Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

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

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

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Hazardous Space (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£9.51 for collector’s edition (Artbook, Soundtrack, Game))
Where To Get It:
Steam

Hazardous Space, if I was given an elevator pitch, would be an okay game. Arriving at a station which has been infested by zombies, a group of three spacefarers has to make their way through the station, fighting and looting along the way.

And by ‘people’ , I mean ‘Me, Captain hardchin, with assistance from you two.’

And then it makes some odd decisions, and what would be an okay game turns into… An okay game with elements that bring it down. Like most of the conversation being about as far away from your centre of vision as humanly possible… In the top right, as opposed to everything interactable, which is… On the bottom half of the screen. So you’re wandering, picking up items, and, at points, text is auto-playing… And largely gets unnoticed. It’s not great writing, to be fair, and the auto-play, itself, is a bit of a problem, but… A definite low point.

Another odd choice is to split the game into “parts.” A more accurate term would be “Difficulty levels”, as each is its own run, but each has its own ending, goes on for longer, and extra equipment (with some extra enemies and story segments.) Since progress on blueprints, notes, etcetera, seems to be incremental, this… Does get easier and more do-able the further you get, but then we hit the final problem, and…

Note, convo in the top left. Also… Hehe, “Fire” Axe. Look, I gotta get my chuckles from something here…

…The fact is, it’s kind of dull. Weapons have roughly the same impact feeling (Some), but not a whole lot can fix that the core loop. Try to go right (Up, down, or, in extreme cases, left if not possible), taking 5 energy loss per room, maybe have a fight, walk into a trap, find some stuff, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the items are useful, more often they’re vendor trash. Sometimes the enemies feel impactful, mostly… They’re obstacles, things that pad out time. And through it all, a single track plays, seemingly emphasising the grind.

“Feel”, while a nebulous term, is, in fact, very important, and what it feels like, when playing, is that none of this is terribly important. The characters do get somewhat serious later, but it’s just another day, another chance to shit-talk each other, and get to know each other more. The enemies start getting more serious, but the tension in fighting them… Just isn’t really there, and the narrative, while meant to be about a terrifying sci-fi event where an Umbrella style Cacklingly Evil Corporation has done bad things, just… Falls flat, due to a lack of tension.

Expect to see this guy a lot.

Hazardous Space does do some interesting things, tying energy to exploration and levelling up (Run out of energy, run out of life-support, die, a-la Deep Sky Derelicts), and it does allow for some adjustable difficulty options that, genuinely, make the game a little more accessible (Such as turning the CLOUD OF DEATH, that means you can’t go back very far and have to reach the exit quicker, off), but overall, it feels grindy, and oddly arbitrary at times.

The Mad Welshman punched his monitor, and it burst into flames “Burning Does Not Work!”

Sure seemed like it did…

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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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Demon’s Tilt (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinball is, in the physical world, almost an artefact, an anachronism vanishing into the historical distance. Wires, magnets, rubber, LEDs… But for an entire generation, they were a cultural touchstone. In the digital world, however, they still live. And the best of them take advantage of their medium, to do things that would likely be impossible with physical pinball tables. Both, however, can get a little arcane if you try and describe them mechanically. This ramp, followed by these bumpers, followed by this ramp, and then this ramp again, earns you… But This ramp, followed by this ramp, earns you a quick bonus, and if you can repeat that same trick fifty times…

Pictured: The Abomination, destroyed by hitting each head multiple times.

So, it’s fairly safe to say I won’t be saying much mechanically, rather than what applies to all pinball tables: You hit the ball with the paddles, using what you observe of the ball’s physics to hopefully hit what you want, keeping it from falling “out” of the table. The ball falls out three times (or one, in Hardcore mode), and you lose.

Demon’s Tilt (Heavily inspired by games like Devil Crush or Crue Ball), specifically, adds a few things we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a Goth. Synthwave. Bullet hell. Pinball game. Now, don’t run away, it’s not as intimidating as I make that out to be, just… A lot to unpack!

Still here? Whew. Okay, so two of these are, essentially, aesthetic. Pentagrams, liches, and undead lions in iron masks mix with synthwave style neon splashes for score, jackpot, and other notifications, all to a hard driving, Sega Genesis style soundtrack (Itself having diverse motifs: Little bit of OutRun feel for a few bars, tiny bit of Castlevania for another, while still meshing really well.)

The Lion In The Iron Mask doesn’t appreciate taking a steel ball to the snout. And Lilith doesn’t appreciate you hiding in her headgear. Can’t blame either of them, really!

