Frozen Synapse 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

The original Frozen Synapse, released in 2011, gave me a new appreciation for AI. A few simple roles, a few simple actions, and a constricted battlefield nonetheless gave appreciation for timing, cones of vision, and action priority, because the core conceit of the game, whether against AI or players, is that turns happen simultaneously, and so, you have to not only think what you’re doing, but also what the other person’s doing.

A fine example of understanding timing from this multiplayer match… Nothing I do will save this assault, because the grenade is perfectly timed.

Okay, so you have to do that anyway in games, but seeing it, explicitly playing out on a map, and understanding both your mistakes and those of your opponents makes clear just how big that phase space of actions could get. It was scary, but thankfully, the community was pretty chill.

Now, after that, a similar concept with Frozen Cortex (Only robot sportsball instead of corporate murderclones with guns), and a few years, Frozen Synapse 2 has come to deliver… Well, more of that. And it brings two somewhat different experiences, depending on whether you tackle the City Mode, singleplayer, or Multiplayer. Let’s deal with multiplayer first, because it’s the simpler of the two, in a sense.

Four players, in two teams, given one of several random, single weapon loadouts. While there are other multiplayer modes, the most common is that, as mentioned, turns are simultaneous, and you don’t know what a player’s doing unless the opponent is in your vision arc. A good example from my multiplayer matches (Where I have consistently been defeated so far) was where a grenadier, unbeknownst to me, was right behind my assault that turn, and slipped into a doorway to grenade one of my folks from where I least expected it.

It was a clever play, because even if they had been seen because my Assault (automatic rifle) had seen them, they would still probably have escaped before I could shoot them, due to the fact that Grenadiers always run when they’re not throwing grenades, but Assaults track slowly when they’re moving, and are at their best when they know roughly where to aim. There are inequalities, built into the classes (Knife, Pistol, Assault, Shotgun, Grenadier, Rocketeer, Flamethrower) that add tactical considerations. Grenades take time to throw, and won’t move until they do, but their explosions last longer than a rocket (Not much longer, but enough that I painfully learned that Grenadiers can run into their own grenades, after the explosion started), Rocketeers blow up all the landscape in the rocket’s AoE, which can work against as much as for, and everything takes time.

A lot of this would already be known to Frozen Synapse players, new roles aside, but the addition of focus fire makes for a new priority to memorise, and a new wrinkle.

Moving quickly means it’s harder to hit you, but you can’t fire. Moving normally means you fire, but you have a penalty aiming. Stopping when you see someone means you shoot quickly, but are a sitting duck. But whoever correctly predicts the small, diamond shape location where an enemy is going to be when they fire, they get an accuracy boost. So, for example, somebody covering a door, from a far corner, may well get the drop on somebody who knows damn well the door’s their only exit, but foolishly stands in the doorway.

The story of Frozen Synapse continues, as this city is essentially built on the rubble of the first game’s story mode.

So it’s tactically intricate, simple rules making for an intriguing tactical game where you’re seeking a maximum area of action, while attempting to contract the opponent’s choices. I almost won one match from near death, due to the last person being a grenadier, who can quickly deny large areas without having to destroy their cover. Alas, they had a grenadier too, and, on the 9th turn of 8, it was declared a draw.

City Mode, on the other hand, is more complex. Not only are there the same tactical considerations, there’s management aspects to it too, such as building permits, a mercenary market, diplomacy… And it doesn’t exactly tutorialise well. Case in point: Grenades are great. Grenades are useful. But you can’t use Grenades unless you’ve signed up for Explosive Ordnance Services in the City. Or rockets. And the first I knew of this was when I’d already sent a Grenadier along with my squad to help clear out some Raiders. All the great aesthetics, the huge map, the soulful music that plays, isn’t going to save single player mode from some heavy flak for bad explanation of complex systems… Or, overall, the fact that accessibility options for the small text are currently nonexistent (There was, apparently, a “4K Supporting GUI” patch over the weekend before writing this, but it doesn’t appear to change tiny text, nor is there an option for this.)

Just a minute or so before I make a mistake that dooms a merc, I appreciate… Oh gods, this is a lot of buildings!

Add in some awkwardness in Multiplayer (If you want to add one of your own matches to Favourites by liking it, you have to search for its ID in the Match Play tab, rather than something more intuitive), and all of that interesting stuff I mentioned… Is less accessible to folks.

So, unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it. Its single player is complex without good support, its multiplayer isn’t for everyone no matter how friendly its community is, and, while it does make some steps in terms of colourblind support, that doesn’t change that a lot of its UI text is painfully small. It does expand on what worked well in the main game, and, apart from the knife, which is… Not something useful to a beginner player, those expansions add depth while still being easily explored. The rest? Not so much.

