Cyber Utopia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99
Where To Get It: Steam

“Wait… A Wolfenstein 3d style, raytraced first person shooter, in 2017?” I asked myself, as I looked at Cyber Utopia, a game with some lovely stylings on its splash screen, but, alas, once you get into it, there’s a failure to understand that what made the Wolfenstein games and their successors so annoying at times should maybe, just maybe, have stayed in the past.

Enemies are, until the third level or so, unlikely to drop ammo.

The story, such as it is, is meant to be revealed in game, but what you’re immediately told is that you are Naomi, an amnesiac in some kind of cybernetic prison. You start… In an extremely similar position to the original Wolfenstein 3d, with a knife, the first enemy type entering the room, and bam, here you are. Kill the guy with your knife, get his gun, get to the exit of each level by finding keys, hopefully not dying to folks on the way.

But already, we’re seeing problems. And they’re nearly all quality of life stuff. Let’s start with the window, a lovely, er… 512×384. This is your only option. There is no full screen. There are no options to upscale (Which is perfectly do-able in GameMaker Studio, which is what this game was made in.) As in the oldest Wolf3D engine type games, you can only pick a pickup up if you’re facing it (Which is sort of a problem when you’re trying to grab medkits while avoiding enemy fire) , and universal ammo means that you also have to be holding the right gun if you want to fill ‘er up. Which you inevitably will, because in at least the first couple of levels, ammo is relatively scarce. While enemies are not, for the most part, hitscan, the game moves at a blistering enough pace that they might as well be… And there is no map.

Okay, here’s the door…

I get wanting to recreate that oldschool feel, really I do… But Wolf3D had mostly linear, understandable maps, and Blake Stone, which used a modified Wolf3D engine, had maps when it changed things up. Catacomb3D had a radar. So yeah, getting lost is distinctly unfun, as is trying to work out where the damn key is. Similarly, the spritework, while detailed, while obviously trying to set a scene and a mood, makes it damn hard to work out what you can interact with. Blue gates are impassible. Red ones can be shot down. Doors vary from area to area, and are mainly only recognisable because you’re forced to open at least one at the beginning of each level.

As mentioned, there are attempts to set a scene… From a prison, to what I’d have to assume is the medical wing (or maybe a torture wing? Not sure), to… A garage? It’s kind of hard to tell. Meanwhile, I really should have mentioned this by now, but mouselook, a small window, and the speed of the game make for a motion-sickness inducing experience.

…But I *appear* to have killed everything, and don’t have the key. WELP.

Cyber Utopia is, to take an old phrase, a good bad example. It’s not even really that hot on the streaming/YT crowd who have a nostalgic bent, because, from experience, the game is a sod to record. On the up side, it’s £2 , so if you really want to confirm this for yourself, then it’s perfectly do-able.

Overload (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Six Degrees of Freedom. Ahhhh, I remember well when that phrase was marketing magic. Wait, a first person shooter where you have complete freedom of movement? Sign me the hell up!

Wait, no, I didn’t sign up for thiiiiii- BOOM.

While OVERLOAD is certainly not the first game to attempt a revival of this particular genre of first person shooter, where you pilot a spaceship, destroying robots gone bad, OVERLOAD hits me squarely in the nostalgia glands because not only is it headed by the original Descent developers, Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog (Not to mention various folks who worked on other Descent games in the original series, and the original CD soundtrack composer, Allister Brimble), it’s very clear they’ve refined their formula over the years.

When OVERLOAD eventually leaves Early Access, it will have 15 story missions, several challenge maps, and, of course, a variety of murderous robots to destroy, guilt free. The story missions follow the same rough formula as the game it’s a spiritual successor to, where you enter a base of some description, attempt to hunt down a generator, blow the hell out of it, and escape. Meanwhile, there are secrets, monster closets, upgrades… It is, in a sense, a very traditional game.

While the game definitely has its dark areas, a combination of the flare, your shots, and the explosions of deadly robots will light your way.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t feel traditional. It feels very modern indeed, and at least part of this comes from, as mentioned, this obvious, yet hard to pin down refinement. Levels aren’t quite as claustrophobic as in the original Descent games, and so far, I’ve had very little trouble familiarising myself with the levels, the controls remain simple, but fluid, and the difficulty seems pretty balanced so far. So far, so appealing to the first person shooter crowd, and this seems unlikely to drastically change, considering the polish shown so far.

