Frozen Synapse 2 (Review)

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

The original Frozen Synapse, released in 2011, gave me a new appreciation for AI. A few simple roles, a few simple actions, and a constricted battlefield nonetheless gave appreciation for timing, cones of vision, and action priority, because the core conceit of the game, whether against AI or players, is that turns happen simultaneously, and so, you have to not only think what you’re doing, but also what the other person’s doing.

A fine example of understanding timing from this multiplayer match… Nothing I do will save this assault, because the grenade is perfectly timed.

Okay, so you have to do that anyway in games, but seeing it, explicitly playing out on a map, and understanding both your mistakes and those of your opponents makes clear just how big that phase space of actions could get. It was scary, but thankfully, the community was pretty chill.

Now, after that, a similar concept with Frozen Cortex (Only robot sportsball instead of corporate murderclones with guns), and a few years, Frozen Synapse 2 has come to deliver… Well, more of that. And it brings two somewhat different experiences, depending on whether you tackle the City Mode, singleplayer, or Multiplayer. Let’s deal with multiplayer first, because it’s the simpler of the two, in a sense.

Four players, in two teams, given one of several random, single weapon loadouts. While there are other multiplayer modes, the most common is that, as mentioned, turns are simultaneous, and you don’t know what a player’s doing unless the opponent is in your vision arc. A good example from my multiplayer matches (Where I have consistently been defeated so far) was where a grenadier, unbeknownst to me, was right behind my assault that turn, and slipped into a doorway to grenade one of my folks from where I least expected it.

It was a clever play, because even if they had been seen because my Assault (automatic rifle) had seen them, they would still probably have escaped before I could shoot them, due to the fact that Grenadiers always run when they’re not throwing grenades, but Assaults track slowly when they’re moving, and are at their best when they know roughly where to aim. There are inequalities, built into the classes (Knife, Pistol, Assault, Shotgun, Grenadier, Rocketeer, Flamethrower) that add tactical considerations. Grenades take time to throw, and won’t move until they do, but their explosions last longer than a rocket (Not much longer, but enough that I painfully learned that Grenadiers can run into their own grenades, after the explosion started), Rocketeers blow up all the landscape in the rocket’s AoE, which can work against as much as for, and everything takes time.

A lot of this would already be known to Frozen Synapse players, new roles aside, but the addition of focus fire makes for a new priority to memorise, and a new wrinkle.

Moving quickly means it’s harder to hit you, but you can’t fire. Moving normally means you fire, but you have a penalty aiming. Stopping when you see someone means you shoot quickly, but are a sitting duck. But whoever correctly predicts the small, diamond shape location where an enemy is going to be when they fire, they get an accuracy boost. So, for example, somebody covering a door, from a far corner, may well get the drop on somebody who knows damn well the door’s their only exit, but foolishly stands in the doorway.

The story of Frozen Synapse continues, as this city is essentially built on the rubble of the first game’s story mode.

So it’s tactically intricate, simple rules making for an intriguing tactical game where you’re seeking a maximum area of action, while attempting to contract the opponent’s choices. I almost won one match from near death, due to the last person being a grenadier, who can quickly deny large areas without having to destroy their cover. Alas, they had a grenadier too, and, on the 9th turn of 8, it was declared a draw.

City Mode, on the other hand, is more complex. Not only are there the same tactical considerations, there’s management aspects to it too, such as building permits, a mercenary market, diplomacy… And it doesn’t exactly tutorialise well. Case in point: Grenades are great. Grenades are useful. But you can’t use Grenades unless you’ve signed up for Explosive Ordnance Services in the City. Or rockets. And the first I knew of this was when I’d already sent a Grenadier along with my squad to help clear out some Raiders. All the great aesthetics, the huge map, the soulful music that plays, isn’t going to save single player mode from some heavy flak for bad explanation of complex systems… Or, overall, the fact that accessibility options for the small text are currently nonexistent (There was, apparently, a “4K Supporting GUI” patch over the weekend before writing this, but it doesn’t appear to change tiny text, nor is there an option for this.)

