Livelock (PC) Review

Developer: Tuque Games | Publisher: Perfect World International || Overall: 8.5

Google needs a new name. As our eventual AI overloads, the name Google doesn’t have the required menace for when the program finally decides to go rogue and that mankind can no longer be left to its own devices. It’s just a hard name to respect as our robot betters. Imagine being gunned down by the “Google Drones” or being forced to work for the “Google Internment Camp”. Wouldn’t you rather a name like “Ocelot Corp” or “Gigadyne” be the starting point for the age of machines and the fall of mankind? This is where Cyberdyne Systems had a good idea and stuck with it. They knew that if their program ever decided that mankind worked better as target practice, it had the proper name to take them down with. A name that could be feared and also respected; not a name that could qualify as a toddler’s first words.

terminator-52

To be fair, the T-800’s searched for Sarah Conner would have been optimized if it was powered by Google.

It’s a robot-on-robot war for the fate of humanity and you’re smack-dab in the middle of all its top-down shooter glory. Publisher Perfect World and Developer Tuque Games are set to bring the robotic apocalypse to your PC with Livelock. Livelock sends you on a mission to shoot your way through hordes of robots to save humanity. With its guns locked and loaded, it hopes to not shoot any blanks.

Livelock takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is a distant memory and robots have taken their place as inheritors of earth. To that end, the world of Livelock is wonderfully realized. Most stages are barren wastelands where the remnants of humanity mix in with the discarded corpses of other robots that have fallen in the robot wars that followed mankind’s destruction. A fact that can be commonly seen in the way the art style treats the robots and the world they live on. The newer robots shine with a metallic brilliance while the rest of the world is diluted by dull hues to give a clear distinction on what’s old and new. To that effect, the weapon effects and explosions also light up the screen with a dazzling pop as the player violently weeds their way through their enemies. All this makes it clear to me that Livelock took some care when developing its art-style and graphics.

No joke here. I just really like the weapon effects.

No joke here. I just really like the weapon effects.

The story in Livelock continues to play with the duality of old and new. Mankind was given ten years before their eventual destruction, three human minds were downloaded into brand new robot bodies in the hopes of resurrecting humanity at a later time. Though the plan seems perfect, mankind fails to properly gauge the destruction and the time-table is set back by a few hundred years. Our three robot saviors are then resurrected by a satellite AI and are introduced to a world where three robot factions are fighting for dominance over the Earth. With the world in turmoil, the satellite AI informs them that the only way to save mankind is to stop the current war. This sends the player and the robots with human minds on a path of destruction for a chance to bring mankind back. It’s an intriguing narrative that blends the lines between robot and man to bring you a tale about perseverance and survival. Overall, it is a competent story with a satisfying ending even if it can be a tad predictable at times.

The gameplay can be best described in one word and, thankfully, that word is “fun.” At any moment there is a variety of things that can be happening on the screen and it’s the player’s job to properly balance out all the robotic bits. There may not always be a constant stream of enemies on the screen, but when Livelock decides to ramp up, it doesn’t really hold back the carnage. The player is almost constantly besieged by a variety of enemies both weak and powerful that require skillful uses of each robot’s three primary weapons and its varied abilities to survive. Furthermore, there are upgraded versions of every enemy that are beefier, stronger and, oftentimes, bigger than their normal version and require their own strategies to defeat.

The “variety of things” I talked about.

The “variety of things” I talked about.

The only real shame here is the fact that Tuque Games didn’t decide to diverge from the three most common classes when it came to the core robots. Putting it in MMO terms, the three robots fall into DPS, Tank and Support roles (or as I like to call them Shooty McShooterson, The Big Guy and The Red Cross). Though what they lacked in creativity, they make up for in execution as each gain an enjoyable number of weapons and skills to do away with the machine menace. Those skills can then be equipped, along with a variety of weapons, to build different setups for your robot. This means that there is a low chance that two robots would end up the same way, even if the same one is chosen.

And you’ll get plenty of chances to see those builds with the multiplayer. Overall, it’s pretty great. Any lag is hardly noticeable and the difficulty ramps up to a point where it is necessary to use your team to its full advantage. Thankfully, they also fixed the earlier connection issues and the multiplayer seems to run fine now.

Lastly, the variety of enemies is worth mentioning. Each robotic cluster has its own theme and the enemies you face play to them. Whether it is the hive-like structure of the Noesis cluster or the human-like appearances of the Praetorian cluster each robotic faction the player faces come with their own design and strategies. This not only keeps the player on their toes but also lends to the world building of the story. Each faction harbors its own desires and they play out throughout the course of the story to lend some life to the dead planet the story takes place on.

Livelock seems to have a bullet in every chamber. The story is competent, the gameplay is fun, the multiplayer works great and mixing and matching the different abilities and weapons is a treat. It’s also obvious that the developers took care and effort when developing the graphics and art-styles to fit the game’s setting. As of right now, Livelock’s chamber is full and locked and loaded for some fun.

When not implanting his human mind into a robot body as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

*This review has been edited to reflect that multiplayer has been fixed upon launch.*

 

Nebulous (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Namazu Studios || Overall: 7.5

Space has always been of interest to man. Back when we could only look at the stars, we still dreamed of someday reaching out and touching those twinkly little objects in the sky. Then those dreams were subsequently dashed when we later learned that those beautiful night lights were actually exploding balls of hydrogen and helium that would burn our bodies to a crisp if we ever got anywhere near one. Still, that endless sky continues to capture the hearts of man to this day, whether it is in a galaxy far, far away or aboard a starship in some far off Stardate. Our eyes still fill with wonder and our hearts still yearn to explore a place many haven’t and hardly ever think of the danger that comes with it. Neither does Nebulous, it pokes fun at the whole “lost in space” bit.

 Though it’s hard not to with how meme-able Star Trek can be.

Though it’s hard not to with how meme-able Star Trek can be.

Nebulous is the latest puzzle game to leave Steam Early Access and vie for your attention. Developed and published by Namazu Studios, Nebulous takes the horrible prospect of being lost in space and makes it a lighthearted puzzle game instead. With space as your backdrop, the player must drop, bounce, push and pull the lost astronaut to safety in a number of complex levels to eventually complete the game. That being said, it’s not easy.

 Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

Stop me if you heard this before, Nebulous is a simple concept with a complex design. The simple part is getting the astronaut, Dash Johnson, from point A to point B, and the complex part is all the stuff they put to hinder that. At the end of every puzzle, there is a blue wormhole that takes Dash from one level to the next, from there the player has to avoid touching the outer walls of the course and the hazards set throughout it. These could be anything from electricity to even lasers, but touching any of these hazards makes Dash explode into a shiny green light. To avoid his explode-y demise, each level grants several items to guide Dash to safety. There is quite the assortment too, including objects like ramps, simple walls and even object that bounce Dash. They’re also well needed because the game is quite hard.

A lot of the difficulty comes from the repetition. Especially in the later stages, it may take several tries to finally land Dash on the exit point. Even the slightest miscalculation can send him careening off course and right into a hazard or the edge of the map. It may take several readjustments before you land anywhere near the target zone. There is good reason for that too, the stages can get pretty complex. Often the stages are composed of several screens, each linked via multiple worm holes that can be flipped through with the WASD keys. So, not only is the player responsible for a single puzzle, but they have to keep track of several smaller puzzles that all combine to form Voltron… err I mean a giant puzzle with many layers. Add to that several other mechanics like switches, altered gravity (meaning that you may fall up or even sideways), and conveyer belts that run Dash either right or left. That doesn’t even take into account the grading system…

Stages are graded on a 3-star grading system, spilt into three categories based on the number of attempts, the time it took and if all the collectable stars scattered throughout the stage were claimed. For every objective you either meet or go under, the game offers a star for that course upwards to a complete three. While a pretty standard grading system, the problem lies in the fact that the first two grading points I mentioned are nearly impossible to get on the first try. A lot of this game requires both pre-planning and repetition to beat a stage and more often than not, you’ll go way past the limit on time and attempts very easily. It doesn’t help that the limits are pretty strict too, sometimes giving as little as half a minute and only one try to complete a course. At points, it almost seemed like the only way to get all three stars would be to do the course normally and then quickly mimic the placements on the subsequent attempt to achieve the time and attempt limit. They really weren’t joking around when they set up the grading system.

Alright, figure this out. You got a minute and two tries.

Alright, figure this out. You got a minute and two tries.

