Strain Tactics (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Touch Dimensions Interactive || Overall: 6.0/10

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Get out a blender. We’re going to play a game. No, you won’t lose an arm or an iPad. It’ll be fin- IT’LL BE FINE, JUST DO IT.

Alright, grab an XCOM. Any one of them will do, we’re just going for basic themes here. Dump that in. Now, scoop up some Alien Swarm (it’s free) and plop that in there, too. Now, and this is important, add a dab of tower defense. Just a bit. Trust me: it’ll make some sense. Hit “blend” and watch those mix up. Take the pitcher of your rather interesting mix of genres and pour that shit into a phone and you’ve got Strain Tactics from Touch Dimensions Interactive.

Strain Tactics is a real-time strategy game that has just as many things in common with tactical squad games, like Rainbow 6 and Door Kickers, as it does with a traditional top-down shooter like Alien Breed. The player commands a squad of up to five soldiers of varying classes–each of which have varying skills and attributes–from their mobile helicopter base. Said squads are sent on missions on a campaign against the “strain,” each mission taking place on a contained map, with objectives ranging from “kill everything” to “rescue this guy.” Troops gain skills as they participate in combat, they can find, loot and equip items they find or purchase, and you’ll often lose troops (though not permanently, as they can be revived if you recover their bodies) in chaotic skirmishes with alien-zombie guys. Thus far, this sounds just like any other game where you deploy a group of soldiers to do a mission. However, there’s an extra degree of player interaction that I haven’t seen before for a single-player squad-based game, and that’s having full control over your team’s transport and air support.

Despite most of the game revolving around directly positioning your squad members and marking targets to shoot (though they engage automatically if enemies are in range), the squad’s helicopter is fully controllable at all points of gameplay. The helicopter acts as a storage locker for gear, a transport for players and NPCs, and fire support against visible targets on the ground, which gives the player immense amounts of control about how they deploy, what their troops are armed with and what their exit point will be. Your team begins each mission aboard the heli, and they don’t disembark until you’ve decided to. It’s a refreshing amount of choice in a genre that routinely grants you limited power despite your role as a “commander” or whatever. When was the last time you had the option of landing your squad near your target in XCOM rather than running a fucking marathon from your drop zone? Oh, never? What about using your dropship to blast the shit out of dangerous enemy units before they become a threat to your squad’s objectives? What?! Never?! What a shame! It’s okay, though: Strain Tactics lets you do that. Using a minigun, a small cannon, or even some big ass firebombs, the helicopter can lay waste to outside targets. While it’s not always a viable option, what with interior locations and the occasional heavy foliage area, it’s a rather interactive way to support your squad in a way that makes a ton of sense. Why this hasn’t been done before in mainstream titles is baffling to me, but Strain Tactics delivers this sort of engaging gameplay dynamic in a tight little package. I’d dare to say that it’s something you could make a franchise off of.

Because of this, even hand-crafted levels can be approached from various angles. You are never really forced to enter or exit the level from a specific point. Characters that aren’t suited for an encounter you’ve come across can be quickly refitted before picking a place to land, or left on the helicopter while the rest deploy. It seems like such a small detail or feature, but in the grand scheme of things it makes the standard gameplay loop really interesting. You can change tactics on the fly, including redistributing your team to split them up.

However, the honeymoon isn’t long. The game has problems, one so heinously rooted that I’m not entirely sure it can be easily fixed with patches: it’s a phone game.

This game was designed for touch interfaces, and it’s painfully obvious from the UI. Everything is rather big, from buttons to text. Item information and character stats are hidden behind an extra button, making quick comparisons between characters a tedious exchange that, in many cases, requires you to pause the game if you’re currently busy with alien-zombies. Inventory management is slow, requiring a click to select and another click to move it to another spot. Using stores or the locker is a tedious process, especially when you’re trying to clean house and organize. Information is usually somewhat vague, if it is even readable (some lower resolutions are just unreadable). I didn’t even realize there was a scroll bar in the mission debriefing, as everything is so huge I figured they were just using up space. While this is probably a really good phone game, it’s missing a lot of quality of life enhancements that I’d expect from a PC game in this day and age. It’s a real gear change compared to how gameplay flows outside of the UI.

It explains why there’s some inconsistencies with the quality of art and the somewhat clunky controls. It’s a great phone game, I’d even go so far to say it’s probably one of the better ones you could play. It’s just okay as a PC port, though. I can’t call it a bad game–it isn’t–but it’s rather disappointing that something so close to being sublime stumble at some rather uncommon problems (as well as some common problems, like mediocre plot and dialogue). I mean… it technically works; it functions as intended when you click around, but it’s far from efficient. It’s like using a spoon to serve soup instead of a ladle.

At this point, I feel like I’m taking a huge dump on this game, and I don’t want to give that impression considering how good of an idea the helicopter base thing is. So, Touch Dimensions Interactive, if you’re actually reading this: keep working at it. Seriously. You are so close to something that is very much worth sinking hours into. You just need some polish, some design changes, and maybe a writer (let’s be honest: you could use one, at least for the dialogue). If Strain Tactics 2 ever gets kicked around, or you plan on fixing the UI, I’ll be back to revisit.

