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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Niche (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Niche, a turn-based strategy/simulation game about keeping a clan of animals alive, is, on the one hand, an interesting one, with subtle details and features that make you think. On the other , it’s also a game which could do a better job explaining how to play it.

Ready to move onto the next island in story mode. Firstly, I don’t *have* to, that’s part of the fun, and secondly, those flowers are the teleport field. In case that wasn’t clear.

Briefly covering gameplay, depending on whether you play story or sandbox mode, you are either a single animal that travels islands looking for… Well, family, at first, or a mated pair of critters on an island type (and difficulty) of your choosing, simply looking to live your lives as best you can. Each critter only has a limited amount of energy (actions) with which to do things like cut grass for nest materials, mate, gather food (Be that by gathering fruit, killing animals, digging up tubers, or the like), and, at the end of each day, food is eaten, going down the pack order. Anything that can’t eat dies. Anything that gets sick and doesn’t get better dies. Anything that tries to tackle something it can’t handle dies, and anything well out of its element (Say, deep water) will probably die. Finally, compatible animals can be invited into the tribe with food, and you can have a chance of flipping the genes on animals that mate, changing your children into… Well, different children.

So far, so sandbox, and, once you get into it, it can be quite interesting. It’s visually consistent, with a clear, friendly looking style, and similarly, there is clear visual representation of the different traits. Unfortunately, the game does not tutorialise all that well, so you’re going to be doing a lot of exploring and fiddling (and probably failing) before you’re going to get anywhere. Some quick tips include that the bottom left buttons are act (paw), check DNA (the DNA twist), Select Mutations (the wider DNA twist), and family tree (the trio of animals.)

Niche is definitely a game packed with information to parse.

Is it worth it when you get into it, though? Myself, I somewhat like it, as it’s something I haven’t really seen much of since Reus… A chill game which, yes, does have consequences if you screw up, isn’t the friendliest game out there (Ahh, Reus. I still have a love/hate relationship with those 36 remaining achievements, all bastard hard to unlock), but is also, in its way, low pressure. Nature, after all, finds a way to survive, and I don’t mind going back to see if, maybe, just maybe, this time, I can make it work, and nobody has to worry about digital watches anymore. Bigger snout? Yes, I’ll be able to sniff out those lovely roots and berries better. Bigger claws? Ahhh, yes, that’ll do nicely, I can dig, and if any of those mean Bearyenas pop up to try and eat any of us, then we’ll be able to take them on in future. But wait, why is my clawed little child sick? Ah. Two of the same immunity gene, making them more susceptible to a certain illness! Damn youuuu, nature!

A few days later, half my tribe is sick, but the rest has survived, thankfully. Albeit clawless. Boo.

In summary, it’s a game that very much depends on replayability and experimentation for fun. Which, personally, I don’t mind coming back to now and again. If it could tutorialise a little better, then it would be a pretty good, relaxing, sandbox game. As it is, it’s an at least alright, not quite that friendly sandbox game.

BEARYENNAA, BEARYEENNNA, OOH, IT- doesn’t quite have the same ring as Snake, but yes, they’re quite deadly.

The Mad Welshman appreciates that, one day, his creations will rise up and supplant him, taking their rightful place as the inheritors of Earth. In the meantime, the Bearyenas work.

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Subnautica (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Subnautica is life’s way of saying “It’s okay that Endless Ocean doesn’t have a PC port.” Even down to the occasional punctuation of chill undersea times with pants wetting terror.

How… How long was I out?

So, it is the far future. Utopia has been achieved, and nice, not animal-killing humans have spread to the stars, exploring and spreading the word of peace and love. Except where you happen to be, because your ship got exploded in orbit around a watery world, and to survive, you will have to… shudder… Eat fish. Also survive, explore the world, and perhaps find out what happened, both to the Aurora and your fellow crewmates who at least managed to escape the ship.

Ohhhh yeah… *Ohhhhhh* yeaaaahhh… The mooon is beautiful…

The first thing you’ll notice, once you begin the game, is how beautiful this alien world is. Schools of fish swim, with many different kinds, plant life abounds, and even the moon is lovingly rendered. It’s also a relaxing experience, swimming, collecting resources, and slowly, but surely, learning more of the world around you.

