Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

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Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

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BEACON (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: 2.01

With Beacon on the Steam store, and just a few versions left until release, it may well be a good idea to see what’s cookin’ with Freja Akiyama, Security Runner for the Shoraiteku Corporation.

Look at her, Captain… Isn’t she beautiful?

Ah. Yes, I remember now, what’s cooking, or, more accurately, long since cooked, is Freja Akiyama Mark 1. At the time of writing this sentence, poor Freja is at Mk 49, and very attractive she looks too with her insectile maw, robot legs, and bony spatulate tail. Welcome to Corporate Futurist Dystopia, folks, where not even death is necessarily going to end your contract. Download your mind to the core system (if it still survives, which, thankfully, it did), fire up the clone bank, and bam, you’re ready to either do or die for the cause of getting off the planet and getting back to work!

Mostly die, though, it must be said. But, as with some games of this genre, it’s the journey that counts, seeing what odd secrets you can uncover, weapons you can play with, and the new ways the game mercilessly attempts to beat you down. That sounds unappealing at first, but, oddly, it’s the journey, not the destination, that fascinates me with Beacon. A journey that begins with a disaster, and heads very quickly into an evocative alien world of three factions: The robots-with-DNA of the PRISM corporation (There is, I’m informed, a wee note to be discovered that lampshades the oddity behind this), the native Solus (assorted bugs, slimes, and beasties), and the Flauros (They of the flames, and the pointy stars, and goat-skulls.) It is perhaps unfortunated that they all hate you, albeit for differing reasons (Corporate Security, Territorial Instinct, and ???), but, thankfully, they also hate each other, and, in some areas, you can take advantage of this.

The antibodies of a Solus Stomach are… Well, I’m sure they’re to scale…

So, so far, so twinsticky, roguesortakindalike, and incremental. So what makes this one interesting for me? Well, it’s a combination of aesthetics, secrets, and how it plays the incremental game. Everything, you see, is lost once you die (Except archives, which you can look at in the main menu, although I’d still say collect everything you can see during a run), from guns, to knowledge, to, most importantly, the DNA you collect to affect your stats. And that’s important because, while you can get so far on normal stats, getting further does require a little extra oomph, and the oomph from your DNA changes (good and bad) and the mutations only take you so far. If you didn’t mutate, the genes don’t seem to hang around, and if you do, well, those mutations only last a run or two without boosting, and once they’re done, both the mutation and the stat changes are gone. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it not only works, it provides interest to each run.

Similarly, as mentioned, the world is this evocative, low poly landscape, that feels alive. It also feels intruded upon, with crates, mining lasers, and all sorts of gubbins left by the PRISM corporation, but even when it isn’t, bones litter the landscape, there are biomes. It never really lets you forget that it’s a level, and the optimal path is to explore as much as humanly possible (for chances at DNA, as new DNA leads to chances at bigger, meatier guns), but the secrets tie into the logic of the world, and I love that. In the PRISM held areas, it might be a set of energy repeaters you have to blow up to open a door or turn on a jump pad. In the more natural Solus landscape, it might be taking advantage of natural features like forcefully popping swamp bubbles to propel yourself the right way, and not all of them give you multiple chances at it. Case in point, some require destroying rot plants, and being propelled upwards from the explosion of poisonous gases. Screw that up, and… Well, the plants are gone. The cloud has probably dissipated by the time you land, but you lost your chance at a secret.

That is, for context, a really big worm.

Beacon, in short, is relatively close to being finished (with a roadmap clearly laid out for the final versions), has been looking interesting from early on, and, barring unlikely mishaps, I could probably leave it here well enough on release.

I won’t, because there’s at least one more act of the game to come. But yes, Beacon is already hecka interesting.

The Mad Welshman Mk 53 stepped out of his pod, and checked his emai-

…The Mad Welshman Mk 54 stepped out of his pod, and-

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Hazardous Space (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£9.51 for collector’s edition (Artbook, Soundtrack, Game))
Where To Get It:
Steam

Hazardous Space, if I was given an elevator pitch, would be an okay game. Arriving at a station which has been infested by zombies, a group of three spacefarers has to make their way through the station, fighting and looting along the way.

And by ‘people’ , I mean ‘Me, Captain hardchin, with assistance from you two.’

And then it makes some odd decisions, and what would be an okay game turns into… An okay game with elements that bring it down. Like most of the conversation being about as far away from your centre of vision as humanly possible… In the top right, as opposed to everything interactable, which is… On the bottom half of the screen. So you’re wandering, picking up items, and, at points, text is auto-playing… And largely gets unnoticed. It’s not great writing, to be fair, and the auto-play, itself, is a bit of a problem, but… A definite low point.

Another odd choice is to split the game into “parts.” A more accurate term would be “Difficulty levels”, as each is its own run, but each has its own ending, goes on for longer, and extra equipment (with some extra enemies and story segments.) Since progress on blueprints, notes, etcetera, seems to be incremental, this… Does get easier and more do-able the further you get, but then we hit the final problem, and…

Note, convo in the top left. Also… Hehe, “Fire” Axe. Look, I gotta get my chuckles from something here…

…The fact is, it’s kind of dull. Weapons have roughly the same impact feeling (Some), but not a whole lot can fix that the core loop. Try to go right (Up, down, or, in extreme cases, left if not possible), taking 5 energy loss per room, maybe have a fight, walk into a trap, find some stuff, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the items are useful, more often they’re vendor trash. Sometimes the enemies feel impactful, mostly… They’re obstacles, things that pad out time. And through it all, a single track plays, seemingly emphasising the grind.

“Feel”, while a nebulous term, is, in fact, very important, and what it feels like, when playing, is that none of this is terribly important. The characters do get somewhat serious later, but it’s just another day, another chance to shit-talk each other, and get to know each other more. The enemies start getting more serious, but the tension in fighting them… Just isn’t really there, and the narrative, while meant to be about a terrifying sci-fi event where an Umbrella style Cacklingly Evil Corporation has done bad things, just… Falls flat, due to a lack of tension.

Expect to see this guy a lot.

Hazardous Space does do some interesting things, tying energy to exploration and levelling up (Run out of energy, run out of life-support, die, a-la Deep Sky Derelicts), and it does allow for some adjustable difficulty options that, genuinely, make the game a little more accessible (Such as turning the CLOUD OF DEATH, that means you can’t go back very far and have to reach the exit quicker, off), but overall, it feels grindy, and oddly arbitrary at times.

The Mad Welshman punched his monitor, and it burst into flames “Burning Does Not Work!”

Sure seemed like it did…

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