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.

 

Assault Android Cactus (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Witch Beam  || Overall: 9.0

There’s much to say about first impressions. They hold a strong sway in coloring our dispositions towards certain things, and are often easy to acquire but hard to forget. That’s why it is beneficial to give off the best impression of ourselves at first; it is often a deciding factor on jobs, friendships and romantic relationships. That being said… Calm the F’ down Witch Beam! Give yourselves room to grow! Come out with too strong of a first impression and it’ll be much harder to impress on your second, third and so forth attempt. In the music industry, this might result in an affliction called the “One Hit Wonder.”

we-are-the-80s-a-flock-of-seagulls-53fb58e76da73
And your fans will run, they’ll run so far away!!!
They’ll run, they’ll run all night and day!!!
You are not gonna get paid!!!

The first impression for rookie game developer Witch Beam, Assault Android Cactus is the first love child created by that three person team. Describing itself as a “Twin Stick Arena Shooter,” it is probably better described as the natural evolution of a Bullet Hell Shooter, and a very well regarded one at that. Already having made a good enough showing at a few expos to come out with an award or two, this long-in-development game has quite the reputation to live up to. But can Assault Android Cactus live up to all those high accola… oh, who am I kidding? If you read that first paragraph of flavor text you already have a good impression of what I think about this game.

As mentioned, Assault Android Cactus is the natural evolution of a Bullet Hell Shooter. The genre is usually characterized by the sheer amount of enemies and harmful projectiles that are present on screen, so much so, that they are often also called “Carpet Shooter.” The screen is often “carpeted” with enemies and projectiles that you must skillfully maneuver through while destroying any other living thing on screen. This also aptly describes this title’s core gameplay and is something that it does really well. Each level a familiar dance of dodging and shooting that the genre is known for. And while overwhelming at first, it strikes a near-perfect balance of those features. It’s often a great pleasure to start with a screen full of enemies only to surely wipe them out by level’s end.

aac_004
Protip: When surrounded by enemies (aka in serious shit) using your
secondary fire gives you a short second of invulnerability.

Not content with merely giving Bullet Hell Shooters a 3D facelift, Assault Android Cactus also provide it own special innovations to make it pop out from all of the others. Unlike its 2D forefathers, the game takes an isometric view of the battlefield instead of a top-down approach. It is often a benefit since it gives you a clear perspective of the stage’s obstacles and the much needed cover that are spread throughout a level’s map. Also, unlike most in the genre, the game gives the player a full 360-degrees of shooting action allowing them to shoot up, down or any direction at will. A mechanic that comes in handy since the enemies can appear anywhere on the screen. They are no longer bound to coming in from the screens edges, and will often try to blindside you to tick away at the precious time you have left. That wasn’t a typo. In probably the most major departure from regular Bullet Hell Shooters, there is a slowly draining battery on top of the screen that serves as ticking time bomb for your own personal destruction. So instead of focusing solely on remaining unharmed, the player has to keep a constant pace of enemy death and destruction so that they can drop a battery pack to refill the battery bar on top. This makes Assault Android Cactus more of a struggle in time management than a simple task of survival set on a spaceship full of rogue robots.

The story in Assault Android Cactus is really nothing to write home about. Though the uninspired sci-fi tale of a few androids rescuing a spaceship from a robot uprising is easily offset by its cast of colorful characters. Each android in Assault Android Cactus has a clear and often charming persona that adds a layer of personality to the game. Taking into account their personal battle quips and that each character has different dialogue when meeting a boss, the characters would seem at home in any number of entertaining Saturday morning cartoon programs (if that were still a thing).  You’ll encounter characters like Cactus, who is a shoot-first-ask-questions-later sorta gal (android?) or the psychopathic man-child that is Starch and her freakin’ game-winning laser beam of death. In all, their different personalities are a fun addition to game’s solid gameplay and, thankfully, the differences don’t stop there.

aac_006
Each character is great…

Just like their personalities, each android is outfitted with a different primary and secondary weapon. They often play off of each other to give each android a unique strategy for dealing with the rogue robot ruffians (alliteration!) that have taken over the spaceship. Whether it be Coral’s in-your-face style of combining a combat shotgun with a plasma shield that reflects projectiles and enemies, Shiitake’s slow-but-powerful railgun and mine combo, or Cactus’ middle-of-the-road style that combines an assault rifle with a flamethrower making her effective at any range, there’s plenty of fun in seeing what makes these combinations work. Thankfully, switching between these characters is also a very simple task thanks to the equally simple controls.

aac_007
… except for Starch who is a cheating cheater who cheats.

