Algo-Bot (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming within limitations has always been an interesting exercise. Take, for example, a robot. Give it some limited options, such as moving forward, turning, picking something up, putting something down, or hitting a button, and then limit it to a certain number of instructions (With some ability to bring things down to functions, which can be used in place of a smaller set of instructions repeated.) That’s the basis for AlgoBot, a game by Fishing Cactus.

AAAAARGH!

And it’s not a bad basis for a game at all. There’s a certain pleasure in solving the problem as ideally as possible, and another, entirely different kind of pleasure in solving a complex problem at all. Providing you’re teaching well as you go along, you can add complexity, more things to do, more challenge to it all. This, too, Algo Bot does well. Starting with simple commands, it moves onto functions, teaching you that if you want something done well, isolating the most repeated instructions saves time and frustration. Then another function, more instructions, so on. It does so with a good, clear UI, some nice futurist designs for robots and belts and buttons that clearly identifies every element in your mind. So far, so good.

If this were the end of things, having a good learning curve, a nice, clear aesthetic, and an interesting idea, this would make it a damn good game, and another entry into the Hall of Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. There are, however… Niggles. Little annoyances. For example, instructions cannot be changed while the program is running, even in the step by step mode, so the trickier the puzzle gets, the more you’re having to play the whole thing through, painfully, to identify the problem. That the speed option resets after each playthrough, equally, is a niggle.

Sometimes, thankfully, the simple solution really is the one you’re looking for.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the futurist aesthetic, from the tunes to the clean, expressive robots, and the comedy of errors that is the story. In closing, I only have this to say to my robot PAL: Only a poor workman blames his tools.

The Mad Welshman has deliberately chosen screenshots where he wasn’t actually that close to a solution. Just so you know.

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Deep Sky Derelicts (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Balance can be a very difficult thing to achieve. I don’t think that’s always a well understood thing. The more complex a game is, the more likely one of its pieces can fail to interact with its siblings. And although I am certain it will be fixed, it’s interesting to note where Deep Sky Derelicts hasn’t quite got the balance down just right yet.

This combat, which I foolishly walked into, could be a metaphor or something.
But no, it’s me about to be clowned by a superior force.

Before we get into that, however, what the heck is a Deep Sky Derelicts when it’s at home? Well, it’s a procedurally generated, turn based game involving entering ancient hulks, fighting aliens, pirates, and robots, all to find two dreams of humanity: The Mothership on which humanity arrived, previously thought by the game’s spacefaring civilisation to be mythical, and citizenship, for lo, the spacefaring civilisation is a wee bit dystopic. Hand drawn art in a comic book style, some solid music and sound effects, and a mostly clear UI. Good stuff, potentially, and, aesthetically, already shaping up very well.

And mechanically, a fair amount of it is shaping up well, too. Most of the various classes work well, each having specialities of their own, such as the Bruiser’s Heavy Melee (at the cost of not having a ranged weapon, or a second tool), the Leader’s flexibility, and so on, with guns and addons being the main methods of customising your character’s deck of cards for the fights. There’s a certain joy in finding new and effective methods of murderising the opposition while ensuring your health or suit energy doesn’t get too low, because regaining the former is expensive, and losing all the latter (Drained by both exploration and turns of combat) is an instant death state… Similarly, the tutorialising is good, and mostly feels natural.

Even the most basic of attacks look good.

Alas, not all is currently well, and some things feel a little lacklustre. The Bruiser, for example, has the lowest ratio of combat cards to non combat at first, so they are, oddly, a class you have to build up before it really gets going, whereas others, such as the Engineer, can mostly get going straight away. Equally, not all weapons are equal, with the Assault Rifle getting the least use in my runs because… Well, without a high Weapon stat, it rapidly becomes useless against anything with the least amount of armour. At the moment, the ships feel relatively empty, which, in a way, is fitting, but also makes for minutes of… Well, wandering just to find something, and it’s very important to check the level of the ship you’re invading before embarking. There are four ships to start with, and closest does not mean friendliest. Just so you know. Finally, and this is definitely something that is being worked on to my knowledge, the game is not complete, so unless you’re gunning for the main goal as directly as possible, yes, you’re going to run out of missions, and consequently money. Money you need to re-energise your suits and survive.

These points aside, though, Deep Sky Derelicts is shaping up to be pretty fun. Some of the questlines are well written, and give a sense of a universe which has a lot of odd things going on, like God Machines (or machines with delusions of godhood… Take your pick), creative means of getting around the limitations of a space suit (and the disgusting results thereof) , and, of course, the things that populate ships. What makes all the janitor robots so damn murder happy? We may never know. Finally, when a run goes well, it goes very, very well, and I’ve been dissuaded from wanting to murder my entire team by… Well, finding some particularly juicy pieces of loot that make the combat go by even quicker, new things to see in the comic frame presentation of moves, and convinced myself “Okay, you don’t get cut off yet. Your kit’s too good.”

