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Risk of Rain 2: Bring an umbrella

Co-op was a hugely controversial feature less than a decade ago. It seemed every single game tried to emulate Halo and throw in co-op everywhere they could. I remember when games like Dead Space 3 added it in, much to everyone’s dismay. It completely killed the whole franchise due to the change from horror to Michael Bay-inspired action set-pieces. Fortunately, Co-op is making its way back into the world, especially since COVID hit. This means the thirst for high octane and endlessly replayable gameplay has come roaring back.

If your looking for a fun game with friends, I’d recommend this weeks game, one called Risk of Rain 2.

Pro: Gameplay Loop

The biggest driving factor for ROR2 is the gameplay loop. It has a strong emphasis on movement and momentum, as well as using the environment around you. Taking place in a third-person perspective you have a number of attacks and abilities, ranging from shields, to AOE attacks, to debuffs that you use to fight an ever-expanding roster of monsters. Overall it’s a very solid, if generic, primary loop (or second by second gameplay)

But where the game comes into its own light is in its secondary loop or minute by minute. As you run around, you’ll find chests that give you special items. These have a vast number of effects from blocking damage, to increasing firing speed, to causing enemies to explode once you kill them.

This is where the game steps into legendary status. This subtle, powerful progression incentivizes players to keep searching for every available item. Dont and you’ll get curbstomped by a boss in one hit.

By their own, the primary and secondary loop would be decent, if generic. Together, however, they give the game a ton of replayability. Its gotten to the point where everyone I know who owns the game has beaten it several times, takes a month off from it, then jumps back in.

Overall, this game has excellent replayability due to its fantastic gameplay and understanding of what makes a game rewarding

Con: Character customization

Ironic for a game which understands rewarding gameplay well, the biggest downside for me is how character customization is handled.

As you progress, you’ll unlock different heroes with different abilities which, obviously, play quite differently to each other. . The engineer for example can choose to either stationary turrets or moving turrets that can slow down enemies.

However, that’s where the game begins to stutter, because the different abilities tend to feel like different flavors of the same soda, like vanilla coke vs cherry coke. For example one character, Acrid has the choice between a poison spit and a “Blight” spit, which functions exactly the same as poison but is colored yellow instead of green.

In addition there tends to only be an extra ability if any for each ability slot, so the upgrades and different playstyles tend to wear a bit thin. There’s exactly one extra skin for each character and that’s the character customization.

This hamstrings each character’s potential replay, and railroads progression into one specific class with barely any wiggle room, so even if you like a character overall, except for their one primary attack, then you’re going to miss out on that one character due to the lack of any sort of variety.

Pro: Level Design.

When it comes to the level design of rogue-lite games, most games tend to screw it up due to the randomization element. Fortunately, ROR2’s randomization elements are only tied to placement items and teleportation altars.

Each level is designed to be actually fun to play in, rather than the cross-our-fingers-and-hope-its-not-completely-broken strategy. Ive seen overused Roguelike elements follow roguelikes around like the Black Death follows people with poor immune systems.

It’s not liked the levels are extremely complex either, the game follows the philosophy of vast open spaces, and small amounts of closed in areas. This is so that they can cram as many monsters and explosions on screen as physically possible.

While I appreciate intricate levels like Dark Souls, this more open and sparse design allows the gameplay to breathe easier. If a fight goes sideway you can always run rather than bravely make a Ruby Ridge-esque last stand. The only issue is that it’s a double-edged sword, and requires a lot of backtracking to get anywhere. The smaller roguelike elements don’t help much in the way of level design. It’s easy for the teleporter to not show up and spend twenty minutes looking for it. Half the time i just gave up and restarted the run. despite some petty annoyances, the replayability of the levels adds alot of depth, and i keep coming back time after time.

Overall:

Risk of Rain is an easy sell, offering tons of replayability and a strong co-op experience for a decent price. While it does have a few pitfalls in the way of character customization, it sucks you in for hours if not days.

Project Warlock: Wizards and Weaponry

Last year there was a sale on Steam, and being a poor college student working a dishwashing job, I decided to reward myself with a few new games. One of them was Maximum Action, a cheesy, FPS that pays homage to old action movies, and Project Warlock, a game which I played for about ten minutes, got frustrated at the first level and logged off, debating whether to return it.

My god, I’m glad I didn’t. Project Warlock has quickly become one of, if not the best retro 90’s shooters vie ever played. Its usage of the old school, chunky graphics, combined with fantastic sound and lighting effects, gives it a feel completely unique even among games like Dusk, Amid Evil, and Doom Eternal.

Pro: Graphics and Atmosphere

One of my favorite parts about this game is the retro graphics and designs. The voxel-based art style gives it a unique feel. The pixels appear in different sizes and shapes and do a good job of helping the sharp, jagged character designs stick out from the background, even far away you can clearly see them.

There’s also the different movie/gaming themes running through each level, you start off with ruined castles, before progressing into an arctic station, reminiscent of The Thing, (The good one, not the Hays Law riddled 50’s one.) after that there’s an Egyptian level, with things like the Mummy, Serious Sam, and Stargate influences. My personal favorite, is the terminator themed level, with massive drones and robots wandering around a ruined city. The design influences also lend to the weapons you’ll use. The pistol you acquire can be switched with a flare gun, similar to Caleb’s flare gun in Blood, the red laser rifle in the Terminator levels can be switched to Terminator 1’s fast firing purple laser cannon, and I hardly need to say anything about the double-barreled shotgun. The only slight criticism I have is towards the way that sometimes doors can’t be distinguished between the ones requiring a key, vs unlocked ones. Besides that, the game is a true graphical marvel, and wears its gaming influences proudly on its Terminator-Esque leather jacket.

Con: Level Design

While the look of the game is fantastic, the level design can be downright frustrating for a number of reasons. For starters, you have a minimap, but you can’t fully open it. You just have it in that tiny windowed mode, which leads to confusion and wandering. Second, the levels sometimes become too complicated and messy. This is due to the levels looping around themselves in a big sprawling maze, similar to games of old. Great in theory, but suffers the same issues as Doom. The navigation problems causing you to backtrack, looking everywhere for one tiny door or second corridor you never saw and completely killing the pace of the game as you wander around aimlessly for twenty minutes.

Project Warlock also relies heavily on switch activation, often making you find up to eight of these tiny white buttons to open exactly one door.

The key system is well implemented and gives you a “HELL YEAH” feeling when you finally find it, and go to open up the rest of the level.

Though the game has a fetish for putting a key in the middle of a room, and spawning half a dozen monsters in a very tiny space.

One upside though: the levels are short, as in I beat levels in about three to five minutes.

it’s easy to say, ‘just one more level before class,’ for the third time, not realizing it’s nearly eight at night, and your class was at three P.M.

Pro: Guns/ upgrade system overall

The gunplay in this is phenomenal and can easily suck you in for hours on end. You don’t need me to tell you that, I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t. its fluid, fast, and oh so satisfying.