Thankfully though, they weren’t joking around when it came to the humor of the game. To put it bluntly, Dash Johnson, is a pompous ass who is so full of himself that it wouldn’t be surprising if he were a living and breathing Matryoshka doll. With a slight resemblance to Sterling Archer in attitude alone, the Astronaut will berate your intelligence with every failure and pump up his own ego with every bit of hot air that leaves his mouth. It would almost be too much if it weren’t for the fact that his fate is entirely in the player’s hands, giving them plenty of opportunities to kill him. Though, it is hard to feel bad for him and his plight, considering he seems to deserve whatever bit of bad luck that came his way. Regardless, if you don’t mind a bit of deprecation on your part, his quips are enjoyable.

The sound effects are also enjoyable. The music is a mixture of a fittingly sci-fi beat with the same repetitiveness of the Jeopardy theme; so it serves as pretty good thinking music. The sound effects are also fitting, especially the painful grunts and groan of Dash Johnson as he bounces around each level. The graphics aren’t all that fantastic but the simple designs are more than enough for this game. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about both of those subjects.

Though, amid all of the talk about the game mechanics, difficulty, sound and graphics, what needs to be said is whether or not the game is actually fun. For that, it’s a resounding “Yeah, sure…” Nebulous is a neat distraction but it never really gets to the point of an addiction. Nebulous supports VR functionality through the Oculus Rift and I imagine that would make the experience all the more engaging, but I have neither the rig nor the equipment to test that out. Overall, Nebulous is fun enough without the bells and whistles of VR technology, but it’s isn’t quite amazing either.

Nebulous is a complex, difficult and humorous game that can be quite the fun timewaster but it is not much more than that. If you enjoy complex puzzles and can take a joke, this might be worth picking up to idly play between other games. Otherwise, it might not be engaging enough for other players. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of space, but it can still ground a few people with its gameplay.

When not guiding a spaceman through treacherous puzzles as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Heart&Slash (PC) Review

Developer: AHEARTFULOFGAMES | Publisher: Badland Games || Overall: 8.5

I need more money. I don’t mean the type of money that’ll help me in the short term, I mean the type of money that will prevent me from being a Walmart greeter when I’m old and gray. I constantly hear that the economy is in the shitter and that Social Security was a fairy tale they told good little boys and girls so they’ll have something to look forward too when they grow old. Now as an adult I fear that I won’t be able to simply put on a VR headset and lose myself in a virtual world for the duration of my golden years like I first dreamed of when I was a child. Instead, I’ll probably be picking up odd jobs here and there just to stay… y’know… alive. Think people would fund a Kickstarter that won’t give them anything back in return?

Social Security Benefits claim form

I imagine the other side of this form will say “Pysche!” in big bold letters by the time I get old enough to fill it out.

Straight out of Kickstarter and with all of the confidence other people’s money can give it, Heart&Slash is set to invade your computer with its button mashing goodness. Published by Badland Games and Developed by AHEARTFULOFGAMES, Heart&Slash is an attempted love letter to the beat’em-up genre of days past. Not only that, but it’s also an unforgiving Roguelike that demands the utmost concentration and ample amounts of manual dexterity to play. This exquisite combination lends to Heart&Slash’s unique style.

Originally advertised as Bayonetta meets the Roguelike genre, shadows of the former are obviously present in the combat. Heart (one of the game’s titular character) is quite the formidable little bucket of bolts. He’s equipped with a double jump and a control scheme that focuses on a two-button combat style that fans of Dynasty Warriors (or any of its derivatives) will quickly understand. Combine that with the ability to quickly switch weapons with the press of a button and the massive amounts of weapons available, each with their own combos and style, and Heart&Slash becomes quite the sandbox for said combos. Though, while not as deep as Bayonetta, it is a wholly satisfying system that isn’t a stranger to over the top combos.

It’s also just as punishing. The game demands a keen eye, the ability to multi-task, and dexterous fingers to play. A momentary lapse in either could result in the loss of health, or even worse, death, and in Rouguelike fashion that sends you right to the beginning of the game to do it all over again. Thankfully, Heart&Slash isn’t completely unforgiving.

The game is fair… I promise…

The game is fair… I promise…

Even if it isn’t in an overly-obvious way, Heart gets stronger. The formidable little robot doesn’t come back a completely clean slate after every death. He is allowed to bring any unused experience with him in the form of the bolts he collects from defeated robots. With these he can immediately upgrade any equipment he comes across. Heart also unlocks further equipment every play through giving it a plethora of combat options both weak and strong, as well as a few support abilities like a wall jump and displaying the health of every enemy. At that point, you just have to pray that the random number generator gives a good set of equipment.

Unfortunately, there are some things that the RNG cannot fix. There is quite the number of environmental bugs that plague the post-apocalyptic world that Heart lives in. It wasn’t all that rare for me to jump right through walls and for enemies to find themselves stuck into the floor. In some instances, that only proved a minor disturbance, and other times, I suddenly found myself falling into a vast sea of white and losing a fair bit of health in the process. Then there is the case of the camera. Like the 3D platformers of yesteryear, it can be clunky and unresponsive at times. This can be quite a problem especially in a game that requires as much careful planning and movement like Heart&Slash. I wouldn’t say it happened so much that it was excessive, but it was still quite off-putting when an enemy landed a lucky shot because the camera flickered away.

Now what Heart&Slash has an excess of is… well… heart. The developer seems to have a put quite a surprising amount of care into many small things about this game. The soundtrack rings with an upbeat retro track that easily becomes an earworm. The enemies you encounter are not only diverse, but also are as colorful as the protagonist; each requiring a different strategy to defeat, especially when they gang up on you. There are also plenty of little references besides the allusions to the beat’em up genre as a whole. If you take the time to look you’ll even be able to catch a Mario and Zelda references among all the other ones in the game. This all leads me to believe that the developers not only loved this game, but video games as a whole.

I’m pretty sure this is a Zoids reference, if anyone remembers that show.

I’m pretty sure this is a Zoids reference, if anyone remembers that show.

Heart&Slash may be plagued by a few bugs and a wonky camera, but it is a great experience overall. If you enjoy beat’em ups, high difficulty, or just quirky games overall, you should give this game a shot. Maybe then the TV-headed robot protagonist of this game will worm its way into your heart too.

When not coming back stronger after every death as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Tom vs. The Armies of Hell (PC) Review

Developer: Darkmire Entertainment | Publisher: Burgoon Entertainment || Overall: 8.5

Every now and then a game supersedes its intent to be “simply” a game, and illuminates itself as more of a personal sarcastic journal of one person’s journey through life.  While Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is a well-designed, fun, twin-stick shooter with the sensibilities of a traditional 3rd person action beat-em-up game, it’s biting cynicism and lighthearted humor are by far its most shining aspect.  I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and the only thing holding it back were its annoying bugs.

Through six levels, you’ll take control of normal office employee “Tom” as he deals with a situation gone awry at his office.  While workplace violence is something to be mindful of, workplace-sinking-into-Hell might not be.  The beginning of the game, which is also the game’s story trailer (as seen below), is actually quite hilarious and really sets the mood for what’s to come.  While the cinematics and character portraits have a “Flash movie” art style to them, the in-game characters replicate their animated counterparts quite well, keeping a cartoonish look through most of the enemy designs that are quite unique.

The comedic point of the adventure really comes with using a normal everyday white dude who has a white collar job going around and killing hordes of demons with a gun that is powered by souls.  You’ll be accompanied by Hell’s seeming-antagonist Beezle and Tom has no choice but to do what he says since he can’t go anywhere else (much like his normal office job).  Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is full of ironic situations and comparisons to the real world like this, and is also full of inside jokes.  The game became an outlet for the developer to unleash his experiences onto the world, and due to the comedic execution of the writing, it is all very funny.  There is only voice acting during the cinematics, and not during the actual gameplay, however.

Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is actually quite difficult at times.  If you aren’t lucky or don’t figure out the exact way to beat a boss, you’ll be attempting it over and over until you do.  I personally encountered some game-breaking bugs that forced me to either restart the level or restart the game.  It extended the play time considerably for me, but it was usually not that difficult to get back to where I was considering I knew how to kill the bosses up to that point.  Enemy layouts are also randomized, but you’ll usually see the same ones pop up in particular places.  There was only one or two times where the set of enemies spawning made it a lot harder than the second time through where the more annoying enemies didn’t spawn.  Health is hard to come by, even on the easiest difficulty.  I didn’t see much nominal difference between Normal and Easy, but the game was difficult enough on Easy for me.  The last boss of the game can also be pretty cheap, and depending on if you have any upgrades available you’ll be in for a lot of “learning.”

