Agents of Mayhem (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £39.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Agents of Mayhem is, it seems, trying to have several cakes and eat them. It wants to be a superhero, Saturday Morning style deal. It wants to still be a Saints game. It wants, just a little, to be a more serious property. And it wants to still be referential as hell.

The thing with wanting several cakes at once is that you tend to have a mess of cake, and a stomachache. So it is with Agents of Mayhem, where you can see elements occasionally shine through, but more often fall flat. Let’s unpack that.

The game follows the exploits of the Agents of MAYHEM, a GI Joe like organisation led by ex villain Persephone, combating the evils of LEGION, and its… Pridetroopers? Eesh, that was a bad namepick (The proper name is Helltroopers of the LEGION of Pride, but yes, “Pridetroopers” was used, with maybe not as much thought as could have been had.) Anyway, LEGION is up to no good in Seoul, and, with the magic of an Ark aircarrier and a drop teleporter, they do various missions, attempting to stop LEGION from setting off Dark Matter devices to, er… Do something.

Good guy does the thing he was told not to do because he’s the asshole… Check…

It’s okay, you have plenty of time to do so, as, once you enter Seoul, it’s things you’d recognise from any GTA or Saints style game: Steal cars to get your own. Run LEGION vehicles off the road as Targets of Opportunity. Set up things to “claim” an area, defend it for a bit against waves of LEGION enemies, kill them all, bam, you now have tech in town, or some money laundering that’s totes okay because you’re the good guys, remember? Or, y’know, things that you would normally have to return to the Ark for. Sometimes, you’re putting hostages in safety bubbles before detonating the bombs they’re attached to, and… Well, it doesn’t feel very SatAM, does it?

But never fear, the cutscenes are here! To tell you about the villains, to tell you about the heroes, their struggles, and… This is sort of dependent on characters, really, isn’t it? And the characters vary wildly in terms of writing quality. Some, like Braddock, the gay WOC marine in a relationship with the fussy brit (and PA to Persephone, your boss) Friday, are well written. How do you feel when the folks you’ve worked with support the terrorists? Some, like Yeti and Hardtack, are… Well, Yeti is Big Russian Hacker with Freeze Gun, and Hardtack is the demoman, but Amurrcan, and with the most videogamey shotgun to have ever videogamed shotguns. You’ve seen the kind before, and sadly, there’s not a lot new in their lines. Others, like Hollywood, are well written in a sense, but mostly in the sense that while you can appreciate an asshole is well written, this gives you less incentive to care because… Well, there’s more interesting people.

It’s the same with their PSAs. Yes, like some of the older SatAM cartoons, the game has fake PSAs, and again, they vary extremely widely. Rama screws one of hers up. Both Hollywood and Friday just end up looking like assholes, and, rather than a homage, as some characters seem to be, or a subversion, it ends up looking like a mockery.

SatAM PSAs… But for *adults* ! This is one of the better ones.

This isn’t to say the game doesn’t do nice things. Seoul is pretty, and has a lot of character if you’re willing to stop and smell the roses every now and again. Visually, and musically, it’s good, and the Agents of MAYHEM stings and elements of the soundtrack let you believe, for just a moment, that it’s achieved its goals of SatAM pastiche. Everyone has a theme. Having three characters per outing, with adjustable difficulty that you control, is a good move, especially as switching players is important to let them heal, and some of the special abilities really are quite good. The mobility is good, I didn’t have a tough time getting around, and that’s good. But for me, the problem is that it’s trying to go in multiple different directions at once, and so it just ends up feeling like it didn’t really care about any of them. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s taking the piss out of SatAM or loving it. It can’t seem to decide how much it wants to please ex-Saints Row players who might be pissed that this is an alternate world, and it occasionally tries to set forward tough, mature themes, only to drop them for the black-and-white “Here is villain. He is bad. Go get ‘im!”

Even without suffering from performance issues (Which I have been, the game is surprisingly resource intensive, and the launch troubled with bugs), I just don’t really find myself enjoying my time. These issues unfortunately, I am far from alone in, although your mileage may vary quite a bit, and the developers are aware of these problems, asking for DXDiags and other troubleshooting questions. As such, this combination of a troubled launch, and the fact that honestly, the game just doesn’t really seem that enjoyable to me. It seems to be fighting among itself, while I’m left scratching my head at the inconsistent experience.

