Subnautica (Early Access Review 3)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Played: Eye Candy Update (Dec 2017)

Subnautica, it seems, has come a long way. From just puttering around, building what the heck you want, to an involved story of survivors distinctly unprepared for the unlikely circumstances they found themselves in, trapped on a watery world with a deadly mystery, and, more specifically, of you, the sole definitely surviving survivor.

Echoes of Lost In Space here… We wanted to rescue these folks, but… Well…

Oh, it’s come a long way indeed, and, at the present time? Things are largely in the cleanup phase, with prettifications and bug fixes abound in the “Eye Candy” update. But it’s been a few updates since I last covered the game, so let’s get into the meat of it. Last time, I asked if you really want to leave this un-named blue planet, with its intriguing mysteries, fascinating, and sometimes deadly life forms, extinct aliens, and, of course, your crashed starship, which is likely going to kill large swathes of that aforementioned life if you don’t fix the reactor anytime soon.

Now? Well, very early on, you get some signs that… Perhaps not all is well. I don’t particularly want to spoil things for you, because this game comes highly recommended in the survival genre for an interesting, balanced, and well realised watery world (Itself uncommon), but… Leaving is definitely not an option until you clean up, both after yourself and the ancient, possibly extinct aliens that didn’t exactly do great things themselves.

The game is, for the most part, pretty accessible, with story being largely a choice at the present time, and you can, if you wish, just tootle around the planet, exploring without having to worry about mean ol’ food, or even, at the cost of story, oxygen. Conversely, you can ironman the game, with one life, and no oxygen warnings from your friendly computer. Survival, the default, however… Really isn’t bad. Oxygen limits exploration somewhat, but as you get further in the game, more options exist, such as mech suits, minisubs, the big Cyclops mobile base/submarine. Each survival pod you explore, each base now has little bits of voiced story, to give you more detail, and, in a couple of cases, some mild bemusement at how the heck you managed to survive when your compatriots have done things like wave thermite flares around fuel tanks, or overclock their Seaglides (No, really, both of these things happen, and the results apparently weren’t pretty.)

“Bo-Chu-Da?”
“Er, we’re here to… Turn off the generator?”
“Five a dozen, ho ho ho!”
“…How rude!”

As you might have guessed, things are close to release. And, judging by the things I’ve done, the drama I’ve encountered, and the beautiful sights along the way, I have little doubt I’ll be saying much the same thing I have during the Early Access period for Subnautica…

…If you want a survival game with an underwater twist, that’s not terribly twitchy, has an intriguing world, some beautiful sights to see and treats for your ears… Subnautica remains a good pick. I look forward to finishing up the story, and, honestly? I’ll be a little sad when I leave this blue planet. It’s been so good to me, apart from the Reaper Leviathan.

Actually, can I elect to shoot the Reaper into space and live here? That would be just dreamy. Aaah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, crashing from high orbit hasn’t done the Aurora any favours.

The Mad Welshman would like to note that Subnautica comes out of Early Access next month. So we’ll be back to this watery world very soon. Very soon.

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Sunless Skies (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Forever Live The Queen! The Empire, In Its Infinite Wisdom, Has Replaced The Traitor Sun With A Clockwork Marvel. More Inside, Along With The Scandalous Dealings (And Deals) At Magdalene’s!

Although this screenshot is from an earlier version, how could I not include the talented melding of Terry Thomas and David Suchet as a dastardly bureaucrat? So good!

So… Here we are again. Failbetter, from browser game Fallen London, to Sunless Sea, to today, have created an interesting world, a dark, funhouse mirror world of the Victorian, Lovecraftian Empire. Cosmic Horror, Dunsanian Phantasy and Afternoon Tea, if you will. And now? We’re in the railways of space. Yes, you heard me right. Flying trains. Through space. But, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For example, resource management remains important, as you have limited cargo space (Even with improvements), and the very fact that running a space train is kind of expensive immediately throws you into the politics and mysteries of the area. The Company will keep you in fuel and money, so long as you regularly supply them with Port Reports, and don’t deal overmuch with those violent blackleggers and revolutionaries, the Tacketies. Which is amusing, when you consider that in the Station of New Winchester (The capital of the first area of the game, and currently the only available one), Victory Hall (One of the homes of the Tackety Movement) is quite near, in fact, to Company House. But such is life here.

