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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Fission Superstar X (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Space. There’s so much more room for plotting and cackling there. Also dogfights and heavy capital ship whaling, which… Is where Fission Superstar X comes in. With a distinct Death Road to Canada vibe, Fission Superstar X is the tale of Doctor Leopold Merkin, and his attempts to make a super-nuclear bomb… A superstar. Her name is Celine Fission, and you will enjoy her concert, fools…

Aaaaand IIIIIII-EEEEIIIII Will always bomb YOUUU-OOOOHHHHHH!

Describing how this roguelike shmup works can seem a little fusterclucky, but it’s really quite simple: You have four potential crew slots, up to two of which are filled at the beginning (For a while, it will just be your Clone Pilot and Clone Scientist, but options open up the more you play.) Each one mans a single turret quadrant (From Pilot, top, to Engineer, rear), and enemies will come at you from varying directions. Kill them before they kill you, and you’ll get a chance to train up your folks or heal in some fashion, then pick where to go next, including Recruitment (potentially better crew), Shipyards (potentially better ship stats, definitely some repairs), and special event locations of varying evil (From the relatively nice Medicaid Drones, to Comet Tails which blow you the heck about, to the Ion Storm or Minefield, which might as well be marked with “HERE BE ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH.”) You pick up money and ammo from destroyed ships where you can, and, once you beat a planet’s boss (From Pluto all the way to…???), you can choose to blow up the bomb early, earning you a new ship (and a shot of Doctor Merkin angrily wondering how it went wrong.)

This is what is known as “Hanging on through sheer bloody mindedness.” That’s me at the top, by the way.

And them’s the basics, although there’s a lot more to it than that. Armoured ships, whose only weak point is the cockpit. Minibosses, including the Doctor Leopold Police Task Force. Those terrifying saw-ships, whose only purpose is to ram into you and murder murder murder. And, of course, different weapon types. I could probably spend a long while just talking about the variety of things that can happen, and references, and joy at the pew-pew guns. So let’s just assume “It is packed full of things wot happen”, and move on.

Aesthetically, the game is pretty interesting. Cartoonish pixels, junk, gore every now and again, and a fair amount of male presenting nipples, the ships are both clear in their design, and also interesting in and of themselves. Heck, there’s visible representation of your own ship upgrades, always a nice touch, and the music is solid stuff, giving that space opera B-Movie vibe. The ships deliberately don’t control that hot until you upgrade the handling (seriously, in the case of the Big Yins), and it’s all, honestly, very fitting for what it’s aiming for (The feel of a gigantic space bomber lurching its way through space.) The difficulty progression is mostly fair (Although those sawship enemies fill me with terror the moment they’re on screen, regardless of my or my crew’s armour), and, in the case of nastier encounters, it does warn you.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes. Geddit, guys? I’m Dr. Where!”

“Shut up and shoot this guy before he shoots you. Or we do…”

Feelwise, it’s meant to feel like a hectic chase across the Solar System, hounded by everyone and their dog, with you the villain, and… Yep, it nails that feel. The speed of even the slowest ships is shown in the starfield, and the feeling of trying to slide past a small battleship while it’s peppering you with missiles, wave beams, and whatever whatnots it’s throwing at you (probably while other things are also shooting at you) invokes just as much adrenaline based swearing as you’d imagine, and it’s a nice touch that you know how long the level’s going to last, as well as how much closer it gets you toward its goal.

So, overall, it does really well. What does it not do so well? Window customisation and the fact that individual runs are long. That last one’s more a taste thing than anything else (It isn’t a lunch break game, it’s something you play of an evening when you want to… Hrm, destress probably isn’t the right word… Play, I guess.) Still, overall, I like its feel, I like its guns, I like its heft… Fission Superstar X gets a vaudevillainous thumbs up, one Mad Scientist to another.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have too much to add to this. He’s still working on writing his name on the moon. Best demonstration of ownership, writing your name on the moon with a giant laser…

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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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