Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

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

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

Become a Patron!

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

Become a Patron!

BEACON (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: 2.01

With Beacon on the Steam store, and just a few versions left until release, it may well be a good idea to see what’s cookin’ with Freja Akiyama, Security Runner for the Shoraiteku Corporation.

Look at her, Captain… Isn’t she beautiful?

Ah. Yes, I remember now, what’s cooking, or, more accurately, long since cooked, is Freja Akiyama Mark 1. At the time of writing this sentence, poor Freja is at Mk 49, and very attractive she looks too with her insectile maw, robot legs, and bony spatulate tail. Welcome to Corporate Futurist Dystopia, folks, where not even death is necessarily going to end your contract. Download your mind to the core system (if it still survives, which, thankfully, it did), fire up the clone bank, and bam, you’re ready to either do or die for the cause of getting off the planet and getting back to work!

Mostly die, though, it must be said. But, as with some games of this genre, it’s the journey that counts, seeing what odd secrets you can uncover, weapons you can play with, and the new ways the game mercilessly attempts to beat you down. That sounds unappealing at first, but, oddly, it’s the journey, not the destination, that fascinates me with Beacon. A journey that begins with a disaster, and heads very quickly into an evocative alien world of three factions: The robots-with-DNA of the PRISM corporation (There is, I’m informed, a wee note to be discovered that lampshades the oddity behind this), the native Solus (assorted bugs, slimes, and beasties), and the Flauros (They of the flames, and the pointy stars, and goat-skulls.) It is perhaps unfortunated that they all hate you, albeit for differing reasons (Corporate Security, Territorial Instinct, and ???), but, thankfully, they also hate each other, and, in some areas, you can take advantage of this.

The antibodies of a Solus Stomach are… Well, I’m sure they’re to scale…

So, so far, so twinsticky, roguesortakindalike, and incremental. So what makes this one interesting for me? Well, it’s a combination of aesthetics, secrets, and how it plays the incremental game. Everything, you see, is lost once you die (Except archives, which you can look at in the main menu, although I’d still say collect everything you can see during a run), from guns, to knowledge, to, most importantly, the DNA you collect to affect your stats. And that’s important because, while you can get so far on normal stats, getting further does require a little extra oomph, and the oomph from your DNA changes (good and bad) and the mutations only take you so far. If you didn’t mutate, the genes don’t seem to hang around, and if you do, well, those mutations only last a run or two without boosting, and once they’re done, both the mutation and the stat changes are gone. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it not only works, it provides interest to each run.

Similarly, as mentioned, the world is this evocative, low poly landscape, that feels alive. It also feels intruded upon, with crates, mining lasers, and all sorts of gubbins left by the PRISM corporation, but even when it isn’t, bones litter the landscape, there are biomes. It never really lets you forget that it’s a level, and the optimal path is to explore as much as humanly possible (for chances at DNA, as new DNA leads to chances at bigger, meatier guns), but the secrets tie into the logic of the world, and I love that. In the PRISM held areas, it might be a set of energy repeaters you have to blow up to open a door or turn on a jump pad. In the more natural Solus landscape, it might be taking advantage of natural features like forcefully popping swamp bubbles to propel yourself the right way, and not all of them give you multiple chances at it. Case in point, some require destroying rot plants, and being propelled upwards from the explosion of poisonous gases. Screw that up, and… Well, the plants are gone. The cloud has probably dissipated by the time you land, but you lost your chance at a secret.

That is, for context, a really big worm.

Beacon, in short, is relatively close to being finished (with a roadmap clearly laid out for the final versions), has been looking interesting from early on, and, barring unlikely mishaps, I could probably leave it here well enough on release.

I won’t, because there’s at least one more act of the game to come. But yes, Beacon is already hecka interesting.

The Mad Welshman Mk 53 stepped out of his pod, and checked his emai-

…The Mad Welshman Mk 54 stepped out of his pod, and-

Become a Patron!

Project Warlock (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.

Become a Patron!

DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

Become a Patron!