Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

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Into The Breach (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.18 w/Soundtrack, £4.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Minor paraphrasing aside, Into the Breach sums up, in its own title, how I’ve felt while reviewing it. Once more, unto the breach, dear friends! ONCE! MORE! I’m less enthused about the part where I close up the walls with the English dead, but that’s mainly because I don’t have all that many to close the walls with, and I’m pretty sure most of my mech pilots aren’t English to begin with…

OOPS. Welp, back to the time machine, folks!

…Still, Into the Breach is Subset games’ latest foray into their particular brand of tight, replay dependent strategy, in which three mech pilots (One of which, at any given time, is a traveller from a future where things went horribly wrong) try to hold back an insectile menace, mostly without backup. It’s turn based, and with the clever gimmick that, due to time travelling shenanigans, you already know what your enemy is going to do. Well, to a certain extent. You know what they’re shooting at (and are capable of), and you can take advantage of this to, for example, shove one of them with artillery or a punch in such a way that they actually hit their bugfriends this time around.

As such, it’s a highly tactical game with a lot of depth, which you might not realise looking at screenshots, as every mission is an 8×8 map. On its most basic level, there’s always at least as many of them as you (unless you’re super good), so simply doing damage isn’t enough. In fact, at least some of the time, you’re merely going to be concentrating on avoiding housing damage, as, with enough loss of life, that’s it, the Vek have reached critical mass, time to bug out and maybe find a timeline where you did better (taking one pilot with you.) But then, it adds layers. Pushing and pulling enemies as well as hitting them. Status effects. Synergies. Environmental considerations.

Ahhh, nothing like saving the day by setting things on fire, and then shoving things *into* fire. Or acid. Hell, just plain water does well sometimes too!

Since explaining everything would most likely be rather dull, let me focus on a team that I never thought I’d like… And yet, they consistently get closer to victory than any of my other mech groups. Heck, even their name (The Rusting Hulks) and their price to unlock (a measly 2 coins) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The fact that one of their units doesn’t even hurt enemies seems, at very first glance, like the waste of a unit. But this is where it gets fun. Because, you see, the other two units drop smoke. Smoke which, to them and them alone, also electrocutes enemies at the beginning of their turn, on top of what smoke normally does in this game: Stop you being able to attack if you’re in it.

This may not seem useful, but consider this: An enemy not attacking, and taking damage, is a net plus. An enemy that can’t fly shoved into water, or two enemies with 1 HP being shoved into each other with violent gravitic force is not only a plus, it’s being classy as hell. I don’t need powerful beam weaponry, giant fists, or superscience shenanigans. I have smoke and mirrors. What with the different teams each having an interesting style of play, the ability to play with random mechs, and the ability to pick and choose teams, with achievements (and thus further team unlocks) for experimenting? Now that’s what I call encouraging replay and diversity of play, friends…

It hasn’t taken me terribly long to get to the point where things have slowed down a little (A straight night of play has earned me all of the islands, most of the pilots, and some of the teams, with two almost wins) , but, even with everything unlocked, I see the potential here for me coming back. What if I have an all-shoving team? Or having to watch my collateral with highly damaging beam weaponry? Hrm. Hrrrrrrrm!

Smoke and mirrors. Okay, and riding the lightning too, but let’s not go overboard here!
…Okay, let’s go overboard.

It helps that the music is tense, fitting, and atmospheric, the sound solid, the visual aesthetic similarly tight and consistent, and, best of all, it tutorialises fairly well, and is pretty clear. I would consider this a pretty strong purchase for strategy fans, and another fine example to add to my collection of designing clearly and tightly to goals. Props.

Burninate the towns… Burninate… Oh, wait, no, that’s the opposite of what The Mad Welshman is meant to be doing! Sorrrreeeee!

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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.

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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]

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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?

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