Ghostly Matter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ghostly Matter is one of those games where, with its retro stylings and cool ideas, I want to like it. Mixing old action adventure titles (Not the modern definition, but essentially, platformers with adventure game elements), pulp horror, and survival horror.

Two professors, both alike in dignity…

But a common problem, it seems, with retro games is that they also take the less laudable elements of retro design, and Ghostly Matter, for all that it has an interesting world, won’t particularly let me get into it because it wants to be retro hard.

The general story is, admittedly, nice and pulpy. Two professors, both alike in dignity, work in the burgeoning field of ghostly research, but they split over an argument about whether something that lets you look into the abyss that is the realm of the dead will also let the abyss look into them. Years pass, and Dr. Penderghast, the protagonist, receives a mysterious message from beyond the grave that seems to be his old professorial friend. Cue horrors and hijinks.

I’d love to tell you more about those hijinks, about the direction the game goes, but, unfortunately, I can’t. Because there is a lot of dying in this game, and checkpoints… Are not terribly helpful. Fixed life with few healing items contrasts with contact damage, rapidly firing enemies, the fact that your Spectroscope is necessary to see certain enemies, but also drains your health at a rate of knots (and needs batteries) … Before we even get into things like the gotcha that opens up a shortcut in the second level, where you open up said shortcut, jump down, and… Are immediately assailed by four skeletons arising in very close proximity. Whups, opening this shortcut is going to cost you health, no matter what you do. What’s that? Your health is in short supply? Better remember where the nearest checkpoint is, then!

In game design philosophy, there is the problem of Schrodinger’s Monster Closet. When the waveform collapses, you either take damage or have an item (its usefulness also determined by a waveform.)

There are other, better weapons that, unfortunately, but I can, at least, tell you there are three different types of enemies, and certain weapons work better than others. But when maps are large and sprawling, health items are few and far between, checkpoints are equally pretty far… And the enemies like to be invisible (use the spectroscope to hit them, lose health anyway, because the spectroscope is a gateway to death), or pop up from the ground (with some being easy to spot, others not so much) or just have hard to dodge ranged options, I found myself hitting brick walls pretty often, to the point where I’m writing this review without having gotten nearly as far as I’d like.

Oddly, narratively, everything fits together well. The supernatural world is tough (enemies are bullet spongy) , the spectroscope drains life with use because it’s basically a gateway to the spirit realm (but is necessary for puzzles, while health items are rare) , and you can’t exactly have a horde of evil in a small room (maps are large, with only a few navigation aids.) Mechanically, as those little asides note, it doesn’t work so well, with a lot of factors contributing to the difficulty, while less factors ameliorate it. The controls are also a little tough to get into, sadly, but this is not a huge issue when a lot of the time, what you need is move, jump, and shoot, all of which are simple enough.

Still, it is an interesting story, and while I have a lot of trouble with it, if you’re fine with games being tougher than usual, this may be one to look at.

Even in the areas I’ve been able to struggle through, there’s at least some variety. From a normal house to… This. Cool!

The Mad Welshman loves him some horror. It’s part of why he’s often so harsh with horror titles, it must be said.

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To Hell With Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

To Hell With Hell, if it could maybe tone it down a little, would be a cool, good, and interesting twin-stick shooting roguesortamaybekindalike with a main character I’m still not sure about. As it is, it’s definitely got two of those, and is working on a third.

The masks in this game are, even at their worst, quite interesting. Fine example: The ninja mask has a stunning harpoon that pulls enemies toward you. GET OVER HERE!!!

The game’s plot, such as it is, involves Natasia, a scantily clad woman who, as it turns out, is one of the many children of a Duke of Hell, part of their backup plan if, for example, they were deposed by other minions of hell and held captive. At the present time, despite the comic book presentation, this really is “Such as it is”, a somewhat flimsy justification for a scantily clad woman to shoot demons. I’d say more, but the game’s really not giving me a lot to work with here beyond that. So… Swiftly moving on!

There is, thankfully, more meat aesthetically and gameplay wise, because this is… A game that touts its difficulty. Wait, don’t run away, it mainly does this with enemies being bullet spongy, the player not being bullet spongy, limited ammunition (encouraging you to switch weapons, or use melee… The latter’s not a great option, unfortunately), and limited saves on a run (6 saves on the basic difficulty, which comes to one save every 2 levels.) That this is the easiest difficulty perhaps sets the tone (slightly offputting, at the present time), and if it were just this? I would be much less kind, considering some of the enemies, such as the goat-headed explosion summoner, the large toad-thing that fires fans of bullets, and the fact that even the lowest tier of enemies takes between 3 to 5 shots to kill. Oh, and melee enemies and minibosses. Let’s not forget those.

As I said, thankfully, there’s more to it than this, because not only are there random skill ups on successfully completing a level (such as slower enemy bullets, more damage, a chance of health on killing an enemy, so on), the health can be boosted, and further abilities gained… With masks.

