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.

Skirmish Line

The days of old school Flash Games are coming to an end, sadly. Long ago, places like Newgrounds, Addicting Games .com, and of course Miniclip, ruled the landscape as a free, easy way of playing different genres of games. I remember playing my first violent video game on Addicting games: the Thing-Thing.

Unfortunately, those days are over, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any games that can bring back the nostalgia of the times. Skirmish Line proves itself to be a return to that art style and type of loose, frantic gameplay that made for many a fun-filled Friday night.

The game is an old-school RTS game similar to Mud and Blood 2, which is not too familiar with, to be honest. It takes place during a campaign set on an island against Japanese soldiers, and this provides the context for the game.

The game revolves around buying soldiers with varying classes of skills and weaponry, such as flamethrower units, heavy machine-gunners, medics ETC, as well as buying defensive fortifications to better fend of enemy troops.

The gameplay is based on a wave-like system, where enemies spawn in, they run towards you, you shoot them, get money, and do it again. A simplistic gameplay loop, but a well-executed one in fairness.

The money-based system can be somewhat annoying, as it tends to progress too slowly to be able to really let loose with the more fun vehicles, in favor of saving it to buy sandbags or palisades. There are options to earn money a bit faster, but they all come with a challenge-based system to them.

The challenged based system offers different types of buffs and bonuses in exchange for something that makes the game harder, as more special waves in exchange for more money or having soldiers panic easily.

 Level design and terrain placements can screw you over as there might be a random unexploded bomb that you need to destroy, which is just frustrating as it adds nothing to the game and makes you waste time throwing satchel charges at it until it goes off.

The character progression and evolving of your troops are pretty simplistic, as it boils down to mostly picking a new weapon or adding a grenade and brass knuckles (which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds). You have very little direct control over your soldiers unless you have an officer who can order suppressive fire or target one specific enemy. You can also call in airstrikes and put fortifications where you want, and that’s about it. The rest of the game is you crossing your fingers that your men target the one kamikaze soldier that’s springing towards your nearest MG turret, and suddenly it turns into a game of “Swear at your monitor until the A. I start working the way you want it to.”

It’s more a game of risk management and preparing ahead for the long game. “Should I build more defensive fortifications or hire a radio operator to call in an airstrike if things go south,” is an example of the questions you will ask yourself as you play the game.

Overall the game can feel sluggish at points, but when it gets going, you really feel it. It makes for some rewarding gameplay that, although not my first pick to play of the night, it’s an excellent game to just unwind while listening to an audiobook or whatever. It’s a fun way to pass the time that I’ve pumped many hours into, and if you’re a Mud and Blood 2 fan, then from my (anecdotal) knowledge of it, I can fully recommend it as a nostalgia game.  The only real issue I have is with the art style.

 The game honestly isn’t a looker, as it has a dull color pallet, and the jerky, stiff animations don’t do anything for me on an artistic level. The ground texture tends to look somewhat ugly as well, and I have trouble telling the enemies apart at a quick glance. But those are more the result of focusing on gameplay rather than graphics and art style, so to me, it’s more of a nitpick.

I recommend it, though, as a good throwback to the early days of flash and as a more relaxing game to chill out and game after a rough day at work or school. Hopefully, the developer Snarktopus puts out more updates for the game as well as new potential releases in a similar vein to this one.

Assassins Creed Unity: The Fall of a Titan

With the recent trough of Ubisoft sandboxes such as Watchdogs Legion and Ghost Recon Breakpoint, I’m feeling the same tiredness towards sandbox games. Not all are necessarily bad per se, but they do tend to lack variety despite many of their games covering vastly different genres. The Ubisoft Sandbox is a pillar of the game industry stereotype, right alongside the EA Dumpster Fire and the Quantum Break Creepy Sex Scene.

One of the most standout examples is the Assassin Creed series, one of the most popular and well-known gaming franchises in the world, up there with Halo, Mario, and Lara Croft. While the series has had its ups and downs, the series started a slow decline towards the lower end of the Metacritic average in the past half-decade. But where did it begin, you may ask? Out of all the games, with their own flaws and strengths, where was the turning point?

