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.

EVERSPACE (Early Access Review)

Source: Birthday Prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page
Version Reviewed: 0.3 (March 7th, 2017)

Good spaceflight games are, even in these days where they’re coming back, few and far between. But Everspace, god help me, has definitely grabbed my attention in a big way, because even though it’s only at 0.3 (0.4 coming soon), it’s already quite polished, and had me whooping like a schoolchild at how enjoyable it was to die, again and again and again.

The game has missions, every now and again. I can tell the mission giver is not a hoopy frood, because he doesn’t know where his towel is.

Yes, you heard me right. It was, and is enjoyable, even in losing. But let’s get into it. Everspace is the 3D equivalent of something like FTL, a procedurally generated universe made of sectors, themselves made of small, junk filled arenas where a series of pilots (played by you), attempt to get to their destination while being chased by the Okkar empire, a reptilian people, being hounded by outlaws, trying to find the resources (Especially fuel, which is needed for Jumps between subsectors) you need to survive, while also being nagged by perhaps the most British AI I have yet to encounter.

Interestingly, all of these pilots are named differently, but sound the same… And I honestly don’t mind. It… Works, somehow. I wish I could tell you how. In any case, the game is very polished for a 0.3 release, with some great soundwork, music that gets the blood pumping, a solid UI, and some nice, chunky ship designs, from the tri-foil Outlaw fighters, to the Okkar Corvette that I encountered in Sector 3 (So far, the furthest I’ve gotten in something like 30 runs.) Every time you die, the money earned goes towards levelling up abilities, chance of good drops, better equipment, and… Different ships.

It’s somewhat difficult, for obvious reasons, to grab footage of a fight as it’s happening. Thankfully, the game’s Action Pause Camera allows me to wow you anyway.

I’m not going to say better ships, because I’ve been learning that lesson the hard way with the Gunship. Oh, it’s meaty, alright. The Medium Explorer has a shield, a pulse laser, and a gatling gun (With the option to increase damage for a period of time), but, while the Gunship has armour (Reducing damage taken overall), a Gatling Turret, Combat Drones out of the box, and the highly satisfying Flak Cannon (Mangle an Okkar Fighter in just a couple of shots once its shields are down! Mine an asteroid or crystal node with one shot!), it also has… No shields, and its shield damaging weapon is the highly erratic and energy intensive Fusion Cannon (Which I try to replace with my dependable buddy the Pulse Laser as soon as humanly possible.) It’s also slower, and harder to turn. So, while, with the Explorer, it’s entirely possible to get through an encounter undamaged, the Gunship is very much in the “Damage race” end of things, especially as most of its weaponry is close range (Sub 1Km)

Considering I have to get 10 thousand credits in a single run to buy the Scout, I can’t really tell you what the Light option is like right now (Although I most definitely will before release), but I can tell you that each ship has its own upgrade tree, with a player tree for things like better maps (GOOD), Better retrieval of the wreck of your last run (Providing, of course, you can find it), extra equipment choices, and, of course, more cash, better repairs, more fuel… And while yes, there’s a limited amount of things you can encounter, the later sectors have bigger and badder things (Such as the Link Drone Ship, invincible until you destroy the swarming little beggars it produces… Periodically.) and, of course, the game isn’t finished, so more things are being promised.

Even as is, though, the game is high octane in its combat, darkly relaxing in between, with a lot of its potential already shining through.

Pictured: The first time I took the Gunship out for a spin. I underestimated my opponents, and I paid the price for not understanding how my ship worked. LET’S DO IT AGAIN!

Oh, and it has an action-pause cam from the menu, allowing you to hit escape at the right moment, go to the cam, and capture your ship either wrecking… Or getting wrecked. I’d like to be able to take pics from more than just the players’ perspective (I mean, if it’s my Gunship getting owned, maybe I’d like to take it from the perspective of my killer, or some random drone that still has a good angle?), but right now? That’s my only niggle with this game. It’s built around multiple runs, and so far, it’s doing a very good job of sucking me into one more run.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he heard the DING of target lock. What was causing all these ships of the same model to come by? Oh, no matter, they always had good loot!