I will, however, freely admit to a minor bias here, due to the developers actively tickling that nostalgia in small, but noticeable ways. Example: While playing the first Challenge map (Essentially, survival against endless waves of deadly robots, escalating in difficulty as you go), something was grabbing me, something above the dark, yet somehow quite clear visuals, and the sound design, which, even through the chaos, will occasionally give you something memorable (Some of the more melee/explosive based robots seem to growl and, occasionally, scream at you, while still sounding like… Well, like robots. It’s quite disturbing!)

“Wait… Is that… Is that the original Descent theme, remixed?”

In single player missions, once the reactor has been destroyed, and providing you find the exit, you get to feel pretty damn badass. Just like you might have in 1994

Immediately closing the game, I hunt around, and lo and behold… It was. Darker. Nastier. While still retaining enough of the motifs that gripped me while I was young (and having nightmares about four clawed robots, being interrogated by violent tiger aliens, and skeletons with rocket launcher shoulderpads, as well as the more usual Daleks and Critters.)

In summary, it’s Descent, but for the modern generation. It’s not the only one by a long shot, but so far, it’s the one that’s coming out ahead in my mind as the best spiritual successor, and a nice confirmation that sometimes, the original developers retain the Good Ideas they had in their younger days. It seems fairly accessible, but if you’re on the fence, there is a free demo, and that, at the very least, is well worth a go.

The game, whether in single player or Challenge mode, can get a little busy, what with all those chunks, explosions, and pews going on…

The Mad Welshman is well aware that medical science poo-poohs the idea of the nostalgia gland. But it exists, oh yessss, it exists…

Dawn of Andromeda (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

Real Time Strategy in space has always been a tough proposition. Mainly because space is big, and the early game of any such endeavour can, done “realistically”, have all the fun of watching paint dry, while the mid to late game can be plagued with doing a thing wrong, then not realising for a good hour (or until it’s too late, whichever comes sooner.) Dawn of Andromeda, sadly, is no different in this, despite a potentially interesting main campaign.

Pictured: an interesting *description*

Let’s talk about that campaign narrative a little, because honestly, it’s a feature I see very little of in the old 4X (eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, eXterminate) genre these days, and one involving multiple alien races in a grand tapestry of war, tragedy, and shenanigans? Sign me u-

Oh. Oh wait. I can’t find that mercenary I just hired and sent to kill a bounty for my current best friends, the Sython (Who the Terran Empire totally isn’t going to go to a long, expensive war with several times over the next few millennia before somebody else screws it all up.) Wait, I found him again, and… Wait, I lost a survey ship? When did I? Oh, while I was watching this guy half a galaxy away. Meanwhile, I’m debating which of the more far flung colony worlds I should try expanding to, in the hope I can actually defend them.

Space is not only big, but also rather sparse. This is something I’m not actually that fond of being reminded of in space opera games, for some reason.

What I’m getting at here, folks, is that Dawn of Andromeda is not the friendliest of games. There are three game speeds (not counting pause), and while they’re marked “Slow”, “Normal”, and “Fast”, I have different names for them: “Can actually see a fight happening”, “Can watch bars slowly tick up”, and “The speed I go at while I’m waiting for things to happen.” Pause is pretty much my default state while I try to work out what the hell is going on with my scouts and survey ships and, in one particular case, watching a bounty slowly, but surely, escape the guy I’d just hired to take it.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to take in, adding to the “A lot of the time you will be paused.” Understanding an alien race enough to talk to them is a research project, taking time away from your research. Adding to a world’s power requires an infrastructure investment, which will cost you some money a turn until it’s done. You have an approval rating, which will cause rebellions if it’s low, and goes up and down based on… Factors. Decent living conditions help, as does an assigned councillor who isn’t an asshole. It’s not very colour blind friendly, to the point where, zoomed in to a point where I have two ships chasing each other in my field of view, I can’t actually see the things without straining my eyes (Drag selecting will only select the ship I directly control.)

It tries to help, really it does. It has “Zoom in here” icons in the planet tables, fleet tables, anomaly tables… But the main screen is a mess. The UI isn’t the friendliest. Ships can chase each other for a long time without fights happening, and ships attacking from the front will move toward said fast ship, then tail along behind it, losing it like the other poor bastards chasing it in the first place. Providing you have the foresight (and opportunity) to pull such a maneuver off in the first place.

Gripping [YAWN] Space combat. [YAWN] Honest!

