Sigma Theory (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

International espionage is, at the best of times, a tough job. It involves not only observation, but paperwork, diplomacy, bribery, compromising assets… It’s a multifaceted operation. And lots of things can get in your way, from local law enforcement, to other agents, encryptions… Even just plain bad luck.

Or being a berk, as I describe later in the review…

And, in Sigma Theory, you’re doing this in service to perhaps the last big arms race of all… The race to a Paradigm Shift, where new technologies change the very nature of the world, people, cultures, infrastructure… Even hearts, minds, and bodies. It’s an arms race which could very well result in the world melting down, culturally for sure, possible literally. No pressure, though.

The general idea is, in its basics, very simple: Keep relatively good relations with your own country and others… While researching technologies, and stealing the scientists of others to help achieve your own goals. Turn based, you have a lot of time to think about your moves… But something will throw a wrench in your plans, because every technology gained changes the game somewhat. One will make the agents of a country incorruptible. Another makes the scientists of other countries more corruptible. One slows research of every other country. One allows two of your agents to get an upgrade in their intelligence. And there is no way in hell you’re going to get that. So, that’s the main idea… Send your agents to other countries, find scientists, compromise them, steal them, research technologies, and try not to let the same happen to you.

A bad day just got a hell of a lot worse…

Of course… Like I said, things get complicated, because there are private groups who want to fuck things up too, and, while your goals may well align with theirs (Taking down capitalism? Sign me the fuck up!), they will scew you over if you don’t. And exfiltrating scientists and other figures is its own, turn based fun time, set in a city route spattered liberally with cops and events that may raise the alertness level, lower it, slow you down, speed you up… Screw it up, and you not only lose the agent, you lose reputation with both their country and yours… And you need that high rep with yours to keep your surveillance and combat drones to help you, and get new benefits, like being able to replace the agents you lost. You’ll also lose rep if you go loud, but sometimes you need to go loud.

And agents… Agents have preferences. In the most recent game, Russia was already well on its way to dominance, and America was falling behind. But I forgot that Mystery, the hacker I’d recruited, and who was exfiltrating a scientist, was a pacifist. With fleeing or stunning highly dangerous options, I ordered her to open fire… And she surrendered, immediately. Well, damn. Read your dossiers, Jamie, read your dossiers! (Especially since recruiting agents you haven’t recruited before requires it, to recruit them in the first place.)

Thinks about resisting a terrible joke… Nahhh… There is no ethical marriage under Capitalism!

Aesthetically, the whole is very pleasing. A simple, clear, but fitting UI, music that adds to that tense feeling that pervades the game’s mechanics, good character portraits, and the cityscape is also pretty clear. With a surveillance drone, you know how hard it’s going to be to get out, but without, the route is clear… But cops fade into view.

The game is very difficult, and, at times, distinctly unfair… But I still enjoyed myself, and continue to do so, because thematically? It works. It’s a dangerous situation in which one misstep can cascade into the Doomsday Clock running down, or the world dominance (quite literally) of another global power, or a private corporation. So if the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t turn you off, I would definitely recommend it for what it is… An engaging turn based game, set in perhaps the biggest cold war I’ve seen in a setting. A cold war for how humanity itself is directed.

Being a spy agency is hard. I wonder how super agents would do with Disciples 1?

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Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79 (£7.09 for game and soundtrack, £2.09 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Adventurers are not the smartest of folks. They run heedlessly into dungeons, and then scratch their heads as they’re faced with… A grid? A small economy system? A… Puzzle? BRUNO SMASH. Bruno dead. Whoops, Bruno should have listened to the tutorial of Krumit’s Tale, a fun little puzzle and deckbuilding roguelite in which you try to efficiently clear out a dungeon, with the only major criteria being survival. Of course, if you survive and leave a lot of item tiles on the board, you get more opportunities to beef up your deck. And that’s so very tempting.

All these tiles will be lost… Like tears in the rain. Time to die…

The actual rules of Krumit’s Tale are pretty simple. With an enemy, you attack first, unless they’re ambushing or blitzing you (the lightning symbol.) Killing an enemy nets you 1 gold, and gold is used to buy abilities. I mention this before things like parrying, where if you have more armour the the enemy’s attack? They’re stunned for a turn, which, effectively, counts for either two turns of damage, or the enemy’s death, depending on how much they have left in the (heart) tank, because you don’t start with weapons or armour.

You have to buy them, if you have the option. Once all enemies are dead, you’ve won, and the equipment and ability tiles you have left on the board are counted toward your bonus points. You get a free tile, you pick a special ability out of four, and then you buy tiles and rubbish cards you don’t want anymore until your deck size is the current maximum. Then you do it again. Die? You’ve earned XP, which will, over runs, unlock you new abilities for the character you’ve played.

A dangerous foe indeed!

The devil’s in the details, of course, with each new enemy having something that complicates matters, but the base ideas are tight, simple, and easily understandable. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of. Which is good, I like me some tight design! But what about… Everything else?

