LOCALHOST (Review)

Source: Cashmoney
Price: $4.99+ (Approx. £3 , with the option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

“It’s just a self defense mechanism.”

Androids and Gynoids are, in a very real sense, a way to treat dehumanisation. The feelings are invalid because you’re constructed. You are a made thing, not a born thing. And LOCALHOST plays on that pretty well. After all, you’re not being paid to care. You’re being paid to erase drives. Data. Nothing… More…

Oh, don’t worry, that’s just *simulated* pain/shock/fright they experience on waking, part of the boot-up process!

A little context here: LOCALHOST is a visual novel by Aether Interactive, set in a grim, dystopic robotics shack where your boss has informed you, a new hire, that you have to wipe four drives. Of course, very quickly, you realise a problem: They don’t particularly want to be deleted. And, having personalities (An uploaded human personality; the original host, LOCAL, a troublesome model line that keeps achieving self-awareness; A network admin AI, and something else), they argue their case. They have personalities. They have histories. Although the final determination is up to you, what seems to matter is that all the drives are both wiped… And not broken.

As such, the game is more about the journey than the destination. Do you try to explain love to an AI that thinks it knows what love is? Do you try to understand how a human upload is meant to have mistakenly arrived in this workshop, or what connection it has to LOCAL? Or do you simply take the seemingly most efficient route to convince them to unlock their own drives for deletion?

“And yet, you know this LOC-192 model. Please, tell me more, and remember that this conversation is being recorded for monitoring and training purposes.”

It’s interesting to note how much attention has been paid to making things seem just a little bit off. The music by Christa Lee varies depending on the situation and the personality you’re talking to, but they all have some subtle dissonance, something that doesn’t seem to quite fit, even if I can’t put a name to what it is. The visuals, by Penelope Evans and Arielle Grimes, are dirty, but subtly evoke different personalities in the single, broken gynoid body you see throughout. Sophia Park and Penelope Evans, meanwhile, give the idea, through the writing of the dialogue and characters, that it’s not just these drives that are dysfunctional. Assisants are Gynoids, and Workers are Androids. Such a simple phrase, but the matter of fact way in which this can be stated implies a society where yes, gender roles are firm, even if they don’t fit, and even if they only apply to the droids in question, it’s pretty grim.

Overall, I’d recommend LOCALHOST, and, since a single playthrough can be completed quickly, to play it through more than once. Maybe you’ll break everything. Maybe you’ll just do your job… Maybe… Just maybe… You might end up doing something at least nominally good in a dystopian world.

Er… Yes. There’s no false standard here, friendo, it’s just the rules. We put “Droid pain doesn’t actually matter” next to that bylaw about chickens.

The Mad Welshman broke a drive. It was an accident. He is simulating sadness nonetheless.

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World of Darkness Preludes (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

White Wolf, purveyors of the World of Darkness (In which supernatural creatures of various kinds try to deal with their problems, including the need for secrecy) have… Very identifiable writing, at times. Style, they can do. Purple prose, they can do. The fantastic, they can often make believable, even relatable.

Subtlety, nuance, and focus, however, are often things that escape them. And these two pieces of Interactive Fiction very aptly demonstrate this. When one of your two showpieces is called (no joke) “We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead”, you know you’re in for a very White Wolf time. Whether you will enjoy that time very much depends on you. But I’m not betting on it. Let’s unpack why.

I’M SUBTLY SAYING THIS ISN’T SUBTLE, FOLKS!!!!

First up, let’s get the nice out of the way, because it’s all too brief. The mobile phone conceit of We Eat Blood is a nice one. Not one we haven’t seen before, but it works in the context, and allows for multiple threads. That’s good. Similarly, Refuge (The Mage portion of this twofer) has some cool visual stylings you’d associate with Mage (glitching, sigils, and the like.) So, visually, the stylings are pretty good. Similarly, for the most part, the tunes and sounds are also well presented.