What really drives it home though are the guns themselves. Project Warlock attempts to take the Quake storytelling/ character building, by which I mean a paragraph of text after you’ve shot the required number of monsters for the day. There’s no story, no character you can get attached to, not even a main villain. So the next best thing we have are the guns, and boy do they have personality. As mentioned before the weapons take cues from classic video games and movies (I.E flare gun Double barreled shotgun etc.). But what gives the game more variety are the numerous upgrade paths for each weapon. For example, the standard pump shotgun can be upgraded to shoot either solid slugs, or turn it into a semi-automatic shotgun. Every weapon has this in game, and the different types are too many to list in this one review. Some of the guns do suck though due to their overall ineffectiveness or weak sound.

The sound design especially is very hit or miss, some weapons have fantastic sounds, while others literally sound like a nerf gun firing.

For weapon upgrades hers my top tip: don’t use flame-based weapons the damage falloff just isn’t worth it. Nine times out of ten, it would have just been faster to fire an extra bullet and kill the enemy that way. I was surprised though, to find out the melee weapon was actually pretty good. A rarity in fps’ these days

Speaking of stats, Warlock has a full-on leveling system. It’s pretty simple, but still fun, as you pump xp into ammo capacity, health, mana, and melee strength. Additionally, every five levels you get a perk , ranging from faster running to more ammo, to the exceptionally broken “bonus random stat point per level” .

Overall, the guns are a thrill to use, with some ironing out in a potential sequel it could be even better.

Con: Magic

The term Warlock, implies magic use, so it’s no surprise that Project Warlock has a magic system to it. Though a Warlock tends to get their powers from eldritch gods in exchange for soul contracts , the main character (who I will be calling Jimmy) is a special snowflake.

Jimmy doesn’t have God, Jimmy has capitalism.

  Its pretty simple, you have a mana pool, and governs what spells to use.

The problem with it arises when you learn that the upgrade points used to unlock the different weapon upgrades are the same as the points used to unlock spells.

There’s not too many upgrade points overall, so you have to choose either spells or guns, which means guns mostly. They are useful, I found, just not exciting, and I’d rather just have a better gun. If the spells had their own separate points it’d be worth it. The two I found useful were the magic lantern spell, and the bomber man spell, aka throw grenade.

Bit of a wasted opportunity but again, can easily be ironed out in the sequel.

Mixed Opinions: Difficulty

One of the biggest complaints I have with the game is difficulty, by which I mean the game tends to be too easy at times. I feel the biggest challenge is the dev not knowing how to ramp the difficulty up besides hordes of monsters. One annoying thing I found was when a monster would hide right behind an unopened door, and smack you for a free hit . The levels get hard sometimes, but that’s due to massive amounts being on screen at a time.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, one of my favorite levels was the command center on the future apocalypse episode. That’s when I really felt the power fantasy of decimating all the enemies in your wake. it’s not bad per se, but at the same time it tended to make levels a bit boring, especially if I did even a little grinding.

Tips:

  1. If you want to replay levels/ bosses to level up you have to do it from the main menu, select Single Stage, and whatever xp/ points you gain from that goes into your main game
  2. Get the Student perk ASAP, which gives you a random extra stat each time you level up
  3. Grenades are a bit wonky, and they might bounce back on you if thrown in a narrow corridor due to their large hitbox
  4. Nailgun bullets can damage you when they bounce back.

Overall:

Project Warlock is a fantastic time, with a unique graphical styling, and an array of fun weapons. The game needs more love, and I can’t wait for the developer, Buckshot Software to release some more quality games.

Salt and Sanctuary: Would you like Salt with your tears?

It’s good these days to be a Dark soul’s fan, what with the recent rerelease of Demon Soul’s, a game that was feared lost to the void of copyright law, and the ever so encouraging prospect of Bloodborne 2 being a possibility. It’s good that these types of difficult games are coming back into the limelight for those who crave a challenge.

However, there’s only so many From Software developers at one given time, so the dream of them pumping out souls’ game like McDonalds pumps out chicken McNuggets is sadly not part of our current reality.

That’s where indie games come in, with games like Salt and Sanctuary, a 2D platformer that has a solid core gaming loop, and a bit of a naming problem.

Also before I go further, I just wanted to explain that I’m trying to figure out a review style that works for me, so feel free to leave feedback to the Pro/ Con list idea.

Thanks!

Pro: Art style

One thing that grew on me over the course of the game was the bleak, grayish art style. While it is true that it isn’t conventionally beautiful, I do think it does a good job of setting the atmosphere. The game is set on an island in the middle of the ocean, so the art style looks very grayish, with a lot of the background areas covered in mist and fog. The overall look of the game is very bleak and muddy, and the character designs are… unique to say the least. The weapons and gear aren’t much to look at either, the but the color pallet overall does a good job of setting the atmosphere. While I’ll touch on the levels later, I will admit that the same look of castle after castle gets old quite quickly. Other than that though, I did enjoy the bleary, somewhat depressing atmosphere of the island

Con: Story

Ask any Dark Souls fan what makes a Souls game a Souls game and they’ll respond with three things: Difficulty, Atmosphere, and Story.

While the first two are in ample supply, the latter I find lacking in Sanctuary.

The main plot is that you’re trying to rescue a princess that was captured as it would mean the end of a long war if she were to be married, and your quest to rescue her. It starts off nice enough, a strong if generic, story hook. But it fails to develop from there for a number of reasons. The way a good story is told through these games is not through cutscenes and characters yammering on through them, but in the bits and pieces. In the first DS game, the story is started off with a. cutscene that explains the basics of the world, and from there it comes in through snippets of conversation, the level design, and through flavor text. Through item descriptions. That last one is the one I find lacking in a lot of games that attempt this type of style. Flavor text is vital because its A. adds depth to the world, B. allows the writer to stretch their creative wings and make reading descriptions of things cool, and C. give vital story information while not overwhelming the player. The reason we know I’d say about ¾ of the world of Lordran, Drangleic, or even Yharnam is through the flavor text on weapons, clothing, and items. It also allows the player to experience the story at their own pace, while not forcing them through a story they don’t want. Salt and Sanctuary lacks this, as they seem to offer a barebones item description, only telling the absolute essentials. For example, I played a beast hunter, because anyone who has read my Hellsign review(https://wordpress.com/post/shutyourcakeholegaming.com/112)  would know my love for monster hunting games. When I delved into the description for the cloak he was wearing, it simply read, “Cloak of a beast hunter.”

Nice worldbuilding there Salt and Sanctuary. The item description for literal garbage in Dark Souls 3 has more words than the description of a starting class’s armor in Sanctuary. While some do have a bit more than others, for the most part it’s pretty lackluster. I also found the starting items annoying because you couldn’t read the description of them, so you had no clue what they did until you were in the game.

 Sanctuary also attempts to give depth through these made-up Bible passage things in the skill tree which I stopped reading after the first few due to them being of little substance.

Overall disappointing but in the end, is made up for in other areas, such as the combat

Pro: Combat and Gameplay Loop

Overall, I’d say that Sanctuary is the best form of a 2D souls-like, even amongst others like Blasphemous and Hollow Knight. Despite the meandering story everything else tends to make up for it. The gameplay is no exception, as it apes the wide range of play styles of the soul’s games, and even adds a few new elements to the mix, however scant. It’s your standard fighting controls for the most part: light attack, heavy attack, roll, block etc. you can choose to two hand almost all weapons in the game, which is nice, but it also allows the use of charms for weapons, which give a variety of buffs from more damage, to a portable lantern, and other nice passive buffs. Other than that its basically souls combat in a 2D space. Which isn’t bad, in fact it is quite fun, although I will admit that the knockback/ immediate stunlock is frustrating, as are any enemies that stop the game to attack you with a long, drawn out attack animation, completely killing the pacing of an otherwise fun fight.