Because the game is so short (I’d say max four hours without bugs ruining your day), you don’t earn many permanent upgrades like you may in a longer-form game.  Temporary upgrades are found in chests and are an assortment of buffs, like bigger ammo capacity, more damage, armor, etc; these are lost on death/respawn.  The one permanent upgrade is found on the second level where you are able to store a second type of ammo to switch to.  Your main modes of attack are your gun and your demon arm given to you by Beezle.  You’ll have to capture souls released by enemies with your gun and you’ll gain a limited amount of ammo to use that type.  The gun ammo is quite diverse, including but not limited to a rapid fire gun, shotgun, flamethrower, frost, penetrating plasma, lightning, and the most unique being a radioactive explodey-laser.  The demon arm is used for melee and as you hit more enemies, you’ll juice up your Energy bar.  Holding the melee button after a combo will unleash a large hit, expending your Energy, and is your best way to kill enemies fast at the risk of getting hit.  Finding purple demon shards (the game pretty much blatantly tells you it is demon’s fecal matter) will allow you to transform into a Demon and beat the crap out of everything around you while regaining health for the duration.  Energy drops and health drops are also common sights, but Health drops are quite a bit rarer.

While the game wasn’t super difficult, it can be a bit of a challenge.  The bugs are also strange; it feels like the game “forgets” to allow any Health drops at times, or a wall that stays up until you kill all enemies still stays up after you kill all enemies.  If you somehow manage to bug the game out in a different way, you’ll also have to restart the level.  For some reason when I continue a game from one of my older saves it doesn’t let me continue to any levels.  This is quite possibly the worst thing that can happen as you’ll have to restart the whole game again if you don’t play in one go.  While the developer appears to be quashing as many bugs as he can, this is an unfortunate side effect of a game that only has one person behind it.

Taking into account that Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is made by one person, the game is quite a marvel.  The art is great, the gameplay is decent-to-good throughout, and the bosses/enemies are designed well and are diverse.  The story is really funny and all of it makes for a quick, enjoyable experience.

 

Bear With Me (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 7.5/10

Bear With Me is a horror fantasy Noire point-and-click game that puts you in control of 10-year-old girl Amber as she tries to find her missing brother.  Assisted by the gruff, retired private investigator Ted E. Bear, Amber also sets out to solve the mystery behind “The Red Man” and how it relates to her brother’s disappearance and other disturbances across Paper City.  You’ll have to inspect, have conversations, find items and combine them to solve puzzles to advance the story.

When it comes to point-and-click games, it can be hard to quantify the amount of “challenge” required to be enjoyable.  In general, the game isn’t very challenging as a lot of the puzzles are mostly logical and item-based (rather than clue-based).  You’ll sometimes acquire items through dialogue trees, but most come from the scenery, and by combining them in unique ways.  The puzzles require multiple steps and aren’t that quick to solve, so you will still need to experiment occasionally.  With all that said, the puzzles are still pretty enjoyable.  Most of the items in the scenery can be clicked on so you can hear Amber describe it with her tongue-in-cheek humor (more on that later).  Of course, being able to click on tons of things is very important to the genre and the detailed environments satisfy the impetus to click on everything you can.  Depending on certain choices or conversations you may actually affect things later on, and that may impact motivation to replay to see the different outcomes.  Since only one episode will be available on August 8th, your actions may not show much result until the game rounds out further with more episodes.

Art is an important part of how you enjoy Bear With Me.  The animation itself is nice and fluid, and while the color is primarily black and white (to fit its Noire motif), the color red is used in very particular ways.  While the game takes place primarily on the second floor of Amber’s house, the different rooms are diverse and full of elements you’d expect a house that was “lived in” to have.  You are more or less contained in one or two rooms at a time as you progress, and its always exciting to see what the next room will present itself as.  The art style reminds me of anime-influenced animation, but with a unique flare to it.

While most of what the game has to offer is of a very good quality, there are some serious problems with the story delivery.  The biggest of all is there is no visual emotional reaction from characters.  It loses a lot steam in the impact of the story to not see the characters visually distressed, yet their voices are conveying the correct inflection you would expect.  For the whole game, Amber has a stoic face no matter what she is saying and what scary thing might be happening.  Tongue-in-cheek humor is littered throughout the description of random items you click on, including “other game” references.  These jokes/references really pull you out of the mood of the story and feels like something that should have been left for an “Easter Egg” version of the game.  Not to mention the fact that the tongue-in-cheek jokes that a mid-20’s/early-30-year old would make are coming out of a 10-year-old.  Some of the most baffling things I encountered was a lamp that was referred to as a “sandwich” and a funny recording of a “developer of Bear With Me” asking for help as if he is in a basement torture chamber prison.  I get the joke that you are inspecting lamps and there isn’t much to say about them, but it feels like they are putting more effort into making these jokes than immersing you in the story.  Taking the jokes out of the context of the game, however, they are mostly clever and funny.  I would have just liked it for an “alternate” version of the game to play afterwards instead of during the first playthrough, or at least keep these jokes for something hidden.

The disjointed narrative also comes as you are thrust into the beginning of the game, with just a cryptic cold opening.  It was super weird to click on a living character and have it be referred to as “my toy Giraffe” — there is nothing introducing our suspension of disbelief to this world and why something that is obviously alive in the context of the game is being called a “toy.”  It throws the narrative off completely as you have to automatically make assumptions that the girl you are playing as might be insane or she’s making things up in her head and nothing is actually as it seems, which heartily cheapens the seriousness and experience you are supposedly supposed to build up due to the scenario presented.  A little less of a blunt admission that half of what is going on is make believe on the outset would have done a lot of favors to getting you into the world the game creates, even with the jokes.

The voice-work is above average.  Amber’s voice definitely grows on you, but at first doesn’t mesh with the fact that the girl is supposed to be a 10-year-old.  At first I assumed the girl was around 18 or 19 with her smart tongue-in-cheek quips about every odd thing in her room, not to mention there are a few references to “drinking” from Ted E. Bear, as well as some harsh language (not something you’d expect a 10-year-old to make-believe a Teddy Bear is saying to her).  The voices for many of the other characters are a lot better match and are pretty good, to boot.  The voice cast is important in delivering a pleasurable experience and seeing the story unfold.  The sound effects are also great and helps to enhance the atmosphere.

While Bear With Me isn’t at the forefront of the point-and-click genre, the foundation it has set for its characters, setting, and fantasy holds potential for a neat series.  As it will be an episodic game, the story will continue in parts.  If they rein it back on the tongue-in-cheek jokes everywhere, keep it a little more grounded in the fiction that is set up, it could be very enjoyable in the coming episodes and well worth playing the first.  It is definitely aimed at people in their mid 20s to early 30s with all of the references and script content.  Not to mention the horror elements, that are quite creepy would have given me nightmares if I was playing this game as a 10-year-old.

 

Infinium Strike (PC) Review

Developer: Codex Worlds | Publisher: 1C Company || Overall: 6.0

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Freedom Strike. Its continuing mission: to not really explore anything, to seek out the Wrog, and to boldly blow the buh-Jesus out of them.

What do you get when you combine Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and a tower defense game?  Infinium Strike ::echo::.  Infinium Strike sounds like one of those random cool names you’d expect a sci-fi game to be.  One part “Infinity” and the other part “-ium.”  Don’t ask me what an Infinium is, but its the resource you gather in the game.  Thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure why the game isn’t just called Freedom Strike, since that’s the name of the ship you actually commandeer.  Freedom Strike’s goal is to hunt down a bio-mechanical race of aliens that have all but pushed back human civilization and space exploration back to its last line of defense.  Freedom Strike dives right into the thick of it and seems to be a magnet for humongous portals that the Wrog come through in endless droves.  That’s your cue to start lasering everything you can see.

Infinium Strike’s hook is its 360 degree tower defense layout.  Albeit, very unique from a tower defense standpoint where enemies typically follow a predetermined path and get laid into by tactfully-placed towers, enemies in Infinium Strike just barrel towards your ship and try to blow it up.  You have four platforms to build towers on, each with a limited amount of spots.  Depending on the enemies that spawn you’ll have to be aware of what sort of towers should be placed in each quadrant.  Each tower has the capability of shooting things within a certain range, known as Sectors.  There are three sectors total, and each tower can shoot one, two, or all three sectors in different combinations.  Some enemies will start way back in Sector 3 and make their way to Sector 1, while others always stay in Sector 3.  There are about as many different combos of enemies as there are towers to build, and if they begin to overwhelm your defenses, you’ll begin to lose Shield and Armor.  When Armor gets down to zero, you’ve lost.

