Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $19.99 First Access (With further donation options)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

The Scions of the Dreaming Dark surround my people. Their eldritch machines drain their blood, only to make them more violent, more willing to die for their leader. Their people may fall rapidly, but each time one falls, so do many of mine. And their leader… Their leader feeds off their hate, their rage, their death. He takes blows that would slay a normal human like rain off my jacket, shrugging, laughing.

My people are falling. We may never reach the Promised Land. And the longer this fight goes on… The harder it becomes.

Well… This is… Awkward. The combat plays *somewhat* like Hearthstone with the Momentum. But, y’know, without the monetisation. Sweet.

It’s intriguing, isn’t it, how games imply a world with mechanics. And Nowhere Prophet, by Sharkbomb Studio, does this so very well. Even for a game that currently has two areas playable.

The basic idea, storywise, is that you are a latter day Moses, except, of course, I really do mean “Latter” day, as the world has kind of gone to ruin, with some technology still being known, and used, but others, such as the satellite that crash lands near our titular Prophet, mystified and referred to in the simple terms of the day. It talks of safety, and knowledge. Isn’t that enough to make a grand journey for, and to share with others?

But here’s the thing: It’s all very well to promise a Promised Land. But how, in the end, will you lead your people? Praise knowledge? Kindness? How will you keep their hope up, when you aren’t there yet, and the journey seems so long… How will you defend them, in these hostile lands?

Hrm… Possibility of painful death, or Possibility of painfu… New followers? Sold!

While it’s not perfect, the game has this: How do you return hope? Well, the birth of a child can happen, that helps. But mostly, you’re passing round shinies, in the hope that it will distract them. It sounds cynical as hell, but it can’t be denied that yeah, a little luxury makes a journey go faster. Lose hope, and problems arise. Similarly, food. You sort of need that to live, last I checked. And so, tough decisions are made. Do you take that nastier route because it has food, even knowing that it’s going to cost food to get the food, and that said food is probably already claimed by animals, ancient and malfunctioning robots using it as bait, bandits, or an end-times cult? Or do you take the easier route in the hope that something comes along?

Combat, similarly, has options, due to the deckbuilding system. You start with 23 followers, and the clothes on your back, and, no matter how much you want to preserve these people you promised, if you die, everybody loses. Take out the enemy leader, or make them run away. Even here, there’s decisions to be made. Do you keep a lot of weaker followers that synergise well, but might die in droves if the fight doesn’t go the way you want it to? Maybe bigger folks, buying time with your followers. Use them too harshly, and… Well, you don’t have followers anymore.

As you might tell, I like and enjoy this game. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, but what imperfections it has? Well, it’s early days. But the writing is good, the art style really sets the tone for each faction, and my main criticisms right now can be fixed with time. Basically… More. A little more music, to break things up. Obviously, the areas that are already coming. For some of the events with options that require 50 followers or 26 Altruism to maaaaybe not proc in the first area where I don’t see reasonable ways of achieving this? That last one, honestly, is mostly a grump, these events can happen anywhere down the line, but… Yes, I’ve had a lot of enjoyment with Nowhere Prophet so far, and foresee more, because it makes interesting choices, has a cool art style, tutorialises well, and its mechanics sync well with its narrative. So, all in all? Thumbs up.

It’s important to note that not all paths are pre-mapped. There’s nearly always a way forward, even if it’s… Uncomfortable.

The Mad Welshman is a quiet Prophet. Mostly a prophet of interesting design choices that people seem to miss. Ah well, it’s a niche.

Auto Age: Standoff (Review)

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

Auto Age Standoff is a game I foresee playing quite a few bot-matches with. Not because it’s a bad game, but due to the simple (and sad) fact that not every multiplayer game gets a playerbase. And, for all that Auto Age Standoff is, at the time of writing the review, a fun multiplayer game, and one with the much needed feature of playing against bots (and challenging ones too) when, say, nobody’s around to play, it is also a game that needs more players. Also, it’s a game that nails the aesthetic it’s going for.

Oh, yes. Puns. Those too.

What aesthetic is that? Saturday Morning Cartoons. Cheesy theme song? Yup. Bright and clearly cel shaded? Yup. Colour coded factions? Yup. Villain who possesses not just one name that makes you question their life choices, but two? Oh, hi, Bonecrusher who is now Dark Jaw, leader of the evil Jawlings!

