Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

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Cultist Simulator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cultist Simulator is a little like occult research itself: It’s messy, and offputting and obfuscatory at first, but, as you get deeper, it all becomes simpler, and then… Well, you’re exploring for the sake of exploring, falling deep down the rabbit hole…

The Mansus, this game’s Dreamlands, in all its glory. *Poked from off camera* Oh, sorry, wrong capitalisation. All its Glory!

To unpack this, nominally, Cultist Simulator is a real-time strategy/RPG hybrid where you, a person of some description (be that a doctor, a policeman, a working joe, or other things) get a hint of a deeper world, a world where, if you really, really want, if you work hard, and make sacrifices, you too can become a big player in the world of ancient magics.

Of course… Some of those sacrifices are human, and some of that work is murder, or suppression of evidence that you’re doing all this stuff, and I say “nominally” regarding the game because it isn’t really much like anything that’s come before. The cards, for example, are all on timers. The events are on timers. And, while you can pause and interact with them all, unless you’re doing just that, the event cards can only be viewed individually, so you’re always going to miss things, partly because here, a lack of tutorialising is a deliberate choice. Fun fact: Cult, and occult are words whose Latin roots are two letters apart. Colere, to cultivate, and Celare, to hide.

As such, a review of Cultist Simulator, by its very definition, is a somewhat spoilery experience. Starting only from a card or two, the world expands, with more verbs (that’s the squares as opposed to the cards) unlocking in play, more threats, more opportunities. Teachers are discovered, lore is uncovered. Dreams, strange places, possible cult members, and, of course… Hunters. People who would rather (and with good reason) see these ancient secrets remain buried, even if their methods, their name (The Bureau of Suppression) seems a step too far.

There’s one heck of a narrative here, but interpreting it is as much a learned skill as getting to the point I have.

This is one of the high points of the game, that the world expands, and is explained as you go, in fragments, little pieces. With atmospheric writing, overlays to the board, changes of music, the world is created. This is a game with a lot of reading, and a lot that can only be discovered through experimentation. Wait, you can Study with your Patrons? Damn, didn’t know that. You can get a rough idea of what an event or card wants by clicking the empty slot? Damn, didn’t know that at first.

It’s simultaneously frustrating as hell, and some excellent marrying of narrative to mechanics. You are, after all, always a character unfamiliar with the occult elements of its world, by choice or no, but, as a player, I can’t deny I spent some time angry that progression seemed always a step away. What the hell do I do with this door? How do I deal with the deep, dark Dread in my life? (To be fair, that’s a question I struggle answering in life, as well as this game.) It doesn’t necessarily help that yes, even if you’re so close to earning that goal, that true glimpse that destroys and creates, something simple, something you’d overlooked, can prematurely end your dreams. Since a single run can sometimes last up to 10 hours, you can imagine why that’s so devastating. The cult members and patrons remain the same, even if the story changes, and this, also, is perhaps a flaw.

Cultist Simulator is interesting as all get out, and somewhat unique, both in terms of how it handles events, and how it uses a lack of tutorialising to its benefit narratively. I would recommend it to folks, because, interestingly, it’s using its flaws. Not perfectly, and there are still things that the game does that annoys the hell out of me (such as generating cards on top of other cards, or the magnet slots on events prioritising over events that are already being used, dammit dammit dammit, but it intrigues me with its well researched and written world, its subtle, mostly minimalist aesthetic, and… Not gonna lie, it feels good when you finally achieve your goals.

The writing is excellent, and I mainly chose this screenshot for the folks who already bought the game. Some amusing… Poetic… Justice.

The Mad Welshman loves new aspirants. It’s such a delight to discover how well each goes with Garlic Butter.

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Basingstoke (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Welcome to Basingstoke, a town filled with sausage rolls, quaint pubs, AND THE LIVING DEAD. We hope you enjoy your stay in the picturesque recycling bins, sewer pipes, and assorted possibly-safe buildings. There is no escape.

My character’s name sounds a bit like Gordon right now. There is no reason I find this fitting at all.

