Forager (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Forager is one of those games which blurs the line a little bit. Specifically, between a survival RPG… And an idle game. I’ve actually had some arguments, over the past month, as to whether this label really applies. “But Jamie, you do things. You walk around.”

I’m pretty much getting the obvious screenshot out of the way here. And it’s not hard to see why it’s an obvious choice.

Yes. And a lot of that walking around is so you can find the thing that popped up. To hit the thing. To get more of a thing. So you can make more of the other thing to get more things overall. Everything in Forager is in service to opening up more Forager. And a lot of that time is either clicking on things (To mine them, to kill them, or to solve the odd puzzle), or waiting for things.

Like I said, it blurs the line, because while other survival games and RPGs have precisely this… Even the skill tree is basically “Unlock more things to do.” Ah, now you can mine this metal. Now you can make better mining things. Now you can get more gold when you make gold.

NEED MORE GOLD. AND WHEAT. AND COAL. (But not really food. I’m good there, that’s just to kill time.)

Does that make Forager unenjoyable? Not precisely, it definitely does interesting things. But it really does seem to be enjoyed more if you approach it from an idle-game viewpoint than an RPG viewpoint. Exploration? Well, occasionally you get that, but more often, it’s bam, one puzzle or NPC fetch quest chain, and what’s left is farming, mining, and harvesting. Story? Again, somewhat, but it’s relatively minimal, and in service to… Opening up more mining, farming, and harvesting. It has a hunger meter, it’s true, and a health meter, but rarely are either threatened. The real threat, honestly, is that you hit a progression lull.

See, there’s never a lack of things to do, or things to watch. In fact, quite the opposite, as, quickly, you have inventory management, and meters to watch, and things to make, and things to harvest, and now, because you want to make this special thing, you have more things to harvest, and make, and… It can get overwhelming, with the feeling that you’re running in place while not doing very much (Much like a lull in… An idle game.)

This, by the way, is about the point I gave up on my completionist dreams. NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE.

Still, the rate of progression, to an extent, depends on how you want it to progress. I’ve seen folks try single island challenges, and others (like me) try desperately to see everything there is in the game, buying islands as soon as they can, levelling as best they can (Levelling is done by just doing things, but, as you might expect, it gets slower the further you go), and that self goal setting is a nice way to approach this.

Anyway, as noted, Forager seems to be most enjoyable when played from an idle, as opposed to RPG perspective, and that’s just fine. I am a little annoyed that the option to quit is hidden in options, but other reviewers have noted this, and it hasn’t changed, so I guess it stays.

This review took one reviewer, two word processors, five computers, and a sharp stick to make. Only the sharp stick was a base component.

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Thea 2: The Shattering (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I appreciate modular difficulty sliders. I appreciate the ability to customise one’s experience somewhat. I appreciate survival, and I appreciate 4Xs. What I am not, strictly speaking, so fond about, however, is when the percentage of your “Normal” difficulty is 150% difficulty. That, and needing to survive 100 turns on “Normal” difficulty, are a fair portion of my irritation with Thea 2: The Shattering, a survival 4X that I had taken a look at in Early Access.

This, for example, has a better chance of happening. Which, considering how few folks you start with…

And, just to make this clear, the game has improved from last time, in several important senses. But in terms of feeling whether the devs actually want me, someone who isn’t dealing amazingly well with Thea’s particular brand of conflicting desires, to see more of its content? Thaaat’s not so hot still.

So, let’s back up a second, quick recap: World’s Nordic in flavour, pantheistic, got a bit of a problem with the world maybe ending sometime in the near-ish future. And your deity has chosen you to lead a small group of folks to grow, to expand, and hopefully to survive long enough to find out what the Darkness is, and, best case scenario, how to defeat it. And, being fair to the developers, they have introduced more to help deal with that. An extra modular difficulty setting, allowing you to autoresolve conflicts more easily (or with more difficulty.) A lumber building that gives wood, even if there’s no wood nearby. That sort of thing.

