60 Parsecs! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.38 for both this and 60 Seconds)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, even the smallest things can have long term consequences. That was the core idea behind 60 Seconds, the first game in this series, and now, in 60 Parsecs (A joke title based on a common nitpick with Star Wars Episode IV), that same question is asked… But in SPAAAACE!

DIVE DIVE DIVE! Each character has their own animation for getting the heck out of about-to-be-nuked Dodge.

It also saves a little time, because it means I can say that if you liked 60 Seconds, odds are high you’d like 60 Parsecs, because the core is the same: You have 60 seconds to pick up as much survival gear as you humanly can, from tins of soup, to crewmembers, before your alternate 50s space station gets blown up, and from there… Hopefully find and survive in space, long enough to get rescued… Or for something else to happen. It depends on both luck of the draw and your choices.

I never thought, for example, of the many potential uses of the humble sock puppet. Morale booster, sanity keeper… And apparently, very useful for dealing with aliens who want to steal my soup? Huh, better write that one down then.

One thing that immediately leaps out about the writing (for lo, writing is a lot of what you’re going to see in the game, along with the slowly changing faces of your ever more haggard crew) is that its humour rarely, if ever, punches down. It could have been a mean game, considering its subject matter, but at no point did I feel belittled or groan at a line… Mostly, in fact, I was chuckling if not outright laughing. For a game about an apocalypse, and surviving in extremely hostile (and cramped) conditions, it’s light hearted, and pulled me in. When Baby Bronco, the buff, but not very smart crew member fell in love with me, it was over positive reassurance, a reminder that he was valued. That was kiiiinda undermined by my dying of rats the next day, but it was sweet, and I appreciated its presentation. Even if I didn’t quite appreciate the whole “eaten by rats” thing.

I mean… We went together, that’s gotta count as a romantic no- No, it doesn’t, does it? Welp…

So… Writing’s good, sound’s good, art style is good (unlike 60 Seconds, which tried 3d models for the “OHCRAP GRAB THINGS” portion, 60 Parsecs has a nice, consistent style throughout, well animated and presented) … What’s not so good? Well, it’s a core thing, and, as such, this is more of a “Be warned” than a thumbs down. Not having the right item in some situations kills you. Failing certain events kills you. You will die, and sometimes it’s for the silliest of reasons (The rat thing, for example, was because I’d sent Baby Bronco out with the very item I needed to deal with the rats… The day before.)

I’d say, for the most part, the charm of the game gets around this, but it should be noted that getting to the end of either of the 60 [time units] games is hard. A lot of the enjoyment is not so much in the destinations (Of which there are multiple, some hidden), but in the journey.

Overall, I kind of like 60 Parsecs. It does the thing it does quite well, it’s got a lot of charm to it, it tutorialises fairly well, and, when I find myself even chuckling at some of the gruesome ends I and my crew have fallen prey to, I feel like, tonally, it’s hit a good mark.

“LET ME IN, EDDIE!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t quite do that, Cap’n! I have *no* idea why, and it *certainly* isn’t sinister, nosirree!”

The Mad Welshman would probably not make a good captain. I mean, both Captains and Vaudevillains often have rocking moustaches, but that’s nowhere near the amount of similarity needed…

Become a Patron!

Deep Sky Derelicts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

There is something deeply cathartic about smacking things with mechanical rocketfists. It doesn’t matter that it’s turn-based, and that this rocket-fist has been carefully considered after a couple of minutes. It doesn’t even matter that this is presented as the same comic frame for this move, repeated every time I choose it. The power of a good comic frame, really… It entertains even when you’ve seen it multiple times.

This screenshot is not, technically, lying. Sometimes you can get a Double Strike with more than two attacks. Ehehehe.

Similarly, that presentation helps make Deep Sky Derelicts as fun as it is. Which, when you think about it, is quite the achievement, considering it’s effectively a turn-based dungeon crawler where you want pretty numbers to go up. Consider: What I just said, compared to “You are a trio of convicts from diverse backgrounds, in a dystopian future, tasked by the Station Manager to find an ancient mothership by hopping from hulk to hulk, solving problems and being menaced by a variety of deadly aliens, mechanoid horrors, and environmental hazards.”

