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…

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!

EVERSPACE (Review)

Source: Birthday prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: SteamGOG

I do love me my first person space shooting games, and I do love me my procedural generation, so EVERSPACE (Capitals intended) continues to ring my bell in a most pleasing manner… With one exception: The story.

“Ye’re a Clone, ‘Arry!”
“You what?”
“A CLONE, ‘ARRY!”

More accurately, the fact that, once I’ve missed the story, that’s it, boom, it’s gone, it’s done, and you won’t see it again. I don’t mind so much that you don’t get new story until you reach the next sector, because honestly, the story is interesting, and takes a few twists and turns. Suffice to say, the strangeness of multiple pilots piloting what appears to be the same ship was indeed, as many players had speculated, that you are a clone. And that’s not a spoiler, because a) It was p. obvious, and b) It gets revealed in Sector 2. Of 7. And is foreshadowed from the start.

It’s kind of hard to write the release review at this point, because my opinion remains largely unchanged: The voice acting is excellent, while remaining down to earth (I especially like HIVE, the fussy, very snarky core of the AETERNA system of the ship you fly), the different ships definitely make for a different gameplay experience, and the dying while levelling up over time mechanic, that we’ve now seen in multiple games this month, let alone this year, remains a fairly decent way of lengthening play while not making it feel like grind (Even though that’s exactly what it is.) The handling is good, the music and sound design pleasing…

This screenshot, taken just moments before death, shows you a Bad Idea: Taking on an Okkar Corvette before you’re *damn good and ready*

… I am, however, the first to admit it’s not for everbody. You don’t get to keep money between runs, so unlocking your first other ship (From your two choices of the Scout or the Gunship) can feel extremely annoying, some of the achievements seem a little forced (No, really, what do I have against floodlights, of all things?), and, of course, space shooters in general are a genre that doesn’t have a great history accessibility wise, being hard to simplify and requiring a little bit of twitch to the old reflexes. Still, it’s got a lot going for it, and having a different ship does make for a somewhat different experience.

The scout, for example, can cloak, and begins with a charged sniping weapon and a beam laser, relying on speed, cloaking, and the limited automatic lock-on of the beam laser to win the day, while the Gunship has a top turret, heavier weapon loadouts, more armour… And begins with no shields, making it a battle of attrition until you get some. There are also skills that don’t depend on a ship, and it’s these I tend to prioritise while playing because… Honestly, who doesn’t want more credits, better resources, and the knowledge beforehand that if they go that way, they’ll encounter a terrifying black hole, and if they go that way, they’ll encounter an Okkar warship?

The Gunship remains my favourite.

Any which way, if you like space flight shooting type games, don’t mind the fact that you (currently) only get the story once, and will be seeing the early sectors a fair bit, then EVERSPACE is definitely worth a go. The story gets very interesting, fairly quickly, it has both 1st and 3rd person modes, an action cam for when you want to take ROCKING SCREENSHOTS, and the ship design is well worth a look.

“I think I’m getting the hang of thi-” is, perhaps, The Mad Welshman’s most common set of last words. TMWr1-46, 58-64, and 128-209 have all said such words before rejoining the star-stuff Carl Sagan said we’re all made of.

Flinthook (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£14.99 for Deluxe with artbook, music, and other nice gubbins)
Where To Get It: Humble StoreSteam

Flinthook, a game about a ghost headed pirate with time-slowing powers, an anchor that he uses to effortlessly hook his way around, and, of course, a blaster, begins in an extremely fun way. So many possibilities! An interesting cartoon universe, hinted at in scraps of lore and relics and enemy designs! Good sound effects and a consistent, action-cartoon aesthetic I can’t help but love!

Alas, that first bloom has faded. Let me tell you, folks, about my own White Whale. Let me tell you… about the Midgame.

Your choice of ships to raid is, for the most part, clearly explained, and it’s easy to remember what does what. This, as it turned out, was a Poor Choice.

Currently level 39, I am, at the time of this review, about halfway through. And I feel like I owe my victory more toward grind and luck than skill, without feeling bad about it. Why? Because, from about level 20 onwards, from about three skulls onwards, the game starts throwing some distinctly unfair rooms at you. Rooms where I have yet to figure out if there even is a way to get through without taking damage. And it starts playing tricks that, honestly, I’m not on board with. Here, screenshotted, is a pretty good example: The Bird Room. While exploring the procedurally generated ship-dungeons of the game, you may come across the bird room. The birds are invincible. No, those bubbles, unlike the others you may encounter (including in boss encounters) cannot be popped with your hook. And they will poop similarly invincible bombs at you until you leave. How not to be damaged? Don’t be under them. Don’t touch them. Good luck!

Thank you, Flinthook, for very briefly wanting me to replace my cries of FUCKING BATS with DAMN BOMB POOPING SPACE PARROTS

Similarly, combat rooms start getting, for want of a better word to describe them, dickish. And a lot of this fuckery comes from one enemy in particular: The bubble wizards. As long as these robed assholes live, everything else is invincible. And often, these same lizard wizards are hiding… behind the invincible enemies. Oh, never in such a way as to completely block them off, it must be said… But nearly always in a way that getting to them has a much higher chance of you needing to damage sponge your way to them.

