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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Clockwork Empires (Early Access Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page
Version: Beta 54.

I love me some Lovecraftian fiction. Yes, he was racist as hell, and a lot of his horror stories were based on that, but they’re enjoyable nonetheless. Similarly, I love me some fictional jingoism. Real life jingoism? Sucks. I mean, you only have to turn on the news to see sabers being rattled to see that. Finally, I love me some Steampunk, despite the fact that, often, it’s classist as hell. You rarely see the working man in such settings, only the rich idle going on adventures. But it’s an interesting aesthetic done right.

As such, your first instinct, considering Clockwork Empires contains all three, would be to say that I like this game. Eeeeeehhhhh…. Sort of. It’s like a banana-curry-chocolate cake, in that it contains things I like, but the whole? Not so much. Let’s start with the fact it’s somewhat unfriendly to new players.

There's a lot going on here. Not a lot of it is explained well.

There’s a lot going on here. Not a lot of it is explained well.

Now, yes, before you say anything, it’s a survival strategy game, those tend not to hold your hand, but while the tutorial does indeed teach well (This is your early game order, etc, etc), the UI… Needs work. For example, you may wonder, if you play the game, how to stop seeing a farm’s statbox. Farms are, apparently, offices… So it’s the office button next to “Work Crews.” Some things work just by mousing over, such as the population and food button, others stay up until you left click the “Cancel” button that appears at the top, and there don’t appear to be keybindings in the Beta of Clockwork Empires.

Basically, it’s busy, it’s not very well explained, and as such, it makes a game in a genre that’s already quite slow even slower with all the pausing I’m doing. On the upside, the people are fairly readable. If they’re clomping around, they’re particularly annoyed. If they’re doin’ the Strut, they’re happy, if their heads and arms are down, they’re sad, and if their arms are waving and they’re on fire, something has probably gone wrong. Y’know, as it often does in such games. Of course, all that stops when they actually start a job, which is a shame… But at least you have some warning.

Visually, it’s much like the UI: Busy, lovely to look at in places, but not overly readable as a result. This, by the way, is nothing to do with the colourblind function (Which is a nice touch), but just the sheer amount of things and textures on view, and how a fair amount of it actually is useless. Add in the houses and workshops, and the fact that you can’t click on colonists “behind” them even if you have the walls off, and you start to have problems. Happily though, the music is fairly calming, and helps lower the irritation factor. Somewhat.

"We need Graveyard Space [But we decided to stop flattening terrain because we're workshoppers now...]"

“We need Graveyard Space [But we decided to stop flattening terrain because we’re workshoppers now…]”

In any case, as you might have guessed, the game is all about tough choices. Day 4 of my colony saw a bandit group incoming, and I was several days away from a Barracks for soldiery. I was a few weeks away from giving them decent weaponry. So I decided to let them raid a little. In other games, I made friends with fishmen (Which is bound not to go sour when home finds out, eh?), discovered an ancient idol, and had a meteor from the moon disgorge… Something. Which thankfully, was beaten off by a warlike Overseer with a stick.

Of course, being a complex game in Early Access, bugs are bound to happen. One to watch out for currently is the infinite workshop job bug, where having more than one workstation in your workshop with the same job can mean that one job correctly registers the job being done, while the other… Doesn’t. In the case of “Minimum X of items”, this can mean you’re building planks forever and ever, whether you need them or not.

I feel kind of sad, actually, because there’s a lot of interesting events, and yet… Bureaucratic bumf and a flawed system bar me from getting to those interesting things. For example, I currently have a bandit corpse lying in my kitchen (Most unsanitary, I think you’ll agree), and yet… I can’t build a graveyard because it has a set space requirement, and nobody seems to want to flatten the terrain. Being a pastiche of Victorian Brits, the workers take a break at tea-time, do not burn the candle at both ends, and, once assigned a job, seem to pursue it with a single mindedness that bars common sense. And, of course, when it rains, it pours, as a day later (Corpse still there, ground un-flattened), the grass and rocks start singing eerily, which may have nasty effects if I don’t clear the ground nearby (A different job in and of itself.) This, basically, is to do with the Overseer system. Rather than have jobs be individually between workers, there are Overseers (Who pick what job there is) and Labourers (Who are assigned to Overseers.)

Bandits and Selenians. The only time I've ever seen a colonist attack something rather than gesture angrily at it.

