Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Minimum $1, but if you drop less than $5 on it I’ll be disappointed in you.
Where to get it: Itch.IO

Anyone remember Cyber City Oedo 808? To me, it was one of the more interesting cyberpunk anime out there, because it not only had your oppressive government and criminals trying to fight the system (Albeit, because they were captured by the system, in small ways), but vampires, ghosts in the machine, and psychics. It was short, but it captured the imagination.

Cop uses Divinatory Pair of Hands, aka “Letting you know it’s fantastical right out of the gate.”

Divination, also, is short. But boy, does it capture the imagination. Imagine, if you will, a city that had, until a while ago, been run by Mother, an AI that, for some reason, decided that life was pointless, and, since the people believed her… Well, suicides and horror skyrocketed.

Imagine, if you will, a disembodied pair of hands in a room. They choose runes picked by their claimant, who is invited to their home with accurate predictions of their near future to tempt them. The payment for this service, answering one of their questions, is to recount a dream they had. Imagine four such divinations, each difficult questions, sometimes painful questions. And, at the end of those divinations, the hands sit back, look at what they have done… And are, for some reason, unsatisfied.

OBJECTIVE NOT REACHED: RESTARTING DIVINATION OF DIVINATIONS.

Divination is short, but goodness me, it has atmosphere, a clever gimmick, and replayability. Helped by the fact that you do not, strictly speaking, know what the runes mean yourself. Your avatar, the Diviner, most certainly does, as their confident predictions based on what you choose show (I was only disappointed once, but it was an important one), but you don’t. And arranging those symbols well is the key to your choice.

Aesthetically, the game has M O O D. A darkened room. Slow synth. The sharp tap of your steel fingers to change channels, meet guests… The red words on your screen, endlessly repeated, to speak. And the writing… As mentioned, some of the divinations are painful. Will my daughter wake up? Is there meaning to my (robotic) life? (Robots have, since Mother’s suicide, been fitted with anti-suicide protocols, so this is… A very important question.) And the dreams. From the very start, they’re disturbing, symptoms of a city clearly in pain. The English isn’t perfect, but the mood still gets across, and the mood is, for want of a better word, portentous.

Ouch. Yeah, you’re kinda right, Robot Buddy. At least I have the hope of being able to watch Doom Patrol sometime this century

I won’t spoil what’s most disturbing about it all, but… I got there, and it’s an interesting twist. Divination is cyberpunk as hell, albeit from a twisted perspective, it’s definitely got its horrific side, and I heartily recommend it for fans of short, mood-heavy narrative pieces.

The Mad Welshman has cast the runes, and he confidently predicts he’ll have 20+ reviews this month. No, he didn’t already know that, shut up!

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Tales of the Neon Sea: Chapters 1-3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, how adventure games have grown. Sometimes forward, sometimes sideways… Sometimes, they take lessons from earlier eras. I mostly like Tales of the Neon Sea, because it’s using old puzzles, and one of the oldest forms of adventure game stylings (The side-on, almost platformerish adventure), and making an interesting noirish story with it.

Remembering that robots are now sentient… Trafficking is entirely the right word. Eugh.

It helps that there is at least one section that is entirely from the viewpoint of a cybernetic cat. That, I feel, is a big draw in and of itself.

It is the noir future (Eh? Ehhhh?!?), and you are Rex, a down on his luck, psychic robot, in a world where robots and humans… Sort of co-exist. Suffice to say, bigotry is alive and well. A murder of a little old lady leads… Well, interesting places. To a robotic serial killer. To a cat mafia. To meddling in a very important election. And, on a more day to day level, disassembling your household appliances because you can’t afford to fix your helper robot properly.

We will have need of that courage and respect, if the Families are to prosper, my friend…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. Its pixel art is clear, and its text clearer, with context sensitive options, and, if you’re hitting E to examine and/or use like a wally, some fun hidden descriptions. Its grime contrasted with the bright lights fits the mood well, its character design is solid, and its music… Ah, atmospheric and fitting. A few of its puzzles (Mainly light/cable switching) could do with some colour-blindness support, but, overall, it’s visually pretty accessible, with a simple control scheme, and, while some segments have timing based elements, it’s mostly good for not being twitchy too.

In fact… It is, it must be said, a little slow paced. It’s a deliberate slow pace, a design choice, and I respect that, but when puzzles, especially later on, become these large, sprawling affairs, and even the run is a light jog, I can understand that would be a turn-off for some folks. However, the puzzles mostly fit in their world (Nothing really felt like a Resident Evil Lock, just… Security and some shoddy in-world workmanship), and the writing… The writing is enjoyable. Mostly light hearted, sometimes absurd, it nonetheless puts on the frighteners and those tense moments when it needs to.

“Why don’t you try adjusting the phase? That’s the… Rightmost dial…”

Overall, I’d say that Tales of the Neon Sea is a solid adventure, an interesting hybrid of traditional inventory hustling, platform puzzling, and just straight up puzzles. It should be noted that Tales of the Neon Sea is an episodic game, and, as such, the story is not quite complete (the later chapters are apparently releasing in the fall, so I shall take a look then), but there’s definitely a fair amount of play here, an interesting world, and I look forward to seeing more.

The Mad Welshman loves a good puzzle. He loves good robots. And he loves cats. So you might have to take this review with a grain of saline crystal or two.

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SEQUENCE STORM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re a data daemon down on your luck, sometimes even the shittiest of opportunities is a godsend. So it is for Elijah Gale who, having blown his last paycheck on a data daemon race, gets thrown into the world of… Rhythm racing hacking?