I can’t seem to face up to the facts… I’m tense and nervous, and I… Can’t relax…

Seemingly inspired by games like Wonderboy, Kid Chameleon, or Magician Lord, not only are there guns, health, and ammo pickups, there are masks, of which you can normally carry two, one or two appears per level, and each adds both health and special abilities, of varying use. Lose health, lose the masks, but while you’re carrying them, things like eating guns for ammo (eh), shotgun blasts (fair), shields (the SWAT mask), and fireballs (the cacodemon mask, a very nice area of effect) are yours to command, and you can switch between them.

Finally, add in that you automatically reload from your save when you die, allowing you to bully on through in some (but not all) cases, and… Well, it goes from highly frustrating to moderately so. Maybe it’s because a pair of goat-heads can really ruin your day from a surprising distance away that you have to cover while probably being shot at, and they don’t have to worry about line of sight. Maybe it’s because the starter pistol is, far and away, the worst option for dealing with enemies. Maybe it’s because, despite the fact melee deflects bullets, it’s a little slow. It’s nothing obvious in the design that’s putting me off, mechanically… But it is, at the moment, putting me off.

As noted, aesthetically, it’s fine. Enemies are clearly differentiated from the background, the levels have been brightened up from when I last looked at it, so it’s less muddy, and its pixel stylings definitely say “Hell” while working within the constraints of a twin-stick shooter. Musically, it’s that most devilish of music, hard guitars, and I am perfectly okay with this. But, right now, although it’s hard to define, To Hell With Hell essentially needs to work on its balance. Maybe that means having slightly beefier guns. Maybe that means having less tanky enemies for what is currently the lowest difficulty setting. It probably doesn’t mean making the masks more powerful, because that, funnily enough, is one of the parts that feels right.

YES. PLEASE.

But, overall, To Hell With Hell isn’t quite my cup of tea, being a little too devilish for my personal taste.

The Mad Welshman is well acquainted with Hell, one of the many underworlds and places of punishment he visits for entertainment purposes on a semi-regular basis.

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MOTHERGUNSHIP (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Tower of Guns was an interesting game. A procgen first person shooter with, potentially, a silly amount of jumps, verticality, secrets, and guns, it lived up to its name. It also had an odd world. Now, with Mothergunship, the devs are doing it again, but this time in space. And it is good. And it is funny. And it is fast enough that I can’t give it any major points for accessibility. Even if it ticks all those other box type objects…

Boxes! That’s what they are!

Funnily enough, underneath the humour, the setting’s… Kinda bleak!

In any case, Mothergunship is a first person shooter with some procedural generation, a lot of bullets flying about, and the main selling point of being able to craft extremely silly guns from a whole bunch of parts. Of course, you have to get those parts first, by doing missions, buying them from a black marketeer, and the like, but you too, with a little hard work, can have a gun that fires slow moving rockets, mines, lightning, and lasers all at once, while reducing gravity. Somehow. With the tradeoff that the more bits you put in, the less you’re able to shoot it before having to wait for a reload.

And, considering Mothergunship’s enemy spawning and projectile philosophy is “More is better” , it’s fairly safe to say you want to pack the most bang for your energy bucks. Since the normal recharge time of around 5 seconds is an eternity if you haven’t made a dent in the boodles of enemies the game throws at you. Or the dirty tricks the Mothergunship’s armada has up its robotic sleeve, like lava floors, bouncy floors, bouncy walls, bouncy robots… It’s mean. Parts of it have adaptive difficulty of a sort (The more side-missions you successfully complete, the harder they get, and if you die in a side-mission, it eases the difficulty up a bit) , but the main story missions are a fixed difficulty, and losing a mission loses you all the gun parts you took to the mission.

This is a relatively mild example of a mid to late game room in motion. All-together now: AAAARGH!

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that last bit, to be honest. While you have a very generous storage space (100 total connectors, barrels, and buff inducing “caps” ), losing your best guns is a frustrating experience, regardless of the inducement to experiment with different builds. Thankfully, Side missions lag behind in difficulty, and there are a few options for gaining back those precious weapon options, and, for those of us who just don’t like to lose their guns, there’s the Joe’s Arms & Armoury missions. Joe’s Arms & Armoury: Gun shaped solutions to mothergunship shaped problems.

Which is as good a segue as any into how crafting guns feels. Beyond my one minor irritation with the system (Switching between removal mode and attachment mode feels needlessly finicky), playing with that energy/part tradeoff feels good, and I’ve found myself affectionately naming some ideas. The Friendly Fire, for example, asks the question: What happens when you add a 20-40% chance of spawning lava mines to individual shots… When you have three chainguns? It doesn’t fire for long, but the damage over time helps while away the recharging! Similarly, The Finger, consisting of some railguns, damage multipliers, and bounce mods, generally means that anything obliging enough to stand in a rough line from where I’m standing… Definitely gets The Finger.