The gameplay loop of souls is here, which not a lot of other games do, and includes the mechanic of circling back to unlock a door that gives a quicker route to a boss from your sanctuary. Speaking of.

Con: Sanctuary mechanic/ Creeds

I wouldn’t stay that this is a hard negative, more like a wasted opportunity. Rather than bonfires you have Sanctuary’s which allow you to refill health potions, level up, and such. The difference is that you now have the ability to place vendors in the sanctuary. These range from merchants to blacksmiths, to guides that allow you to teleport to literally any unlocked sanctuary for no cost, which makes me wonder why not just cut out the middle man and let us teleport straight from the altar. There are also leaders to your specific faction, or Creed, that you can call that let you upgrade the merchants etc. etc. The problem is that once you put exactly one guide down, and all the merchants in one or two sanctuaries, it becomes more or less useless. Sad really, I feel if they expanded on that, like every merchant you put down you get a new piece of gear available from the store.

Creeds are also a massive pain; they tend to be worthless. They function as covenants but in this game also determine the types of equipment given to you. Top tip: if you play any melee build, get the iron ones, because they are the only ones geared towards it and all the others offer useless equipment. It could have been interesting, but the creed system tends to be fairly boring, only upgrading the shop once you grind for body parts, which is just the definition of fun aint it?

Rating:

Overall, this games pretty great, with a solid core loop, and a decent amount of replayability especially if you want to try out both a melee and a magic class down the line.

It’d give it a solid recommendation for those wanting some Darksouls/ Castlevania action.

Good Job: Another chair through the wall

In these trying times, I feel as if we need to inject some fun in our lives, whether it be through positive mediums like hiking, fishing, surfing, etc. or through less helpful mediums like binge-watching Gotham or challenging yourself to drink a 12 pack of Redbull at four in the morning. While there are good ways to have fun, Good Job defies all attempts to put it in a box. I and roommates simultaneously poked fun, grit our teeth at the tedious level design, padded out objectives, and terrible music. At the same time, we couldn’t put it down because we were keeled over laughing half the time.

You’re a CEO’s son, who has been hired at his dad’s company and has to work his way up the corporate ladder by doing four things from each floor and moving on to the next.

It’s a cartoonish game for sure, which doesn’t let the laws of physics, gravity, or common sense stop you from shooting office workers in chairs through a wall because you connected a power outlet to a plug and turned it into a ballista -Esque weapon.

There are two different paths through this game: single player, or multiplayer which are basically two other games with 2 different review scores.

Single-player is a game I straight up don’t recommend. The game’s puzzles aren’t bad, but they lack the energy needed to keep the player going. Levels tend to be huge and require constant backtracking to find components and switches. I would often fail to find a puzzle component and wander around and get it by chance, which kills the pacing of the game. The puzzles overall are very barebones, and I never got stuck on any one level due to them being so straightforward.

Multiplayer, on the other hand, is an entirely different experience. I convinced my roommates to give it a go with me, and that’s when I started to have a lot of fun. If your like me and crammed in an apartment with four other roommates, then this game is gold. The physics make it so there’s always fun to be had, whether using a gardening hose to fly over a flower bed or using a crane I nicknamed “The Hand of God” to pick up my roommate in a forklift as he’s trying to complete a puzzle and proclaiming that he’s been chosen for a “higher purpose” (sorry Jesse. The fact that there are two players helps negate the massive level design, and allows the tedious fetch quests to be slightly less dull.

Don’t get me wrong though, there are still a lot of issues, and the hilarious physics engine is a double-edged sword. The forklift levels alone were enough to make me want to shove a fork into an electrical socket. But overall, the physics made it fun, and me and my roommates took a break from all the stress from school and laughed as I flew around the stage on a gardening hose, or me and my roommate Jason tried to enforce a blockade of inflatable dolphins and beach balls in the lazy river to pull them out. The worst levels are the find the workers, which were tedious regardless of how many people were playing, as you have to wander around for upwards of 15 minutes. 

The level design is not helped by the camera positioning, as it tends to obscure essential buttons and switches. I would be remised if I forgot about the most painful aspect of the camera though: the split-screen view. When two characters walk away from each other, the camera is cut in half to allow each person a view of their character. Normal enough right?

Wrong. For some reason the angle and view of the screen tilts depending on the position of the players, to demonstrate where they are. So for example, If I was close to the left side of the map and my friend at the right, the line would be vertical, with my view on the left and his on the right, but then I move to the top, now the view spins wildly to angle the camera line at a diagonal slant. It’s a bit hard to put into words, but let’s just say its seizure inducing after a few minutes. I actually got motion sickness from how fast and blurry the camera got, which showcases just how important a good camera system is with these types of games.

Regardless, the game gains a considerable boost in enjoyment once a second player is added. I’d recommend this game to people who live with multiple people, as the game becomes a lot more entertaining when you have friends cracking jokes or offering advice. I would recommend it as a party game to play with friends, or with a girlfriend/ boyfriend if your both looking for a lighthearted, often funny fun. However, its worthless as a single player experience, and if you get motion sick easily, you might want to sit this one out.

198X: Small town and even Smaller story

I feel as if I have the opposite of a Midas touch, as in every story based game I’ve played recently has ended up disappointing me. I was really looking forward to 198x, with its fantastic trailer and beautiful 80’s styling. I hoped it might make for a compelling, emotional drama that many people, myself included, would have gotten a lot of value from. But you know what they say about assuming. I feel as if these sorts of games are becoming generic in a way, as was the case more than a half decade ago when cover based shooting was the Triple A standard with games like COD, the indie space was filled with children running around scary big worlds, and receiving critical and commercial praise from IGN. These games are nostalgia bait and this game is the pinnacle of it.

Story: Running in the 80’s

The game is set in the 1980’s where the protagonist, The Kid, is feeling bored, lonely, and depressed. He stumbles upon an arcade and quickly becomes obsessed with them.

So the story starts off great. Its nothing revolutionary but its a strong setting of “small town boy in a big arcade.”The music alone pulled my heartstrings and it did build up nicely to the second game. Everybody has felt lonely at one point in time and has used video games as a way of comfort, including me. This allows us to relate to The Kid. However, soon after I started to notice a potentially worrying message form. The Kid states that the games help him to become someone else for a short while, and that the worst part is going back to the real world. I’ve heard that last excuse before, in the form of drug addicts, alcoholics, and the like. The games soon become an escape from the real world, and this attitude is never talked about beyond a few brief sentences. The ending does nothing to confront this either, and walks a dangerous line that glorifies escapism.

Ironically enough, this loneliness the Kid feels can be mitigated quite easily: He’s in an arcade. Arcades have always been social affairs, kids yelling, screaming, and joking around while also playing video games together. Yet the Kid just wanders in, plays a game and goes home after a level it seems like. The only way you wouldn’t know what an arcade is like is if you’ve never stepped foot in one beyond watching Wreck It Ralph, which I suspected more and more as I played it.

