Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.69 (£3.36 Collector’s Edition, £2.09 for artbook, soundtrack, other extras)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Itch release

Content Warning: This game has themes of self harm and suicide, and a depiction of suicide. As such, the review has been age gated, and this content warning has been added to the original review.

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Das Geisterschiff (Going Back)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £7.19 (£13.79 for all DLC, OST £2.29, unreleased tracks £1.25, remixes free)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: Although this review is not age gated, be aware that the game has mentions of forced drug use and kidnapping early on.

Ah, the corporate dystopia. The corporate dystopia where people have fucked the planet, the rich have gone to space, and the rest… Are left underground, fearing the sun they once loved. Yup, that totally isn’t too real right now, nosirree… Although, to be fair, the rich would be using rich people spaceships, so at least we get the black comedy of watching their autopilot ignore an asteroid.

See those sunbeams on the right? The sun is so hostile now, it’ll start melting the armour of an exosuit. And, as this note outright states later, it cooks a human in moments.

In any case, Das Geisterschiff is, as you might have guessed, one of those corporate dystopia games. You, the nameless protagonist, have joined a corporate Combat Unit, in order to hopefully make enough money to get off Earth.

Well, we all know how that’s meant to turn out. And, indeed, this game is hard. A fitting kind of hard, but yes, a fair amount of the time, avoiding a fight is the absolute best thing you can do once an enemy hits your radar. And if you do get in a fight, there’s still a fair amount to consider: Do you use some of your limited ammo? Or do you get up close and shoulder-barge the robotic sonuvabitch, because they’re lighter than you, and they can’t take i- Argh, this one was a suicide bomber, great.

Also on the good side, the game is atmospheric as hell, and the atmosphere is dark. The music is heavy saws and bass beats, threatening in tone, the world is dark as hell (As denoted by the content warnings above. Whee, lot of age gating this month!) And your shadowy boss is, as you quickly discover by the second mission, is shady as hell. Well, he is a corporate dystopia boss, of course he is.

It’s a low poly feel, but a good one. Y’know, red aside. And yes, I had trouble telling these screenshots apart when picking them to upload.

Still, content warnings aside, it’s not all roses. Accessibility wise, everything is shades of red, and quite dark, and while the text is sans serif, and the menu text is readable, the notes and talking type text are somewhat small, even on full screen with a big monitor and downtuning the resolution. And part of the game’s difficulty is somewhat of a lack of clarity as to what things are. For example, the screenshot lower down the review is a horrifying scene, if you know what those cuboids are (They’re dead bodies.)

But, unless you’re using things that sort of look like they’re usable, you’re not going to work things out. And you’re definitely going to have trouble finding upgrades, as the only clue I’ve seen is “They’re near those black boxes. Mostly.” Finally, you seem to only have a minimap. So I hope you brought your mapping software! (I didn’t, my first time, mainly because I’ve gotten so used to, y’know, actual maps.)

Six corpses. laid out. And if you hadn’t found another body in this level that explicitly tells you it is, you might not have guessed.

Finally, while I’m not entirely sure if it’s a bad thing or not, there are only a limited amount of saves. 100, to be exact. And it should be remembered that if you come into an area with low health from another, you might as well restart the whole chapter, with what you’ve learned. Because you’ll restart with that low health.

Would I recommend it? Sort of. As always, if the content warnings and accessibility problems turn you off, then no, and I also wouldn’t recommend this to first time players of first person RPGs. But for the more experienced player, it’s definitely an interesting one, just… Use a mapping tool.

The Mad Welshman loves him a dystopia. In fiction. Can you rich old assholes stop trying to fanfic yours in real life? Ta.

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Neo Cab (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£7.19 soundtrack, £13.93 both)
Where To Get It: Steam

The Gig Economy is toxic as hell. Living from job to job, trying to draw in custom, and, all the while, expending your health and resources for uncertain gains. It doesn’t help when your field is muscled on by larger folks, who either think you’re replacable, or are actively working to replace you. And so it is with NeoCab, where you, Lina, are the last human cab driver. An autocab company has pressured the rest of the cabbies out, and you… You aren’t doing so hot.

Allie gave me 5 stars. “Us Gig folk gotta stay together!” Yup, you are 100% right, sister.

So, naturally, I was down for the concept of the story from the get go. And found other, interesting things. A mood system. Some weird and interesting characters. And the fact that I would be really bad as a cab driver. So let’s get into that.

The general story you’ve heard, with the exception of activists against cars (in general, not just Capra’s automated cabs that aren’t actually as safe as they claim to be. Big shock about that last point, I know), Capra’s cops having a “donation” scheme (Yes, they shake you down. Bastards), and… Despite the main story being somewhat predictable, and the game taking about 3-4 hours, one way or the other, I never really felt like the main story was a focus, so much as a frame to hang… Everyone else on. And yes, that can be a point against it, but stay awhile, and listen.

This guy… Is such an asshole.

Here’s a fellow gig worker, who, on the one hand, is asking stupidly invasive questionnaires for Capra. On the other, she’s just trying to make her way too, and she gets you. Solidarity, sister. Here’s a pair of tourists in their own city, who think you’re a robot. Their rating goes down when they find out you’re actually a human, not the Capra product they’d heard about and were excited for, but they fit into this overall theme, and they are… Characters, for sure, and there’s cracks in their relationship. The strange quantum accountant, the woman who thinks, from her work, that the timelines have become unstable, and that something is seriously wrong with the universe. She’s obsessed with entropy, and… I can relate.

But there’s something that unites a lot of them: You have to remind them you’re not just a service, a product. You’re a person. Some get that right off, and they’re usually the good ones. Some, like the two Capra fanboys (well, one and a half), are actually disappointed when they can’t just… Consume. And some… They just hate your profession, what they feel you symbolise. Maybe, if I’d taken different paths, like some of those 1.5 star customers that it’s generally recommended to avoid, I’d have more, but… You’re a gig worker, in a hostile, capitalist world. And that is well written. It helps that some of the characters are very quirky, in a good way.

I mean, I wouldn’t mind winning the lotto, if only so I don’t have to worry about my bills, but, overall, sure, lady.

But your mood plays into it too. For example, you can’t convince those two Capra groupies you’re a human unless you get emotional in some manner (Mine was happiness.) But it shuts you off just as much as it can help. Lucky for you Savy gives you a mood bracelet that actually works early on, huh?

Aesthetically, the game works, and works well… The music is this futurist style, fitting the mood, the characters are characterful and well animated, and the cityscape is well constructed. It’s one of the few paperdoll style animations I really got behind.

So, in conclusion, I like NeoCab. Partly for its politics. Partly for its interesting characters. Partly for its aesthetic and writing. Would I recommend it? Yeah, overall, although if you’re a big capitalism fanboy (yes, those exist) then it definitely isn’t something that’ll sit well with you (I’d still say play it, but that’s because I like to get up on a soapbox once in a while.) As to being a bad cab driver? Fair warning, your rating drops below 4, game over, you’re screwed.

I’m a bad cab driver.

The Mad Welshman isn’t actually seeking more proof he shouldn’t drive. But this month just seems to be the month for it.

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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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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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