Just a minute or so before I make a mistake that dooms a merc, I appreciate… Oh gods, this is a lot of buildings!

Add in some awkwardness in Multiplayer (If you want to add one of your own matches to Favourites by liking it, you have to search for its ID in the Match Play tab, rather than something more intuitive), and all of that interesting stuff I mentioned… Is less accessible to folks.

So, unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it. Its single player is complex without good support, its multiplayer isn’t for everyone no matter how friendly its community is, and, while it does make some steps in terms of colourblind support, that doesn’t change that a lot of its UI text is painfully small. It does expand on what worked well in the main game, and, apart from the knife, which is… Not something useful to a beginner player, those expansions add depth while still being easily explored. The rest? Not so much.

The Mad Welshman would make a poor mercenary leader. I mean, who gives soldiers orders to shoot without ammo?

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The Spatials: Galactology (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Spatials: Galactology is an ambitious game, in some aspects. Building and managing a station, exploring worlds, diplomacy, tourism… There’s a lot to the game. And so, it’s perhaps unfortunate that I’ve not been able to get very far with it because it doesn’t explain most of its own complexities, and some of them? Just plain don’t make sense.

The Hygienizer 3000. On a permanent Spin Cycle, it seems…

Case in point: The shower has interrupted the sleeping. It will always interrupt sleeping if it’s in the same room. Even if, as in the above shot, it is neither in use or supplied. Now, I can’t speak for all showers, but my own? Doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s utterly silent until turned on. I have yet to encounter a shower that does more than silently sit there until turned on. Admittedly, putting a shower in your bedroom is probably not a wise idea (It’s clearly not a futuristic sonic shower, it needs soap. Which I don’t have) , but that it’s the noise that’s the problem? Baffles and infuriates.

Okay, a load from the nearest quicksave fixed that. Showers set to be built elsewhere… With a whole bunch of balloons in the shower room because, inexplicably, they also make the place look bad. So decorations are mandatory if you want people to feel good. Noise mainly seems to impact sleep. And then something breaks down. I’m also running out of metal to build things with. Ohhh yeah, I can set my ships to pick up cargo from more than one place, why didn’t the game tell me this before? So, off I go, to a thankfully human planet with metal on it, and… My first combat encounter, hoo boy! Combat, diplomacy, exploration, it has it… NO, STOP BUILDING THAT STORAGE DEVICE, KEEP YOUR FRIEND HEALTHY, YOU – Oh, the only guy with a gun is dead.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM UNWARY PLAYER DELICIOUS.

Time to restart, I guess! Or… Not. The Spatials is, it’s true, an ambitious game, with a lot of elements. But I am, funnily enough, not one of those people who enjoys basic, important mechanics obfuscated from me, and it does this a whole lot. It has the dreaded Decoration Tax, a mechanic I’ve always despised, not least when it’s employed in the oddest of places. Yes, I can understand how a recycling machine may be noisy and clunky. I do not understand why a shower room won’t be enjoyable for its occupants unless it has a minimum of 2 balloons (1 to cancel the shower’s aesthetic penalty, 1 to improve the aesthetic to “slightly nice.”) Research, similarly, means the early game, normally a case of “Build things to make you self sufficient”, becomes “Research these eight things you need simply to get people to come to the planet and buy things before your money runs out.”

The Spatials: Galactology, will, I’m sure, be fine for people who actively enjoy the heavy amount of micromanagement and wikiplay needed to get off the ground here. I am not one of those folks, and the unfriendliness and lack of decent information is a major turn off. Its aesthetic is serviceable, but the bizarre internal logic… Not so much. Not so much by a long shot.

Every now and again, the VP will turn up and give you big demands for desperately needed money. It’s p. safe to say I did not, in fact, build 8 objects.