While this is a low intensity shot, I’d like to point out… This jump was 90% done with rockets. Not even your traditional rocket jump either. Just… Shootin’ those rockets downward.

So, apart from the fact the game is, if not twitchy, then hectic, which unfortunately shuts out some folks from the game, there’s a lot good about Mothergunship, but one last thing definitely deserves a mention: The farcical humour. Farce must be played with a straight face, and of the cast, only the long suffering AI Jasper consistently plays the put-upon straight man, with the overall result of a humour heavy, fully voiced dialogue through the story’s missions. The Colonel is a cheery, blowhard incompetent. Dr. Dove Simona, although arriving late to the story, enters it with bombast, arrogance, and… Look, I don’t think it’s the Colonel that wants a cigar (he has a lollipop, because who loves you, baby), it’s Dr. Simona. Wilkinson’s VO really sells the long-suffering woman techie, and even the side characters, such as Hylas, get their moment in the sun. Pretty good, for something where most of the dialogue involves characters we never see more than a portrait of.

As such, overall? Beyond its speed and difficulty, which, as mentioned, shut out some folks, there’s not a lot that goes against recommending Mothergunship. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s bombastic, has only minor niggles with its core design pillars, and looks nice to boot. Enjoyable!

Dr. Dove Simona: Making damn sure you know she’s a top.

The Mad Welshman would like to state that he is not, in fact, secretly an Archivist Ship spreading Archivist Propaganda. Please step into the Not-Archiving Machine.

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

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OVERLOAD (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Normally, I try to avoid making references to other games in reviews, not least because it can introduce expectations that shouldn’t be there (see the Moonlighter review from earlier today), but, in the case of Overload, Revival’s 6 Degrees of Freedom shooter… It’s Descent.

“M’lud, if I could draw your attention to Exhibit A…”

For anyone young enough to not know why this is a big deal, Descent’s big selling point was the aforementioned 6 Degrees of Freedom. Want to float upwards and downwards, strafe sideways (that’s 2) , but also rotate in all three axes and move forwards and backwards in a science-fiction setting of robots gone wrong, and your mission to rescue the victims of what would eventually turn out to be both an alien invasion and Evil Corporation Shenanigans? Descent, and its two sequels had you covered, refining the formula.

Overload, funnily enough, refines it further. Although this is less surprising when you consider that the two Revival founders, Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, three of the original trilogy’s musicians, Dan Wentz, Allister Brimble, and Jerry Berlongieri, and more have been involved heavily in the development. They’ve had time to think about this. So… What’s the result like?

Undeniably fun and tense, is the very short answer. Last time I looked at it, I mentioned that the refinements to the formula are, for the most part, more to do with level design and quality of life than, for example, major rejiggings. Multiple difficulty modes, with the nice touch that challenge leaderboards are separated by their difficulty. Looking at the map pauses, and, considering the general gameplay loop, this is a godsend, and, while the maps are indeed mazelike, I never found myself truly, hopelessly lost like I did in the original games. Although, equally to its credit, I’ve felt ambushed, claustrophobic, and tense, aided by the often casually oppressive sounding music, the almost-screams and growls of the Automatic Operators. Logs being short and sweet, upgrades, secrets… It’s an interesting mix of the more traditional and the modern, and it works.

Particle effects can, on the one hand, obscure what’s going on. On the *other* , it makes this Auto-Op about four or five times scarier, even after it’s dead.

Good example: This is a game that has monster closets, in the traditional sense of the phrase (Secret places that open on triggers, usually once you’ve done something, to reveal… SURPRISE ENEMIES, HAHAHAHAHA) , and… I don’t mind. You know you’ve done monster closets right when they feel natural… And, just as nice, they have an actual, narrative reason to be there. I won’t spoil it, but the overall idea is that a set of colonies around Saturn have gone dark, and, carried in your slower than light craft, you have to work out why robots have gone bad, why colonists have been reassigned, and why the hell the company’s founder, Gabriel Kantor, seems so certain he can burn his bridges and unleash death and destruction for a set of colonies that are nowhere near self-sufficience. It’s similar enough to the plot of the original Descent (hell, it even has references to the Evil Corporation of the original games, the Post Terran Mining Corporation), but the differences, and the explorations therein, short as they have to be due to constraints, pleases me.

In short, this is not only an excellent addition to the 6 Degrees of Freedom Shooter subgenre, it’s also an excellent Descent game, and well worth a look. Oh, and there’s a free level editor too.

The mood in these tunnels can be described with phrases like “Somewhat tense”, segueing quickly into “AHH DIE DIE DIE PLEASE DIE”

Yes, The Mad Welshman freely admits the possibility of rose-tinted goggles. He also admits the possibility that it’s just fun as hell to blow up robots in space.

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