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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Deadnaut

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re reviewing Deadnaut, made by Screwfly Studios and released in November of 2014.

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Deadnaut is a squad-based survival horror game set in the future, where mankind sets out for the stars and finds… an awful lot of derelict ships full of unspeakable horrors. Enter the Deadnauts, expendable troopers tasked with clearing the ships, hence the name. From your little command center back on the home ship, you kit out your team and monitor their progress as they sweep these abandoned vessels, four per campaign, with each campaign centered around a particular theme and resulting enemies. Your entire interface is a series of three screens: one for examining your troops, one for checking mission intel, and the main screen that shows a rough blueprint of the ship layout, kinda like the mapping screens in Armored Core. I have to say the game is very minimalist. Your troops and your opponents don’t even get character models, instead being represented with colored circles in missions and static images for their profile pictures.

“So,” you may say “I sit in a completely safe pod away from the action and watch some labelled dots jump around the screen? Doesn’t sound scary.” I didn’t think so either at first, but Deadnaut is great at building up the tension. The ambiance is great, with indecipherable noises echoing through the ship and no music to speak of. Occasionally the defense systems will attempt to jam your transmission, forcing you to route more power to, say, the audio feed. On top of this, your Deadnauts are extremely likely to make a mistake at the worst possible time.

And sometimes this happens.

And sometimes this happens.

And the thing is, you’re the reason they’re making these mistakes. You make the troop roster yourself before starting any campaigns. It uses a basic point-build system that takes points away for positive traits such as a higher innate Vigor score, but then grants more for giving your characters flaws. It is entirely possible to make a character without any weaknesses, but if you want any sort of above-average stats, you’ll have to give your soldiers some penalties to compensate. Better yet, many of these flaws are intermittent in their manifestation, so you can’t plan for when they’ll go off. I had one Deadnaut spontaneously stop taking orders right as I was trying to evacuate the squad from a damaged section of the ship. Another example is that a Deadnaut that keeps drawing attention to himself will make the entire squad feel more stressed and less happy to be around them, resulting in your crew not working at full capacity. They’ll chatter about stresses like that, objects in the environment like corpses, and thank each other or coyly ask for favors after surviving close calls.

In between runs, you trade the knowledge you’ve gathered from investigating corpses and downloading ship logs for new blueprints from Earth, allowing you to give your ‘nauts new suits to wield more powerful tools and weapons. You can also clone any ‘nauts that fell in battle so you still have a full squad, but their stats will shift and their genetic integrity will take a dive each time this happens.

The missions, layouts, enemy types employed, and logs all appear to be generated rather than custom built. This goes aways to keep the gameplay fresh, but the results don’t always make sense, like when I read a Captain’s Log entry about cutting off access to the sentinels to thwart potential saboteurs, and then the next entry was about bringing more of them online to protect the ship.

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Alright, you know the drill by now: time to complain.

In theory, you learn about the enemies in your campaign through combat with them then equip your troops as needed, but the campaigns are so short that you’ll have a hard time gathering enough data to see the weaknesses of more than one or two. Upgrading equipment is also obnoxious because better weapons and tools require better suits to power them, which sucks when you have enough to get one but not the other. Occasionally, you’ll have a hard time clicking the drop-down menu to interact with an object in the environment, and this is the last thing you want when you’re trying to tweak the life support systems to weaken the dozen shambling horrors sitting outside the door. Last of all, there aren’t even all that many options for customizing your troops. You’ll have to take a good 2 or 3 flaws to get any decent stats, with many popping up repeatedly in your squad because the list of available traits is so short. And the only positive trait with some actual character is “Likeable” whereas the rest are generic stat bonuses.

I hesitate to call Deadnaut a great game, but the concept is new to me and I quite liked the grim setting and intentionally clunky mechanics (at least when they were intentionally clunky). Deadnaut is available on Steam for $10 if you’re interested. 2015-08-10_00001

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The Final Station

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering The Final Station, brought to us by Do My Best and tinyBuild, released at the end of August this year.

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You play as a train operator in a world recovered from an enigmatic disaster known as “the visitation”, and now, as you take your train out on a supposedly routine run, it seems it’s come back for another round. As such, you are pressed into service for some vague mission that no one will elaborate on beyond “it’s important.”

The gameplay comes in two phases. In the first, you must manage the systems and passengers on the train. Control panels on different cars must be tended to, though only one needs to be managed for each leg of the journey. Passengers must be fed or they’ll start losing health. And you’ll want the passengers alive for the rewards granted for safely conveying them to their destinations, and for their chatter that helps provide more insight into the world while helping the time pass.

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World’s ****ed, but sure let’s bicker amongst ourselves.