Yes, that’s Kingpin. Yes, he’s an OG. Yes, that special ability is a boombox that makes enemies dance so he can shoot them. SIGH.

The Mad Welshman does root for the heroes sometimes. He really does. But if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s opposition without class.

Become a Patron!

Hover: Revolt of Gamers (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

“I don’t get it”, I said as I stared at the screenshots. “What does this have to do with gaming, per se? It looks like it’s inspired by Jet Set Radio Future, but doesn’t have any visible rollerblades or anything.” HOVER: Revolt of Gamers is, it must be said, a game with a somewhat confusing title. And it doesn’t help that there’s a fair amount you have to do before anything more is mentioned beyond “The Great Admin have banned fun” , which, also, seems like a very silly thing to try and ban. I have fun walking, for example, and singing, and, of course, there are many co-operative activities that are fun, at least some of which fall under the umbrella of “Necessary Procreation.”

Yes, this most certainly looks like fun. I am feeling the rebellion.

“Jamie, stop worrying about the damn story. It’s not important! I want to know how it plays!”

Oh. Not so hot. I mean, the basics work alright, but when those basics get into the wild, it gets a little frustrating. The controls are, for the most part, pretty simple, even if non-french folk might want to be warned to check the control options, otherwise they’re using ZQSD for walking (AZERTY Keyboard is the default.) Jumping things are done with space, sneaky slidey grindy things are done with shift, and throwy scanny talky things are done with the left mouse button. Bam. The problem then arises when turning the mouse is how you turn, and A and D (on a UK keyboard, anyway) are more sort of… Tilts.

Air control, and indeed run control, then sort of depend on your mouse sensitivity being high, which doesn’t interact too well with, say, looking around, or if you get motion sick. Then again, the way the player created protagonists bounce around, I probably couldn’t recommend this to anyone with motion sickness anyway, especially with all the boost pads and bounce pads and grabbing onto things that maybe should not be grabbed onto. One example I noted while playing in the first area was clothes lines. Okay, I can sort of see you grinding on clothes lines… Sort of… But they are, last I checked, not reliable mantling points, per se. So in a sense, they get in the way of a clean line, which is, of course, the best way to do any sort of mission involving speed. Which many of the missions are, and indeed, keeping your speed high is the only way to destroy holosigns, which is a thing you have to do.

A pet. On a magrail. That I’m meant to take for a walk. On the magrail. Guess who missed the pet, then had to retry the mission three or four times?

It doesn’t exactly help that the cluttered landscape of the hub, combined with a somewhat odd UX design, means you don’t always know where you’re going or what the hell you’re doing. I’ve failed delivery and Fuzz-running missions (Themselves a bit silly, because at least one involves giving someone’s pet a good walkies… On a magnetic tramway) simply because I didn’t notice where the damn item to pick up was due to the confusion. There’s a lot of bright colours, and they often conflict, so poor colourblind me was often acutely lost, even with the Crazy Taxi style arrow that tells you whether something you need to do is in front of, behind, to one side, or up or down, and takes its context from whatever you seem to be doing at the present time (be that capturing spy drones that just seem to be minding their own business, graffiti spraying over the seemingly rare Admin Propaganda posters, or some other things), or racing. This lack of clarity sometimes extends to missions, as friends and I had an interesting time trying to work out what the criteria for the “Do 20 tricks in under a minute and a half” mission was. It seems to be trick combos of more than 75 points, so I filled it out by jumping in different directions, bouncing off the ground with my neon moon boots, and holding the trick key in combination with various directions to pull off tricks, ala Tony Hawks or any other tricking game I’ve encountered.

That tricking mission ranked me up by 5, the highest I’d seen. Shame I had to hit 100 ranks total to get more story, and in less than an hour, I’d started to have trouble finding things to do that weren’t fuzz missions… At least some of which have gruelling time standards, as do most of the requirements for the medals. “8 seconds for gold on mantling several rooftops to deliver a ball” sounds easy until you realise each mantle’s about a second, and each throw’s about a second, so it’s basically “Don’t fuck up at all.” My first, blind time was 19s. No, there isn’t adjustable difficulty, why would you want adjustable difficulty? Don’t answer that, we both probably know if the question even has to be asked.