You only really require two buttons and two analog sticks on a controller.  Your primary and secondary weapons are assigned to the two buttons, and the sticks control your movement and aiming. Playing with a keyboard and mouse isn’t that much harder since the WASD keys control your movement and your mouse controls the aim, leaving the left and right mouse buttons to control your primary and secondary weapons respectively. This all leads to a very intuitive set up that doesn’t really take all too long to get down and responds well on screen.

The graphics and music of Assault Android Cactus aren’t all that spectacular but are effective for this sort of game. There wasn’t any noticeable screen tear, or any noteworthy hiccups to complain about. The same could be said for the music, a nice and effective beat that compliments the game’s sci-fi setting to a decent degree. Though nothing truly spectacular can be said on both counts, by no means did they do a bad job on either front and that’s especially good to know considering that you’ll probably play this more than once.

There is a ton of replayability even after you have finished the single player campaign. The multiplayer is its own bag of awesome with an increase in both manpower and firepower on the enemy’s side. Once done with that, the game offers the usual-but-welcomed smatterings of game modes to keep you hooked, from the obligatory boss rush mode to the customary survival mode, the game even throws in a different daily challenge through their “Daily Drive” mode to keep things fresh. Though, the most interesting bit of extended play is in the several EX(tra) options that are available, each affecting the game in a major or minor way. Some are so game-changing that I don’t even want to spoil what they can do for you.

Everything I said about the game so far has been positive, but if I were being a little nitpicky sad-sack there are a few complaints. While playing in multiplayer the action can get so hectic that a player can be left off-screen during the chaos and left to the dangers of projectiles and enemies they cannot see. The isometric view of the camera can do a similar job by obscuring the view of your character around large enemies or objects. Lastly, multiplayer is only available via local co-op, meaning you can only enjoy the multiplayer with a group of IRL friends.

aac_003
Despite that, IRL friends are useful for dealing with stuff like this.

So there it is. I only needed a single small paragraph to tell you what this game does wrong but it took me almost the whole review to tell you what this game does right. If that doesn’t show you how good of a first impression this game gave me, I don’t know what else will. The full version of Assault Android Cactus will be released the 23rd of September and deserves all of the praise it gets.

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

 

 

Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Super Crate Box /soo-per kreyt boks/
          (Proper Noun)

  1. a retro style indie game known for it’s three major gameplay aspects: the item
    crates that appear throughout the level, one-room-per-stage level design and
    wave after wave of enemies are set upon the player.

          (Adjective)

  1. based on “Super Crate Box” and often sharing many similar designs.

There you go! I took that made up and somewhat redundant combination of words and defined it so you didn’t have too. You can thank me later.

Developed by Cybernate, published by Surprise Attack Games and in the very early part of its early access career, Super Mutant Alien Assault is a retro-style action game that sets to re-polish your 2D trigger finger and reacquaint you with your old jump-to-dodge tactics from days of video games past. Considering itself the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones (this is about the point where you should be thanking me), it shares many similar designs with the old 2010 game, as well as, it’s own little spin on the little known sub-genre.

Playing the part of security droids burdened with protecting cryogenically frozen humans that have escaped a dying earth, you must defend against herds of aliens while wielding a varied and random assortment of weapons, explosives and special abilities. Along the way to extraterrestrial genocide, there is a simple but sometimes difficult objective that must be cleared. Whether it is transporting something from point A to point B, stopping a series of explosives set around the stage, or simple eradication of the alien menace, it usually requires a careful balance between killing and completing the objective. To add to your troubles, the radiation your ship is apparently leaking (which I’m sure passed the high standards of whatever safety commission was involved in designing these ships) makes the Aliens evolve into bigger and stronger versions of themselves every few seconds. So if you somehow complete the objective without destroying a single alien, you’d find yourself with a screen’s worth of aggressive and powerful aliens that must be destroyed before moving onto the next stage.

