StarCrawlers (Review)

Source: Birthday Gift
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

Being touched by knowledge of the Eldritch Thingumawotsits from The Dark Between The Stars is, it turns out, rather rough. But it does have its upsides. Being able to drain the shields of your enemies, smite them with pure Void… Yup, definitely has its compensations.

The bosses can get quite inventive, including this feller and his robo-dawgies. Git!

And this, funnily enough, is one of the things I like about StarCrawlers: Every class has its ups and downs, and, more importantly, its own flavour. So the temptation to have a save game in each class, so as to explore the story of the game from several perspectives, is definitely tempting. Even if I’m not actually the biggest fan of the Void Psyker due to the whole “Not so hot portrayal of mental health and occult stuff” being a roadblock for me.

In any case, StarCrawlers is a turn based, step based roleplaying game set in a corporate space opera universe, where everything moves when you do, your actions in combat have time costs that need to be considered, but it’s perfectly okay, because time doesn’t move on until you’ve had a cup of tea, a nice think, and then held down the mouse button, selected “MURDER THESE DAMN ENEMIES ALREADY”, and moved on. It does interesting things, like being able to look around while you explore, which you’ll need, as not everything is at eye level. I’ve found security panels and credsticks in some odd places, from next to desks, near the floor, and even, in a couple of cases, just lying, in a planter. Okay, not the security panel, but yeah, the game wants you to look around, and it demonstrates this by hiding things so that looking around nets you maximum loot. It’s also a fairly colourblind friendly game, and the UI is pretty clear.

If you don’t like the psychic darkside, then how about the power… To kill a droid from 200 yards away… WITH MIND BULLETS?!?

So, is there anything bad about the game? Well, apart from the characterisation of the Void Psyker, which is, tbqh, a hackneyed stereotype I’d really rather see less of, my main “complaints” are more like “niggles.” For optimal play, you will want a hacker and an engineer in your party, so as to, respectively, hack terminals and security panels, and fix shit that’s broken. The plot missions require a few level ups to get to, but this is actually okay because the generation of the levels keeps to a theme, and occasionally goes interesting places like the inside of mining asteroids and the like, while still making sure that secret doors aren’t blocked off, that once you know an area’s “theme”, you can quickly find security trip-lasers, secret door buttons, and, of course, the things likely to contain loot.

There’s a lot to StarCrawlers, but thankfully, it’s pretty accessible, from the Black Market to the faction system that can lead to assassins being sent after you by a corporation you’ve pissed off (In my runs, nearly always Chimera Corp, the Umbrella of the spaceways, but you might end up pissing off someone like Horizon Robotics or The Workers Union instead), it has an interesting universe, good sounds, good music, and clear visuals. I’d heartily recommend it to RPG fans, as it’s a good example of making a genre that occasionally gets bogged down in grogginess accessible to folks of all types.

“You don’t think it’s too subtle, Marty, you don’t think people are going to drive down and not see the door?”

The Mad Welshman inspires many a space psychic, being formed of the pure Dark Between The Genres.

EVERSPACE (Review)

Source: Birthday prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: SteamGOG

I do love me my first person space shooting games, and I do love me my procedural generation, so EVERSPACE (Capitals intended) continues to ring my bell in a most pleasing manner… With one exception: The story.

“Ye’re a Clone, ‘Arry!”
“You what?”
“A CLONE, ‘ARRY!”

More accurately, the fact that, once I’ve missed the story, that’s it, boom, it’s gone, it’s done, and you won’t see it again. I don’t mind so much that you don’t get new story until you reach the next sector, because honestly, the story is interesting, and takes a few twists and turns. Suffice to say, the strangeness of multiple pilots piloting what appears to be the same ship was indeed, as many players had speculated, that you are a clone. And that’s not a spoiler, because a) It was p. obvious, and b) It gets revealed in Sector 2. Of 7. And is foreshadowed from the start.

