Into The Breach (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.18 w/Soundtrack, £4.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Minor paraphrasing aside, Into the Breach sums up, in its own title, how I’ve felt while reviewing it. Once more, unto the breach, dear friends! ONCE! MORE! I’m less enthused about the part where I close up the walls with the English dead, but that’s mainly because I don’t have all that many to close the walls with, and I’m pretty sure most of my mech pilots aren’t English to begin with…

OOPS. Welp, back to the time machine, folks!

…Still, Into the Breach is Subset games’ latest foray into their particular brand of tight, replay dependent strategy, in which three mech pilots (One of which, at any given time, is a traveller from a future where things went horribly wrong) try to hold back an insectile menace, mostly without backup. It’s turn based, and with the clever gimmick that, due to time travelling shenanigans, you already know what your enemy is going to do. Well, to a certain extent. You know what they’re shooting at (and are capable of), and you can take advantage of this to, for example, shove one of them with artillery or a punch in such a way that they actually hit their bugfriends this time around.

As such, it’s a highly tactical game with a lot of depth, which you might not realise looking at screenshots, as every mission is an 8×8 map. On its most basic level, there’s always at least as many of them as you (unless you’re super good), so simply doing damage isn’t enough. In fact, at least some of the time, you’re merely going to be concentrating on avoiding housing damage, as, with enough loss of life, that’s it, the Vek have reached critical mass, time to bug out and maybe find a timeline where you did better (taking one pilot with you.) But then, it adds layers. Pushing and pulling enemies as well as hitting them. Status effects. Synergies. Environmental considerations.

Ahhh, nothing like saving the day by setting things on fire, and then shoving things *into* fire. Or acid. Hell, just plain water does well sometimes too!

Since explaining everything would most likely be rather dull, let me focus on a team that I never thought I’d like… And yet, they consistently get closer to victory than any of my other mech groups. Heck, even their name (The Rusting Hulks) and their price to unlock (a measly 2 coins) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The fact that one of their units doesn’t even hurt enemies seems, at very first glance, like the waste of a unit. But this is where it gets fun. Because, you see, the other two units drop smoke. Smoke which, to them and them alone, also electrocutes enemies at the beginning of their turn, on top of what smoke normally does in this game: Stop you being able to attack if you’re in it.

This may not seem useful, but consider this: An enemy not attacking, and taking damage, is a net plus. An enemy that can’t fly shoved into water, or two enemies with 1 HP being shoved into each other with violent gravitic force is not only a plus, it’s being classy as hell. I don’t need powerful beam weaponry, giant fists, or superscience shenanigans. I have smoke and mirrors. What with the different teams each having an interesting style of play, the ability to play with random mechs, and the ability to pick and choose teams, with achievements (and thus further team unlocks) for experimenting? Now that’s what I call encouraging replay and diversity of play, friends…

It hasn’t taken me terribly long to get to the point where things have slowed down a little (A straight night of play has earned me all of the islands, most of the pilots, and some of the teams, with two almost wins) , but, even with everything unlocked, I see the potential here for me coming back. What if I have an all-shoving team? Or having to watch my collateral with highly damaging beam weaponry? Hrm. Hrrrrrrrm!

Smoke and mirrors. Okay, and riding the lightning too, but let’s not go overboard here!
…Okay, let’s go overboard.

It helps that the music is tense, fitting, and atmospheric, the sound solid, the visual aesthetic similarly tight and consistent, and, best of all, it tutorialises fairly well, and is pretty clear. I would consider this a pretty strong purchase for strategy fans, and another fine example to add to my collection of designing clearly and tightly to goals. Props.

Burninate the towns… Burninate… Oh, wait, no, that’s the opposite of what The Mad Welshman is meant to be doing! Sorrrreeeee!

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Deep Sixed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

I was only talking about cheery dystopias a few weeks back, and yet, here we are with Deep Sixed, a game that has all the fun hallmarks. Remember, if your reactor is critically leaking, you may wish to repair it. If you cannot repair it, you may wish to send an emergency beacon. If the emergency beacon is not working, you may wish to send an emergency beacon.

Okay, I got *part* of it right.

Okay, so that’s not exactly what’s said, but the general sentiment, among others, is there, carefully and cheerily enunciated by the voice actress for URSA, the AI companion on your indefinite corrective period of exploration and adventure.

Which, translated, means: You’re indentured to explore a nebula on behalf of a corporation, because you fucked up, and your ship is a hunk of junk that will probably kill you if the local life forms don’t. This works both for and against the game. Let’s start with that good ol’ “For” column.