 

Orange Moon (PC) Review

Orange Moon

Developer: Betelgeuse Zero | Publisher: Meridian4 || Overall: 3.0/10

Often times, the best way to approach reviewing a game is based on how it is advertised, and Orange Moon is no exception. Here’s how Betelgeuse Zero describes their own game on Steam:

Orange Moon is a surreal 2D action-platformer with RPG elements and complex puzzles. Take on the role of an explorer as you discover the mysterious world of Orange Moon – filled with hostile native life forms and harsh, treacherous environments. To increase your chances of survival, choose from a variety of weapons, equipment, and upgrades to aid your dangerous exploration. Can you uncover all of Orange Moon’s secrets?

  • Explore a mysterious world filled with hostile life forms.
  • Survive by acquiring and utilizing an array of unique weapons, equipment, ammunition, and upgrades.
  • Solve complex puzzles to successfully uncover the secrets surrounding you.
  • Fight bizarre enemies – from carnivorous plants to deadly biomechanoids – and defeat fearsome bosses.
  • Overcome harsh and treacherous environments with obstacles such as acid swamps, toxic clouds, and deep craters.

Oooh-eee! Sounds like a good time, huh? Some platforming, some complex puzzles… will I uncover all of Orange Moon’s secrets?

Yeah, very quickly, in fact. Under four hours, including an hour or so I spent with the game paused (which causes some weird bugs, so don’t do that).

Orange Moon is as described when it comes to genre: it’s a 2D platformer. Your character is sent to explore the game’s namesake on behalf of the Moon Resources Corporation in search of what clues of what happened, guided along by a Mr. Anderson. The story is sort of abrupt and rife with spelling and grammar errors, and ends up being somewhere along the lines of a porn’s story: it’s there just to explain why people are doing things in a particular place.

Players will walk a rather bland black and orange landscape whilst shooting at an inordinate amount of turrets, floating blobs and the occasional bipedal enemy whilst burning bushes to the ground and sucking the life out of the roots (literally) to sustain yourself. You walk, you shoot, you jump–standard fare in 2D platformer games. In addition to these, the player is able to use fuel to do rocket jumps in order to traverse the terrain.

The player unlocks a variety of weapons along the way, such as a shotgun and a minigun, all of which require ammo that can be found or purchased from an upgrade store using currency earned from killing enemies. If you’re short on cash and don’t have ammo, a flamethrower can be employed to kill foes using the player’s fuel reserves. Weapons and equipment can be upgraded with upgrade canisters that can be found or purchased. Upgrades include better damage on weapons, more health, larger fuel tank upgrades and the ability to use specific guns.

None of this sounds bad in practice, but none of this is executed in a satisfying way. Weapons that can be aimed aren’t very responsive to changes in aim, and the arc is limited. Most weapons require upgrades to be useful against many enemy types, and some weapons, like the flamethrower, are actually unable to do damage to most enemies even when upgraded. This leaves for some very heavy reliance on specific weapons to defeat some enemies, which isn’t a problem in itself aside from the fact that it means you’ve wasted upgrade points that could have been used on something worthwhile.

Fuel is tied to jumping, which means if you’re out or low you’ll spend a rather long amount of time waiting until you can climb out of a hole or make it through a jumping section, especially if you’re using the flamethrower a lot. This can be offset with upgrades, but the design isn’t really fun, it doesn’t add challenge, and it’s not interesting. Eventually, when upgraded, fuel is trivial and no longer serves a purpose, especially as the flamethrower becomes increasingly less useful. It just never seems to fit in with the rest of the game in a meaningful way that limits the player or forces choices outside of, “Do I want to wait a few minutes before I can climb out of this hole?”

Level design is simplistic at best, and the “complex puzzles” the developer touts as a feature are little more than a series of fetch quests that involve minimal amounts of backtracking. Exploration is also somewhat scant: secrets are usually as simple as falling down a hole, or taking a short detour. Considering the constant pallet of orange outlines on a black background, nothing is particularly interesting the entire journey, aside from the occasional scripted set piece.

While the game isn’t particularly bad, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s buggy, with the player character often getting stuck on flat terrain or getting stuck in a wall. It’s not particularly polished, with features such as the scouting probe being usable in situations that freeze the player character in the air, or mess up the camera afterward. The music’s not bad, but as a highlight it’s also nothing particularly special. Orange Moon is merely just a game that works when you boot it, and ends when you finish it, albeit with some performance problems (at least with an 3770K and a GTX 980ti).