The Mad Welshman would make a poor mercenary leader. I mean, who gives soldiers orders to shoot without ammo?

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Heaven Will Be Mine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaven Will Be Mine is one of those visual novels that packs a lot into its relatively tiny frame. Like the mechs it pilots, existential warriors in both space… And phase space, its core is super dense. And if this seems like pretty, poetic words, to lull you into buying into it… Well, they are and they aren’t.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when ship specs have you reaching for your fan.

See, it’s hard to describe good, sensual writing without a little bit of poetry getting into the informational. And notice that I said sensual, not sexual. More than one way to peel a banana, friend. So let’s get the purely informational out of the way, get to the fun stuff.

As noted, Heaven Will Be Mine is a visual novel. You make choices, and those choices lead toward an ending. How? Well, that depends on both your choices, and which (if any) of the three factions you favour. Which of the pilots you choose affects the story, sure… But which ending you choose doesn’t necessarily depend on the pilot. After all, this is a game where the war is mostly a battle of ideas, and sometimes… The best way to win is to lose. Read chats, get into the heads of three flawed and interesting pilots, each with support staff, and mails, and world, and context…

…It seems complex, but it really isn’t, and the game makes it clear that it wants you to experience it, whether you pick the events that are “wins” or “losses.” Will it end in war, or something else? Well, that’s up to you, and I wouldn’t dream of giving you hints. Visually, the game is clear, with an interface that draws you in, fitting well, and musically… Musically, it shines, every track fitting the mood.

Not pictured: A long bass thrum, seemingly never ending, which screams “Threat” to the nether portions of the brain.

Now, the meat of the review. You see, despite being lewd as heck, to the point where I spent most of my first run alternating between gnawing on my thumb and my lip, blushing beet red, this not only doesn’t come at the expense of its universe, it also doesn’t come with the expense of being Not Safe For Work. The writing is flirtatious, concentrating more on feelings, engaging the senses to bring you into its mood. While I’m mostly writing this from the perspective of Saturn, each character has their own mood, and it does a good job of getting that mood across. Saturn is out for fun, to do the unexpected, and to have fun. Luna-Terra is, as their commander notes, strong yet fragile, wounded and whole, conflicts working perfectly… And Pluto… Pluto feels all encompassing, awe inspiring and paradoxically merciful in her deadly gravity well. Aevee Bee, as writer, has done an excellent job of making the posthuman both alien… And attractive, and the rest of the game follows this lead very well.

Of course, all of this has been very emotionally described, but, in a very real sense, that’s the point… It’s not a game I could review well by saying “This is good” , or “This is lewd”, or “This doesn’t feel right” , because a lot of it is about feeling, and Heaven Will Be Mine succeeds on this front very well.

While, of the three, I had the most enjoyable time with Saturn, I found Luna-Terra the most interesting.

The Mad Welshman smiles a little, and his e-cig lights up, as he shakes ever so slightly. The future, it seems, is filled with possibilities…

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Scythe: Digital Edition (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Hotfix 0.56.

Right now, Scythe: Digital Edition is pretty much what it says on the tin: A digital adaptation of a strategy and resource management board game. Which, accurate as it is, doesn’t really explain why I’m conflicted about it. So let’s get into how “Does what it says on the tin” isn’t, in this case, entirely a compliment at the present time.

Scythe is, at its most basic level, a competitive game in which six russian styled factions rush to achieve supremacy by… Ah, wait, intricacy has reared its intriguing, yet sometimes ugly head already, because no, getting 6 objectives doesn’t win the game, it merely ends it. What matters is a combination of power, popularity, resources, and territory, with multipliers for high popularity and building things over the tunnels that honeycomb the hexagonal, rural arena in which the six factions battle. And, in a normal game where you aren’t shown the score count, that’s a combined battle you’re not really sure you’ll win unless you’re heavily keeping track.

Spot the Rusviet Workers (DISCLAIMER: Difficulty determined by colour blindness type)

So, on the upside, the option to keep track and see this (Score Preview) does exist. For hotseat and single player, anyway. On the downside, this information pretty much requires you hover over the tooltips to remind yourself of the less common symbols. The… Rather small symbols. And the sometimes small text. Which is something else to squint at, as well as Rusviet workers on some of the backgro-

Look, I’m basically saying, rather clumsily, that this game could have done with some accessibility options planned from the start. While there is an option to change the colour of the map, this only actually applies when you’re zoomed out, which, not gonna lie, isn’t a view I tend to use, especially considering that the pretty faithful recreation of the models, the unpainted plastic mechs and heroes in six flavours, and the wooden, blocky workers, is visually appealing when colour issues aren’t making the latter (Arguably more important units than your mechs and heroes) somewhat hard to distinguish.