Tricking in trash… I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. *Shrugs*

That isn’t to say that there isn’t good in the game, for, while the hub is extremely cluttered, I can’t really say it’s not pretty or aesthetically consistent. It is, in an anime-cyberpunk sort of way, and the character designs, similarly, are mostly kinda cool. The music is definitely a strong point, as Hideki Nakagama (yes, JSRF composer Hideki Nakagama) and Cédric Menendez bring some damn find beats. But the problem is that this is just two parts. The UX is cluttered, at least some of the missions amount to “Do it perfectly or fail”, even in the first part of the story, the missions lack variety, and the story is… Well, silly even for a videogame.

The Mad Welshman no Great Admin, out to ban fun (At least partly because such a thing would be extremely hard to enforce), but he sadly can’t recommend this game.

Become a Patron!

Diluvion (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for Fleet Edition)
Where To Get It: Humble StoreGOGSteam

The sea is a harsh mistress. She is also, in Diluvion, a strangely empty one. Unless you count pirate ships, of which there are plenty.

Thankfully, at this range, it’s almost impossible to miss. The day is mine!

Let’s step back a bit: Diluvion is a submarine adventurey simulation type thing, in which you pick one of three ships, eventually upgrading to better ones that can go deeper, picking up crew and having adventures as you go.

There’s just one problem: It’s not very intuitive, and it doesn’t feel all that rewarding. It is, without doubt, pretty. When you find an ice block, several times bigger than your sub, or an abandoned research station surrounded by mines, you can’t help but wonder at the stories. But, even with the landmarks, those stories are mostly one liners, and most of what you’ll be seeing, even if you work out how to efficiently use the faster currents to get around, is murky dankness, filled with the bacteria and dead flesh of the ocean, the marine snow.

Not the shiniest landmark. But still an *impressive* landmark, considering…

The main thing that comes to mind with Diluvion is that yes, it’s a fairly open world, but it’s an open world without a whole lot to do. The first main quest (Upgrading the sub) is effectively an extended fetch quest, asking you to find scrap (Which is the easiest, being common, and ammunition for your main guns aside), reinforced plates (Seemingly only found in a minefield, because this is a post-apocalypse), engine parts (Seemingly, again, only found in certain areas), some blackberries (God knows how they’re grown, but I’ve also found Ferns and Daisies, so… Good job?), and a morse radio (Again, found… Somewhere. Somewhere I haven’t been yet.) Meanwhile, most of what this entails is docking with abandoned research stations, Loot Spheres (No, really, that’s what they’re called), pirate ships you’ve attacked, hunting around a hand drawn 2d representation of the thing you docked with for chests, and looting the buggers. Occasionally, there will be a crew member to hire (Including, weirdly, in the pirate ships you cripple with your scrap cannons), a trader, or an event hidden behind a door, itself gated by whether you have a crew member (Who you will potentially lose) and a crowbar (Which you will definitely lose, regardless.)

Again, these… Just blend into each other, to be honest, the majority not even being noticeable, let alone memorable. Crazed crewman to calm down was the most common one I saw, along with “There is a loot chest here, but it’s dangerous to get, maybe a crewman will help!” Meanwhile, Lady with Party Hat seems to get about a lot faster than I do, being seen in multiple places, at multiple times, sometimes even in the same building. Sometimes she’ll be running a bed and breakfast. Sometimes, she’s got absolutely nothing to say. Sometimes she’s a crafter of charms, which, due to the strange world, actually have an effect. But she is Lady with Party Hat, and unfortunately, you can tell me no different.

Good Heavens, they’re *multiplying* o.O

There is an over-arching story to this, by the way, something about a treasure, with everything unknown but its rough location (Very Deep Underwater), that apparently will make Everything Alright… But, for all that there are excellent ship designs, and the buildings are interesting, the sameness of a lot of the ones you encounter dulls the overall experience. It’s interesting, in its way, how a first quest can really mess up an experience. There are interesting things to find, and I’ve mentioned a few (Another would be the Angry Captain. Poor feller’s driven himself into an electricity pylon, and needs to make the cash to get towed), but despite seeing these things, I’m bored, and this big ol’ fetch quest is a big part of that.

It doesn’t help that, as mentioned, it’s somewhat unintuitive, and a little bugged to boot. When entering the settings, mouse sensitivity and the window size aren’t remembered between sittings (Occasionally causing swearing as Apply resizes beyond what I was comfortable with), the crew end up being pretty numbers, and applying them is odd, combat depends upon you remembering turret position, and just because something is a landmark, doesn’t always mean its a checkpoint. To be perfectly fair, dying is not a big problem, as you can reload from the last checkpoint just fine, but switching between 2d captain mode (For talking to crew, boarding ships, etc) and the main 3d mode is annoying at best, and, even with the addition of a slowdown function to switch crew between stations in combat, frustrating at worst.