So yes… In the far future, SAIGE, an AI who helped preserve the civilisations of the wastes, is being hunted by Dark Jaw, so he can RUUULE THE WORLD AHAHAHAHAAA!

Er… Sorry, villainous side showing a bit there. Anyway, she recruits a courier called Val Vega, and… Well, there’s more implied in the world, like the missing (in universe, but playable in game) S-Force, the Jawlings, and the like, but beyond the tutorial… Well, that’s your reason for fighting in arenas in bright, team colour coded vehicles. This, by the way, is the part where I get a bit sad more people aren’t playing this. Why?

Combat is quick and chaotic, but most of that is movement. Targeting is automatic at the right ranges.

Honestly, it’s fun. Vehicles each come with one special ability according to their type, such as Medium vehicles having self-repair, and Heavy vehicles coming with a ram damage booster auto-equipped, different secondary special abilities can be added (like auto-tracking turrets or drunk missiles), the handling is different enough that you feel it, but not enough to make anything but a tower feel like a brick riding on other bricks, and you can be really, really mobile.

Okay. Consider this for a second. Boosting into an enemy car. They get knocked back, you back up a sec, power forward, then… Jump and shoot them from above. Yes, these cars have jumps, boosts, and, with a good run up, can basically flip. Even if you do end up on your roof, flipping is quick and easy. So yeah, it’s pretty fluid, and the AI is fun.

Essentially, if you want something cool and multiplayer that you can play with friends, and practice with bots, Auto-Age Standoff is pretty fun. Sure, it could do with more SatAm cheese than the tutorial provides, but honestly? The developers are adding new maps with each update so far, the 8 maps currently in provide a fair amount of variety, and I’m okay with that.

Jawling Towers. On the one hand, very easy to topple. On the other, they have some *serious* weaponry.

JAWLING RECRUITMENT DRIVE.DOC [SAVE… UPLOAD COMPLETE]

Downward (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I could, in essence, repeat what I said in my Early Access review. I could. But that wouldn’t be fair to the fact that the developers have attempted to change things up (Planets happen earlier, some other things happen later, change in voices, some writing differences). So let’s go through things.

Pretty. Disconnected. It… Kinda looks how the game *feels*

In some unknown time, humanity is kind of doomed, thanks to three planets. Except for a runny, jumpy artefact hunter who finds themselves near the ruin of a posthuman human outpost, a hermit trying very hard to be both mysterious and Yosemite Sam, a mysterious woman-voice, a skull that used to be an astrologer (astronomer? Who knows!) and mysteeeerious devices. There’s just one small problem: You’re not really given a reason to care. Since our protagonist is a confused young man, and meant to be some sort of tabula rasa for us, let’s do this from my viewpoint.

I start in a dream. I can escape the dream by parkouring my way through things, with knowledge that I have, but I also don’t (Oh, that’s an Anomaly? What kind of… Oh, a jumpy anomaly… Well, good thing I knew that… Somehow!) Having escaped my dream, I find that… It probably wasn’t actually a dream. I’m not sure. All I know is I’m somewhere else, and mysterious lady is urging me onwards. Well, onwards I go, picking up some old relics of human civilisation because, well, that’s me, I’m a relic hunter… Oh, wait, nothing to really piece together here, they’re gears and canteens and things, I know how those work. But wait! Also, there are skypieces! These aren’t Lightseeds from Prince of Persia, that’s a totally different game, except… Wait, they are. They’re for unlocking abilities, only a few of which will help me progress. Also, there are crystal buttons. I don’t know what they do, but an equally mysterious thought in my head from outside tells me something will happen if I find them all. I shrug, and move on, ringing the Ancient Bell of Life Saving Through Mysterious Means.

Crystal turrets. I know how to deal with those. I just have to push the equally mysterious Crystal Disc that’s somewhere nearby, and they’ll fall apart. Mysterious. Okay, I can see evidence of civilisation, that’s intere- Wait, Golems? Where?

“It’s facing downward!” Yes, like the last twenty times. I think I get it now.

Oh. Rocks held together by some cube or other. I can’t take the cube off them until they’ve “phased down”, which involves staying out of their way until they do some form of mega attack, after which I can pluck them, and if I don’t, I have to go through all this again. This takes an average of about five minutes. Each time. And some Golems have more than one cube. Where’s the exit again? Oh, it’s locked by… Those cubes. Which also whisper to me, because mystery. Also, an intrusive thought from outside interjects, because it makes finding them somewhat easier, because at some point I’ll need to have grabbed at least 150 of the damn things just to open a door. Possibly more.