That’s also the closest to story we get really. The cutscenes alone feel like they could be compiled into ten minutes total, and the dialogue is full of philosophical ramblings from the Kid, that seemed to have been ripped straight from Reddit’s r/showerthoughts. The main driving motivation is the kid being sad about his dad being gone, but that information is never given to us, he could be dead, missing, or was taken away by the Men in Black, we don’t know. The mom is given even less of a spotlight, beyond the Kid hating her for some reason. We never see either parents though, or any character except for one goth chick, and no one except the kid has dialogue.

 It also ends with a generic ending which, in true generic fashion, the Kid literally says “The game isn’t over yet.” To say I rolled my eyes hard enough to evoke a seizure is an understatement.

None of the games have any connection to the story, except for the ending portion of the car one, and the RPG, so theres this rough stop and start flow of storytelling, where patches of the game go with no story development whatsoever

The main problem with it all though is that it could have all worked perfectly if A. the arcade’s social environment came into play and added actual characters, and B. if the game weren’t so short. And I mean reallyyyy short, to the point that I could drink a full bottle of water and beat the game before having to go to the bathroom. I don’t get where people are saying that the game is paced slowly, it’s cutscenes waste too much time getting to the point sure, but the game goes through so many story beats so quickly that it was kind of blinding.

198X tries to pander to those who grew up in the 80’s and pump philosophical garbage into a series of generic arcade games. It’s boring story, and shortness deprives it of any depth. Now apparently it’s supposed to be episodic, but the short story  told here could have filled six or seven hour long episodes on their own. If they keep this frustrating pace up, then I don’t know how in the hell they plan on advancing the story further, with its minimal dialogue and lack of storytelling.

Gameplay: Painful and dated

So the gameplay aspect had the potential to be amazing, and tie into the story themes. Sadly the games lacked the depth, or storytelling to make them worthwhile. Theres five games and I feel the best way to go through them is one at a time.

1. The beat em up: It’s pretty good, out of all of them I’d say it might be my favorite gameplay wise, though its half the length of the others, the combat works, is punchy and fun, though it’s far too simplistic, I also liked how at the end the game kinda dissolved in on itself to show the Kid sitting on a ledge, and starts the story.

2. The Shoot em up: By far the hardest of the bunch, and also the most frustrating. The starship and enemy designs are pretty generic, but the sound and music are the best in the game. It gets annoying towards the end when you fly through the enemy mothership and the walls damage you, and you only get three hits before dying. It also tends to throw a lot of enemies at you In hordes, and the damaged animation on your ship obscures prjectiles due to it leaving behind these huge fire effects, causing you to simply not see the bullets hit you.

3. The Racing game: probably my second favorite out of the bunch. It’s a generic desert themed racing sim, but the cars actually handle pretty well, and that ending shot where your driving through the city is genuinely beautiful and awe inspiring. At that point I feel the devs nailed the feeling of beauty and wonder that these games could create. The biggest and only problem I have is that when you accidentally hit a car, the cars behind you can ram you and cause a chain of cars constantly knocking you down over and over again.

4. The Ninja game: I hate this one, easily my least favorite of the bunch. It plays like a crappy 2D Temple Run game.

  The design of the game is generic, lots of bamboo, wood, and yokai demon masks with little animation. That goes double for the main character, who doesn’t even have a sword swing animation, theres just a white graphic that appears to represent an attack. The level design relies on you being lucky in order for you to dodge instant death traps, or pick the single route not lined by spears that gives an instant KO. Its also the longest game I found, as one playthrough takes about 15 mins, though that might just be me.

5. The RPG: Who the hell makes an RPG arcade system? Seriously, whose gonna pump a quarter in, and then spend twenty minutes grinding slimes? Despite the weird choice of game, this one is probably my favorite. Not because of the awful gameplay, where you have three different attack options: a slash, beam, and hack function. Each enemy has a weakness to one , you spam It and only it and congrats kiddo you win.

I like it because there are some actual story points to it, which relates to the kids mom being angry and upset with the way her life is going, and the rpg breaks the fourth wall and tries to talk to you, telling you to go to bed, that she hates you, and she’s sorry, Which culminates in a final boss battle where she strips your abilities away one by one, while you physically cant do any damage to her. That part was great, but the actual gameplay borders on unbelievably worse than generic, as it is so bare bones and simplistic I’m shocked they even decided to include it.

If I had to describe a substitute for the story and gameplay of 198X it would be this: Go down to a mall and pick up two things: a cheap plug and play capcom game, and Catcher in the Rye. Go home and play each game on the plug and play, and in between each read one chapter of Catcher. I guarantee that you’ll get far more value, and have more fun as well.

Graphics/ sound: *insert Tron joke here

The best thing about this game is by far the visuals and the music. Now i’m not a passionate music fan, nor do I know much about it beyond the bare minimum. However, this soundtrack managed to hit me right in the feels the way the story and dialogue couldn’t. Its very soothing and mellow, and it gives the dialogue extra weight that it desperately needed. The designs of the character aren’t super detailed, but they do look clean and well made. The in game graphics and design vary, some look very pretty and stunning, like the car game and the shoot em up, while others are either bland looking, or extremely simplistic, like the ninja game and the RPG game respectively. The game isn’t afraid to use bold, vibrant colors, and the main color pallet of the game uses a lot of great looking blues. I feel the game is definitely pretty in its own way, its just a shame about the rest of the game

Conclusion:

I would never say that this game is lazy, or rushed, or unpolished. I would say that this pretty piece of art comes across as dull, and unsatisfying. A damn shame too, I feel that if the game was longer than a coffee break, it might amount to something fantastic and moving. However the short pace, repetitive gameplay, and miniscule story beats hurts the game.

Firewatch

I’ve been playing a lot of combat focused action games these past few weeks, and I’ve been craving something that really gets you in the feels, so I turned to a darkness, a deep force that no man can penetrate, the depths of which few have managed to come back from with their insanity intact: the backlog of my Steam library. It was then I saw Firewatch, and I was like ‘oh yeah that game happened.’ I vaguely recalled it being a very pretty forest game with funny dialogue but then I dropped it like a sack of anvils, though I couldn’t remember why exactly.

Then I played it, all the way through in one intense green and white tea fueled (yes I am on a cleanse thanks for asking) afternoon.

Soooooo…. I think I’m in the minority on this one. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, but I am certain that outside of free roam, I will never pick this game up again. Which is sad, because I wanted to like it, but you’ll see why when I get to everything.

Story:

Before I continue I’m just going to be lazy and say straight up that I’m spoiling this so if you really want to give it a shot but want some feedback here it goes: Overall it’s fine with decent character moments, funny lines, but a crappy mystery element. It’s not worth $20 dollars since it’s about five hours long, but I’d say $10 to play it through and $15 if you want to just hike around it afterwards. There ya go.

You are Henry a bearded, Colorado bred, IPA drinking extraordinaire. You pick up a Firewatch job in order to escape from the crushing emotional reality of a dementia riddled wife, and soon find yourself having what amounts to walkie talkie sex with your supervisor Delilah, as a generic mystery audiobook plays faintly in the background.