I think Orange Moon‘s most common problem is poor design. Enemies are not particularly difficult to deal with, often blocking a corridor perfectly with their height, acting almost as an aggressive door that needs to be unlocked with a shit load of ammo. Outside of the crappy turrets and plants all over the place, enemies tend to have a lot of hit points and armor that renders many guns useless without a lot of upgrades. All story is conveyed via text in the upper left corner of the screen, but when these kinds of events happen the entire screen darkens, aside from a small circle around your character, even if you’re in the middle of combat. Why do this? To force me to read this uninspiring story? Don’t interrupt the gameplay like that, man. That’s like the missus asking, “Are you done yet?” in the middle of “doin’ it”–it doesn’t really inspire enthusiasm, and it’s an extra unnecessary hurdle in trying to have some fuckin’ fun. Pile those two on top of my other complaints, and you don’t really have much of a reason to hang out in Orange Moon‘s world. Other games that are somewhat similar, even classics like Super Metroid accomplish the same thing without all the egregious errors.

There’s a lot to fix, but even if these things were fixed it wouldn’t be particularly compelling considering many of the design choices.

 

Original Journey (PC) Review

Developer: Bonfire Entertainment | Publisher: Another Indie || Overall: 2.0/10

What’s up, folks? Ever wanted a game where you play as a yam with guns or some shit? Have I got the fix for you!

Alright, so in Original Journey (“original title do not steal”) you’re a plant thing in an exo suit on a mission with dozens of others to save your planet. For plot device reasons you’re not told why you’re on the planet Shadow (“original name do not steal”) aside from these green crystals, which, incidentally, a vibrant green object in an otherwise monochrome game. These things, you see, heal your folk and planet, or something. I don’t know. Anyway, a bunch more stuff happens that doesn’t even make sense in any context, like you needing to get monster teeth to make a translation program for your droid, or talking to a dude with amnesia that gives you an emerald-looking thing called a Chaos Key (“original concept and name do not steal”) and some schematics only your race could ever utilize. I don’t understand who’s writing this, or if it’s a translation error, but the story really needs, like… a spit shine, at least. It’s rough, and, at points: totally inane.

Gameplay flows like this: you’re at base, where you get quests, deal with buying and selling, swap out equipment and prepare for your next run. Then you talk to this TV thing, and from there you pick where to go to start a chain of themed levels. As you complete each level, you’re taken back to decide if you return home or do a special event. Dying on a level means you forfiet all your loot, which stays there, not unlike Dark Souls or Shovel Knight, until you come back to reclaim it or die again. It says “procedurally generated levels”, but each level is more of an arena, and there’s not a lot of randomization in those or enemies. In fact, it’s more of an RPG with some roguelike elements than it is a real roguelike. In the few hours I played the forest section, I saw most of the same levels and elements, sometimes specific ones, over and over again. Anyway, you work toward your next story or side quest, come back home, rinse, repeat. There is some progression, like better equipment or higher character level even with death, yadda yadda, but that’s about it.

Okay, so, gather round. Scout’s honor sort of moment here. Alright, you listening? Here’s the thing: I didn’t finish this game. I couldn’t, even though I feel bad about it and kind of wanted to, and there’s a very, very good reason why.

So, this game’s a roguelike, and if you’re reading random game reviews on a humor website, you probably know what that means: death. Lots of it. Any good roguelike will force you to die. There’s plenty of roguelikes, both good and bad, and there’s lots of traits that can influence an opinion in weighing them against each other. One thing good roguelikes almost universally have in common, though, is good controls. Original Journey does not have good controls.

This title’s a sidescroller, and your character’s armament is limited to a suit (with a chip in it; think socketing items in Diablo or Path of Exile), a left weapon and a right weapon. Most of the weapons are guns, but for some reason you have no ability to aim these fucking things. Your vegetable’s aim sways back and forth at approximately an upward 45 degree angle, making anything with less spread than a shotgun annoying to use. Aiming directly at an enemy involves walking right next to them and fucking pulling the trigger. This means that often times, for air enemies, you’re jumping constantly in the air in order to do any good. Weapons have limited ammo, so often times you’ll be wasting most of your ammo trying to knock some bullshit out of the sky. This gets worse later, with enemies hanging out toward the bottom of the goddamn screen. WHY? WHY DO THIS? WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I AIM AT HIM? I HAVE TWO FUCKING GUNS AND I CA-

Excuse me.

So, shooting and aiming is already a problem, but it’s exacerbated by the design of the terrain in general. Many levels are oblong asteroid-looking hunks of shit with enemies on them. Considering our aiming problem, often times you will have to jump over enemies that are below your aim and attack from the opposite direction, entirely due to how your character holds a gun. Add on to this random terrain that blocks your shots and you have a REALLY GOOD FUCKING WAY TO GET MY BLOOD PRESSURE UP. FUCK.

They got these turrets that you can place two of each level, but they are just so dumb. The normal ones just sort of shoot randomly in the direction they are facing. The laser ones that you unlock next only seem better because they shoot through targets, including the stupid terrain obstacles.

Technically speaking, the game is fine. I didn’t experience any bugs, only “features” that were intended.

To repeat: I feel bad for not going through the whole game, but it just wasn’t worth the time. I know developing games takes work, but when you charge 11.99 for it, well, you invite criticism. There’s a multitude of better games to play instead, ones with plots that are fun, or gameplay that isn’t frustrating, some of them even being free. Play one of those instead. This one, in some ways, feels more like an inside Sonic the Hedgehog fandom joke attached to a random prototype game.

