Cliff Empire (Early Access Reviews)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Right now, Cliff Empire is a frustrating experience. Not because it doesn’t have a good idea. Not because it doesn’t have a good aesthetic (futurist and clean.) No, it’s simply because its tutorial… Does not actually teach very well. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t keep up very well with how it is currently balanced.

Our latest bunch of hapless colonists.

Example: You are asked to build one matter generator. Then you’re asked to build a whole bunch of stuff that uses matter. Congratulations, your matter economy is now borked. If you, yourself, fix that, well… Did you know the power economy is, in the early game, heavily weighted toward building a lot of power surplus during the day, then disabling buildings and using batteries constructed by power surplus for the night? No? Oh. Well now you do. Some other things are more obvious, such as needing enough food and water to keep your colonist fed. But some needs are… Irritating.

Oh, yes… Premise. Earth has been blasted by radioactive war, leaving a lot of the fallout. Some folks escaped to an orbital station (which is doing just fine, by the by. Bastards), while the ones who remained, out of some weird altruism (that I don’t think those station folk are owed) built giant cliffs to rise above the radioactive fog that now covers the Earth.

Fun fact: They don’t always fill your needs. Perhaps the survivors on Earth had a sense of humour. In any case, there are three modes of play: Sandbox (currently preferred), Default (In which raiders don’t appear to come, but you have to fill those needs), and Tower Defense, which I haven’t even touched because… Come the hell on, I don’t need powering missile stations and shit on top of the hot mess that is currently “Just keeping folks alive.”

Trying to go it alone resulted in a… Marginally better life. Marginally.

Because yes, you will have trouble balancing needs. Colonists come in groups of 15 (needing Uranium to land, something you will have to trade for in the early game because you don’t know how much is in your particular cliff top), but housing comes in… 13, with the options for more if you spend the money. The money you won’t have until you build a trading station.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the UI. Most of the time, the UI is just fine. But currently, the trading UI is clear as mud. It specifically wants you to enter numbers in the more than columns and less than columns as needed (Once you’ve put in a number, entering 0 for less than, or a number higher than you think you can feasibly reach for more than, is needed.) Buuuut guess how the columns, and the rows are differentiated? Answer: Not at all. It’s a big black space that, honestly, confused me for far longer than it should have.

What this doesn’t tell you: Also have enough matter creation to be able to handle that 3d printing and everything else you’re about to do…

Overall, Cliff Empire has an interesting premise (Even if I feel antipathy toward the orbital station survivors, considering their likely background), and it doesn’t need much more work, aesthetically speaking (Music is fine and calming, buildings are clear and futurist, UI… Needs some scaling options, and the aforementioned Trading UI thing.) But the balancing seems to need work, considering that nearly every building past the first few has some sort of roadblock or bottleneck associated with it.

The Mad Welshman will not allow the rich to get to the orbital stations. His knife and fork are at the ready…

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AMID EVIL (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£23.79 for Warrior Edition, also available in a bundle with DUSK)
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time I looked at AMID EVIL, I enjoyed it, with some minor qualifications. Alas, one of those minor qualifications still exist (Sorry, AMID EVIL devs, your menu and your UI is not the easiest to read, and the menu is still visually painful), but the other now doesn’t (Soul power is unleashed with Alt-Fire), and so I can honestly say that, menu and UI aside, AMID EVIL is enjoyable. Hard, once it gets going, for reasons I’ll go into, but enjoyable.

This lil’ fella and his friends fire shots that somewhat home in…

So, let’s get the first thing out the way quite quickly: AMID EVIL, like its 90s and early 00s inspirations (Specifically, games like the Heretic/Hexen series), can get pretty twitchy, real fast. None of the enemies, individually, are that smart, are pattern based, and can be dealt with by virtue of being faster than them and hitting them really hard with whatever flavour of magic beatdown you happen to be using at that time (And there are several, each with nice, meaty effects to sink your teeth into, especially with Soul Mode unleashed.) But, from early on, there’s never just one, but a small army. Killing that small army is, to be fair, a cathartic as hell experience. But I often find myself coming out of fights with my HP barely inside the double digits, hunting for health pickups, a lot.

…And when there’s a lot of them… Ohhh boy, you’re in trouble!

So, essentially, it gets twitchy pretty fast, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to newcomers to first person shooters. But, y’know what? That’s alright. It is what it is, and what it is is a spectacle of gibs (some of which are, themselves, mini enemies later on), sound and fury, but, unlike the shakespeare monologue, it signifies one step closer to an interesting boss, a new locale, and new, more interesting enemies to defeat. Considering the game has seven episodes, each with their own flavour, there’s essentially a lot to play here.

An example of a beautiful environment. Shamelessly cribbed from my last review.

