The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Overland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Itch.IO , Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Regardless of the kind of apocalypse… Well, okay, except for the murderdogpocalypse… Your best friend is a Good Boy. And I should know, because I’ve been meeting a lot of Good Boys in Overland. Some that bork. Some that bite. And some that can just carry things, search through bins for fuel, and drop it where I need it. And I do need it, because I’m trying to get to the West Coast, while crystalline insectile gribbleys are trying to stab my face off.

Welcome to Overland, a game about making hard choices.

No matter what I ram, the car will explode. So my best bet is to get out of the car, and lead them away. Welp.

Now, at first, you may be confused into thinking this is a survival strategy game, one of kicking the shit out of those gribbleys, and being the badass. No. Attacking these crystal insects, while a thing you will have to do occasionally, is a bad idea. Because it summons more of them. And you can’t stay long, either, because they hunt by sound, and if one of them’s found you (and it’s never just one), you can guarantee more are coming too. Mostly, it’s luring the bastards, trying to keep out of their reach, while grabbing whatever you humanly can.

Alas, sometimes, you risk too much. And sometimes, somebody else fucks it up for you. Because not all survivors are friendly, and the unfriendly survivors tend to a) Attack things if they have a weapon on the first turn, summoning more, and b) Run around like headless chickens, getting in your way. And, sad to say, not all survivors carry something useful, or are useful. On the run where I got to demonstrate both these things, both survivors I’d picked up had succulents, and, softie that I am, I let them keep them. At least one of them got a bobble hat, toward the end. That was cute.

Dogs are, as it turns out, good listeners.

So… Crit. The game is hard. And I do mean hard. I only managed to get to the third area in early access, because the second has creatures that can run two squares, on top of the small ones, and the bigger ones that take two hits to kill. And, even with a feature that lets you go to areas you’ve unlocked, I’ve had trouble. Sometimes, that isometric camera gets in the way of important information, and, while I’ve yet to find an example where it did that to important items, I have seen it when it comes to enemies. Finally, the game does try to incentivise a full run with secret areas unlocked in the next part of the map if you carry a survivor who knows where one is past the blockade at the end of the level. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

Aesthetically, though, it’s quite pleasing. The survival music is tense, but low key, the camping music is wistful, and makes a nice backdrop to survivors who are having trouble keeping it together, and the low poly look is pretty good. Also the clarity of what it takes to kill enemies is very nice indeed, even if killing them most definitely isn’t the point, and you’re not going to have the resources to do so for the majority of the game. Writing wise, the procgen backgrounds are short and to the point, and the same with the conversations. They add a little character, without getting in the way of things.

You killed my friend, you weaselly fuck. I’d kill you, but word gets around, and I’d never be able to trade again. I’m glad you’re surrounded, though… Asshole.

Overall, while I can appreciate the difficulty, and that puzzle, rather than combat focused gameplay would be turnoffs, I enjoy Overland, even if it doesn’t particularly like me. It’s a game of thought, its aesthetic pleases me, and its encouragement of risk management is fun to me.

The Mad Welshman is not a big fan of hard decisions, and yet… He likes them in games. Odd.

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Cliff Empire (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Last time I looked at Cliff Empire, it was aesthetically pleasing, with some exceptions, but, honestly, a god-damn mess to actually play. There was a lot of waiting, unclear resource imbalances, poor tutorialisation, and a trading UI that was as clear as mud, with Dead Man Walking scenarios everywhere.

Starts to construct a Matter Mi– Oh. No matter to make a matter mine with. CRAP.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the implicit subtext, with only decades passed since nuclear disaster, the survivors on a space station recolonising, and them recolonising literal ivory towers (Well, okay, some sort of white stone, but still) with the power of actually working for once, and bitcoin as currency… Well, suffice to say, despite the criticisms of the game being legitimate ones, I am much less sympathetic to the colonists in this game than I have been for many others. I have more sympathies for the marauders who occasionally crop up, even if they make my teeth grind, gameplay wise.

So yes, Cliff Empire is one of those colonisation survival games, where you start with limited resources, that you have to use efficiently, because getting more is dependent on several things, not all of which you know beforehand. Is this the tower you start on with 100% Uranium yield, 40% Uranium yield, or precisely fuck all? You don’t know. Is the soil fertile enough for crops to do well? You don’t know until much later on. Can you afford the Uranium from your somewhat richer masters up top, or will you just have to cope with what you can eke out? You don’t know.