Bandits and Selenians. The only time I’ve ever seen a colonist attack something rather than gesture angrily at it.

It’s a very management heavy game, even for a strategy survival game, and, honestly? It’s leaving a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, as everything appears to be going wrong. A little late, I realise… Oh, yes, becoming a Workshop Overseer disables all other jobs. A rhythmic “Whud… Whud… Whud…” floats across the colony, mixing with the sound of flies buzzing around a corpse, and the eerie singing of rocks and grass. It’s the morning of Day 8.

In the afternoon, a bandit raid occurs. In the evening, a grimoire is uncovered while trying to make room for the graveyard. Ohhhh boy…

Right now, Clockwork Empires, sadly, feels clunky, unintuitive, and unfriendly rather than challenging. Which is a shame, because I’d like to see more of these strange events and cool things, but the game itself seems to be resisting any pace above plodding with some very hard limits on what can be done, and a lack of useful explanation for many of its systems and trees. It doesn’t help that some systems appear to have more than one “method”, and it’s unclear which works (Is hunting via the Naturalists’ Office, or via the Hunting labour? And are we not able to hunt before we achieve some sort of iron ranged weapon and the ammunition at all? I wasn’t able to find a clear answer.)

 

Cue nothing happening as a result of this. No, really, it's still there, in the graveyard, an in-game fortnight later.

Cue nothing happening as a result of this. No, really, it’s still there, in the graveyard, an in-game fortnight later.

The Mad Welshman sighed, understanding why the jolly old bureaucrat at the Foreign Office was so delighted to send him on this job. He whiled away his time thinking of synonyms for “Feckless”, “Moaning”, and “Children of Low Breeding” these days…

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Starbound (Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase, Way Back When
Price: £11.99 (£35.99 for a four pack, £3.99 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, hot damn. Not only has it been a previous interwubs incarnation that I last reviewed Starbound, it’s changed. And I mean “From the last stable update” changed. So well done, Chucklefish, for keepin’ such changes as “The plot is now there, and somewhat important” and “Oh my sodden underthings, I don’t have to tramp halfway across the system to see a bloody Stargate?”

TENTACLES DESTROY EARTH: In other news, look at this cute space puppy!

TENTACLES DESTROY EARTH: In other news, look at this cute space puppy!

I already kinda liked Starbound, and came back to it at various points during Early Access, from the early “UGH, CAVEMAN TIER” whiny days, to the days when you vaguely had things to do and all the biomes were in, to when quests happened and bosses made a vague sort of sense… To this. It’s been a three year journey, let’s check out how things have gone with a brand spanking new character, the lady Hylotl Hachiro (Yes, it’s a boy’s name, shut up and stop judging, asshole! Hachiro does what she wants, and she’ll science you if you disagree!)

Hachiro started her in-game life on a high note… Graduating from Protectorate University, to be part of the peacekeepers of a shiny age of intergalactic harmony. Which is then immediately screwed up by tentacles that destroy Earth. Go figure. Hachiro manages to escape, but finds herself on a lost world, with a pet to feed, herself to feed, and a StarGate Teleporter of some kind right where she lands. She then moved into a ruin nearby, set up her various crafting tables, a campfire, and (eventually) a bed, dug down to the core before she even had iron armour, and did two obstacle courses. Now she can dash and double jump.

Oooh, that's a big momma, alright! Thankfully, I have a gun, and patience. It has neither.

Oooh, that’s a big momma, alright! Thankfully, I have a gun, and patience. It has neither.

Compare this to the previous update’s “Bobbert”, the Glitch, who escaped without any prologue, dug down to the core after many travails, upgrading to Iron armour so he could fix his engines so he could schlep to the edge of the system to get a quest. Which he needed the iron armour for. As you can see, we’re off to an improved start. But, as the update giveth, it also taketh away. Unlike Bobbert, Hachiro has yet to give an assassin a cake, can’t cook proper food yet, needs more and different things for even iron armour and weapons, and Survival mode now means “You drop most of your inventory when you die.”

Which is definitely a reason to play cautious. For example, places I have dropped all my shit:

  • Halfway across the planet from where I beam down.
  • Halfway across the planet from where I beam down, next to a Big Monster.
  • Near the core of the planet, in a pool of lava.
  • Halfway across the planet, deep underground, next to twelve bats.
  • Halfway across the planet, deep underground, at the bottom of a deep, steep sided pit.

    This was actually the *least* problematic of my many equipment recovery missions...