Each area, each floating township and station has their own feel. Their own mysteries…

Right now, while there may not seem like a whole lot (And the developers, ever cognisant that you might have trouble paying the bills, give a generous starting payment to get you going), the stars of Sunless Skies are still intriguing. It’s a living, breathing Space, with the fungal remains of vast creatures, singing bees, and, of course, various Fallen Londoners in space. The most recent update, accessible by beta branch, is something well known to Sunless Sea players: The world having segments that are, themselves, static, but placed procedurally. So, sometimes, Port Prosper is, as the main branch would tell you, far to the Northeast. Sometimes, it’s to the Southwest. Sometimes, it’s to the NNW. But it will always be a tough prospect to reach without having some supply stops in that middle ring to help ensure you don’t die in what is, despite the Queen’s meddling, the cold of space. You’re rewarded with experience for finding places, filling out that map, doing tasks, but, in the end, the Sunless Skies will swallow your character whole.

Of course, if you die, at least some of your knowledge gets passed on to the next Captain, some of your goods, some of your wealth. Perhaps all of it, if you reach what’s currently the first goal of the game’s lineage based RPG fun: Having a home that isn’t the Cab of your (admittedly glorious) space train. The controls are simple, explained well by the game, and from there? Well, the choices are out there, ripe for exploration. I quite enjoyed Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies is looking to be an improvement on that formula, and I look forward to seeing where this looking glass leads.

Those who are impressionable may feel that this is an eldritch sigil, rather than a path of exploration along common trade routes. Please ignore the howling winds from the ground itself and tentacled beastie behind me, thanks in advance.

The Mad Welshman would, for obvious reasons, prefer to be referred to by his proper title: Captain D’Urbin of Her Majesty’s Windward Company, 4th Merchant Fleet. Thankew.

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Slay the Spire (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Slaying a sentient tower with all sorts of gribbleys living in, parasitising, and, to an extent, defending its ancient heart is, as it turns out, a difficult endeavour. Although it must be said that, at least some of the time, that’s definitely my fault. For example, spending lots of energy on a multiple attack card to try and kill something that reflects more damage than I’m handing out? That wasn’t a wise move.

Reading an ancient and maddening book when I was low on HP, and I already knew I didn’t have the HP to read it? My fault.

Ughhh… I will forever doubt if this grinning snake really was just giving me money.

Taking this path absolutely filled with monsters, and not a lot of healing or mystery options, because reasons? Yep, that bit me in the ass.

Still, Slay the Spire is, for all these things that were definitely my fault, a tough, turn based, choose your own path RPG brawler with a mechanic we seem to be seeing more of: Cards for skills, attacks, and powers, with what you can do limited by both hand size and Energy. And, you know? It’s got a fair few options spread among the 2 characters currently available.

The Ironclad, for example, specialises in defence, but also has nasty little tricks like Armament, a card that not only adds defense, but upgrades either a single card, or your whole hand. Or perhaps trading HP for strength, healing through murder, or Rampage, a card that slowly accrues damage with each use. Healing a little after every fight, he’s the long hauler.

The Silent, by contrast, has poison, and can quickly build up a deck where she builds up silly amounts of Energy and cards in the hand, for murderous barrages and a host of status effects. Sure, she doesn’t have a lot of defense, but when she gets going, things die very, very quickly.

Pictured: A lot of options, from the relics I’ve obtained, to the cards in my hand. How will I deal with this goshdarn ghost?

Add in the Relics, items that change up how things go the entire run, and the “Colourless” cards, available to all characters if they can find them, and you have a game with a lot of tactical options… If you can get them. After all, this is a procgen game, and there is no guaranteed route to a single build. The only thing that doesn’t really change… Is enemy patterns. Thieves gonna thieve, Priestesses gonna buff, and thorny orbs are only gonna get thornier the longer you leave them.

Visually, I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but it’s also very clear. You know what’s what, from the enemy intent, the tooltips are solid, and only with extremely silly builds do the cards become a little hard to distinguish. A little. Musically, the game’s orchestral tunes really set the scene, the drama, and fit well.