The second phase starts when you arrive at a station. Due to a previous accident, all trains are locked down upon arriving at a station, and you must disembark to retrieve the code for the blockers inhibiting your progress. You’ll also find more passengers, survivors of the ongoing disaster, as well as supplies to help you tend to them. While doing so, you must be prepared to face… well, we’re never really given a name for them. But they are there, and they want you dead. Some fights are sudden and unexpected, like when you open a door to see what’s on the other side. Other times, you’ll have a safe vantage point to view the mobs and try to plan a course of action and these sections feel more like puzzles than anything, as there will often be throwables such as explosive barrels placed nearby to even the odds. There’s a number of doors not related to the path to the blocker code, so you have to decide each time whether it’s worth the risk, as you could get the hordes mentioned prior, or you could get valuable supplies. Sometimes you’ll even get both.  You are at least given the option to restart from a checkpoint or even the beginning of the current station if you felt you burned through too many resources, as using that last medkit may mean a passenger is left to bleed out on the train car floor.

The presentation does a fine job of immersing you in the world. The ambient sound keeps you in a state of constant uneasiness, which is exactly the right mindset to be in when any door could have a dozen of them sitting behind it. The sprites are decidedly low res, but the environments detailed enough to compensate for it. It’s another instance of “beautiful but bleak” that I’ve been running into with my review titles lately.

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This was not a fun experience, this particular bit.

The story can be tricky to follow, as even after reading every note and talking to every NPC, I wasn’t completely sure what was going on. But I did enjoy what I was able to piece together, so I think the devs did a good job on that front. I will warn you that this is a depressing game, and as such you might want to follow it up with milk and cookies or pictures of kittens or something.

Complaints time: The story has a nice crescendo and finale, but the gameplay doesn’t match it. The last couple scraps are pretty much the same as all the ones that came before, such that if you were only taking your cues from that aspect you wouldn’t know the story was wrapping up until it was already over. I wasn’t expecting a boss fight or massive horde per se, but ending the gameplay itself with a whimper made me regret working so hard to save up on ammo and medkits. A couple of the fights also felt rather unfair, giving you a big group to tackle and only a few seconds notice to do so.

So that’s The Final Station. At $15 for what was, for me, a 5 hour game, it may not be for everyone. That said, I believe this is one of those games that should be experienced for its intriguing story and unusual mechanics. It’s available on Steam if you’re interested.

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Rogue Trooper

 

20160907063446_1.jpgWelcome back everyone. Today we’re covering another old favorite of mine: Rogue Trooper, brought to us by Eidos and Rebellion in May 2006. It’s a game adaptation of a comic series revolving around an (almost) last-of-his-kind supersoldier, adapted to survive Nu Earth’s toxin atmosphere. The initial deployment of his unit was a complete disaster due to a traitor in the Souther ranks, and now Rogue and backup copies of his three aptly-named friends are on a mission to hunt down the man responsible.

At its core, Rogue Trooper is a Third Person Shooter with cover mechanics. Said mechanics are a little dated, especially without some sort of sprint function to cover distances, but still entirely serviceable. There’s plenty of cool weapons and special abilities to spice up the combat, though I didn’t get as much use out of them as I’d like, which I’ll get back to.

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Norts are rather enthusiastic about heavy weaponry.

This comic series is adapted surprisingly well into a game. Rogue falls into this weird state of “alone, but not alone.” His three buddies are decidedly dead, but their personalities live on in special back-up chips originally implanted in their skulls, now slotted into his equipment. As such, you get all the banter of a fireteam of soldiers without any of the AI screw-ups to be concerned about. Nifty. They also grant helpful abilities, like the option to set Gunnar down on a tripod and tear up a group while you flank, and Bagman’s ability to salvage from corpses to construct munitions and weapon upgrades. The below-average difficulty cuts into the appeal of these tools, as the skill floor is so low that I accidentally blew through scenarios designed for them with standard shooter tactics. That could have used some fine tuning in my opinion.

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Micromines: good for traps, good for dislodging bodies so you can loot them!

The salvaging mentioned prior is a major mechanic of this title. Several different objects like corpses and sentry guns and fallen drones can be salvaged for scrap. This scrap is spent to unlock new equipment such as grenades, and upgrade existing ones, including giving Rogue’s rifle bigger magazines with harder hitting rounds. You also use it to replenish your ammo, grenades, and medkits. I feel like this is another facet that could have been better optimized for a challenge, as I never found myself running out, but that’s probably because I picked the battlefield clean in every stage I played. This is even with Bagman’s overzealous auto-reload throwing away magazines with 2 rounds missing out of 40. I’ll also say that the game’s pattern of unlocking new gear doesn’t quite gel with the overall length. By the time you have all your nifty guns and grenades and such, the game is at least half over.