On the one hand, minimalist, and not a whole lot of events over the whole ship. On the other, this is clear as crystal.

So that’s the current state of Deep Sky Derelicts: When it’s good, it’s entertaining and fun, and when it’s bad, it can get sloggy quickly, which, thankfully, is fixable. It’s an interesting take on an idea we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, with a good aesthetic, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, because, as mentioned, balance problems can be fixed, and the writing of what’s in there so far is giving me confidence that, by release, I’ll be more positive about the game.

The Mad Welshman would give you more today, but he needs to get a suit refill. Stupid oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere…

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Iconoclasts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.49
Where To Get It: Steam

An Iconoclast is one who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. Sometimes, because this is the right thing to do, holding back progress. Sometimes, because said beliefs or institutions conflict with the individual philosophy. Sometimes, simply because it’s cherished.

Of course, sometimes it can be a little hard to tell *why* an institution is cherished as an outsider. Who do you love and who loves you? YES!

It’s kind of interesting that this is the title of the game, not because of the story (involving a mechanic rebelling against a techno-religious regime that’s repressive because ??? . No, they’re demonstrably evil. It’s just their reasons are unclear for the majority of the game) , but because Iconoclasts, in its way, is trying to shift things up mechanically. Nominally called a Metroidvania, it nonetheless does… And doesn’t fit that mould. More accurately, it’s a puzzle platformer where even the combat against the many bosses… Is a puzzle.

And, at times, the game contains the frustrations of both. “Oh, sod!” I mutter, as I backtrack three times round an area to solve one small puzzle. “Wait, what am I meant to do here?” , as I get lost, or encounter a new enemy who’s immune to what’s worked so far. “Wait, my reward for solving this bit is… more, with a different element? ARGH!” as, yes, puzzles mix things up, and bosses often have multiple phases. That isn’t to say there isn’t joy, or the appreciation of a well-crafted fight… But poor explanation or signposting often leaves me irritable as I play through.

Oh, hello there, Screen Splitting Laser. How’s the folks? Good? Fine, fine…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. The music is wonderful, the world is interesting, if a little confusing at times, and enemy designs are varied and numerous. The writing, on the other hand, is a little heavy handed, and I’ve found it, at times, a little difficult to precisely work out what’s going on. Okay, pirates. Who are ancestor worshippers and use seeds, which is apparently heretical. Nearly everyone seems to be going through some form of survivor stress, with abandonment and safety being prime concerns (Presumably because this safety is provably rather hard to keep, even if you follow the techno-theocracy’s rules, and because people keep dying or being kidnapped), and it can sometimes be hard to keep up. The techno-theocrats have pseudo-magic powers, presumably through this Ivory stuff, which may or may not be nanomachines, son?

It’s a bit confusing. Does this necessarily make it bad? Well… Not really. It doesn’t make it great, or possibly even that good, but the movement is fluid, the combat moves mostly responsive, and being able to move (or charge your wrench, when the time is right) while charging up gun attacks is a nice move that makes things a little easier. The physics are pretty dependable, and that’s a good thing, because some of the puzzles really do depend on object physics to get by.

Explained: That ‘sploding the red parts push the box in the opposite direction. Demo’d: That the seeming background blocks stop its movement. Not quite explained: To use your charged shot here, you have to be at least a certain distance *away* from that rightmost pad. Otherwise it clinks off harmlessly.

As to how it feels to play? Well, sometimes, it’s good. Oh hey, a new area. A cool new ability (sparsely handed out in the first two thirds of the game.) A new character. This area’s pretty straightforward. Other times… Well, the frustration kicks in. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll finish Iconoclasts. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get the point. But it’s not a game I’m playing in more than little bursts, and I’m probably not alone there.

The Mad Welshman wants to clarify that this is an okay game. The frustration balances out the joy of working out how the heck ass gets kicked.

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Subnautica (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, Subnautica is out. And oh boy, there’s a lot to take in there. The possibility of escape from this watery world awaits, to those brave enough to… Er… Brave the horrors. Although, as I’ve said previously, I’m not entirely sure I want to leave, considering how damn cool the world is.

Why are floaters doing this? Because. That’s the kind of answer you get when the lone survivor is not a marine exobiologist.

Enigmatic caves, mushroom forests, islands held aloft by gigantic floating creatures bonded to the rock… This is before the plot of the game properly kicks in, that, thankfully, you can mostly do at your own pace. The Aurora is shot out of the stars by… Something, and you, seemingly the only survivor, must not only find a way off this rock, but also solve an ancient mystery. A mystery that gets quite personal, as you are rapidly infected by… Something.