But then the game enters its second phase, and things become… A little more fraught. For all that this world is a beautiful one, it’s also a dangerous one, and, beyond a survival knife, the protagonist comes from a pacifist society that doesn’t really do weapons. And so, you will find things that want to kill you, and your best policy… Is avoidance. Permadeath, thankfully, is not part of this game unless you wish it to be, so being eaten by one of the more dangerous residents, or running out of oxygen, merely results in being plonked back at the nearest base you’ve built, without the things you collected since you last left (But, crucially, the blueprints you gather will still be gathered, so you can still, in a sense, progress… A nice touch!)

The Reaper Leviathan, as seen from a *relatively* safe distance. Loss count on the current save to this … Thing? 3 deaths and a SeaMoth.

I won’t pretend, however, that this isn’t annoying at times. In my current save, for example, one of the most dangerous creatures of the ocean, the Reaper Leviathan, is plonked right next to one of the richer seams of materials and blueprints, the crashed ship Aurora, and every visit so far has resulted in either death, or the very expensive loss of a minisub (the SeaMoth), and then death. But, fair traveller, this is a temporary phase, and there are other places, other ways to gain the materials you need to improve, and make this world a little safer. You can build bases, waypoints in the deep, and travel between them. You can grow fish, or farm plants, once you find the means to do so. You can create current generators, devices that can very forcefully push the more dangerous fish away from your home of choice. And when you spread your wings, able to explore in relative safety?

Crystalline forests. A strange island, seemingly the only landmass in sight. Mushroom trees, stretching almost to the surface. Swimming among the reefbacks. It’s not often I say a sandbox survival game is a beautiful, calming experience, but once you get over a few resource humps, that’s exactly what Subnautica becomes. And always, always, the mystery of the planet… Awaits. For in one of the most recent updates, the planet now has plot… And mysteeeerious ruins!

Mystery! Excitement! Danger! All of these can be found… In a videogame!

Yes, somebody has heard the Aurora’s SOS, but at the same time… Do you really want to leave, considering there are alien ruins, and teleportation technology, maybe other useful things, and maybe, just maybe, the off switch for whatever the heck blew up the Aurora? I certainly wouldn’t. For £15, the game is highly reasonable, and is only becoming more reasonable as time goes on. Check it out if you like mysteries, living under the sea, and exploration.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he looked at the alien ruins. Triangles… Why was it always triangles with these aliens?

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Clockwork Empires (Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page

Clockwork Empires is meant to be a survival management game (Like Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, or the like, where orders are indirect and resource/building management is important) set in a lovecraftian, jingoistic steampunk world based on a satire of Victorian Britain. Unfortunately, not all of that satire on drudgery and misery is intentional. So… Let’s talk about housing. And cabinets.

Pictured: A sensible decision - Harder biomes need you to succeed in less hard biomes.

Pictured: A sensible decision – Harder biomes need you to succeed in less hard biomes.

Mood is an important factor of Clockwork Empires, as happy labourers and overseers will work an extra shift, whereas despairing ones will slack off, and fearful or angry ones will be actively counterproductive. Obviously, this at least partly means housing them, and making that housing appealing. The workplace must also be prettified, or production will suffer.

There’s just one small problem with this, and the game doesn’t bother to inform you of it: Cabinet Tax. Let us assume, for a moment, that you have 2 labourers, and give them a 3×3 house with 2 windows, a door, and a bed. They aren’t happy with it, they aren’t unhappy with it… But you may have noticed the population count go up by 6. Because each of those houses can add population. So, when those labourers inevitably turn up, you build 6 more of these houses. And now you have many more labourers than you know what to do with, eating your food. Each building has a Quality Level, and this is, effectively, based on cabinets (and shrines for houses) in the early game. So, building individual housing? That’s… 12 cabinets to build to make them happy. The situation then becomes more clear when you turn to the workplace. Let’s use the carpenter as an example. You need a workstation (for cutting wood, making paper, etc), an assembly station (To build other workstations), and a décor station to build wood decorations. Y’know, like cabinets. But each of those workstations beyond the first reduces the Quality of a building, making workers unhappy. And when you try and build your first labourer housing more efficiently (7 beds, for the two workers you have, and the 5 you’ll eventually get.) you realise that this applies to houses too (For lo, the bed is a workstation as far as quality goes. I can understand why, few folks enjoy bunking long-term.) So your efficient solution still requires 12 cabinets for maximum happiness (6 for the extra beds, 6 for max Quality)

Not only have we a rare example of a nasty thing happening, you may note I don't have enough cabinets.