Okay in fairness, it is better than I described above. If there’s one strong suite in the story department, it’s the character to character dialogue. Henry is dry and sarcastic, while Delilah is witty and clever, and the two VA’s have decent chemistry together. It is just entertaining to walk around and have Henry and Delilah joke about a pair of teenage girl panties left on a tree (purely for character development of course), or have Delilah tease him about..

You know what?        

As i’m writing this, I realized I can’t remember much of the dialogue, at least the comedy bits. I remember it was vaguely funny, but nothing actually stuck out to me.

What did stick out though, was the character-building stuff. Henry turned out to be more relatable than I realized, and as time went on he became my favorite character. His main drive is his guilt riddled decision to leave his wife in a 24 hour care for her early onset dementia. As someone who had a grandparent go through that, even as a kid I could tell just how stressful that is. If you’ve experienced that before then you’ll probably connect emotionally with him. We’ll get to Delilah later, but Henry is the definite high point.

So the story itself starts out decently strong, you go through a series of choice A or choice B story scenarios, very simplistic story beats that shape your relationship with your wife Julia. Then you meet Delilah, you two banter and then go to investigate teenage girls shooting off fireworks in the middle of fire season.

Then things begin to derail..

Firewatch introduces a mystery element to it, or should I say several mysteries pretending to all be linked, in the span of roughly ten seconds apart from each other, then confusedly tries to work through them one at a time. I should add this game not long, about five hours, and it introduces these elements an hour and a half in. So it ends up feeling like you’ve done an 8 ball of cocaine and put on several Scooby Doo movies on several different TVs and tried to analyze it all while occasionally getting REI travel brochures thrown at your head.

It’s just exhausting and tiring to even think about, and I keep feeling like missed huge pieces of plot because I was just trying to analyze what the hell was going on. Because it’s so confusing I’m just going to list out all the mysteries in one fell swoop, starting at the most important and working my way down.

1. Someone’s stalking you and Delilah, as they break into your tower and take down notes on what you and her are talking about through the walkie talkies, mentioning such things as relationship status and personal fears, and you, Henry, get knocked unconscious at one point when you find a strange walkie talkie on the ground.

2. There’s the mystery of Ned and Brian Goodwin, a father and son respectively, who were stationed at Henry’s station but disappeared one day and were never seen since.

3. There’s a weird government camp with surveillance equipment by them, and you don’t know what they’re doing exactly.

4. The two teenage girls I mentioned earlier are reported missing after cutting your phone line (long story) and you find their tent literally torn up, as if a bear went through it. Later Delilah falsifies a report on them leading to possible legal trouble for you both.

5. There are two guys, Ron and Dave. Dave is gay, and wants Ron inside him. That’s it.

So as you can imagine, throwing all this in a third of the way through your remarkably short indie game gets a tad bit messy. What’s worse is that there’s only one mystery that the game doesn’t jettison like deadweight on a sinking ship and attempts to find a resolution to: the Ron and Dave plotline.

Oh wait i’m sorry I meant the Ned and Brian Goodwin plotline. Which is strange because I had wayyy more investment in the two teenage girls plotline, as you had conflict with them, yelled at each other, then you stumbled upon their destroyed campsite, and took pictures of the damage etc. So that had emotional stakes to it, whereas the Ned and Brian plotline had barely any, other than Delilah knew them for a few months. The Goodwin storyline is tied up, with Ned taping a cassette to a climbing rope, and him expressing his grief over his son’s death, which is so incredibly obvious, and generic that I can’t believe they actually did it.

The girls plotline is an absolute joke, and literally ends with Delilah saying “oh yeah they found them drunkenly stealing a tractor,” and never mention it again, the whole point of the false report is never brought to any sort of light. It was an absolute waste of crucial time in an extremely short game,

The surveillance camp is just not worth talking about, it’s some sort of wildlife study that, again, takes up valuable screen time.

So here’s my biggest issue with the story, and I’m in the minority again: I hate Delilah, as a person anyways. She comes across as a cowardly, despicable human being, who has no remorse for those around her. She abandons her boyfriend after his brother died, because she didn’t want to deal with the feelings, and abandons Henry after he discovers a child’s body because she felt guilty over it, when he probably wanted to talk out the trauma with a friend.  A despicable horrible person right down to her core. She also proved herself to be a pathological liar who may or may not have been collaborating with Ned the whole time, though I don’t have time to get into that here. If you’re interested in the Ned and Delilah conspiracy here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-kJek00O0Y&ab_channel=PushingUpRoses

Firewatch’s decent (at first) characters are waylaid by poor story planning, pacing, and mystery elements that cripple the story in an inoperable way.

Gameplay:

 It’s a walking sim, right down to its core. There are elements that give it more teeth than other walking sims though. You can pick up and examine objects, which can add flavor text on stuff like books and shampoo bottles, giving depth to the world. You can also grab equipment like a flashlight, axes , and rope that allows you to explore more areas than before. Overall pretty decent for a walking sim, though I wish there was more to it. It’s a shame we never got any actual “firewatch” stuff like using the Osborne Fire Finder introduced in the game. One thing that is really good is the orienteering aspect, where you use a map and compass to organically navigate the park, which is pretty fun in its own right. It is very satisfying to figure out a path on your own rather than just take the easy way to an objective. Other than that there’s not much to it, as it is still a walking sim.

Graphics/ Audio:

The game looks gorgeous, with a lot of high contrasting colors, and dense, well planned level design. The game looks good but never sacrifices design for not screwing the player around, as everything is clearly laid out and a pleasure to walk around. It goes from forests, to canyons and ravines, to caves pretty well, and it got to the point I was able to figure out where I needed to go without pulling up a map, which is a hallmark of good design, especially in open world games. As the game has a free roam mode after you beat the main story, I would recommend this game highly to those seeking a mindfulness meditation exercise, as it’s perfect for that. The only real issue I have with it is the look of the water, which is ugly and makes the water areas look murky and kinda gross. A personal gripe I have is the weak flashlight, which is a personal pet peeve of mine but not really an issue.

 The audio is nice, and isn’t overbearing with its music, instead relying on ambient sounds and such.  It has a great art direction, and an 80’s style to it that never got old. Sadly, that doesn’t make up for the story, and failed characters.

Conclusion:

It pains me to say that Firewatch is a letdown, from the tepid mystery element, to the unlikable/ underdeveloped supporting cast leads it to me never wanting to play it again except maybe for the free roam mode.

Hellsign: Come Hell or High Water

If you ask me what my dream job would be it’d be a monster hunter in a heartbeat. I’ve long been fascinated with monsters and cryptozoology. Sadly, I’m often dissatisfied with monster hunting games on the market. Monster Hunter World just wasn’t my cup of pterodactyl flavored tea, and the Witcher series is decent enough, but the gameplay around the hunting itself never held my interest as much. There have been exactly two games that have filled that hole: The fantastic Bloodborne which is easily one of my favorite games ever made, and one of the best horror games overall, and Hellsign: an obscure little indie survival horror game that honestly needs more support as its very underrated, even by Indie standards. Not in the hipster ooh i’m so unique I have a Samsung and not an iPhone haha i’m so counter culture way. In the actually good way, where the game is pretty god but pulled snake eyes when it came to ending up in peoples recommended page.  Here’s to hoping this article gets some more traffic to it, before Bloodborne Remastered is announced and sweeps the market again.