If put into one word, I’d say this game is hardbutfair. Though there is a spot of chance involved with the abilities, guns and explosives you have at any particular moment due to their random nature, I never thought the game treated me unfairly. The randomness, in fact, was part of the fun. Responding and adapting to my ever-changing assortment of explosives and guns forced me to think on my feet and change my strategy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the game had plenty of options even in this early version. From the standard to the bizarre, one moment you’ll find yourself gunning down the alien herd with a machine gun and double jump combination, and the next  having to use your explosive Pogo stick to “Mario” your way to victory by jumping on top of the aliens. Local multiplayer is also available and strikes the same strategy-changing beats, though it is a bit easier since you are allowed to revive a fallen comrade. Overall, even at an early stage, the game has the potential to be a challenging but fun game.

While fun, that’s not to say the game doesn’t have its hiccups. The game is still very early in its Early Access cycle and it shows. In particular, the game has a few bugs to iron out. Though, not always, if the game is left paused for a few moments it will freeze and then close itself. Another bug makes the game’s frame rate drop by half whenever a countdown is taking place. Super Mutant Alien Assault is also very short, packing only 9 regular stages, three boss stages and a few unlockables in this early build; it has very little content. Of course, this is all likely to change in the coming months and upon full release.

Much like the security droids in the game, the developers of Super Mutant Alien Assault have some bugs to work out before its full release, sometime later this year or early next year. Though if they do manage to eradicate the alien menace that makes the game buggy and add more content to it in the process, the game might keep its promise in being the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones… whatever that means.

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

 

Armello (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: League of Geeks || Overall: 9.0/10

The Kingdom of Armello is in peril.  The unifying King of the diverse clans has gone mad and peace is decaying into war.  How to deal with the King and counteract the instability is the issue at hand as the fate of your home allegiance rests with you.  This is the scenario that the tabletop card-based strategy game Armello presents.

A very appealing art style is the first thing I noticed.  Armello is a beautiful game with charming characters and world-building card art that gives you glimpses into the society that exists in the Kingdom of Armello.  In the fantasy setting, animals are the primary characters, representing races and clans that rally against one another in the impending breakdown of society.  The main characters of the game are represented by (male and female) wolves, rats, rabbits, and bears, each with their unique buffs.  The art of the cards you eventually begin to play with show other types of animals like badgers, weasels, dogs, and the like, with a lion being the king.  A great amount of care is put into the art, and the animation each card has gives the game a lot of life.  The Day and Night cycle of turns also makes the world feel lived-in.  The soundtrack is very delightful and fits in perfectly with the game.

After a light and fun Prologue, you learn a bit about each of the major clans and the stake they have in the conflict.  The Prologue primarily focuses on teaching you about fundamentals of the information you see on screen, most of which is actually very simple.  Where the complexity enters is when all of the aspects integrate together.

There is a lot of terminology to learn, and how each individual thing affects you.  Gold, Prestige, Magic, Rot, Wits, Body, Fight, Spirit, and Action Points are the primary values you’ll need to be aware of.  Each of these are manipulated in a multitude of ways by yourself and enemies alike, and each are used for specific purposes.  Most are used as resources to be able to play cards, while Fight, Spirit, and Rot give you dice to roll while attacking — each have multiple uses and can be very powerful depending on your overall goal.

You’ll draw cards that layer on to the complexity of Armello.  Like many other card games, the order in which you play them matters a great deal.  You can also burn cards you don’t want to use to assure certain dice rolls, and at the beginning of your next turn you can pull cards up to your maximum.  Your maximum cards held is dictated by your Wits stat.  An example of a card is spending three Magic to give yourself a +1 Action Point buff for two turns.