So, there’s your style. Mostly. But the core of an Interactive Fiction is the writing, and its here… Where it starts to fall down. The general premise is that these are introductions, two people thrust into their respective supernatural worlds. But both quickly run into their own problems. Let’s begin with We Eat Blood, the stronger of the two. You are an artistic type, a drug user, general fun-haver, and, after a party, everything went horribly wrong. You can’t eat food anymore. You feel hungry as heck all the time. You have to learn how to deal with this. Oh, and your dead mother is also a vampire, a creepy one speaking in imagery, and there’s a racist bus driver, a lab monkey turned ghoulish killer, and…

Hey, did you know that vampires were originally more zombie like, and sex had next to nothing to do with things? Well, now you do!

…It has a hard time keeping focus. There’s a lot going on in We Eat Blood, and it’s about as subtle as a bag of bricks wrapped around a smaller bag of bricks. The main character is an artist surrounded by artist friends because it allows really purple prose about how sexual bloodsucking is for a vampire, oh my god it’s so good, it’s like having communion with God, only that communion is also fucking, and… I didn’t actually mind that so much, having experienced my fair share of it when I enjoyed White Wolf RPGs (I still do, to some extent.) But the story is trying to build a world that’s meant to entice you into the World of Darkness without actually referring to things, so as to keep the mystery going, so if I didn’t know WoD, old or new, I wouldn’t have realised (possibly until the end) that I’m a Nosferatu, my mother’s a Malkavian… I could go on, but there are supernatural things, and Hunters (yes, with a capital H) and Ghouls, without explanation or context, and, rather than entice, it somewhat turned me off with how it seemed a collection of incidents without any real focus.

Now, I mentioned a racist bus driver, just off hand, and this is as good a segue as any into the Mage portion of the duo, Refuge. The name is, I’m assuming, a play on words on a couple of levels, as the main character is a woman called Julia, who lives in Malmo, Sweden, working for Nordic Aid with Syrian refugees. Her husband is a maker from San-Dieg- Oh. Wait. This would be a good time to mention this half of the duet I ragequit pretty early on. Because, like We Eat Blood, it’s highly unsubtle, and reading it felt like a highly painful clout to the head.

So… Minor digression here: Done well, games that discuss Issues (capital I, the big problems facing us today) are perfectly fine. Done badly, you have something very much like Refuge. Our heroine is a loving wife for a techbro who’s helping the girls into Maker culture, and is obviously the “good” , and the introduction of the “bad”… Is where I ragequit.

Yes, I get that this so-called “Professor” hasn’t actually *read* any Clarke or Asimov, if they’re saying dumb shit like this. Yes, I get that we are constrained by our “nice person” character to only be mean passively or actively. I GET IT.

Julia, I largely didn’t feel one way or the other about until this segment. She’s “generic nice person”, so generic, in fact, that it wasn’t until I looked at the store page that I realised she was a she (The first person narrative doesn’t help there.) But while yes, this guy is an asshole who, I would lay money, will be at the right-wing rally that apparently happens later in the game (Because this is a game about Issues as well as the introduction to the world of Mage), these responses are… Bad. And this so-called professor is quite obviously Bad, and the main character is so obviously Good, and I can almost hear the capital letters forming around this narrative. I could also hear poor ol’ Dr. A starting to revolve rapidly in his grave, but that’s purely by the by. When, before the bad things even happen, you find the reader yelling “I F*(!IN’ GET ITTTT!”, like Billy Connolly at an opera, it is a sign that you are handling things with all the subtlety of a Bagger trying to do microsurgery.

It may come as no surprise to learn that most of the story revolves around the Nordic Aid, magical elements kind of take a background to the whole thing for most of the narrative, and that the black-and-white presentation continues pretty much throughout. Oh, and for those of us waiting to hear if the Mage elements are as formulaic as they can be, yes, the character Awakens at a rave.

