Simmiland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

If there’s one thing that God games have taught me, it’s that being a God is hard. So much to manage, so little time, so many plates, just spinning in line… But, more recently, God games like Crest, Reus,and now Simmiland, have brought me to the conclusion that while being a God is hard, it’s not helped by humans. Demanding, contrarian, and often hard to teach humans.

(Citation Needed)

It also doesn’t help when the Manual for Good Godding gets mislaid.

Simmiland is, in essence, a real-time, puzzle God-game. You have cards, most of which have different effects on different biomes of the randomly generated world, and placing cards (Starting with your humans) takes Belief. From there, it’s working out what, placed where, gets the results you want. For example, minerals on grass gives you bog standard rock, useful for setting up. But placing rock in the ocean gets you coral, which, after you’ve researched medicine, needs to be Inspected for better medicine.

I’m not quite sure yet what Plague teaches my little Simmians, but it sure is cathartic when I get frustrated.

Sometimes, nuking something from orbit is the only way to be sure. And yes, there is a reason for this. A confusing reason… But a reason.

Nonetheless, the clock is ticking, and the clock is the size of your deck. So, at first, The End is guaranteed, you harvest belief based on what you managed to achieve, buy more God Cards at the God Shop, look at your compendium…

…And start all over. Aesthetically, the game is simple, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into being accessible. Cards in certain spots in your hand, for example, become a little difficult to select, be that for playing them, or selling them for belief in the tighter moments. The Compendium is the main source of remembering what a card does, and… You can’t see that from in-game. Two windows (Camp, and Wishes) are recommended to be open a fair bit of the time (Wishes all of the time, in fact, as they give you belief), but they clutter up the view. So part of the difficulty comes from struggling to remember what does what on your eventual, ideal path. Achievements at the end do help somewhat with this, giving you goals to shoot towards, but part of the “fun” is in finding out how the heck to get to these rewards.

Thing is, I can’t deny it isn’t interesting, for the same reason I found Reus interesting. Bashing things together to see what does what, building up a picture of the path I want, then aiming for it. But I also can’t deny it can’t be a frustrating experience. Human demands are sometimes very specific, and sometimes include things you just don’t know how to do yet. Heck, sometimes, it includes things that are a little irritating to do, like tropical biomes (Three suns, followed by a rain, presumably in a grass biome),or avoiding locking yourself into some dead ends. Individual games are short (Around 10 to fifteen minutes at most), but getting those achievements, those endings, that progress… That takes time.

Why… Why would you even wish for that? WHY?!?

A cool experiment in doing God Games a little differently, with elements that frustrate, and others that somewhat confuse (Why, precisely, does having a church limit your Simmians IQ to 120?)…Worth checking out, considering its price, but some unintuitive elements do bring it down somewhat.

The Mad Welshman reminds all those who haven’t discovered the secret of fire to Bang The Rocks Together, Folks!

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Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?!

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s that time of year, when potato puns mix with moderately interesting, casual takes on different games. It’s time for more… Holy Potatoes!

And this time, it’s a little hectic, despite being pretty accessible. Because you’re a spy agency, and the clock is ticking. Even worse, your Jeet-kun-do is no use against… This cute puppy, AHAHAHAHAAAA!

Noted pupper-lover, er… Catlady plans to stealth and charm her way through her mission.

Anyway, yes… Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?! (Let’s just call it Potato Spy Story, shall we?) is a mashup of RPGs, management sims, and spy fiction, that has you play… Potato spies, in a world of anthropomorphic potatoes, having to balance limited resources while avoiding plot missions for as long as is humanly possible… Mainly because, once a mission has been “accepted”, either by taking a contract, or because the story demands, you have a limited time to successfully finish a mission. And no, that timer doesn’t stop running because you started the mission, nor does it care if you suddenly realise you have a hole in your coverage of the four stats (Fighting, Thinking, Stealthing, Charming.) Better plug that hole as quickly as you can, whether through gadgets, fashion, and, a little later, vehicles!

Whiiiich leads to the other balancing act you have to do, that of having limited space in your HQ for buildings, and needing paths to said buildings. Oh, and maybe some nice decorations that make spies better able to work. That can help too.

Me am good at optimisation. Me am good at spying. Me am also Bizarro, trust everything I don’t say!

