How Can I Make This Better?

Schedule slip sucks. But while I keep working on my latest pieces, I’ve got a question for anyone that follows this blog- Any suggestions for sprucing up the page? I’ll admit it, I’m bad at making things aesthetically pleasing. I’ll be experimenting with some of the default layouts, but that only goes so far, so any feedback would be seriously welcome.

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Status Update + Nier Automata Remarks

Hello everyone! I’m not dead, you hush your faces. I have been busy though. Basically, helping friends in a bunch of different games that I’ve either already covered, or am not interested in reviewing, so I haven’t had much to report back with… And I’ll admit I nearly forgot this was a thing I do.

But I’m here now, and I’m letting you know I’ve got my next review target: Nier Automata. Short version: I’m really enjoying it right now, and I’m eager to finish it so I can cover it in more detail, as it’s one of those games that needs a couple runs or so to really see it all, but not in that boring arbitrary forced way like Infamous’ Moral Choices. Also might cover this very nice mod I found for Last Stand… Anyway, I’m back, and I’m working on new stuff!

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Barotrauma

Welcome back. Today we’re covering Barotrauma, brought to us by Undertow Games, formed by the developer of SCP Containment Breach, released in Alpha in 2015 and still in progress. It is primarily a Resource Management game with strong Survival Horror influences.

BT 1.jpgIn the future, mankind has expanded out into the solar system, particularly the moon Europa. With the surface uninhabitable, mankind lives below the frozen surface, traveling between colonies by submarine. You, the player, are part of a submarine crew. Odds are, you’re going to die. Of Barotrauma: the medical term for tissue damage caused by a pressure difference, like the one might experience in a deep ocean.

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That said, it’s hardly the only thing to be worried about.

Anyway, you and a few other players (or blundering AIs if you prefer singleplayer) are tasked with crewing the submarine and completing objectives that come your way, such as delivering supplies or taking out unruly sea creatures. Be warned, however. Death comes quickly, and in many forms, and one small problem can quickly escalate into a complete catastrophe. Each crew member is assigned a role, with skills to match. The Captain and Security personnel are good at wielding spearguns, while Doctors can whip up powerful drugs with the chemicals on board, and Mechanics and Engineers have the skills needed to repair damaged parts of the ship. It can be intimidating to play, say, a lowly crew member, running about on nothing but the Captain’s say-so because he’s the only one with sensors to view the outside world. That said, you’ll get used to it, because this game is all about the power of cooperation. Even on the player-designed subs meant for maximum automation, someone’s gotta swim outside and fix the hull plating once in a while.

You also get used to having a plan for when things inevitably go wrong, particularly where you’re going to run when you need diving suits, oxygen, and welders. The things that can go wrong are varied, but the result is usually the same: The sub fills with water, 70% of the crew dies, the power grid goes down, and then you’re left sitting on the sea floor, or worse, plunging into the Abyss in freefall.

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A single hull breach can be calamitous. Remember to close all doors!

As I mentioned before, the creator of this also made SCP Containment Breach, and it’s clear they put their experience making foreboding environments and unsettling enemies to good use. I always have a sense of unease when playing, with the music reinforcing the fact that even if you’re safe right now, there’s probably going to be some disaster between you and the next city. However, the procedurally generated environments are lacking once you see them outside the intentionally limited perspective of the sonar pulses, and the game’s roster of threats is very bare-bones thus far. That said, I have faith those aspects will improve over time, so if the game seems unappealing in its current form, you could always check back later.

Honestly, my main issue is that there’s no quick return time, so like Dead By Daylight, I spend more time fighting the game mechanics than actually playing the game. When something goes wrong, it often kills off half the crew and cripples the ship beyond hope of salvation, but odds are you won’t see that because you can’t see the full extent of the damage while alive, and dead players can’t tell the living “The ship’s ****’d, give up.” When things go completely wrong (or you jump in mid-mission), your options are to wait for the respawn sub and try to salvage the ship, or vote to restart the round completely. And there’s no guarantee the rescue sub won’t also careen into a wall or get smacked down by whatever originally crashed the party on the main sub. When all this is caused by an asshole of a human being rather than a honest mistake or someone assigned the “Traitor” role, it’s a little grating. So… having people assigned to prevent flagrant griefing would be a great start to making the game more enjoyable. Even then, it’s not a game where you ever feel in control, and for some people that might be a problem. Another thing to consider is that the AI in singleplayer is aggressively incompetent, and can’t be trusted to do more than keep the reactor running (and only if their pathing doesn’t flake out and stop them from getting there), so Singleplayer plays more like an RTS where you jump between controlling whatever crew member is most needed for the current issue.