In summary, while We Eat Blood is unfocused in places, it is definitely the superior of the two games, but… Honestly, I can’t recommend either. They’re not terribly good at introducing you to the World of Darkness, or even their relative segments of it, there’s only the tiniest hints of subtlety in the writing at places, one character is only halfway relatable (We Eat Blood’s, who is still an asshole), while the other is a cookie cutter Nice Person, and, because of their primary conceit, you may not even realise there are multiple paths through the game (Seemingly mainly influenced by early choices), because of course the game isn’t going to tell you you’re a Nosferatu, or a Gangrel, or a Hollow One, or whatever the hell. And that, funnily enough, is sort of a problem. They become generic, rather than part of their world, one by trying to introduce too many elements, the other by sidelining the magical elements with a hamhanded handling of the refugeee crises in our world and the resurgence of nazi assholes calling themselves the “alternative right wing.”

Hitting that “Compassion” button like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, it’s good advice… But there’s a page and a half of this. I’M TALKING ABOUT SUBTLETY AGAIN, IN CASE YOU HADN’T NOTICED.

The Mad Welshman remembers the names of all the supernatural beings who cross his path. There’s That Guy, and That Thing, and This Thing, and… 

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Ladykiller In A Bind (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $30
Where To Get It: Official Site

NB: This review contains mature content. If you are not mature, or at least willing to pretend to be about sex, then stroll the fuck on. Thanks, TMW.

Sex is a good metaphor for many things, because it has mechanical elements, artistic elements, and emotional elements. Fun or “Good” sex isn’t just about pacing, or sensation, or those feels, it’s about the interplay between these things. A good game, as such, is like a good fuck, in that it plays on your emotions, while not being super awkward about the actual motions, and not finishing too quickly or going too slowly, instead working with you. It’s a mutual thing.

But, at the same time, they're also making demands, whether they're entitled to, or... Oh, shit, sorry, carry on! *blush*

But, at the same time, they’re also making demands, whether they’re entitled to, or… Oh, shit, sorry, carry on! *blush*

So, as you might imagine, I’ve been quite pleased with the latest offering from Love Conquers All, Ladykiller In A Bind (LKIAB, or, to use its full title, My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress As Him And Now I Have To Deal With A Geeky Stalker And A Domme Beauty Who Want Me In A Bind!!) Not only is it a game about sex, it’s also designed around this thought process.

Of course, it also helps that it has BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism) elements as well, which warms my Dommy little heart… Because good media about BDSM in general requires a bit of discernment to find. Now that we’ve kicked off this train of thought, however, it’s time to unpack it. Let’s begin with the mechanical end, and how it ties into pacing.

While a Visual Novel, all too often, is a case of “Pick from X options”, LKIAB allows the choice of passively letting the conversation continue. This may not seem like a game-changer, or may remind you of the “Do not pick anything” in some Telltale games… But it is, because it ties in with the seductions that litter this erotic game. Let’s imagine, for example, you are talking to somebody in a situation you don’t know your way around. Waiting could give you the conversational opening you need… It could put a person at their ease because they’re in control… Or it can make someone think you’re playing games. Meanwhile, one option that often crops up is a “Flirty” option. Flirt too quickly, and you might arouse suspicion. Wait too long, and the moment will pass. Thus, the conversation has risk, and if that suspicion gets too high? Well, the rich kids our heroine is mingling with are, for the most part, not going to take that well.

And, since you're impersonating your cruel and machiavellian brother... Sometimes *no* option's a good one.

And, since you’re impersonating your cruel and machiavellian brother… Sometimes *no* option’s a good one.