In terms of presentation, the game reminds me of RE4: Awesome at the time, but definitely showing its age today. While the texture and model quality holds up better due to the art style, a number of the animations are just clunky and many objects such as grenades have no sense of weight to them. Sound is fair to middling, with the main theme sticking out as mildly catchy while still conveying the bleak atmosphere of the setting. Lastly, while I understand that the universe of Rogue Trooper isn’t as well known as something like Batman, I wish they’d done more to organically teach the players about the world rather than just throwing information into their faces. Something like Assassin’s Creed’s option to read the encyclopedia entry for a new character/enemy right as they first appear would be great. *UPDATE* The level after Nu Paree runs like trash unless you run the game in compatibility mode. Otherwise I’ve found no performance issues but I’m still annoyed that’s a thing.

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Heavy-handed as it is, the game does bring you up to speed on this universe very quickly.

For all my quibbling though, my biggest complaint is “I wish there was more of it.” More delving into this unfamiliar universe, more stages, more opportunities to utilize the interesting mechanics. And I believe that sums up my opinion of this title quite succinctly. That’s Rogue Trooper. It’s $10 on Steam. It’s a solid TPS which I’d heartily recommend.

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9/4/16 Status Update, AKA “Is Summer over yet?!”

I don’t have a review ready this week. As I mentioned last week, there’s a huge amount of stuff going on, and it’s cutting into my energy and such. The good news is that things will be settling down in the next couple weeks and thus I should be diving back into cool new worlds so I can tell you guys all about them. That’s all for now.

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Making Awesome a Challenge: Overwatch VS Warframe

I was playing Mercy in Overwatch, and I couldn’t help but notice how fun it was. Gliding from trouble spot to trouble spot, healing people up, nimbly dodging enemy fire, it’s an amazing experience and certainly not what one would expect from a healer.

In Warframe, I main a healer because I don’t have dem 1337 DPS. My guns and mods lag behind those at the top of the heap, so I need a build and a role that don’t rely on having the biggest numbers. So I play Trinity. You know what I do as Trinity, 99% of the time? Hit 2,3, and 4. It is so damn boring. And what makes it worse is that this is a game with a beautiful movement system. You know Genji, with his double jumps and air dashes and wall climbing? A pro Warframe player makes a pro Genji player look like a chump in the movement department. Even the super slow, tanky bastards like Rhino. I know I gave Warframe and DE a bunch of flak in my review, but if you ever do anything with Warframe, watch an experienced team navigate a map. It’s a work of art. All that said, Genji is more fun to play in general, because you actually do something with the movement. In Warframe it’s just a way to get you in front of a group of dudes so you can nuke them with a grenade launcher or a frame ability (They’ve been moving away from that by reworking Press 4 to Win frames such as Saryn and Mag, but they’re not there yet).

Most of the effort in Warframe is front-loaded. Rather than play a huge amount so you can instinctively juke out enemies or attack at the perfect moment, you play a huge amount to perfect your build so you can disintegrate anyone you so much as look at. And the better your gear, the less in-game skill you end up needing. You don’t need fancy movement when you can supercharge everyone’s movespeed with Volt, or can Wormhole across the map with Nova. You don’t need the awareness to juggle multiple points of interest when you can cause Chaos in the ranks with Nyx or slow every enemy on the map with Nova. You don’t need to aim particularly well when you can spam Simulor rounds with Mirage or apply a double damage buff to the entire map with Nova yes I am still bitter about how ridiculously all-purpose her ultimate is moving on.

Point being, both games take work to git gud, but Overwatch hands you situations where you can shine playing as your favorite hero while Warframe hands you moments where you throw big numbers and CC at the enemy’s big numbers and their CC and it’s not nearly as satisfying even though I’m dealing something like 1600% my weapon’s base damage. DE, kindly continue your trend of working on frame synergy and cool weapon mechanics, alright? There’s a bunch of great stuff in your game but it’s not at the level it could be, not yet.

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8/27 Update- Can Summer be over yet?

Sorry guys, it’s looking you’ve got another weekend with no reviews X.X

My life outside of Vidya Gaems has nearly destroyed my sanity over the past few weeks, as this is when my job is the hardest and pretty much every friend I usually vent to about my little problems has much bigger more pressing matters on their plate. So I’ve been playing not to discover cool new worlds with new mechanics, but to hide out in the ones I already know like the back of my hand while I tell myself this madness will only endure for… what, 3 more weeks?

As I’ve mentioned prior, I’ve got a bunch of stuff in progress, and I started a review of Aquaria, but I’m just… not feeling up for that “die a lot while you learn how everything works” stage.

I do have one article I’m going to try to finish by today, but it’s not a proper review. Nah, the games I mentioned there aren’t at a point where I can review them competently yet, but I should probably add them to the to-do list.

Thanks for listening. I hope to resume my scheduled programming more consistently in the coming days, I’m just in a rough spot as of late.