Deep Sixed does one thing quite well, and that’s setting its mood. You’re isolated, so your only contact with… Well, anyone is either email, mission descriptions, or your handy dandy (until it breaks) AI companion, URSA. You’re clearly not valued as anything more than an expendable resource, because your ship’s a hunk of junk, and only by doing jobs for the company can you make it anything but, or repair massive damage… And it will still break down with distressing regularity. Oh, and you’re not a trained worker, why would you be? So you get a manual of iffy usefulness, to help you with the repairs you’re inevitably going to be doing… Alone.

Ugh. Of *course* nobody told me the job would involve getting slimed. Of *course* they didn’t…

And, on a quiet mission, with only a few problems, this is fine. It adds atmosphere, and the fact that some of the missions are themselves an exercise in tedium is, itself, part of the allure. But when things go drastically wrong, as they inevitably will?

ARGH. One early example was after I’d discovered the existence (through a plot mission) of Zephyrlings. Zephyrlings run in packs. Zephyrlings can quickly short the power of your modules, forcing you to waste valuable time flipping to the power room to repower the viewing stations, and combat with multiple opponents is best described as “An exercise in slow, painful, and frustrating death.” There are thing to make it somewhat easier, like shields, a deceleration field that can slow some enemies, and a hotkey for switching laser types… But combat is definitely one of the weaker parts of the game, and, interestingly enough, creates the more difficult to solve problems (recalibrating lasers, repairing hull damage mid fight, combatting fires mid fight.) There is an “Easy” mode, but, beyond actually telling you what problems exist, allowing pre-mission saves, and disabling achievements, it’s not… All that much easier.

As such, despite its charm, the woman of colour protagonist, some pretty good voice acting and writing, and some interesting ideas, overall, Deep Sixed turns me off. It’s not that these difficulties are insurmountable. It’s not that you can’t learn how to be a good captain of a shitty ship. It’s not that the game isn’t working well… Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s simply that this kind of experience, while interesting in small bursts, isn’t great for me overall. If you like a game that is tough, but with the toughness coming more from stimulus overload than lack of clarity, then perhaps Deep Sixed is for you.

As it turns out, reading the manual for fixing oxygen leaks while oxygen leaks are happening is… A bad idea.

The Mad Welshman would like to note the devs appear receptive to constructive criticism, as noted by the addition of continuing from saves to Easy Mode just prior to this review being written.

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The Alpha Device (Review)

Source: Free
Price: Free
Where To Get It (Free) : Steam

For all that the “Walk in a desolate area and listen to audiologs/read notes” subgenre of computer games is much maligned (and sometimes rightly so), when done well, minimalism can be turned to advantage, and the story becomes so much the richer. So it is, for me at least, with The Alpha Device, a game that definitely has its flaws (One of which confuses me greatly), but, storywise, enthralled and entertained me.

Simple geometric shapes are fun when you put them together, kids!

Let’s get those aforementioned flaws out of the way first. If you’re not a fan of the school of graphic design among indie games of “Return unto the mostly untextured, if not uncoloured polygons”, then odds are you’ll be predisposed not to like this. Which would be a shame, as the game does clever things with simple shapes (Clever things like using simple shapes as templates to poke holes in other simple shapes… To make shapes that become both more full of holes and chunky bits.) Furthermore, the game is gamepad only, which, I must say, confuses the hell out of me, considering it’s coded in the Unity engine, which makes both multiple control schemes and other quality of life improvements… Well, not a doddle, but certainly not beyond. Still, the game is effectively free, so it would be highly impolite of me to do more than express my confusion there.

Now… The voice acting is an advertising point of the game, and considering that the sole voice actor, David Hewlett, is well known, and has proven his chops multiple times, this is a good point. He really sells the bitterness of one of the last human beings well, that loss and confusion, swinging easily into the undercurrent of hopeless anger that characterises his own storyline. It helps that the story surprised me with how, like Mr. Hewlett’s acting, it swings comfortably between scales, moving from the galactic to the personal, back and fore in a slowly closing gyre, to its twist conclusion. The twist, admittedly, felt a tiny bit off, but only a tiny bit, as it was more that it relies on you realising the dissonance of the audio logs (and your discovery thereof) , than a not-twist, or some other, completely out of the blue revelation with no foreshadowing.

Not pictured: Some good voice acting.

And then… Ah, well. While the game is, technically, quite short, lasting approximately an hour, this is a technically. I won’t spoil the precise mechanics of that technically, but it was fitting, it was clever, in its way, and it satisfied my black little heart, for, listening to the story, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of anger of my own in sympathy with the protagonist.

As such? Well worth a look if you like minimalistic storytelling.

Simple. Geometric. Shapes.

The Mad Welshman has done his best to keep this review spoiler free. That is all.

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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.


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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