Our Protagonist, about to make the mistake that changes his life…

Bloody techno-capitalism, making programs that make no sense to the uninitiated…

Joking aside, Sequence Storm is, as noted, a rhythm racer, in which you are juggling inputs that race toward you, hitting them (or holding them) at the right times so as not to damage your racer, and do jobs for corporations. Although the default keyboard layout is a relatively sensible one, controller is still recommended, as there are a total of 9 things you have to keep an eye on (four bars, four lines, and a jump… Not to mention having to steer when you boost), and hitting buttons and triggers feels somewhat more intuitive than “Shift up one key, quickly right one key, wait, two keys right, yada yada.” And, while the tutorial does a really good job of letting you know what’s what, it also lets you know that the gloves are going to come off relatively early, leading to hectic times. Helpful tip: The bars to jump seem to be at a slightly later point than either the lines or blocks.

Why yes, I am a coward who screenshotted one of the lighter stretches.

So it’s kind of nice, then, that the early tunes are among the most relaxing synthwave beats I’ve listened to in a while. Makes a nice counterpoint to my swearing when I inevitably screw it up. A good soundtrack, with intuitive beat markers, is a hallmark of a good rhythm game, and Sequence Storm definitely provides on that front, whether that’s the lighter tracks, or the grim saws and bass. Aesthetically, it also works pretty well, whether that’s the comic style story segments (In which Elijah is trying to make his way in a world where AI have taken all the jobs), or the race segments, which have a low poly, visually clear charm.

Now… The thing is, the gloves come off early, and the game is not forgiving. Jump bars, in particular, don’t give much room for error, and I very quickly found that anything less than good, long streaks is going to fail me a run. Although it doesn’t look it at first, it gets twitchy, and it gets twitchy pretty quickly. Does that make it a bad game? No. Its inputs are responsive, and you can, over time, build up that muscle memory, even with the track twisting and turning in an attempt to throw you off, but it’s definitely going to throw off newcomers. Add in a challenge mode later, and… Well, it’s a tough game, and I don’t think it makes any bones about that.

Elijah’s Rig, in all its beautiful, low poly glory.

Still, personally, I see myself coming back to it every now and again, despite finding it somewhat unforgiving, as the tunes are excellent, the visualisation is clear (and minimalist enough that there’s few distractions), and the story, equally minimalist though it is, is interesting. I would maybe like beginner mode to be a liiiiittle more beginner (Okay, a fair bit more beginner), but that is, honestly, me.

The Mad Welshman does not dance. Well, not often, anyway. But he does like a good tune.

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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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Ghost 1.0 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£9.99 (£3.99 for the Soundtrack, which definitely ain’t bad)
Where To Get It:
Steam 

When I got the email that the developers of UnEpic were making a new game, I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because UnEpic did interesting things. Nervous, because it was also referential as hell, dumb in places, and stupidly hard and grindy in others.

This, er... Makes slightly more sense as a joke once you've played UnEpic and seen the bits before this... :/

This, er… Makes slightly more sense as a joke once you’ve played UnEpic and seen the bits before this… :/

For good or for ill… Little has changed. The references are somewhat less forced, the story veers wildly between pulpy silliness, philosophical discussion, and blatant referential humour, and the grind?

Oh yes. The grind remains. And it remains my problem with Ghost 1.0, because, to me? It’s just not fun to repeat alarm lockdowns for Energon-Cubes-As-Currency, so I can get better weapons that, really, I should be earning more organically. And this is a damn shame, because, for all the bitching, there has been improvement over the UnEpic formula, with fluid movement, a better overall story (Involving the enslavement of androids by an evil corporation… Hey, I said better, not amazing), and some cool stuff hidden in there… But, even past the halfway point, I’m not sure it feels worth it to continue. Boss with nigh unavoidable paralyzing shockwave, making it a damage race? Check. Instant death laser segments that, while using the cool idea of controlling robots with cyber-psychic powers, uses it for tedious, “Do it right or do it again” segments involving scientist robots with no offensive abilities (Read: Forced puzzle-stealth segments.) Check.

Not cool, Fran, I totally made my Dexterity Check!

Not cool, Fran, I totally made my Dexterity Check!

There’s fun in there. Really, there is. The second boss, for example, is fun. The first boss, once you figure it out, is fun. The interplay between Ghost, Boogan, and Jacker (The latter two technically making a return from UnEpic) is fun. But it’s buried beneath a game that feels like it’s run by an adversarial GM who still thinks OD&D is the best thing since sliced bread. And this is such a core problem, and obviously deliberate, that I unfortunately can’t get past it.

So, when it comes to the question of “Is Ghost 1.0 worth playing?” , two questions have to be asked. The first is whether you like metroidvanias. A simple enough question, but the next is harder: Do you find grind and “death makes things harder on you” fun? Because, regardless of the good voice acting, the fair animation, the interesting toys (Once you’ve earned them), and the story that definitely has interesting elements, if the answer to that second question is “No, not really”, or some variation thereof, I really can’t recommend Ghost 1.0 to you.

The first boss, about to get a schooling from an awesome cyber-psychic merc lady. Who still died five times while getting the cash for the gun she's using... >:|

The first boss, about to get a schooling from an awesome cyber-psychic merc lady. Who still died five times while getting the cash for the gun she’s using… >:|

The Mad Welshman is hacking Ghost 1.0 to provide a “Less Grindy” mode, but he’s hit Alarm Level 9, and the respawns are getting a bit tiresome. 

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