Heat Signature (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£21.99 for Supporter’s Edition with extra stuff, £10.99 if you already have the game and want to upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

The wheels of the revolution are always oiled with the blood of the people. That may sound like a needlessly depressing start to a review of Suspicious Developments’ Heat Signature, a game about invading spaceships, but, in a very real sense, that’s what it is. Consider…

…Dying in the cold depths of space… It ain’t so bad, compared to failing the Liberation…

For all that characters have a brief, procgenned story, a reason for them to join the revolution, it’s their stuff that matters. Yep, okay, once you’ve done enough missions and earned enough intel on the ongoing interstellar war we’re trying to stop by, er… Liberating everyone with guerilla warfare… We’ll let you know how to save your sister, or steal that thing to pay off your debt, or murder the guy that sentenced your parents to death. Cool. No, you can’t will your things to others, even though we basically tell you, every one of you, that it’s basically a suicide mission, and good luck!

Essentially, while you can change characters at any time (even leaving them to die in the cold depths of space, if you so choose, as I admit I’ve occasionally done when particularly annoyed by a mission failure), what you cannot trade is their stuff. And, believe me, you’ll need some of that stuff, as certain enemy types are unkillable without either some very silly plans (Like shooting an airlock to blow them out of it, or just plain blowing up the room) or some very specific stuff in limited supply. Shields, for example, can only be dealt with by subverters and crashbeams. Turrets, at least, you can turn off if you come at them from the right direction… Shielded guys? Nope. Similarly, if you don’t have something armour piercing or explosive, you’re screwed regarding armoured guys who spot you. Those are the only truly egregious examples, but yes, some enemies just aren’t killable without either blowing up the room they’re in, or stuff.

Secondly, over time, the Revolution will tire of you. After a certain point, your liberations, your strikes against the four Mans of the game (the Foundry, the Glitch, Sovereign, and Offworld Security… Independents also exist, but don’t have a specific style, usually just denoted with “They’ve gone rogue, they won’t be running to anybody.”) won’t be as effective in liberating the stations, which provide challenge runs, possible unlockable defectors, and, of course, better stuff in the shop, be that armour piercing weaponry, rechargeable teleporters (Glitching reality in specific and interesting ways), better pod types (like the Foundry Brick, which can just ram its way into a ship rather than have to faff about with all this “Airlock” stuff), and the like. You’re not the hot new flavour of the month, Pavo, it’s maybe time to either retire or go out in the blaze of glory you deserve. After all, the end-goal of the game is to capture all four main factions’ home bases. Your “personal” mission? Even if you finish it, that will be so that you can pass on one of your things (aka, part of your stuff), to ensure it has extra nice traits for somebody, somewhere in the interwubs playing the game. Maybe even you!

Sorry buddy, nothing personal, but you have a key I need.

Similarly, you can, as a personal mission (Personal missions are always max difficulty), rescue another player’s character, giving them… Perhaps a fresh start? For a time, anyway… As noted, the Revolution cares not for Johnny-Come-Latelies, only the New Hotness.

Overall, the game is somewhat friendly to play, as, for all that it can get twitchy at moments, time slows down when you’re doing something, like lining up a shot or an item use, you can freely switch between items by pausing with no penalty I could see, and, beyond the visual designs of the ships being somewhat hard to read at first, the important parts (the guards, the keys, the captain, the timer, and boxes from which you can steal more items) are very clear. There are also clever ways of doing things, if you have the balls and the right idea… Luring or Swapping an enemy into your ship, then taking off, for example, knocks them out, letting you murder or capture them at your leisure. A Sidewinder or two, cleverly used, can teleport you in hops to the objective or the captain, as, once the captain’s down, alarms no longer trigger. You can even, if you’re ballsy and skilled, blow someone out of a window, and catch both them and yourself with your pod, remote controlled.