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Reactor flooding -> No Power -> No pumps -> Good luck saving this scrapheap now

Barotrauma isn’t on Steam as of this writing, and it’s still not reached 1.0 yet, so definitely don’t rush to get it expecting a complete product. You can still play it and have some fun, as I did, but consider this article more of a “Hey, keep an eye on this one” rather than the “hey you should go buy this” fare I usually author. If you want to try it out in its current roughly-hewn form, it can currently be grabbed from the Dev’s site, here.

 

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Clustertruck

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Clustertruck, brought to us by Landfall Games and tinyBuild, released September 2016. I’ll get right to it: This game is fast-paced platforming fun, and if you’re into that sort of thing, I believe you should check it out. But let’s dive into the “why” of that, shall we?

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Is that a truck cannon? I believe it is!

For story… there is none. You have 90 stages, spread across 9 differently themed worlds, where you must reach a red “Goal” banner. You do this, by running and jumping across the backs of herds of tractor trailers. The “why” in this case is never explained, and I’m fine with that. I don’t think any explanation would be ridiculously awesome enough to fit with the rest of the game.

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Environmental hazards dominate the later stages, but make for some unique puzzles in the process.

As you finish stages, you get points. Points for completing the level, points for speed, and points for looking darn good doing so. They determine your score on the stage, and they’re also tallied up for buying new tools to better traverse the stages ahead, including a grappling hook and a slow time ability, though only two can be equipped at any given time. Some of the abilities are very costly, especially considering how easy it is to screw up when you’re going for points and have to restart the level completely, but otherwise I enjoy having a target beyond a shot at the leaderboards. It also helps that these new tools give a reason to return and replay previously beaten stages, to see what new strategies and tricks are possible.

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Air Time is the easiest and safest way to get points… but also the slowest.

Individual stages aren’t very long, lasting around 30 seconds to a minute depending on how good you are and how much you use Slow Motion, but that’s not a detriment. It cuts the game into much more manageable chunks so that players without a bunch of time can make progress in shorter play sessions, which I’m really appreciating as I try to juggle stuff in real life. I really wish there was some sort of Desert World Redux section, because it has the simplest mechanics as the starting world, but one of the best songs in the entire game in my opinion. I love the music because it complements the game’s pace perfectly, capturing that speed rush nirvana you will hopefully be experiencing (and if not it’s also good for getting you psyched to try again). The clean, uncomplicated graphical style is fine too, because this is not the sort of game where you’re meant to stop and smell the roses. The only thing you should be looking at for any length of time is the next truck you’re going to jump to, and I only wish their color scheme stood out a little better in the sci-fi and laser worlds.

That was Clustertruck. I’ve spent the entire review talking it up, so safe to say I recommend it. It’s $15 on Steam.

 

 

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Bleed 2

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Bleed 2, brought to us by Ian Campbell February 8th of 2017… or, y’know, not long ago. It continues to follow the adventures of Wryn as she defends her title of Greatest Hero.

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I am still awful at dodging, but hey a B is something, right?!

I’ll say up front, it’s not a very long game. 7 stages and I was able to beat my first run on Normal in about an hour. That’s fine though. You know why? Because those 7 stages were amazing. Bleed 1 was fast, but Bleed 2 feels like “Speed Run: The Game.” And that’s perfect, because Bleed is at its peak when you’re triple-jumping around the screen, cutting down enemies right and left while breaking out ye olde bullet time when things get too hairy. As before, winning is great, but winning with style and speed is even better, so the old scoring meter is sitting up in the top right corner again.

