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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Unheard (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

I love me a good mystery. Or three. Or five. I also love me some weirdness. So when Unheard popped up on my radar, I was intrigued. Ghost voices? Solving cold cases via audio recordings with movements of characters on a map? Deduction? Hell. Yes.

At the successful conclusion of each case, a short recap showing where the main clues were plays out.

And, overall, I’m not disappointed. I might as well get the niggles out of the way first, because they really are, honestly, niggles, little things. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible to just cows and bulls your way to the answer once you’ve identified everybody (You have X correct, no, X-1, ah, that one’s right, cool, next), and secondly, achievements are slightly borked in that it seems to give you the achievement for solving the case only with the play button… Even if you actually do use the recording progress bar (Rewind and Fast-Forward still fail the achievement.) And… That’s pretty much it, because the cases themselves get interesting pretty quickly. It starts nice and simple, with a twin identity case, moves on to an art theft where not all is as it seems, a terrorist bombing that also cleaned up the terrorist’s loose ends… Each one has something where the twist makes repeating the recording from different perspectives important, and each gives its clues well, for the most part (I say the most part, because case 3’s first question’s biggest clue is a surprisingly subtle one)

As you might be able to appreciate, I have to pick my images very carefully. I don’t want to spoil it for you…

The premise at first seems simple: You are someone being assessed using a new system of solving cases, all involving sound recordings of cold cases taken from places. Sounds unreal, and the game does a lot to make it seem more so, but, within its word, it feels real. On the one hand, it’s a short game, taking about three or four hours to complete, but it’s a well written experience, and the one mystery it does leave unsolved, it does so for a reason. Again, though, certain evidence deeply implies the solution, and I like that. Equally, I like the sound design, making the conversations with your assessor seem strange (you never see her face, for example), and the visual design very clearly lays out what’s needed.

Of course, the problem with saying much more, is that there are five cases, and to say much more risks spoilers… But it fits all the criteria of a good mystery game. It allows you to solve the case on your own, with the tools provided. Equally, it doesn’t hold your hand, instead allowing you to make notes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaves just enough mystery to stay interesting all the way through, and, while it doesn’t appear like it ties up everything, it does, and that’s really cool. If you like mystery solving, give this one a look.

Case 3, pictured, is where things really start kicking off.

The Mad Welshman has to toodle off. Something about a new system where correcting contradictions in a manga short reveals who coded the cool tricks in games…

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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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Desolate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£22.30 for game and soundtrack, £4.79 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It:
Steam

It’s always dangerous on the Island, and it’s important to know when to creep, when to crawl, when to duck, when to jump. People have nice words for all the things that happen on the Island, pretty words like “Gravitic anomaly”, “Anomalous Localised Weather Phenomenon”, and a whole bunch of others, most of which translate to “Watch out for this, it can kill the unwary.” The traders are Uncles and Aunts, familial names for the vultures who claim to watch out for you while taking the lion’s share of your spoils, and eager scientists want to add to their store of pretty words… But not at their own risk. No, that’s for the Volunteers.

If there’s anything Victor Ognin’s gonna pay for, it’s this. Damn him.

If this is all sounding a bit like the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, then you’ve correctly noticed this is a heavy inspiration for Desolate. Although STALKER would be a closer comparison, considering that the disaster on this island, the strangeness… Is at least partly the fault of scientists being over-eager about Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot. Specifically a man called Victor Ognin. So, a scientist to hunt, strange abominations, bandits and madmen, anomalies… All the while worrying about the strange effects of the Island, keeping yourself alive.

It’s such a shame then, that it feels more hollow than its inspirations. There have been moments, it’s true: A camp, surrounded by Zapper anomalies (electrical anomalies, that, like most anomalies except the “Black Hole”, hurt, but, like all anomalies, can mostly be seen just fine, especially during the day) made for a tense few moments (Although throwing rocks wasn’t really needed), and some of the enemies (From the not-dog Dorg to the whatever-the-hell-vaguely-quadruped Sapsy) are visually and aurally well designed (Others, such as the Wanogah, just made me sigh gustily. Really? Naked vomitting teleporting zombie lady with an oxygen reducing cloud of flies? Bit cliché, wot?) Sometimes they fight among themselves, which is interesting, although sometimes comical (A Dorg, for example, failing to catch a fleeing Gorlan (Some kind of prey/food animal that got changed by whatever the Event is of this world)

He’s permanently angry. Although, to be fair, nearly everyone seems to be.

But this is a Zone that, moments aside, doesn’t really feel that alive. Nor does it feel that desolate, as you can’t go twenty or thirty feet without running into a Dorg or some other beast, immediately crouch or run away, and… Well, back to scavenging. But, for all the subtle worldbuilding (Here be a bunch of zealots holed up in a church. Here be the Basecamp of Uncle Misha, from where you’ll be spending a lot of your time foraging and questing. Here be the spooky ghost who may have a big role in the plot, but mostly pops up to give you jumpscares), it’s lacking… Something. Maybe it’s that the enemies have very predictable AI, or are relatively easy to hide from (or run from) in the early game. Maybe it’s that there’s not a whole lot of conversation going on, beyond plot requests and the occasional bit of dialogue (most trading, for example, is simply “Hit E. Start trading.”) But quests don’t seem to have that same spice, being mostly of the “find X things to fix Y thing” or “Go to X potentially interesting place to kill Y thing” variety.

I will indeed find the dome once the moon co- oh, no moon? Well, when morning comes.

When night comes, it’s black as pitch, and, while your flashlight never runs out of battery (Oh, thank the heavens for this!), it nonetheless… Ends up detracting from what is actually some interesting scenery. The radar domes, the inexplicable pod of beached whales, and other such sights just kinda vanish (Not literally, I mean they’re so much harder to see and appreciate), without, due to the aforementioned “Relatively easy to hide/run from” thing, upping the tension significantly. The game, meanwhile, runs on a single save system with options for “Open” play (Haven’t tried it, not a social Volunteer, thanks) or solo, and death… Well, death is mostly an annoyance, because it means you have ten minutes to reach all that equipment you gathered (Be it in a dangerous area or no), or… Well, it’s back to trying to regain some semblance of the equipment you lost, perhaps a bigger frustration.

Maybe it’s something that will grow on me. Maybe, somewhere over the next hill, I won’t feel like trudging halfway across the island to kill another hellbeast or investigate an anomaly for masters ignorant (deliberately or otherwise) of the danger is more than “Just another day.” Maybe that’s the point, and I’m missing it. But DESOLATE, unfortunately, doesn’t scratch my itch. Next time, Stalker, next time!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. The Island kinda speaks for itself, one way or the other.

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