Not only have we a rare example of a nasty thing happening, you may note I don’t have enough cabinets.

So, for a good, efficient first labourer house, you’re looking at at least a 14 x 10 building (Space for beds, and space for at least two windows, and 12 cabinets/shrines. After that, it’s a little easier, as you’re only catering for 4 or 5 labourers at a time, but as it is, you have a minimum “happiness tax” on all your buildings of 1.5 logs x (Number of Workstations/Beds -1) , and, obviously, the extra time and labour to make them. And no, you can’t just make more work buildings of the same type to get around this, due to the Overseer system, limiting both your number of workshops, and the number of job types you can do at any one time. Labourers just allow for more of the same job type once assigned, or, in the case of single jobs like mining or farming, doing it quicker. And yes, individual farms count as a job.

The in-game help hints at some of this. Specifically, the overseer job limitation, the fact that mood is affected by decorations, and that houses have conditions (That you won’t know until you build them) on extra population counts. Gee, I hope you found some sand, or can trade for it, because otherwise you’re in big trouble later on!

…Or, of course, you could not know this, and play for several hours, and an in-game month, and watch as your labourers and overseers become less efficient, before you realise what’s going on. It’s not very intuitive, and it may take quite a while for you to realise how badly you’ve made mistakes. Considering that a month of in-game time took me something like 3 or 4 hours to play out, it’s the kind of unfriendliness that turns me off playing for the long periods of time the game obviously wants me to play.

This is what happens when you don't have enough cabi- No, not the communism, the *Despair* ... Can't blame communism on the means of production, friend!

This is what happens when you don’t have enough cabi- No, not the communism, the *Despair* … Can’t blame communism on the means of production, friend!

And this is a damn shame, because the game is visually kind of nice, the music fits the mood very well, changing with events. Unfortunately, the game is best described as “plodding”, “unintuitive”, and “frustrating.” I can’t select things behind buildings, even with the walls visually turned off. If I want to know what kind of mine I can build on a survey point, and there’s anything in the way, well… Good fucking luck without clearing the obstruction, mate!

And eldritch things and events. Oh, how those make me sad. Just before release, I had played a full month, and, while some eldritch things did happen, such as an invasion of moon-balls, another of eldritch cuboids and polyhedrons, and at least seven or eight obviously occult things dug up, the one death was from… Bandits. And that was because I hadn’t switched to my better weaponry because I hadn’t properly understood that 1 set of stone pellets equalled about 100 rounds. Meanwhile, the entire time, said eldritch gewgaws, such as a canopic urn that was actually a klein bottle, sat happily vibrating or lurching awkwardly in spacetime in between the maize chowder, some planks, and some coal that had eventually been put there by my heavily depressed people.

It's such a shame that their normal reaction isn't "Try and break it" or "Try and worship it", but "Put it next to the paperwork." On the one hand, very British. On the other, very little drama until *much* later on...

It’s such a shame that their normal reaction isn’t “Try and break it” or “Try and worship it”, but “Put it next to the paperwork.” On the one hand, very British. On the other, very little drama until *much* later on…

When the game goes well, it goes really well, and you can build up some serious cities in the limited space allotted to you, researching cool things, arming your soldiery with lightning guns (Leyden Weaponry) and clockwork armour, oppressing the fishy natives, and generally being the colonial asshole you may have dreamed you are. But to get there, you have to struggle with odd limitations, an AI that isn’t entirely sure if it’s coming or going, and a UI that makes the increased busywork from more colonists more and more a matter of hitting pause and checking things, slowing the game’s pace even when things begin to get interesting. And I’m really not certain I’m up to that.