Adding to this is that half the subweapons… Feel much more situational than the other half. Spinning Skulls are a finicky subweapon to hit folks with, and don’t do a whole lot of damage, the bomb barrels are for when you want an enemy heavily damaged or dead right damn now, whereas, by comparison, the freeze globe is a “Get out of miniboss/dickish trap room” card, or at least something that helps, and the Fighting Bell is temporary invincibility, which… Is also a “Get out of miniboss/dickish trap room” card. I often forget subweapons as a result, or end up with Giant Robot Crab Syndrome, where I don’t want to use my freeze globe on the trap room because I might need it for another room.

Poor Bad Billy Bullseye. This is the fifth time I’ve done this to him out of frustration I’ve died on the way to the Baron so much.

The bosses, by comparison, are… Well, actually somewhat easier. Bad Billy Rex, the unlockable upgraded form of the first boss, felt like a victory lap, since his base pattern doesn’t really change: Hook his ride’s glowy bubble butt, shoot it, and a new glowy bubble butt appears, shoot his tumbling starfish brethren that he adds each time, repeat until there are no bubble butts to pop, his centipede-buffalo pal is dead, and poor Bad Billy is left crying like the Rancor trainer in Return of the Jedi.

Is Flinthook a bad game? Not really. It uses all its abilities, makes them pretty accessible, and teaches you their use very well. But it’s a game that expects you to grind out to reach the endgame, and it’s a game where the levels, not particularly the bosses, are the real enemy. It’s pretty twitchy from even the midgame, so I sadly can’t recommend this to folks who, for various reasons, can’t play that sort of game. For everyone else, the pixel art is consistent, the UI is good and clear, powerups are explained when you get them, the music is brilliant, and the sound effects are also good. It took me about 4 hours to hit the midgame, and I expect it will be at least a few more before I’m ready to tackle the endgame. It’s a “few more hours” I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to invest, myself, but your mileage may vary, so if you like arcadey platforming and shooting hijinks, perhaps this is for you.

The Mad Welshman loves universes like this. Even if, in said universes, he’d probably end up with a glowing weakpoint.

DESYNC (Review)

Source: Birthday Present
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was very much ready to get on with Desync. Bulletstorm mixed with glitchy Tron-type aesthetics? Hell yes, this is my… Oh wait, I died. For the sixth or seventh time. In the second room of the second level. And I died to… WHAT BULLSHITTERY IS THIS?!?

The most common variety of “The Last Thing You’ll Ever See”

For context, the game involves fast paced combat in rooms with deathtraps and waves of enemies, and it’s up to you to murder the hell out of every wave in a room in a score attack frenzy of shots and electronic murder. Except it also expects you, seemingly, to either grind the first level a lot, or GIT GUD, SCRUB. For context of the bullshittery? First wave, a polearm guy with a block-reflect ability, a wave that seems to ever so slightly home in (In, I’m assuming, a method of getting you to use the dodge dash, get the timing down), and, of course, boodles of damage and hitpoints. Then several of the “weak” enemies, who by this time have gotten the ability to spray short bursts. Then several hammer guys (two shotgun shots to kill, are fast, and also deadly.) Then… Two of the polearm guys. Maybe that’s the end of the waves for that room. Maybe not.

I genuinely felt like that group of hammer guys could have worked just fine as the last wave, but… No. It doesn’t really help that the game promises all sorts of fun and shenanigans, with weapons, and special powers, and… Oh, I have to beat this second level to earn another weapon?

Oh, yeah, smaller enemies level up. That rat-monkey thing next to Polearm Guy, for example, can shoot short bursts.

This, in essence, is the biggest problem with DESYNC. Aesthetically, it’s walking the walk, with tron style CRT graphics, a pumping soundtrack, and some good sound design. But when it comes to talking the talk of gameplay, it’s exactly the combination of unfair and grindy that makes me sigh and go for something else. It also fights with itself. Hey, here’s a score attack mechanic! With combos! But using special powers, even if they add to the combo, reduces points, and you have to use abilities and powerups (That don’t last all that long) to discover some of the combos and levelup the sidearms. It’s fast paced! The enemies are technically predictable! But unless you can work out where their head is (Not always possible at a fast pace, especially with some enemy designs being a little unclear in the heat of the moment), they’re bullet spongey, move at at least the same speed as you for the most part (Or, in the case of the larger, polearm wielding enemies, have some level of prediction or homing to their ranged attacks. It’s a little unclear which.), and hit like trucks.

I mentioned those hammer guys in one room of the second level, and there’s a lot that makes that particular encounter quite painful. They’re as fast, or perhaps slightly faster than you, so once they’re on you, it’s a case of several dodge dashes to… Oh, wait, no, they also have a leaping attack. Each individual hammer guy takes two shotgun blasts to down, sometimes three. At least one of them will do more damage, or be quicker, or be tougher than its compatriots. And all of this is in a room which feels highly cramped once all of them spawn in. Later waves in that room aren’t so much tough in and of themselves, as they’re tough because this particular wave is most likely to reduce you to minimal health.

If the game had gone through some major balancing not built around either being perfect, or replaying the same room (Not wave, but room, each room having at least three waves) multiple times and then being told how shit you were for not being perfect at the end, I’d possibly be more okay with Desync. But its gameplay problems appear to be core elements, all fighting with each other for prominence, and so I really can’t recommend this game.

Funny, you also, DESYNC, get a C. Probably a C- . 82% accuracy, but apparently I wasn’t offensive enough. Fuck you, score screen (+500)

And that makes me sad.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t fight with himself. He is united in his desire to consume chocolate sponge cake, twirl his moustache, and kick ass.