Dimension Drive (Review)

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

Dimension Drive is a good shmup game that I have a love-hate relationship with. A total of 26 levels (13 in normal, 13 in NG+) spread over three worlds, with an interesting story, a good aesthetic, and it’s mostly clear. It does interesting things, it’s pretty cool.

My brane hurts just looking at this representation of the multiverse.

But oh boy, am I bad at it. Which both amuses and frustrates me, because I can quite clearly tell it’s not the game’s fault. It’s giving me all the clues, but I can’t save myself from, for example, bashing into a wall. Because, where I’m looking, there isn’t a wall, but where I should be looking, there is.

Oh. Yes. That probably needs a bit of explanation. Dimension Drive is the story of the pilot of a multidimensional space fighter, the best in the multiverse, trying to save said multiverse from a nigh immortal conqueror who’s had millennia of experience at conquering entire dimensions (And, naturally, the resources of several of those dimensions.) This interesting twist further extends into gameplay with two screens of play. One is one dimension, the other’s another, with different walls, enemy patterns, and powerups. Flipping between the two is essential, both for bringing up that score multiplier, and avoiding what would be seemingly inescapable obstacles if we were limited to one or the other dimension.

Killing lots of things dramatically and having fun, about five seconds before I crash into that square outcrop on the left. Foolishly.

It’s interesting, because, difficulty wise, the individual screens are about on par with your average western coin-op (It doesn’t get into bullet hell territory until much later on), with relatively simple bullet and enemy patterns. But together? Together, they weave a web that has you nervous. Making mistakes. Clever stuff. And while it doesn’t truly take the gloves off until later on, it still has segments where care is very important. Like level 3’s trench run through a collapsing and exploding space station.

Considering this, considering the score attack nature of the game (with leaderboards and all), and considering the New Game + , the game at first seems short, but what it’s doing is using limited tools to great effect. Switching worlds. Flipping round. Picking good weapons for the level (as later weapons aren’t always more useful, they just expand your options), or trying something new.

I like Dimension Drive, its music, an at least okay story with some twists, and, of course, its own clever twist on gameplay. But boy, I wish I was better at it!

Another incentive to come back to earlier levels is that some tools make earlier bosses easier.

The The Mad Mad Welshman Welshman Loves Hates Multiple Multiple Dimensions Dimensions. They They Are Clever Do His Nut In

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Subnautica (Early Access Review 3)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Played: Eye Candy Update (Dec 2017)

Subnautica, it seems, has come a long way. From just puttering around, building what the heck you want, to an involved story of survivors distinctly unprepared for the unlikely circumstances they found themselves in, trapped on a watery world with a deadly mystery, and, more specifically, of you, the sole definitely surviving survivor.

Echoes of Lost In Space here… We wanted to rescue these folks, but… Well…

Oh, it’s come a long way indeed, and, at the present time? Things are largely in the cleanup phase, with prettifications and bug fixes abound in the “Eye Candy” update. But it’s been a few updates since I last covered the game, so let’s get into the meat of it. Last time, I asked if you really want to leave this un-named blue planet, with its intriguing mysteries, fascinating, and sometimes deadly life forms, extinct aliens, and, of course, your crashed starship, which is likely going to kill large swathes of that aforementioned life if you don’t fix the reactor anytime soon.

Now? Well, very early on, you get some signs that… Perhaps not all is well. I don’t particularly want to spoil things for you, because this game comes highly recommended in the survival genre for an interesting, balanced, and well realised watery world (Itself uncommon), but… Leaving is definitely not an option until you clean up, both after yourself and the ancient, possibly extinct aliens that didn’t exactly do great things themselves.

The game is, for the most part, pretty accessible, with story being largely a choice at the present time, and you can, if you wish, just tootle around the planet, exploring without having to worry about mean ol’ food, or even, at the cost of story, oxygen. Conversely, you can ironman the game, with one life, and no oxygen warnings from your friendly computer. Survival, the default, however… Really isn’t bad. Oxygen limits exploration somewhat, but as you get further in the game, more options exist, such as mech suits, minisubs, the big Cyclops mobile base/submarine. Each survival pod you explore, each base now has little bits of voiced story, to give you more detail, and, in a couple of cases, some mild bemusement at how the heck you managed to survive when your compatriots have done things like wave thermite flares around fuel tanks, or overclock their Seaglides (No, really, both of these things happen, and the results apparently weren’t pretty.)