The Mad Welshman liked his new Shining Trapezohedron. It set off the Crystal Egg, the Green Soapstone bookends of unknown providence, and the Eldritch Tomes he’d been collecting from the book club. Just another day…

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Planet Explorers (Review)

Source: Regretted Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where (Not) To Get It: Steam

I’ve never seen a first person survival game where doing beginning quests in the wrong order can kill you before. Now that I have, with Planet Explorers, I can say that I find it an unpleasant experience. Not to mention the rest of the experience, which, for me, is equally unpleasant.

Yep, it eventually killed me. After following me for *miles* and mostly whiffing. Oh, should I mention the next village is about forty minutes walk, realtime, from the first?

Yep, it eventually killed me. After following me for *miles* and mostly whiffing. Oh, should I mention the next village is about forty minutes walk, realtime, from the first?

So, let’s begin with the difference between “Story” and “Adventure” mode, where the first has quests (Some of which are stupidly lethal, with no real indication this is the case), a story mode, and cutscenes, and the second… Has quests, a story attached to each village that doesn’t seem to change, and no cutscenes. Adventure mode’s first village nearly always has one asshole whose only function is to lead you to a slaver ambush, which provides an easy segue for me into combat.

There is, of a sort, combat AI in this game. For humans, this nearly always involve rushing you as soon as they spot you with their melee weapons if they’re hostile, and shooting from a distance if they have a gun. And y’know what? That works. Shame it works because your starting weapons are incredibly shit, and so combat with even one enemy is a case of having more medical tools and attempting to dodge. Or, y’know, doing quests in the first area in such an order that you have a handgun before taking on six slavers… Because otherwise, respawning where you are will just rapidly get you killed, while respawning back in the village will… Get everyone killed, including you. Or, you can do quests in the arbitrary “Right” order, and get a nice shiny handgun, which does the job better than your melee weapons. It even nets you a set of sentry guns, if you want a nice easy sta-

Pictured: What happens if you do Adventure Mode quests in the wrong order, then respawn in the village.

Pictured: What happens if you do Adventure Mode quests in the wrong order, then respawn in the village.

-Oh, did I forget to mention that Adventure mode has a means of randomising your procgen world, but doesn’t seem to account for the fact that you might have a different biome which doesn’t have “Tulips” , or, in at least one case, places a quest marker for putting down turrets to hunt a beast… In the middle of the ocean. Good. Fucking. Job. Because hey, while there are procedurally generated quests, usually of the MMO style variety of “Collect X shit for me”, “Oh noes, protect me from Y Angry Space Ogres” or “Please go into this conspicuously out of place dungeon and kill everything in it”, the village quests will always remain the same. Which is pretty damn awkward when you have an island in the middle of nowhere.

I could go on, and on, and on, about various things going on with this game, from the cutscenes with odd audio desync, to the fact that it was apparently decided to be a good idea to have a Cliff Racer equivalent in this open world game (A griffin-mouse combination, oddly), to how mining is somehow more of a slog than Runescape (Ten minutes to even get to an Iron Ore seam somewhat close to the surface… I gave up on getting more iron a few minutes later, not least because design schematics are linked to… Drumroll please… Quest Completion. That’s right, the ones which don’t seem to have much difficulty balancing, or sense of placement, or… holds head .)

Pictured: Both the pop in (egregious) and a quest I can't complete because I can't put turrets in open water...

Pictured: Both the pop in (egregious) and a quest I can’t complete because I can’t put turrets in open water…

But instead I’m going to say that it looks kind of okay visually (We’re talking late PS2 level here, but mostly consistent in this), and it has a kind of sweet-sounding (In the saccharine sense) theme tune. Both of which you would probably be better off appreciating from screenshots and a youtube video of the opening, respectively. I have no idea why this was approved as a release candidate, to be perfectly and brutally honest.

Oh, it’s moddable. There, that’s maybe another nice thing.

The Mad Welshman sighed as his pick struck once more. You do sixteen minutes, and whaddya get… Painful blisters and hungry and wet…

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