In terms of mechanics, the big new thing is reflectable projectiles and attacks. You could do it in the first game with the sword, but it wasn’t always clear which things you could properly reflect, and having the sword taking up one of your two weapon slots just to find out felt like a gamble. In this case, your first run is limited to the sword and pistols, starting with a cool combination where you send out a reflecting sword slash when you first hit fire… then firing the pistols as you hold the trigger. As in the original, there are new weapons and characters to unlock, but it’s all AFTER the first run-through. This change is ultimately a plus, as the starting weapons being locked makes it much easier for the dev to build the game around that first and foremost, and players don’t have to keep getting used to new weapons just because their current one isn’t the best fit for the current challenge. Besides, the old Shop system encouraged “do this 5 times” rather than “do this as well as physically possible”, with the latter being much more in-line with the spirit of these games.

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The new reports using actual stills from your run is a nice touch.

Bleed feels half like a sequel, half like a remake. The latter because a number of enemies and scenarios will feel oddly familiar for anyone who played the original, the former because, rather than just doing it again and saying “Here’s more, give us more cash!” they do more with it. The sections involving said pieces feel like someone said “Okay, let’s try this again now that we REALLY know what we’re doing.” I appreciate that, and I appreciate that they still created a new game with new content to back up those sections.

In terms of graphics and sound, the music feels faster-paced, particularly the reprise of the main theme from the original game, which helps keep it in time with everything else. You’ll often pass through the environments too quickly to pay much attention to them, but if you can spare a moment from dodging and shooting, they’re better detailed than they were in Bleed 1, and the animations look spiffier too. You can see a number of places where the dev stopped leaning on pixelated graphics and the result just looks cleaner and better made.

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In terms of complaints… ummm…? Challenge mode is tough on 3 bosses? Higher difficulties have more tricks rather than just burying you with higher enemy counts or harder-hitting/spongier ones? It’s hard going back to Bleed 1 when I can reflect entire bosses? Erm, those aren’t really criticisms. Hell, the game actually takes it into account when you play through on a different character, having the newcaster go “oh shoot, my bad, that’s not Wryn” at the end. I don’t know if I have anything to knock on this one.

So, that’s Bleed 2. I recommend the heck out of it, in case that wasn’t clear yet. It’s $10 on Steam, $9 if you buy before the 15th. Take care, and see you next time.

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Fisher-Diver

Welcome back! Today we’re doing something a little different. I’m just gonna tell you that this free flash game, Fisher-Diver, exists. And you should go play it. Like, now, preferably. Please. It’s one of those, you know the ones. The sort of game you wanna tell people about but can’t because half the fun is experiencing it yourself. Takes maybe half an hour, give or take. But seriously. Go play it. Everything below the screenshot is going to be spoilers.

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The circle thing is the diver, near the bottom edge is a fish.

Seriously.

Spoilers.

You don’t want ’em.

Last Chance.

So… That ending, huh? I mean, man. I was just starting to get over my fear of the ocean. And that last note before the final fishing license? Gave me chills. Yes, I’m still avoiding spoilers a little. Just… this is really cool concept. The game does everything right. The minimal art style still works beautifully to convey the world you’re in. The gameplay is oddly entrancing. And the build-up is perfect. So many games and books and movies try to show how someone could go a little crazy from the trials of their daily life. This might be the first one I’ve seen that makes you experience those same trials, putting you in the same general mindset, and not giving you any warning that’s what’s going on until it’s nearly too late.

To anyone reading this that wants to be a game dev: Look at this game. This took the smallest fraction of effort and resources to create compared to your typical AAA title. It took me less than a day to beat. And yet this game gave me pause, it got to me. I’ve played hundreds of games by now. Many of them were expensive, many of them were fun, many of them were memorable. Very, very few of them got to me like this one did.

And sometimes that’s all you need to do.

Take care, everyone. See you next time.