Makes all the difference. As does one of its little mechanical touches: Energy. Even though it’s rarely truly threatening, thanks to various means of getting it and conserving it that are open to characters, it’s never far from your thoughts, as it goes down with each move, each combat turn, each time you want to see just that little bit further… And if it goes to 0, you all die. Because it’s your suit energy.

As mentioned, though, the energy economy in the game is quite good, so it’s mostly inattention that gets you there. No, where the game gets you is when the enemies decide to take their gloves off. Because when they do, they do it hard. Summons. Armour. Miss chances, misfires, radiation… That last one, especially, is evil, because normally, your shields regenerate, and can easily be replenished, unlike your health, which stays gone, and can only be fixed up back at home base for prices best described as “Exorbitant” (Even in the midgame, when you’re getting a lot of stuff to sell, it can hurt.) Even with a mode where you can freely load from your last save, and death of a party member is reversible, around level 5, it starts getting tough.

This is one of the “nicer” enemy groupings of Level 5. And it was only due to liberal use of stuns on the Alpha Skinks there that I got out of it only needing to leave the station and heal…

Aesthetically, it comes together quite well. Comic book stylings (complete with frames that pop in for your moves) mesh well with a solid UI, marred only by some odd control issues (Sometimes, the mouse fails to register clicks until you move it, once you’ve left an event, for example) , and equally odd choices (Scanning should be default when exploring, but it’s a part of your PDA, and so… Don’t close your PDA out of inventory, save some time and click the “Scanner” button instead.) It has some nice dark tones going on with the music, and the events that are scattered around the various hulks are varied and interesting, such as the morally grey tale of the man who wants to be an AI, or the lighter events where a giant pest can be dealt with… Well, differently to your usual solutions of “Hack it, shoot it, hack it in the swordy type sense.”

As to problems, well, apart from the aforementioned oddities, it should be noted that the game’s fast music somewhat belies its slowish pacing (and loading.) It’s turn based, and, while the hulks do have enemies, events, and later environmental hazards and traps, early on, they feel empty, and later on, you sometimes find yourself wishing they were a little more empty, as the difficulty spikes around the aforementioned level 5 mark. Thankfully, one of my other niggles is somewhat dealt with by mousing over cards (When your hand gets big enough, it’s hard to see the cards), but never entirely goes away. Otherwise, it does something a little different with a formula that’s become all too familiar, and it’s a solidly presented game in an interesting world. Worth a look.

That’s a lot of cards. Thing is, I could have *even more*

The Mad Welshman reminds you that exploring old hulks is dangerous. Old games, less so.

Become a Patron!

DISTANCE (Review)

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

2018 continues to be a year of firsts for me saying words I never thought I’d say. In the case of Distance, spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, those words are “Wow, I never thought I’d see a good horror game in the Future Racing genre.”

Grain, spooky thing in the distance, ambience? Yup, that’s… Waaaaaait…

And yet… Here we are. A Future Racing game involving a car that can fly, tumble, and make sharp turns without braking… Also being a game with horror stylings, unsettling the player with strange vistas of a world gone horribly wrong, shining hope transmuted to despair. Without a single human character, only a car, a road that inexplicably seems to want you dead, a teleporter, and a rogue machine… OR IS IT?

Okay, so it gets a little odd and ambiguous at times, and I’m not 100% sure I can give the game props for horror writing when I haven’t completely played through the second campaign, but moodwise, it definitely creates feelings I’d associate with horror: Uneasiness and dissociation, asking myself… What’s really going on?

It also helps that it’s a smooth game. While I would recommend controller over keyboard for Distance, if only because the control scheme is a little odd, the keyboard controls are, nonetheless, quite smooth, and I only ever felt a little put out during the quicker, more difficult segments by the aforementioned control scheme (Quickly hitting SPACE, A/D, and SHIFT in the right timings was a little bit frustrating. Only needed late in the main campaign, and I’m sure rearranging keybinds could help.)

While flying is relatively rare, the cold, deep depths of space aren’t. They’re breathtaking. Well, they would be if cars had lungs, anyway…

Aesthetically, the game is on point pretty much throughout. Good signposting, clear visuals, and a dystopian retrofuturist aesthetic that works well whether it’s ruined or not, I never felt distracted. Musically, it switches well from pumping electronic beats to more ambient, horror styled soundscapes, and the sound effects and voice work well.

