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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Strike Suit Zero

Welcome back everyone, today we’re covering Strike Suit Zero, released in January of 2013 by Born Ready Games. It’s a spaceship shooter with a bit of Gundam action snuck in.

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So when this game started… I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The plot is a stock affair of Sci-fi cliches and stereotypical characters, and the first couple missions were filled the sort of awkward bumbling that usually happens whenever I control a spacecraft in three dimensions.

Then I started getting cooler weapons, and more importantly got better at using them. My replay of the second mission went a million times faster once I remembered my starting Fighter had rockets for punching holes in Capital Ships, and I was able to easily complete the optional objective after setting my targeting system to prioritize torpedoes.

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But then I got the titular Strike Suit. This prototype vessel comes and turns everything you knew on its head. It can stop completely so you don’t overshoot targets, it can automatically lock on to new targets when you hold left shift, and it can fire missiles at everything on your screen. The game wastes no time telling the player about all their new abilities before throwing them straight into a scenario that shows exactly how amazing it is. That is how you empower players. So many games involving prototype war machines would be that much better if players got to feel what the current “baseline” feels like.

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This mission broke me.

Sadly, the situation deteriorated quickly once I moved past the honeymoon stage. The difficult spike in the latter half of the campaign completely killed the mood for me. It started with the optional objectives going from “tough” to “inhuman,” the first being a cruiser that had to be taken down in a mere two minutes, while still giving the player a defense target. The game reaches a point where you’ll likely need to restart from a checkpoint just to restock ordnance to engage the heavies, and even this backfires, as the game, out of indifference or outright malice, decided to halve my defense target’s health after I did this, rendering the mission impossible without a complete restart. Even the Strike Suit wasn’t enough to take care of the sheer volume of enemies and health I had to plow through, and it started targeting enemies I couldn’t even hit rather than the ones directly in front of me and already within firing distance.

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Honestly, I’m outta gas after this exercise in hair-pulling. The graphics are okay, if a bit overly flashy. The targeting system either needs an overhaul or the game needs a dedicated radar to track targets of interest (of which there are MANY in the later stages). The voice-acting is just… meh, and all this would have been fine if I was still having as much fun with the gameplay as I was in the beginning. But I’m not, so it’s difficult to recommend this. The Director’s Cut supposedly smooths out the difficulty spike and has re-recorded voice lines, but I’m not really interested after the rough first showing.

That was Strike Suit Zero. It’s on Steam for $20, as is the Director’s Cut, so I’d go with the latter because it’s reportedly better.

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Small, Non-games Post

Just putting in a reminder that today is the day a whole fragging bunch of people are standing up to tell the FCC to keep the Net Neutrality rules intact.

“The hell is that?”
The reason why you can watch Netflix and download Steam games without your ISP charging you more for the bandwidth you already paid for. And don’t have to worry about your favorite site being blocked because your ISP disagrees with it.

“Are you serious?”
Dead serious. Chambering your last round in the face of an approaching zombie horde serious.

“This is a bit bare-bones, you got any more?”
Yep. Get more info here.

Sites like mine couldn’t exist without NN. I doubt I’ll ever become a major reviewer myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for the mechanisms that would allow future reviewers to get the views and attention I feel they deserve.

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Project Abyss

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Project Abyss, an underwater exploration game based around scavenging for supplies around the Mariana Trench. As you reach the edge of the starting area, you find a mysterious note pleading for your assistance. These notes give hints of a sinister plot that must be thwarted, but this mostly hangs in the background.

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The darker area are drilled out rock.

In each area, the player is tasked with completing certain objective before being allowed to proceed to the next. Collecting gold and XP is something they’re likely to do anyway, as the submarine needs a steady stream of supplies and repairs to keep functioning, and this is where most of the gameplay comes from: seeking out small chests in the environment. Some are buried inside rocks that can be drilled into, some are inside wrecks that you must eject from your submarine to reach, some drop from boss fights. Each environment has an area marked by a red backdrop, and entering this area will initiate the fight with the boss. It’s a pretty standard affair of “dodge shots, return fire” in each case, being neither exemplary or poor in execution. The money salvaged from wrecks can be used to upgrade the submarine along three different specialties, with Offense and Defense being exactly what you’d expect and Survival containing several Quality of Life upgrades.

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Some wildlife is dangerous, but very little actively attacks you.

Now, I must note that the controls are very unwieldy at first. The submarine doesn’t move quite like the ones I’ve handled before. A and D control the pivot of the engine that controls movement, with W controlling the amount of thrust is generates. There’s an under-mounted claw used for retrieving loot but it only works on objects directly below the ship, while the front claw can only grab items to re-position them and it will toss anything it releases downward which was often not what I’d intended. These little quirks made it difficult to maneuver at first, to the point where I played the tutorial through a good 3-4 times before I was confident in my skills. The other reason was being afraid that I’d wasted too much time and too many resources to recover, but this game is fairly lenient in terms of supplies once you grasp the basics. Essentially, save fuel tanks you’re not using for later, turn off lights and sonar if you don’t actively need them, and keep pushing forward. By the third area I had enough money to upgrade every system on the sub to its maximum and still had plenty to waste on consumable ammunition and maintenance. While I know some people were complaining about the resource management being too harsh, I quickly passed the point of ever worrying about running out of supplies. Those are the risks of making a resource management game, so I’m not overly upset about it.

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You can fuel up at the shops, but there’s enough tanks around to get by.

The setting is well done, with nooks and crannies in the environment holding extra supplies and money while providing a lovely view of the bottom of the sea. Also, I really appreciated the white text in the backgrounds denoting the names of areas and the little blurb of information about each new encountered life form. There is some serious wasted space in the open ocean, though, with a ship that serves as a shop at the surface, a dozen interesting fixtures on the sea floor, and little of interest in between. The player will often be tasked with hunting sea life that spawns around these empty areas, but the lack of any sort of map, as well as the size of the area to search and blandness of it, made that my least favorite task when trying to move forward. In terms of sound, there’s maybe 3 songs in the entire game, and much like the boss fights, they’re acceptable but little else, with sound effects sitting in that same category. That said, combined with good visuals and a satisfying core gameplay loop, they’re important components of a solid underwater experience.

If you’re interested in playing an underwater game, but want something a little more simplified than Subnautica or a little less intense than Depth, Project Abyss is worth a look. It’s normally 7 dollars on Steam but is selling at half off thanks to the Summer Sale, so now is an especially good time to check it out.

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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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