Story/ Mission Design: Oh the life of an Australian

You play as a hunter, someone who hunts monsters in the Australian Outback for cash and profit. One day you awaken with a strange symbol across your back called a Hellsign, and get a call to come check out an abandoned haunted house. This sparks your journey from a nobody who doesn’t know how to operate any equipment, to demon slaying legend. Story aint great if im honest, characters are interesting and funny enough but there’s major holes in the plot, such as at the beginning you not knowing how to use basic equipment, or know any monster hunting lingo which results in other characters who have paid you to be there make fun of you before explaining in depth how everything works.

Missions are a bit of a grind honestly, as you’ll mostly just be collecting things that you would have already been doing because that’s how you get money in this game.

Yeah, not the best but that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for high octane werewolf fights baby, and that’s what you’ll absolutely kinda sorta get… maybe.

Gameplay: Dodge Roll like its Yharnam 1886 Baby!

So, you remember when I put Bloodborne and Hellsign in the same category as a monster hunter game. Well, that’s where things diverge a little bit. Bloodborne is a more horror-based experience, with Lovecraftian imagery, and gothic weapons and clothing. It’s also a fast-paced melee focused experience that can be brutally difficult at times. Hellsign is kind of on the opposite side of the spectrum, in most ways as a matter of fact, as “horror” is the only real connection between the two (Well that and dodge rolling).

Hellsign is a much slower type of survival horror game, that has big spikes of action followed by minutes of careful investigation. Think of it more like a Lovecraftian detective noir sort of way, with very little Lovecraft elements, if that makes sense. You’ll mostly be using EMF meters, paranormal microphones, and thermal scanners to find clues to what demon is haunting the current location, and then choosing whether to run or load up the shotgun and duke it out for higher pay. The game runs on a rogue-lite system where rooms, hallways, and forest areas are randomly generated, but always have a set number of targets. You walk around the house waving a microphone and that remote scanner thing from Ghostbusters around, before stumbling into a room full of monsters and engaging a firefight with ten little demon spiders. It can be a bit frustrating to play at points, as you often miss one single clue and have to backtrack for what feels like forever just to find it by chance. Overall though the gameplay is pretty fantastic, as the progression system is pretty rewarding, a bit slow but rewarding be it experience, or buying new weapons etc. The only thing I don’t like personally are the limits of the skill tree, as it’s small with not a lot of variety, though what you do get is pretty useful, farrr more useful than AC Unity, as you actually feel excited when you get new levels. The equipment you use has a decent amount of variety to it, and if you’re the type of person who loves traps, (insert Scooby Doo here) you’ll probably really love this game, because it has an extensive variety of tripwires, floodlights, and explosives.

So, the progression and gameplay are nice, if a bit frustrating and repetitive at times but how, you may ask, do the monsters hold up?

Well, it depends, honestly. If you’re looking to fight magic wielding vampires, or something out of a John Carpenter movie then I’d recommend looking elsewhere. This game is rooted in Cryptozoology, which is the study of undocumented species (cryptids as they’re called). So think less of a fantasy boss, and more along the lines of Dover Demon and the Mothman. There is a dark dimension thing, with poltergeists and demons, along with some light magic elements.  The majority, however are going to be huge bugs and these werewolf-like things called ghouls. It’s a more “realistic” monster hunting game in that way, and the enemy variety does pick up a bit from time to time. A lot of the monsters were a bit of a letdown, as most of them come down to something resembling bullfighting where they rush past you, you dodge roll, and then fire at them from the back and repeat until one of you ceases to breathe. Bit disappointing honestly, part of me wishes that there were some missions where you hunt one very smart and tough monster that runs around the house while shooting at it. Overall though pretty good gameplay and can definitely be fun at parts, just expect a slow burn at points

Art style/ Sound: Look There’s a Demon Cloud! *frantic violin playing

While I do like Hellsign I’d he remise if I didn’t mention the biggest gripe I have with this game: Hellsign was trying to be a scary horror game, but I never got scared once. Pretty big issue when you’re playing a game about hunting demons for cash.

This is due to two things: the look of the game, and the way tension is built up. First off, the look of the game can be a bit ugly depending on your taste. It has this greenish color filter over it which I personally dislike, as the colors come across as muted and dull. The monster themselves are either straight up black, invisible, or has some sort of red effect. There are no real monsters that scared me, or even stood out to me. In addition, this game is a pretty big jumpscare factory, as you kick in doors monsters jump out at you and you gun them down, rinse and repeat. No real buildup or tension, things just kinda happen. It ends up feeling like some “scary” Netflix movie rather than a tense, planned out thriller.

The level design is bland, as apparently every Australian has hired the exact same architect that believes the importance of designing quality homes is to get blindingly drunk and throw together rooms that have no coherence nor logic around the design. Each house has the same doors, same garage, even the same pool tables as each other, so it gets real dull real fast. Same for the forests and junkyard level, which are the only other two areas in the whole game.

There is some cool cutscenes in the game, as they have decent comic book styled cutscenes every once in a while, and the clip art for the equipment and weapons are pretty good. The only other issue I have with the game is the sound. The game reuses the voices a lot, and im 99% sure they’re stock sounds too. Screams are the exact same when listening on microphones, same jumping noise from the ghouls, and a comically ridiculous splat noise when getting attacked by tentacles. Also the boss music is pretty generic, as when you summon a demon, they play what sounds like Kevin Macleod music and generic violin track #247.

Conclusion:

Despite the issues I’ve listed above, I actually do really like the game, it has its flaws but has an engaging gameplay loop, and satisfying progression. I just wish it had been scarier, and had more visual appeal. I do recommend it, but more for the realistic take on monster hunting and its fun factor. Hopefully the devs either keep updating it, or work on a sequel where they can iron out some of the kinks.

Important Note:

This game’s story has been confirmed as a cliffhanger, and the devs have stated they will not be providing anymore story based updates.

Space Crew Review

One of my favorite real time strategy games on Steam, oddly enough, was a WWII bomber simulator called Bomber Crew. It was centered around logistics and planning, rather than real time dogfighting, and emphasized strategic use of abilities each crewmember had, from gunners, to radiomen, to engineers. It was all put together very well, and with a simplistic, voxel based artstyle it held a lot of appeal and charm. It was also a roguelike, and ridiculously hard at points, as you lost equipment on death, and might have to spend hours grinding to replace it.

But through that, it became one of my most played games on Steam, second to only TF2.

To compliment it the developers, Runner Duck, released a sequel to the game, Space Crew in 2020. It had a lot riding on its shoulders, as the sequel to a successful indie game can often make, or break a studios reputation. Would it hold up, like Hotline Miami 2, or be ostracized, like Metal Gear Survive (#FuckKonami).

Gameplay: 

In the near future an alien race called Phasmids attack Earth, and to save humanity the heroes of the rather boringly named United Defense Force gather to protect humanity (Very generic I know). You’re the crew of a spaceship and are tasked to go on missions varying from search and destroy to search and destroy but also maybe save an astronomer this time.

This game is absolutely lucky I didn’t review it at launch, because the first version of the game was an absolutely dull experience. Only two gunners overall, an even more repetitive mission process, and unbalanced enemies would have me raking it over the coals.