 

Graceful Explosion Machine (PC) Review

 

Graceful Explosion Machine.

Developer/Publisher: Vertex Pop || Overall: 6.5/10

If I’m wrong, tell me – I have no idea what’s going on here.

The title itself almost begs the comparison to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, a point driven home by the fact that the protagonist is inside of a yellow vehicle. Like Bay’s movies, though, little is added to the genre with GEM.

It’s not that Graceful Explosion Machine is a bad game – far from it. It’s just that it doesn’t do anything to keep me coming back after two decades of playing games similar to it. GEM is a 2D ship shooter, much like the classic Defender, right down to needing to hit a button to turn around. The game’s premise being there was, like, this big ship, or something. There was a city in it, maybe? I’m not sure. There were some gems on it, and astro pops, I dunno. Anyway, these googly-eye’d robots spheres and oblong shapes came and blew it up. A ship popped out of the explosion, and the pilot was obviously distressed that the gems they had stolen from Bejeweled had been, in turn, stolen from them. So the ship pursued, intending to set fire to their planets. It’s open to interpretation, obviously, so I’ll just post a .gif of the intro sequence so you can decide. It gets the job done, but honestly, I would have been just as happy with no story, since the stills you see explain nothing aside that you’re killing things for a reason: sweet, buttery revenge on rye, dijon mustard and a side of coleslaw. I’ll take my revenge, hold all the other stuff. Thanks.

Alright, on to gameplay. The Defender comment was a hint here: it plays like Defender. The ship is moved in the cardinal directions, but it always faces left or right, a state that is changed with space (or left trigger if you’re using a controller, and I hope you are). Aside from the dedicated turn button, there is a dash/boost to dodge through enemies. If you’re in your 30’s and 40’s, you probably know what’s up here. It’s just as riveting as before, only by this point you’ve probably played PixelJunk Shooter and stuff. Kind of like when you have a succulent ribeye steak at any point before eating a New Castle burger.

Now, for some reason this ship is unarmed until it picks up conspicuously laid out weapons in the tutorial, which is probably why these yellow guys got their shit ruined in the first place. First you get a pea shooter, which rapidly fires out blasts until it overheats, which is its only constraint. Second weapon, you get an “energy sword” which spins around twice on use, tearing into enemies and destroying enemy bullets. Next is a sniper beam, which is a very powerful beam that does a lot of damage and tears through enemy shields, but forces you to move slowly. The last is a missile barrage that can be directed out of your ship with a directional input before they race off to seek targets. With exception of the regular blaster, all weapons require weapon energy to fire. This is harvested from enemies on death via the yellow crystals they drop. The weapon energy meter doesn’t say what the max is, or how much each crystal is worth, nor is the energy required for attacks displayed anywhere, so it’s more of a fuel meter in that regard. Crystal/weapon power management seems to be the main bottleneck of player skill. Players need to swoop through slain enemies in order to get close enough to collect weapon power, which dictates how often you can use area of effect attacks. Gameplay quickly maxes out as an advanced game of chicken, blowing through enemies to collect weapon power to in turn massacre more enemies. The only real thing that mixes this up is how close enemies spawn, and if there’s an enemy that requires you to use the sniper cannon to kill quickly.

The game is divided into levels on four planets. A few open up for play, unlocking more as you complete them, culminating in a “warp” level to move on to the next planet. Each level has phases, which are this game’s checkpoint system; waves of enemies will spawn throughout an endlessly scrolling cave section as the player kills everything. Points are awarded for each kill, a multiplier in effect for consecutive kills and keeping a spree going. The ship is able to take three hits before dying, but each level has two continues, which can be utilized to restart from the beginning of the last phase that was started. The game isn’t exactly easy, but with tools like these, it’s not difficult either.

There’s plenty of different enemies, but most of the time, they either require a specific approach or a specific weapon, neither of which is much of a puzzle in the grand scheme of things. The problem is inherently with the focus of the game, which is entirely on score and leaderboards, rather than actual gameplay progression. This, coupled with spawns that don’t randomize, makes for a very stale “replayability” factor. Defender, way back in the day, got away with this by being a fixture in a public place with minimal mechanics and increasingly difficult and unforgiving gameplay, mostly to siphon quarters off kids. Well, that, and Defender is 36 years old. Graceful Explosion Machine has too many mechanics that it doesn’t dole out to keep the player interested, and thus have to use new enemies in lieu of new mechanics, powers or features to keep the player interested. Maybe it’s bad to expect more from games that go for $12.99 without a discount, but competition is stiff; there’s a myriad of games competing for your cash, and unless DeMar’s and Jarvis’ Defender is the model of what you consider an amazing experience, chances are you won’t be whisked away by this without a heaping spoonful of competitive spirit. Other games offer that competitive element too, obviously.

To its credit: the game runs well, and makes use of high refresh rate monitors. The music is benign, but not bad by any means. The controls on keyboard are serviceable, though I recommend controller. What’s more to say about a game that, mechanically, is solid even if there’s no carrot on the stick past score-whoring? There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it’s uninspiring, like a joke you’ve heard before, or a monologue on a topic you’re uninterested in.

