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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Dungeon Girl (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: 
£8.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This review took a while because, at first, it’s somewhat hard to see what the problem is with Dungeon Girl. After all, how complex, or intricate, or messy could a game really be, when its main game loop consists of clicking on groups of same-coloured blocks to remove them, and other blocks fall down?

Looks p. simple, and the main action (clicking on those blocks) *is* . Everything else? Nooooot so much…

As it turns out, a fair bit. So let’s get into Dungeon Girl, in which a dungeon explorer for the Kingdom explores dungeons, albeit not in the fashion many are used to.

Dungeon Girl is, simply put, a block removing turn-based game with RPG mechanics. There are several kinds of blocks, but the most important (and common) are Life (Heals you), Work (Digs out ore), Search (Finds the exit to each floor), and Attack (Does what it says on the tin.) More blocks of the same colour make for a larger effect, and if one or more rows of the grid are filled with a block-type when you remove it, this has another extra effect. 200 dungeon floors, bosses roughly every fifteen floors, stairs roughly every 5 floors, and if you get damaged or your Mind meter goes to 0% , you lose that exploration run.

What’s that? I didn’t mention Mind? Are there Mind Blocks? What are these RPG mechanics? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated. Yes, there are Mind blocks, uncommon as they are. There are also items that heal mind. There’s also quests, and item mixing, and an item encyclopedia, and support members with their abilities and skill grids to put Friend Points in, and… Oh, your eyes are already glazing over. Yes. Mine did too, until suddenly some of these things become important. While others… Don’t. So much. So far. This, readers, is the problem here. It’s a game whose core game loop is simple enough, but everything surrounding it isn’t. And not a whole lot of it feels very useful, whether it is or isn’t. I can, for example, affect the tile drop rate by changing my Adventurer Type, unlocked by specific Friend Point tiles on their skill grids. I can also unlock their Stories, little vignettes, and extra HP, and Treasure Keys, and…

Yes. Yes. This is definitely a skill square. Those are definitely words, and abilities, and rising numbers.

…And while a fair amount of this is explained, not all of it is explained well, and so I’ve shied away from certain features because I genuinely can’t grasp their utility. These Object Points are good, huh? How do I… How do I get more of them? What does that actually do? I have Nono’s Bento at something like +4 , with 7 of them, at 0P. Looking at the help explains it a little, but I have 7 Nono’s Bentos, a +4 that doesn’t seem to do anything, and no bonus (the Help tells me it’s because I haven’t got enough of Nono’s Bento to unlock said bonus.) As such, mixes have largely been left the hell alone in my playthrough, and types left unchanged. Nothing seems to have suffered as a result.

But how are these items gotten? Treasure chests. Which require keys. Which require either unlocking skill grid items on party members (Considering how quickly the Friend Point requirement for the next grid item rises, this is not a preference) or Quests. Quests refresh every ten game days (three moves a day) in a dungeon, and, while some are perfectly do-able (Remove X blocks of Y type, Remove X blocks in one go of Y type Z times, Don’t Get Hurt for X turns), others seem, at best, counterproductive for their gains (Reduce yourself to 20% HP! Fight 5 enemies at once!) and others a matter of luck or speed, rather than skill (Fight X enemies, Fight Y rare enemies.) There’s conflicting elements here, and while choosing between them adds to the difficulty (because treasure chests can only be opened with keys), some seem particularly silly. Use X stairs? Er, yes, because I really want to be going deep quicker when my attack isn’t actually good enough for five floors down right now.

Dungeon Girl started somewhat enjoyable, a little confusing, a little popcorny, and I can see how folks who gave up on it early disliked it for “simple” gameplay. Over time, though, I’ve grown to dislike it because it’s not simple. It’s a hodgepodge of systems that aren’t terribly well explained, with elements fighting each other over how you should progress using its “simple” game loop. Which is less simple because that hodgepodge of elements seems to be affecting, behind the scenes, how well I attack, or the like. To the point where even explaining why it feels like a hodgepodge has turned this review… Into a hodgepodge.

While this ends well, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a good way of going about things. Also, I like pineapple on pizza.

The Mad Welshman loves tooltips. But tooltips, as he’s found elsewhere, are of little use when you don’t know the tooltip is there.

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Posthuman: Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Second Update (2/8/18)

The post mutation landscape is one hell of a place, alright. A wide open world, filled with all sorts of folk. Death is pretty much certain, and if it isn’t from violence, it’s from losing all hope in a world where old Homo Sap has been replaced by Homo Instert-Here-As-Many-Times-As-Necessary.

The contour lines are a nice touch, visually speaking, and I like the clarity.

Welcome to Posthuman: Sanctuary, a not-quite adaptation of the survival board game of the same name. Although, at the present stage, the major shift from the board game, a story mode, is not available. Still, there’s survival mode, and, right now? That’s a fairly replayable doozy, with a few quibbles.

The overall idea is that you’re trying to get to three specific waypoints on the map, eventually reaching the fabled Sanctuary. However, to get there, not only do you have to unlock those waypoints by visiting certain tile types (Forests, Mountains, Rural Areas, and Cities) in a specific order before you get to them, you have to deal with hunger, morale, the loyalty of any fellow survivors you meet along the way, mutants… And the possibility you’ll mutate yourself (At which point you’ll no longer be welcome in this strictly human sanctuary.) Not having had the foresight to scan the surroundings yourself (and with Google Maps long gone), you don’t actually know much of what’s beyond your safezone, beyond the existence of the waypoints, and certain survivors.

Add in weather, the fact you take one action a day (out of Scouting, Moving, Foraging, and Camping), and it costs food per day, combat, and events, and… Well, good luck!

A fine example: Karl Marx murdered me just a turn or two after this picture. Turns out the Kommune are badasses.

Aesthetically, the game is currently fairly good visually, with a clear, comic like style, and musically alright, with tracks that aren’t intrusive, but fit their mood quite well. The UI’s pretty clear, although it must be said that it would be nice, certainly, to know how many survival points I have to my next character unlock.

It would also be a good time to point out that hitting the options at the start, minimalist as they currently are, would be a good idea due to the simple virtue of noticing that there are R Rated events, and turning them off if you don’t like that idea. They may well be on the level of “I slept with this person, and it felt good” , but I can understand that’s not for everyone, and the game has enough to deal with as it is. Funnily enough, post apocalyptic settings are not nice places to be, so I’ve dealt with lynch mobs, cannibals, mutant haters and human haters alike, and a bundle of other not nice folks.

Apart from that, and my other niggle that once you select an event, you can’t seem to unselect it (which has been rather trying when I misclicked) , the game, honestly, feels alright at the present stage. Combat is easy to understand, the board portion is easy to understand, and I haven’t felt dicked over any more than I would expect in a board game, in a post apocalyptic setting, where life is kinda rough. It’s nice to see a clear UI, and explanations of events easily accessible, the events are interesting, the world seems interesting, and I look forward to seeing more.

On the one hand, shades of grey, fairly nice. On the other, it’s basically Mutants/Humans right now, which… Well, that’s an approach that has its issues.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a bad survivor. An okay tyrant, sure… But a bad survivor.

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Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

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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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