It’s kind of hard to write the release review at this point, because my opinion remains largely unchanged: The voice acting is excellent, while remaining down to earth (I especially like HIVE, the fussy, very snarky core of the AETERNA system of the ship you fly), the different ships definitely make for a different gameplay experience, and the dying while levelling up over time mechanic, that we’ve now seen in multiple games this month, let alone this year, remains a fairly decent way of lengthening play while not making it feel like grind (Even though that’s exactly what it is.) The handling is good, the music and sound design pleasing…

This screenshot, taken just moments before death, shows you a Bad Idea: Taking on an Okkar Corvette before you’re *damn good and ready*

… I am, however, the first to admit it’s not for everbody. You don’t get to keep money between runs, so unlocking your first other ship (From your two choices of the Scout or the Gunship) can feel extremely annoying, some of the achievements seem a little forced (No, really, what do I have against floodlights, of all things?), and, of course, space shooters in general are a genre that doesn’t have a great history accessibility wise, being hard to simplify and requiring a little bit of twitch to the old reflexes. Still, it’s got a lot going for it, and having a different ship does make for a somewhat different experience.

The scout, for example, can cloak, and begins with a charged sniping weapon and a beam laser, relying on speed, cloaking, and the limited automatic lock-on of the beam laser to win the day, while the Gunship has a top turret, heavier weapon loadouts, more armour… And begins with no shields, making it a battle of attrition until you get some. There are also skills that don’t depend on a ship, and it’s these I tend to prioritise while playing because… Honestly, who doesn’t want more credits, better resources, and the knowledge beforehand that if they go that way, they’ll encounter a terrifying black hole, and if they go that way, they’ll encounter an Okkar warship?

The Gunship remains my favourite.

Any which way, if you like space flight shooting type games, don’t mind the fact that you (currently) only get the story once, and will be seeing the early sectors a fair bit, then EVERSPACE is definitely worth a go. The story gets very interesting, fairly quickly, it has both 1st and 3rd person modes, an action cam for when you want to take ROCKING SCREENSHOTS, and the ship design is well worth a look.

“I think I’m getting the hang of thi-” is, perhaps, The Mad Welshman’s most common set of last words. TMWr1-46, 58-64, and 128-209 have all said such words before rejoining the star-stuff Carl Sagan said we’re all made of.

The Signal From Tölva (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Humble StoreSteam, GOG

When the apocalypse hits, when humanity’s light darkens, there shall be a cry, and it shall be louder than all the panicked screaming and dying and fire. And that cry will be “010000010100001101001011!!!”

Night doesn’t screw around, and nor do the enemies throughout the game.

So it is with The Signal From Tölva, the latest offering from Big Robot games. A game where you may die a lot, but hey, it’s the journey, not the destination or the cycle that counts. So let’s talk about that.

The Signal From Tölva is a space opera first person game (Which happens to have a lot of shooting) in a setting where machine intelligences grew from humanity, grew away from humanity, and finally kicked humanity to the kerb when humanity objected. They then splintered, because they were designed by humans, even down to that tribalist instinct. This is the story of one of those factions, the Surveyors, who wanted to find an intelligence more ancient than they were, and find their search leading them to a small world called Tölva, owned by the Cathedral, aka the Zealots… Who worship the planet and happen not to like visitors.

The game is tightly designed, with minimal mechanical complexity, and every tool used. You start as a drone in one corner of the map, explore, try to collect datacubes, and kick out anything that objects to your presence with guns and other drones. If you happen to die, well, no problem, you just download your constantly backed-up intelligence to another drone, somewhere you control, and awaaaaaay you go again!

The ship and robot designs are wonderful, but equally wonderful is the *scale* . You are a very small cog indeed, my friend.

It’s also a subtle game, in many respects. The information dripfeeds hints at the history, but equally, so do the many wrecks, occasional weird sights, and more common weird Sites hint at a world that has not only seen a lot of destruction and cosmic horror in its time, but also held a civilisation that somehow had power over space-time on a local level, and it’s only the sight of your own bigass technology and technical immortality that makes you think “Yeah, we can handle this.” Visually, a lot of the designs remind me of Chris Foss’s classic science fiction artwork, and the sound design only occasionally tries to get musical at you, even then in the most ambient manner. It’s good stuff, and I kept coming back, “one more hour”, to unravel the eerie mystery that is Tölva.

And then I triggered the endgame a bit early. You see, there’s also things going on under the hood, and one of them is that the enemy factions scale with you… But one of the other things is that, once you’ve got the means to reach the final sites, the final missions… It’s tough, folks. The Zealots get more defensive, and you will want to be on top of your game before getting there.

