Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

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The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Overland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Itch.IO , Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Regardless of the kind of apocalypse… Well, okay, except for the murderdogpocalypse… Your best friend is a Good Boy. And I should know, because I’ve been meeting a lot of Good Boys in Overland. Some that bork. Some that bite. And some that can just carry things, search through bins for fuel, and drop it where I need it. And I do need it, because I’m trying to get to the West Coast, while crystalline insectile gribbleys are trying to stab my face off.

Welcome to Overland, a game about making hard choices.

No matter what I ram, the car will explode. So my best bet is to get out of the car, and lead them away. Welp.

Now, at first, you may be confused into thinking this is a survival strategy game, one of kicking the shit out of those gribbleys, and being the badass. No. Attacking these crystal insects, while a thing you will have to do occasionally, is a bad idea. Because it summons more of them. And you can’t stay long, either, because they hunt by sound, and if one of them’s found you (and it’s never just one), you can guarantee more are coming too. Mostly, it’s luring the bastards, trying to keep out of their reach, while grabbing whatever you humanly can.

Alas, sometimes, you risk too much. And sometimes, somebody else fucks it up for you. Because not all survivors are friendly, and the unfriendly survivors tend to a) Attack things if they have a weapon on the first turn, summoning more, and b) Run around like headless chickens, getting in your way. And, sad to say, not all survivors carry something useful, or are useful. On the run where I got to demonstrate both these things, both survivors I’d picked up had succulents, and, softie that I am, I let them keep them. At least one of them got a bobble hat, toward the end. That was cute.

Dogs are, as it turns out, good listeners.

So… Crit. The game is hard. And I do mean hard. I only managed to get to the third area in early access, because the second has creatures that can run two squares, on top of the small ones, and the bigger ones that take two hits to kill. And, even with a feature that lets you go to areas you’ve unlocked, I’ve had trouble. Sometimes, that isometric camera gets in the way of important information, and, while I’ve yet to find an example where it did that to important items, I have seen it when it comes to enemies. Finally, the game does try to incentivise a full run with secret areas unlocked in the next part of the map if you carry a survivor who knows where one is past the blockade at the end of the level. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

Aesthetically, though, it’s quite pleasing. The survival music is tense, but low key, the camping music is wistful, and makes a nice backdrop to survivors who are having trouble keeping it together, and the low poly look is pretty good. Also the clarity of what it takes to kill enemies is very nice indeed, even if killing them most definitely isn’t the point, and you’re not going to have the resources to do so for the majority of the game. Writing wise, the procgen backgrounds are short and to the point, and the same with the conversations. They add a little character, without getting in the way of things.

You killed my friend, you weaselly fuck. I’d kill you, but word gets around, and I’d never be able to trade again. I’m glad you’re surrounded, though… Asshole.

Overall, while I can appreciate the difficulty, and that puzzle, rather than combat focused gameplay would be turnoffs, I enjoy Overland, even if it doesn’t particularly like me. It’s a game of thought, its aesthetic pleases me, and its encouragement of risk management is fun to me.

The Mad Welshman is not a big fan of hard decisions, and yet… He likes them in games. Odd.

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Kind Words (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Kind Words is a game with the best of intentions: Put simply, you write… Kind words. Sometimes they’re words of encouragement. Sometimes, they’re words of understanding. Sometimes, they’re shared pleasures. Sometimes, if you feel you have the capability to give it, they’re words of advice.

True dat. Men especially, take this one to heart.

So, disclosure time: I’m a depressive. Not as bad as others, but still I have my very bad days, and don’t deal well. So it was actually somewhat nice to see a game like this, where comforting beats are the only music, to send out a few of my problems and receive advice of varying usefulness, kind words, and the sympathy of shared experiences. But… I want to put out a few disclaimers.

This isn’t going to replace a support network, and you shouldn’t go in thinking that. It has some heavy requests, so people who have a lot of empathy aren’t going to be doing themselves any favours. Follow the advice of the devs, in not giving away personal deets. And the advice will vary in mileage, just as it does anywhere else. Remember folks, if you can see mental health professionals, or be prescribed medication/therapy, please do so. Okay, disclaimers over. Let’s talk about what you actually do.

Hugs are not always okay. But I have yet to meet someone who misunderstands a warm beverage offered kindly.

So, essentially, you have 14 lines in which to respond to 7 line requests. You are rewarded for offering those kind words to others, be it advice, clarification on a question they have, kind words, or sympathy, in two different ways: Stickers, and, daily, a musical track offered by your anxious mail delivery deer, who’s building a mix-tape for you to help deal with their own anxiety. That’s… Pretty nice, actually. And everything is anonymous, and there is a report button (sadly, always looking like it isn’t active. But it is, always) if something’s up (So far, the devs have been very good at moderating.)

If somebody likes your advice, they’ll send you a sticker. Anonymously. And likewise, you get to make your own requests for advice or kind words, with that aforementioned 7 line limit. Finally, you get to write more general kind words (7 line limit), and send them off in a paper plane, which then flies past other people’s rooms for them to click on if they so choose.