So… So far, I’ve been pretty glowing about Distance. And it is a good game. It helps that it also has a track editor and Workshop support, but one thing I will say is that I don’t really feel like the campaign added a whole lot to flying before it’s taken away from you for the majority of the rest. Part of that, I get, flying is hard, and inverting the vertical controls is a bit of a shock if you aren’t prepared for it (My exact words were, as I recall “Friends don’t let friends invert on you.”), but it was somewhat disappointing to see flying under-represented. But other changes from the original formula, such as a “down” thrust (that’s “down relative to your car”) are definitely welcomed, and I did, overall, find enjoyment in doing some of the silly things you can do with your jumping, thrusting, tumbling electronic car before the end of its main campaign.

And that, honestly, is about all I can say, because the game is simple and tight, elegantly tutorialises, and is fairly accessible to boot. It’s got some interesting horror elements that feel natural, and is well worth a look from the Future Racing crowd.

Another improvement over Nitronic Rush… These spikes didn’t want to make me throw my control-device out of a window.

No, for reference, Twisted Metal doesn’t count, because it’s a Combat Racer. Small diff.

Become a Patron!

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?

Become a Patron!

Heaven Will Be Mine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaven Will Be Mine is one of those visual novels that packs a lot into its relatively tiny frame. Like the mechs it pilots, existential warriors in both space… And phase space, its core is super dense. And if this seems like pretty, poetic words, to lull you into buying into it… Well, they are and they aren’t.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when ship specs have you reaching for your fan.

See, it’s hard to describe good, sensual writing without a little bit of poetry getting into the informational. And notice that I said sensual, not sexual. More than one way to peel a banana, friend. So let’s get the purely informational out of the way, get to the fun stuff.

As noted, Heaven Will Be Mine is a visual novel. You make choices, and those choices lead toward an ending. How? Well, that depends on both your choices, and which (if any) of the three factions you favour. Which of the pilots you choose affects the story, sure… But which ending you choose doesn’t necessarily depend on the pilot. After all, this is a game where the war is mostly a battle of ideas, and sometimes… The best way to win is to lose. Read chats, get into the heads of three flawed and interesting pilots, each with support staff, and mails, and world, and context…

…It seems complex, but it really isn’t, and the game makes it clear that it wants you to experience it, whether you pick the events that are “wins” or “losses.” Will it end in war, or something else? Well, that’s up to you, and I wouldn’t dream of giving you hints. Visually, the game is clear, with an interface that draws you in, fitting well, and musically… Musically, it shines, every track fitting the mood.

Not pictured: A long bass thrum, seemingly never ending, which screams “Threat” to the nether portions of the brain.

Now, the meat of the review. You see, despite being lewd as heck, to the point where I spent most of my first run alternating between gnawing on my thumb and my lip, blushing beet red, this not only doesn’t come at the expense of its universe, it also doesn’t come with the expense of being Not Safe For Work. The writing is flirtatious, concentrating more on feelings, engaging the senses to bring you into its mood. While I’m mostly writing this from the perspective of Saturn, each character has their own mood, and it does a good job of getting that mood across. Saturn is out for fun, to do the unexpected, and to have fun. Luna-Terra is, as their commander notes, strong yet fragile, wounded and whole, conflicts working perfectly… And Pluto… Pluto feels all encompassing, awe inspiring and paradoxically merciful in her deadly gravity well. Aevee Bee, as writer, has done an excellent job of making the posthuman both alien… And attractive, and the rest of the game follows this lead very well.

Of course, all of this has been very emotionally described, but, in a very real sense, that’s the point… It’s not a game I could review well by saying “This is good” , or “This is lewd”, or “This doesn’t feel right” , because a lot of it is about feeling, and Heaven Will Be Mine succeeds on this front very well.

While, of the three, I had the most enjoyable time with Saturn, I found Luna-Terra the most interesting.

The Mad Welshman smiles a little, and his e-cig lights up, as he shakes ever so slightly. The future, it seems, is filled with possibilities…

Become a Patron!