I’m sure the game has some interesting things in it. I’m sure it has something, some potential. But I’m finding frustration in even the easiest of scenarios (Where I am informed, and tentatively agree, that even finding the alien worlds may well eat up the whole 2 years allotted for “survival”), boredom from the sparse universe, and quickly realising that it amounts to “Build lots of ships, point them at whatever enemy while holding your own worlds safe”, despite its other trappings. As I am occasionally forced to say, the game resists being played.

The Mad Welshman accepts that Space is big. But surely it’s more interesting than this?

Hover: Revolt of Gamers (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

“I don’t get it”, I said as I stared at the screenshots. “What does this have to do with gaming, per se? It looks like it’s inspired by Jet Set Radio Future, but doesn’t have any visible rollerblades or anything.” HOVER: Revolt of Gamers is, it must be said, a game with a somewhat confusing title. And it doesn’t help that there’s a fair amount you have to do before anything more is mentioned beyond “The Great Admin have banned fun” , which, also, seems like a very silly thing to try and ban. I have fun walking, for example, and singing, and, of course, there are many co-operative activities that are fun, at least some of which fall under the umbrella of “Necessary Procreation.”

Yes, this most certainly looks like fun. I am feeling the rebellion.

“Jamie, stop worrying about the damn story. It’s not important! I want to know how it plays!”

Oh. Not so hot. I mean, the basics work alright, but when those basics get into the wild, it gets a little frustrating. The controls are, for the most part, pretty simple, even if non-french folk might want to be warned to check the control options, otherwise they’re using ZQSD for walking (AZERTY Keyboard is the default.) Jumping things are done with space, sneaky slidey grindy things are done with shift, and throwy scanny talky things are done with the left mouse button. Bam. The problem then arises when turning the mouse is how you turn, and A and D (on a UK keyboard, anyway) are more sort of… Tilts.

Air control, and indeed run control, then sort of depend on your mouse sensitivity being high, which doesn’t interact too well with, say, looking around, or if you get motion sick. Then again, the way the player created protagonists bounce around, I probably couldn’t recommend this to anyone with motion sickness anyway, especially with all the boost pads and bounce pads and grabbing onto things that maybe should not be grabbed onto. One example I noted while playing in the first area was clothes lines. Okay, I can sort of see you grinding on clothes lines… Sort of… But they are, last I checked, not reliable mantling points, per se. So in a sense, they get in the way of a clean line, which is, of course, the best way to do any sort of mission involving speed. Which many of the missions are, and indeed, keeping your speed high is the only way to destroy holosigns, which is a thing you have to do.

A pet. On a magrail. That I’m meant to take for a walk. On the magrail. Guess who missed the pet, then had to retry the mission three or four times?

It doesn’t exactly help that the cluttered landscape of the hub, combined with a somewhat odd UX design, means you don’t always know where you’re going or what the hell you’re doing. I’ve failed delivery and Fuzz-running missions (Themselves a bit silly, because at least one involves giving someone’s pet a good walkies… On a magnetic tramway) simply because I didn’t notice where the damn item to pick up was due to the confusion. There’s a lot of bright colours, and they often conflict, so poor colourblind me was often acutely lost, even with the Crazy Taxi style arrow that tells you whether something you need to do is in front of, behind, to one side, or up or down, and takes its context from whatever you seem to be doing at the present time (be that capturing spy drones that just seem to be minding their own business, graffiti spraying over the seemingly rare Admin Propaganda posters, or some other things), or racing. This lack of clarity sometimes extends to missions, as friends and I had an interesting time trying to work out what the criteria for the “Do 20 tricks in under a minute and a half” mission was. It seems to be trick combos of more than 75 points, so I filled it out by jumping in different directions, bouncing off the ground with my neon moon boots, and holding the trick key in combination with various directions to pull off tricks, ala Tony Hawks or any other tricking game I’ve encountered.

That tricking mission ranked me up by 5, the highest I’d seen. Shame I had to hit 100 ranks total to get more story, and in less than an hour, I’d started to have trouble finding things to do that weren’t fuzz missions… At least some of which have gruelling time standards, as do most of the requirements for the medals. “8 seconds for gold on mantling several rooftops to deliver a ball” sounds easy until you realise each mantle’s about a second, and each throw’s about a second, so it’s basically “Don’t fuck up at all.” My first, blind time was 19s. No, there isn’t adjustable difficulty, why would you want adjustable difficulty? Don’t answer that, we both probably know if the question even has to be asked.