Tonnesburg is, so long as you look around, a surprisingly lovely place. You will be coming back here. A fair bit.

I can see Diluvion being perfectly fine if you go into it with the right mindset, aware of the grind and just wanting to chill out, spend some time. It does, as noted, definitely have its pretty side. There was obvious attention paid to the aesthetics, there’s obviously a world out there. But it’s not really for me. If you want a chill submarine time, then I don’t think you could go far wrong with Diluvion. But if you want something a little spicier, quicker, and a little less grindy, I definitely wouldn’t blame you.

Become a Patron!

Planet Explorers (Review)

Source: Regretted Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where (Not) To Get It: Steam

I’ve never seen a first person survival game where doing beginning quests in the wrong order can kill you before. Now that I have, with Planet Explorers, I can say that I find it an unpleasant experience. Not to mention the rest of the experience, which, for me, is equally unpleasant.

Yep, it eventually killed me. After following me for *miles* and mostly whiffing. Oh, should I mention the next village is about forty minutes walk, realtime, from the first?

Yep, it eventually killed me. After following me for *miles* and mostly whiffing. Oh, should I mention the next village is about forty minutes walk, realtime, from the first?

So, let’s begin with the difference between “Story” and “Adventure” mode, where the first has quests (Some of which are stupidly lethal, with no real indication this is the case), a story mode, and cutscenes, and the second… Has quests, a story attached to each village that doesn’t seem to change, and no cutscenes. Adventure mode’s first village nearly always has one asshole whose only function is to lead you to a slaver ambush, which provides an easy segue for me into combat.

There is, of a sort, combat AI in this game. For humans, this nearly always involve rushing you as soon as they spot you with their melee weapons if they’re hostile, and shooting from a distance if they have a gun. And y’know what? That works. Shame it works because your starting weapons are incredibly shit, and so combat with even one enemy is a case of having more medical tools and attempting to dodge. Or, y’know, doing quests in the first area in such an order that you have a handgun before taking on six slavers… Because otherwise, respawning where you are will just rapidly get you killed, while respawning back in the village will… Get everyone killed, including you. Or, you can do quests in the arbitrary “Right” order, and get a nice shiny handgun, which does the job better than your melee weapons. It even nets you a set of sentry guns, if you want a nice easy sta-

Pictured: What happens if you do Adventure Mode quests in the wrong order, then respawn in the village.

Pictured: What happens if you do Adventure Mode quests in the wrong order, then respawn in the village.

-Oh, did I forget to mention that Adventure mode has a means of randomising your procgen world, but doesn’t seem to account for the fact that you might have a different biome which doesn’t have “Tulips” , or, in at least one case, places a quest marker for putting down turrets to hunt a beast… In the middle of the ocean. Good. Fucking. Job. Because hey, while there are procedurally generated quests, usually of the MMO style variety of “Collect X shit for me”, “Oh noes, protect me from Y Angry Space Ogres” or “Please go into this conspicuously out of place dungeon and kill everything in it”, the village quests will always remain the same. Which is pretty damn awkward when you have an island in the middle of nowhere.

I could go on, and on, and on, about various things going on with this game, from the cutscenes with odd audio desync, to the fact that it was apparently decided to be a good idea to have a Cliff Racer equivalent in this open world game (A griffin-mouse combination, oddly), to how mining is somehow more of a slog than Runescape (Ten minutes to even get to an Iron Ore seam somewhat close to the surface… I gave up on getting more iron a few minutes later, not least because design schematics are linked to… Drumroll please… Quest Completion. That’s right, the ones which don’t seem to have much difficulty balancing, or sense of placement, or… holds head .)

Pictured: Both the pop in (egregious) and a quest I can't complete because I can't put turrets in open water...

Pictured: Both the pop in (egregious) and a quest I can’t complete because I can’t put turrets in open water…

But instead I’m going to say that it looks kind of okay visually (We’re talking late PS2 level here, but mostly consistent in this), and it has a kind of sweet-sounding (In the saccharine sense) theme tune. Both of which you would probably be better off appreciating from screenshots and a youtube video of the opening, respectively. I have no idea why this was approved as a release candidate, to be perfectly and brutally honest.

Oh, it’s moddable. There, that’s maybe another nice thing.