I’ve gone through a lot of emotions playing Subnautica. Consternation as I hunt for Lithium and Magnetite. Amusement, both the gentle kind when I’m cheered on by random space truckers, and the black kind, when I discover how some survivors… Were real candidates for the old Darwin Awards. Bed wetting terror, the first time I met the Reaper Leviathan. Mostly, though, I’ve been pretty relaxed, because the world is a beautiful one, with a thriving ecosystem that, as a lone human, I can’t really despoil. Mmmm, that feels good.

…Not that I haven’t tried my damnedest. Even built a scanner room or three to try harder.

So, after three Early Access reviews (Each a good indicator of how far things have come), is there much left to say? A little. After all, it was only in the most recent updates that things like the Prawn Exosuit let me clomp around the sea bed, and building the Cyclops, the submarine that’s been almost emblematic of the game, seemed a pipedream up until fairly recently.

But that’s the thing with Subnautica: It brings you in with friendly, accessible survival gameplay in the kinds of biomes you haven’t really seen anywhere else, then gives you more to hope for, more to achieve, more to explore, and in the end… Gives you a chance to escape from even that.

Sorry, but even if I had gotten that far, I probably wouldn’t take the option. Subnautica’s world… Is just too damn pretty to leave, and I have so much more to do.

Join me. It’s a wonderful experience.

You… You are my new best friend. And I shall call you… John Bigboté!

The Mad Welshman is going for a swim. He’s also bringing two tonnes of TNT, because god-damn, that Reaper NEEDS TO DIE.

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DUSK: Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (For all three episodes. The third isn’t out yet, and will be covered separately)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the early 90s. A time of ‘tude. A time of textured, low-polygon worlds, often heavily interlaced. A time where plots were paper thin, gibs flew freely, and nobody asked “What’s my motivation?”

Okay, so this isn’t entirely true, but a lot of people remember it that way, and DUSK? Tickles that nostalgia gland. Looking for a nuanced protagonist? Nope, you are a shootman. You shoot, and you shoot, and you shoot some more, because folks and creatures who are most likely evil want to shoot you. Puzzles? Sort of, if by puzzles, you mean finding walls that look suspicious, blowing them up, or finding switches to open them, and, of course, the hunt for up to three colour coded keys you need, Red generally being last.

The satisfaction of both a job well done, and the possibility of the last key nearby.

Honestly, even if Dusk wasn’t quite my cup of blood (and it is), I would appreciate the sheer commitment to aesthetic. The world is low poly and grungy, everything is chunky, and while there’s no need to reload, hitting the time honoured R key will spin your weapons in a cool way that vaguely looks like somebody reloading stylishly. Similarly, the music is hard, dark, and fitting with the grimdark sort-of-plot that Dusk has. Namely, evil experiments, a cult of worshippers who need stopping, and teleportation experiments. If that seems familiar, yes, it’s hammering together elements of Quake, Blood, and Doom in ways that, honestly? Don’t have to make sense. There is no fall damage, so feel free to look awesome as you drop from the sky raining explosive death.

So far, I’ve been quite complimentary, but it mustn’t be said that Dusk takes only fun lessons from 90s shooters. Bosses aren’t too challenging, beyond the fact that they have boodles of life and do a lot of damage if they hit. Some of the levels (Looking at you in particular, The Steamworks!) are dark and mazelike for the sake of being dark and mazelike, and are a sod to navigate, even for a 90s style shooter. Homing attacks from some enemies are annoying, even as they add a dimension to the combat style the game wants you to be playing with: Always moving.

The weaker weapons are all dual wield capable. The shotguns, in particular, are a joy to use.

Still, so far, I like Dusk Episodes 1 and 2. Since the game is episodic, I can quite happily cover these two episodes separately as actual reviews, and the third when it comes out as its own thing. The gunplay is a surprisingly clever game of resource management, as, while using a hunting rifle on mooks is entertaining, you’re probably going to need that ammo for more dangerous enemies, and the pistols see use pretty much throughout.

In the end, Dusk is an entertaining throwback to the days of swearing at your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT , without all that swearing and asking why the hell you have to reboot your computer because a game doesn’t like what you put as your HIMEM, and with a few design lessons of the modern day thrown in. If you like love letters to Ye Olde Days of Gibbing, that Tarnished Golden Age, then yes, Dusk is worth a go.

It even preconfigures the Soundboomer card correctly. Bloody magic, that is.

Commitment to aesthetic, thy name is [Clicking and whirring as of a struggling 486DX hard drive]. As you might guess, that’s somewhat hard to pronounce for anyone who isn’t a 90s kid.

The Mad Welshman is pleased. The portals work.

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