And, with that: I’d like to talk to you about our Lord, Gabe Newell. Our Father in Seattle, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Dot-gif us this day our daily gameplay, and forgive us our unpaid credit cards, as we…

*The droning of a long-winded joke, built on a foundation of memes, hits for 3d6 focus damage: 14 points*
*You roll d20 to save – a one*
*Quietly, you drift off; memories of your homeship and your ill-gotten Bejeweled gems haunt your dreams*

*You wake up, covered in a sticky substance. You’re not sure where you are or what you’ve been doing, but you have a feeling it was spent doing something slightly mediocre.*

That’s what the game is like. Some people might be interested, and may even find some enjoyment out of a Defender game with some extra bells and whistles, but the depth is shallow and the ride is short.

 

Mighty Monster Mayhem (PC/HTC Vive) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rank17 || Overall: 3.0/10

It’s a Monday night, and I’ve got my Vive on my hip; Soup Tyrant is on the prowl! Reeoww!

Tonight I’m playing… let’s see here… glasses… “Mighty Monster Mayhem” by Rank17. It’s a VR monster game where players get to smash stuff up as a big ol’ hulking brute. Hard to fuck up what’s essentially Rampage in VR, right? Anyway, here’s what the Steam store page says:

As an outcast-scientist-turned-mutated-monster, seek vengeance against those who rejected your research! In Mighty Monster Mayhem, you can tear down buildings, make entire cities crumble, and munch on unsuspecting pedestrians. Choose from a variety of creatures, and battle with (or against) friends, wreaking havoc in multiple campaign modes – unleashing fury on everything to increase your score! How much mayhem can you cause?”

First thing’s first: the unskippable tutorial. You’re not allowed to play the main game or multiplayer without being a big boy and/or girl and playing along with the voiceover’s lesson plan, so I figured I’ll just jump through the hoop. I appear to be a big fishy monster with a big ass watch on my left arm. It’s not super clear from the narration, but from the store page description you can piece together that this annoying dude in your ear is yourself. They teach you how to walk, and then explain some basic monster techniques at your disposal: punching, grabbing, throwing, climbing and jumping.

The controls aren’t bad in theory. The locomotion alone is kind of neat. Locomotion is activated by squeezing either controller’s grip button and then swinging your arms. The rate that you swing dictates the rate that you move, from a tiptoe to a sprint. It works pretty well, and it’s one of the better thought-out aspects of the game.

Punching is what you think it is. You ball up your first by holding the trigger on the controller, and then swing around to punch. Swinging your arm around without holding down the trigger doesn’t do dick, so swatting things doesn’t seem to be an option. Grabbing things is done by moving your hand close to something and holding the trigger down. You can grab a bunch of things, but what I’ve found is that if you grab things that are too close together, you destroy the thing you’re holding along with whatever you’ve “collided” with that was next to it. If you’ve managed to pick something up, congrats: you can now throw it at something by doing a throwing motion and releasing the trigger. Throwing has weird physics to it. Either something flies off into the horizon, like shitty Pokemon villains, or it flops a few feet ahead of you straight into the dirt, like my hopes and dreams do. It’s also your only ranged attack. More on that in a bit.

Now for the weirder things. For climbing, you grab a part of a building and pull yourself up, repeating the process with your other arm. Moving around the building isn’t very difficult, but doing things on the building is kind of annoying. Punching the building requires you to move your hand far enough away from the building that you don’t grab it. Otherwise, you can grab and twist the part you’ve grabbed to rip it off, which sometimes happens unintentionally when you’re climbing frantically. Jumping rounds off your skillset, which you control by holding both triggers down, raising your hands in the air, and then throwing your hands toward your feet while releasing the triggers. Jumps are, for the most part, uncontrollable catapults into the air. You can control direction and power, sort of, but most of the time I felt like a fly without wings. There is no method of controlling your descent, so often times you will just have to hope shit works out.

Monsters can interact with the environment, picking up people (and eating them for one hit point), cars, you name it. Most things you can pick up, most things you can smash. Most of them share use, though; you either want to break something, or throw it at a building or enemy. Nothing you can pick up is functionally different from anything else, aside from humans, which you can eat, and powerups, which are used rather than grabbed and thrown.

There are a few monsters in the game, but the change is cosmetic as no monster has a unique ability or function. I unlocked “Toni the Oni” twice in two different levels. I’m not sure why I did, but when I used Toni, the change was of no real significance, at least none that I could find or had any explanation. I’m sure this is more geared toward multiplayer, as the game does offer drop in/drop out four player coop.

“My fitbit says I’m behind on smashing. Excuse me, officer.”

