen.

I want to like Conarium. It’s definitely got some interesting ideas, and some unsettling set pieces. But, oddly, it hides many of its best away, seemingly unrelated to the overall picture in many places. Then again, it is, on the face of it, a somewhat linear game with two endings, and a variety of non-standard game overs, usually due, funnily enough, not reading things. Give it a go if you like Cosmic Horror, chase sequences, rune puzzles, the odd inventory puzzle, and, like many horror games, hoovering up pieces of paper somewhere in the mess, you know where you left it, you’re sure, it’s got to be –

The Mad Welshman has no smart aleck comments at this time. He prefers to say them in 1877.

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