Frozen Synapse 2 (Review)

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

The original Frozen Synapse, released in 2011, gave me a new appreciation for AI. A few simple roles, a few simple actions, and a constricted battlefield nonetheless gave appreciation for timing, cones of vision, and action priority, because the core conceit of the game, whether against AI or players, is that turns happen simultaneously, and so, you have to not only think what you’re doing, but also what the other person’s doing.

A fine example of understanding timing from this multiplayer match… Nothing I do will save this assault, because the grenade is perfectly timed.

Okay, so you have to do that anyway in games, but seeing it, explicitly playing out on a map, and understanding both your mistakes and those of your opponents makes clear just how big that phase space of actions could get. It was scary, but thankfully, the community was pretty chill.

Now, after that, a similar concept with Frozen Cortex (Only robot sportsball instead of corporate murderclones with guns), and a few years, Frozen Synapse 2 has come to deliver… Well, more of that. And it brings two somewhat different experiences, depending on whether you tackle the City Mode, singleplayer, or Multiplayer. Let’s deal with multiplayer first, because it’s the simpler of the two, in a sense.

Four players, in two teams, given one of several random, single weapon loadouts. While there are other multiplayer modes, the most common is that, as mentioned, turns are simultaneous, and you don’t know what a player’s doing unless the opponent is in your vision arc. A good example from my multiplayer matches (Where I have consistently been defeated so far) was where a grenadier, unbeknownst to me, was right behind my assault that turn, and slipped into a doorway to grenade one of my folks from where I least expected it.

It was a clever play, because even if they had been seen because my Assault (automatic rifle) had seen them, they would still probably have escaped before I could shoot them, due to the fact that Grenadiers always run when they’re not throwing grenades, but Assaults track slowly when they’re moving, and are at their best when they know roughly where to aim. There are inequalities, built into the classes (Knife, Pistol, Assault, Shotgun, Grenadier, Rocketeer, Flamethrower) that add tactical considerations. Grenades take time to throw, and won’t move until they do, but their explosions last longer than a rocket (Not much longer, but enough that I painfully learned that Grenadiers can run into their own grenades, after the explosion started), Rocketeers blow up all the landscape in the rocket’s AoE, which can work against as much as for, and everything takes time.

A lot of this would already be known to Frozen Synapse players, new roles aside, but the addition of focus fire makes for a new priority to memorise, and a new wrinkle.

Moving quickly means it’s harder to hit you, but you can’t fire. Moving normally means you fire, but you have a penalty aiming. Stopping when you see someone means you shoot quickly, but are a sitting duck. But whoever correctly predicts the small, diamond shape location where an enemy is going to be when they fire, they get an accuracy boost. So, for example, somebody covering a door, from a far corner, may well get the drop on somebody who knows damn well the door’s their only exit, but foolishly stands in the doorway.

The story of Frozen Synapse continues, as this city is essentially built on the rubble of the first game’s story mode.

So it’s tactically intricate, simple rules making for an intriguing tactical game where you’re seeking a maximum area of action, while attempting to contract the opponent’s choices. I almost won one match from near death, due to the last person being a grenadier, who can quickly deny large areas without having to destroy their cover. Alas, they had a grenadier too, and, on the 9th turn of 8, it was declared a draw.

City Mode, on the other hand, is more complex. Not only are there the same tactical considerations, there’s management aspects to it too, such as building permits, a mercenary market, diplomacy… And it doesn’t exactly tutorialise well. Case in point: Grenades are great. Grenades are useful. But you can’t use Grenades unless you’ve signed up for Explosive Ordnance Services in the City. Or rockets. And the first I knew of this was when I’d already sent a Grenadier along with my squad to help clear out some Raiders. All the great aesthetics, the huge map, the soulful music that plays, isn’t going to save single player mode from some heavy flak for bad explanation of complex systems… Or, overall, the fact that accessibility options for the small text are currently nonexistent (There was, apparently, a “4K Supporting GUI” patch over the weekend before writing this, but it doesn’t appear to change tiny text, nor is there an option for this.)

