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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Q.U.B.E. 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£4.99 soundtrack. Season pass £9.99 , no DLC yet)
Where To Get It: Steam

QUBE was an interesting puzzle game, a silent, minimalist world, implying something big in its sterile, subtly disordered cubic world, a something that was clarified in its director’s cut (That the Cube was big, headed for Earth, and possibly about to do not nice things. Best be the spanner in the works humans are so good at being, then!)

One of the moments of beauty in QUBE 2. There’s a few of these.

QUBE 2? QUBE 2 improves upon the first in many ways. The general formula is the same: You have a suit, which has the power to affect certain squares of the cubic world, which, for most of the game, is one of one type of block (in Jump-pad, Extend-O-Block, and Cube Drop varieties) , and you use these powers to get around, reroute power in a cubic world, and explore two mysteries.

Why are you, Dr. Amelia Cross, here, in this alien, cubic world?

And what connection does this have to do with the massive cube that maybe threatened Earth last time?

Hrm… Kinda wavering now on whether we were right to blow up that first qube. For multiple reasons…

Unfortunately, explaining it in as minimalist and tight a fashion as the puzzles doesn’t really get across how enjoyable this game is. Yes, three powers. Yes, cubes. But none of that covers, for example, how threatening the world of QUBE 2 starts becoming, as it awakens, and, itself, starts to answer your questions. It doesn’t cover how aesthetically pretty it is, or how there’s a really good colour-blindness accessibility option. It doesn’t cover how the puzzles expand over time, but always iterating in such a way that you can usually see the solution just by stepping back and taking a look. Nothing here feels like a difficulty cliff, just short spikes before the eureka moment hits, and you get that sweet, sweet, puzzle solved endorphin rush. Nice, this goes here, I sit here, and I can switch between these thanks to the cubes I can throw here, and here… And bam, the door is opened, more interesting story awaits!

The long and short of it is: If you like first person puzzlers, QUBE 2 is not only good, it’s an improvement on the original in every way. Unlike the first game, I’m not annoyed at the ball puzzles, or feeling discomfited (at first. It grew on me) by the minimalist style of the game. Well worth a look.

Ahhh… Block C goes on Block B, Insert Person DAC, lift via Tab U. Nice!

One of those times there’s nothing really bad to say. A nice end to the month.

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City of Brass (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.5

City of Brass, last time I looked at it, showed promise. A game of quickly executing your plans in order to progress further into a city cursed with greed and everlasting life (of a sort) , it was already drawing me in, luring me with its traps, its enemies making for interesting, emergent challenges, and its middle eastern setting.

Mmm, the sweet smell of incense on the – oh, that’s burning undead? Huh, learn a new thing every day!

With blessings to match the burdens, further customising difficulty, I’m somewhat happy to say that the game has, overall, improved on its original promise. Even if some things remain roughly the same. Specifically, the Gatekeepers, bosses of each of the game’s five areas.

Before we get into that, though, let’s recap what remains good. Aesthetically, the game is on point, from its lush setting that subtly changes as you get further into the city, its musical and sound cues, and the clarity of everything. This is a treasure, I can tell by the noise, and the sight. This is a windtrap, clearly identifiable from even a fair way away, which is important if I want to know what not to randomly back into for instant death funtimes. That noise signifies I’ve been spotted by a sorceress. Not an archer, a sorceress. Maybe I can use that. I can, with the knowledge I’ve built up over three areas of the game so far, use a lot of this, if I play my cards right. And this is definitely a strength of the game.

Keeping the core gameplay simple, and challenging, is also of note. While items may affect, for example, the strength of your throws, or lure treasure to you, or change something about your basic weaponry and armour, you still know, roughly, what to expect: Here is your whip, for pulling and shoving enemies and items, triggering traps, and swinging off things. Here’s your sword, for walloping things. Here is your armour, and, normally, it will sort of protect you. Sort of. Three levels per area, three wishes you may or may not wish to spend (Including using all three at the beginning of the game to shortcut to the third area), it’s all simple to understand, and explains itself well. Similarly, blessings make things easier, but deny you a place on the leaderboard, burdens make things harder, and give you extra gold or XP.

Wishes, if not used on skipping areas, can sometimes change the tactical landscape greatly. A good case in point are the trap genies, who now serve… ME.

The only wrinkle to this is that, once you get used to enemies and traps, you’re inevitably going to reach that third level, and find yourself facing off against something rare, that’s simultaneously harder to learn, and less likely to give you lots of chances to learn it: The Gatekeepers. Based on enemies previously encountered, the Gatekeepers are a leap in difficulty, and I’m thankful I have the option to skip three of the five with my wishes. Because oh boy, they’re hard. Take the first, the Sorceress analogue. Okay, so sorceresses are a pain. They don’t let you get close for long, take about as many hits as a guardsman (three) , and fire ranged attacks that, if they hit, hurt. They’re still something you can work with. The Sorceress, on the other hand, is, like her Gatekeeper Brethren, a gimmick enemy of a sort. No hitting her until her shield’s down, and how do you knock that shield down? Whipping homing projectiles back at her.