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Dead by Daylight

Welcome back everyone! Today we’re covering Dead By Daylight, brought to us by Behavior Digital and Starbreeze Studios, released Jun of 2016. The premise is surprisingly more intriguing than the gameplay originally suggests. The survivors and killers both are caught within the realm of something known only as “The Entity.” The Entity pits 4 survivors against one of a few potential killers. The survivors must activate the generators to power the gates at the edges of the map, while the killer is trying to grab the survivors and trap them on meat hooks for the Entity to devour. Whether the survivors flee the field or are sacrificed to sate the Entity’s hunger by the killer, they always reappear at a campfire, forced to run another round. Appeasing the Entity, in terms of committing noteworthy acts such as being in sight of the killer grant blood points, which can be used earn items and perks to make the next round more feasible (and all this is true for the killer as well).

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The entity forces you to prioritize major rewards in later levels.

Whereas Depth spends most of its time on direct confrontation between Sharks and Divers, DbD revolves around pursuit. The Killer generally doesn’t know where any of the survivors are until he sees some sign, such as a generator activating across the map, or the scratch marks left by someone running in panic. So while a Killer can and will patrol or set up traps around objects of import, it can be tough to play because it feels like you’re waiting for someone to slip up, taking some of the agency out of it. Once they detect someone, however, it’s a race against time, as the Killer will catch survivors on open ground, but survivors can more quickly traverse ledges and such to widen the gap, hopefully giving them enough time to break line of sight and disappear into the surrounding area once more.20170111163133_1.jpg

The presentation involves a number of distinct visual and audio cues, and that is huge considering the importance of remaining undetected. Survivors make noticeable amounts of noise when interacting with anything, and any Killer abilities are suitably “you should run the hell away because this is going to hurt”-y. The maps are well designed, offering multiple approaches, obstacles to both Killers and Survivors, and a spooky fog that makes you question whether that blur of motion at the edge of your vision really was just another Survivor. Thankfully, major events like activated generators also ping on the screen, so a Killer has a place to start searching. There’s very little in the way of effective communication though, and as such playing with a Voice Chat application is common and understandably disliked by many killers for the increased coordination that brings.

While I enjoy the premise, this game has many grating flaws. Even on a reasonably beefy rig, the game has performance problems, such as freezing up for a few seconds when trying to join a match. Loading screens either take 20 seconds or 10 minutes. My personal favorite is when I waited for a lobby to load for 15 minutes, was returned to the matchmaking menu, but still couldn’t do anything because of a “Please Wait” prompt that I gave another 5 minutes before I gave up and force-quit the application. Even after you land in a lobby, you have to wait for every person in said lobby to ready up, otherwise the match takes a long minute just to start. Then, once you start the match, there’s always the chance you or someone else will do something poorly or the opponent(s) will be extra competent, and the whole thing’s done in 5 minutes. As such, I often spend more time waiting for matches than actually playing the game, and that’s a sign that someone has failed their task from the get-go.

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Sometimes you win or lose by the skin of your teeth, but you’re generally more likely to experience one-sided contests.

Lag is another frequent hurdle, which is one of the worst things imaginable when you’ve got a man with a chainsaw 2 paces behind you, and the fact that the killer is always the host to the match is wide open for abuse. And did I mention there’s a number of killer and survivor strategies that seem designed to be a massive pain in the neck for the other party more than anything else? Yeah. Trolling the daylights out of the killer with a survivor squad full of friends armed with hook-busting toolkits is a thing. As is leading the killer to other survivors so they get killed first. As is putting a survivor on a hook, then standing and watching them until they finally die, granting the rest of the team time to escape but rendering victory completely impossible for the survivor in question.! No one likes to be completely shut down, but the players have been given tools to do just that. Considering my last paragraph explained how long it can take just to get in a match, losing because of nonsense like this stings even more.

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You can struggle, but unless someone helps you you’re going to die.

Ultimately, I can’t recommend this game, even at it’s $20 price point. I say that because for that amount of money I expect a title that is mechanically sound, especially given the low complexity in comparison to other titles. This game has a genuinely interesting lore, cool mechanics, and is excellent of creating moments of tension and outright fear, but the frustration I experience trying to forcibly extract that enjoyment poisons the whole deal for me.