The event cards are evocative, albeit uncommon features. And some factions, the villains, get to pick more than once here!

The game is currently hotseat, with the option of bots, and, despite its cool boardgame aesthetic, and music with Russian instruments, this… Isn’t serving it too well. It’s definitely a game you want to play with friends, with the uncertainty, the diplomacy, and the nervous planning. As it is, the uncertainty over whether getting that sixth star is the best idea right now only exists when you deliberately avoid the option to remove that veil, and the diplomacy… Well, this is one of the few times I’d say hotseat makes a strategy game, tabletop adaptation or otherwise, less exciting.

It has a cool world, alas, mostly seen in the rulesbook (an outside PDF link), and hinted at in the game. It’s got a good aesthetic. But, at the current time, it’s a good example of how sometimes, you need a human face or two attached to a game to make it what it is. It’s definitely worth a go, and it’s definitely a faithful adaptation of an interesting game… But it’s a faithful adaptation of a game whose interest comes from the dual uncertainty of hidden scores and potentially irrational actors.

The AI victors, who would not have *been* victors if I hadn’t picked on myself. Alas, I didn’t win, I didn’t win, and I would have won if I hadn’t attacked myself.

The Mad Welshman, being a moustache twirler, is a rational actor. Death rays are perfectly logical and sensible time and money expenditures.

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MOTHERGUNSHIP (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Tower of Guns was an interesting game. A procgen first person shooter with, potentially, a silly amount of jumps, verticality, secrets, and guns, it lived up to its name. It also had an odd world. Now, with Mothergunship, the devs are doing it again, but this time in space. And it is good. And it is funny. And it is fast enough that I can’t give it any major points for accessibility. Even if it ticks all those other box type objects…

Boxes! That’s what they are!

Funnily enough, underneath the humour, the setting’s… Kinda bleak!

In any case, Mothergunship is a first person shooter with some procedural generation, a lot of bullets flying about, and the main selling point of being able to craft extremely silly guns from a whole bunch of parts. Of course, you have to get those parts first, by doing missions, buying them from a black marketeer, and the like, but you too, with a little hard work, can have a gun that fires slow moving rockets, mines, lightning, and lasers all at once, while reducing gravity. Somehow. With the tradeoff that the more bits you put in, the less you’re able to shoot it before having to wait for a reload.

And, considering Mothergunship’s enemy spawning and projectile philosophy is “More is better” , it’s fairly safe to say you want to pack the most bang for your energy bucks. Since the normal recharge time of around 5 seconds is an eternity if you haven’t made a dent in the boodles of enemies the game throws at you. Or the dirty tricks the Mothergunship’s armada has up its robotic sleeve, like lava floors, bouncy floors, bouncy walls, bouncy robots… It’s mean. Parts of it have adaptive difficulty of a sort (The more side-missions you successfully complete, the harder they get, and if you die in a side-mission, it eases the difficulty up a bit) , but the main story missions are a fixed difficulty, and losing a mission loses you all the gun parts you took to the mission.

This is a relatively mild example of a mid to late game room in motion. All-together now: AAAARGH!

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that last bit, to be honest. While you have a very generous storage space (100 total connectors, barrels, and buff inducing “caps” ), losing your best guns is a frustrating experience, regardless of the inducement to experiment with different builds. Thankfully, Side missions lag behind in difficulty, and there are a few options for gaining back those precious weapon options, and, for those of us who just don’t like to lose their guns, there’s the Joe’s Arms & Armoury missions. Joe’s Arms & Armoury: Gun shaped solutions to mothergunship shaped problems.

Which is as good a segue as any into how crafting guns feels. Beyond my one minor irritation with the system (Switching between removal mode and attachment mode feels needlessly finicky), playing with that energy/part tradeoff feels good, and I’ve found myself affectionately naming some ideas. The Friendly Fire, for example, asks the question: What happens when you add a 20-40% chance of spawning lava mines to individual shots… When you have three chainguns? It doesn’t fire for long, but the damage over time helps while away the recharging! Similarly, The Finger, consisting of some railguns, damage multipliers, and bounce mods, generally means that anything obliging enough to stand in a rough line from where I’m standing… Definitely gets The Finger.

While this is a low intensity shot, I’d like to point out… This jump was 90% done with rockets. Not even your traditional rocket jump either. Just… Shootin’ those rockets downward.