Assassins Creed Unity. This is where the series went from a decent franchise with a unique premise to the Ubisoft staple that bores me to tears just thinking about it. Now before I start, I need to emphasize something: I don’t hate Unity. In fact, there are a few parts I genuinely love and a lot I just like about it. It is not the worst game in the series, just the start of the downfall.

Story: The story of the game follows the generic Assassins Creed template: Abstergo industries do something regarding genetic software, the Brotherhood needs to find a piece of Eden, ETC. But that’s the outside story; the story that most people care about is set at the beginning of the French Revolution, following Arno Dorian, a young nobleman who sees his father, an Assassin, killed, and his adoptive father, a Templar, killed. He joins the Brotherhood seeking revenge and goes on a one-man killing spree because the Assassin leaders are so incompetent they can’t think to send more than one person against an entire order.

Arno himself starts out semi-interesting, like Ezio from AC II, but sort of stays at that rash, arrogant charm and then slowly becomes more and more boring throughout. He looks boring, has no interesting traits to speak of, and his motivation for becoming an Assassin is vague and unsatisfying. Obviously, he wants to avenge his adopted father, but that motivation doesn’t provide the emotional spark that was needed to push the story along. The only time I was somewhat emotionally invested in the characters were with Arno and Elise’s romance, as the two had good chemistry together and gave Arno some much-needed charm and wit, along with a decent few jokes.

My main problem with the story, though, is that the French Revolution, one of the most horrifying periods of human history, only topped by Nazi occupation, was treated as a backdrop to the generic Templar vs. Assassin template. Rather than working alongside it, like AC III did with the American Revolution, the French Revolution is kind of hovering around the story like a fog, always there but never really engaged in the story or influencing any character’s decisions. Maximillian Robespierre, one of the most disgustingly wicked human beings of all time, is thrown in at the end and is shown for maybe two minutes of screentime total. He was the reason the revolution was started and the reason it was so bloody and guillotine happy, yet they treat him like some one-off politician that made a few bad laws.

I felt the same about most of the Templars, and due to all the main enemies looking the exact same, so I could barely distinguish them from one another, there was a lack of stakes in the story. I didn’t care at all about the entirety of the revolution because I wasn’t there for any of it, or at least most of it. There are times where there’s a crowd outside of a palace your trying to break in to kill someone, and that’s about it. There was no battle to protect the citizens of France from the military, like in the admittedly fantastic trailer, or save a woman from being guillotined, just Arno running on rooftops, talking to the Brotherhood leaders, and whining about girl problems. It also ends in the most boring, pretentious way possible, as Arno prattles on about gibberish sayings that make him sound like a first-year philosophy major. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he had ended it off by saying, “I thought the meaning of life was money, but I was wrong because friendship is priceless .”

What’s that college student Arno? Yeah, society does have similarities between us and 1984; here’s a smiley-face sticker.

AC Unity’s premise, story, and characters are frustrating. The setting, characters, and story could have been something special, but wastes its opportunity and squanders the potential—a damn shame.

Gameplay:

The gameplay of AC Unity is where the game has its biggest highs and also its lower points. It follows the same formula of the games before it, with the emphasis on stealth, distractions, and general assassin things. The combat has been either improved or ruined, depending on who you ask, as the combat nowadays feels more like a brawler. I like it a lot personally, as it’s no longer the “press b and hold to become invincible” gimmick from previous AC games, so it adds tension and makes you think about if it’s a good idea to enter a fight or not. You have an attack button and a block/parry button that requires you to time it to stun your opponent. This is a simple system starting out, but through the use of smoke/ poison bombs, your pistol, and heavy attacks, which I rarely used, the gameplay gains some more complexity, with all these gained through the upgrade tree.

Speaking of the upgrade tree, a first for an Assassins Creed game, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt, the absolute WORST skill tree I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The upgrades are so minimal, so pathetic and average, that I was stunned they thought it was a good idea. The upgrade tree basically takes essential gameplay mechanics, like double assassination, money pouches, a strong attack, and even the ability to roll after a jump, and locks them behind a skill tree.

Never once was I excited to gain a new skill. It felt like I was losing one less ball and chain that was attached to my leg, which is an ironic statement for a game about the French Revolution. The weapon upgrades were probably even more pathetic, as the only upgrade for all except one weapon was a straight 25% damage upgrade. Every single weapon and the one that had different upgrades was an end game item.