And this applies in two very different ways to the main relationships, The Stalker/Nerd and The Beauty/Princess (Character names are customisable, which bit me on the ass somewhat when I named the Prince, the brother of the Beast, and thus the person the main character is impersonating, That Asshole. Shoulda thought that one through, really.) Put at their simplest, the Stalker is a sub, or bottom, while The Princess is a dom, or top. Visit the Stalker, and you can gain more votes, at the risk of suspicion. Visit the Princess, and all that suspicion can go away… For the price of being her plaything for the night. Now, at this point, the importance of consent, a core element of BDSM, and the conversational mechanics come into play. For reference, I identify as a dom. With The Princess, one of the conversational options that’s very important is the agreement. It is from that moment on that, unless you use the safeword (And yes, you are given that option), you are explicitly giving your permission to be dommed, which, thanks to the writing, is an emotionally draining experience. Of course, you could choose to play it bratty, but that… Leads to punishment. But giving in to somebody, equally, is one hell of a thing.

Meanwhile, The Stalker path, for me at least, involved letting my subby little nerd know that yes, she does have boundaries, and she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want. It involved reassuring her, not taking advantage of the power offered, while teasing her mercilessly about how thirsty (In the lust sense) she is, and, seemingly paradoxically for those who’ve never been a sub, improving her confidence by showing her what she looks like during sex. There’s a lot of depth that I really can’t do justice in both paths, and indeed, with the other relationships on this boat. But hopefully, the screenshots are telling you a little more, and about how each person, rightly or wrongly, is dealing with sex, gender, and their sexuality.

I haven't mentioned the music, but the music is damn good, especially during the Princess segments.

I haven’t mentioned the music, but the music is damn good, especially during the Princess segments.

The 6 days of a first playthrough, for me, took around 4 hours. It’s not a series of hours I’m going to forget anytime soon, from the Dude’s overbearingly playful blackmail (Yo, Bro, obviously you’re the Prince, because obviously you know this thing that you didn’t claim to know, so hey, wanna shoot hoops and talk about the others? Classy, Bro), to the Photographer and the commentary on internet fame she seems to represent. If you want a mature game that treats sex maturely, then LKiaB is definitely worth a shot.

The Mad Welshman will always look out for you. Sometimes by tying you up… With your permission, of course.

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Killing Time At Lightspeed: Enhanced Edition (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO, Humble Store

It is a fact that, the faster you go, the slower time goes by. This phenomenon is often noted with drivers of 80s muscle cars, who are often amazed to find that they had been “Out all day” when they only intended a small dri-KTAL1

-Wait, I’m being informed by my editorial crew that this is for a different reason than time dilation at lightspeed. Which, in part, is what this clever, lo-fi visual novel is about. The rest? Becoming a stranger in a strange land, that land consisting entirely of the river of Time. Which is, I think you’ll agree, an awkward place to live, except that we somehow do it by not thinking about it too often.

As a visual novel, there are concessions to story and game. For example, you don’t have 50,000,000 social media messages to scroll through, rising as the game progresses, but much more managable, almost curated numbers, split into your social circle in FriendPage, and the news on Skimmit. Being a VN, there isn’t a time limit, and you go through the 30 minutes of interstellar travel at your own pace.KTAL2

Of course… You’ll nearly always be left behind. By the time you’ve left, Augmented Reality has finally hit. By the time you get there… A lot more has happened. Some might argue a bit too much for a single VN to cover. But it’s well written in its simplicity, and I felt a tiny tear or two trickle down my cheeks as, while I fulfilled my promise to never forget my friends, they forgot me. Some found happiness. Some just found new social media platforms. Others… Were never found again. Spending the last four or five days just clicking “refresh”, hoping for a message, an update that wasn’t failing ebooks accounts… Anything… Was just heartbreaking.

At least I was relatively certain they’re not dead. Relatively.

If you want a somewhat poignant game, with some good futurism behind it, Killing Time At Lightspeed is a good choice.

...Okay, I couldn't resist putting this one in. I'm moderately sure it's a joke. :P

…Okay, I couldn’t resist putting this one in. I’m moderately sure it’s a joke. 😛

The Mad Welshman doesn’t understand qubits. He was never In The Cloud. He feels terribly old.

