Angels Fall First (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.37 (No, really. Soundtrack £4)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update 18

Flying through space in a giant brick with guns, with fighters swarming around me is, perhaps, one of the more powerful moments I have. Yes, the giant space brick (A Heimdall Lineship) steers like a cow, and it’s somewhat hard to see exactly what I’m aiming at, but that’s not really mattering too much, because all of my guns are firing, enemy ships are dying, and, in my own small, confused way, I’m contributing to the capture of the Ixion space station.

On the one hand, this thing steers like a brick with strings. On the other, goodness me, it makes things explode!

This is just one moment of Angels Fall First’s gameplay… In a 64 player botmatch. Well, 63, minus me. And it feels good.

A quick catch-up: Angels Fall First is a science fiction multiplayer team shooter, along the lines of a Battlefront, Battlefield, or COD, with space and ground based missions, a bewildering variety of builds, weapons, and vehicles, and locales, that essentially boil down to either taking an objective, destroying an objective, or defending an objective, supporting both multiplayer and solo, bot driven play.

Aesthetic wise, it looks good. Chaotic, but good. Everything has a chunky style that gives at least some idea of what people are using (I can tell, for example, a sniper by the long barrel as they run, or a heavy by the fact that their armour is bigger and chunkier), and the music is properly pounding and theatrical, changing as the battle comes to triumph… or disaster. Elements of the UI are somewhat confusing (The radar in the lower left, for example), and, sadly, the game’s loadout function isn’t as helpful or informative as it maybe could be, but being able to save your own custom loadouts for later use, working them out in botplay, then using them in multiplayer does help somewhat.

Yup, that sure is a thing I’m seeing… an LAV and a Mech fighting side by side, while infantry like me scream and hide.

So, it looks pretty good. It feels pretty good. It’s got its flaws, mostly to do with informing the player what their loadout does and what it’s good for. How’s the AI play?

Well, the AI is very objective focused. What this means in practical terms is that, on the one hand, defending in Incursion mode (where the attacking party has dropships that can be destroyed, but the defending party can’t regain any objectives they lose) is a tough proposition… But on the other hand, the AI is so mission focused that a player can, if they survive long enough to get to the dropships, do some serious, unregenerated damage, perhaps destroying a dropship in a single life. That’s highly chancy early on, when the enemy is pretty much streaming from a single LZ (so your chances of getting to the dropships are low), but once I got to the dropships… Well, the ship defends itself, but the AI infantry tended to only take potshots before heading off to their designated objective from the dropship. So that needs a little bit of work.

I don’t mind this *so* much… After all, I still feel like a badass for doing it. I just probably wouldn’t be able to against human players. XP

Still, for a small team, this is a big game, with customisation options out the wazoo, a variety of weaponry (and the weight of your loadout does matter), and a bunch of ships and maps. Even in Early Access, even with things it needs to iron out, this gets a thumbs up from one of the more multiplayer averse reviewers out there.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t really favoured multiplayer since Bad Company 2. That should give some idea…

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AMID EVIL (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update #3

AMID EVIL (an anagram of a lot of things, but MEDIEVAL seems the best fit) is, much like DUSK, a love letter to 90s shooters, taking inspiration from Quake, Heretic and Hexen, and Rune. It does all of these things well, with one, glaring exception. Which itself is somewhat 90s.

Super dark areas are also, to be fair, somewhat 90s.

Specifically, the menu is a godawfully unreadable eyesore, and the ammo UI has hard to read elements. If both could be made clearer, then AMID EVIL would gain the coveted (ha) “Does What It Says On The Tin.” As is, however, it does enough well that the UI is, accurately, that glaring exception.

Storywise, it’s there, and there’s not really all that much to say about it. Like the games it’s inspired by, the story is a framing device, a Raison de l’assassinat more than anything else. Ancient evil, exiled sorcerer/warrior, a multidimensional horde of death and blood, just waiting to be gibbed.

I’ll give the AMID EVIL team this: The gibbing is pretty good, and comes in many dramatically named flavours. Starting with the Axe of the Black Labyrinth, and moving, weapon by weapon, to the Star of Torment (a flechette firing mace with wall pinning abilities) and the Aeternum (the BFG of the game, a super slow, but deadly multi-dimensional murder machine), each has their own quirks, and their own changes when you’ve killed enough enemies, and collected enough soul, to unlock a surge of SOUL POWER, aka “The weapons get nastier for a while, so long as you keep killing.” Currently, my favourite is the Star of Torment, as… Well, it does a fair amount of damage, is easy enough to aim, and… Wall pinning, geez!

