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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Antigraviator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As Future Racers go, Antigraviator is an interesting, but slightly flawed one. It’s trying something different, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t really change that it doesn’t, entirely at least, work well.

I would like to apologise for being good enough at Future Racing games that this is the only mid-pack screenshot I have.

So, it’s a Future Racer, so there’s gravity hovercraft wot go fast, a lot of tracks in varying locales in tournaments of increasing difficulty, a boost start (Gotten by holding accelerate just as 2 vanishes and 1 is about to count), and… No context for any of this. Nope, this is a racing tournament, just a racing tournament, and that’s all good, with no in-game lore. Interesting move.

But, make no mistake, the tracks are very pretty. Even in the first tourney, you go from a “standard” city setting, to racing over the ocean, through a canyon system, and in orbit. It’s lush, and it’s fast, and it’s here we start to see this minimalist future racing game fight with itself, design wise.

It’s fast, and there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of blind jumps and turns, sometimes quite hard ones, sometimes in quick succession. But don’t worry, because only grievous collisions slow you down more than a tadge, and, unless you’ve gone for a low armour craft (more on that later), getting blown up by anything short of leaving the track (an instant explosion if you don’t land on the track, followed, in most cases, by respawn and loss of all speed you’ve built up) is quite tough. Okay, cool, these design decisions appear to have cancelled each other out for an alright, if odd baseline. But then we hit the Deathmatch mode of races, and they’re longer, and harder to lose, precisely because you have so much armour (and so do some of the other racers.) So, how do you blow people up?

Well, instead of weapon pickups, you have, at pre-determined points of the track, traps. Some are near-certain killers (like the reverse controls/magnet trap) , some are, basically, weapons (the missile), and the rest vary between fitting and slightly silly, deadly and slowing. Most require someone to be in front of you to trigger, give you a temporary immunity that usually gets you through the trap yourself, and have the good feature of telling you whether they caught somebody.

The first time playing, it goes straight to the mandatory tutorial. Not sure how I feel about that.

Unfortunately, they also require you and the other racer to be in a specific set of ranges to trigger, which conflicts, somewhat, with the other main mechanic, boost energy. See, going fast by collecting boost cylinders, and then boosting with the up arrow (2 cylinders per boost, and you can chain them pretty quickly) means that, funnily enough, you can end up first very quickly, so most of these traps… No longer mean much to you, especially if you stay far ahead enough that traps mean nothing. Even if, due to the fact the AI racers are fairly good, you’re not in first, you’re going quickly enough that, by the time the icon on the back of your ship lights up to show a trap has gone off, by the time it tells you a trap is ready, and by the time you look away from your real visual focal point of the track ahead of the ship (because you’re going very fast) … You miss your chance. The better a racer you are, the less you get to see or use a feature.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have good answers for alternatives beyond the traditional, and I can also see why the traditional is being turned down here: It democratises things, to an extent, as the traps are track dependent, not based on loadout, or pre-genned track items, or a semi-random weapon pickup. The higher armour definitely helps ensure you can keep your speed (mostly) in track design that just wouldn’t work if, for example, wall and other ship collisions seriously hurt you, so the developers can use all those blind, sharp corners and jumps that normally, I would be crying hatred for, from the word go… Indeed, the final track of the second tournament, Michael’s Bay, earns my ire for being more hostile than the tracks bracketing it on either side, a solid and frustrating difficulty spike in a game otherwise able to mitigate that.

Finally, we get to the customisation options, and my greatest mystification. Scaling costs, I somewhat understand, but they’re applied inconsistently. Non-body parts, for example, don’t have nearly the steep cost rises that the two other body types (one tankier, one the “hard mode” craft that’s supremely fast, but has far inferior handling and shields), and… The colour schemes?

Accessibility note: The cost of the item should not be below the stat bar, and should be bigger than it is. The cost is 100,000.

No, really… The final colour scheme costs almost as much as the hard mode body part, and each colour scheme is more expensive than the last, because… I genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no answer here, and it both confuses and annoys.

In the end, with the odder exceptions aside, Antigraviator is actually fun. It manages to be fun despite its design decisions fighting each other like design decisions were a cage match. Its online play has rankings, but remains fun, and the quick race mode means, unless you want to buy from the somewhat limited part set, you don’t have to engage with the tournament structure, just… To have a good time. Doesn’t change the fact it confuses me greatly, but it does make recommending it for what it is slightly easier. Worth a go to see something different being done in Future Racing, a genre that, amusingly enough, has been highly resistant to formula changes.

Spaaaaace. <3

The Mad Welshman likes walls, so he’s glad he’s been given so much leeway to grind against them in racing.

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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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