Aesthetically, it’s got that clean, simple style that has been a hallmark of the series, and, with the exception of some building placements, it’s clear enough that you understand quickly what’s going on. Sound isn’t great, more servicable than anything else, and the writing is… Well, it’s puns. It’s a formula. It’s not going to win any writing awards (Until the industry admits it needs a “Most puns/legally distinct references in a single game” , for which, let’s face it, there are many contenders.)

While it’s not super fast, and has that all blessed pause button and adjustable time, it is a little frustrating that, rather than accepting plot jobs, they’re just… Given to you in spurts, with the main break being that “build something” main quests are not timed. Run out of time, game over, and, even with the generous timing, it does become a little tight if you’re not playing in a faaaairly optimised fashion. Add in special spies, which are their own “One time only” fun, and you’ve got something that toes the line between challenging (fun) and frustrating (not so fun.)

The difficulty curve is still relatively fair though, as, without distractions, I had to *work* to confirm game-overs from this particular mission.

Still, for all that I’m the kind of berk who doesn’t end up playing with any kind of optimisation in mind, I don’t mind Potato Spy Story. It isn’t going to rock socks, and the enjoyability of its puns depend on how dadly you’re feeling on a particular day, but it’s a relatively solid, easy to understand management game with only a few quibbles and flaws to its name. And that ain’t bad.

The Mad Welshman loves a good potato. Alas, he wouldn’t fit in with this world, considering he likes them best sliced, buttered, and baked.

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Frozen Synapse 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

The original Frozen Synapse, released in 2011, gave me a new appreciation for AI. A few simple roles, a few simple actions, and a constricted battlefield nonetheless gave appreciation for timing, cones of vision, and action priority, because the core conceit of the game, whether against AI or players, is that turns happen simultaneously, and so, you have to not only think what you’re doing, but also what the other person’s doing.

A fine example of understanding timing from this multiplayer match… Nothing I do will save this assault, because the grenade is perfectly timed.

Okay, so you have to do that anyway in games, but seeing it, explicitly playing out on a map, and understanding both your mistakes and those of your opponents makes clear just how big that phase space of actions could get. It was scary, but thankfully, the community was pretty chill.

Now, after that, a similar concept with Frozen Cortex (Only robot sportsball instead of corporate murderclones with guns), and a few years, Frozen Synapse 2 has come to deliver… Well, more of that. And it brings two somewhat different experiences, depending on whether you tackle the City Mode, singleplayer, or Multiplayer. Let’s deal with multiplayer first, because it’s the simpler of the two, in a sense.

Four players, in two teams, given one of several random, single weapon loadouts. While there are other multiplayer modes, the most common is that, as mentioned, turns are simultaneous, and you don’t know what a player’s doing unless the opponent is in your vision arc. A good example from my multiplayer matches (Where I have consistently been defeated so far) was where a grenadier, unbeknownst to me, was right behind my assault that turn, and slipped into a doorway to grenade one of my folks from where I least expected it.

It was a clever play, because even if they had been seen because my Assault (automatic rifle) had seen them, they would still probably have escaped before I could shoot them, due to the fact that Grenadiers always run when they’re not throwing grenades, but Assaults track slowly when they’re moving, and are at their best when they know roughly where to aim. There are inequalities, built into the classes (Knife, Pistol, Assault, Shotgun, Grenadier, Rocketeer, Flamethrower) that add tactical considerations. Grenades take time to throw, and won’t move until they do, but their explosions last longer than a rocket (Not much longer, but enough that I painfully learned that Grenadiers can run into their own grenades, after the explosion started), Rocketeers blow up all the landscape in the rocket’s AoE, which can work against as much as for, and everything takes time.

A lot of this would already be known to Frozen Synapse players, new roles aside, but the addition of focus fire makes for a new priority to memorise, and a new wrinkle.

Moving quickly means it’s harder to hit you, but you can’t fire. Moving normally means you fire, but you have a penalty aiming. Stopping when you see someone means you shoot quickly, but are a sitting duck. But whoever correctly predicts the small, diamond shape location where an enemy is going to be when they fire, they get an accuracy boost. So, for example, somebody covering a door, from a far corner, may well get the drop on somebody who knows damn well the door’s their only exit, but foolishly stands in the doorway.

