Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.

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The Spatials: Galactology (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Spatials: Galactology is an ambitious game, in some aspects. Building and managing a station, exploring worlds, diplomacy, tourism… There’s a lot to the game. And so, it’s perhaps unfortunate that I’ve not been able to get very far with it because it doesn’t explain most of its own complexities, and some of them? Just plain don’t make sense.

The Hygienizer 3000. On a permanent Spin Cycle, it seems…

Case in point: The shower has interrupted the sleeping. It will always interrupt sleeping if it’s in the same room. Even if, as in the above shot, it is neither in use or supplied. Now, I can’t speak for all showers, but my own? Doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s utterly silent until turned on. I have yet to encounter a shower that does more than silently sit there until turned on. Admittedly, putting a shower in your bedroom is probably not a wise idea (It’s clearly not a futuristic sonic shower, it needs soap. Which I don’t have) , but that it’s the noise that’s the problem? Baffles and infuriates.

Okay, a load from the nearest quicksave fixed that. Showers set to be built elsewhere… With a whole bunch of balloons in the shower room because, inexplicably, they also make the place look bad. So decorations are mandatory if you want people to feel good. Noise mainly seems to impact sleep. And then something breaks down. I’m also running out of metal to build things with. Ohhh yeah, I can set my ships to pick up cargo from more than one place, why didn’t the game tell me this before? So, off I go, to a thankfully human planet with metal on it, and… My first combat encounter, hoo boy! Combat, diplomacy, exploration, it has it… NO, STOP BUILDING THAT STORAGE DEVICE, KEEP YOUR FRIEND HEALTHY, YOU – Oh, the only guy with a gun is dead.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM UNWARY PLAYER DELICIOUS.

Time to restart, I guess! Or… Not. The Spatials is, it’s true, an ambitious game, with a lot of elements. But I am, funnily enough, not one of those people who enjoys basic, important mechanics obfuscated from me, and it does this a whole lot. It has the dreaded Decoration Tax, a mechanic I’ve always despised, not least when it’s employed in the oddest of places. Yes, I can understand how a recycling machine may be noisy and clunky. I do not understand why a shower room won’t be enjoyable for its occupants unless it has a minimum of 2 balloons (1 to cancel the shower’s aesthetic penalty, 1 to improve the aesthetic to “slightly nice.”) Research, similarly, means the early game, normally a case of “Build things to make you self sufficient”, becomes “Research these eight things you need simply to get people to come to the planet and buy things before your money runs out.”

The Spatials: Galactology, will, I’m sure, be fine for people who actively enjoy the heavy amount of micromanagement and wikiplay needed to get off the ground here. I am not one of those folks, and the unfriendliness and lack of decent information is a major turn off. Its aesthetic is serviceable, but the bizarre internal logic… Not so much. Not so much by a long shot.

Every now and again, the VP will turn up and give you big demands for desperately needed money. It’s p. safe to say I did not, in fact, build 8 objects.

The Mad Welshman has already railed against the Cabinet Tax… But Balloon Tax? This is getting silly…

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Starship Corporation (Review)

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A game that has a great idea, a good – Oh, you audibly heard the “But” from where you’re sitting? Yes, that’s the deal with Starship Corporation, a starship building and management game. But…

“No, you can’t shift a schematic that’s close enough to your spec that it only needs a reshuffle or parts added here, why would you want that?”

…It really, really isn’t friendly. It’s tried, and tried pretty hard, as, during the Early Access period, the game’s power, water, fuel, and air distribution was via laying pipes, whereas now, it’s done by floor and network. An auto-resolve system for the missions (The yardstick by which ships are judged) was introduced. The former genuinely helps. The latter feels more like avoiding the problem than fixing it.

Okay. Let’s back up a bit. Starship Corporation is a game about managing your own starship construction company. It’s a fixed universe, with some events, but progression is pretty fixed in both campaign and sandbox modes, with the main difference being that, in sandbox mode, you can change the amount of currency you own and your goal. The campaign goal? Get loaaadsamoneeey.

Of course, to get money, you have to spend money, and, at a first glance, without YouTube tutorials and the like to back you up? It’s daunting. Okay, I need to buy a sickbay. Oh, and connectors for fuel, water, air, and power between ship floors. And some shields. And a mining laser. Oh, and a better cooli- There’s a lot of options, and you can get rather a way into building a ship before realising “Oh wait, I don’t have enough space for that cargo I need” , or “Wait, crap, this really needs a better [insert] than I have now to save space.” Time to save design, hit up R&D, to spend some of your budget, and back in until finally… It’s testing time.

Expect to be spending a fair amount of time in the research screen, hunting for what you need.

At which point, many people will hit “Auto-Resolve” and shuffle things around if the score isn’t good enough, wondering their first time through, for a minute or so, where the heck the “Save and Finish the Blueprint Already” button is (It’s to the left of the auto-resolve, once you’ve resolved or played enough missions.) Which is a dual shame, because, again, this is an interesting idea, but the execution is painful enough that yes, auto-resolve really is the better option in many cases. The manual will tell you that it’s ctrl+number to assign people to a group, shift+number to actually control that group, and number is for switching between decks. This is about as useful as it gets, sadly, and there’s a lot that doesn’t get explained.