On the upside, you don’t have to hit them directly back at her. On the downside, you will, every few seconds, have to whip, block, or run the hell away from those projectiles, and you never have many hits with which to do it. It’s not insurmountable. It is a leap in difficulty, so these Gatekeepers are aptly named, skillgates of sorts, where, while they don’t take many more hits (not counting shields and the like), the difficulty is in getting those hits in.

These shutters, thankfully, block some of the projectiles, and give you a temporary chance. Make the most of it.

Despite this, I still feel City of Brass definitely comes out more positive than negative. The developers have been very thoughtful in providing means of skipping some of these once they’re beaten for the first time, and the addition of blessings, in order to provide an easier experience, are a godsend. The game is clear, lush, and, for the most part, teaches its world and rules very well, and I continue… To look forward to what’s coming next.

After writing this review, The Mad Welshman had a run where he got to level 10, using the Extra Health and Damage blessings. They make a Big difference!

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Slasher’s Keep (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

One thing that has always interested me is the use of older game design techniques, but with the quality of life improvements and changes that come from modern game design. So when I quite quickly noticed that Slasher’s Keep mixes hand drawn, eight angle “sprites” , mixed with cartoonishly textured 3D models, I immediately thought “IN.”

Why thank you for the kind offer of your loot, Mister Moleman. Nothing to do with this hammer I wield, I hope!

I’m happy to say that it’s been charming me more, the further I get. At least partly because, in its quiet way, it is ensuring I get further. And it feels good. Surviving to the second level means I can start finding chutes, through which I can drop equipment from higher levels to the beginning. It also means a shop, somewhat useful when I have vendor trash. Get to the third, and those bits of crafting materials I’ve found can be made into new, spankier weapons… Which it may sometimes be a good idea to just drop in the chute already, knowing that even the swanky kit won’t guarantee my continued breathing abilities.

Each time I die, yes, I lose money, stats, and all the kit I didn’t bung down the shoot… But stat gaining potions, the fact that potion drops scale with you, and the fact that a quarter of your XP can easily be regained (and a bit on top) in a good run, means that slowly, but surely, I’m making my way up, and, importantly, seeing more of the comedy of errors that is Slasher’s Keep.

And there’s no doubt, from the mumbling stone idol that occasionally crops up, goblinoid pin-ups (Including one I was cruelly… Okay, I wasn’t forced to destroy a really good goblinoid pin up, but it was in the way of a treasure chest), and even the introduction show that yes, this is a light hearted game. I mean, if you’d been locked in a cell all the time, with a hole in the wall showing keys just out of reach, would you just… Try pushing the cell door, to realise it didn’t have any hinges?

I like to think I craft metaphors as well as deadly, flaming-icy weaponry.

Well, okay, maybe you would, in reality. But this is a dungeon hack in a comic fantasy world, we’ll have none of this “Common sense” malarkey!

With all this gushing, you’d think, perhaps, that Old Grumpy Reviewer Durbin wouldn’t be unmasked as the monster this time, that there’d be nothing to criticise, and that the Mystery Gang wouldn’t have to pull his latest monster mask off his head to muttery grumblings. But alas, as I often say, no game is perfect, and Slasher’s Keep does do some things that get on my (perky) norks.

That map generation needs a bit more work is understandable. Procgen maps are surprisingly hard, and I can’t really begrudge that. But it must be said that yes, there are dead ends to no good purpose, sometimes at the end of a rather long corridor. Less forgivable, perhaps, are some of the ranged enemies. Specifically, the bugs and skulls. See, it’s Slasher’s Keep, not Waiter’s Keep, and I get rather annoyed when, due to an unforeseen mana shortage, I have to either laboriously trick my insectoid opponent to maybe not retreat over the chasm for the twelfth time, or my bony friends to maybe, just maybe, get on with that screaming plunge attack that inevitably leads to their demise, rather than the floating and shooting me from afar thing they seem so fond of? Mana shortages, in this context, are usually unforeseen because only one wand is effectively hitscan, and so shooting at bugs and skulls rapidly loses me all my mana. As such, skulls and bugs are rapidly achieving the not-really-coveted status of “Well, they’re FUCKING BATS to me, mate!”

Especially as, occasionally, challenge rooms (Where the challenge is “You walked into the room, and now you’re locked in until everything but you (or you) is (are) dead”) will entirely consist of… Bugs or skulls.

I mean, okay, I lost stuff, got stripped, and thrown back in, but not only am I stronger… I’m still hot. So my jailors can suck it.

Otherwise, it’s very enjoyable as a first person procgen comedy murderbrawl, and comes highly recommended otherwise.

The Mad Welshman kindly asks for confirmation whether the stone idol’s accent is indeed Brummy. He still has the scars from confusing Liverpool and Hove, and would like to avoid further accent related injuries…

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