Just a minute or so before I make a mistake that dooms a merc, I appreciate… Oh gods, this is a lot of buildings!

Add in some awkwardness in Multiplayer (If you want to add one of your own matches to Favourites by liking it, you have to search for its ID in the Match Play tab, rather than something more intuitive), and all of that interesting stuff I mentioned… Is less accessible to folks.

So, unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it. Its single player is complex without good support, its multiplayer isn’t for everyone no matter how friendly its community is, and, while it does make some steps in terms of colourblind support, that doesn’t change that a lot of its UI text is painfully small. It does expand on what worked well in the main game, and, apart from the knife, which is… Not something useful to a beginner player, those expansions add depth while still being easily explored. The rest? Not so much.

The Mad Welshman would make a poor mercenary leader. I mean, who gives soldiers orders to shoot without ammo?

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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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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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Crest (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £6.99 (£9.99 Supporter Edition, £1.59 each for Art book and Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time I looked at Crest, the indirect god game in which you set commandments for your tribes (and they try to weasel out of them as soon as they humanly can, using their faith as a bargaining chip) , food was a bit of a problem. I am, on the one hand, happy to report that this is no longer the case for the majority of your early to mid game.

At times, priests of cities will travel to others, to spread their version of The Word. In this particular case, I suspect the villagers were confused about this mention of berry bushes, although “Nookie” was understood.

Sustainability, on the other hand, is a bit of an issue, and, as you might have guessed… I mainly think it’s because my followers are a bunch of gits. My own fault, I suppose, because keeping your followers happy, and keeping them sustainable is, as it turns out, a bit of a struggle.

“Feed thyself!” , I cried. “Go forth, and plant many berries!” And lo, they did, and, for a while, it was good.

“Go forth, those of you with children!”, I declared. “Go forth, multiply further, and be fruitful!” And lo, they sort of did, grumbling a bit because they were currently into gathering as many resources as possible, not all this babymaking business. But eventually, and for a while, it was good.

“My children, now that you know about these Antelope things I have created, go forth, and eat well (But sustainably!)” I called. And lo, they went to that one with gusto, and, for a little while, it was good.

“Spread further, and learn more of this world!” I proclaimed. And funnily enough, not everybody was happy with that one. Or the one where I asked the folks near metal to mine it so they could grow strong (and maybe defend themselves against what I knew, in my omniscience, to be Lions, but they hadn’t quite gotten the picture yet.) At various points, these turned into things like “Let us make more children if we already have them!” , “Let us hunt ostriches if we’re near antelopes, because we’ve suddenly decided we like ostriches more!” , and, most odd of all, “Let’s expand this whole Desert thing until everybody can share in our bounty!”

And yea, did WelshGod look down upon what he had wrought, and mightily he did facepalm.

I hate to break it to you, my (sometimes, conditionally) loyal ones, but that doesn’t spread metal, gems, or even ostriches. So, er… I did nix these commandments, as far as I could with the faith I was given, and lo, faith in me did drop, so they did what the hell they wanted for a short while, until I had another bright idea.

“Young of the world, socialise with thy brethren, learn more of thy neighbour!” And lo, that one went down rather well. Of course, by this time, the antelope were looking a little thin, and the lions (they’d finally learned what they were… Painfully, in at least some cases) not very thin at all. Hummm…

“Go forth, those of you near lions, go forth with all that metal you have, and bang it loudly near the lion, to scare it from you unto the territory of those people you dislike!” I spoke. Well, more generally than that, working in Noun Verb Noun isn’t exactly a science, but they at least looked like they had the idea.

But, apart from, like, *one* war, everyone was talking, so most people were at *worst* apathetic! <3

And lo, that wasn’t very good at all. In fact, that’s the story of how a deity managed to kill the second city its followers had ever built, in under 10 minutes. Of course, by this time, I’d also taught my followers all but the final tier of words, which would have included useful things like “Ocean” (for sending my followers far, far away, to new lands), and firmly reached the point where, beyond keeping my followers alive and (relatively) faithful, there wasn’t really much of a goal.