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Salt and Sanctuary

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Salt and Sanctuary by SKA Studios, released as a timed PS4 exclusive in March of 2016 before making its way to Steam in May. The tl;dr description is “2D Dark Souls with platforming,” but I’d not be giving the devs proper credit if I stopped there. In S&S, you play as a lad or lass escorting a princess across the sea for a diplomatic marriage. As things tend to go in this game, your ship is boarded and you are left on the shores of a mysterious island. Now, in theory you’re out to find the princess, but the game kinda forgets about that and lets you focus on exploring the place.

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Leveling up looks much spiffier here, no?

From there, it’s the same basic formula: Cool locales, challenging battles, and cool gear to build your character into a deity-slaying badass. As the title would suggest, you upgrade your character with Salt, and you’re always on the lookout for new Sanctuaries, which feel like bonfires crossed with a reasonable extension of the Covenant system in Dark Souls. See, Sanctuaries are controlled by different Creeds. You’ll often find empty Sanctuaries you can take for yourself, but just as often you’ll get to a new safe haven and find someone else has already set up shop. Thankfully, they’re okay with someone from another Creed crashing on their couch and raiding the fridge for healing items. Even so there’s just enough drawbacks to make you consider converting such places to your own Creed with a rare item or just wiping the place clean in a tough brawl. The lack of multiplayer (outside a limited split-screen option) is a jarring change, but I feel everything else makes up for it.

Speaking of which, I really appreciate that the devs made several such changes to make the game more accessible while still giving the player a thorough ass-kicking if they aren’t careful. There’s more shortcuts between areas that reward exploration with a swift route to whatever area you’re currently having trouble with. There’s always a Sanctuary or mini version very close to the boss rooms, and boss rooms are marked by a candelabra. This means the process of “try, try again” is a bit easier than in Dark Souls. Salt is taken by enemies that manage to kill you, but any bosses that do so only need to be hit for ~25-30% of their health to get it back. Another good change is that most of the “apply X damage to weapon” items can be gained fairly consistently. And last but not least, the fact that you have 2 currency types (with their own rates of loss on death) means you won’t forgo items with useful effects (including “Apply X damage”) on the grounds you need the levels more.

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As for presentation… If you’ve played SKA Studio’s Dishwasher games, the art style will be very familiar, but this world is bleak enough for it to work here too. The sound effects are suitably clangy, burny, and “oh dear that sounded painful” to enhance the combat, and the world is beautiful in a mournful way, like Aquatic Adventure with the color washed out.

The skill tree is nice too. Rather than having weapons and spells be locked to specific stats, you grab the skill that applies to the weapon you need. For example, a magic sword you can craft from the remains of the second boss takes the second level of both the Magic and Sword skills, and it’s a greatsword so you’ll need the 3rd level in Sword if you want to wield it one-handed. It’s also good that things that synergize well sit near each other. For example, Dexterity and Strength based upgrades extend outward from Sword and Polearm skills, which benefit from both, while Hammer and Knife/Bow/Whip skills are as far away from each other as possible, same with Magic and Prayer upgrades.

That brings me to the world building. Here lies another fine example of taking a good system and improving on it further. Creed-related NPCs will properly explain what their premise is in an attempt to recruit you. Non-creed related NPCs actually move around such that you’ll run into them when they have more to say rather than happening across some new dialogue as you retreat to an old hangout. There’s a bestiary to help explain what the heck enemies like “The Queen of Smiles” are supposed to be, further fleshed out by descriptions on the items you transmute from their severed limbs. Even the individual slots on the Skill Tree have lore! Thanks to this, there’s very little exposition to dump in the player’s lap, and it feels more like they’re learning about the world as they’re exploring rather than being spoon-fed.

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Enough of the darned swords!

On the complaint side, I shall open with saying that bosses get a little predictable in how they’ll behave as their health decreases. Every boss I’ve seen thus far has a slow, exploitable attack in their earlier phases that gets a lightning fast “gotcha!” follow-up later in the fight. It makes a long fight take even longer and some of the follow-up strikes can be hard to judge. For example, when the Queen of Smiles is nearly down, she’ll throw out swords like before, then charge across the screen while pretending to be a windmill in a hurricane. I still don’t know what makes the difference between safely dodging and getting punted, so more indicators for attacks like that would be helpful. Continuing on, respec options are more limited, with a handful of tokens that let you refund individual spots in the skill tree rather than have a fresh start. Also, and I know this has been said before, but a map would be handy. One of the first areas has like 6 exits, with their destinations varying noticeably but the paths leading to them looking remarkably similar.

Anyway, that’s Salt and Sanctuary. If you like the idea of a challenging RPG, but find Dark Souls too tricky for it’s own good, give it a go. It’s $18 on Steam, and I’d say it’s worth the price of admission.

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