Starting from your Clan Grounds, you’ll move your hero across the board with objectives in mind.  If you encounter a town, you’ll gain one Gold per turn as long as it is held under your banner.  If you run across a Stone Circle, you will heal one Body (the health stat), while entering a Swamp removes one Body.  Dungeons offer a chance to gain one of many possible rewards or spawns a Bane, which is a creature born of the Rot corruption plaguing Armello.  Your overall objectives come in a few forms.  A personalized objective, given as a quest, offers permanent buffs to your stats and a chance at obtaining a piece of equipment or another useful buff.  Using the board to your advantage is required to be able to accomplish the game-winning objectives.  Deaths will also occur over and over, and you’ll respawn at your Clan Grounds if you die or are killed.

To win the game, you are able to do a number of different things that everyone is competing for.  A Prestige win is considered a political win; killing other Heroes gains one Prestige, as well as completing quests.  At the end of a turn, the Prestige Leader gets to choose a King’s Declaration which is a per-turn decision that affects the game’s flow.  As the Prestige Leader, you can choose the one that is most convenient to you or will help you keep your Prestige Leader status.  Dying or killing the King’s Guard loses one Prestige, allowing others to catch up.  The Prestige win is a long-game win, as you’ll have to wait until the King expires from the Rot, which is typically at most ten full turns.  If any other objectives are completed before then, the Prestige win will be defeated.

Another way to win is by collecting Spirit Stones to hand over to the King to cure him of his Rot.  You can also gain as much Rot as you can so you can defeat the King in battle and rule the lands yourself as a corrupted king.  Gaining Rot can help you if you have more than your enemy, as during the attack phases you gain bonus dice to roll.  However, Rot can lead to Corruption and with it come instant death on Stone Circle plots.   As a result, you are unable to heal without using cards and Rot subtracts one health at the start of every turn if you have any.

A single game can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how slow plays are.  Tactics will shift several times during the game depending on others’ progress.  The game board’s setting always takes place at the foot of the King’s castle, and is shuffled at every new game, so the plots will be in different places each time.  As of now, there is also a “winter theme” of the board where snow covers the entire board, and it seems like other themes could eventually be developed.  While there are no alternate locations to play, they wouldn’t make much sense in the context of the existing story conflict unless something new were set up.  They could easily expand on the game with more cards, and extra story to set up new maps would also be a nice addition.  As you play the game you’ll unlock more pre-game perks which can customize your play style.  Finding all of the cards (there are around 130) is also very satisfying as you try to complete your card gallery.

While the story of Armello is interesting and there is a lot of world-building, it isn’t very deep.  The majority of the story comes in the Prologue you play to learn about the game, and whatever you can glean off of the quests.  There isn’t really a resolution to the story other than the eventual ending of the King’s corruption, by death or otherwise.  A single player mode is included in which you play with AI, but the game is clearly built for a multiplayer environment.  An online mulitplayer mode is available that allows you to jump right in and play with other people, as well as a Ranked mode due to be released with free patch v1.1.  An assortment of free and paid updates are planned for the game, so it will be interesting to see what comes about from the developers.

All in all, Armello is a diverse mash of several different objectives, quests, resources, and characters.  Using all of it to your advantage and learning the order in which you should play certain cards is very important to completing the objectives you have at hand.  People who enjoy tabletop board games will certainly enjoy this game and being able to play with their friends.  Armello is available on Steam and PS4 at $19.99.

09/18/16 – The Usurpers Hero Pack (DLC) Review || Overall: Recommended

Released on August 30th, the Usurpers Pack DLC adds on four unique heroes into the Armello mix.  There are also an assortment of new buffs that are available for selection before entering a new game.  While new players may not necessarily understand the benefits the new heroes or buffs provide, know that it adds a new layer of strategy on top of the diversification of the hero roster.  The main addition, of course are the heroes:

Magna – a shieldmaiden.  My personal favorite of the four new heroes.  Can reflect attacks.

Sargon – a “veil gazer.”  The top card on the deck can be seen during draw card phase.

Ghor – Magic spent is more efficient on forest tiles, and can cast globally on any forest tile

Elyssia – