AI: The Somnium Files (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: Although the article has no representations of this, be aware that this is a murder mystery game while the murders are ongoing, so there are bloody scenes of violent death, and several themes including parental abuse, obsessional behaviour and stalking, and the like are involved.

Spike Chunsoft make wild rides. Pseudoscience made real in the fiction, murder, heartbreaking moments, and time being… Fluid are all hallmarks, and AI: The Somnium Files is definitely no different. And oh, boy, it is indeed a wild ride. And one that may annoy, if you don’t take the old adventure game adage of “Save Early, Save Often.”

Considering the context, yeah, this is pretty accurate.

The general premise, then. You are Date, a Psyncer (someone who can enter someone’s dreams), working for a relatively secret agency called ABIS (Pronounced Abyss, or maybe… Apis? There’s a lot of egyptian deities mentioned, y’see), and a serial killer is on the loose… Perhaps a copycat killer from six years ago. And a lot of things aren’t right. With the case. With your boss. With Date himself. And with Aiba, your AI eyeball friend who’s also… Seems to have the hots for Dante, in the oddest way.

This is part of what… Aiba might think is a dance? Look, things are weird.

Oh, and hidden collectibles and branching paths in a flowchart. Mustn’t forget those. So, anyway: The game is mostly split into two parts: Investigating a scene and talking to people, and the Somnium, the dreamworld of either Date, or… Whoever you’re ordered to PSYNC with, for information relating to the case. And yes, it uses dream logic. The tutorial example has a light switch covered by thorns, and a Winter Iris that cannot be moved nearby, but can still be interacted with because… It’s lit. So you don’t move it. You… Inhale it. Dream logic. But, from this point on, there’s a big catch: You have 6 minutes. The upside is that it only goes down when you’re moving or interacting in the dream world (through your partner, Aiba.) The downside is that understanding the logic of that particular dream may well take a lot of tries, and often, there are multiple solutions that lead to different results.

I… I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question. What the hell?

Aesthetically, apart from some awkward animations, and pink text for Aiba ([check for colourblind options]), the game has a solid visual style, great music, and some good voice acting. The writing is colourful, with a mix of silly references to a variety of things (including other Spike Chunsoft games, The Terminator, and The X-Files), and it drew me in, even when I knew what would come from previous experience with Spike Chunsoft titles, and some solid, foreboding foreshadowing. The humour does fall flat sometimes, and Date’s horniness is… It’s groan inducing a fair bit of the time.

There is a rather sudden shift later in the game, and some paths in the story (Yes, there are branching paths you want to explore to get the honest to goodness ending) are blocked by things you need to get further in the story than I perhaps would have liked, but, overall, I like Spike Chunsoft’s interesting takes on the formulae they work with, and this game is no exception.

The Mad Welshman A unlocked! [Picture of TMW drawn in crayon]

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Agent A: A Puzzle In Disguise (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Agent A is, some Simon puzzles and a couple of brute forcers aside, a fairly good puzzle game where I’ve never felt the need for a walkthrough (the urge, yes. But not the need.) So that’s quite a pleasant start, both to the review and the game itself. But hot-damn, it also has some moments in the game that make this review really hard to write, because I have to avoid spoilers that I really want to talk about.

If only I could… Put a secret code or something with spoilers in (No, I have not in fact done this)

Still, let’s give this a go. Agent A is, as you might have guessed from the subheader, a Myst style “Explore a place, solving puzzles as you go.” Except it’s not uninhabited, and it is, in fact, the home of the antagonist, enemy spy Ruby LaRouge, who has a reputation for “dismissing” enemy agents, a reputation you witness the truth of just a few hours before you trail her to her hideout.

And ohhh, she’s a good antagonist. Vaudevillainous as a James Bond villain, confident, sadistic… It feels like she’s taunting you a lot more than she actually is, because her presence lingers. So… What about the puzzles?

These are never good words to hear from a sadistic enemy agent.

Well, the good news is that with most of them, the clues are there if you know where to look for them, and the item puzzles only take a little bit of wandering and futzing before you work them out. The colour ones appear to be colour blind friendly (As always, corrections on this from folks with colourblindness appreciated, but it does seem to be holding to the “Difference in both hue and light value” rule that works best), and there are only a few Simon style or brute force puzzles (of which the piano, in Chapter 1, is the worst to my mind. As soon as I saw a pianola roll, I audibly groaned.)