The weapons themselves, though, are actually pretty decent. There’s a lot of variety and different styles, from spears, axes, swords and, my favorite, rifles. Sadly the rifles lack the ability to put on bayonets, which I thought was a lost opportunity. The weapons have a good weighty feel to them, for the most part. This also ties into the clothing system, which gives you the only decent upgrade path in the game, as certain parts increase bullets, medicine, and bomb-carrying capacity. It also can give more ammo to the phantom blade, a useful enough weapon that can kill silently from a distance, as well as be outfitted with berserk blades that can make your enemy go insane and attack their allies, which is not entertaining.

So you’ve bought the right gear, strapped as many bottles of Codeine and blades fused with bath salts to your Assassin themed rolling backpack. Now you leap headlong into the fray, expecting to dominate the battlefield with your sword and crossbow, and jump into a crowd full of enemies.

However, when surrounded by the camera and auto-aim, have a panic attack and seem to try and target everything at once, causing your main character to spin around, attacking an enemy once before targeting another. This leads to the combat feeling less like an epic duel and more of a deadly game of patty cake, as you deal ineffectual damage against enemies, all while being shot at from nine different directions and not being able to see enemies that may be charging up behind you with a giant fire ax. The same problem also applies to the parkour, which is so frustrating to use, mainly because there are indoor areas now, so Arno might decide to hurl himself at the nearest chair and stay there no matter how many times you press the drop button. It’s always been like that, but AC Unity attempts to have new parkour up/down system, which glitches constantly and flat out doesn’t work.

 So I don’t recommend getting in large fights with hordes of enemies, but then this is an Assassins Creed game, so the focus is obviously on stealth.

Before I talk about the stealth part of the game, I will admit that I’m not great at stealth for the most part, as I tend to get too impatient for it. So take that into consideration when I say the enemies tend to see you far too easily, and stealth is more of a “cross your fingers and hopes it works out” sort of deal. The phantom crossbow does help out a bit with this, but ultimately there’s an assassination objective, you attempt to stealth, guard spots, then it turns into a historical Batman: Arkham Asylum game for a few minutes.

However, if you can manage the stealth sections, you’ll be rewarded with a pretty great mission design. Before performing an assassination, you will have optional objectives that you can complete at your leisure, be it taking out elite enemies or saving a group of people who will assist you in combat. This allows the missions to play out more dynamically and feels more rewarding when pulling off a successful assassination.

Through the frustrating flaws of the game, there is potential for a real 10/10. Sadly the good points are often outweighed by the bad. If Ubisoft took the time and effort to fix them, it would be alright. Sadly I’m writing this a few months after AC: Valhalla came out, so there’s little hope this review will actually change things.

Graphics:

The best thing about Assassins Creed Unity, hands down, is the atmosphere and setting. Paris truly feels like a place people live, work, and function in. It doesn’t feel like Ghost Recon Wildlands, where everybody is stock still and lazily animated. I personally really enjoyed just walking up and down the streets of Paris and looking at all the scenery. The structures are all well designed and lend well to the missions themselves; sadly, the AI is psychic and can see right through the walls, making it a waste of good level design. The color palettes are also pretty good, although not really for the player character clothes. They tend to be either boring or horrendous to the eyes; my personal least favorite was a purple hood with a mustard yellow and green undercoat, which made Arno look like a Willy Wonka gone completely rogue as if he was about to start hunting down the Oompa Loompas one by one. Others are just complete sensory overload, and I personally walked around with a bright yellow coat and all the entire game. I thought it was funny that a sneaky Assassin whose job is to work primarily in the dark look like he was the patron saint for an Aztec sun god. While Paris looks gorgeous, it is ugly on the inside, by which I mean the map. It’s an absolute cluttered mess of icons, pictures, walls of texts, and indicators that seem to not mean anything. There’s no search option, so prepare mentally, to slowly slide your cursor up and down the map, looking for the one icon you want. The sound effects work well and give the combat weight, and the animation isn’t half bad, so even when the combat becomes an absolute mess, the kills still feel fun and rewarding. One issue I had with the character design was that many of the people in the cutscenes looked the same, which hurt what little attachment I would maybe have had to the boring characters. About half of the characters are older, fat men in suits with grey wigs and black overcoats, so not much in the way of exciting character design.