And, while it has been a criticism levelled at the game, that you don’t see who liked your advice, or get replies back, it’s… Honestly understandable. It’s specifically for these short little bursts of kind words, and, if we’re being honest, the anonymising of names through initials (J wrote this, T wrote that…) means that it would be hard to remember what piece of advice you offered.

Aww, bless you, little Mail Deer. And I’m glad your mixtapes are helping you, they’re legit good.

Aesthetically, the game has a few nice touches. While stickers are limited, each one adds a decoration to your small, isometric bedroom/writing room, the stars of the background are a nice use of the negative space (and I found it pleasing that they form, as you scroll up to the room, the word LOVE. Which is LOVEly.) Musically, it’s chillhop, almost ambient, relaxing beats that put you in the right frame of mood to be calm, and maybe help some folks out.

Overall, while the disclaimers I made are still very true, it has, apart from the odd request that was either silly (not in terms of a silly situation, but a non-question) or emotionally draining to me (part of the devs’ help here is a button linking mental health resources as part of the making and replying to requests UX), been a pleasant experience, and one I return to, for a short time each day (as intended), just… Sending what positive vibes and warm beverages I can. And that’s what it’s there for.

The Mad Welshman approves of more kindness in the world. Don’t fuck that up, please.

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Hot Lava (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

When I first looked at Hot Lava, I very much enjoyed its first person platforming. I even expressed that it was one hell of a shock that I was, because, generally speaking, first person platforming puzzles are bollocks, and most people remember them unfondly. But no, I stand by that. The first person platforming is fun. I also stand by the GATS theme being bad. Sorry, Klei.

You will perhaps grow to hate this sister. But it’s not, strictly speaking, her fault.

So… Several areas now exist, each with 6 levels to complete, and, in each of them, you are, essentially, trying to get to the end by jumping on things that aren’t lava. Jumping on, or into lava is obviously bad. Falling too far is obviously bad. Being fast is good. And, to be fair, there’s a fair few ways you can go faster, each with their pros and cons.

For example, you can use Hot Lava’s variation on the bunny hop, where you leap, then both turn and strafe in a direction to pick up speed . The downsides of this are that it takes skill to pull off consistently, and it changes your route precisely because you’re going faster. Then there’s the usual thing of a tighter line (can I skip this tiny jump for this slightly bigger one that gets me where I need to go), and the final one that, so long as you know where the final checkpoint is, you can go straight there, skipping checkpoints along the way (The problem being, of course, that it’s longer between checkpoints, or maybe no checkpoints at all, so I hope you got it right!)

The fake loot boxes have, as far as I’m aware, been removed, replaced with “You get customisations for getting stars in missions”, although the collectibles are still there: Cards, both in lava world, and the normal one, and hidden GATS comics and golden pins in the levels themselves. You can even, once you’ve found the mini science-project style mountain, enter the lava world to just explore and get those cards, with no time pressure.

The Gym is, honestly, not a bad place. Especially since the pole collisions have somewhat improved. Ignore the time, I was just here for a collectible.

Still… The mention of the two in-level collectibles reminds me of one gripe about the game: a biggie. Chase the thing levels. Always last in the level order, and always painful, even in Early Access, they’re actually somewhat worse now. Before, if you got too far away, you’d lose, but you could still take routes that would catch whatever you were chasing, or even get in front of them. Now… Well, they have a pretty good route, although they all seem to be your sister, constrained by the same things you are, and catching them because you actually got in front of them? No longer counts. It’s a fail state. Not gonna lie, if I was clever enough to get to a route that actually beat said sister? I want that reward.

Without that objective, it’s basically an endurance match: No checkpoints, do it all well in one try, try and do elements of the characters route well enough that you catch them from behind. And the last one in particular, “Chase the Meaning” , can fuck right off. When I’m shaking from trying to do the same first segment twelve times, and know there’s no checkpointing, I’m not having a good time with your obstacle course.

Global Action Team: Bad Idols To Look Up To.

So… Aesthetics and narrative time… Oh, that’s right, there’s a narrative, of sorts. See, the prologue has you going to bed via… Well, playing the game of “Floor is Lava” with your sister. Except… There’s something horrible. And that something horrible scares you on the very last part of your journey… Which happens to be the balcony over the living room. The Global Action Team comics show them to be failures, misinterpreting situations, being gulled easily… Even stealing. And then… Well, suffice to say, I won’t spoil it, but you can possibly guess.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned theme song, the game works well. Everything is clear, including those bits you wish weren’t, the environments are plausible and well crafted, the character models are fun, and the music shifts pretty well from the playful tones… To darker ones… To hard driving ones… To, in some cases, almost silence. And all of them thematically work with the level in question (Oh, and the music is quieter when you’re not running all willy-nilly, a sign you should maybe get moving, squirt!)

Overall, Hot Lava is good, and I would recommend it. I would, however, repeat that the “Chase the” segments can go to hell, and I don’t say such things lightly.

The Mad Welshman will, one day, get all the stars. That day, however, is a long way off. But he has a fair few.

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