The Mad Welshman has already railed against the Cabinet Tax… But Balloon Tax? This is getting silly…

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One Deck Dungeon

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £7.19 (Phoenix’s Den DLC :  79p)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Here’s another one that caught me off guard with the release. Yes, One Deck Dungeon, a game I reviewed about two months ago is out. Its main addition? A gauntlet mode, in which the masochistic can try and beat all the dungeons in one go.

The Lich’s special ability is frustrating. Turns out Liches are like small children playing Cops and Robbers.

Considering I wasn’t sure I could beat the main dungeons without the Hero Progression system they added… I can’t really say much about that.

So, to recap, One Deck Dungeon, a computer game based on the tabletop game of the same name, has up to two adventurers, each with a special ability, try to make their way through one of five dungeons, based on a single deck of possible encounters, random loot, and a boss at the end. Each dungeon has special rules, such as the Lich’s Tomb, which removes all dice rolling a 2 (Combined with encountering an Ethereal, who removes 1s and 3s, this dungeon can get painful) , and a boss at the end. Everything is resolved by rolling dice, fitting dice of the required number or above into boxes with numbers to prevent damage, losing time, or other fun things, and this can be aided with skills, potions, and each heroine’s special ability.

Nice to see a game with all-women protags, to be quite honest.

The Ethereal, similarly, is quite evil. But still, that loot… I need that looooooot!

Everything said in the previous review with the appearance of fairness (Yes, it’s dice, but skills can affect them, multiply them, reroll them… Skills go a long way to helping), the aesthetic (Solid, if workmanlike in places), and the dungeon deck (Could do with some extra variation) still stand. But one thing has served to improve the game, for me, at least, quite a bit. Hero Progression.

See, with the base abilities, the later dungeons can best be described as the sound of a table being flipped through a monitor, which is itself being thrown through a window. They’re punishing. But finishing a dungeon lets you, with Hero Progression on, unlock useful things in four basic categories: Basic, Healing, Combat, and Dungeon. I’ve mainly gone with a Healing build, and it’s been fun to go through the lower dungeons to get basic abilities, do the higher dungeons, just… Levelling up. As you would. I asked, last time I took a look, if the game could be more fair. And the answer, funnily enough, was “Yes, here’s a big step toward that.”

So, in summary, One Deck Dungeon is fun. Its music is alright, its aesthetic mostly solid, and it’s pretty clear to understand and play. It could do with some extra monster variety, but, overall, it’s alright as it is. Just… Turn Hero Progression on if you’re having trouble, eh?

Another 3 Star Dungeon, another… Three armour for every enemy on the third level. Well, good for me I brought the Warrior then!

Dungeons… Dungeons never change.

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Starship Corporation (Review)

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A game that has a great idea, a good – Oh, you audibly heard the “But” from where you’re sitting? Yes, that’s the deal with Starship Corporation, a starship building and management game. But…

“No, you can’t shift a schematic that’s close enough to your spec that it only needs a reshuffle or parts added here, why would you want that?”

…It really, really isn’t friendly. It’s tried, and tried pretty hard, as, during the Early Access period, the game’s power, water, fuel, and air distribution was via laying pipes, whereas now, it’s done by floor and network. An auto-resolve system for the missions (The yardstick by which ships are judged) was introduced. The former genuinely helps. The latter feels more like avoiding the problem than fixing it.

Okay. Let’s back up a bit. Starship Corporation is a game about managing your own starship construction company. It’s a fixed universe, with some events, but progression is pretty fixed in both campaign and sandbox modes, with the main difference being that, in sandbox mode, you can change the amount of currency you own and your goal. The campaign goal? Get loaaadsamoneeey.

Of course, to get money, you have to spend money, and, at a first glance, without YouTube tutorials and the like to back you up? It’s daunting. Okay, I need to buy a sickbay. Oh, and connectors for fuel, water, air, and power between ship floors. And some shields. And a mining laser. Oh, and a better cooli- There’s a lot of options, and you can get rather a way into building a ship before realising “Oh wait, I don’t have enough space for that cargo I need” , or “Wait, crap, this really needs a better [insert] than I have now to save space.” Time to save design, hit up R&D, to spend some of your budget, and back in until finally… It’s testing time.