Overall though, absolutely excellent city design, a shame about the crappy map/ UI and dull, confusing character design.

Bugs 

AC Unity is a game that was notorious at launch for the bugs. From visual glitches to characters getting stuck in walls as enemies take potshots at you. I didn’t encounter the infamous faceless, see-through demon face glitch, but I was frustrated constantly with the other types of bugs. Despite this being a half-decade old game, the bugs are still rampant and numerous, so be warned that this game can be very frustrating to play at points.

Overall: Unity is not a perfect game by a long shot. In fact, I would say at points, it can be a general pain to get through. It had potential, and some parts, such as all the assassination missions that take place in manors, are well-executed and is, what I would say, the best parts of the game. The game can have fun combat as well as looking quite beautiful. However, if you are expecting a rich story experience, then I recommend looking elsewhere.

Knights of Pen and Paper 2:

Intro: In the days of constant internet connection one often longs for the old days, wehre groups of people could sit down over a wooden table, and roll dice and talk about dragons while two people are on their phones and another one is busy drawing their character. No, im not talking about the days of the 80’s, im talking about fall last year. Covid has wiped out all hope for these sorts of things at least until the vaccine is made. Fortunatley, there are alternatives to those activities. Such as Knights of Pen and Paper 2, an old school rpg that combines the turn based action of final fantasy with the humor of a DND session where the DM is one of the interns for a writer of The Big Bang Theory.

Story/ Narrative:

I’d be lying if I said that I can remember much of the story, as there is none to really mention. It feels as if im filling in a fantasy/ rpg MadLib. Think of a generic rpg story and there ya go, thats KOPAP 2 for you. That’s not to say that the narrative and the writing aren’t good (sometimes), its more just that the story is meant to give explanation as to the who’s, what’s, where’s, and why’s of marching along short linear paths to the next objective. There aren’t any real factions, or groups that you’ll grow attached to, no villains to grow contempt and hatred of, no party members that will sadden you with their deaths. The only real meaningful parts of the story are the narrative, and the dialogue spoken between characters. It tends to have decent comedic timing, and charming, if limited, pop culture references. But that’s the only real string to the games bow, and after a while that charm wears itself thin as a Kleenex. Towards the halfway point theres plenty of dead humor that doesn’t land and brings the pacing to grinding halt, as the important dialogue needed for questlines tends to be sandwiched between “jokes” and people explaining parts of the story to you. I was tempted to just start skipping dialogue because I was tired of reading pure drivel with no point to it. For all the aspiring RPG makers of the world heres my two pieces of advice for this type of narrative: A. when it comes to humor and jokes, having a little bit less is better than having a little bit too much and B. if at any point you or your test audience gets bored and attempts to skip dialogue to get it over with, its time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong.

I did, however, truly like how the game was willing to just go wild with its ideas, as you start fighting up enemies made of hectagons, and letters. I feel as if the wackiness could lead to a potentially more engaging game overall, but ultimately it was only a few sections and then tossed out in favor of more dead jokes.

In short, KOPAP is a game where the jokes acts as airplanes, and the story structure acts an aircraft carrier: at first the planes land normally and smoothly, but as the deck fills up and storage is limited, the other planes panic and begin to kamikaze the ships hull, destroying the whole ship in the process.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is similar to that of any turn based strategy rpg games. While there are a few instances of breaking the mold and trying something new, KOPAP prefers to stick on well- trodden ground. You’ve got healers, barbarians, mages, and thieves. While there are other class roles, they all essentially revolve around the same 3 basic types of classes: Tank, DPS, and Healer.  With these well know, and somewhat generic, classes the gameplay is about as standard as possible. With not much changing to the core basics, the gameplay soon becomes mind numblingly repetitive, as there is near constant backtracking to get anywhere, and the game requires you to stop every once in a while, as the game also has this obssession with these dice roll chance minigames for doing practically anything, from traveling to searching the area around it, to even resting around a campfire to recover health. If you make a bad roll, (and believe me youll make many) either you fight enemies that are so low level to you theres no point, or enemies that will straight up kill you in a two hits, though that last one is gracefully rare.

 In my opinion the class system is not necessarily bad as it is simplistic. Some of the classes do have different attacks from each other, and different styles to adapt,  such as the ninja class applying bleeding on a crit, while a thief has bonus damage on undamaged enemies. There are also different abilities that I would straight up ignore, such as the ranger having a grapple hook attack that pulls enemies to the front of the line.