Well, it just so happens that I like the aesthetic too. Visually, it’s a cartoonish style, with some interestingly grim elements, and lovely little touches like the M of Krumit’s fluttering above the candle flame of the L, and the animations of each character. Speaking of characters, both of the currently available characters have their own… I won’t quite say “charm” , but character works. Bruno is definitely a barbarian of a man, with a constant, low key gargling of suppressed rage, and similarly, Greybeard the wizard is toothily muttering his incantations. Their designs, and that of the monsters, are pretty cool, and the music? Suitably creepy. Nice!

Yes, this would be an ideal spot. I love sneks!

This, the difficulty curve, the clever little things you can do (If your inventory isn’t used up, it counts toward that tile bonus, friends!), and its sarcastic, sometimes grim humour works well for me. As far as deckbuilder roguelites go, it comes recommended, even in this early stage, showing promise and polish.

The Mad Welshman loves the description of W’aggu. Alas, he didn’t screenshot it. Go play the game.

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Abyss Manager (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Sometimes, a game changes in Early Access. Quite dramatically, at times. Others… Not so much. Case in point: Abyss Manager, a game where, last time I looked at it, I effectively said that the game didn’t want to be played, what with poor tutorialisation, lots and lots of grind, and, due to a big part of that grind being trying to balance beefy bastards of various species trying to kick down your door as a dungeon keeper, tournaments between other dungeon keepers, exploration, research, building up your funds… And beefy bastards takes up the majority of that time. And this, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crying shame, because there’s a cool research tree. Exploration is an interesting idea, even if its implementation is pretty basic: Send X of your employees to a site, hopefully pass a skill check, get loot.

FFFFFFFFFF-

…Come to think of it, most of the systems in the game are like that. It’s a very dry game. It’s colourful, aesthetically, with some good lo-fi spritework, but battling is the majority of what you do, and everything else… Well, it’s just kind of there, and some of it (exploration and matches) will take some of your most powerful creatures away from either employment or the battlefield for several turns (As in, easily 7-10, sometimes more.)

As such, there really… Isn’t much to say. The grind still exists, as bad as before, the systems are ho-hum, the aesthetic can’t really save it from that, and, even turn based as it is, it’s somewhat stressful to play. I find myself struggling to write more, and so… I guess I’ll finish up by saying that, alas, things didn’t improve, and I can’t recommend this unless you’re really a fan of grind. It’s no doubt added some things, but… I can’t see them, precisely because the overall experience is dry and unappealing.

Yup. It’s pretty much a loss all round.

The Mad Welshman sighs. Sometimes he hates his job.

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Sea Salt (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£18.78 Digital Deluxe, £4.79 Digital Deluxe upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

“Argh, why did the Eldritch Horror bite my face off?!” asked the primary worshipper of the “Eldritch Horrors Biting People’s Faces Off” cult. That’s a good way to sum up the general story of Sea Salt, in which a town’s archbishop, of the Church of Dagon, the fish god, refuses to go quietly when he is ordered not only to sacrifice others (which he’s alright with), but himself.

Guess who voted for the aforementioned Eldritch Horrors Cult? Well, what goes around comes around.

You are Dagon, who summons your horde from afar, controls them from afar, and slaughters the chosen townsfolk and anyone who gets in the way. And, while the game is alright, and aesthetically works quite well, I do have some problems with it. So let’s talk gribbleys.

The basic idea is just fine: You start a level with some kind of creature, you surround townsfolk and murder them by leading them with your cursor to an enemy, then holding SPACE once you’re reasonably sure they’re surrounded. Nearly every enemy in the early game will panic once you’re close enough, so, even with ranged enemies becoming a thing very early on, this, and the idea that not holding space allows your gribbleys to navigate hazards like fire are the basics (but not bullets, or the impending fire of a molotov cocktail: Those, you just have to deal with, one way or another.) When you find a summoning circle, or simply collect enough gold from townsfolk, you can summon more, of any type that you’ve unlocked in the playthrough so far (yes, this includes restarting entirely.)

Case in point, this sailor (and his friends strewn around off screen behind us) are even more screwed than they were on my first run, because now I have Cultists.

And that, plus the narrative of a church leader deceiving his people into thinking this horde is a test of faith, rather than a punishment for the leader of the church refusing to be faithful, is pretty interesting. Hell, even the bosses are interesting, although they may frustrate the first time you meet them. But it’s okay, you’re not expected to win in one go. Play an arena. Try again with different folks. You’re still progressing toward unlocking new cult leaders with which to try something different.

Aesthetically, it looks pretty good. Good, gothic music, the UX is well presented, the sprites for the various townsfolk, monsters, etc, are evocative with a low pixel count, and the world is suitably grimy.

It is perhaps a shame then, that it’s been an utter bastard to screenshot due to problem number one: Yes, there is a windowed mode, via alt+enter. No, it isn’t in the options. Yes, it’s tiny, and you have to manually resize. And if that were all, I wouldn’t mind so much, and this wouldn’t be getting the thumb being waved back and fore uncertainly. But it isn’t. The game being somewhat slow, I understand. It gives you room to think, even if it doesn’t particularly feel great.