A statue! I can use the Not-Lightseeds to buy powers here, most of which I don’t care about that much right now. Fast Travel sounds good, whatever that may be. Louder whispers from these cubes also sounds good, but the rest is health and stamina and things, eh. Quality of life stuff, my other mind interjects.

A fellow human being! He was kind of hard to see, but I can certainly hear him, and he’s not from where I (or the lady) am, that’s for sure! I’m a puppet? How mysterious! Nah, he’s just Crazy. I live in a time where there’s not enough humans left to give a shit about ableism, let’s go with that. Oh, but he buys our stuff for Not-Lightseeds, I… Don’t really need those that much, interjects my other self.

Mines! Except they’re slow, the disc to deactivate them is on them, they’re more a nuisance than a threat unless I’m unaware or otherwise occupied. Woo. A Mysterious Artefact! It lets me use those anomalies I was… Using… In my dream. There’s some other anomalies, and the mysterious other mind tells me that yes, those, too, will be unlocked with an artefact, with Progress.

My mind blanks out. Everything goes black. And the other voice takes over.

Ooooh, mysteri- Oh, wait, not really. Sigh.

It’s all very well to have mystery, but a mystery without a reason to explore it, or stretched out too long becomes tedious. It’s all very well to have a collectathon, but when the gatekeeping is this transparent, it becomes a tedious duty rather than a joy, not helped by the fact that elements of it (Cubes from Golems, specifically) is tedious. Downward looks pretty. Its music is good. But, like the gears and mysteeeerious pillars (Challenge maps, and also a plot point), the game elements stick out like a sore thumb, only awkwardly fitting with what I’m assuming is meant to be a mystery of the same byzantine look of the architecture and the walls you can use. Overall, a very unsatisfying experience, and a good example of how your mechanical aspects can over-ride your narrative ones.

The Mad Welshman notes that the more things change, the more they stay mysteri- crap, that’s 17 times I’ve said that now, isn’t it?

Zafehouse Diaries 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Zombies. Zombies never change. Wars. Bigotry. History… But zombies… Zombies… Never change.

Okay, maybe they do. Fast zombies, big zombies, little zombies… There’s a lot of zombies out there, but Zafehouse Diaries 2, like its predecessor, pretty much sticks with our shambling, flocking, endlessly moaning dead folks. It also tries to update the “Bunch of bigoted assholes are the only ‘survivors’ of a zombie apocalypse” formula Screwfly used in their very first game, Zafehouse Diaries 1, and…

Mark, like many of his ilk, is dancing around the fact that he judges books by their covers, or, more specifically, the *colour* of their covers. Redemption is possible, but I foresee head noms in his future…

…Honestly, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is one I feel conflicted about, because while there’s undeniably more to the game than its predecessor, there’s also more confusion. The Investigate/Snipe/Breach interface, for example, has become a little less clear. Click on the little icon to customise what you’re doing. This is kind of important, because that involves taking things with you, just one example of things you could be doing.

In any case, it’s a turn based strategy game in which you marshall a bunch of survivors, trying to feed yourselves, deal with internal conflicts, and, in at least some cases, try to get the hell out of town. Folks can work together on tasks, but, as in many zombie media, the survivors come from all walks of life, including howling bigots. Timothy, a middle class musician, doesn’t “like the look of” Dana, because he’s a racist. Jeffrey doesn’t like women. Dana, meanwhile, has beef with older folks (like Timothy, funnily enough.) Spreading rumours once a day can improve the mood, but it can also backfire horrendously. Heck, you can do it deliberately, if you really want to.

Not gonna lie, I kinda blinked a bit at this rumour. The options are racists and foreigners, and while it makes sense after thought… It did make me blink for a bit.

There are several scenarios, from the return of Road Kill (find a roadmap, a car, a repair manual, and five bits to repair a car to get out of town before everyone dies) to the new Kill Switch (Five soldiers, no relationship problems, stop an airstrike while nastier zombies try to wreck the town’s power grid.) As before, you can add custom content, such as making yourself in the game, but custom content (and indeed, changing the difficulty via the Custom Game option) stops you getting achievements. Similarly, there are events in game, such as the Piper, an asshole in a pickup truck who gives you the option of giving one of your folks as zombie bait, or having a tantrum, and beeping his horn as he drives off, attracting zombies. I hate the Piper.

Sadly, it isn’t the friendliest of games. Although Screwfly have clearly made an effort to improve over Zafehouse 1, making more things clear, such as customising orders, it’s a game where reading the manual (Which is in-game, under Help) is very important.

Overall, visually, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is an improvement over 1 (Although, as mentioned, that Breach/Snipe/Investigate could probably stand to be clearer), it does have more content, and it is a friendlier game than Zafehouse 1, especially with a tutorial, it’s still one you’ll want to explore the UI of before you make a move, and some things still aren’t quite clear (Survivor relationships, for example, affect the quality of their work together.)

While it’s not pictured, the Breach/Investigate/Snipe button is a post-it note next to Location Summary. A *small* , two-part post-it note. It could do with being a tadge bigger.

The Mad Welshman wants to eat the rich. However, he sees better chances of doing so as a zombie than a survivor. 

Drifting Lands (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£18.78 with soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

The continued existence of the scrolling shoot-em-up is a minor pleasure to me. There’s just something cathartic about holding down a button, and spaceships blow up. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but blowing things up is definitely the most relaxing part of the experience. And, spoiled 30 something brat that I am, I sometimes think I want more ways of blowing people than I’ve gotten.

Pictured: A fairly killy, speedy ship, which certainly won’t get into trouble around Grade 3/10 with my fat fingers. Nope, definitely not…

This is definitely not to say that Drifting Lands is a bad game. It’s actually quite good. I just wish there was more to it in some places. So, what’s different about the game? Equipment slots on your ship, each of which have pretty numbers that may help or hinder you. You want most of those numbers to go up as you go along, such as more Damage Per Second on your guns, more Armour, Health, Shield and Health Regeneration, and other such things. And you want certain numbers, such as “Chance for [item] to Break on [Manual/Automatic] Retreat” or “Chance for Cargo to be Lost [even if you win the ‘mission’]” to stay low. It’s a credit to the game that this is nowhere near as intimidating as I perhaps make it sound. It’s not the only different thing about Drifting Lands compared to other shmup type experiences, but that, and the fact that waves of enemies are picked from a list for each level and area randomly, that the game helpfully tells you how many waves are left at the top, and that the difficulty slowly increases as the game goes on with the addition of mechanics like revenge bullets (The ship you shot releases bullets on exploding, usually straight at you), are all interesting features.

There’s quite a bit of variety in the kit, and while I’d like to say “Go for the weapon you like the pattern of, and stick with it”, the game disincentivises that by virtue of the fact that some weapons will always have a lower damage among peers of their respective levels (Shotguns and Lasers, for example, suffer, compared with the Trident and Double Cannon, which, relatively consistently, outdamage them.) Also, y’know, that weapon you want to get the next hotness of might not have your +X Navigation, meaning its Damage is even lower than you’d think.

Pictured: Ignonimous defeat.

Still, once you get into the missions, it’s joyously simple again, although it becomes more bullet-hell like as you rank up in grades: Shoot things, use your special abilities to kill more things, dodge bullets, maybe fight a boss or a Convoy Mission (Kill X enemy type before the end), and don’t die. My current favourites, ability wise, are a ring of fire, a back and fore blast that kills things in a straight line, another kind of blast that kills things in a circle around me quicker than the fire ring will, healing, the chance to get more money the bigger the kill streak I can line up, and the thing I’ll probably never ditch, the Automatic Retreat, stopping you from losing your ship if you die, at the cost of the things you picked up during the mission, and maybe some of your niftier equipment.

There’s also a story to the game, and while it’s a little cliché (The Ark, sole independent survivors, fight religious zealots, corporations, robots, etc, while their main pilot (that’s you) seem to make poor decisions), it’s fairly well written and characterfully voice acted cliché with a moderately diverse cast. The music’s good, the art is very good, so honestly…

You can almost *see* the slime dripping off this guy. You can definitely *hear* it when he talks.

…If you don’t mind twitch gameplay, where your reflexes will save the day, if you can get along with the fact that your favourite weapon types won’t always be available, if you can get along with the fact that the game’s enemies start throwing serious bullet, laser, and explosive shit at you by Grade 3 out of 10 (And it presumably gets nastier), then this might very well be a game you want to check out, for experimenting with the shmup formula in interesting, if not always fun ways. I still like it, flaws and all, so thumbs up from m-

EEEEEE, DAMN YOU, THIRD BOSS, DAMN YOU AND YOUR WAVES OF FURYYYY!