The “bullet hell” part is interesting, because, while the bullets kill momentum, they only get spawned under certain circumstances (Hitting one of the table bosses in their mid to late stages, for example), the enemies are mostly weak (and only kill downward momentum, which is really helpful), and, to help counter these extra considerations, the game’s tilt sensor (An anti-cheat measure, originally to ensure you weren’t just lifting the table and tipping the ball where you wanted it to go) is quite generous (to the point where it recommends you use tilt.) Although, like any pinball table, it can get pretty twitchy (and dealing with the twitchy portions is a key to mastery), the bullets are pretty slow, and thus, dealing with them is more a matter of perception, of thought, than of reflexes.

Finally, of course, it is a pinball table. While its table guide is a little sparse, the game helpfully tells you its Letter Goals (for the words ZODIAC, ARCANE, and HERMIT, aka LOADSAPOINTS, LOADSAPOINTS, and LOADSAPOINTS), and the UI is laid out fairly sensibly, with the central focus being… The three tiered table, each tier containing its own enemy spawns and bosses. Kill a boss’s multiple stages, and you get big points, before it returns the boss to its lowest stage. On the one hand, there’s a lot to parse, but it becomes almost second nature to identify certain things: Here’s where the jackpots are. Here’s the teleportals. Oh good, the untouched bumpers for the top-tier letter goal are highlighted, nice job!

It helps that your reward for certain tricks is also… Quite visceral. Lilith is really angry now!

There’s some minor performance issues, but, for the most part, that’s Early Access, and this is a well-polished, high-octane table that nonetheless gives you a little breathing room as it goes. Well worth a look for pinball fans, and, if you’re interested in how digital pinball tables can change the base formula in interesting ways, this one’s one to watch out for too.

The Mad Welshman Devil Crushed this review, in his opinion.

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From Beyond: Prologue (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a NESVenture style game alright. As if the interface wasn’t a big enough clue, the deaths, the inventory loss moments, and… Ear piercing noises definitely clued me in. Those last, in particular, are worthy of note. And not in a pleasant manner.

Also from the inspiration, blood. A fair amount of blood and horror.

So, for those not aware, the NESVentures is a reference to adaptations of a series of adventure games called the MacVentures by a company called Kemco, who simplified the multiple window interface into something tighter: A map window, a picture window, an inventory window, and the verb/save/load window (TAKE, USE, OPEN, LOOK, etcetera.) They were known, just as the MacVentures were, for what we now call “’Gotcha!’ Deaths”, where opening a door, taking an item, or otherwise fiddling with something you didn’t know was dangerous… Turned out to be fatal.

In the case of From Beyond: Prologue, it is a NESVenture style game set as a prequel to the Lovecraft tale of the same name, and you play as… The antagonist of that story, Crawford Tillinghast, on his quest to see what man was not meant to wot. Alas, we are meant to shepherd him toward the doom he’s meant to suffer, not all the other dooms along the way, such as being eaten by wolves, falling down a crevasse in the dark, or not having the right item on him when something horrible inevitably does appear.

If you were unfamiliar with the NESVenture style, you would probably not know to OPEN the car door, and TAKE the bag inside.

It is, then, perhaps unfortunate that, along with the tight interface of the NESVentures, the developer has also introduced many of the flaws. Thankfully, the Gotcha Deaths are of a much lesser degree here, being telegraphed in one sense or another (The snow is loose, the floor looks weak, it is dark… So on.) But, even with this, it is a point and click adventure where you have to LOOK in the picture window to note any items you may need, and most useless interactions are marked with nothing. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if that also weren’t the reaction when you’ve missed the hitbox of the thing you’re trying to effect. I mention this because of an apple on a branch in the second act, which, so far, has resisted all efforts to effect it, both through its relatively small hitbox, and seeming lack of items that will get hold of it.

So, utility issues aside, it visually achieves the style it’s going for. Similarly, its chiptunes and most of its sound effects also achieve the style it’s going for, and your tolerance and enjoyment of these really depends on how much you like NES style chiptunes. That being said, that high pitched squeal whenever The Entity contacts you, or something weird related to it happens, is, as noted, piercing. Even with the sound turned pretty low, it’s annoying, and, due to its comparative volume, I would definitely recommend turning the sound low.

This man did not Save Early, Save Often. It is no excuse that he doesn’t have the capability to…

While it is not a terribly long game, as most NESVentures were not, it is a game where you’re going to be pushing your 5 save slots to their fullest if you try it out. Would I recommend it? Not… Really. It’s an adventure game emulating an old adventure game’s style pretty well, but that means old adventure game rules, and that means that, unless you’re really into the “Save early, save often, oh wait, 5 save slots” style of play, it’s going to be more frustrating than enjoyable, and no commitment to aesthetic is really going to change that.

> FINISH REVIEW
That is not an approved command. Your blood pressure rises.

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