    This was actually the *least* problematic of my many equipment recovery missions…

So, I like the changes. I like the story. I love the friendly tooltips. But I’m probably not playing Survival again unless it’s with friends. I just get too frustrated at losing most of my stuff, and dying several times as I trek halfway across a planet to find it. Also of note is that the mod scene, having developed over the three or so years of development, is alive and well, so the experience can be heftily customised via the Steam workshop. The soundtrack is great, the visuals are finely honed (I have little to no colourblindness problems here, always a good sign!), and…

Basically, there’s a heckuva lot of game here, a little grindy in places (As survival exploration games can be), but it’s got charm, it’s got story, it’s got a lot of cool things, and I would recommend it quite highly.

Of course, since it’s been in Early Access for most of its development cycle, I have the strong suspicion most of the people reading this already know that. But it’s nice to see a game come out of Early Access this strong.

The Mad Welshman set his matter manipulator to “Underground channel” and grinned. Oh, he’d show that lava what’s wha…

…And then the bat behind him knocked him into the lava.

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Stardew Valley (Review)

Source: Birthday Gift (From family, to clarify)
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG, Humble Store

Hoo boy. When you spend time on a game knowing you have other things to do, important things, you know you’re onto a winner. On that note, I need to eat. Both of these things are fitting for Stardew Valley, and I will elucidate more once I’ve got some food in my belly.

Morris is our Capitalist moustache twirler for the game. Also our ex-boss. And yet, the choice is there to side with him.

Morris is our Capitalist moustache twirler for the game. Also our ex-boss. And yet, the choice is there to side with him.

Stardew Valley, by Concerned Ape, is quite obviously inspired by Harvest Moon and its fighty cousin Rune Factory, as you are an office worker who has decided he wants to get out of the rat race, and, er… Into farming, which is a whole different kind of rat race. Pastoralism, Ho! So he moves to the village of Stardew Valley, and starts a whole new life, with backbreaking labour, and never enough time in the day.

Or, like me, he could largely ignore the farm the moment he got a fishing rod and a sword, beating up slimes and catching new and amazing fish. It’s the sort of game where yes, Farming is a focus of the game, but by no means the be all and end all. There’s the social aspect of the town, the collecting, and… I need a wiki to keep track of everything I might possibly want to do. Which, strangely enough, is a problem. Either you’re going to go to a wiki to know “How do I do thing?”, or you’re going to be playing more than once. Part of the reason this review has come out so slowly is that I took the latter option. The game does some tutorialising well, but expects you to learn other things on your own.

The game does try its best to add teaching as it goes along, with TV shows and books to teach you various aspects of the game.

The game does try its best to add teaching as it goes along, with TV shows and books to teach you various aspects of the game.

But the thing is, it’s also a good thing that there’s so much to do. The world is relatively small, but you don’t feel that, because it’s jam packed with interesting decisions and interactions. It has character, from the visual design (Friendly and cartoony), to the sound design (The music is lovely, and the sounds support your actions.) I even enjoy the collectathon of the Community Center, despite normally hating such game measures, because it feels part of the spirit of the game. Essentially, it’s pretty cohesive, and even some of the bugs are amusing, such as Abigail’s seeming desire to eat Quartz (“Oh, how did you know I was hungry?”.) Also helping is, hey, relationships aren’t limited by your gender, and there’s a lot going on there, too! As such, I find myself drawn in, because there’s that “Just one more ho- Wait, it’s 5AM?” factor to the game.

Of course, the final problem with so much to do in Stardew Valley is… How can I cover it all? I could give you lots of examples of both good and bad (The well, for example, seems largely useless to most players in the early game… But it is useful if you’re farming extensively), but all I can really say is “It is mostly good, and enjoyable, if you liked Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, or Recettear, this game may well be worth laying down your money for.”

Oh, and there are events that happen, like the Flower Dance. Or the Egg Hunt. Or the Luau. And birthdays. There's a fair bit.

Oh, and there are events that happen, like the Flower Dance. Or the Egg Hunt. Or the Luau. And birthdays. There’s a fair bit.

There. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a budding geologist to woo, and a dungeon to fully explore, and all the fish to find, and –

The Mad Welshman was not found for several days after this review, whereupon somebody realised that what they thought was a duvet was playing Stardew Valley.