So, in the end, Heat Signature is a fairly well designed game. Even folks with silly equipment can, with planning (or a plan you’re not sure will work because holy crap, the first plan failed spectactularly but you aren’t dead and you have a few seconds and… Wait, it worked?), be dealt with. Nonetheless, even acknowledging this, I freely admit I don’t like Heat Signature. Not because it’s a bad game, because it isn’t.

Ships get *big* , and chock full of deadly things in the higher difficulty missions… and Personal missions are always the *deadliest*

But holy crap, do I not like being reminded of the subtext on display here.

The Mad Welshman would very much like armour piercing concussive weapons. Hopefully one day, he will find them. Or make them. It matters not.

Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.

Steamworld Dig 2 (Review)

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

It’s not so bad, being a robot miner whose uncle left you some kick-ass robot powers strewn around the very place where he’s gone missing. Well, y’know, apart from all the times you got disassembled because you got too curious… Or found yourself further on the path toward finding your Unc than you were maybe prepared for. But, generally speaking, being a robot miner isn’t bad.

…Yes, that is a Post-Facts reference. Yes, I’m wincing just as hard as you are.

A wee backgrounder before we continue: Steamworld Dig was the story of Rusty, a mining droid who dug deep, discovered an ancient, electronic evil, and put paid to it via digging, selling ore, gaining and using special abilities from lost technology, and buying ladders just in case he screwed up and dug too far. It was an interesting game, but also a somewhat grindy one at times.

I can happily state that this sequel, while still having the digging and the exploring and the selling ore and finding whatnots, is a tighter, less grindy game. Gone are purchasing teleports, replaced with a (mostly) handy pneumatic tube system that serves as checkpoints, and an ability you can earn later on that allows you to teleport to the surface anywhere that isn’t a cave or a plot-important area. Ladders, similarly, exist in a sense, but the game relies more on the more traditional mobility powerups to speed getting around and gate progress. For example, one particularly clever segment has you using a hookshot to cross a very windy segment of desert, with the most difficult segment involving timing your walljumping to coincide with very short periods of lower wind speed, and, importantly, very little of it feels frustrating.

Here, we see the hookshot being ohgodwhywon’tthelavarobotsgoaway…

Well, except for one feature, but that’s pretty much a personal preference: I really, really don’t like bosses who are invincible for the majority of their pattern, and there are a couple of those. Nonetheless, overall, Steamworld Dig 2 trades a lot of its procgen for something that, in the context, works better… tight design. From the very first, you are taught to use your powers until they feel natural, and then asked to think of them in slightly different ways. Hookshot as means of climbing. Hookshot as means of passing an impediment. Hookshot as means of clearing nuisances. Hookshot as boss avoider. A lot of the time, while there is a difficulty curve, it’s mostly only when the game seriously changes up the formula, or introduces something you’re not prepared for that you notice that. So yeah, props on that. Anything bad?

Well… Not… Really. The game isn’t going to win any awards for writing, with most characters being both functional and one-dimensional (Here’s the cowardly greedy mayor, and his long-suffering mother. There’s the shy mechanic, surprised and pleased when you actually want to hear the tutorials or them nattering about the tech you’ve gotten. Merchant. Archaeologist. Most folks are defined by their role, more than anything else.) But beyond that, it’s a well designed action platformer with clear direction, clear visuals, and some cool powerups. Honestly, that’s all it needs to be.

See, this *looks* intimidating… But thankfully, it’s a lot more chill than it *looks*

The Mad Welshman took quite a few screenshots. And then he realised a lot of them are spoilery as heck. Consarnit.

20xx (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

20XX is a game with a laudable goal: A platformer heavily inspired by the MegaMan X games with random level generation. All the ideas, all the replayability! It’s just a shame it doesn’t really work out that way, for a variety of reasons.

Pictured: Ace and Nina’s unscrupulous creators don’t take failure kindly.

Aesthetically, 20XX has come a long way from when it was under a different name. It’s clean, it’s got good tunes, it’s got moderately good sounds. The enemies are visually distinct, and so you quickly learn what type is what, whether you can get nice things out of them, and what they do. That’s good.