Still, it was a fun time, being a deity, even if I was well on the way to cocking it up royally by the time I started writing this review. A shortish time (It takes only a few hours of judicious commandmenting to get the majority of words), but one I enjoyed a fair bit, due to a fair tutorial, an improved word discovery system, the fact that followers now fed themselves (and procreated, once they got the idea), and the lovely, low poly aesthetic of a sub-saharan world where survival very much meant living in balance with nature.

I didn’t get the hang of that bit (or rather, was heading toward the point where it was clear I hadn’t got the hang of that bit, not the point of no return), but for all my mistakes (and the aforementioned weaselling of my followers) , I can tell you this: Unhappy was a word they never learned. Also, annoyingly, Gems. But I’ll take the fact nobody knew they were unhappy as a win.

Mere days (minutes, in DeityTime) before the final follower of the village realised a single villager is not, in fact, scary to a lion that’s already eaten so many delicious humans.

The Mad Welshman is gonna be a god, he’s gonna be a naughty god…

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Deep Sixed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

I was only talking about cheery dystopias a few weeks back, and yet, here we are with Deep Sixed, a game that has all the fun hallmarks. Remember, if your reactor is critically leaking, you may wish to repair it. If you cannot repair it, you may wish to send an emergency beacon. If the emergency beacon is not working, you may wish to send an emergency beacon.

Okay, I got *part* of it right.

Okay, so that’s not exactly what’s said, but the general sentiment, among others, is there, carefully and cheerily enunciated by the voice actress for URSA, the AI companion on your indefinite corrective period of exploration and adventure.

Which, translated, means: You’re indentured to explore a nebula on behalf of a corporation, because you fucked up, and your ship is a hunk of junk that will probably kill you if the local life forms don’t. This works both for and against the game. Let’s start with that good ol’ “For” column.

Deep Sixed does one thing quite well, and that’s setting its mood. You’re isolated, so your only contact with… Well, anyone is either email, mission descriptions, or your handy dandy (until it breaks) AI companion, URSA. You’re clearly not valued as anything more than an expendable resource, because your ship’s a hunk of junk, and only by doing jobs for the company can you make it anything but, or repair massive damage… And it will still break down with distressing regularity. Oh, and you’re not a trained worker, why would you be? So you get a manual of iffy usefulness, to help you with the repairs you’re inevitably going to be doing… Alone.

Ugh. Of *course* nobody told me the job would involve getting slimed. Of *course* they didn’t…

And, on a quiet mission, with only a few problems, this is fine. It adds atmosphere, and the fact that some of the missions are themselves an exercise in tedium is, itself, part of the allure. But when things go drastically wrong, as they inevitably will?

ARGH. One early example was after I’d discovered the existence (through a plot mission) of Zephyrlings. Zephyrlings run in packs. Zephyrlings can quickly short the power of your modules, forcing you to waste valuable time flipping to the power room to repower the viewing stations, and combat with multiple opponents is best described as “An exercise in slow, painful, and frustrating death.” There are thing to make it somewhat easier, like shields, a deceleration field that can slow some enemies, and a hotkey for switching laser types… But combat is definitely one of the weaker parts of the game, and, interestingly enough, creates the more difficult to solve problems (recalibrating lasers, repairing hull damage mid fight, combatting fires mid fight.) There is an “Easy” mode, but, beyond actually telling you what problems exist, allowing pre-mission saves, and disabling achievements, it’s not… All that much easier.

As such, despite its charm, the woman of colour protagonist, some pretty good voice acting and writing, and some interesting ideas, overall, Deep Sixed turns me off. It’s not that these difficulties are insurmountable. It’s not that you can’t learn how to be a good captain of a shitty ship. It’s not that the game isn’t working well… Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s simply that this kind of experience, while interesting in small bursts, isn’t great for me overall. If you like a game that is tough, but with the toughness coming more from stimulus overload than lack of clarity, then perhaps Deep Sixed is for you.

As it turns out, reading the manual for fixing oxygen leaks while oxygen leaks are happening is… A bad idea.

The Mad Welshman would like to note the devs appear receptive to constructive criticism, as noted by the addition of continuing from saves to Easy Mode just prior to this review being written.

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