Sigma Theory (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

International espionage is, at the best of times, a tough job. It involves not only observation, but paperwork, diplomacy, bribery, compromising assets… It’s a multifaceted operation. And lots of things can get in your way, from local law enforcement, to other agents, encryptions… Even just plain bad luck.

Or being a berk, as I describe later in the review…

And, in Sigma Theory, you’re doing this in service to perhaps the last big arms race of all… The race to a Paradigm Shift, where new technologies change the very nature of the world, people, cultures, infrastructure… Even hearts, minds, and bodies. It’s an arms race which could very well result in the world melting down, culturally for sure, possible literally. No pressure, though.

The general idea is, in its basics, very simple: Keep relatively good relations with your own country and others… While researching technologies, and stealing the scientists of others to help achieve your own goals. Turn based, you have a lot of time to think about your moves… But something will throw a wrench in your plans, because every technology gained changes the game somewhat. One will make the agents of a country incorruptible. Another makes the scientists of other countries more corruptible. One slows research of every other country. One allows two of your agents to get an upgrade in their intelligence. And there is no way in hell you’re going to get that. So, that’s the main idea… Send your agents to other countries, find scientists, compromise them, steal them, research technologies, and try not to let the same happen to you.

A bad day just got a hell of a lot worse…

Of course… Like I said, things get complicated, because there are private groups who want to fuck things up too, and, while your goals may well align with theirs (Taking down capitalism? Sign me the fuck up!), they will scew you over if you don’t. And exfiltrating scientists and other figures is its own, turn based fun time, set in a city route spattered liberally with cops and events that may raise the alertness level, lower it, slow you down, speed you up… Screw it up, and you not only lose the agent, you lose reputation with both their country and yours… And you need that high rep with yours to keep your surveillance and combat drones to help you, and get new benefits, like being able to replace the agents you lost. You’ll also lose rep if you go loud, but sometimes you need to go loud.

And agents… Agents have preferences. In the most recent game, Russia was already well on its way to dominance, and America was falling behind. But I forgot that Mystery, the hacker I’d recruited, and who was exfiltrating a scientist, was a pacifist. With fleeing or stunning highly dangerous options, I ordered her to open fire… And she surrendered, immediately. Well, damn. Read your dossiers, Jamie, read your dossiers! (Especially since recruiting agents you haven’t recruited before requires it, to recruit them in the first place.)

Thinks about resisting a terrible joke… Nahhh… There is no ethical marriage under Capitalism!

Aesthetically, the whole is very pleasing. A simple, clear, but fitting UI, music that adds to that tense feeling that pervades the game’s mechanics, good character portraits, and the cityscape is also pretty clear. With a surveillance drone, you know how hard it’s going to be to get out, but without, the route is clear… But cops fade into view.

The game is very difficult, and, at times, distinctly unfair… But I still enjoyed myself, and continue to do so, because thematically? It works. It’s a dangerous situation in which one misstep can cascade into the Doomsday Clock running down, or the world dominance (quite literally) of another global power, or a private corporation. So if the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t turn you off, I would definitely recommend it for what it is… An engaging turn based game, set in perhaps the biggest cold war I’ve seen in a setting. A cold war for how humanity itself is directed.

Being a spy agency is hard. I wonder how super agents would do with Disciples 1?

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Posthuman: Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access 1

It’s been a while since I last looked at Posthuman: Sanctuary, not least because of a moderately long radio silence, but a recent update induced me to look, and I have had the most successful run to date.

…And my god, I wish I hadn’t done that before the update. I killed over 400 clones of Karl Marx (the Doomsayer faction), presumably because, being one of the few nonmutated humans in the post apocalypse, I am the new bourgouisie. Sucks to be me, I guess.

Sorry Karl, meet my means of production… Of blood.

But, close to the end of the run as I am (It’s taken several hours), I’ve realised I have become the bourgoisie. I have more backpacks than I know what to do with. Do I drop any of them, considering I can use just one? NOPE. I’ve thrown away Camo Tents. Already got one, don’t like the colour of this one. I’m passing out mutation vaccine and food as if I’m some great philanthropist, while hoarding the majority to myself. I have good guns, plenty of bullets, and a steel baseball bat that has become a sight of terror among mutant and human alike. And I’ve been a meddlesome fucker too.

But I’m tired. So tired. The goal is actually in sight. Except the last three milestones have been a long way apart, I’ve killed so many… And I just want to give up. I’ve stopped bothering to learn new things, or improve myself. I did that long ago.

Ohgod, I’m a one percenter now…

What I’m getting at here, is that once you’ve gotten a truly successful run up and running… The challenge sort of fades away, even with levelups stopping at level 25 or 30. And, as noted, the further you get, the farther away the milestones get.

The game is best when you’re not successful, is what I’m trying to say. When you meet the dread bankers of the soul, the dealmakers. When a big brained mutant is cause for alarm, rather than “Yup, target practice.”

The devs have, to be fair, added new creatures. New events. A fair amount of them. And maybe this will improve things in the future. Because god-damn, the game is pretty, with a cool visual aesthetic, a nice combat tune, a contemplative event track, and relaxing music in the overworld. The events are pretty well written, and they vary from enjoying while predicting the outcome, to… Wait, what? Some of them are, fair warning, pretty grim. Like the man who burns his wife. There is no good option in that event. It’s pain and misery. The option to turn off R Rated events is there, by the way, and this is a good option to have.

Not pictured: My final landmark… Which is… 20 to 40 tiles away… Kill me.

Accessiblity wise, well, it’s turn based, everything is with the mouse, and everything is pretty clear. The rules, also, are relatively clear: Move, Forage, Scout, and Camp each have their function (Moving blindly, trying to get new stuff at the cost of not moving, seeing ahead two tiles from where you are, and recovering health and stamina), and each turn, you have the option of paying 1 food per character, or taking the hit that results.

It’s an interesting wasteland, and I recommend checking it out… But it could do with more of a late game.

The Mad Welshman is not proud of his wealth of backpacks, but he states for the record that it was earned.

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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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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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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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