The controls are also pretty simple, although there’s some slowness to the movement that may not be appreciated: Left click does a thing, left drag moves a thing or drags a thing from inventory to be used, right click is “Go back a bit.” And that last one works because the tree of rooms and zones is kept relatively tight. But it should be noted that the perceptive player, who has their screenshot button handy, is rewarded (not just in puzzle clues, but… Other information), whereas the one not looking at everything they humanly can will have a much tougher time. It’s that sort of game. Heck, there are even secret things to do, ones I’ve definitely missed on this review playthrough.

What, you thought those cars that could turn into submarines stored themselves?

Still… The game looks good. The music is good. The voice acting is solid, especially the antagonist who comprises the majority of the game, and its clarity works for it. It’s also an experience that feels longer than it is (in a good way), and has some replay value if you’re a perfectionist. But mostly, it does what it says on the tin, tightly, and with a little panache, and I can quite easily recommend this one for the puzzlers out there. But remember, Ruby is mean, and that is all the warning I can give you!

The Mad Welshman sometimes chafes under the need to hide spoilers, as many people do. Although… He does like hearing the shocked cries of “The hell?” as people get to certain plot points too… Decisions, decisions…

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Blood Pact (NSFW Review)

Content Warning: This game involves domination/submission, a tentacle encounter, hard oral sex (facefucking), some degradation, one light mind control element, and a trans-lesbian encounter. The game also presents these content warnings as an option before play, and it is recommended you read them beforehand.

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A Harmless Bite (NSFW Review)

Big ol’ Content Warning! Although this game does take an interesting and nonfatal approach to its kink (hard vore, aka “Person gets eaten, and not whole”), it does involve the aforementioned fantastical kink, and, as a result, gore, sometimes heavy gore, although no depictions of this are in the article. You have been warned.

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Alt Frequncies (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where to Get It: Steam

Time loops. A poorly understood phenomenon, with many potential dangers. Do folks remember their time looping? Is it really ethical to kick off a time loop? Why would you kick off a time loop? And, let’s be fair here… Why Monday?

Yes, now… What was it again? (Default is down arrow)

Such is the story behind Alt Frequencies, in which a dystopian government has ensured it’s always Monday. Why? That’s… Not terribly clear. Something about controlling the masses by always having the same things to deal with? Nonetheless, a small resistance has worked out that it is, in fact, always Monday, and are asking you to fight, with the power of recording and sending radio clips.

Alt-Frequencies is, on the accessibility front, mostly good. It’s audio based, but with closed captioning and screen reading, it’s visually very clear, and so, it’s relatively easy to play: So long as you remembered your keybinds. Because it doesn’t prompt you with them. So if you, say, started the game without looking at the keybinds, well… That mandatory tutorial is suddenly a little more frustrating.

You do. And yet you flub it. So damn hard.

But where it, alas, becomes more frustrating is that it is not always very clear what has progressed things, and that, when it progresses… Well, it goes so quickly, that its plot beats don’t really land. Or end up contradicting themselves. Oh look, the journalist on the mainstream news station suddenly thinks those not affected by the memory aspect of the time loop are terrorists. Were they gotten to, since they remember the loop? Not clear. And no, it’s not really explained why the government are doing this. So…

All this, is, honestly, a shame. It’s a good idea, mixed with some good accessibility features that are baked in, and yet… It doesn’t stick the landing, and there’s not a whole lot else I can say beyond that. The voice acting varies from solid to slightly hammy, and some characters are well written (The obnoxious Talk.FM, guy, for example, is exactly as obnoxious as intended), but when the core writing isn’t so solid? Well, that makes it less enjoyable.

Silently ticks the box marked “Asshole”, moves swiftly on…

Fans of experimental idea may like this one, but, unfortunately, it bounced off me, and I can’t really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman wasn’t sure what was more infuriating about reviewing this: Avoiding heavy spoilers, or trying to list the plot threads that just suddenly cut off in his head while doing so…

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