In fairness they had to remove a lot of the bomber elements to the game to fit it all in, and I feel as if they didn’t exactly know how to translate it into a space sim. A big issue I have is the lack of complexity. There’s no bombing mechanic anymore, or putting landing gear down, or even really moving people between stations except the security officer and engineer occasionally. It feels a lot was crammed into the combat sections, and everything else was completely removed

The missions themselves follow the same pattern the whole game, mark a portal jump, go into a new area, fight a wave of enemies for each jump point, sometimes two,

One in every three missions hack an alien space station, drop off/ pick up/ kill the objective, and jump back portal after portal. Rather than pressuring you to perform a successful bombing run, now you just hover over an icon, and the situation solves itself. So this leads to boring repetitive mission design.

Sometimes there’s an enemy ace like in Bomber Crew, or escort missions (yay!). But the objectives weren’t what made Bomber Crew fun, they added stakes and tension to it. The minute to minute gameplay was where the strength of the game lied, and I feel as if Space Crew both expands it in certain ways, while also taking away from it at the same time.

The biggest issue I have with the gameplay, as stated above, is the fact that Space Crew takes away some of the more complex elements of Bomber Crew, and replaces them with hordes of enemies, and long drawn out battles, which just become tiresome after a while. It strips out things like landing, fuel, and even ammunition, and dumps such huge hoards of abilities, and button presses on you to the point you have to change the gameplay around, and .

In the previous Bomber Crew game, you had to manually target enemy fighters within a scope, which would then allow your turrets to shoot them down, but in this game I ended up turning that feature off, in favor of auto tagging. There’s just too many things to keep track of now, from switching piloting styles, to boosting turret accuracy that I just gave up to allow myself some breathing room. Eventually I got the hang of it, and found the combat pretty fun. However, that’s the only thing that has a bit of complexity and strategy to it. When outside of combat you’re either trying to get your ship to waddle the next jump beacon, going at the speed of a Walmart shopping scooter that’s over its weight limit by twenty pounds, or staring at a hacking minigame. The hacking minigame has its uses, but results in me staring at a computer screen for twenty seconds, and guessing which icon is which.

It can be worth it if you get lucky and get the one that activates the self-destruct on nearby ships. But usually it is just boring. So you get either spikes of frantic action that makes you feel as if you’re drowning , or you get flat boring sections that kill the pacing by having absolutely nothing going on.

It’s even worse on longer missions, as it becomes a war of attrition as you play 15-20 minute long levels, hoping that you can survive being shot at in 15 directions with no end in sight. With no fuel mechanic this kills a lot of the tension and pace of the game, as you can just kind of wait out the recharge of your abilities.

The game’s complexity weighs entirely on the abilities, and occasionally repairing everything with the engineer. There is one more wrinkle to it though: close quarters combat. Now every once in a while (as in every thirty seconds) a dropship containing alien marines boards your ship, and you get to fight them off, provided you notice the small ship attaching to you in between the explosions, lasers, and panicked button pressing. I like the idea in theory, but it proves too annoying, and unexciting. One thing I will say is I like that when you arm yourself with a plasma rifle in the equipment area, you simply press a giant green “Attack” button. This takes away the possibility of the already janky movement controls becoming unbearable, and allows you to focus on the dogfight instead. Thank God, I say, because the last thing I want when fighting an exciting space battle is to zoom in on my boring looking ship interior to play a game of XCOM for five minutes. Just slap a rifle into the hands of the onboard security officer and hurl him into the line of fire to curb stomp the aliens, and then go back to switching reactor power to shields hoping that the aliens haven’t swarmed over you in the brief time you were gone.

I like a lot of the new classes on offer, specifically the Security class, however I feel as if the responsibilities aren’t fairly laid out between the crew members. Call me a commie but when the security officer is in charge of shields and regeneration, a gun turret, and beating back alien boarding parties, while the comms officer simply presses a button to summon reinforcement fighters, and work the map, I feel as if we need to distribute the labor more equally. I wish there were four gunners rather than three AND the security officer, as it would be slightly less of a headache when dealing with the interior movement controls in a hurry. Which sounds like an oxymoron, me complaining about lack of complexity while complaining about things being hard, but it would allow you to use all your abilities at once, as the security station also controls shield regeneration as well as the turret station which protects the whole front area of the ship, so it can be a game of “guess when to move your Security Officer” rather than strategic planning.

So there’s a lot wrong with this game overall, but here are some pretty good things in this sequel.

Space Crew is excellent when it comes to the ship customization and all the attachments to it, The weapons are also far more balanced, and remove the “the game sover once I get a 50. Cal machine gun that can load itself automatically” feeling.I also liked the new holster mechanics that give a crewmember a boost, be it in self defense weapons, or engineering tools to boost repair time, this allows you to specialize certain characters into different roles.

The weapons are also far more balanced, due to the Bomber Crew basically turning itself off after you get the autoloading 50. Cal gun turrets. I also liked the new holster mechanics that give a crewmember a boost, be it in self defense weapons, or engineering tools to boost repair time, this allows you to specialize certain characters into different roles.

I find Space Crews overall to not live up to its previous successor, as it leans far too heavily on the long winded, simplistic missions. But I would recommend it as a podcast game, something fun to play while you listen to your favorite youtuber, or an audio book or whatever. 

Graphics/ Artstyle:

I’ve heard a lot about the artstyle to this game, and how it’s terrible and generic. But I disagree with half that statement: Generic, yes but terrible, absolutely not. The game goes for a voxel based aesthetic, which I feel is much smoother than the original game, and has a much better color palette, with darker more vibrant colors, rather than the pastel flavor of the OG game. I love the vibe and feeling of the game, and its use of light and color. If you’re weird like me, and you love the aesthetic of Disneyland Space Mountain, then you’re gonna love this game, because it captures it quite well, with blue ambient lights, old school space station design and lots of retro futuristic aesthetics.

The music is hit or miss. The battle music drags on and on, feeling extremely repetitive and dull, while the musical flourish upon exiting a portal is pretty great, and adds a star trek vibe to it.

The background artwork, especially the planets are given a sense of immense scale, which a lot of games have trouble with

 I do have a bit of a problem with the ship in that it is pretty vanilla, not bad, just kind of basic. Think of a box with two engines on its side and, Voila, you’ve got the ship design. I feel as if adding a few variations to the ship would’ve helped, like adding new turrets, or additional engines to improve the ships style in addition to a gameplay boost, to make combat more interesting. However, the combat s already fun, because seeing your gunner shoot slowly moving energy blasts at far away targets, and seeing enemy ships explode is immensely satisfying, and why the game is as fun as it it.

Conclusion:

 If I had to compare the two in a short sentence it is this: Bomber Crew was a well designed and planned game, that was constrained by its World War 2 setting, and tended to frustrate due to difficulty, while Space crew has a much wider scope of potential but lacks the boldness to embrace the Star Trek adventure theme, and let loose with its ideas. Space Crew tends to both be in the shadow, but also tentative to leave said shadow of the first game, in order to make itself unique in fear of changing the formula too much, hopefully providing a good jumping off platform for future updates.

To Running Duck: 

I’m not gonna lie, I really want to love Space Crew and get lost in it for hours on end. So here are a couple of things I think would help smooth out some of the issues i listed above. 

First, add four gunners and keep the security officer at his station, as this allows the security to do security things, such as taking on incoming enemies. 