The story of Frozen Synapse continues, as this city is essentially built on the rubble of the first game’s story mode.

So it’s tactically intricate, simple rules making for an intriguing tactical game where you’re seeking a maximum area of action, while attempting to contract the opponent’s choices. I almost won one match from near death, due to the last person being a grenadier, who can quickly deny large areas without having to destroy their cover. Alas, they had a grenadier too, and, on the 9th turn of 8, it was declared a draw.

City Mode, on the other hand, is more complex. Not only are there the same tactical considerations, there’s management aspects to it too, such as building permits, a mercenary market, diplomacy… And it doesn’t exactly tutorialise well. Case in point: Grenades are great. Grenades are useful. But you can’t use Grenades unless you’ve signed up for Explosive Ordnance Services in the City. Or rockets. And the first I knew of this was when I’d already sent a Grenadier along with my squad to help clear out some Raiders. All the great aesthetics, the huge map, the soulful music that plays, isn’t going to save single player mode from some heavy flak for bad explanation of complex systems… Or, overall, the fact that accessibility options for the small text are currently nonexistent (There was, apparently, a “4K Supporting GUI” patch over the weekend before writing this, but it doesn’t appear to change tiny text, nor is there an option for this.)

Just a minute or so before I make a mistake that dooms a merc, I appreciate… Oh gods, this is a lot of buildings!

Add in some awkwardness in Multiplayer (If you want to add one of your own matches to Favourites by liking it, you have to search for its ID in the Match Play tab, rather than something more intuitive), and all of that interesting stuff I mentioned… Is less accessible to folks.

So, unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it. Its single player is complex without good support, its multiplayer isn’t for everyone no matter how friendly its community is, and, while it does make some steps in terms of colourblind support, that doesn’t change that a lot of its UI text is painfully small. It does expand on what worked well in the main game, and, apart from the knife, which is… Not something useful to a beginner player, those expansions add depth while still being easily explored. The rest? Not so much.

The Mad Welshman would make a poor mercenary leader. I mean, who gives soldiers orders to shoot without ammo?

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Cultist Simulator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cultist Simulator is a little like occult research itself: It’s messy, and offputting and obfuscatory at first, but, as you get deeper, it all becomes simpler, and then… Well, you’re exploring for the sake of exploring, falling deep down the rabbit hole…

The Mansus, this game’s Dreamlands, in all its glory. *Poked from off camera* Oh, sorry, wrong capitalisation. All its Glory!

To unpack this, nominally, Cultist Simulator is a real-time strategy/RPG hybrid where you, a person of some description (be that a doctor, a policeman, a working joe, or other things) get a hint of a deeper world, a world where, if you really, really want, if you work hard, and make sacrifices, you too can become a big player in the world of ancient magics.

Of course… Some of those sacrifices are human, and some of that work is murder, or suppression of evidence that you’re doing all this stuff, and I say “nominally” regarding the game because it isn’t really much like anything that’s come before. The cards, for example, are all on timers. The events are on timers. And, while you can pause and interact with them all, unless you’re doing just that, the event cards can only be viewed individually, so you’re always going to miss things, partly because here, a lack of tutorialising is a deliberate choice. Fun fact: Cult, and occult are words whose Latin roots are two letters apart. Colere, to cultivate, and Celare, to hide.

As such, a review of Cultist Simulator, by its very definition, is a somewhat spoilery experience. Starting only from a card or two, the world expands, with more verbs (that’s the squares as opposed to the cards) unlocking in play, more threats, more opportunities. Teachers are discovered, lore is uncovered. Dreams, strange places, possible cult members, and, of course… Hunters. People who would rather (and with good reason) see these ancient secrets remain buried, even if their methods, their name (The Bureau of Suppression) seems a step too far.

There’s one heck of a narrative here, but interpreting it is as much a learned skill as getting to the point I have.

This is one of the high points of the game, that the world expands, and is explained as you go, in fragments, little pieces. With atmospheric writing, overlays to the board, changes of music, the world is created. This is a game with a lot of reading, and a lot that can only be discovered through experimentation. Wait, you can Study with your Patrons? Damn, didn’t know that. You can get a rough idea of what an event or card wants by clicking the empty slot? Damn, didn’t know that at first.