Soul Power makes even the pistol analogues of the game seem godlike. Which makes me sad that it requires a lot to wield it well.

Alas, the soul power is my other niggle, purely a personal dislike, about AMID EVIL. I can understand, somewhat, how it’s meant to be a force multiplier for the skillful, and an ass saver otherwise. But once that meter’s full, the next time you hit the fire button, regardless of whether you want it, it unleashes. It won’t unleash while you’re firing, a recent improvement I like, but it’s still a cool thing I don’t really get to enjoy as much of because I don’t have as much control over its use as I’d like.

Beyond that, and the aforementioned UI though, the game plays to its aesthetic well, making good use of its low poly worlds, with mostly clear level design, 3 worlds out of the seven planned already in the game, an endless wave mode, accessibility options, and, of course, the old school “Type the word in” cheats. If Indefatigable and the New Blood team could improve that UI, make it more readable while keeping the ‘tude, I would have very little to complain about with its fast paced, retro inspired action. Even as it is, AMID EVIL is a bit of alright, a fairly good first person shooter taking the speed and aesthetic of predecessors.

Nothing like a boss in silent, pre-death repose to close up a review. Beautiful.

The Mad Welshman knows what it’s like to be keeper of ancient weaponry, wielding the Quiet Blade of Holistic Criticism.

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Heroes of Hammerwatch (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, it seems, more is less. So it is with Heroes of Hammerwatch, sequel, to, funnily enough, Hammerwatch, a Gauntlet inspired action roguelite with co-op, secrets, bosses…

I deliberately ran into danger to show off how dangerous the game can get if you’re not cautious with that grinding…

…And grind. So much grind. Bless, the devs have tried to make the early game more interesting, with monoliths, and portals, and gubbins that unlock as you go, but Heroes of Hammerwatch is both a game that takes a while (and many, many deaths) to get going, it’s also a game where the further you get, the more it puts in your way, from more taxes, to more deaths.

I am, it must be said, getting rather sick of the first area. Even the knowledge that beating a boss unlocks a portal to the next is small consolation, because, either way, there’s an endurance match. On the one hand, three levels an area, plus a boss (Who, your first time fighting it, with no upgrades to speak of, can best be described as the sound of a keyboard hitting a wall at great speed.) On the other, one level, plus several waves of enemies from the next area. Either way is painful, and death without first having sent money and ore up to town via a lift (not always available) means you’ve earned 75% of the experience, no money, and no ore. So, what’s it like to try a new character, seeing as there are three unlockables and four base classes?

This guy, his ever increasing bat horde, and his stalactite rush can all do anatomically improbable things to each other… Grumpety grump grump grump.

Well, money, ore, and town unlocks stay the same. That’s the good news. The bad news is that each new character is a several thousand coin investment to get them to anywhere near the same level of survivability as the rest of them. 2,250, for example, for three potion charges. Another 1500 for level 3 weaponry, same again for armour. The good news is that each of the classes are different, from the Knight, who can block some projectiles in an arc, and relies on melee, to the Priest, with an area effect clickathon attack, some healing abilities, and a murderbeam that takes a little bit to get going. The bad news? Each one has to fight that boss, and then make that same boss/enemy rush choice, and I’ve not been able to do that before several runs in the first area, and achieving at least level 4 in experience. A fairly good early run will probably net you… Maybe 3K. Minus taxes.

As such, you might be able to see why I’m sick of the first area, and the music of everything before the second. There is, it must be said, a multiplayer option. Which adds more enemies, more hitpoints, and the like, so… No, you’re not, generally speaking, going to have an easier time with friends.

While others decry the Ranger as weak, his piercing definitely helps in the enemy-rush you have to go through instead of a boss…

If the progression were somewhat quicker, and I hadn’t spent so much of my time in that first area, seeing the same traps, the same enemies, the same music, the same grind, I would perhaps be more charitable to Heroes of Hammerwatch. As it is, though, it can very easily be described as a slog, and a somewhat painful one at that.

