Project Warlock (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.

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DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

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MegaMan 11 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a MegaMan game. I knew that from the moment I died for the fifth time on a single screen, and thought fondly about violence against bats… Which, in the real world, I quite like, but in videogames, they are a symbol of the purest rage and hatred.

Bats, bats, they’ll ruin your day, they’ll ruin your day and they’ll get in your way…

Which is a good segue into how I feel about MegaMan 11, an artfully designed, clever game that makes me want to throw things on even its actual “Normal” difficulty of “Casual.”

MegaMan is, in many ways, an archetypal run’n’gun platformer. You, MegaMan, the greatest creation of benevolent robotics professor Dr. Light, have to take on eight normally good robots who have been corrupted by Doctor Wily, a man who has been attempting to destroy the world since his tech proposals got turned down in college (A facet we now see in the intro to MegaMan 11.) And how do we do this? We visit eight themed stages, plus Wily’s Castle, and go through platforming and shootman challenges, fighting one or two minibosses in each stage, before taking on the bosses, whether that’s armed with their thematic weakness, or just with whatever weapons we have, which can be charged.

It’s a tight formula, with some similarly tight challenges, that, despite its artistry, contains a lot of things I just plain hate. And it seems the developers are aware of this, because there are things you can obtain that ameliorate some of the worst. Such as items that protect you, for a short time, against the horror that is the instant spikes of spikey death. There is also a pair of boots that allow you to not slip everywhere in Tundra Man’s stage. You might be able to hazard a… Sharp guess as to why I mention those two items in rapid succession. Oh, and let’s not forget our oldest “friends” , shielded turret (or Sniper Joe, which is functionally the same) where you want to jump, and FUCKING BATS.

About three seconds before Mega got exploded, and I was tempted to throw things.

The thing is, for what it is, MegaMan is, in fact, very well designed. Its stages teach you their quirks as you go along pretty easily, and they repeat their challenges just enough to keep things interesting, never outstaying their welcome. The bosses and minibosses, with one “Old Friend” exception, are well designed, their patterns pretty clear. That one exception, by the way, is the return of Yellow Devil, a boss that has never sat well with me due to its “Get up and wait” pattern. Graphically, it’s solid, musically, it’s stirring, its narrative works well, and its Dual-Gear system, allowing you to charge up either power or speed, is a clever addition.

And when it isn’t specifically set up to kill you on your first failure, I feel a sort of enjoyment. I actively enjoyed working out what I was doing with the second Bounce Man miniboss fight, or how to dodge Fuse Man’s hyper-speed attacks (It’s possible without the Speed Gear, but it really helps.) But then there are parts like the wall of fiery death in Torchman’s stage, coupled with enemies that are both largely invisible and definitely invincible, that make me want to throw things.

So, in short, MegaMan 11 is a well designed mixed bag. It tightens up its formula, makes a few new additions, but it will probably never remove that feeling of hate when something slaps you into a bottomless pit. It definitely isn’t a bad game, but… Not for me, sadly.

I would also like to note that I feel horrible about defeating BounceMan. It’s like kicking a puppy…

The Mad Welshman is very much a “Save The MegaMan” type person. Is that a GDQ donation category?

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Ghostly Matter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ghostly Matter is one of those games where, with its retro stylings and cool ideas, I want to like it. Mixing old action adventure titles (Not the modern definition, but essentially, platformers with adventure game elements), pulp horror, and survival horror.

Two professors, both alike in dignity…

But a common problem, it seems, with retro games is that they also take the less laudable elements of retro design, and Ghostly Matter, for all that it has an interesting world, won’t particularly let me get into it because it wants to be retro hard.

The general story is, admittedly, nice and pulpy. Two professors, both alike in dignity, work in the burgeoning field of ghostly research, but they split over an argument about whether something that lets you look into the abyss that is the realm of the dead will also let the abyss look into them. Years pass, and Dr. Penderghast, the protagonist, receives a mysterious message from beyond the grave that seems to be his old professorial friend. Cue horrors and hijinks.

I’d love to tell you more about those hijinks, about the direction the game goes, but, unfortunately, I can’t. Because there is a lot of dying in this game, and checkpoints… Are not terribly helpful. Fixed life with few healing items contrasts with contact damage, rapidly firing enemies, the fact that your Spectroscope is necessary to see certain enemies, but also drains your health at a rate of knots (and needs batteries) … Before we even get into things like the gotcha that opens up a shortcut in the second level, where you open up said shortcut, jump down, and… Are immediately assailed by four skeletons arising in very close proximity. Whups, opening this shortcut is going to cost you health, no matter what you do. What’s that? Your health is in short supply? Better remember where the nearest checkpoint is, then!

In game design philosophy, there is the problem of Schrodinger’s Monster Closet. When the waveform collapses, you either take damage or have an item (its usefulness also determined by a waveform.)