A new deity is useful, it’s true. But it takes about 400 odd turns of good play per deity to get one…

But, in the end, here’s the thing. As I mentioned right at the top, unlocking more things is a royal pain in the ass. I need 9 God Points to get a new Deity to try out. I need at least 5 to get new potential starting bonuses (At least some of which are locked behind their respective Deities.) I will, if I do well on “Normal” difficulty (Surviving at least 100 turns, completing various events) gain… Maybe 3. For about an hour and a half worth of play, maybe more. And “Normal” difficulty is tough, not least because of conflicting desires.

It wants you to move from Island to Island. It wants you to do events. But it also wants you to hunker down, because this adds its own benefits. It wants you to spread, but gives a pittance of children and growth, slowly depleting the resources, and increasing the hostility. And, in essence, the games feel the same, because they tread along the exact same path. Here, the Witch’s hut, and gathering food, and finding a settlement. There, the Cmuch prince, the Wisps, the Demon Games. That very sameyness means that, to unlock more Gods, more things that maybe help you get further, you have to tread the same path over, and over, and over again, and…

It’s well written. But it’s also something like the 20th time I’ve seen it.

…Thea 2 has some interesting ideas. It has an interesting world. But I’ve never really felt like the game wants me to explore that world, to look down its path. And, even with the narrative conceit that yes, the world is hostile, it is not a game that resists being played in a fun way. It merely resists, struggling against being enjoyed, and that saddens me.

The Mad Welshman wants games to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the games themselves don’t help.

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

CONTENT WARNING: It should be mentioned that Zanki Zero deals with adult themes like abuse (sexual or otherwise), gaslighting, and murder, so… Yeah, be warned, this game deals with squicky subjects.

It’s an interesting exercise, to tot up the thematic elements of a developer. And for Spike Chunsoft, there’s a fair amount to pick from. Sins of the past. Just about believable pseudoscience made believable. Big twists. And attacking the heartstrings with comically large pliers.

This… Isn’t going to end well. I want it to… But I know it won’t.

And Zanki Zero definitely goes in for all of these, along with a bit of cringe early on. If I had a nickel for every time a “wacky” cartoon character was just groan inducingly gross, I’d have enough to whack said cartoon characters with a small sack of nickels. Thanks, Zanki Zero, for the unnecessary addition that one of your MCs is proud of pissing themselves on camera. I’m only grateful that’s told, not shown.

Iiin any case, once the game gets going, the cringe seems to die down (somewhat, although content warnings for abuse, sexism, violence and murder definitely apply throughout), and the game gets interesting. A survival RPG/Visual Novel hybrid, Zanki Zero follows eight protagonists, and… Seven sins? Ah, one of them is secretly an architect of this whole mess where humanity is extinct, and eight (?) clones of people are asked to rebuild a cloning machine to resurrect humanity, despite the fact that they, as clones, cannot breed. I’m sure this’ll at least try to make more sense down the line, but at the beginning, mysteries, gribbleys, failed human clones, and ruins abound, with various systems unlocking as you go. Building elements of your base. Cooking, crafting, upgrading. And, through it all, the clone mechanics.

There are, thankfully, lighter moments, and the game paces itself well overall.

At first, as described, it’s stressful, and the game makes sure to kill off a character to get the point across, but, while death isn’t the end, and can be beneficial in certain aspects (Dying in Adult life, for example, extends Adult life by 1 day), it costs to resurrect someone, so care must still be taken, as there’s a lot that can screw you up. Traps, monsters, the threat that some of the gifts you get from the EXTEND Machine have strings attached. You know, losing what’s left of your humanity, that sort of thing. I’ve been playing it on the second difficulty setting, and this honestly seems reasonable for me, since my only party wipe was through overconfidence. It’s only later, with the introduction of various traps, that it starts to get properly mean. God-damn bird…

Ohhh, this feller. I have feelings about this feller… And all of them are associated with flipping tables…

The game’s pace is, honestly, pretty good, and, some odd keybinds aside, it tutorialises pretty well. This, plus the interesting way combat and “survival” plays out (The bars, equally, decrease and increase at sensible rates, so I rarely felt I was nannying) means that, overall, I quite like Zanki Zero. Sho, the cringier of the two Extend TV hosts, is a different story, but thankfully, his segments are quite brief. If you want to explore a VN/RPG hybrid which adds depth as it goes on, Zanki Zero is definitely an interesting one to check out.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have anything clever to say here. How can he, when Humankind is long gone?