Basingstoke, the latest offering from Puppygames (and not the small English town, although it is set there) is an interesting game. It’s definitely an action game, but avoidance and stealth, rather than killing, is the main focus (Although weapons do exist, only a few are guaranteed a quick kill, and most of them are loud.) It’s procedurally generated, and has older game concepts just kind of strewn about, like save items, level-based gameplay, and the like. It is, in short, a mix of old and new ideas, starting with perhaps one of the older ones: Science going wrong, because a big company delved into things Man Was Not Meant To Know (Never goes wrong in a videogame, amirite?), and so Basingstoke is now a hellhole filled with zombies, mutants, aliens, and death-robots. A hellhole that you, the latest interviewee for Omnicorp, have to escape.

And it works. It works really well. Part of that is that Puppygames is no stranger to adding their own touches to arcade based play, and have a solid grasp of the low-poly aesthetic, with good sound design and occasional music. And part of this is that, most of the time, it feels fair, with the difficulty escalating sensibly, except when you screw up and trigger a loud noise, in which case the sudden horde of zombies is, definitively, your fault.

My last thought was “DO NOT RUN IN THE HALLWAYS”, oddly.

There’s also good variety in play. Myself, I mostly like non-confrontational play, creeping around, distracting enemies with sausage rolls or sandwiches, occasionally setting groups of zombies on fire with a molotov or flamethrower, if I can get hold of the salvage needed to build them. And the game supports this quite well. Get some Instant Coffee (freely available from drink dispensers, relatively common), and you can mix it with a sandwich, kebab, or the like to turn the zombie that eats it on its fellows. Or, y’know, just have a nice cup of coffee. Still, running hell for leather everywhere is, definitely on the early levels, still a valid and workable strategy if you’re clever about it.

And each has their downsides. My stealthy play, for example, is mostly slow, and I don’t get to explore everywhere. As such, my item use suffers somewhat. Running, meanwhile, attracts Tentacles, and even the twitchiest of players will occasionally get caught out by one that spawns either on top of them, or in such a way that it’s going to grab you. And in Basingstoke, one hit is a kill for your player character.

With revolutionary new RECYCLEBIN-O-VISION, you can see exactly how boned you, in fact, are.

There’s a fair amount to like about Basingstoke. For example, I can start from later levels if I really want to, and the Insurance Policy, if I can afford it, means I get to save mid-level (once.) There’s infinite retries on a level. It can turn down the flashing and gore, and it’s largely pretty clear how to play, tutorialising well. It also feels tense, without being aggravating. Yes, I can die at any second. But I know the progress from the previous level won’t be undone, and I can still try again. I know my progress overall won’t be undone. And I find myself, overall, looking forward to whatever evil thing the game is going to throw my way, be that for me, like when I made a proximity mine, or against me, like the large alien carnivores of the Underground. Well worth a look if you like stealth action titles.

The Mad Welshman sprinkled coffee, breadcrumbs, and bean juice over his egg and bacon sandwich, and smiled nastily. Somewhere, some zombie was going to have a very, very Full English day.

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Lobotomy Corporation (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Lobotomy Corporation is, at times, a frustrating game. But then, I would imagine daily life in a corporation not dissimilar to the SCP Foundation would be rather tense. Here’s the bird that punishes sin. Looks small, but it’s deadly. Steve has a cloud of fairies around him. He’s heard about what happened to Mike, so now he’s exclusively on fairy duty, and doesn’t argue. He’s too afraid of what would happen if he succeeded. Mary’s frantically turning the handle of a music box, tears streaming down her face. She knows that if she listens too long, she’ll feel bad things, but the music helps her forget what the thing in the shape of an old woman told her, and what she might tell her next time she has to listen to her stories.

Things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Oh, and in about thirty seconds, giant leeches are going to appear in the hallways, and devour Steve, Mike, Mary, and their friend Kira. But the energy has been harvested, so maybe the next day won’t be so horrifying, except that poor performance means budget cuts.

Welp. Time to load that checkpoint… Or maybe start over. I haven’t decided yet.