So, apart from the fact the game is, if not twitchy, then hectic, which unfortunately shuts out some folks from the game, there’s a lot good about Mothergunship, but one last thing definitely deserves a mention: The farcical humour. Farce must be played with a straight face, and of the cast, only the long suffering AI Jasper consistently plays the put-upon straight man, with the overall result of a humour heavy, fully voiced dialogue through the story’s missions. The Colonel is a cheery, blowhard incompetent. Dr. Dove Simona, although arriving late to the story, enters it with bombast, arrogance, and… Look, I don’t think it’s the Colonel that wants a cigar (he has a lollipop, because who loves you, baby), it’s Dr. Simona. Wilkinson’s VO really sells the long-suffering woman techie, and even the side characters, such as Hylas, get their moment in the sun. Pretty good, for something where most of the dialogue involves characters we never see more than a portrait of.

As such, overall? Beyond its speed and difficulty, which, as mentioned, shut out some folks, there’s not a lot that goes against recommending Mothergunship. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s bombastic, has only minor niggles with its core design pillars, and looks nice to boot. Enjoyable!

Dr. Dove Simona: Making damn sure you know she’s a top.

The Mad Welshman would like to state that he is not, in fact, secretly an Archivist Ship spreading Archivist Propaganda. Please step into the Not-Archiving Machine.

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OVERLOAD (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Normally, I try to avoid making references to other games in reviews, not least because it can introduce expectations that shouldn’t be there (see the Moonlighter review from earlier today), but, in the case of Overload, Revival’s 6 Degrees of Freedom shooter… It’s Descent.

“M’lud, if I could draw your attention to Exhibit A…”

For anyone young enough to not know why this is a big deal, Descent’s big selling point was the aforementioned 6 Degrees of Freedom. Want to float upwards and downwards, strafe sideways (that’s 2) , but also rotate in all three axes and move forwards and backwards in a science-fiction setting of robots gone wrong, and your mission to rescue the victims of what would eventually turn out to be both an alien invasion and Evil Corporation Shenanigans? Descent, and its two sequels had you covered, refining the formula.

Overload, funnily enough, refines it further. Although this is less surprising when you consider that the two Revival founders, Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, three of the original trilogy’s musicians, Dan Wentz, Allister Brimble, and Jerry Berlongieri, and more have been involved heavily in the development. They’ve had time to think about this. So… What’s the result like?

Undeniably fun and tense, is the very short answer. Last time I looked at it, I mentioned that the refinements to the formula are, for the most part, more to do with level design and quality of life than, for example, major rejiggings. Multiple difficulty modes, with the nice touch that challenge leaderboards are separated by their difficulty. Looking at the map pauses, and, considering the general gameplay loop, this is a godsend, and, while the maps are indeed mazelike, I never found myself truly, hopelessly lost like I did in the original games. Although, equally to its credit, I’ve felt ambushed, claustrophobic, and tense, aided by the often casually oppressive sounding music, the almost-screams and growls of the Automatic Operators. Logs being short and sweet, upgrades, secrets… It’s an interesting mix of the more traditional and the modern, and it works.

Particle effects can, on the one hand, obscure what’s going on. On the *other* , it makes this Auto-Op about four or five times scarier, even after it’s dead.

Good example: This is a game that has monster closets, in the traditional sense of the phrase (Secret places that open on triggers, usually once you’ve done something, to reveal… SURPRISE ENEMIES, HAHAHAHAHA) , and… I don’t mind. You know you’ve done monster closets right when they feel natural… And, just as nice, they have an actual, narrative reason to be there. I won’t spoil it, but the overall idea is that a set of colonies around Saturn have gone dark, and, carried in your slower than light craft, you have to work out why robots have gone bad, why colonists have been reassigned, and why the hell the company’s founder, Gabriel Kantor, seems so certain he can burn his bridges and unleash death and destruction for a set of colonies that are nowhere near self-sufficience. It’s similar enough to the plot of the original Descent (hell, it even has references to the Evil Corporation of the original games, the Post Terran Mining Corporation), but the differences, and the explorations therein, short as they have to be due to constraints, pleases me.

In short, this is not only an excellent addition to the 6 Degrees of Freedom Shooter subgenre, it’s also an excellent Descent game, and well worth a look. Oh, and there’s a free level editor too.

The mood in these tunnels can be described with phrases like “Somewhat tense”, segueing quickly into “AHH DIE DIE DIE PLEASE DIE”

Yes, The Mad Welshman freely admits the possibility of rose-tinted goggles. He also admits the possibility that it’s just fun as hell to blow up robots in space.

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