The Mad Welshman sighed as his pick struck once more. You do sixteen minutes, and whaddya get… Painful blisters and hungry and wet…

Become a Patron!

Aragami (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (19.79 for Collector’s Edition)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

Aragami is perhaps the first game I’ve come across in my reviewing career to openly baffle me with its design decisions. This, unfortunately, is not a recommendation for it, except as an education to other game designers. Let’s unpack that, and talk about why Aragami is so baffling to me.

For reasons which will become clear, this is emblematic of the game itself.

For reasons which will become clear, this is emblematic of the game itself.

At the core of the problem is the single save/checkpoint system that Aragami has. Done well, you can still have a single save system with skill respeccing and different play paths, but Aragami… Well, beyond deleting my save data, I had no means of resetting my skill spec, or ungaining the abilities I’d unlocked in later chapters, so… That would imply the game has a score attack element, right?

Wrong. Because of the way the checkpointing works. Nothing counts, score-wise, until you’ve actually hit the next checkpoint. Combine that with another problem (The extremely thin line between “Alerted”, and “Dead.” There aren’t any enemies, even in the early game, that can’t kill you from at least short to medium range.), and you end up with… Being able to S-Rank any level, perfect Stealth or Kill Everything, because if you don’t do it perfectly, odds are pretty high you’re going to die, and none of your cockups count due to the checkpointing system. In fact, it’s better for your score to die and restart a checkpoint (Some of which are placed a fairly long way away), than to accept an alert. So… That “-500 Alerted” feels… Superfluous, as a result.

The only way to not S-Rank a level, it seems, is to be inconsistent in your approach. Is the game aiming for replayability? Well… 2 runs, one for perfect stealth, and one for killing everybody and looting the map of skill scrolls, aaaand… You’re pretty much done.

Although it isn't clear, this is about 1.5 seconds after being spotted, and 0.5 after being killed by a wave of light from that guy's sword.

Although it isn’t clear, this is about 1.5 seconds after being spotted, and 0.5 after being killed by a wave of light from that guy’s sword.

Now, one thing that the game has been criticised for is that there is no option but to use your powers to solve a level. You can’t jump, you can’t climb. Funnily enough, though, that isn’t really the problem for me. The problem for me with powers is that… Well, most of them feel decidedly unnecessary. See enemies and their cone of vision through walls? Not really a lot of situations that’s useful for, because it’s actually easier to just get spotted, die, and remember the position in future. A shadow mine? Sure, if enemies bunch up. But most of the time, unless they’re alerted… They don’t, and it leaves a lot of bodies, which… Alerts everyone once they’re found. Again, it’s easier to just kill, then use a cheaper power (Shadow Vanish) to remove the body. The only time that doesn’t work is when they either die or ragdoll after death into a brightly lit area, and there’s a nice, cheap fix for that too: Lure them with a bell (Unlocked in Chapter 3, then usable in all levels), teleport behind them after they enter a shadowy area, kill, vanish them.

That’s why it feels shallow to me: You have interesting tools, but their extremely situational use, combined with the extra busywork involved in replenishing their limited uses (Two uses of a special ability, then you have to find a shrine somewhere on the level… And, of course, shrines aren’t present in the first two levels) means that I’m disincentivised from using them. Similarly, before I unlock Shadow Vanish, an all murder run is tense and, in point of fact, pretty damn difficult. After I unlock it? It’s mostly making sure I’m not spotted or heard while murdering my way through a level.

Yamiko , whose name could be translated as "Come Darkness." Aragami, similarly, roughly translates to "Violent Spirit"

Yamiko , whose name could be translated as “Come Darkness.” Aragami, similarly, roughly translates to “Violent Spirit”

This is pretty much a damn shame, because the game is visually appealing, and the spanish developers, Linceworks, have clearly put some effort into both their writing and research. But when most of your abilities feel like distractions rather than tools in the toolbox, there’s this strange disincentive to using a lot of them seemingly baked into the design, and completing levels feels more like recording a segmented speed-run than a fluid gameplay experience, not even these nice little touches, the lovely cel-shading and the japanese voice acting, can make this feel joyful rather than dutiful.

Give it a go if you want to see stealth experimented with, but go in aware that the experiment… Wasn’t exactly a huge success in my opinion.

The Mad Welshman gets around that whole silly Shadows Killed By Light thing by wearing white suits. You’d be amazed how often that works.

Become a Patron!