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Subnautica (Early Access Review)

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

Subnautica is a game that takes a while to get going, and then GIANT SQUID happen. It’s also a game that takes a little while to learn. While Starbound does strange new worlds, and games like State of Decay do the zombie survival thing, Subnautica does Blue Planet. Ocean everywhere. And it does a good job of dissuading you of the idea this would be boring… But some things do require a little bit to learn. Thankfully, with the exception of Creative Mode, you get to enjoy the story in the manner you want, with a choice of Permadeath and Everything on, and varieties of Not-Permadeath with or without the need for food and water.

Being underwater may seem confusing in screenshots, but feels natural in game... Also beautiful.

Being underwater may seem confusing in screenshots, but feels natural in game… Also beautiful.

Funnily enough, the base Survival mode (No permadeath, but you need to obtain food and water) is the right mode for me, it seems. Because fish are assholes, and once the world opened up to me? Wow, did I suddenly feel very small… In the best way. So let’s talk progression, to give you some idea of why I like this game.

It begins with an escape pod. Yours. Your ship, a coloniser, got shot down over an ocean planet, by strange energy beams. You’re the only survivor, and you can hold your breath for 45 seconds. You’re slightly hungry, slightly thirsty, and rather irritable. So you explore this salty “paradise”, and grudgingly admit that yes, it does look beautiful. Kelp forests, caves, underwater gardens of red weed, and… Thank fuck, the fish are actually edible. One of them, the Airsack, even filters water for you if you run it through your Fabricator. Okay, that’s one worry gone. Now for building a home, because it looks like you’re going to be here a while. Titanium and Copper, it seems, can be found in limestone nodules that are thankfully easy to break apart, and the wreckage of the Aurora, your ex-ship (Which is making some worrying noises, and will explode soon, kicking off the story.) But you can’t find any silver, which you’re told is useful for all sorts of electronics, vehicles, and Lead, for a radiation proof suit (Important, because large areas are irradiated now.)

Once you get past the hump, you too can make a home away from home!

Once you get past the hump, you too can make a home away from home!

It takes you a while to realise that there are two kinds of nodule in the Kelp forests, and you have to brave Stalkers (Asshole Fish #1) to get that Sandstone, which gives you silver and gold. Luckily, building a base mostly takes Titanium and Glass, and you don’t have to build very much to make it a home away from home: Couple of solar panels (Titanium and Quartz), rooms and foundations (Titanium), maybe an observatory (Stalker Teeth and Quartz to make Enamelled Glass), and some lockers and a fabricator (Mostly titanium, some glass). Along the way, you will probably have discovered Asshole Fishes #2 and #3 (A large, carnivorous burrower and EXPLODER FISH.) But food and water are still largely not a problem. You can even completely leave the escape pod behind if you want.

But until you realise where the silver is, you aren’t getting to the really interesting stuff. And that can be a pain, some games. But once you do? Oh boy. Both the kit and the world get bigger. The Aurora is explorable. You build personal mini-subs, and probably get them blown up exploring cave networks. Jellyfish that hang out in cave networks. Massive blue and green glowing creatures that seem harmless… And Gigantic, toothy beasts. Oh god, the Gigantic… Toothy… “Squid”. Subnautica is one of the few games that can claim to have caused an underwear replacement, and my first encounter with this beastie is exactly why…

…Picture the scene. I’m trundling home in a somewhat damaged minisub (The Seamoth), and I keep hearing… Noises. Big noises. It’s dark, even for the depths I’m at, and something is on the edge of my limited vision. There are bumps. Big ones. My console starts sparking. I turn around…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

OHGODITLATCHEDONTOMYCOCKPITBAILBAILBAIL!

…Faced with so many teeth, I take the option of leaving my Seamoth just in time. Seemingly satisfied, the creature (Many times bigger than I am) slinks back into the darkness, leaving me to try and make my way home the slow way.

So yeah… Although the ocean in Subnautica is beautiful, and it seems, at first, like a slow game with little combat… The ocean is also deadly… It just takes a little while to make you realise that. It’s a survival game which could do with a little more help for the player, but lets you mostly play at your own pace, and I’m definitely looking forward to when it becomes a release candidate. As it is, it’s worth checking out if you like the genre or the ocean… Just be aware… The Squid Is Out There, and It Is Always Angry.

Not everything that's big is lethal. Maybe. The jury's out.

Not everything that’s big is lethal. Maybe. The jury’s out.

The Mad Welshman loves the ocean. He loves some of the… Things that dwell in it a little less.

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