Infinium Strike’s unique feature is also its greatest flaw.  Once you have to maintain all four quadrants there can be way too many things happening at the same time.  Monitoring one or two quadrants is not that challenging but when all four begin to have enemies spawning like crazy you’re going to be going a little bit out of your mind.  You will suddenly realize your Shield is taking a pounding because Quandrant 2 didn’t have enough towers that shot into Sectors 2 and 3, while Quadrant 1 has enough for all Sectors, but not for shooting projectiles… etc etc.  Its very hard to keep track of your capabilities due to the fact there are four different tower defense games going on and none of the platforms help each other while they are idle.

A large part of the challenge in a tower defense game usually comes in placement of towers, which can inspire you to replay or retry learning what you failed at.  Infinium Strike unfortunately rips out a large part of what makes tower defense fun by only having about eight spots in a horizontal line.  Most of the towers you’re going to want to rely on are laser-based, since they are the cheapest to place and upgrade, which lessens variety.  Towers upgrade their damage only by paying an increasingly exorbitant cost, but while you may opt to do that, you have to upgrade your base several times to get some vital buffs that allow you to live longer when the going gets tough.  Upgrading your base is kind of a no-brainer but at the same time you’re going to have to spend millions of Infinium to get it to its max level.

A fun mechanic that helps you reinforce one of your quadrants temporarily is the use of your drone Fleet.  There are three types of drones to use, all doing different things, and have a life span of about 30 seconds unless you upgrade.  You can summon a few here and there, but they cost a portion of a bar that maxes out at 250; the bar recharges at one unit per second.  Using your Fleet effectively is a must as you’ll always have at least one quadrant being overrun and you want to make sure they are all in a manageable state as much as possible.

Unfortunately despite turning the genre around on its head a bit, Infinium Strike is dull.  The actual action of things blowing up isn’t very satisfying and kind of gets downgraded to a fireworks show.  The graphics are fine, but the alien designs aren’t that great.  The ship you are in charge of is an okay design but the tower defense platforms are kind of an eye-sore on the design of the thing.  It could remind you of the ship Battlestar Galactica, but only if they glued some rectangular boards on top of it.  Through the 10 missions, you’ll be treated to a little Captain’s log voice over that gives more info about the Wrog (the aliens) and the conflict that is going on between them and humanity.  There are also different difficulty levels and extra objectives to meet if you are particularly inclined to complete them.  Another itchy point is that despite going through the motions of upgrading your base over and over and building towers, you always start the next mission with nothing.  There is no explanation about why you lost all of the progress you made in developing your ship in the last fight.  Considering there is no meta game where you are upgrading your ship through the campaign, it of course makes sense gameplay-wise why you start with a clean slate each mission.

Infinium Strike doesn’t have a whole lot going for it.  Other than its interesting tower defense scenario and a light sci-fi story to go along with it, there won’t be much enjoyment to find in the dredges of space.  I guess we know now why the Wrog want to destroy all of humanity, and its because one of them played Infinium Strike.

 

Defect: Spaceship Destruction Kit (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Three Phase Interactive || Overall: 6.0

Occasionally a game comes along that reminds me of something that I used to do as a kid.  I was very much into building my own custom LEGO spaceships or random things and having them fly around and shoot at each other, making up a story in my head about all of the cool shit that was “actually” happening.  Indeed, I was just waving plastic around in the air and making noises, but it was fun to me, dammit!  Defect: Spaceship Destruction Kit harks back to my earlier days, giving you a litany of neat spaceship parts to assemble and construct, then take it out for a spin through the universe.

The concept is great.  The shipbuilding is fun.  The game design is okay.  The controls, though… holy shit are they frustrating.  When you get out of the shipbuilding menu and into an actual mission, you’re going to be fighting against the user interface as much as you do enemies.  The game controls exactly as you would expect an Asteroids-floaty-space-combat game to be, and that’s not an especially great thing.  Because there are some micromanaging aspects in the arcade gameplay, it is hard to be able to control your ship during intense action as well as make use of the “Direct Control” options.

Your crew will automatically use weapons, but they don’t hit your target very often.  When you put weapons under “Direct Control” your weapons are a lot more effective, but it becomes painfully obvious that it’s a lot harder to kill anything than it should be, especially at the beginning of the campaign.  Your projectiles usually don’t have a very long range, or are slow-moving and dissipate before they hit the moving target (these are alleviated as you progress).  It would be a lot more satisfying if anywhere near half of the shots you are shooting hit something, but in my experience it was more like 25% unless I was right on their ass.  Considering your ships start with awful engines and awful maneuverability, that wasn’t very often.  You can also use Direct Control to buff another piece of your ship and also to repair them as they take damage.  There are plenty of weapons that will one-shot you, so you’ll have to be careful.  A major impact on your performance is how well you execute building a ship that is able to move fast, have enough weaponry, and have enough armor to accomplish the task at hand.  Not an easy feat, typically.

After the first couple of missions, I hit a wall in the difficulty level, mostly because of the controls.  It became frustrating for me to constantly fail despite designing all sorts of ships and doing all sorts of tactics.  Another grating thing on my patience was that the whole level had to load again for each retry, after booting you to the mission select screen.  Considering the game starts you out quite under-powered, your enemies seem to be a lot harder than they should be, and the missions don’t seem to ramp up in difficulty in a consistent manner.  I started out on “Normal” difficulty and once I hit the wall, I knocked it down to “Easy.”  Unfortunately, there was no tangible difference between Normal and Easy that I could see.  After getting through the first few missions, about six different ones become available for play and go into different branching paths for a total of 50 missions.  The mission variety is not too bad, but tend to boil down to “kill the enemies,” and rightfully so.  You are able to replay older missions so you can unlock more parts, but at the same time you don’t want to be stuck in a grind instead of doing new missions — especially since new missions grant you the most new parts.  Not to mention, doing an old mission isn’t an assured win by any means.  To top it all off the camera constantly zooms in and out; this removes you from the action and being left with not knowing who or what is being shot at.  Getting disoriented from the seemingly-random zooms is another obstacle in and of itself.

After defeating a mission, your ship will always be stolen away from you by mutineers.  At the end of the next mission, you’ll fight that ship in a duel.  This is a sort of clever progression mechanic as it forces you to at least have to build a “better” ship than your last and you can’t always rely on your older designs as they use lesser equipment.  The double meaning of “Defect” becomes quite amusing as you have to fix the defects (flaws) in your ships, and your ship ends up being your enemy when your crew stages a defection by mutiny.  As an Easter Egg of sorts, a fun homage to David Bowie is one of the mutineer character designs.

Since the game forces you to constantly design new ships after they are stolen, it is a great way to put focus back on the ship building.  Even though your ship designs are saved, you’ll typically unlock something new after each completed mission, so you’ll want to mess around with the new things you got or try to make something completely different.  Missions usually demand a unique ship configuration, anyhow.

There is a great variety in ship building even from the start.  Your main limiter in building is Power Level, which is dictated by the Power Core you have.  You earn better Cores as you complete missions, and as you have more Power, you are able to have more Crew.  Most pieces require Power Level+Crew, but since Power converts into crew, you’ll eventually hit a point where you can’t add anything more to your ship due to your initial Power Level.  As you equip stronger propulsion engines you’ll need to balance them out with Stability, which forces you to mess around with different combinations of wings and rockets.

Defect also looks great; the enemy spaceships are unique and quite inspired in their designs.  While many pieces of ships are obviously influenced by popular media, the combination of them all together make for some interesting sights.  As you progress and acquire larger Power Cores, you’ll be able to build larger ships.  The graphics in general are pretty good and the sound effects aren’t annoying either.  The ship building user interface is also pretty simple to understand and nothing hinders that experience.  You are allowed to save up to 499 designs and share them with friends, which is also cool.  Using a controller during missions is an option, but most of the game requires a mouse/keyboard, so there isn’t much impetus to use one.

Despite all of the good things I have to say about the game, justifying giving it a low score really comes down to me not being able to derive much enjoyment from the actual usage of the ships I was making.  The controls aren’t intuitive, which leads to the levels being too difficult which leads to the game simply becoming a frustrating experience.  I can’t in good conscience recommend this game to anyone unless you’re great with floaty-space arcade games.  It may be entirely possible that none of the defects (pun!) of the game make no impact on your enjoyment, as it is essentially Asteroids on steroids with ship-building.  And much like no longer playing with LEGO spaceships in the air pretending they shoot lasers, I’ve given up on what could have been.