A good simulation of how my eyeballs felt in areas of the game where there were a lot of fires.

But the fires causing this godawful blur effect that makes my eyes hurt is bloody terrible, and it only gets worse the more fire there is. No, there isn’t an option to turn that off, although there is for “Ye Olde School Graine Filtre” Similarly, while the UX is alright, what isn’t alright is the lack of clarity in the menu organisation: When it says “Start” , it means “Continue”, and, when leaving an arena, it asks “Retry” when, in fact, it means “Back to menu.” And the difficulty starts spiking pretty early also.

If you like playing the monsters or villains, as I do, and want something a little different, this one’s a moderately good pick. But I know I’m going to be waiting until the eyestrain inducing post-effects can be turned off, because that’s the kind of Eldritch Horror I’m not into. Where I’m going, I will need eyes.

The Mad Welshman is more of a Labour voter than the Eldritch Horror Party, but he does support the “Great Cthulhu Eats The Rich” platform.

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Autonauts (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Robots can be frustrating things. Colonists and their needs can be frustrating things. So… What happens when you put them together? Well, it sure ain’t cherry pie, friends. So… Autonauts is a colony building game, but instead of a group of colonists you control (directly or indirectly), it’s robots. Robots you… “Program.”

I would say we’ll get to that in a second, but no, it’s a core issue with why I find the game so damn frustrating. It’s got a programming language, programming limitations, but, apart from being able to delete instructions, what is it actually? It’s monkey-see, monkey-do. You set the robot to record actions, you do the things, and… Once you’ve done that, you’d think it was over, right?

This, funnily enough, still doesn’t seem to do the job right. If only I had… A variable to compare rather than a binary state…

Well, not quite. You can change some conditions, such as loop conditions, but without knowing that (It doesn’t actually teach you that explicitly, you have to futz with that menu you see (or know Scratch, and how it does that too) to know this.) But otherwise, there’s not a lot of programming going on, and, since the robots were designed by the Department of Cut Corners, the early game is a massive drag for several reasons. Let’s start with getting your basic industry up and running.

So, in the tutorial, it tells you you need three robots to log and replant an area. Fine, cool, this is technically true. What it doesn’t tell you is that, if you don’t want to be rushing around trying to fill every one of their needs, from recharging (the default bot’s battery life can best be described as “Shit”) to needing tools when they break, you’ll want an extra two bots, one for recharging, one for making tools, a set of crates to put those tools in, and to go back and adjust the robots so they get a tool from the crate when theirs is broken. Not to mention the log chopping bots, the plank chopping bots, the storing bots, the recharge bots for all of these, the mining bot, the stone storing bot, the charging bot for those

Pictured: A bot about to run out of battery, halting progress until I recharge him, because I hadn’t, at this early point, realised you can program a robot to recharge other robots (Disclaimer: A robot needs to not be charged for this instruction to be programmed.)

And until you have that basic logging and mining setup, you’re going to be manually doing a lot of this work. Does it get any easier later on? Not… Really. Because then, there are colonists. Who are factories of a resource called, no joke, Wuv. Suffice to say, I have very little Wuv for these parasites, because while I and the robots are working our asses off to fill their pyramid of needs, they… Well, they don’t really do anything except generate Wuv. Which you need for research to improve their needs, and…

Oh shit. We’ve got more industries to deal with. Which you’ll be setting up bots for. You can, to be fair, make this slightly easier by… Building several robots to build robots, a specified number, rather than an infinite loop. That way, you can just hit play on up to four bots to build a more complicated bot. (their charging bot is always active unless it loses battery, and no, another charging bot won’t solve the problem, it’ll just delay it a fair bit (Unless their batteries run down simultaneously early))

But I hope I’m getting across my main problem with this game: It is perhaps the most busywork colony builder I’ve come across in a while, because there’s not much breathing room for things to just work without… Oh. Yeah. Doing the legwork to build, program, and equip several bots for a single task that… I dunno, maybe those lazy bastards we’re feeding, clothing, and housing could help with?

Okay, arable land, check… Cooking pot, check… Wait, crap, now I need, like, three or four new robots. Per meal type. SOD.

Aesthetically, by the way, it’s quite pleasing. Nice low poly look, good sound, the music is… Well, it’s meant to be relaxing, but, as you might gather, it hasn’t helped a lot. It has clear menus (Although it should be noted that the Blueprint encyclopedia is also the “What’s in the world” encyclopedia. So you know), the Scratch interface for robots is somewhat clear (Yes, I missed conditional loops for hours, so you can imagine how frustrated I was before this small, but very significant detail was spotted), so… This is alright.

But I have to admit, I’m not having fun with it. My colonists are parasites, my robots are flawed, and for every new task I need to do, there’s a lot more setup than is perhaps necessary, and I didn’t feel like the tutorialising was clear. Is it an interesting approach to a colony building game? Yes. Is it unfortunately an unenjoyable romp into this territory? Well, for me, at least, it was.

The Mad Welshman does count his blessings. At least it’s not the SP10 series we’re using.

Okay, that one was a little obscure, even for me.

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