It’s simultaneously frustrating as hell, and some excellent marrying of narrative to mechanics. You are, after all, always a character unfamiliar with the occult elements of its world, by choice or no, but, as a player, I can’t deny I spent some time angry that progression seemed always a step away. What the hell do I do with this door? How do I deal with the deep, dark Dread in my life? (To be fair, that’s a question I struggle answering in life, as well as this game.) It doesn’t necessarily help that yes, even if you’re so close to earning that goal, that true glimpse that destroys and creates, something simple, something you’d overlooked, can prematurely end your dreams. Since a single run can sometimes last up to 10 hours, you can imagine why that’s so devastating. The cult members and patrons remain the same, even if the story changes, and this, also, is perhaps a flaw.

Cultist Simulator is interesting as all get out, and somewhat unique, both in terms of how it handles events, and how it uses a lack of tutorialising to its benefit narratively. I would recommend it to folks, because, interestingly, it’s using its flaws. Not perfectly, and there are still things that the game does that annoys the hell out of me (such as generating cards on top of other cards, or the magnet slots on events prioritising over events that are already being used, dammit dammit dammit, but it intrigues me with its well researched and written world, its subtle, mostly minimalist aesthetic, and… Not gonna lie, it feels good when you finally achieve your goals.

The writing is excellent, and I mainly chose this screenshot for the folks who already bought the game. Some amusing… Poetic… Justice.

The Mad Welshman loves new aspirants. It’s such a delight to discover how well each goes with Garlic Butter.

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Lobotomy Corporation (Review)

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

Lobotomy Corporation is, at times, a frustrating game. But then, I would imagine daily life in a corporation not dissimilar to the SCP Foundation would be rather tense. Here’s the bird that punishes sin. Looks small, but it’s deadly. Steve has a cloud of fairies around him. He’s heard about what happened to Mike, so now he’s exclusively on fairy duty, and doesn’t argue. He’s too afraid of what would happen if he succeeded. Mary’s frantically turning the handle of a music box, tears streaming down her face. She knows that if she listens too long, she’ll feel bad things, but the music helps her forget what the thing in the shape of an old woman told her, and what she might tell her next time she has to listen to her stories.

Things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Oh, and in about thirty seconds, giant leeches are going to appear in the hallways, and devour Steve, Mike, Mary, and their friend Kira. But the energy has been harvested, so maybe the next day won’t be so horrifying, except that poor performance means budget cuts.

Welp. Time to load that checkpoint… Or maybe start over. I haven’t decided yet.

Lobotomy Corporation is, reductively described, a pausable management sim. It’s reductive because it’s got elements of roguelikes, like the fact that what you learn about the monsters stays unless you delete it, and that, each day, a new monster is added from a pool, so each run is a little different. Similarly, the management end is essentially “Create the best kinds of armour and weaponry to keep surviving, and assign the right people to the right beasties for the best result.” Objectives, also, such as “Suppress 8 meltdowns” (Suppress, in this context, means “Beat the hell out of whatever monster has invaded/escaped, try not to kill everyone.”) help upgrade the department they’re given to.

Successfully completing missions improves that specific department. Anti-fear effects? YES PLEASE

As such, it’s an odd mixture of frustrating and ho-hum. New abominations make life more interesting, and some of their quirks genuinely add depth and interest to play, but at the same time, that first time feels a bit like a roulette where a third of the segments are “Die horribly, do not roll again.” Once you know what the abnormal object or creature does, however, it becomes… Well, not tame. As noted, some outbreaks occur just by harvesting, and knowing what a thing does doesn’t help if you’re not healing or dealing with problems correctly… But safer, is probably the best word.

I would still say that Lobotomy Corp is worth a go, because it’s one of the few games I’ve seen trying to tackle this particular subject from this angle, and it honestly doesn’t do a bad job. It’s more that, in accurately representing its source inspiration, it’s also getting across the frustration attached.

A distant cry of “NOT MY HAAAAAAAAAIR” is heard. Or, it would be, if the other noises didn’t drown it out. Another day in Lobotomy Corporation…

The Mad Welshman is, for reference, Teth O-O5X-9 , The Twirler Of Moustaches.

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