 

8DAYS (PC) Review

Developer: Santa Clara Games | Publisher: Badland Games || Overall: 8.5

8DAYS is an indie twin-stick shooter from two-man team Santa Clara Games.  Drawing heavily from the contemporary example of Hotline Miami, you’ll even see influence from Metal Gear and traditional “shmups” in this genre cocktail.  The action is spread out over five Chapters, each with a satisfying length and unique theme.

The scenario for the characters you play, known as Lola “Wasp” Cruz and Mike “Ghost” Doe, starts with them working for a Private Military Corporation known as G.O.D. Inc. (Gold, Oil, Diamonds Inc.).  This PMC is apparently the most successful in the world and has its fingers in many political pies — being hired when shit goes down.  For example, the first Chapter has to do with stopping a rice embargo, and the second with a nuclear plant being taken over by Eco-terrorists.  Each Chapter starts with a little vignette to set up the specific mission at hand, and off you go.  The game has tongue-in-cheek humor, considering that the rice embargo is only a problem because the affluent want their daily sushi; another example being the sewers of the nuclear plant have tentacle monsters swimming around in green water, a sharp contrast from the “grounded” first chapter.  The nuclear plant is also occupied by droves of robots that use pistols/rifles/flamethrowers, and then in the middle somewhere you fight some strange mechanical/biological creature that barfs on you as one of his attacks.  It would seem all of these experiments would be a bit much for an energy production facility owned by a utility company.  You also see random “civilians” just moseying about as you have firefights and they tend to get killed in the crossfire or run around and make strange noises.

Normal gameplay consists of strategically taking down enemies before they kill you and getting to the next area.  While there isn’t a requirement to kill everything, if you trip an alarm or are seen by them, they will engage and have the possibility of flanking you.  Deaths will restart you at the very beginning of the area, and some of them can be a bit large.  There are usually multiple paths or strategies to take when completing an area, so if one way doesn’t work, you can try another.  Stealth is also an accessible strategy if you have a melee weapon, as there are a lot of places to hide while enemies patrol around.  Some situations require a gunfight, but as long as you kill whoever is engaged with you, you won’t run the risk of drawing more enemies into the fight.  Bullets are very large and also move slower than you might expect them to depending on the weapon, so it can either be a boon or frustration in that regard.  Co-Op is also available, with a friend being able to jump in at anytime during play.

At certain points through a Chapter you’ll encounter a boss, which breaks up the methodical think-before-you-leap gameplay and works in a traditional shmup-style fight.  As with many things in the game, they take the opportunity to be referential — the final boss of the first Chapter is a Rambo-look-a-like with a machine gun, knife, and red bandana.  You’ll also encounter some other Easter Eggs, such as a “V Has Come To” scribbled on the wall and a party with Metal Gear Solid characters (which is oddly appropriate for me since I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the past month and a half).

Weaponry is varied, and in the initial stages you’ll mostly encounter rifles, shotguns, and SMGs.  You will also see a lot of melee weapons, and as you get further along rocket launchers, silenced pistols, flamethrowers, and EMP bombs become available.  Sometimes destroying certain types of boxes/crates produce ammo, otherwise you’ll be scavenging from your enemies.  Reloading is clip-based, meaning if you manually reload before completely emptying your clip, you will lose the ammo you had remaining.  This might be a bit annoying considering the game let’s you reload even when you have a full clip, so you can easily waste bullets if you aren’t careful; you aren’t allowed to pick up a clip you threw away.  You are only able to keep two weapons at a time, so if you wanted to hang onto a melee weapon you may be exchanging guns quite a bit.

Considering the game can be very challenging, the amount of playtime would potentially vary for you.  Each Chapter kept me going for about an hour, and I died a lot on the way, having to retry over and over.  When done with a Chapter, you’re treated with a little resolution to the problem you solved and then go right into the next scenario.  Chapters are able to be replayed if you so desire, but will only fully unlock in the menu when you finish the level — if you are in the middle of the stage and start a new game you’ll lose all progress and start from the very beginning again.  When you get a Game Over, it is unfortunately very easy to accidentally select “Retry Mission” instead of just “Retry.”  There is no confirmation after accidentally selecting “Retry Mission” and you can lose all progress with no way to go back… admittedly, I learned that the hard way.  There is also no difference in the gameplay between the two characters you can choose, but I personally preferred the character design of “Wasp” over “Ghost.”

The art style is a purposeful throwback to the 8-bit days, though it has a lot more detail to its art than you may normally see when you think “8-bit.”  There is some gruesome death, such as decapitations and gore, and there are also depictions of torture and tons of previously-killed bodies are strewn about levels, which all enhance the violent atmosphere.  The little intro movies to each Chapter are pretty neat, but aren’t too long.  Other stylistic parts of the game also round out the unique feeling of the art and grows on you as you pay closer attention to the detail and are eventually exposed to the variety of locales each Chapter offers.  The music is also a high point, but dips in and out, crossfading with “battle music” every time you start an encounter with an enemy.  This takes away from the enjoyment of the main stage track since you’ll be constantly going in and out of two different songs, but it isn’t disjointed enough where its awful, just a questionable decision in the sound design.

If you’re in the mood for a side-scrolling shmup, 8DAYS is a challenging and satisfying experience.  Defeating each area rewards you with a feeling of accomplishment — earning your wins little by little and progressing you to a new challenge.  8DAYS will be available July 22nd on Steam.

 

Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Review

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) bears no shame in calling itself a clone of “Super Crate Box.”  Fortunately for SMAA, I never heard of (nor played) the game it is a clone of, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt when it says that’s what it is.  Now, aside from the gasping in the back corners of the room by those who cannot fathom that someone does not know the “smash hit” Super Crate Box, I say nay nay, good sir.  I heard of it now, and Super Mutant Alien Assault appeals to me on its face much more than whatever that other thing is.  Plus, I like clones because it reminds me of one of my favorite Schwarzenegger movies, The 6th Day.

“You should clone yourself.  So you can go fuck yourself.” (Paraphrased quote from The 6th Day)

SMAA is a platforming shooter that constrains you in one small level.  Each level contains a particular objective that must be completed before proceeding to the next, along the way massacring as many aliens as you need to.  SMAA, at its core, rides on the “roguelite” wave, but only wades in just a bit.  Power-ups are collected, but don’t endlessly stack — you have a limited amount of slots available for special abilities, weapons, and defenses.  Your character isn’t going to get crazy combinations of power-ups, but most of what you use will be swapped for something else that drops.  This forces you to work on a constantly changing strategy throughout your gameplay, rather than sticking with “what works” for as long as you can.  On top of it all, health can be very hard to come by, which makes the game quite a bit unforgiving.  Friendly-fire is also a thing here, so you’ll have to be careful where you chuck your explosives, just in case it bounces back in your general direction.

Level designs and objectives are randomized, but there is a set amount of maps that cycle within each “Galaxy,” which is a set of four levels.  There are no procedurally-generated maps, and objectives will only appear on particular levels designed for that objective.  This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment but it can get a bit stale depending on how long you decide to play in one go.  Objectives include moving an item from Point A to Point B or releasing a build-up of pressure on multiple points on the map.  It is important to get the objective done as fast as possible, as enemies will gain strength the longer you stay in a level.  A level will always require you to clear whatever enemies remain once the objective is fulfilled, so the path of least resistance will not be rewarded in the slightest.

Game unlocks occur as you complete more levels.  Each time you clear a stage you gain a token that sets you along the path to the next automatic unlock.  As you unlock more weaponry/items you’ll also unlock more enemies to have fun with — although this seems more like a punishment when it happens.  It would have been nicer to see enemies unlocked in a different progression, such as number of enemies killed or if a particular boss was cleared.

“Kinda takes the fun out of living, doesn’t it?”

When you actually get into the gameplay it can be quite frantic and most of it is satisfying.  Each level is equipped with its own configuration of Weapon/Explosive vending machines that randomly equip you with one of the weapons you have unlocked so far.  Explosions are by far the most fulfilling thing about the game and it’s a lot of fun to be able to blow the aliens up with a well-timed grenade or cluster bomb.  Some of the normal weaponry is not as exciting, such as the dual submachine guns and the AK47, but the minigun, sniper rifle, and grenade launcher are fun to wield.  My favorite by far is the pogo stick that explodes things you jump on top of — it would have been great if this was more the kind of thing you saw in the game, but instead it is the outlier.  Your weaponry/explosives all have a set number of charges, so you’ll be needing to re-equip yourself as soon as you use up your ammo, which means you’ll get a random item and change your strategy to effectively use your new combination.  Each level also grants you new power-ups in crates to fill out your other ability slots, such as Special Abilities and Defenses.