Speaking of the line system, which is one of the few wrinkles the game has, it doesn’t add anything to the game, and seems to only be there because the fights would be ridiculously easy, as any AOE attack, such as the Barbarians side swipe, would make the game go by so fast you could turn the game back in on Steam to get a refund. With the games lackluster upgrade system, basically railroading your progress to one or two abilities, and limited to a group of five, I always felt claustrophobic playing it, like I was making a mistake regardless and missing a key feature.

Some characters are so ridiculously overpowered that it makes the game far too easy near the end. The Ranger, for example has a bow attack that at level ten deals more power than my barbarian with an enchanted war axe that cost me hundreds of gold. This attack also has a random chance of a status effect that can wipe out enemies 2-4 levels higher than her in one hit.

The character class customization is also far too linear and railroaded. You choose a race (elf, dwarf, and human) a class, and most interestingly, the type of player playoing, be it a jock, geek, cheerleader etc. Its sad then that you will always just pick the class that gives you the desired stats, as the passive effects each player type has are insignificant.

Overall, the gameplay works fine, but adds little to differentiate it from RPGS that have done much more in terms of graphics and storytelling, causing it to be stale and forgettable.

Graphics/Artstyle

The artstyle is very hit or miss, and tends to land on the miss side of the die, ironic for a pen and paper rpg. While the game has ts fair share of well-designed items, and the menus are laid out well, the rest of the game lacks much character, or atmosphere. When the players attack, the animation often lacks impact and feels hollow, or has very little artistic flair beyond the bare minimum. The enemies too lack motion, as many are just images plastered on, and simply move from side to side, every single time regardless of size, enemy type, or biome. The color palette also suffers as the look of the game looks quite flat, and lifeless. Some of the designs can look rather excellent, for the example the giant chicken men near the huge city, or undead maids from an early quest in the game. There are also absolutely bafflingly lazy designs such as one enemy literally being a square.

In a type of genre known for creating epic monster designs, and the beauty of nature, it’s a shame KOPAP 2 falls short

Conclusion

Overall, KOPAP 2 has the building blocks necessary for a good game, potentially even great game, but is mired by increasingly repetitive combat and humor that often misses the intended mark. While it can be fun for a bit, it tends to bury itself in the ground due to too much backtracking and grinding, and the artstyle can be bland and straight up lazy at times.

Battletech: of Mechs and Men

Everbody has that one game genre that really hooks them, gets their attention and never lets go. For some its strategy/ social games like League of Legends, or multiplayer focused comeptitions like Overwatch and CSGO. For me, as an introvert, those games enver sunk their hooks into me for more than a few weeks at a time. The only genre to ever get me hooked on ti for weeks on end has always been turn based strategy games. Specifically the first XCOM game from the 2010’s. Ever since then ive been looking for something to scratch that itch. The closest ive really come in recent years was the Mario and Rabbids crossover strategy game, (which still astonishes me that they actually made it). But several weeks ago, I finally found that itch scratched in the admittedly cheesily named Battletech.

Story:

If you’re a Battletech fan im sure youll be having a blast from the story. However, as someone who thought Battletech and MechWarriors were the different things, I was confused by it at first. I did some digging and found that its similar to Game of Thrones in a way: multiple warring houses, betrayls etc. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have to look at the Wikipedia article every once in a while. The story isn’t badly told, but it does take some time to learn everyones names and the role they play in the story, which makes it confusing at the best of times, and seemingly straight up gibberish at the worst of times. Fortunately, the characters themselves are decent enough, if generic. You’ve got the awkward engineer type, the suave second in command/ lancer archetype, and the female dropship pilot.  They tend to have a decent amount of banter between each other, and the lines they give tend to be well written. But if your seeking a satisfying story arc and aren’t already familiar with the Battletech lore, I’d advise A. delving into the wiki to get a basic grasp on it, or B. looking elsewhere.