The meat of the game, single player or otherwise, is in a quasi free roam environment. The player’s goal is to look at your watch and figure out how many buildings you have to smash. There’s some side objectives, too, like eating scientists, smashing mailboxes and some other dumb shit, but it only seemed to add to score and ended up being more trouble than it was worth. Buildings are felled by doing damage to them, but for some fucking reason the way you take down a building is via “structural supports”, which are random, unmarked bits of building that have to be destroyed to take the building out. The only way to see them is with a powerup called “x-ray”, which outlines them in red. It ends up being more like a game of “needle in the haystack” once you get to later levels, since players have to take out about 6 or so buildings before the level’s finished. Building chunks are huge, by the way. It’s like the pentagon built all these fucking things. Each building is layered with several feet of concrete, to the point where pulling out chunks obstructs your vision and clutters the damn place.

As the player ruins the city’s shit, things change a bit. At first the city is a vibrant environment, with like 5 guys walking around and a few dozen parked cars, but when players start breaking shit it goes into chaos, with up to 5 guys walking around, some of them soldiers! Soldiers shoot these slow blue shots at you as they clip through buildings out of view, or into the assload of debris on the ground that doesn’t disappear. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Nah, they fire through buildings and debris. If players take out a building or two, they start sending these fucking weird looking cars at you. They have a few miniguns on them and rocket launchers, but only shoot the same blue bullets the little soldiers fire out of the middle of their hoods, rotating perfectly with you as you move around them. This makes more sense with the treaded tanks that come later, but cars? C’mon. It’s not like there’s a lot of detail in anything else. Could it have killed them to at least have the projectiles come out of the guns?

So, on top of all this, the game doesn’t run particularly well. The recommended specs for this game are at (unspecified) i5 and a GTX 980 or better. Even on superior hardware, this game has a bunch of issues rendering buildings without chugging. This is problematic, as it seems some physics and most player movement is tied to it. It becomes harder to eat people or pick them up. Throwing things is a crapshoot. Jumping becomes hopping. It’s just not a very pretty or busy game to be having these many problems.

Mighty Monster Mayhem is still indeed playable, but it’s a frustrating experience that can’t be carried by its novel approach to player locomotion. The game suffers from such a textbook case of, “great idea, terrible execution,” that it would make No Man’s Sky blush. It feels like Early Access, even though it isn’t. It feels like a tech demo, and with a heapin’ helpin’ of polish and some expansion of the “break buildings to win” formula, it could be a great game. Mighty Monster Mayhem may truly, one day, be the VR monster game to beat, the benchmark, defacto “you are a giant monster” game.

As it stands, though, as of June 2017… pass. There are other VR experiences more worthy of your $14.99 right now.

 

Symphony of the Machine (PC/HTC Vive) Review

Developer/Publisher: Stirfire Studios || Overall: 6.0/10

I met the boss in a dark internet alley. Real cloak and dagger stuff. He slips me a message shortly before he passes along a key. I was tasked with an important mission: review Symphony of the Machine.

My qualifications, you ask? I’m the only one with a VR headset.

Symphony of the Machine is a puzzle game that is something of an atmospheric experience. You start out as a druid of some sort, struggling against a mid-life crisis, waking up after a bender in the desert. Your character comes to, at dusk, precariously close to the fire they had been presumably sleeping next to. At first, you’re unable to do anything, but by picking up a ball on a pedestal and placing it inside of this thingy next to it, the player is able to teleport. It was at this point that the real game began, and I stepped into the projected life I’ve illustrated.

A gold ring appears on the ground, inviting me to teleport to it while my the objects in my hands whine at me to touch them. I touch them, not understanding how to satisfy them. As I look at the mural on the rock near me, I decide to figure out what the deal is with my hands. I rotate in place with a few taps of the touchpad, but the cries persist. The gold ring remains as I move on without understanding what it was trying to convey in the hopes to shut up my damn hands.

I pass through a small trench and make my way to a modest clearing with a tower. As I approach the tower, it appears that a control panel has had a button removed, with the button clearly visible next to it. I picked it up and placed it where it belonged. There was an up arrow and a down arrow, with the up arrow clearly the one to press in this situation. I did so, was rewarded with a nice song while I slowly raised up the tower.

On my way up the tower, I noticed the land was very barren – a desert-like mountainous area – and there was a very purple beam shooting toward the heavens from the tower I was currently ascending. The elevator reached its destination, I was free to walk around the area within the confines of the tower’s traversable platform. In the middle of this platform was a beam coming out of the floor, shooting right out of an opening at the tower’s apex. I moved to the next gold ring on the ground, just next to the beam, as I noticed a bundt cake-looking terminal with a hand floating above it. I placed my hand near it and clicked the trigger, bringing it to life. What happened next was the most surprising thus far.

This noisy thing sprung to life, bobbing around as it floated around. It moved toward a green glyph before looking back toward me and nodding. Then it moved to a purple one, a yellow one, and finally a blue one, repeating its incessant chirping and nodding, pausing before each glyph. It approached me, a big blue oval now pouring out of its head, a silver pane appearing within. Two graphics appeared near the area that was considered its face: a picture of a pane and a hand, and the beam bouncing off of the pane.