Special Abilities are fun to use and varied, despite the fact they aren’t able to be used that much due to needing to collect Special Ammo.  Special Ammo drops when you defeat empowered monsters that stick around for a while on the map, and you have to run over the green squares that are dropped before they expire.  This may not always be possible.  Special Abilities and Defenses (that are free to use) include but are not limited to a pillar of energy, pushbacks, running fast, and bullet time.  Defenses don’t damage enemies, but not all Special Abilities deal damage either.

The art is nice and attention is paid to the aliens and levels.  The art style reminds me of old Windows 3.1-era games (not that far removed from DOS games) with a 90’s retro-futuristic design.  The game also runs like a dream 95% of the time, except when you enter hyperdrive when that objective comes around.  The frame lag is helped if you turn off the Screen Shake in the options, but is still apparent even after turning it off — I’m unsure if this is actually intended or not, though, since it “snaps out” of the frame lag as soon as you exit the hyperdrive sequence.  It unfortunately gets pretty annoying when you experience it for the umpteenth time.   The music is all high-energy EDM/Dubstep/electro music and depending on your personal tastes may either be enjoyable or create misery.  It all matches the tempo of the game, but I was somewhere in the middle of the scale with the arrangement.  After about an hour of gameplay, I muted the music and opted for some of my own with the sound effects still on top.

“Doesn’t anybody die any more?”

The game feels a bit bare-bones when you realize that the progression is tied to unlocking weapons through a small number of levels.  Three Galaxies of four levels account for a total of twelve stages, each Galaxy cycling from its own small pool of levels/unlocked bosses.  By design, you’ll be retrying the game over and over since death is inevitable.  Each Galaxy has their own color scheme and set of levels to cycle through, and the game lets you begin on either of the three galaxies you like once you’ve beaten the previous boss level.  To unlock a higher difficulty level you have to start from the first Galaxy and go all the way to the last without dying — which can be quite a task depending on your skills.  Familiarizing yourself with the levels that cycle within a chosen Galaxy is the only way you’ll be able to get through it all in one go.

Super Mutant Alien Assault essentially appeals to those who look for a challenge in their games.  A lot of gameplay comes from perfecting your skills and attempting to get through as many levels as possible before dying and resetting.  The assortment of weapons are fun, keep you on your toes, and as you unlock more powerful weapons and abilities, you’re bound to get further at some point.  However, the biggest buff isn’t a tangible item in the game, it’s your own perseverance to try again and again and again and again….

Super Mutant Alien Assault is available now on Steam for $7.99, currently discounted by 20% from $9.99.

 

Infestation World (PC) Early Beta Preview

Developer/Publisher: Electronics Extreme

Infest_World_Logo

Following in the footsteps of DayZ and other zombie survival MMOs, the developers at Electronics Extreme are looking to infect your computer with their latest iteration, Infestation World. Like any good zombie movie, the only goal in their sand-box is survival in a world overrun by the undead leaving the player to ultimately decide their fate. Though, invoking another zombie movie trope, it is not the zombies you should be afraid of, it’s the players. Player killing is not only legal but it seems to be somewhat encouraged as a way to grab free loot. More often than not, I’d be greeted by a bullet instead of a friendly hello, resulting in the player looting my body once everything was said and done. The type of world Infestation World takes place in isn’t a friendly one.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (3)This is how social interaction works in Infestation World.

The gameplay in Infestation World is slow and relies on a more methodogical approach to survive. Running out with guns blazing is the quickest way to attract the attention of a few dozen zombies or the sniper bullet of an opportunistic player looking to score some loot. It pays to approach each situation with careful analysis to properly judge your chances of survival. This is doubly so when approaching other players. Getting a drop on them is almost essential to surviving the encounter.

 

While slow, steady and deadly wins the race in the open world portion of the game, the multiplayer battle modes are more of a mixed bag. Coming in two varieties, a standard Team Deathmatch that rewards the last ones standing, or the Time Attack option that focuses on racking up a kill count; these modes rely more on quick decisions and a twitchy trigger finger to get the job done. Caution is still rewarded, but being overly so can make you a sitting duck on the battlefield. These are the gameplay types to focus on if you are looking for a more standard shooter.

 

With all that being said, the game is in an early beta and could use some tweaks. Throughout my short adventure in the world, I found a few problems. Along with the general clipping and framerate issues, there were a few problems where I couldn’t seem to find a solution. Namely, the backpack didn’t seem to correctly judge the weight of each item. Even if my backpack could carry 50 lbs of supplies, it would seem to cap out at about 5 lbs when I attempted to equip my character on the menu screen. Furthermore, the lack of stats on the weapons and armor made it hard to decide which would be more effective than the other. Lastly, and probably the worse, the melee combat needs an upgrade. While grossly underpowered, they are also underwhelming to use on a zombie. The lifeless undead turned into a simple meat piñata for punishment whenever in melee combat. They hardly react, they don’t counterattack; they just stand there until you beat the infection right out of them for five or more hits. The whole process is wholly unsatisfying.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (2)“Oh no! He talked about the games faults. Get him!”

If the idea of entering the deadly world of a zombie apocalypse interest you, the closed beta for Infestation World starts March 28th and the open beta begins April 6th. Till then, I hope I see you before you see me.

When not traversing a zombie infested wasteland as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Why Not Date a Tank?

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In a world where you can date cats, pigeons and dragons; why not a tank?

Just released on Steam, Panzermadels: Tank Dating Simulator is a… thing. Panzermadels is part of a recent line of wacky Dating Sims that include the likes of Hatoful Boyfriend and NEKOPARA, and takes the standard premise of the genre and twist it by having you date schoolgirl versions of famous World War 2 tanks. It boasts six different romance plotlines, multiple endings and a “Beach Episode” on their Steam page; it is most certainly a real thing.

The premise is way out there, but it helps that the Dev Team, DEVGRU-P, seems to be in on the joke. With even a cursory glance through the pictures on its steam page, the script seems to not take itself too seriously and is laced with enough tank innuendo that would make the most jaded of tank operators involuntarily discharge. Their Twitter and Facebook pages seem to keep up the same attitude, both littered with tank related memes and good-natured pokes at the general absurdity of their own game. There is so much tongue-in-cheek here that they are liable to choke on it.


I was wondering who was the target audience for this game,
then I found this infographic on the Dev Team’s Twitter.

The game is also quite the success story. It got past its Kickstarter goal to be made in the first place, and even successfully made it past Steam Greenlight to be available publically on the platform. It seems people like the idea of combining the Dating Sim genre and history references enough to put some money behind it, or, at least, vote for it to be available for purchase.

Regardless, Panzermadels is a shining example of a developer wanting to do its own thing and finding enough fans to get away with it. If you are interested, head to the Steam page and ask yourself this one question: “Why not a tank?”

When not entertaining Tank girls as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Deadly Tower of Monsters, The (PC) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: Atlus USA || Overall: 8.5

B-Movie science fiction is always characterized by its low-budget charm.  You could see right through the awful costumes, terrible props, and strings the monsters would hang off from — all of which added to the fun.  The Deadly Tower of Monsters seeks to recapture this aesthetic of effects supplanted by computer graphics… by replicating them with computer graphics.

ACE Team, the developer of The Deadly Tower of Monsters, did an amazing job in recreating the B-Movie feel as you play, keeping it interesting throughout.  The set up for the story begins as if you are watching the “movie” on DVD with commentary by the belligerent director, Dan Smith.  As you defeat stop-motion monsters, while completing missions across the sprawling tower, Dan Smith will acknowledge and give background on certain aspects of the production — breaking the fourth/”fifth” wall, reminding you that you are “watching a movie” while playing the game, or rather listening in on the recording session for said commentary.  There are a lot of layers here.

