Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

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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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Archeo: Shinar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Let’s get one thing noted right now, because I know this is going to turn folks off: Archeo – Shinar is a game with the theme of 1920s archaeology, which, as fans of history may know, was colonialist as hell. The game embraces that as a thematic element, so you are not playing some philanthropist, but an asshole, employing assholes, exploiting land, meddling in ways that distort history, and the like. So be warned.

Yes, they are massive assholes.

Fortunately, it… Honestly isn’t the most engaging of games on its own. Essentially, it’s a 30 turn game, with two main segments: Planning and Management, and Expeditions. The planning phase is the meat of the game, but the expeditions are what mainly earn you the points, events, and interest of the game, with the expeditions being… Well, what your planning went toward, with some added risk management thrown in. Do you use the person good at Archeology now, or do you save him for a potential check down the line that might be much harder (or use another skill which you weren’t warned about, because he’s a really good everyman.) Succeed more than you fail, and you win reputation and money for your shameless plundering (earning artefacts you can sell on the black market for big successes, and phobias, debuffs for your explorers, on essentially chance.) Fail, and you get recompensed a small amount… Probably smaller than what you spent on it.

Oh look, it’s our old “buddy” Frans! He’s going to get a phobia in just a second, and he deserves it

Meanwhile, the management is where most things happen. Do you try and sell your story to one of the papers? Who do you hire? How do you train them? Do you make them take more risks, or play it much more cautiously? What do you bring along? And what land do you bid on, to exploit for bonuses down the line? In all of this, reputation is important. Build up a good rapport with one paper, you can use it to slander the other explorer(s). Get good land, and exploit it well, get nice things. Take a risky play on the black market that pans out? Free money, awwh yiss!

Thing is, a lot of this is, effectively, a black box, even on Easy. You know what things do, and you know what the majority of checks are going to be on an expedition, but a lot of it boils down to taking a chance. And, for me, at least, it didn’t really feel enjoyable. It looks good, with a simplified style that fits the period it’s representing, some nice music, and a mostly clear UX with good tooltipping, but its humour fell flat for me, its embracing of its theme (historically accurate though it may be) didn’t sit well with me, and playing it… Well, it didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing, even though I was staying afloat, and had a hotseat to fall back on to learn the game.

Yes, there is also a lootbox joke. SIGH.

And that, in the end, is what killed my engagement with it. Still, maybe others will find enjoyment, and that’s about the best I can personally say.

The Mad Welshman despises the bullshit the UK, among others has perpetuated over its history, not only in archaeology, but folklore, culture… A fair bit more than that, let’s say, in understated British fashion.

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Destiny or Fate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It:Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

It just doesn’t seem to be my month for games coming out of Early Access. It seems it’s… Fated to be a grim one. Because yes, Destiny or Fate is another one which… Hasn’t really done much to correct the issues I talked about last time.

Oh gee, I love all party attacks on a regular basis! [said through gritted teeth]

When it goes well, it goes well. When it doesn’t, it’s a bloody mess, and a tedious slog. Because there’s not much return on your 3 energy, a lot of the time, special abilities vary wildly in utility, levelling up and buying cards is a grindy affair when you don’t actually have room to grind… And bosses… Ohhhh, bosses…

As defence stacks, some bosses have absolutely ridiculous defence that, sometimes, can’t even be broken through with every special used, and focusing on attack (A dangerous strategy at best.) Some curse the hell out of you, so you have to win the fight quickly, but… Whoop, this particular guy is showing that he’s going to lay down two counter attacks, sod! Enemies do show you what they’re going to do, and this can definitely help in not-boss fights… But bosses are just bastards, and it’s not often at all I reach the second area… Not least because even normal enemies can, if fights go even halfway badly, result in a total party wipe. Because a surprising amount of things have “Attack all” to some degree or another.

While we’re on the subject of enemies… Two of these look awfully familiar.

There remains, as far as I know, one JRPGish battle tune, which becomes wearing incredibly quickly, as does going through the first area several times. The first area… Of five.

Honestly, the most trouble I’ve had with this review is that, because nearly everything I’ve said in the last one, a year ago, remains true (That it’s humdrum in presentation, poorly balanced, wears quickly, and seemingly doesn’t seem to want me to explore its systems), and… What can I say to add to that? Not a whole lot.

This is, in short, a game I can’t even really recommend to experience procgen, card battler players. The few things you unlock mid game don’t stay unlocked, except for hero(in)es, and it’s not worth the grind to try and keep them both alive and levelled. I don’t often say a game is outright bad, but… This is definitely one of those times.

The Mad Welshman’s lot in life is mostly set. He thinks it was because he stole Fate’s lunch money in school. Look, sorry Fate, can I get a leg-up?

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Pyromind

Source: Review Copy
Price: £2.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Pyromind, in its own words, is a turn based, but also real time action puzzler, in which you are a “Mind” , in a minefield (A… Mindfield? Your groans sustain me), trying to defuse bombs before they go off, reaching a higher and higher score, with more difficult elements, every time you do so. There are two kinds of mines, but there only needs to be two kinds of mines, because a Pobomb (1 square radius) or a chain of them can kill you just as easily as a Limonka (Cross effect across the entire field) or its chain can. Your only saving grace? You can cross from one side of the field to the other.

WHOOPS!

So… That, and the fact you can earn minds (slowly, oh so slowly at first) with their own special abilities (you start with none, obviously) is pretty much the core of things. There’s a time attack mode, a multiplayer battle mode (alas, I can’t say much about that… Not much of a multiplayer guy), and a campaign in the battle arena mode, essentially a CPU vs Player version of the multiplayer mode.

Alas, while single player modes earn gems for new characters, the Battle Arena does not, although the idea is fun: Essentially, the more points a player has over their opponent, the quicker a screen splitting laser moves toward the opponent, and horizontal screen movement isn’t allowed, only vertical.

So, simple to describe, and indeed learn, and not difficult to master, just requires keeping a sharp eye on where bombs are. Still ramps up the difficulty quickly, and I do wish difficulty was selectable once you’d cleared more than one difficulty, but this isn’t really a big flaw. A middling flaw, really.

It’s a variation on the sudden death of other puzzle action games, but I like its touches.

Finally, we have the aesthetic. Everthing except the menu is relatively clear, there’s a fair amount of good music, both tense and charming, and its clean, vector style appeals. As mentioned, the menu could do with more clarity, rather than going fully stylistic as it has (Options and credits are currently the arrow in the top right, tooltip for what the hell something is in the top left.) But, apart from the flaws described, this is a solid title, with an interesting core mechanic, and I’m having fun with it.

The Mad Welshman hates Limonkas. They may have become his newest worst enemy.

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