The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Overland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Itch.IO , Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Regardless of the kind of apocalypse… Well, okay, except for the murderdogpocalypse… Your best friend is a Good Boy. And I should know, because I’ve been meeting a lot of Good Boys in Overland. Some that bork. Some that bite. And some that can just carry things, search through bins for fuel, and drop it where I need it. And I do need it, because I’m trying to get to the West Coast, while crystalline insectile gribbleys are trying to stab my face off.

Welcome to Overland, a game about making hard choices.

No matter what I ram, the car will explode. So my best bet is to get out of the car, and lead them away. Welp.

Now, at first, you may be confused into thinking this is a survival strategy game, one of kicking the shit out of those gribbleys, and being the badass. No. Attacking these crystal insects, while a thing you will have to do occasionally, is a bad idea. Because it summons more of them. And you can’t stay long, either, because they hunt by sound, and if one of them’s found you (and it’s never just one), you can guarantee more are coming too. Mostly, it’s luring the bastards, trying to keep out of their reach, while grabbing whatever you humanly can.

Alas, sometimes, you risk too much. And sometimes, somebody else fucks it up for you. Because not all survivors are friendly, and the unfriendly survivors tend to a) Attack things if they have a weapon on the first turn, summoning more, and b) Run around like headless chickens, getting in your way. And, sad to say, not all survivors carry something useful, or are useful. On the run where I got to demonstrate both these things, both survivors I’d picked up had succulents, and, softie that I am, I let them keep them. At least one of them got a bobble hat, toward the end. That was cute.

Dogs are, as it turns out, good listeners.

So… Crit. The game is hard. And I do mean hard. I only managed to get to the third area in early access, because the second has creatures that can run two squares, on top of the small ones, and the bigger ones that take two hits to kill. And, even with a feature that lets you go to areas you’ve unlocked, I’ve had trouble. Sometimes, that isometric camera gets in the way of important information, and, while I’ve yet to find an example where it did that to important items, I have seen it when it comes to enemies. Finally, the game does try to incentivise a full run with secret areas unlocked in the next part of the map if you carry a survivor who knows where one is past the blockade at the end of the level. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

Aesthetically, though, it’s quite pleasing. The survival music is tense, but low key, the camping music is wistful, and makes a nice backdrop to survivors who are having trouble keeping it together, and the low poly look is pretty good. Also the clarity of what it takes to kill enemies is very nice indeed, even if killing them most definitely isn’t the point, and you’re not going to have the resources to do so for the majority of the game. Writing wise, the procgen backgrounds are short and to the point, and the same with the conversations. They add a little character, without getting in the way of things.

You killed my friend, you weaselly fuck. I’d kill you, but word gets around, and I’d never be able to trade again. I’m glad you’re surrounded, though… Asshole.

Overall, while I can appreciate the difficulty, and that puzzle, rather than combat focused gameplay would be turnoffs, I enjoy Overland, even if it doesn’t particularly like me. It’s a game of thought, its aesthetic pleases me, and its encouragement of risk management is fun to me.

The Mad Welshman is not a big fan of hard decisions, and yet… He likes them in games. Odd.

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Aery (Review)

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

Aery interested me the moment I noticed this, and I will freely admit that a big part of it was being an Old. “Hey, wow, this looks like a Psygnosis game, if Psygnosis was still around!” It certainly had a visual flair that reminded me of their earlier, odder titles, and the synthwave music wasn’t a detraction either.

I, too, would like to relearn the art of unpowered flight.

However… I then found my detractions. And they’re biggies. One of them is plausibly a bug (Level 4’s “Got the feather” bell is loud no matter what volume you’ve set), but the two others… Annoy the hell out of me.

Still, before we do that, the game: There is a bird that wants to see the world. They fly. They can roll. And they collect feathers. Their journey is told in short prose before each level, and it’s a relatively short experience, which is nonetheless pleasant. The low-poly worlds are mostly quite interesting, the music is good slow journey music (not too driving, but with a good beat to it.) Said bird controls well, feels like a bird, glides and flaps like a bird, looks like a bird with a golden underside.

Spot the feather. Or, indeed, the bird.

While I am most of the way through it, the two big issues: Firstly, the second level is a nightmare, even for those folks who are not colourblind. The feathers are white. The sea… Is white. And the tops of the blocks wot have feathers on are, for the most part… White. I hope the developers see the problem inherent to this trio of sentences. I did very rapidly. Still, I got through that, and the third, and, on the fourth, I finally realised that a problem in the whole game was a problem. When you die, you are sent back to your starting point. The same starting point that’s a good minute of flight to anything of interest, let alone a feather. I am chill, and I like to chill. But that’s a bit much.

Thing is, it’s not, overall, a bad game. It does what it says on the tin, and, if that second level were fixed, I could pretty much recommend it as “Thing you play to relax, or in short bursts over your lunch break.” It definitely looks good.

Preeeeettteeee…

The Mad Welshman appreciates experiments. Also prog rock.

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Kawaii Deathu Desu (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.89
Where To Get It: Steam

Singers, and indeed musicians of all kinds, get groupies. People who fan over them so much that they want to be inappropriate with their adored musician. But in Kawaii Deathu Desu, the handsy fans have invaded perhaps the last stage they should have… The stage of various supernatural Idol Singers, starting with… Death herself.

Yes, Death is an Idol Singer now. And her fans appear to love being reaped.

I’m honestly impressed that I managed to capture a frame that shows both the cutesy Death, and the reapings. Look at those blushy-happy ghosts go!