My purpose was to bounce this light, so I did. I shot it into a green glyph, basking in my achievement before the robot came to beep at me some more while the clouds began to blow around in the background. A bunch of transparent, green-edged hexagons popped up, obscuring the purple glyph. The robot’s obviously disapproving looks were tinted blue through the obstacle. “I meant the yellow one, asshole,” I imagined him tooting out as the graphics next to its head changed to show the yellow, eye-shaped glyph. I corrected my transgression, aiming at the yellow glyph by adjusting the pane. The green-edged hexagons vanished, yellow ones appearing in front of the blue glyph; dusk rolled back to reveal the sun and blue skies. The floaty bot happily bleep blooped as it moved over to a green pipe at the edge of the tower’s area.

The robot sucked up a bowl of dirt, doing the equivalent of an aerial saunter as it mosied over in front of me. It hovered expectantly in front of me, beckoning me to grab the grubby bowl, some pictures near its head to reinforce the duty. I attempted to outwit it by inaction. When that didn’t work, I picked up the bowl, the robot instantly spiraling back to its pipe to rummage for other things. I attempted to drop the bowl, but it hovered in place to spite me. The little robot returned with a seed, chirp, beep, whatever. You got the picture by now.

My purpose was now clear: it was my duty to place this seed in the bowl I was given. Such a duty was not wasted on me. I grabbed that seed and placed it into the bowl without so much as looking at the graphics that had appeared by my only friend’s head. It plopped in, the robot now implying that I had to grow it. I had been assigned as this tower’s guardian gardener, as decided by the fates and this little fucking noisy robot.

The robot had now become silent. I decided to lose myself in the plant I was now charged with, and to my surprise it had expressed, in the form of a graphic, that it desired something. I had come from a land where plants desired varying amounts of sun and water, but this plant had other needs: wind. “That’s weird,” I thought, “Not sure why a seedling would want to be blown.” I decided to help this budding plant become an adult, regardless of its strange fetishes.

I adjust the beam back to my original target: that stupid green swoosh that originally wasn’t “okay” to shoot at. I move the beam off the yellow glyph, which causes all these yellow hexagons that appeared in front of the blue one to vanish. I once again direct the beam to the green glyph. Hexagons reappeared where they originally had been the first time around, the wind began to blow as before. I had understood several times over at this point that each active glyph blocks clear access to another.

Something new occurred this time, though. Much like those weird stones in The Fifth Element, the thing I didn’t fully understand in my hand moved, ever so slightly. I had progressed in my career, heights unheard of: I was an accessory in the blowing of a vegetable. I had become a hooker at coma ward.

You wouldn’t believe the fucking nerve of this thing, though! This plant now got thirsty – thirsty, of all things! Now it demanded I make it rain, but not like a hooker at a coma ward. I turned around and the robot surprised the shit out of me. “BOOP BEEP??” it blerped as it passed through my corporeal self, violating the space I considered my own. “NO ONE FUCKING ASKED YOU!” I politely replied.

I moved the metal pane and jumped through the hoop, moving the beam from green to blue. More hexagon trading. Wind to light rain. Sprouting. Finished, right? WRONG. The damn plant had more damn demands! Now it wants clouds. CLOUDS. What backwards ass plant wants some clouds? Shade? I’ll give you some shade.

I move the beam from the blue glyph, dragging the beam over the robot and plant to no avail. After a few minutes of that I decided to do as I was told and shoot the purple glyph, fulfilling the cycle and my role as custodian gardener. I’ve done you proud, father.

The plant had evolved into a healthy bowl of grotesque vegan-food. Atypically “salad” and a far cry from the barren dirt bowl it had previously been. I’ll probably never understand why it desired cloud cover, or why my machine was driven by glyphs I had to shoot beams at, rather than a lever or buttons or something. I do know, though, that my journey had ended. I had saved the day, providing this plant with care that it needed for an unknown – probably inordinate – amount of time. The robot, who had be crowding my every goddamn step, booped at me, expressing its desire to become a receptacle for the plant. I grabbed a metal pane and beat it aside, cursing its ancestors before placing the plant into it’s overtly oval and blue head cavity. It was satisfied, and for some reason wanted me to take the plant back.

I took the plant as it directed me to place my life’s work in the corner, across from the green pipe it constantly plumbed for things to fill my time with. I did so, trying to throw the plant on the ground in protest while it dandily floated in place, hovering in front of the cloudy backdrop. “BLEEP,” the robot interjected, ruining my moment.

The robot had some sort of weird t-shaped part. I picked it up out of its head, thinking it was a reward, but I quickly realized it was another tool to do my fucking job. It was a beam splitter, which, when placed in front of a beam, split it at two 90 degree angles. The robot had fucked off during my examination of the object, but it returned, prodding me with another empty dirt bowl. I raised my hands up. “Look, I know where this is heading,” I said, “I’ve done my thing and I’ve helped you. I know I-”

“BLOOP, BLEEP?”

I let out a long, exasperated groan. I took the stupid fucking bowl out of his head. Oh, you’re getting a seed for me to plant again? How surprising! Bring it here then, you stupid fucker! Here it goes, oh, look – a plant. What’s this floppy one need? Windy and sunny? Sure, why not?! I split the beam, overcoming the simple puzzle and bouncing it around the hexagonal obstacles that appeared. It’s now windy and sunny, the tower’s weather reflecting my changes. The plant grows, not unlike the first one.