Unfortunately, with auto-resolve, the game is less interesting, being a somewhat clunky and chuggingly slow ship building and management game with some story elements, and without it, half the game is a hell of micro-management to make the other half less friendly.

It took me a vital few seconds to realise that there were several parts overdue for maintennance… On the SOP mission. ARGH.

So… Great idea. Great idea. The execution, on the other hand, means I can’t really recommend this beyond said idea.

The Mad Welshman is always sad when a good idea is buried under unfortunate design decisions. He knows the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater a lot in this industry.

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BallisticNG (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.94

Those who’ve been keeping track of my future racing endeavours may have noted that I’d had my eye on BallisticNG for quite some time, but, for one reason or another, I’d never actually gotten round to a review. So you can perhaps imagine my surprise when, after a break, I’d taken a look at this Wipeout fangame, and found… A lot of polish. The game’s come a long way from its early roots.

Yup, this is a fitting opening. The only way is indeed up… 😀

So, yes, BallisticNG is a future racing game heavily inspired by the earlier Wipeout games (1, 2097/XL, and 3) , and the usual rules apply: Several craft, each with their own quirks, pros, and cons (such as the Scorpio, which steers awfully, but goes like brown things flung from a stick), undertaking tournaments at various speed classes, with time trials, races (with and without weapons), survival mode (where you speed up regardless, and merely control steering), airbraking for harder turns, and a low poly aesthetic. To say this is extremely my jam on many levels is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic’s a bit damp” , and, funnily enough, this led to a lot of early criticism from me during the Early Access process, mostly to do with track design and time trial times.

Thankfully, that critique, and that of other folks, seems to have been taken on board, and the track design and difficulty curve is quite pleasant. A low pressure series of tutorials, the easier tracks in various modes… It handles pretty well. In fact, a nice touch I’ve not seen elsewhere is arranging tournaments, not by difficulty class overall, but by track groupings, so the introduction to each track is on the easier speed classes. The higher speed classes are as twitchy and nightmarish as you’d expect (Spectre and above requiring good track memorisation), and the lower speed classes feel fair, yet frisky. Good!

A beautiful place to live, ruined only by the noise of AG racers certain times of the year…

Aesthetically, the game is very much on point, with a variety of environments, craft, and tunes, all feeling good and looking fine. Add in some modding ability, with the power to import craft, create track layouts, and the like, and, honestly? There’s not a lot I can say that’s more than a niggle on the negative side, such as the base sound balance needing work.

BallisticNG, it seems, has finally achieved its potential. One set of updates before release. And that actually makes me somewhat happy.

Fly me to the moon, and let me raaaace among the space debri- ah, wait, doesn’t scan quite the same. The sentiment’s there, though!

I mean, if I wasn’t after some of the moaning I did, there’d be no pleasing me… Ehehe.

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Cologne (Review)

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

Cologne is an interesting idea: A tunnel racer, where the races determine sovereign ownership of planets. Okay, not a bad way to go about things, tunnel racers are relatively rare, and there’s a potentially interesting universe.

Many worlds, many tubes to race through to conquer them peacefully.

There are, however, several problems, all of which add up. Some are quality of life stuff: Yes, I would like to see my controls in the options menu, and, heaven forfend, maybe even change them. I would (BEEP) like to (BEEP BEEP) turn off that (BEEP BEEP) godawful alert (BEEP) noise for the (BEEP BEEP) fuel and coolant levels being low, a (BEEP BEEP DAMMIT) common occurrence until you level up your fuel meters (or collect enough fuel to shut it up for a good five or ten seconds), and remember that you have to manually apply coolant. What kind of race are we running, in any case, where nobody has enough fuel or coolant to finish the race? Baffling. Similarly baffling is the jump, which very briefly goes straight up. I’ve mostly opted to avoid jump loops as best I can, because the timing is pretty tight.

I’d like to skip the tutorials on first load, if at all possible, and definitely skip seeing the entire track every single time. Oh, and turn off the shattered glass effect when I’m damaged, that would be good too.

Can you tell how well I’m doing here? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not a 3.

It’s unfortunate, really… There’s the kernel of a simple, possibly quite addictive tunnel racer in here, but it’s bafflingly undermined at every turn by its design decisions. When even racing on Easy tracks is an exercise in frustration, the world building isn’t really used to any great degree, and when common quality of life features are just plain missing, it’s extremely hard to find the niceness beyond “Well, it’s a good core idea.” Oh, wait, the pacifist element: You’ve no weapons, and are relying on skill. That’s something I like, but alas, it just isn’t enough.

Cologne, unfortunately, gets no recommendation here at TMW. Which is a shame, because I do like my Future Racing games.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

So many worlds, so little time.

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