Tricking in trash… I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. *Shrugs*

That isn’t to say that there isn’t good in the game, for, while the hub is extremely cluttered, I can’t really say it’s not pretty or aesthetically consistent. It is, in an anime-cyberpunk sort of way, and the character designs, similarly, are mostly kinda cool. The music is definitely a strong point, as Hideki Nakagama (yes, JSRF composer Hideki Nakagama) and Cédric Menendez bring some damn find beats. But the problem is that this is just two parts. The UX is cluttered, at least some of the missions amount to “Do it perfectly or fail”, even in the first part of the story, the missions lack variety, and the story is… Well, silly even for a videogame.

The Mad Welshman no Great Admin, out to ban fun (At least partly because such a thing would be extremely hard to enforce), but he sadly can’t recommend this game.

Drifting Lands (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£18.78 with soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

The continued existence of the scrolling shoot-em-up is a minor pleasure to me. There’s just something cathartic about holding down a button, and spaceships blow up. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but blowing things up is definitely the most relaxing part of the experience. And, spoiled 30 something brat that I am, I sometimes think I want more ways of blowing people than I’ve gotten.

Pictured: A fairly killy, speedy ship, which certainly won’t get into trouble around Grade 3/10 with my fat fingers. Nope, definitely not…

This is definitely not to say that Drifting Lands is a bad game. It’s actually quite good. I just wish there was more to it in some places. So, what’s different about the game? Equipment slots on your ship, each of which have pretty numbers that may help or hinder you. You want most of those numbers to go up as you go along, such as more Damage Per Second on your guns, more Armour, Health, Shield and Health Regeneration, and other such things. And you want certain numbers, such as “Chance for [item] to Break on [Manual/Automatic] Retreat” or “Chance for Cargo to be Lost [even if you win the ‘mission’]” to stay low. It’s a credit to the game that this is nowhere near as intimidating as I perhaps make it sound. It’s not the only different thing about Drifting Lands compared to other shmup type experiences, but that, and the fact that waves of enemies are picked from a list for each level and area randomly, that the game helpfully tells you how many waves are left at the top, and that the difficulty slowly increases as the game goes on with the addition of mechanics like revenge bullets (The ship you shot releases bullets on exploding, usually straight at you), are all interesting features.

There’s quite a bit of variety in the kit, and while I’d like to say “Go for the weapon you like the pattern of, and stick with it”, the game disincentivises that by virtue of the fact that some weapons will always have a lower damage among peers of their respective levels (Shotguns and Lasers, for example, suffer, compared with the Trident and Double Cannon, which, relatively consistently, outdamage them.) Also, y’know, that weapon you want to get the next hotness of might not have your +X Navigation, meaning its Damage is even lower than you’d think.

Pictured: Ignonimous defeat.

Still, once you get into the missions, it’s joyously simple again, although it becomes more bullet-hell like as you rank up in grades: Shoot things, use your special abilities to kill more things, dodge bullets, maybe fight a boss or a Convoy Mission (Kill X enemy type before the end), and don’t die. My current favourites, ability wise, are a ring of fire, a back and fore blast that kills things in a straight line, another kind of blast that kills things in a circle around me quicker than the fire ring will, healing, the chance to get more money the bigger the kill streak I can line up, and the thing I’ll probably never ditch, the Automatic Retreat, stopping you from losing your ship if you die, at the cost of the things you picked up during the mission, and maybe some of your niftier equipment.

There’s also a story to the game, and while it’s a little cliché (The Ark, sole independent survivors, fight religious zealots, corporations, robots, etc, while their main pilot (that’s you) seem to make poor decisions), it’s fairly well written and characterfully voice acted cliché with a moderately diverse cast. The music’s good, the art is very good, so honestly…

You can almost *see* the slime dripping off this guy. You can definitely *hear* it when he talks.

…If you don’t mind twitch gameplay, where your reflexes will save the day, if you can get along with the fact that your favourite weapon types won’t always be available, if you can get along with the fact that the game’s enemies start throwing serious bullet, laser, and explosive shit at you by Grade 3 out of 10 (And it presumably gets nastier), then this might very well be a game you want to check out, for experimenting with the shmup formula in interesting, if not always fun ways. I still like it, flaws and all, so thumbs up from m-

EEEEEE, DAMN YOU, THIRD BOSS, DAMN YOU AND YOUR WAVES OF FURYYYY!