Expect to be spending a fair amount of time in the research screen, hunting for what you need.

At which point, many people will hit “Auto-Resolve” and shuffle things around if the score isn’t good enough, wondering their first time through, for a minute or so, where the heck the “Save and Finish the Blueprint Already” button is (It’s to the left of the auto-resolve, once you’ve resolved or played enough missions.) Which is a dual shame, because, again, this is an interesting idea, but the execution is painful enough that yes, auto-resolve really is the better option in many cases. The manual will tell you that it’s ctrl+number to assign people to a group, shift+number to actually control that group, and number is for switching between decks. This is about as useful as it gets, sadly, and there’s a lot that doesn’t get explained.

Unfortunately, with auto-resolve, the game is less interesting, being a somewhat clunky and chuggingly slow ship building and management game with some story elements, and without it, half the game is a hell of micro-management to make the other half less friendly.

It took me a vital few seconds to realise that there were several parts overdue for maintennance… On the SOP mission. ARGH.

So… Great idea. Great idea. The execution, on the other hand, means I can’t really recommend this beyond said idea.

The Mad Welshman is always sad when a good idea is buried under unfortunate design decisions. He knows the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater a lot in this industry.

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For The King (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Folks, I could tell a long rambling story here, blow by blow accounts of the heroic deeds of a blacksmith, a hunter, and a scholar, normal folks who almost saved the day as the last hope of the kingdom of Fahrul. I could talk about their exploits fighting such evils as the Hangman, the dread King’s Maze, and the seemingly humble (yet devilishly agile) Imps. But a lot of this would distract from the fact that these are stories I made up, based on some damn fine procedural RPG play.

eep.

So yeah, For The King is a procedurally generated RPG, with a lovely low-poly board game aesthetic, where balancing aggressively pursuing quests, and biding time to make sure you can really take on that dungeon. Move too slow, and things get more dangerous, until eventually, you either fall, or the world ends. Move too quickly, and you’ll quickly get out of your depth. Thankfully, the game’s pretty good at giving you some idea which end you’re tending towards, play by play.

And it feels pretty good, with a fair amount of depth to it. Enough that I’d have a little trouble describing it all without this review feeling more like a feature list. Oh, hey, here’s a cast of characterful enemies, from the Triclops Infant that… Well, I feel bad killing these, because their main attack is “Fall over really heavily on top of you.” I have the option of sneaking or ambushing, but that XP is direly needed, because I have to take on the Mind Melter. The animations are great, with visible representation of your equipment on the well crafted low poly models, a real sense of impact to them, and the game tutorialises quite well.

It’s a beautiful world. Even the bits which are decidedly pointy and evil and stuff…

That it also defaults to the easiest difficulty mode is a real blessing, because yes, the game is pretty hard, even on the easiest difficulty. But also, oddly, gentle about that. It reminds you that you aren’t meant to win on your first try, or even your third (My third run on the main campaign, I got about halfway through), but getting further, seeing new and interesting monsters, made me feel… Well, like a badass.

So… Good aesthetic. Good music, fitting without over-riding. A real feeling of impact, both on the world and the fights. Good tutorials. And a hefty amount of replayability, due to unlocks and the extra quests and classes that some of these unlocks represent. Multiple game modes. What’s not to like?

Well, it’s best if characters stick together throughout, keeping close so as to have a full party. As such, multiplayer co-op (Where you play one character) is something that needs a tight knit group to work. Beyond that, though, there’s a lot done right with For The King, both in terms of mechanics, and in terms of feel and aesthetic. I foresee a fair bit of enjoyment with this one.

Yeah, remember what I said about a sense of impact? That *definitely* felt like a finale to the quest. 😛

The Mad Welshman could probably have said a lot more words. But basically, the game is pretty good.

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