“Bo-Chu-Da?”
“Er, we’re here to… Turn off the generator?”
“Five a dozen, ho ho ho!”
“…How rude!”

As you might have guessed, things are close to release. And, judging by the things I’ve done, the drama I’ve encountered, and the beautiful sights along the way, I have little doubt I’ll be saying much the same thing I have during the Early Access period for Subnautica…

…If you want a survival game with an underwater twist, that’s not terribly twitchy, has an intriguing world, some beautiful sights to see and treats for your ears… Subnautica remains a good pick. I look forward to finishing up the story, and, honestly? I’ll be a little sad when I leave this blue planet. It’s been so good to me, apart from the Reaper Leviathan.

Actually, can I elect to shoot the Reaper into space and live here? That would be just dreamy. Aaah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, crashing from high orbit hasn’t done the Aurora any favours.

The Mad Welshman would like to note that Subnautica comes out of Early Access next month. So we’ll be back to this watery world very soon. Very soon.

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Heat Signature (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£21.99 for Supporter’s Edition with extra stuff, £10.99 if you already have the game and want to upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

The wheels of the revolution are always oiled with the blood of the people. That may sound like a needlessly depressing start to a review of Suspicious Developments’ Heat Signature, a game about invading spaceships, but, in a very real sense, that’s what it is. Consider…

…Dying in the cold depths of space… It ain’t so bad, compared to failing the Liberation…

For all that characters have a brief, procgenned story, a reason for them to join the revolution, it’s their stuff that matters. Yep, okay, once you’ve done enough missions and earned enough intel on the ongoing interstellar war we’re trying to stop by, er… Liberating everyone with guerilla warfare… We’ll let you know how to save your sister, or steal that thing to pay off your debt, or murder the guy that sentenced your parents to death. Cool. No, you can’t will your things to others, even though we basically tell you, every one of you, that it’s basically a suicide mission, and good luck!

Essentially, while you can change characters at any time (even leaving them to die in the cold depths of space, if you so choose, as I admit I’ve occasionally done when particularly annoyed by a mission failure), what you cannot trade is their stuff. And, believe me, you’ll need some of that stuff, as certain enemy types are unkillable without either some very silly plans (Like shooting an airlock to blow them out of it, or just plain blowing up the room) or some very specific stuff in limited supply. Shields, for example, can only be dealt with by subverters and crashbeams. Turrets, at least, you can turn off if you come at them from the right direction… Shielded guys? Nope. Similarly, if you don’t have something armour piercing or explosive, you’re screwed regarding armoured guys who spot you. Those are the only truly egregious examples, but yes, some enemies just aren’t killable without either blowing up the room they’re in, or stuff.

Secondly, over time, the Revolution will tire of you. After a certain point, your liberations, your strikes against the four Mans of the game (the Foundry, the Glitch, Sovereign, and Offworld Security… Independents also exist, but don’t have a specific style, usually just denoted with “They’ve gone rogue, they won’t be running to anybody.”) won’t be as effective in liberating the stations, which provide challenge runs, possible unlockable defectors, and, of course, better stuff in the shop, be that armour piercing weaponry, rechargeable teleporters (Glitching reality in specific and interesting ways), better pod types (like the Foundry Brick, which can just ram its way into a ship rather than have to faff about with all this “Airlock” stuff), and the like. You’re not the hot new flavour of the month, Pavo, it’s maybe time to either retire or go out in the blaze of glory you deserve. After all, the end-goal of the game is to capture all four main factions’ home bases. Your “personal” mission? Even if you finish it, that will be so that you can pass on one of your things (aka, part of your stuff), to ensure it has extra nice traits for somebody, somewhere in the interwubs playing the game. Maybe even you!

Sorry buddy, nothing personal, but you have a key I need.

Similarly, you can, as a personal mission (Personal missions are always max difficulty), rescue another player’s character, giving them… Perhaps a fresh start? For a time, anyway… As noted, the Revolution cares not for Johnny-Come-Latelies, only the New Hotness.

Overall, the game is somewhat friendly to play, as, for all that it can get twitchy at moments, time slows down when you’re doing something, like lining up a shot or an item use, you can freely switch between items by pausing with no penalty I could see, and, beyond the visual designs of the ships being somewhat hard to read at first, the important parts (the guards, the keys, the captain, the timer, and boxes from which you can steal more items) are very clear. There are also clever ways of doing things, if you have the balls and the right idea… Luring or Swapping an enemy into your ship, then taking off, for example, knocks them out, letting you murder or capture them at your leisure. A Sidewinder or two, cleverly used, can teleport you in hops to the objective or the captain, as, once the captain’s down, alarms no longer trigger. You can even, if you’re ballsy and skilled, blow someone out of a window, and catch both them and yourself with your pod, remote controlled.