Though the game is not usually laugh-out-loud funny (there are a few great jokes), it is entirely tongue-in-cheek.  Throughout, they introduce new elements that kept me consistently amused.  The attention to detail adds to the goal of being a successful B-Movie homage and the commentary track spreads a layer of cynicism about the film industry on top.  It is important to listen to the commentary while you play, as it is an integral part of the story, and the uniqueness of the game.  Your typical gaming tropes are also explained away using movie tropes, such as blaming watching deleted scenes for when you die and the director “intentionally” wanting the actor to stand still for five minutes “because it is artistic” if you decide to idle for a while.  Some of these tropes are less clever than others, but the narrative essentially includes all of your deaths and “mistakes” as part of the experience.

The visuals and art style are very important to the successful execution of the B-movie homage.  A stop-motion frame-rate effect is used on many of the monsters and is one of the best effects used.  Since most of the game runs at a higher-frame rate than an actual movie would, the most “filmic” part of the game comes with the stop-motion effect and serves to distinguish it from the rest of the “movie” quite well.  Homage is paid to practically every genre of classical sci-fi, with obvious references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and others including dinosaurs, bugs, an evil scientist, giant robots, clones, and a galactic emperor among a wide range of other characters and monsters.

The level design of the tower is essentially a humongous and vertically sprawling 3D platforming level.  You will go for what seems like miles in mostly one direction: up.  While the prevailing theme is space technology, on the ground-level you will encounter things like mutant insects and dinosaurs.  As you climb, the tower is very elaborate and changes themes more meticulously within science fiction.  You will encounter aliens, disembodied brains, space slugs, and other fun monsters.  All parts of the tower are fluidly accessible, and there are no loading screens unless you warp around to checkpoints.

The tower is used to the game’s advantage occasionally.  You are usually tasked with shooting enemies from below in reverse-Space-Invaders style.  At any time you can be knocked off the tower, sending you into a free-fall towards the bottom; mistiming your platforming will also have the same result.  To counteract the annoyance of having to re-scale the tower you can easily warp to any checkpoint, or use an “Air Teleport” button that is available if you haven’t landed on another platform yet.  You also take fall-damage and have a very low amount of jetpack fuel to adjust and break your fall.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to control the camera very much, which can be annoying at times, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context of watching a movie to be able to switch an angle at any time.  On the plus side, the platforming is designed well enough where this isn’t usually an issue.  For similar reasons, the game is very linear and there isn’t as much exploring to do as you might expect in a 3D platformer.

Combat gameplay is fun and light, and the weapon variety is also great.  Enemies and weapons alike keep the “B-Movie” aesthetic, where you can plainly see re-purposed household items or other everyday items, such as a vacuum cleaner or a puppy, being used as space-age weaponry and monsters.  As you have access to three different characters, their real difference comes in their special abilities.  Dick Starspeed is able to use landmines, Scarlet Nova has a running speed ability, and The Robot is able to use a time vortex ability.  All of the characters will gain more unique abilities you can use during combat and only cost a time-based cooldown, whereas your energy weapons deplete from an energy bar.

Upgrading weaponry, skills, switching characters, and other gameplay systems are accessed via in-game computer consoles.  While they show up often enough, it can detract from the “joy” of playing around with the progression systems and possibly even the “movie” aesthetic.  The systems aren’t very complicated, but it is sort of questionable why they give you 16 different weapons, but only allow you to have access to four at any given time before switching around at a console.  It would have felt better to be able to switch out weaponry through a pause menu (a prop closet?) since in-game consoles aren’t necessarily used in an intriguing gameplay fashion other than to be more props to put in the levels.  The in-game consoles bring up a game-based UI regardless, so the argument for being immersive doesn’t hold very much weight.  It might have also been more convenient to halve the variety of weapons and allow you to use them at all times; instead I just keep four random weapons and rarely trade them out.  Despite that, the variety of weaponry is still a nice part of the game.

Difficulty and challenges in the game are not too bad.  If you die, checkpoints are usually pretty close to where you could possibly die.  That isn’t to say you don’t need to play smart (as health is hard to come by), but the only real punishment for dying is wasting time.  Puzzles aren’t too trying on the intelligence and there’s only a few situations where you need to use one of your special abilities to get items or into certain areas.  There are also miscellaneous missions that aren’t easily earned on your first trek up and will require you to backtrack certain parts of the tower to complete.  One fun side-quest is jumping off the tower and skydiving into floating hoops, using the tower’s height to the game’s advantage.  The game can be pretty short as well, but its nice to be able to get through a whole game in a couple of days.

If you are a fan of classic film and games, you will get a blast out of The Deadly Tower of Monsters.  Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about older sci-fi film, it is a light, fun, and short game that is visually pleasing and humorous.  It is available now on Steam at a sale price of $9.89, and regularly priced at $14.99.

 

Message Quest (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Royal Troupe || Overall: 7.5

Heroes come in all shapes and size, and that’s precisely the problem in Message Quest. Published and Developed by Royal Troupe, Message Quest takes a step back from the usual hero’s story and focuses more on the one that literally delivers the hero’s call rather than the hero receiving it. Set in a land about to fall to ruin, the laziest member of the Order of Heralds must deliver an important scroll to an even more important hero in an attempt to save Avarange. The problem is that Feste, our main character, would much rather laze about than bother finding a hero who could be just about anybody. Thus leaving the player as both his conscience and fourth-wall-breaking audience member, you must goad, manipulate and eventually encourage Feste to complete his noble quest. The player will find a point-and-click adventure along the way.

Who Done It
Unfortunately, the answer to who killed Mr. Boddy remains
to be found.

The first thing you’ll notice about Message Quest is the art style. Bright tones and dark outlines give it a style similar to any stained glass window you’d find at a church, mosque, synagogue or personal shrine to your favorite anime character (I don’t discriminate).  Furthermore, each character has distinguishing features that are often exaggerated to easily tell them apart and add to their charm along with their mannerisms and random sound effects they make. As for the other sounds you hear, the music is littered with melodies that remind you of renaissance fairs or classic fairytales. Thankfully, despite the short length of the game, there are enough arrangements to prevent any individual song from going stale.

 

Message Quest is pieced by equal parts story and gameplay. The story section consists of a charming, but not too intricate, tale about Feste overcoming his laziness and being introduced to the virtues of hard work and responsibility. Unfortunately, it didn’t convince me that a lifetime of laziness can change in a story that probably played out over the course of a few days. Especially for a person who I had to literally drag out of their home to start the quest. There is also an interesting dialogue tree mechanic where you pick what each character in the conversation says, though in implementation I didn’t find it all that necessary considering it never really changed the story’s outcome. Still, there is a bit of fun in the tale and some nice references to other fantasy and classic tales as well. The characters are also amusing, though a bit one-dimensional.

Responsibility Stool
We need more virtue based furniture. I suggest the honesty sofa,
the loyalty table and the chastity bed.

The gameplay was really average at best and mostly consists of an assortment of jigsaw puzzles, and the usual point-and-click affairs of clicking on and manipulating objects in the background to advance the story. It’s hardly even difficult to lose track of your objectives, with the game having a convenient scroll at the top of the screen that tells you exactly what you are looking for, plus another button that shows you which items are clickable. The truly interesting bit was the odd battle mechanic this game featured. It more of a mental combat meant to deplete an opponent’s will and pump up Feste’s own will with a funny assortment of actions like jogging, making a puppy-dog face and playing dead. Though fun, it didn’t happen nearly enough for me to truly enjoy it.

Battle System
“Don’t make me pee my pants, woman!”

Overall, Message Quest is a pretty decent game that doesn’t quite hit all of its high notes. It’s very pretty, has a decent story and so-so gameplay. It’s also pretty short with it taking me all of an hour and a half  to complete, even as I took the time to explore my every option. To make up for the length of the game, the price point is befittingly lower, coming in at just under three dollars on Steam. While Message Quest isn’t necessarily ground breaking or a shining example of its genre, I can see it being the perfect video game chaser to play in between longer games since there is still some enjoyment to be had.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate (PC) Review

Developer: Q-Games/Double Eleven | Publisher: Q-Games || Overall: 9.5/10

Q-Games’ PixelJunk series has become one of my favorites over the past few years. Starting with one of my all-time favorite games, PixelJunk Monsters, any time a new PixelJunk game gets announced it has gotten my attention. A couple of years ago I had purchased PixelJunk Shooter on Steam and fell in love with the blending of puzzles with twin-stick shooter gameplay. While I was never a big fan of twin-stick shooters by themselves, PixelJunk Shooter elevates the genre to a new height by integrating fast-paced, unique, and well-designed puzzles. PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, released in October, carries over all of PixelJunk Shooter 1 and includes PixelJunk Shooter 2, which continues the game in new and challenging ways.