And large towers were constructed by… Well, actually, why were they constructed, if what was left were rich people?

What you do know is how much groundwater there is in each tower, how well wind or solar power works there, and, the most obvious, if there’s a big honking pool of water that may contain enough fish worth harvesting, but definitely takes up valuable space which you could have used for one more maintennance panel.

Okay, so let’s briefly take a trip into “This is nice” town. The aesthetic is pretty cool. The music is chill and relaxing, the cities are neofuturist, and the inclusion of a tourist mode, where you can spend your spare time wandering around the city (sort of) is nice. On the downside, the trade UX still has that trap of “No clear input fields, so you butt your head against the lack of buttonage, when you’re actually meant to put numbers in the ‘sell if more’ and ‘buy if less’ fields” I complained about last time. But mechanically, it’s slow, it can be very trying, it has several Dead Man Walking scenarios, even in the early game, and then… There are the quests.

WELP. I had enough engines… But not enough were delivered in time. Not least because it takes a while to get more than the three drones you start with. What with concentrating on survival and all…

The bougie masters up top demand resources. And if they do not get those resources in time, you will lose some of the money you desperately need, and only have limited means of generating for yourself. Oh, and your colonists, if unemployed, despite being fed, given furniture (never enough), gadgets (never enough), appliances (never enough), and parks and other nice little perks, will steal from your coffers. Hell, sometimes, if you haven’t provided enough for the pampered little darlings, they’ll steal from your coffers anyway.

There is definitely potential in Cliff Empire, and maybe, one day, that potential will turn up, subtext of the narrative aside (Honestly, there’s not really any redemption on that front, especially in the current climate.) But it’s such a frustrating grind of a city builder, that I’m not having a good time, even with the relaxing music and nice aesthetic.

The Mad Welshman’s stance remains the same as it has been for quite a while: Eat the rich. Well, eat the rich who fertilise plants, the rich are quite unhealthy meals.

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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where to Get It: Steam

Doom: The Roguelike was an interesting experience. Not just because I personally find it pleasant to see ASCII renditions of various video game enemies, and enjoy roguelikes, but because it emulated the feel of Doom (swearing as you unload, wondering when the next health pickup will be found, and moving, always moving), while being its own thing.

Every time you die, it helpfully reminds you what killed you a few seconds ago, but also assesses how risky you played, and how many you killed (This is important for certain achievements!)

And Jupiter Hell? Well, those of us who know, know that it is basically Doom: The Roguelike… Remastered. And how does it shape up? Pretty well so far. Let’s get into that.

The basic idea is that, as with most roguelikes, when you act, the enemies act also, and each action takes a certain amount of time (Moving, for example, is the 1.0 to calibrate everything by, while shooting can be slow or fast, depending on the weapon, and some abilities), and the game limits your motion to the four cardinal directions. I mean, you can move diagonally, but that isn’t a single move, but two. The maps use seeds for generation, and they always follow the same set of patterns and general enemy difficulty, although sometimes you get a doozy like coming out of the first area to find seven corrupted soldiers looking at you. And then shooting you to death (In a recent patch, this has been toned down, at least for the first level.)

Ehehe. Ohhh, you poor, undead and demonic bastards…

But, thankfully, I only encountered that once, and I’ve always understood where I’d screwed up overall. Another hallmark of a good roguelike. Your objective? To find out what the hell’s goi- It’s to murder everything, because nothing on any of these godforsaken bases can be saved, and a good chunk of it wants to turn you into good chunks. There is cover, and taking advantage of it, as well as baiting enemies into leaving theirs, is part of the tactics. And there are skills you earn at each level, which increase your power somewhat. And there are level branches, each with their own situations to make you feel either really powerful… Or that this was a bad idea.

So, your goal is pretty clear. Your controls are pretty clear, and rebindable to boot. There are CRT effects (including glitching and tearing of the UI at low health), but they can be turned off in the options. While the game is often somewhat dark, your currently targeted enemy is highlighted clearly, as is the next, automatically, when you kill the first, and you can still, most of the time, see the enemies well enough to shoot them. The menus can be a little odd to get used to at first (Mainly, remember that you can hit left and right to see other information, such as what your boomsticks, generally speaking, do. Beyond a practical test for further clarification, obviously.) And musically?