The Mad Welshman really wants grind to be left in his childhood, where it belonged. Nuff said.

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Bytepath (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.69
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, I was not expecting this. An asteroids inspired shooter, with RPG elements, completable in less than 2 hours, but pretty replayable due to lots of variety, and some extremely chill synthwave, for less than £2.

From relatively humble beginnings…

Bytepath even has a minimalist story: You are a program, told you can escape whatever system this is with the tools you’re given, and four hash keys, gained by surviving for 40 waves of asteroids, enemies, and power ups. Up starts and boosts, left and right turns, down brakes, and firing is automatic. Easy as pie, right?

You don’t even have to do it in one go, and the more you play, the more powerful you become. So, your first time, you build yourself up, build yourself up, collecting skill points in play until you buy the classes, device, and passive skills that net you level 40, and…

…Well, I won’t spoil that for you, but I’ll tell you two things: It took me about an hour and a half (and I could, apparently, have very possibly cut a good 40 minutes off that), and, on beating the game, I noticed… Ahahaha, there’s more to do. Will it change the ending? Unlikely. Is it something I can just try for, for replayability’s sake, and because the game’s low pressure? Yes.

…To the Cheeswheel of Death.

It’s mildly strange, actually, to see a confusing mess of pixels that largely only makes sense while you’re playing, and that statement that it’s relaxing, because the sound and music really do help. Relaxing synthwave steadies the nerves, reminding you “Hey… You’ve got all the time in the world. It’s okay if all the vectors want you dead, really it is”, and the ballet of death is almost rhythmical.

So, colour me pleasantly surprised by Bytepath.

A small part of Bytepath’s rather large passive skillweb.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t much else to say. I mean, after unlocking Wisp, what CAN be said?

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Dungreed (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Dungreed is an odd game to me, in that it is, in its first hour or two, definitely enjoyable, but, due to the nature of its progression, becomes… Well, a bit of a slog from the middle of it onward. Which is a shame, because some of its bosses are actually quite interesting and amusing.

So, to sum Dungreed’s basics up simply, you are an adventurer, who’s come to rescue a town from a dungeon that’s literally eaten the village. It’s an action platformer shooty/slashy type deal with rooms put together procedurally, and, importantly, at the end of each run, you lose all but your basic shortsword, and most of your money.

Pictured: Possibly the most fun boss in the game so far.

“But wait, Jamie, why would the game do something so cruel?” Well, partly to introduce variety, partly to give you a chance to level up, and partly so you end up interacting with the villagers you save, all of whom add a selection of kit to the dungeon’s random drops, a few random NPCs wandering around, and features that are meant to make your next run just that little bit easier. The Blacksmith, for example, gives you a random item. Could be a weapon, could be an accessory, could be ranged, could be melee. The shopkeeper lets you buy things (for when you’ve not got any NPCs to build village features for), the trainer levels you up (with each 5 points in a stat adding an ability to your stable like double jumping, shopkeepers costing less, or extra damage), and so on.

And then you start from the beginning. Which, funnily enough, is both its problem, and not one I can see much of a win for. See, the bosses are fine, and one, Niflheim, caused me to laugh and cry out to my friend “Wow, I just got killed by a Touhou in a roguelike!” (As her boss pattern, music, and aesthetic are all highly reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, specifically the Touhou games.) But by the time I’ve gotten to Niflheim, I’ve gone through several floors, with much the same preffered weaponry, having consigned much the same equipment to either use, or, more commonly, what can be called vendor/altar trash. Some, like the Matchlock Rifle with its pause before firing as well as a slow reload, more readily than others.

The further I get, the further I have to go, and the less I enjoy the preceding run up to whatever boss comes next, as, until I meet a new boss or a villager, all I’m doing is… Marking time. Time which increases the further I get.

A mix of melee and ranged is recommended, but heck, most of the ranged options are so much fun!

Which is a real shame to me, as the game’s aesthetically consistent, does some fun things with its music (As noted, Niflheim’s boss music is highly reminiscent of its inspiration) , and the enemies do have variety and interest… Just… Not quite enough to keep me going for this final stretch. Fun at first, it’s become, over time… Alright.

The Mad Welshman is a walker by habit, as opposed to a marathon runner.

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