Lobotomy Corporation is, reductively described, a pausable management sim. It’s reductive because it’s got elements of roguelikes, like the fact that what you learn about the monsters stays unless you delete it, and that, each day, a new monster is added from a pool, so each run is a little different. Similarly, the management end is essentially “Create the best kinds of armour and weaponry to keep surviving, and assign the right people to the right beasties for the best result.” Objectives, also, such as “Suppress 8 meltdowns” (Suppress, in this context, means “Beat the hell out of whatever monster has invaded/escaped, try not to kill everyone.”) help upgrade the department they’re given to.

Successfully completing missions improves that specific department. Anti-fear effects? YES PLEASE

As such, it’s an odd mixture of frustrating and ho-hum. New abominations make life more interesting, and some of their quirks genuinely add depth and interest to play, but at the same time, that first time feels a bit like a roulette where a third of the segments are “Die horribly, do not roll again.” Once you know what the abnormal object or creature does, however, it becomes… Well, not tame. As noted, some outbreaks occur just by harvesting, and knowing what a thing does doesn’t help if you’re not healing or dealing with problems correctly… But safer, is probably the best word.

I would still say that Lobotomy Corp is worth a go, because it’s one of the few games I’ve seen trying to tackle this particular subject from this angle, and it honestly doesn’t do a bad job. It’s more that, in accurately representing its source inspiration, it’s also getting across the frustration attached.

A distant cry of “NOT MY HAAAAAAAAAIR” is heard. Or, it would be, if the other noises didn’t drown it out. Another day in Lobotomy Corporation…

The Mad Welshman is, for reference, Teth O-O5X-9 , The Twirler Of Moustaches.

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Going Back – Death Coming

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So here we are, looking at a game where the main character, after having died, is employed by death to… Use various items around the levels to crush, burn, boil, freeze, and, generally speaking, make a lot of pixel people very, very dead. Death Coming is a good dictionary definition of “Guilty Pleasure”, considering its subject matter.

Yup. Pushing tourists into toxic goop by means of plant is one of those “Guilty Pleasure” things.

But y’know what? It’s fun, and I’m somehow shocked I missed this one back in November of last year. Ah well, let’s take a look now.

As noted, the basic gameplay idea is very simple: You have a town, and a certain number of items around town are imbued with the power of death. What this amounts to is that, when clicked for the first time, they (mostly) show you roughly what they’re going to kill, and, the second time around, they activate (With some later additions like guards who stop things going awry, and more complex, multipart death traps.) Aided with this knowledge, two goals are in sight: Kill a certain number of people (Who Death informs you have lived past their time), and kill three specific people in each level, because they, apparently, are both past their time and linked, in some fashion, to your own death.

Aesthetically, the game’s isometric, pixel artwork and ominous tunes give a good backdrop to this strategy game of mass murder, with a whole host of animations that only gets bigger as the varieties of death get stranger and stranger. Here, the manhole cover is opened, and there’s just a frame of suspension, before the fall into darkness, a meaty crunch, and an FPS style announcer deeply intoning “MEGAKILL.” This is not a game trying to step around its subject matter.

Some folks, apparently, need to die more than others. At least some of these can be related to the level’s narrative.

I like how it progresses, and I also like how there’s a very real sense, as the game goes on, that Death is maybe not playing ball, and that maaaaybe we’ve been duped. THE POLICE ARE HERE, as angels descend from the heavens to try and stop your murderous shenanigans. Wait, if the people really are past their time to live, then why… Ohhhhh…

The game does a fairly good job of adding to its replayability, with each area having a new wrinkle, unique feature, or extra step in difficulty (such as the introduction of changes due to different weather conditions. Dagnabbit, I missed my 3 minute window to use a manhole!) , and this leads me to the two niggles I have with this game: That it’s somewhat short (Delightful, but short), and that it has a single save system.

Otherwise, Death Coming is an interesting take on hidden object puzzle gameplay, with a solid focus around its theme, some black comedy, and good replayability. Worth a look.

Every level adding something new, some new wrinkle. Today’s wrinkle? Weather, part the second!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot more to say. The game kind of speaks for itself.

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