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Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Spike Chunsoft, much like their serial antagonist of many faces, Zero, has left me in a bit of a pickle. Thankfully not one involving Running Man style exploding collars, or deathtraps, or locked rooms, but one involving that most dangerous of minefields for a reviewer. SPOILERS.

...Oh, it might be, it might not be. Every screenshot potentially is for me. :P

…Oh, it might be, it might not be. Every screenshot potentially is for me. 😛

Beyond what I just said, and the fact that I think the game is quite interesting and cool (And that it’s good news that the other two games, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward), you won’t find any. Or maybe you will. It can, in the middle of play, feel as confusing as whether this game is a sequel, a midquel, a threequel, or all of the above… Although I’m moderately sure “None of the above” is not a valid answer, leading only to the Bad End of dubious canon. I’m only going to tell you what you need to know to make a decision.

First up, it’s a voiced, 3D visual novel with puzzles that remind one of earlier games like The 7th Guest and Myst, where skipping dialogue for the first time through is not recommended, and where philosophy, Pop Quantum Physics, and death all reign. There are six billion lives at stake, and this is not a spoiler because you’re told that in the first minute or so of the bloody game. Click on things, move things, escape from rooms, and make choices that will have a momentous effect on the game’s world… Or not. If the Pop Quantum Physics mention didn’t clue you in, not everything is as it appears at first.

And that’s actually the second important thing to note that isn’t a spoiler. The game is, for the most part, non linear. Even in the middle of a puzzle, you can, for the most part, sod off to a different, unlocked part of the story, and the game relies on this for multiple reasons. At first, you will get annoyed at unlocking Bad Ends (Some messier than others), but as the game progresses… As more of the timeline unlocks… Those “Grr”s will soon turn to “Ohhhhhh”s and “Wait, WHA-”s. More of the former than the latter, which is a credit to the writing team.

...For example, even this beginning segment says things. :(

…For example, even this beginning segment says things. 🙁

Similarly, the voice acting team and musicians deserve kudos, because the English dub of this game is not bad at all. The VA in general is well delivered, the music is mostly fitting to its atmosphere and well crafted (The exceptions not actually being the musical and VA teams’ fault, as there is, unfortunately, a currently unpatched bug that sometimes cuts the music out before it’s meant to end, and if you don’t turn the music and SFX down a little, it sometimes overrides the voice acting), and, while the SFX aren’t always that great (About on par, I would say, with the aforementioned FMV adventure games of days gone by, so still alright), the visuals and area design managed to keep my interest for 8 straight hours in a row, helped along by an intriguing story with twists and turns aplenty.

Of course, no game is perfect. There are bugs, but thankfully not many. Some of the dialogue, due to the non-linear nature of the game, will feel repetitive even with the best VA and writing (And, often, the VA and writing dip into “Only fair to good”, with the occasional pun that even makes me groan. I’m not kitten…) Finally, it’s not greatly intuitive how to unlock certain scenes (Suffice to say, the triggers are sometimes spread across more than one scene), and that can lead to some frustration around the midgame.

Pictured: Not The Midgame, But Somewhat Eye-Murdering.

Pictured: Not The Midgame, But Somewhat Eye-Murdering.

But, as far as adventures go, this one is a corker. There is an internal logic, and it can be discerned, but exploration is a must, both through space and time. So long as you understand that, I think adventure fans and VN fans alike may well enjoy Zero Time Dilemma, and, while I wouldn’t call it a great introduction to either genre, if you feel like a challenge, this is well priced.

The Mad Welshman is now going to tell your future. You are going to scroll down from these words… Or up from the previous article in the list, and be injected with Rad-Spoiler-7. Fortunately, Rad-Spoiler-7, while 100% fatal otherwise, is the only known antidote to Irritato-BadEnd , which is 75% fatal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZTD4

ZTD5

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