…And not only are you a small cog, you certainly haven’t been the first machine intelligence to try deciphering the mystery.

In summary, The Signal from Tölva is a mostly enjoyable, only occasionally stressful, and interesting journey right up until the very end, and then it becomes… A bit more stressful. Not a whole lot more stressful, but you’re definitely dying and redownloading more. Sniff the robotic flowers as much as you can, because, if you like first person exploration and/or shooting games, then it’s well worth a go. It helps that the game comes with a cool and interesting lorebook, helping expand the universe without giving too much away. The cosmic horror aspect of it is subtle, eerie, and well done, and I could definitely recommend this to folks.

The Mad Welshman likes the robot flowers. There’s just that hint of ozone to them that makes his circuits run elegant algorithms.

DESYNC (Review)

Source: Birthday Present
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was very much ready to get on with Desync. Bulletstorm mixed with glitchy Tron-type aesthetics? Hell yes, this is my… Oh wait, I died. For the sixth or seventh time. In the second room of the second level. And I died to… WHAT BULLSHITTERY IS THIS?!?

The most common variety of “The Last Thing You’ll Ever See”

For context, the game involves fast paced combat in rooms with deathtraps and waves of enemies, and it’s up to you to murder the hell out of every wave in a room in a score attack frenzy of shots and electronic murder. Except it also expects you, seemingly, to either grind the first level a lot, or GIT GUD, SCRUB. For context of the bullshittery? First wave, a polearm guy with a block-reflect ability, a wave that seems to ever so slightly home in (In, I’m assuming, a method of getting you to use the dodge dash, get the timing down), and, of course, boodles of damage and hitpoints. Then several of the “weak” enemies, who by this time have gotten the ability to spray short bursts. Then several hammer guys (two shotgun shots to kill, are fast, and also deadly.) Then… Two of the polearm guys. Maybe that’s the end of the waves for that room. Maybe not.

I genuinely felt like that group of hammer guys could have worked just fine as the last wave, but… No. It doesn’t really help that the game promises all sorts of fun and shenanigans, with weapons, and special powers, and… Oh, I have to beat this second level to earn another weapon?

Oh, yeah, smaller enemies level up. That rat-monkey thing next to Polearm Guy, for example, can shoot short bursts.

This, in essence, is the biggest problem with DESYNC. Aesthetically, it’s walking the walk, with tron style CRT graphics, a pumping soundtrack, and some good sound design. But when it comes to talking the talk of gameplay, it’s exactly the combination of unfair and grindy that makes me sigh and go for something else. It also fights with itself. Hey, here’s a score attack mechanic! With combos! But using special powers, even if they add to the combo, reduces points, and you have to use abilities and powerups (That don’t last all that long) to discover some of the combos and levelup the sidearms. It’s fast paced! The enemies are technically predictable! But unless you can work out where their head is (Not always possible at a fast pace, especially with some enemy designs being a little unclear in the heat of the moment), they’re bullet spongey, move at at least the same speed as you for the most part (Or, in the case of the larger, polearm wielding enemies, have some level of prediction or homing to their ranged attacks. It’s a little unclear which.), and hit like trucks.

I mentioned those hammer guys in one room of the second level, and there’s a lot that makes that particular encounter quite painful. They’re as fast, or perhaps slightly faster than you, so once they’re on you, it’s a case of several dodge dashes to… Oh, wait, no, they also have a leaping attack. Each individual hammer guy takes two shotgun blasts to down, sometimes three. At least one of them will do more damage, or be quicker, or be tougher than its compatriots. And all of this is in a room which feels highly cramped once all of them spawn in. Later waves in that room aren’t so much tough in and of themselves, as they’re tough because this particular wave is most likely to reduce you to minimal health.

If the game had gone through some major balancing not built around either being perfect, or replaying the same room (Not wave, but room, each room having at least three waves) multiple times and then being told how shit you were for not being perfect at the end, I’d possibly be more okay with Desync. But its gameplay problems appear to be core elements, all fighting with each other for prominence, and so I really can’t recommend this game.

Funny, you also, DESYNC, get a C. Probably a C- . 82% accuracy, but apparently I wasn’t offensive enough. Fuck you, score screen (+500)

And that makes me sad.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t fight with himself. He is united in his desire to consume chocolate sponge cake, twirl his moustache, and kick ass.