Gameplay: The real meat of the gameplay comes from it’s need to manage resources effectively and risk management. The game is of course turn based and hinges on being able to outwit the enemy through flanking, positioning of targets, effective use of cover etc. However, that’s only half the game. The other half, and arguably the more difficult of the two, is managing the logistics of your mercenary company and ship. You could be the best tactician since Sun Tzu himself, but if you cant manage when money should be spent on a new mech, or saved to fill your soldiers PayPal accounts, then you wont last a single in-game year.

Money will be a constant issue throughout the game as every thirty days you have to pay for a debt to the bank, maintenance costs, etc. so always having enough money to pay up is essential. Heres my top tip for that though: every once in a while, take the option for max salvage over pay on an easy mission. Then, try and build a few smaller mechs and save them as an emergency fund to then sell off if you get short of cash.

The salvage and money option, I found, was a pretty great way to add some flavor into the decision making of each mission: will you play it safe and choose to gain the max amount of money, or risk it all and potentially get the mech parts you need to construct that new Battlemech that takes a little more of a beating, or can fit a few more hardpoints on it.

It gives a tangible risk vs reward element to it, and proves to be immensely satisfying.

The actual fighting itself, and the layers upon which its built, proves how well developed the game . Your limited to a group of four, known as a lance, and the biggest issue of the game was the fact that you couldn’t have anymore than those four. While it does make sense with the lore of Battletech, I wish you could have ahd the option of five (known as a Star). Regardless the main gameplay of it is a form of turn based combat, with the emphasis being on using the different flavors of mechs, and utilizing their strengths, rather than cover based shootouts like XCOM. While there are things like forests( which reduce damage) and snow, (reduces weapon heat) the combat feels more like a miniatures game than most. For the most part the difficulty is balanced fairly well, although there were some games where it took an extra ten turns because one enemy had lost all its weapons, was fairly armoured, and I didn’t have the ammo or weapons necessary to kill it.

Besides that youll be battling heat dissipation, ammo shortages, and lucky dice rolls. Frotunatley, the games large array of weapons means that you can build pretty unique mechs, from long range artillery, to brawler hand-to-hand mechs.

 You don’t have many skills, a maximum of 3 at any given time, plus 2 more: A called shot bonus where you target a mech part specifically, and a defensive skill. Some of the abilities are merely passive and some you have to activate. I felt underwhelmed by the options, as you can go down to tech trees, pick one ability from your secondary tree, and two from your primary tree. It does help to filter which class you want to build, and makes it so your choices are important.

Speaking of upgrades, Your ship the Argo, can be upgraded as well. The problem lies in the fact that not all upgrades are worth the price, such as the upgrades to the lounge, which gave you a onetime boost of morale and that’s it. Compare that to the ability to heal your MechWarrior’s faster, or gain xp when not in combat and you can probably see where I invested my coin in.

Overall though, the core game is satisfying, provides a unique flavor to turn based battles, and makes me want to buy any sequel they might cook up in the future.

Artstyle:

The graphics are the metaphorical chink in the armor for this game, which is to be expected from a smaller studio. A lot of the of the mechs look decent from far away, but see them up close, such as in the mech bays, and the models and overall quality looks a bit dated. The NPC models also look five years older than most games, with very limited animation, and said animation is pretty stiff and repetitive. There were also points in the game, such as the Liberation of Panzyr, that the game chugged along at a crawl, with intense frame rate drops when switching from character to character.  The art style itself makes up for it however, with each mech being detailed and intricate, albeit sometimes looking too similar for my taste, to the point where it tends to get confusing if you have several mechs of the same build all sharing screen space with each other, as I feel that having colored borders would have helped clear up the visual noise a bit. The combat animations, tend to be pretty decent, and give the combat a weighty feel, as seeing a medium laser take out the enemies center torso where they stupidly housed all their ammunition, which then blows up and takes a third of the enemy force out in a single mouseclick never fails to satisfy me, even during this bleak, pointless experience we call 2021.

I also quite enjoyed the U.I, as it was simultaneously compact enough to allow the field of view to breathe, and keep track of where everything is, yet detailed enough that the information was shown without having to be viewed on several different splash screens.

Overall while graphically old, the sound design and artstyle of the mechs more than makes up for it.

Conclusion

Battletech is an excellent turn based strategy game that requires forethought, planning, tactics, and minimizes luck as little as possible. While the story might be confusing, or something many simply pass over, and the graphics are dated, it truly deserves a full recommendation from any and all turn based strategy enthusiasts.