Thus far, I had done it four times. Seventeen more times and I will have finished the game, along with this narrative. Just imagine that I copy and pasted a bunch of times and changed some words around.

Now, make no mistake, though; Symphony of the Machine gets slightly harder in difficulty despite the repetition. You are given access to another pane and another t-shaped splitter, along with two things that alter the beam to blue, which is cold, and red, which is hot. Using the hot and cold modifiers makes extra hexagons show up that you have to avoid, but they always appear in the same place. If you set up your light path in just the right way, you can avoid all the hexagons that can appear and just slightly move panes and t-shapes to activate and deactivate glyphs as needed.

Presentation wise, I don’t think there’s much to complain about. The music was fitting. Graphically it was fine, and the weather effects were actually pretty good, but there is a minimal amount of content here with very limited replayability. There are only seven plants in the game, with three stages each. After that, you unlock sandbox mode, where you can use the maximum amount of parts (three each, and one of the fire and ice modifiers) and solve all the plants you’ve already completed with no variation in difficulty. This is problematic, considering the high bar to play this game on PC and the distinct lack of replayability for a $20 game.

I think adjustments could be made. Considering all variation is tied to what glyphs are required for the puzzle and where hexagons show up, I figure a randomized mode could really make things difficult, or at least just more puzzles. The included content isn’t even difficult, so the trip is abnormally short. The only thing I didn’t accomplish in about 30 minutes of play time was experience every type of weather, at least according to the achievements.

Now, I’m not saying no one would enjoy a sort of causal laser puzzle game, but there’s already competition in this genre in VR, and I’m not sure if what Symphony of the Machine offers is more deserving of your time than those similar games considering its shortcomings.

 

#23304: Yonseixryu -> Soup Nazi

Yonseixryu: so it’s like the navy with the dont ask dont tell thinng

Yonseixryu: that’s gay

Soup Nazi: Nope

Yonseixryu: hahaha rofl

Yonseixryu: i just made a funny

Yonseixryu: ]lol rofl rofl rofl

Soup Nazi: Not really.

Yonseixryu: You’r not laughing

Yonseixryu: You’r not laughing

Yonseixryu: join in on the festivity

Yonseixryu: lol

Yonseixryu: lol

Yonseixryu: lol lol lol lol lol lol lol

Yonseixryu: lol with me

 

#23301: Yonseixryu -> Soup Nazi

Yonseixryu: I finally found it

Yonseixryu: I found the shoe tree

Yonseixryu: it

Soup Nazi: uh?

Yonseixryu: shoe tree shoe tree

Yonseixryu: I just ate a shoe fruit for breakfast

Soup Nazi: WTF IS WITH THIS SHOE TREE?

Yonseixryu: Im going to go swing on the sheo tree

Yonseixryu: bye bye

Soup Nazi: Okay. Great fun.

 

Jim-Bob-Bob-Jim

Bob: Hey Jim Bob!

Jim: Hey Bob Jim!

Bob: What’s Jim Bob up to?

Jim: I’m eating corn cob and Jim-Jim-Henery

Bob: Might I have a taste?!

Jim: Fuuuuuck no! He’s mine.

Bob: Fuck you, Jim-Bob! I think your gay!

Jim: your sister would say different, ass!

Bob: my sister is your sister!

Jim: ….oh yea! She was great.

Bob: you sicko! That ain’t normal! Sisters is for kissing and buying beer, not for having relations!!!

Jim: Well who isn’t related to us?

Bob: Old Freida

Jim: She’s dead!

Bob: But she’s in this town. Our last non-related neighbor was Cletus, but he gone turned yellow and went to Holly Wood

(a car pulls up with Cletus)

Cletus: hey y’all! I done come back to says my for-tune is gone, I spents it on malt liquor and purty ladies wigs

Bob and Jim: You got any food? We could go fer some!

Cletus: only corn cobs!

Bob and Jim: YAY!

Cletus: But! Only if you kindly hands over your ladies wigs! I just loooooooooooooove ladies wigs

(Bob and Jim head over to Old Freida’s grave)

Bob: there she be….lets screw her!

(Jim holds Bob back)

Jim: no! we’ve comes for her hair!

(Jim peels her scalp off)

Bob: lets go get our cobs!

(They got back to Cletus, who is masturbating on a lamp post)

Bob: we got your wig!

Cletus: I’m so sorry boys! I throwed ’em in my toilet and watched them spin around. I only meant to clean them!

Bob: you inbred BASTARD!

Cletus: Look who’s talken!

(Bob lights the lamp post on fire)

Cletus: oh boy, looks like this is my humble demise, save me Jim!

(Jim is fucking a goat)

Jim: Wha….what?!

(Cletus catches on fire)

Cletus: Bye mommy! Bye daddy!

Jim: Bye son!

Bob: Bye brother!

(Jim and Bob wave)

(Cletus melts into a yellow puddle, and a dog pees in it)

(Dog laps up the puddle, Jim barfs)

(end)