So, in the end, Heat Signature is a fairly well designed game. Even folks with silly equipment can, with planning (or a plan you’re not sure will work because holy crap, the first plan failed spectactularly but you aren’t dead and you have a few seconds and… Wait, it worked?), be dealt with. Nonetheless, even acknowledging this, I freely admit I don’t like Heat Signature. Not because it’s a bad game, because it isn’t.

Ships get *big* , and chock full of deadly things in the higher difficulty missions… and Personal missions are always the *deadliest*

But holy crap, do I not like being reminded of the subtext on display here.

The Mad Welshman would very much like armour piercing concussive weapons. Hopefully one day, he will find them. Or make them. It matters not.

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Dawn of Andromeda (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

Real Time Strategy in space has always been a tough proposition. Mainly because space is big, and the early game of any such endeavour can, done “realistically”, have all the fun of watching paint dry, while the mid to late game can be plagued with doing a thing wrong, then not realising for a good hour (or until it’s too late, whichever comes sooner.) Dawn of Andromeda, sadly, is no different in this, despite a potentially interesting main campaign.

Pictured: an interesting *description*

Let’s talk about that campaign narrative a little, because honestly, it’s a feature I see very little of in the old 4X (eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, eXterminate) genre these days, and one involving multiple alien races in a grand tapestry of war, tragedy, and shenanigans? Sign me u-

Oh. Oh wait. I can’t find that mercenary I just hired and sent to kill a bounty for my current best friends, the Sython (Who the Terran Empire totally isn’t going to go to a long, expensive war with several times over the next few millennia before somebody else screws it all up.) Wait, I found him again, and… Wait, I lost a survey ship? When did I? Oh, while I was watching this guy half a galaxy away. Meanwhile, I’m debating which of the more far flung colony worlds I should try expanding to, in the hope I can actually defend them.

Space is not only big, but also rather sparse. This is something I’m not actually that fond of being reminded of in space opera games, for some reason.

What I’m getting at here, folks, is that Dawn of Andromeda is not the friendliest of games. There are three game speeds (not counting pause), and while they’re marked “Slow”, “Normal”, and “Fast”, I have different names for them: “Can actually see a fight happening”, “Can watch bars slowly tick up”, and “The speed I go at while I’m waiting for things to happen.” Pause is pretty much my default state while I try to work out what the hell is going on with my scouts and survey ships and, in one particular case, watching a bounty slowly, but surely, escape the guy I’d just hired to take it.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to take in, adding to the “A lot of the time you will be paused.” Understanding an alien race enough to talk to them is a research project, taking time away from your research. Adding to a world’s power requires an infrastructure investment, which will cost you some money a turn until it’s done. You have an approval rating, which will cause rebellions if it’s low, and goes up and down based on… Factors. Decent living conditions help, as does an assigned councillor who isn’t an asshole. It’s not very colour blind friendly, to the point where, zoomed in to a point where I have two ships chasing each other in my field of view, I can’t actually see the things without straining my eyes (Drag selecting will only select the ship I directly control.)

It tries to help, really it does. It has “Zoom in here” icons in the planet tables, fleet tables, anomaly tables… But the main screen is a mess. The UI isn’t the friendliest. Ships can chase each other for a long time without fights happening, and ships attacking from the front will move toward said fast ship, then tail along behind it, losing it like the other poor bastards chasing it in the first place. Providing you have the foresight (and opportunity) to pull such a maneuver off in the first place.

Gripping [YAWN] Space combat. [YAWN] Honest!

I’m sure the game has some interesting things in it. I’m sure it has something, some potential. But I’m finding frustration in even the easiest of scenarios (Where I am informed, and tentatively agree, that even finding the alien worlds may well eat up the whole 2 years allotted for “survival”), boredom from the sparse universe, and quickly realising that it amounts to “Build lots of ships, point them at whatever enemy while holding your own worlds safe”, despite its other trappings. As I am occasionally forced to say, the game resists being played.

The Mad Welshman accepts that Space is big. But surely it’s more interesting than this?