Okay, so… Apart from the menus, the lack of a map of some description can sometimes hurt it. Like DUSK, the game is very fond of trap labyrinths, secrets, and monster closets. Overall, though, while it doesn’t like to move beyond its very Quake 2 comfort zone, it aesthetically pleases, with good music, good weapon effects, and interesting low-poly visuals… Oh, and being fast as heck. As mentioned, not really for players new to FPS, but definitely a cool one to give a go.

The Mad Welshman would, honestly, root for the eyeball things if they’d let him. But they don’t.

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Void Bastards (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I do so love me a very British future in videogames. Because it is, almost always, an absolute hellscape, but with black humour that somehow keeps it going. And so it is with Void Bastards, a game about being left behind, dealing with a system that hates you, and surviving for as long as you can.

It’s… Somewhat worrying that these are quite prevalent. A penal society? EEEEESH.

Wow, that doesn’t induce feels in pretty much anyone who’s had to deal with the state unemployment system here in the UK. Not at all. And the starships in the Sargasso Void certainly aren’t filled with mutated chavs, janitors, and British Tourists, so it certainly isn’t the dumping ground for the unwanted and the awkward. Nope, nothing going on here. But it certainly makes for an interesting presentation of a roguelike shooter.

So… Essentially, it goes like this: After a short tutorial you are not expected to survive (but potentially can), either you will be asked to restart the ship’s FTL dri- whoops, “Clients” have their citizen cards shredded, so you can’t do that, need you to go through derelict ships to find the right items to make a new one. To get this, all you need to do is obtain permit A38. Orrr get two items, neither of which are close to your own ship, the Void Ark, and then get back. Or you will die, be rehydrated (Turns out you’re not only forgotten about, but also dehydrated for easy storage. Damn, this government is… Well, I can’t actually believe they would actually be that efficient, but still, it’s a game, whatever), and then told that you need to get these items to get your civil ID card back and restart the FTL drive.

Anyone wanting to know how many lines it takes to create a look of worry and bed wetting terror with just eyes, look no further than this.

And so it begins. Tromping around dark, often dangerous ships, with a cel shaded comic book style exploration,traps, limited opportunities to heal, and a variety of enemies, most of whom are British. The Juves, the Janitors, the Screws, the bureacratic Scribes, the Tourists who explode if you get near them (but want you to be near them, because they have questions. Bloody tourists…) It’s legitimately nice that, once options have been unlocked, you get them for the characters after, but it should be noted that ammo is also scarce. Besides, fighting… Isn’t always the best way. As noted, healing’s kind of limited too. Basically, running a way a lot is a good idea. Or being sneaky and cunning.

Oh, and if you thought the ID card was the end of it, you’ve clearly never dealt with the joys of bureaucracy. Or a looted bureacratic starship whose step-by-step bureaucratic AI can’t even act properly to save itself.

…I’d probably give most people a pass on the latter, if we’re being perfectly fair.

Colour Blind Mode, aka Five Shades of Gray.

Anyway, while the comic book style is good, the UI is clear (except in Colour Blind mode, which hates you and everything you stand for), and it’s visually quite pleasing, where the game shines is in its voice acting, and its writing. If you want an idea of what British Hell sounds like, this comes pretty damn close. The bored teenagers have laser guns, but still oh-so-imaginatively think calling you a “Knobhead” is the height of wit, the shipboard computer is telling you that the worst thing about the Void Pirates is that they aren’t paying VAT on what they steal, and…

…Nobody’s actually a villain here. Nobody in the Nebula, at least. Just a lot of people, forced by terrible circumstances (and probably bureacratic AI) to deal with being abandoned to terrible circumstances.

What is it with this month’s reviews and the need for a “Content Warning: Too Damn Real”? Anyway, well worth a look, good example of British Humour, and a solid roguelike FPS to boot.

The Mad Welshman forgot to file Permit A-39, as noted by the circular B-65, so he can’t actually add the “Too Real” Content Warning until the process has been completed. We expect this to take around 20 years.

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Review)

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

CONTENT WARNING: It should be mentioned that Zanki Zero deals with adult themes like abuse (sexual or otherwise), gaslighting, and murder, so… Yeah, be warned, this game deals with squicky subjects.

It’s an interesting exercise, to tot up the thematic elements of a developer. And for Spike Chunsoft, there’s a fair amount to pick from. Sins of the past. Just about believable pseudoscience made believable. Big twists. And attacking the heartstrings with comically large pliers.

This… Isn’t going to end well. I want it to… But I know it won’t.

And Zanki Zero definitely goes in for all of these, along with a bit of cringe early on. If I had a nickel for every time a “wacky” cartoon character was just groan inducingly gross, I’d have enough to whack said cartoon characters with a small sack of nickels. Thanks, Zanki Zero, for the unnecessary addition that one of your MCs is proud of pissing themselves on camera. I’m only grateful that’s told, not shown.