Not so good is the fact I have little to no incentive to play Nina, the Not-megaman of the pair of Nina and Ace (who is Not-Protoman/Zero.) Equally not so good is the fact that the stages, very often, are more lethal than the bosses. And some of the bosses, honestly, are eh, even in their difficult forms. Let’s get into that a little more, starting with the linked problem of Nina and the levels.

The game features two characters: Nina, who shoots bullets, and has a piercing charge shot (with the option to change this basic attack to a variety of directional bullets or a wave-beam if you find the right powerup.) , and Ace, who has a sword, which he can charge, but, honestly, doesn’t need to (and, like Nina, can switch out for a variety of melee type weapons of varying utility, damage, range, and speed.) Both can dash jump. Both can use the same boss weapons, in the same way. Both can use the same permanent and per-run powerups that are unlocked by gaining one of the three types of currency in the game.

FUCKING BATS. Although thankfully not over a deathpit, or between two platforms, or any of the innumerable situations they just ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF ME.

When playing as Nina, to deal with hordes of bats, I need to waste a second or two charging my weapon, and lining it up. Without an alternate weapon, I have no means of dealing with enemies above me. When playing as Ace, most of my weapons can attack at least a little upward by default, have a wide area, and can chump hordes of bats with a few quick taps of the attack button. It’s not even a subtle difference. I have little incentive to play as Nina.

Meanwhile, one of the elements of the game is random level generation, using native enemy types, bats (Which are everywhere, and are annoying obstacles just as with videogame bats everywhere), and native trap types. Agnisort, the fire area, has conveyor belts and fireball launchers, with welding flames on the walls, belts, small pits… Anywhere they would fit, and a couple of places they shouldn’t. Vaculab, meanwhile, has that MegaMan staple, Yoku blocks (blocks that appear and disappear on a timer) and deadly vines. Skytemple relies on lasers, conveyor belts, and bottomless pits to kill you, while Frostor has spike shooters seemingly everywhere, even in places that are meant to be considered safe. It’s all generated according to a rough plan, it’s true, but I can almost guarantee you’re going to take, especially toward the end as the frequency of the traps increases, more damage from the stages than you are the bosses. Occasionally, the game will even generate a big ol’ middle finger, like the time my only path to progress was blocked by a pair of vertical lasers, each perfectly bisecting the platforms I needed, and seemingly timed to go active while the platforms were accessible.

Suffice to say, I didn’t appreciate that one tiny bit.

This jerk has gone through multiple iterations. He’s *less* annoying in the final release.

While we’re here, let’s talk about the bosses and their weapons. Bosses are, with only two exceptions, larger versions of the level enemies, with their highly pattern based gimmicks. Rollster is a robot hamster in a sawblade monowheel, and he bounces and fires sawblades. The Astral Twins are fireball spewing robot gorillas who will resurrect each other if you don’t kill them both within about ten seconds of each other. As the boss order is also randomly generated, both levels and bosses are meant to get harder the further you get. This is very true for the levels, but the bosses? The stages consistently seem to do more damage, and their weapons vary wildly in use. One, Skydragon’s, is essentially there as a reference to Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s a big, slow moving cuboid bullet. Yes, whatever it hits will take heavy damage, and it has some piercing, but it’s also easily blocked, and, just like the sketch with the Mooninites, it moves slowly enough that you might as well not bother with it.

In the end, one of the biggest problems with 20XX is that it’s trying to recreate the feel of a game series that mostly relied on tight level design with procedural generation, and so many of the obstacles and “set-pieces” feel arbitrary. Oh look, six bats. That I have to wait for, watching them crawl across the screen, because if I don’t, I’m going to screw up the timing of this conveyorbelt/fireball/welding torch “puzzle” that’s also going on.

Occasionally, the procgen will just outright screw you. Just quit to the menu at this point, you’re going to die.

BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS. BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS.

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?