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The Long Journey Home (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £33.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG, Humble Store

I’d like a moment of silence for the crew of the ISS [Insert whichever one you chose here] . They pushed the boundaries of mankind, of science, but, in the end, they could not prevail against…

…And this is basically going to be the beginning to many a story of The Long Journey Home, which, in true science fiction traditions, begins with a jump drive going wrong, and being cast into an unfriendly, but definitely populated galaxy. One way or another, humanity is going to learn about the galactic community.

As it turns out, the Galactic Community doesn’t appreciate Galactic Pranksters. Not even the decadent bits.

In any case, the game is very simple in its controls, with most of the movement done with the mouse (Left click to thrust, Right click for retros when they’re available, and both for JUMP DRIVE. Be warned, hold it down until you’re actually gone), and some keyboard keys… Y’know, occasionally. Like tab to go into the ship interface, q to charge your weapons and shields or turn them off, and space to fire ’em off. So the game’s fairly accessible, with the caveat that, until (or, more likely, unless) you find or buy some upgrades, it’s very newtonian in its movement, fairly realistic, so everything steers like a god-damn barge. Nonetheless, the space elements themselves, once you get used to it, are just fine. Even space combat can be very interesting, if nail biting.

And then there’s the lander game. Hoo boy. This, folks, is your core method for getting resources, and often for exploring. You orbit a world, and if you see words like “Vulcanism: Severe”, “Temperature: Extreme”, “Gravity: High”, or “Convection: Moderate”, you sigh and prepare for your lander to get damaged. Or, y’know, go somewhere else, but you might also see the words “[That Resource you need right damn now]”, “Ruins”, or “Biotics”, all of which imply a chance for gain. Let’s lay out how this might go. On “Gravity: High” or above, you’re going to fall like a bat out of hell, and even with burning from the moment you’re allowed to, you might still slam into the planet. You’re going to be burning a lot of fuel just on staying afloat, and you’re going to need more to escape. Meanwhile, with “Convection: Moderate” , the winds will occasionally start blowing in one direction or another, and, unless you have something to lessen the pain, believe me, the winds are going to have their say more often than you will. “Temperature: Severe/Extreme” , meanwhile, means that, without good heat shields, you’re basically going to be taking damage for as long as you’re down there. In the case of a world with convection and high gravity, with gases to harvest and a ruin, the odds are high you’ll be wasting a lot of fuel trying to suck up those gases, as you have to be flying above a gas vent to get those sweet, sweet fuel chemicals.

This isn’t to say worlds aren’t interesting a fair amount of the time. But not pictured was the two or three minutes wrestling with the wind so I could SODDING LAND.

You might have gathered that I don’t like the lander game much, and Explorer Mode (the easier mode introduced since the game released) only tones down a fair bit of it. Gas Giants remain trading fuel for damage. The dread “Sector full of Pulsar Systems” (High radiation damage periodically while you’re in the system) will still happen… Just less often. And the aliens will give you somewhat of a break, but certain races will still declare you their Ever-Mortal-Enemy for not doing certain jobs for them. Which leads us nicely on to what I feel the best part of the game is: The aliens.

There’s a fair few of them, from the hyper-feudal walking beards, the Meorcl, to the cheery, rugged gate explorers, the Reeve. The nigh lawless and decadent Ilitza, to the calm and lawful Logos… There’s a fair few, and each has their own character, wants, dislikes, and threats. One of my favourites, perhaps, was the Cueddhaest, who are both cheerily trying to explain their faith to my meatsack crew, while trying (badly) to disguise their revulsion at our fleshy, not-rocky forms. “They’re still taaaaaaalking, brother!” , I heard one disclaim, and his calmer, more open friend, over our equally more open comm channel, states in reply “Well, hopefully they’ll stop soon.”

Charming, friends. Real charming. In the end, it’s the aliens that draw me in, and the lander game that repels me. The worlds and events are somewhere in between, ranging from space mysteries, to things you are likely to screw up on and piss somebody off if you don’t have the right item, or the right gossip, or the right… something to deal with it. The game very much banks on you replaying the game to get through it well, maybe even get home with all the crew intact, and nobody having been truly pissed off (the best of all possible endings.) Am I okay with that?

Yeah, I’m okay with that. Not everybody will be though, so my own advice is to read, not just this review, but a fair few more, to get a better picture of the game before making a purchase. It’s certainly got its interesting points, but to play fuel conservatively is to play moderately slowly, carefully, and cautiously, and I know not everybody has that time.

There is a very good reason not to get into space combat until you have better kit. Namely, that you’re crap at it.

The Mad Welshman was the main engineer behind the Jump drive. He still, to this day, blames those stupid shield engineers for what happened.

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