Second, make the comms officer get up and have an assigned task outside communications, as they mostly stay at their station, maybe put their hacking console across the ship, or  where the ejection controls are.

 Third, (maybe) add more stations and crew, and give the something to do when there’s a lull in the action, off the top of my head would be like a shield operator, where they solely focus on that, and security just focuses on ship intruders and the emp system. Though that last one is completely optional.

Overall, good starting point, great for podcasts and generally just relaxing, and with updates and potential DLC (Which i’ll hopefully review in the future) I feel this game can absolutely live up to Bomber Crew

Dead End Road

Roguelike games have been a staple of the indie game genre for a good decade or so, at least as long as I’ve been playing them. Given the fact that everything conceivable genre has had a shot at it, be it fantasy, sci fi, turn based, zombies, shooters, etc. its surprising that we don’t see any of horror. At least that was my thought process before I played Dead End Road, to which I realized that a game where the whole point of the gameplay involves replaying a very hard game to get progressively better a number of times, and a genre in which being scared and uneasy as you go into unknown territory tend to cancel each other out.

Dead End road takes place somewhere in England (which you can tell because the steering wheel is on the right of the car), where you play as a silent protagonist who screwed up a ritual with some sort of elder god and now must flee in your old car to the mysterious old woman who told about said ritual, and must brave a dangerous road filled to the brim with cheesy jump scares and exceptionally frustrating instant death traps.

While I dislike the game for a number of reasons, there are a few parts of it I found intriguing. Firstly, is the whole concept, as driving in the night with nothing but you, your cars headlights, and the road ahead is often relaxing and somewhat unnerving at the same time. This is one of the first horror games I’ve personally played that was centered around driving a car. Driving is a bit of an understatement however, as it controls horribly and tends to slide around as if the road were covered in black ice. This can be chalked up to a horror game taking away a sense of control from you so it can build tension through gameplay.

However, it ends up making the game more frustrating than actually scaring the player.  This is due to the fact that the game throws so many instant death traps at you, that you become entirely at mercy if the games RNG, as cars, trucks, trains, trash piles etc. are all placed around the road at random, and you might end up with a pile of trash blocking one side of the road, and a car coming straight towards you on the other side, which kills you instantly. The RNG ends up destroying the strategy to the games upgrade and fuel management system.

You start the game off with 100 Euros but its exceptionally rare that you make any more than that. This locks off many of the more fun upgrades like the speed boost, and forces you to choose the fuel efficiency one, and little else. It’s possible to get the money back with scratch cards, or going into alleyways, but both these either have the potential to waste all your money, leaving you with nothing. This basically makes the game unplayable as you will have no money left for fuel or upgrades.

 Of course, the gameplay alone already makes this game dull and boring as is, with long stretches of sullen roads and holding the forward’s button. This could be where the games horror elements come in, but they don’t. First off, the fact that its procedurally generated means that as you replay the game over and over again, trying to get through the frustrating death traps, that you become desensitized to the game’s antics, and begin to expect them. Second off, if this isn’t already apparent, the game simply isn’t scary, nor do the developers seem to have a concept of what makes a game scary and not just a cheap facade of jumpscares. The worst one was when the game tried to pull the, oh-the-games-haunted-and-its-going-into-your-source-code gimmick, where it pulls up a blue error screen for about three seconds, before going away and you continuing as if nothing even happened, to which I said, out loud, “Wow they literally just tried to pull that off.” The other ones aren’t as lame or predictable as that but they lack subtlety, which makes or breaks most, if not all good horror games. You’ll be driving along when suddenly your car teleports into tunnels of gore, with screams from the damned echoing, before, again, being dropped into the game yet again like nothing happened. The horror in this horror game becomes just a gimmick used to make the game more interesting. There are no interesting mechanics, the story isn’t engaging, there are basically no characters, and the gameplay mostly involves holding down the W key and waiting. While it is polished, and performs well, it ends up being just a thin, watery horror game with no really redeeming qualities

Space Haven: Home Away From Home

While the idea of building a space colony hasn’t been trod upon quite as much from other genres, such as roguelikes or old school fps, it still is a popular genre that anybody who wants to break into needs to set themselves apart from, be it interesting new gameplay styles that are the invert of the norm or a unique world that the player wants to know more of. The massive Kickstarter success Space Haven, on the other hand, is not one of them, as the basis for it is fairly standard. However, Space Haven’s gameplay and survival elements are finely honed, and can still deliver and excellent time if you’re the person it was meant for.

Story/Narrative

 You are a group of colonists, in the future where earth is destroyed and you must survive, by rebuilding a defunct spaceship, and setting off into the universe. While there isn’t much of a story per se, that’s not the main focus of the game. The game does pick up the slack in the form of notes and the like, as well as having a variety of different factions warring for dominance. Ultimately, the story is the one you create yourself, by naming the characters after irl friends, and forging your own path in the stars. This story sounds familiar, if not an exact copy of, stories you’ve heard dozens of times,

Gameplay:

The game is a slow burner, and can be a bit frustrating at time due to some systems being convoluted, such as the process of getting hull blocks to make your ship larger, as well as the UI tending to switch between left clicking and right clicking to open smaller menus. However, once those nagging issues are over, the game does present a fun, yet challenging experience. The studio BugByte has perfected the art of slow burning yet rewarding games in their previous title Battlevoid and this goes the same here. Managing power, water and food supply, entertainment, and sleep are all hallmarks of the genre, and some would say to the point of being a repetitive cop out. This time, however, the process of building and maintaining the ship progresses slowly, and bases a greater emphasis on planning far into he future . It nails the loop of slowly working your way towards a new goal, and paying off. There is also combat, when you decide to salvage old ships for bits and parts, however it isn’t anything to write home about. It does provide a fun, break from the norm though, and isn’t the main focus anyways. I tended to just cut through monsters and pirates as if they were nothing.

That doesn’t mean the game is easy though, and resource management will be the main obstacle to battle with.                                                                                                                      The game does tend to be luck based, especially at the beginning with limited resources, but gradually opens up and begins to test the players skill at predicting the future rather than if karma was on their side that day.

The research tree is somewhat small and limited, but will hopefully be updated with a plethora of mechanics and new items.

Overall, the gameplay is nothing revolutionary, but is of a remarkably high quality, with lots of polish.

Graphics/Artstyle

The game is meant look like older, pixelated strategy games, played from a top down perspective. Space Haven blends many different artstyles from different Sci Fi series. A little bit of cyberpunk here, cassette futurism there, and a bit of hard sci fi. Using a rich, vibrant color pallet allows the game to reach the full potential of its artstyle, as well as set the atmosphere of a dark, barely functioning spaceship in the beginning. I found the lighting effects particularly fantastic. The only thing that isn’t rendered in quite as much detail are the character and monster sprites, which can look somewhat generic looking. But the ship and the systems themselves all look and feel authentic, as if there are actual gears, pipes, and electric signals coursing through them. Overall the game is a beautiful game, especially considereing their previous games were plagued by rough, shoddy animation, and a bland generic artstyle.

Conclusion:

The game is a work in progress, but has the potential to be a well done addition to the survival, base building genre. While it is a bit limited, the groundwork si there for BugByte to really put forward a quality title.