The wise thing to do would be to run back round that corner. Suffice to say, I was feeling ballsy, not wise.

Well, I did say it’s Doom: The Roguelike Remastered, and the music is reminiscent of, but definitely not a copy of, various iconic doom themes. Little riffs, here and there, and the overall tone clue you in, but they’re hard, they’re driving guitar, and sometimes… Sometimes they’re just downright ominous.

And so far, the only thing that I could really say was a turn-off is exactly the same turn-off for many a roguelike: Until you get the situations you see in later levels, it can be frustrating, as can not finding health kits and armour when you feel you really, really need them right about now. But it doesn’t shame you for picking Easy difficulty (In fact, I’m almost certain the entire Bronze achievements of the game can be completed on any difficulty), it’s aesthetically good, it’s mechanically sound while not feeling incomplete (Just a few minor balance issues), and I would say it’s a contender for being a good “First Roguelike I’ve Played.”

Doom was great, and Id are mostly great. And they were actually cool with this keeping the name. Just a friendly reminder for certain assholes from your local, mostly friendly Mad Welshman.

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Nowhere Prophet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49 (£27.79 for all gubbins, £11.39 for soundtrack, artbook, and other gubbins)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Other Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2

Nowhere Prophet has, over the course of its Early Access, been a promising, but sometimes frustrating ride. And with release? Well, there’s some improvement, including rejigging what the difficulty settings tell you, introducing and then toning down bosses for each checkpoint along the way to The Crypt, supposedly the salvation of this post-apocalyptic, Indian themed landscape, and rejigging items to create a more manageable version of the Leader decks, along with special abilities that can be used once a battle.

Aaaaaa, I got here, I got here! (and then never since. Oh Boo.)

In short, Nowhere Prophet has changed quite a bit from when I last reviewed it, and, on reflection, these changes are good, especially after some of the bosses have been toned down.

Because, hot damn, they were frustrating a day or so ago. To recap, Nowhere Prophet is a turn based game in which you balance food and hope versus progress and better gear, and the life of your followers versus your own life, because, in the fights, it’s a Hearthstone style of “Play units, play leader cards, get one more energy than the last turn, and your goal is to kill the leader.” There, a nice executive summary.

What complaints I have essentially still remain: Some decks are damn good, especially in the enemy’s hands, and the AI plays its deck well, grinding you down quite efficiently. Which is why the difficulty setting restatement is welcome: The AI does not play any better or worse on any difficulty, but does have less synergy in their own decks, and less powerful cards. On “Burdened” difficulty (Previously described as “Normal”), some of those decks can be, for want of a better word, bloody evil. But I’ve talked about things like Taunt and Armour boys before, so we’ll instead move on to bosses.

Oh no. Oh no. I am not ready for taunt/armourboi funtimes!

As mentioned, each checkpoint now has a boss fight, against one of 10 bosses (One for each of the factions), and the toning down has been good, because previously, some were intriguing, but many were downright frustrating, like the Union Bulwark essentially being the ultimate Taunt-Armour Boy, or the Blue Devil Tormented’s ability to level up all of his hand if you murder one of his folks. Now, those abilities are toned down, and, in some cases, limited to once a turn, for a limited number of turns, or both. Which means I can actually be excited about King Lizard’s clever trick without looking like a masochist.

King Lizard, on release, essentially straight up wounded/killed whoever attacked him when he didn’t have armour (Your Leader cards don’t count.) But now, it’s only the first unit a turn, and that is still tactical (Who do I sacrifice for the most gain?) without, for example, waiting to buff up some of your units so they really count toward that goal. Each has their own schtick, and it’s relatively easy to understand from the tooltips and what you’ve encountered of a faction.

Okay, so maybe I was. But I wasn’t in shape for what came next, and died.

I will say that, while there’s definitely a lot of replay value (even having beaten the game, there’s more I want to find), the final unlockable ability of convoys is brought about by beating… 25 bosses. And that, honestly, is expecting a bit much, considering there’s nine tribes to unlock this for, and four leaders, some of which you can only unlock through certain circumstances.

Still, overall, it’s visually impressive, its music is good, and even with that brief day one hiccup, it shows promise, with its daily challenges adding a little spice to the game. I would recommend this, because it does have some clever ideas, and playing it on the easier settings is not a guilt trip.

The Mad Welshman says Rusters are People too. This is in no way due to the nanocontrollers in his head.

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