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Space Pirates and Zombies 2

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Space Pirates and Zombies 2, or just SPAZ2, released May of 2016 by MinMax Games LTD. It’s an Early Access 4x game set in space with an emphasis on customizable ships and faction wars. The first game left me feeling unimpressed; the grind became intolerably slow after mid-game and the ending was a big slap in the face. Still, I had some genuinely enjoyable moments that led me to give the sequel a try. The result feels like they combined Warship Gunner’s naval battles with Mount and Blade’s faction system.

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SPAZ2’s storyline is a continuation of the original: After the destruction of the Dark Entity, the former crew of the Clockwork are scraping by in a galaxy that has forgotten them, clinging to their mission of wiping out remaining zombies, even as new powers battle over what remains. Seeing as they haven’t dropped the word “Zombies” from the title, you can guess how that goes. If you don’t care for the story, you can run Sandbox mode with the same ultimate end goal of purging the infection from the universe; It sports impressive number of customization sliders.

As before, you’re trying to accumulate resources and experience to create a more capable fleet. Rez, Scrap, and Goons all return, as do the ships from the original game in the form of “Strike Craft” meant to give your mothership a leg up in combat. Yes, the mothership is now your main problem-solver. Using a modular building system, you design your mothership to suit your tastes in weapons, resilience, and maneuverability.  The fact that each nose, engine, and wing piece sports a weapon means you don’t have to sacrifice firepower in any design. As such, the current meta leans towards agile vessels that can dodge or outrun most incoming ordnance, and tanky bruiser types like the sort I’d like to use are just less effective in general, as it’s much easier to out-maneuver the enemy than shrug off their fire, even with heavily buffed stats.

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There’s a number of changes and refinements from the original system of “enter new system -> grind resources -> upgrade -> Repeat.” The universe is much smaller and more interconnected now, and that’s honestly an improvement. The universe in the first game was massive but thinly spread, and because things were easy on the edge of the universe but steadily got worse as you approached the core, there was no reason to look at, say, the far edge of the universe because you wouldn’t encounter anything new or challenging. Now, because of the different factions and ensuing complexity managing your reputation with them will add, there’s more reasons to check out those unexplored corners.

Whether through joining one of the already present factions in the universe or creating your own, the late-game revolves around picking a side and helping it become the top dog of the universe. As a faction grows in power, it gains more territory and has access to more powerful ship parts. However, thanks to the leveling system and the buffs granted by it your own ship is never rendered redundant, so you can always be a major player.

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The late-game battles are a terrifying mass of SFX, so hopefully you have a feel for combat by then.

In terms of presentation, the dialogue and overall style of the universe is as charming as ever. This was one thing I unequivocally liked about the first game, and it’s good to see it was not lost in the shuffle. Lasers are still unsatisfying to fire yet the other weapons that have been brought over are remain enjoyable, as are the new additions including gravity missiles and bomblet dispensing cloud torpedoes. The crew of the Clockwork returns too, an amusing bunch of dysfunctional, quibbling, best-hope-this-sorry-universe-has individuals. As before, they’re the only ones with any relevance to the story, but a number of other captains have been used to populate the universe, each with their own quirks and feelings towards you. The game is much improved by the ability to stumble across an old friend in a time of need, or make new ones by beating down on mutual enemies. These pilots are better brought to life by the odd snippet of audio. I still get a little smile on my face when I jump into a fight with an ally and hear them state “You’re the best! You really are!” or the enemy Captain declare “And now I must be going!” as he makes a run for the Fail Gate.

The first car on my habitual complaint train is that situations never seem to go quite as smoothly as they could. While I know it isn’t true, I always get the impression the stores you’re friendly with never have the parts you need, your allies are always conveniently out of reach when some nemesis with twice your threat rating comes calling, and zombie asteroids always start on your side of the field. The grind from the first game is as present as ever and the early game is still a frustrating mess of systems that were never fully explained to you (they’ve made gains here, but they’re not quite there yet).

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He knows me too well.

That was SPAZ2, available on Steam for $20. If you enjoyed the first game, definitely check it out, but understand that the devs themselves do not call it a direct sequel but rather “something new.” If the first game ultimately failed to impress you, like it did myself, you still should take a look. It is similar to its predecessor: a flawed game with some good ideas, but one I leave feeling satisfied rather than bitter.

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