There are other, better weapons that, unfortunately, but I can, at least, tell you there are three different types of enemies, and certain weapons work better than others. But when maps are large and sprawling, health items are few and far between, checkpoints are equally pretty far… And the enemies like to be invisible (use the spectroscope to hit them, lose health anyway, because the spectroscope is a gateway to death), or pop up from the ground (with some being easy to spot, others not so much) or just have hard to dodge ranged options, I found myself hitting brick walls pretty often, to the point where I’m writing this review without having gotten nearly as far as I’d like.

Oddly, narratively, everything fits together well. The supernatural world is tough (enemies are bullet spongy) , the spectroscope drains life with use because it’s basically a gateway to the spirit realm (but is necessary for puzzles, while health items are rare) , and you can’t exactly have a horde of evil in a small room (maps are large, with only a few navigation aids.) Mechanically, as those little asides note, it doesn’t work so well, with a lot of factors contributing to the difficulty, while less factors ameliorate it. The controls are also a little tough to get into, sadly, but this is not a huge issue when a lot of the time, what you need is move, jump, and shoot, all of which are simple enough.

Still, it is an interesting story, and while I have a lot of trouble with it, if you’re fine with games being tougher than usual, this may be one to look at.

Even in the areas I’ve been able to struggle through, there’s at least some variety. From a normal house to… This. Cool!

The Mad Welshman loves him some horror. It’s part of why he’s often so harsh with horror titles, it must be said.

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To Hell With Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

To Hell With Hell, if it could maybe tone it down a little, would be a cool, good, and interesting twin-stick shooting roguesortamaybekindalike with a main character I’m still not sure about. As it is, it’s definitely got two of those, and is working on a third.

The masks in this game are, even at their worst, quite interesting. Fine example: The ninja mask has a stunning harpoon that pulls enemies toward you. GET OVER HERE!!!

The game’s plot, such as it is, involves Natasia, a scantily clad woman who, as it turns out, is one of the many children of a Duke of Hell, part of their backup plan if, for example, they were deposed by other minions of hell and held captive. At the present time, despite the comic book presentation, this really is “Such as it is”, a somewhat flimsy justification for a scantily clad woman to shoot demons. I’d say more, but the game’s really not giving me a lot to work with here beyond that. So… Swiftly moving on!

There is, thankfully, more meat aesthetically and gameplay wise, because this is… A game that touts its difficulty. Wait, don’t run away, it mainly does this with enemies being bullet spongy, the player not being bullet spongy, limited ammunition (encouraging you to switch weapons, or use melee… The latter’s not a great option, unfortunately), and limited saves on a run (6 saves on the basic difficulty, which comes to one save every 2 levels.) That this is the easiest difficulty perhaps sets the tone (slightly offputting, at the present time), and if it were just this? I would be much less kind, considering some of the enemies, such as the goat-headed explosion summoner, the large toad-thing that fires fans of bullets, and the fact that even the lowest tier of enemies takes between 3 to 5 shots to kill. Oh, and melee enemies and minibosses. Let’s not forget those.

As I said, thankfully, there’s more to it than this, because not only are there random skill ups on successfully completing a level (such as slower enemy bullets, more damage, a chance of health on killing an enemy, so on), the health can be boosted, and further abilities gained… With masks.

I can’t seem to face up to the facts… I’m tense and nervous, and I… Can’t relax…

Seemingly inspired by games like Wonderboy, Kid Chameleon, or Magician Lord, not only are there guns, health, and ammo pickups, there are masks, of which you can normally carry two, one or two appears per level, and each adds both health and special abilities, of varying use. Lose health, lose the masks, but while you’re carrying them, things like eating guns for ammo (eh), shotgun blasts (fair), shields (the SWAT mask), and fireballs (the cacodemon mask, a very nice area of effect) are yours to command, and you can switch between them.

Finally, add in that you automatically reload from your save when you die, allowing you to bully on through in some (but not all) cases, and… Well, it goes from highly frustrating to moderately so. Maybe it’s because a pair of goat-heads can really ruin your day from a surprising distance away that you have to cover while probably being shot at, and they don’t have to worry about line of sight. Maybe it’s because the starter pistol is, far and away, the worst option for dealing with enemies. Maybe it’s because, despite the fact melee deflects bullets, it’s a little slow. It’s nothing obvious in the design that’s putting me off, mechanically… But it is, at the moment, putting me off.

As noted, aesthetically, it’s fine. Enemies are clearly differentiated from the background, the levels have been brightened up from when I last looked at it, so it’s less muddy, and its pixel stylings definitely say “Hell” while working within the constraints of a twin-stick shooter. Musically, it’s that most devilish of music, hard guitars, and I am perfectly okay with this. But, right now, although it’s hard to define, To Hell With Hell essentially needs to work on its balance. Maybe that means having slightly beefier guns. Maybe that means having less tanky enemies for what is currently the lowest difficulty setting. It probably doesn’t mean making the masks more powerful, because that, funnily enough, is one of the parts that feels right.

YES. PLEASE.

But, overall, To Hell With Hell isn’t quite my cup of tea, being a little too devilish for my personal taste.

The Mad Welshman is well acquainted with Hell, one of the many underworlds and places of punishment he visits for entertainment purposes on a semi-regular basis.

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