The general goal of PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is to complete stages by collecting diamonds and scientists. Each “episode” is segmented into five different stages, and each stage is divided into a certain amount of “scenes.” Each full stage probably can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes depending on your ability to figure out puzzles. In most scenes, a lot of trial and error may occur, and you’ll have to memorize the order in which you do actions to succeed. This feeds into the idea that you want to be able to perfect your run through the scene to collect all of the diamonds, all of the scientists alive, getting out of the scene without dying yourself and in the quickest way possible. There is one boss per episode with six episodes total. Shooter 1 is the first three episodes, while Shooter 2 is the second three. Shooter 2 continues right where the first left off in terms of the story.

Most of the gameplay revolves around the liquid elemental aspects of puzzles. You’ll see lots of different types of liquid as you venture deep through the planet, all of which do various things to you and with each other when they interact. While you don’t have a health bar, per se, you have a “Heat Gauge.” The Heat Gauge hitting its max will spell your end, but you’ll be able to skate by as long as it doesn’t hit 100%, and even then if you somehow land in water you might recover. Your Heat Gauge will increase when you use special-fire missiles, get hit by enemy fire, or get close to Lava. You’ll be able to cool down by submersing yourself in Water, and while in water you are able to infinitely spam your missiles. Water and Lava, are the primary elements you’ll encounter in the game, and when they interact, it creates rock that you can blast through with your lasers. You won’t be able to swim through Lava usually, so that is one of the many kinds of simple puzzles you’ll see in the game. Where it gets complicated is when you should do these things and how they affect other parts of your current puzzle, and this kind of decision making is integral to the experience of the game. You’ll also be able to use “Suits” in certain scenes where they are available, which will change the rules in how you interact with these elements in unique ways. This keeps the gameplay fresh and varied. Each Episode ends with an exciting boss battle that primarily focuses on combat rather than puzzles, but you’ll still have to remember what you’ve learned, as they do usually use the elements you have become familiar with.

At first I was worried I wouldn’t be able to carry over my progress from the previous game. I had practically completed the whole game at this point, but hadn’t gotten to the end. Fortunately, you can load a save from PixelJunk Shooter 1 if you have it already on Steam. This allows you to continue right from where you may have left off. Those of us who had played the first game will notice immediately that there have been various UI improvements and a simpler way of knowing you’ve collected one of the objectives in each of the scenes. This helps when you inevitably have to go back and replay stages you didn’t do too well on. Also, diamonds you’ve already collected do not appear anymore, as opposed to the previously where you had to collect a total number larger than you had before so that it would count as more diamonds. This makes it easier to collect diamonds and doesn’t require you to memorize where all of them are across the whole stage.

A new art style known as the “Ultimate” art style is the default in this version of the game. The art has been upgraded to give it a more 3D look and benefit from effects such as lighting. The “Classic” art style is still available, which has a more hand-drawn, flat 2D look. While I personally prefer the Classic art style, the Ultimate art style still keeps the general charm of the art and looks pretty neat. I found myself actually playing in the Ultimate art style after a little while to benefit from the extra effects they added in. As a result of this newer art style it does seem to have upped the minimum requirements of your PC a bit. Music has an upbeat/jazzy/electronic feel and fits in very well. Music is always one of the strong points of PixelJunk, and this game is no exception. Music will also fade out as you get closer to a boss, to give it a feeling as if something big looms near (and it usually does).

Overall, it seems like there is about 20 hours’ worth of gameplay on your first play-through. To get perfect scores on each level, it will probably take you a lot longer since you’ll most likely miss a lot on the first time through. You’ll probably be forced to replay previous levels if you don’t have enough diamonds to unlock the next stage, so it won’t really be something you’ll avoid completely, anyway. There is also a sense of accomplishment in completing a whole stage perfectly. There is also enough variety that going back and replaying a stage won’t feel cumbersome.

As far as alternate game modes go, there is a local co-op mode and an online multiplayer mode. The online multiplayer is based more on competitively completing objectives and unlocking gear as you progress. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be very popular, so it is hard to find anyone to play with in the League mode. However, you can play online with a friend who owns the game, so this mode isn’t completely a loss. I don’t put much stake in requiring a multiplayer mode for my games so it is easy for me to ignore it. It was disappointing to not be able to try it out at least a couple of times, though.

Shooter’s formula is simple yet the design is complex and multilayered. You’ll be forced to master the basic formula, and then be challenged when the rules change and the formula gets thrown out the window. Some levels are fast paced, while others focus more on puzzles, and yet others focus on defeating enemies. PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is one of my most favorite games in the past few years, and is highly recommended.  It is available now on Steam.

 

Rogue Continuum (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Rocktastic Games  | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

THIS IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY SQUACKLE SYSTEM!

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW DECIDES TO ALTER THE TIMELINE, DON’T! IT IS A HIGHLY VOLATILE AND SENSITIVE PART OF METAPHYSICS THAT SHOULD ONLY BE HANDLED BY A PROFESSIONAL. SO UNLESS YOUR FIRST NAME IS “DOC” AND YOUR LAST NAME IS “BROWN,” PLEASE LEAVE THE TIME STREAM ALONE.

SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO: NOT KILLING JOHN CONNER, ATTEMPTED SEDUCTION BY YOUR OWN MOTHER, BEING YOUR OWN GRANDFATHER, AND BEING CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO TIMELINES WHERE EITHER YOUR ROMANTIC INTEREST OR CHILDHOOD FRIEND WILL DIE.

ONCE AGAIN, THIS WAS ONLY A TEST!

Time is a valuable resource; luckily you’ll have plenty of it in Rouge Continuum. The newest incarnation in the rouge-like genre, Rogue Continuum has you die, die and die again all to stop the eventual destruction of Earth. The Earth has been destroyed and the survival of the human race is in peril as a small team of psychos take it upon themselves to go back in time and take the fight to the alien’s home world. Armed with plenty of weapons and a time machine that allows them to retry missions time and time again, the team looks to eradicate the alien menace before they can even reach Earth. Thankfully, with a good assortment of characters, varied enemies and a system that makes your character stronger with every death, it also might be a lot of fun to do so.

Rouge Continuum attempts to inject rouge-likes with a good bit of crazy to bring out the best in the genre. Already impressive, even in this Early Access build, there is a good bit of fun, variety and fast-pace zaniness. The basic set up is simple: maneuver through an enemy-filled stage, fight a few bosses and then make your way to the enemy-infested extraction point to finish the level. You get power ups along the way that upgrade your speed, attack, defense and weapons to make you stronger overall. More importantly, you acquire experience points that increase your character’s base stats and abilities. You’re allowed to keep any abilities or stats gained through experience points but must forfeit any abilities or upgrades picked up during the level when you die. This makes you steadily stronger at the start of every new life and eventually makes you strong enough to complete the level. This common repetition of fighting, dying and coming back stronger is the basic rhythm of this game.

Though the formula may sound a bit repetitive, Rogue Continuum does a fine job keeping it fresh and new. Having 4 vastly different characters, many enemy types, unique upgrades and various stages to enjoy, it is often a pleasant surprise to see how they all work. The playable characters deserve special note since they all play quite differently from each other; whether it is Smackdown Sam (yes, that’s his real name, isn’t it awesome?) with his run-and-gun style of combat, Ownage Olga’s (and yeah, they don’t really get much better than that first name) charge shot and dodge tactics, Rampage Rufus who is the only melee combatant in the game, or Destructobot who is quite literally a walking tank, each character plays wildly different from the other. Couple these characters with a game that doesn’t really care about the small things like “realism” or “making sense” and you have a fun time-waster. At one point in time, I was even able to mix elemental abilities to create a bullet that encased enemies in blocks of ice while setting them on fire. Rogue Continuum cares about that much.

Other than some balance issues between the weapons and characters, and the occasional pop-up of a bug or two, it’s really hard to fault Rogue Continuum, even at this stage of development. They could inject many things to make it better, but it would be more of a wish list than any actual detriment the game currently has this early in its Early Access cycle. And with the inclusion of online co-op on the way, they are already hitting one of the items on that personal wish list. Overall, they are off to a mighty fine start.

The flow of the game may be repetitive, but the variety of character, enemies and weapons really make Rogue Continuum stand out. Plus, the way it wholeheartedly embraces its unrealistic premise with equally unrealistic gameplay makes for a game that’s low on brain power but high on fun. Rogue Continuum is currently on Steam Early Access for $9.99, look for it today… or sometime yesterday.

When not writing previews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.