So, lots of tactical options, with adaptability required due to procgen? Okay, good. Good music? Yup. Accessible visuals, simple controls (It’s all mouse, and turn-based)? Good. Pattern based enemies and bosses being difficult the first time, but once you know the pattern, you at least know what you’re in for, all with interesting visual design? Yup. All in all, a solid game so far, very promising. When the worst things you can say is “Not for folks who hate turn based RPG combat, because it’s at the core” and “Some of the animations are a little lacking (Compensated for by solid soundwork)”, then you know you’re off to a good start.

The Silent is clever. She knows poisons that even affect the dread Slimes.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders about the Hexaghost’s backstory. I mean, was it a bad hexagon in life, or did it just have unfinished business?

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YS VII (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m somewhat grateful that I don’t need a heck of a lot of context for the Ys games, because there’s a lot of world throughout the series. A lot. Thankfully, one of the first nice things I can say about Ys VII is that, like others, while you’ll get a couple of references and extra context by playing previous games, each Ys game is self contained enough that you don’t need to.

Ys VII is an action RPG in perhaps one of the purer senses, in that a gamepad is useful, and fighting is mashing the hell out of buttons, dodging, blocking, all in real-time. One button for main attacks, four for specials, one for block, one for dodge-rolling, and one for ultimate power. Easy to understand, somewhat twitchy to play. In this particular installment, you play Adol (Who has a bad enough case of protagonism that he is the only character to explain that he is okay rather than just saying “I’m fine”) and Dogi, heroes of a couple of previous Ys titles, as they get embroiled in dangerous and momentous events on the isle of Altago, home of the Five Dragon Gods.

Altago is very pretty.

Originally a PSP game, the port is fluid and easy to play, with the only major sign that it is a port being the save menu. As such, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, whacking the hell out of monsters, getting and solving quests, and fighting… Titanos.

Effectively, the rough way it goes is this: You get a plotquest, maybe some sidequests if you actually talk to the NPCs (Even if you don’t do this for quests, the dialogue is occasionally interesting, and the world seems quite alive, so I’d recommend it), make your way through the overworld map, fighting as you go (Or, if you can’t be assed, dash-dodging your way past everything… Although this means you miss out on XP, gold, and resources used to craft better gear you’re probably going to need) to a dungeon, solve a few puzzles, and fight… Titanos. A boss by any other name is just as pattern based, and just as bossy. Giant beetles, boars, and stranger creatures abound, and honestly?

Screenshots, unfortunately, don’t do justice to how smooth and quick this is… Or how boned I am about to become.

These are the real skill-gates of the game, compared to the enemies. Until later in the game, yes, enemies have attacks. They give conditions. They have defenses. But they also generally go down to a sustained assault, which is exactly what you and your AI companions are probably doing. Titanos, in the meantime, are definitely both the more intriguing and frustrating end of things. Zeran Fith, the giant beetle, for example, won’t be taking much damage at all until you knock the armour off his legs, letting his almost chameleon-like sticky tongue out and giving you a proper chance to wail on it. And there’s a fair amount it can do to dissuade you (terminally) from this. Turning quickly, webs spit out, poison is shot, prawns with fiery bubbles are summoned… I died twice to Zeran Fith, and he’s only the third Titano you encounter.

Thing is, though, even coming out of that sweating, I’ve been having fun. Every basic mechanic is explained clearly, the world is interesting, the music good, and the world is beautiful. The rock-paper-scissors of bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage versus various enemies is clever, encouraging me to get to grips with every character I play as, and each one definitely has character. Adol is perhaps the most generic (Heck, it’s even joked about with that third person narration), Dogi puts his all into what he does (Which, in the overworld, is punching the hell out of armoured enemies), Elk fluidly and rapidly wields his dual bladed staff, almost dancing. And these are just the earliest examples.

Adol thought he should really stop speaking in the third person. But nobody else seemed to notice, so he carried on.

Honestly, there’s not a lot I have to moan about here, because even death is a case of retrying from the start of the fight or loading a save (A quick process), and the experience, overall, is fluid. The writing’s solid, the game’s solid, the difficulty curve is actually pretty good (This is an RPG where Normal difficulty really does mean “To an average player’s skill” , which is very nice.) The only flow breaker I’ve seen is using potions and items, which, due to limitations of the original platform, is effectively a pause menu.

Overall, a good action RPG, well worth its price, and well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman only speaks in the third person for effect, or when he really, really wants to close a conversation.

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Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

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