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Yuppie Psycho (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £16.66
Where To Get It: Steam

One element of good horror is to take the normal… And bend it. Make it unwelcoming, emphasises what’s frightening about it, and emphasise its isolation. And there is little that isn’t already terrifying to the initiated than… A corporate office, or other appendage of a large company.

“3) We get 5000 resumes…” is how this segment begins. The Company gives no shits about YOU.

After all, a company often already has a friendly face, but behind that face, the lies are revealed for what they are. Ohhh, yes, we get diversity, but there’s no need to make emotional decisions. We understand that people get sick, often in arbitrary ways… But you have taken quite a few sick days working for us, and I’m afraid that we can’t employ someone who’s sick more than once every few months. That overtime? Oh, no, it’s not mandatory, you can… Ahaha, you want to work normal hours? That’s going to look bad on your performance review compared to the rest of us!

And that’s without me trying to think of examples. Oh yes, the Company can be a terrible place. The addition of some nameless “Witch”, corrupting the company from within for decades, causing insanity and mutation… Well, that just makes the horror all the more clear. Cue our protagonist, Brian.

You have to take the book… But of course, Archives is very zealous about withdrawals…

Brian, despite being a low grade member of society (and judged, right from the beginning, to be scum because of this) is, somehow, hired by Sintracorp, the most prestigious company on the planet. Although one has to wonder how this has happened, considering that, in a blackly fitting symbolic twist, the company is a meatgrinder of psychosis, supernatural mutation, murder, and paranoia. And, honestly, a part of why this works so well with the way it plays is because, on some level, it echoes the worst excesses of a corporation gone wrong.

Here, the milling, endless crowd of Induction, forever stuck in the limbo between internship and actually getting paid. There, the Archives, a system so archaic it has taken on the aspect of a Resident Evil puzzle lock, and the Library is overseen by horrors long forgotten in the dark by its parent organisation. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover, later in the game, that the office cougar met early on is a literal man-eater, as opposed to a figurative one. And the employees are, relatively speaking, okay with this, because eh, it’s a living… Horrifying.

And, in the middle of this all, Brian, who has been hired as a Witch Hunter, despite having no qualifications for this, to fix a problem that, in all likelihood, Sintracorp created in the first place. This is one of the reasons it works so damn well. It helps that it’s a pretty accessible game, with its horror well paced against its lighter moments. Aaand then right back, as some of the light hearted things show their grue-filled core.

Oops. Somebody’s soul needs a little more toner…

Besides a few hitches in early cutscenes, funnily enough, it works pretty well. The exaggerated art style of the characters works well to express both the light and dark sides of things, and adds that needed clarity for puzzle elements. To be both expressive and clear is a good look, especially when darkness is also a core element of the game. Puzzle wise, I’ve come across nothing cruel in the puzzles, with there always being something to help ameliorate it.

A good example: Early on, you’re left in the dark by a Mysterious Asshole Coworker, in the vicinity of some quite nasty, and ever exploding “Mines.” Thankfully, the mines light up when you’re near them, only arming when you’re closer, and exploding when you’re close, so the puzzle is, interestingly enough, made a little easier by the very things that will kill you if you screw up. You still feel cool for having survived, and you knew that the little helping hand was by no means a guarantee of safety.

Yuppie Psycho is, overall, a clever and interesting horror game, using its environment well both metaphorically and literally. Like other survival horror titles, it does have a single, limited save system (Requiring a photocopier, ink in that photocopier, and some Witch Paper to photocopy your souuuuuul… Oooowooooo!), but these seem reasonably placed, and I’d definitely say that this is one of the good horror titles of the year.

The Mad Welshman wants to stay the heck away from the Hell Offices. You can help do that via the support links. This has been your company memo.

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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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