Iiin any case, once the game gets going, the cringe seems to die down (somewhat, although content warnings for abuse, sexism, violence and murder definitely apply throughout), and the game gets interesting. A survival RPG/Visual Novel hybrid, Zanki Zero follows eight protagonists, and… Seven sins? Ah, one of them is secretly an architect of this whole mess where humanity is extinct, and eight (?) clones of people are asked to rebuild a cloning machine to resurrect humanity, despite the fact that they, as clones, cannot breed. I’m sure this’ll at least try to make more sense down the line, but at the beginning, mysteries, gribbleys, failed human clones, and ruins abound, with various systems unlocking as you go. Building elements of your base. Cooking, crafting, upgrading. And, through it all, the clone mechanics.

There are, thankfully, lighter moments, and the game paces itself well overall.

At first, as described, it’s stressful, and the game makes sure to kill off a character to get the point across, but, while death isn’t the end, and can be beneficial in certain aspects (Dying in Adult life, for example, extends Adult life by 1 day), it costs to resurrect someone, so care must still be taken, as there’s a lot that can screw you up. Traps, monsters, the threat that some of the gifts you get from the EXTEND Machine have strings attached. You know, losing what’s left of your humanity, that sort of thing. I’ve been playing it on the second difficulty setting, and this honestly seems reasonable for me, since my only party wipe was through overconfidence. It’s only later, with the introduction of various traps, that it starts to get properly mean. God-damn bird…

Ohhh, this feller. I have feelings about this feller… And all of them are associated with flipping tables…

The game’s pace is, honestly, pretty good, and, some odd keybinds aside, it tutorialises pretty well. This, plus the interesting way combat and “survival” plays out (The bars, equally, decrease and increase at sensible rates, so I rarely felt I was nannying) means that, overall, I quite like Zanki Zero. Sho, the cringier of the two Extend TV hosts, is a different story, but thankfully, his segments are quite brief. If you want to explore a VN/RPG hybrid which adds depth as it goes on, Zanki Zero is definitely an interesting one to check out.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have anything clever to say here. How can he, when Humankind is long gone?

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Phoenix Wright Trilogy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (£38.25 game+soundtrack, £12.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh, we’ve been waiting a long time for this, but finally, the first trilogy of Phoenix Wright has hit the shores of the PC, and it’s quite the pleasing turnabout. After all, Phoenix Wright is, overall, an interesting and cool series, and the PC port is pretty good.

Wellington’s as excited as I am for this to have happened. Either that or we caught him in a massive porkie.

Okay, let’s get the niggle out of the way before we sum up the trilogy: It only remembers what window size it’s meant to be on loading. That’s pretty minor, so… Phoenix Wright. It’s a series of police procedural visual novels, in which you play the titular character, a novice lawyer, in the deadly justice system of what has been dubbed by fans “Japanifornia” (For being both Japanese and American), where simply defending your client isn’t enough… If you can’t find the real murderer in 3 days, your client is guilty by default. Game over, man… Game over.

It comes in two segments, investigation and the trial, but, thankfully, I can’t think of an instance where the investigation can end without you having collected the necessary evidence. The trials, however… Ah, they get tricksy at times, because not only do you have to choose between pressing for further details and presenting evidence, sometimes, what seems like the obvious path is… Well, the wrong one for the time. So, yes, occasionally there’s a bit of “Read the developer’s mind.”

Artist’s rendition of the player versus the developer in these moments…

Thankfully, you can save at any time, so if you’re unsure, remember the old adventure gamer’s adage: Save Early, Save Often!

Now, of course, is it good? Well, the original games and their HD ports come highly recommended for charming writing, good visuals, fairly accessible play (They were originally developed for the DS), and good tunes (Especially “Cornered”, which really gets the blood pumping), and, I’m happy to say, this particular port is… No different. The pacing and tone shifts are well handled, it breaks up the tension well with its comedic moments, and there are characters to love (Edgeworth, who definitely isn’t a secret Steel Samurai fan, nope), characters to love hating (Redd White and April May definitely come to mind for this), and I’m having a whale of a time playing through the first three games (Although I am informed that whales don’t get involved until Dual Destinies, which is outside the scope of this review.) As mentioned, there’s one correct path, and sometimes it involves reading the developer’s mind, but these are relatively few and far between.

When it breaks up the tension with humour… Well, it works. Poor Phoenix…

As such, Phoenix Wright Trilogy definitely comes recommended. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and hot damn, you do feel clever getting a case done without, say, looking at a walkthrough. For fans of mysteries and visual novels, Phoenix Wright is a no brainer.

The Defence Rests, Yeronner.

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