EVERSPACE (Early Access Review)

Source: Birthday Prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page
Version Reviewed: 0.3 (March 7th, 2017)

Good spaceflight games are, even in these days where they’re coming back, few and far between. But Everspace, god help me, has definitely grabbed my attention in a big way, because even though it’s only at 0.3 (0.4 coming soon), it’s already quite polished, and had me whooping like a schoolchild at how enjoyable it was to die, again and again and again.

The game has missions, every now and again. I can tell the mission giver is not a hoopy frood, because he doesn’t know where his towel is.

Yes, you heard me right. It was, and is enjoyable, even in losing. But let’s get into it. Everspace is the 3D equivalent of something like FTL, a procedurally generated universe made of sectors, themselves made of small, junk filled arenas where a series of pilots (played by you), attempt to get to their destination while being chased by the Okkar empire, a reptilian people, being hounded by outlaws, trying to find the resources (Especially fuel, which is needed for Jumps between subsectors) you need to survive, while also being nagged by perhaps the most British AI I have yet to encounter.

Interestingly, all of these pilots are named differently, but sound the same… And I honestly don’t mind. It… Works, somehow. I wish I could tell you how. In any case, the game is very polished for a 0.3 release, with some great soundwork, music that gets the blood pumping, a solid UI, and some nice, chunky ship designs, from the tri-foil Outlaw fighters, to the Okkar Corvette that I encountered in Sector 3 (So far, the furthest I’ve gotten in something like 30 runs.) Every time you die, the money earned goes towards levelling up abilities, chance of good drops, better equipment, and… Different ships.

It’s somewhat difficult, for obvious reasons, to grab footage of a fight as it’s happening. Thankfully, the game’s Action Pause Camera allows me to wow you anyway.

I’m not going to say better ships, because I’ve been learning that lesson the hard way with the Gunship. Oh, it’s meaty, alright. The Medium Explorer has a shield, a pulse laser, and a gatling gun (With the option to increase damage for a period of time), but, while the Gunship has armour (Reducing damage taken overall), a Gatling Turret, Combat Drones out of the box, and the highly satisfying Flak Cannon (Mangle an Okkar Fighter in just a couple of shots once its shields are down! Mine an asteroid or crystal node with one shot!), it also has… No shields, and its shield damaging weapon is the highly erratic and energy intensive Fusion Cannon (Which I try to replace with my dependable buddy the Pulse Laser as soon as humanly possible.) It’s also slower, and harder to turn. So, while, with the Explorer, it’s entirely possible to get through an encounter undamaged, the Gunship is very much in the “Damage race” end of things, especially as most of its weaponry is close range (Sub 1Km)

Considering I have to get 10 thousand credits in a single run to buy the Scout, I can’t really tell you what the Light option is like right now (Although I most definitely will before release), but I can tell you that each ship has its own upgrade tree, with a player tree for things like better maps (GOOD), Better retrieval of the wreck of your last run (Providing, of course, you can find it), extra equipment choices, and, of course, more cash, better repairs, more fuel… And while yes, there’s a limited amount of things you can encounter, the later sectors have bigger and badder things (Such as the Link Drone Ship, invincible until you destroy the swarming little beggars it produces… Periodically.) and, of course, the game isn’t finished, so more things are being promised.

Even as is, though, the game is high octane in its combat, darkly relaxing in between, with a lot of its potential already shining through.

Pictured: The first time I took the Gunship out for a spin. I underestimated my opponents, and I paid the price for not understanding how my ship worked. LET’S DO IT AGAIN!

Oh, and it has an action-pause cam from the menu, allowing you to hit escape at the right moment, go to the cam, and capture your ship either wrecking… Or getting wrecked. I’d like to be able to take pics from more than just the players’ perspective (I mean, if it’s my Gunship getting owned, maybe I’d like to take it from the perspective of my killer, or some random drone that still has a good angle?), but right now? That’s my only niggle with this game. It’s built around multiple runs, and so far, it’s doing a very good job of sucking me into one more run.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he heard the DING of target lock. What was causing all these ships of the same model to come by? Oh, no matter, they always had good loot!