More accurately, Kawaii Deathu Desu is an extremely twitchy version of One Finger Death Punch, in which you use the left and right mouse buttons or arrow keys to murderise fans, levelling up idols, unlocking idols and their costumes, using their special ability with either space or both arrow keys at once, a thing you can accidentally do if you’re having to really lash out (and you are. Often.) And, funnily enough, it’s that levelling up and unlocking that’s precisely the problem. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Aesthetically, it’s an interesting mix of cutesy pixels… And grim pixels, moving seamlessly between both. The Idols are cute, swaying, headbanging, playing to their hearts’ content… Until they strike, whereupon they become horrific weapons of destruction, their fans vanishing into ash, being sliced in two…

I mean, to be fair, a metalhead ashing her fans with the power of SLIME ZOMBIES is, itself, metal as fuck.

And then their ghosts pop up, and most of them have heart eyes, with hearts flashing down from their ruined bodies as they vanish. The music is good, reminiscent of various styles from kitschy J-Pop, to harder tracks, and everything is pretty clear, even down to showing the keyboard controls for the menu only when you’re using the keyboard. I enjoy that. Oh, and the developer splash screen UwU’s you. Shouldn’t forget that.

But gameplay wise, while the core, basic gameplay is mostly alright, the difficulty ramps up way more quickly than the souls you need to level up and buy things does. I have, through sheer bloody mindedness, managed to unlock the second level of China, and Emmy, the second character (A zombie rocker who summons a handsy graveyard of their own as their special), but it feels, right now, as if I have a longer road ahead of me than is enjoyable. While the earlier stages, themselves, still feel enjoyable.

Only… does finger math… Approximately 10400 souls to go before she can deal with the later levels. Damn.

So, overall, I’m conflicted about Kawaii Deathu Desu. I love its mix of cutesy and not-cute-at-all, and its core mechanic works just fine, but it gets twitchy as hell quickly for too little reward, generally speaking, with farming of the earlier levels a must to progress, and that… That annoys me. Maybe it’ll be changed. But right now, it hasn’t, so… Only get this if you’ve read all this, and still want to give it a go.

OwO, what’s this? The Mad Welshman appreciates cutesy death deities.

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Cliff Empire (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Last time I looked at Cliff Empire, it was aesthetically pleasing, with some exceptions, but, honestly, a god-damn mess to actually play. There was a lot of waiting, unclear resource imbalances, poor tutorialisation, and a trading UI that was as clear as mud, with Dead Man Walking scenarios everywhere.

Starts to construct a Matter Mi– Oh. No matter to make a matter mine with. CRAP.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the implicit subtext, with only decades passed since nuclear disaster, the survivors on a space station recolonising, and them recolonising literal ivory towers (Well, okay, some sort of white stone, but still) with the power of actually working for once, and bitcoin as currency… Well, suffice to say, despite the criticisms of the game being legitimate ones, I am much less sympathetic to the colonists in this game than I have been for many others. I have more sympathies for the marauders who occasionally crop up, even if they make my teeth grind, gameplay wise.

So yes, Cliff Empire is one of those colonisation survival games, where you start with limited resources, that you have to use efficiently, because getting more is dependent on several things, not all of which you know beforehand. Is this the tower you start on with 100% Uranium yield, 40% Uranium yield, or precisely fuck all? You don’t know. Is the soil fertile enough for crops to do well? You don’t know until much later on. Can you afford the Uranium from your somewhat richer masters up top, or will you just have to cope with what you can eke out? You don’t know.

And large towers were constructed by… Well, actually, why were they constructed, if what was left were rich people?

What you do know is how much groundwater there is in each tower, how well wind or solar power works there, and, the most obvious, if there’s a big honking pool of water that may contain enough fish worth harvesting, but definitely takes up valuable space which you could have used for one more maintennance panel.

Okay, so let’s briefly take a trip into “This is nice” town. The aesthetic is pretty cool. The music is chill and relaxing, the cities are neofuturist, and the inclusion of a tourist mode, where you can spend your spare time wandering around the city (sort of) is nice. On the downside, the trade UX still has that trap of “No clear input fields, so you butt your head against the lack of buttonage, when you’re actually meant to put numbers in the ‘sell if more’ and ‘buy if less’ fields” I complained about last time. But mechanically, it’s slow, it can be very trying, it has several Dead Man Walking scenarios, even in the early game, and then… There are the quests.

WELP. I had enough engines… But not enough were delivered in time. Not least because it takes a while to get more than the three drones you start with. What with concentrating on survival and all…

The bougie masters up top demand resources. And if they do not get those resources in time, you will lose some of the money you desperately need, and only have limited means of generating for yourself. Oh, and your colonists, if unemployed, despite being fed, given furniture (never enough), gadgets (never enough), appliances (never enough), and parks and other nice little perks, will steal from your coffers. Hell, sometimes, if you haven’t provided enough for the pampered little darlings, they’ll steal from your coffers anyway.

There is definitely potential in Cliff Empire, and maybe, one day, that potential will turn up, subtext of the narrative aside (Honestly, there’s not really any redemption on that front, especially in the current climate.) But it’s such a frustrating grind of a city builder, that I’m not having a good time, even with the relaxing music and nice aesthetic.

The Mad Welshman’s stance remains the same as it has been for quite a while: Eat the rich. Well, eat the rich who fertilise plants, the rich are quite unhealthy meals.

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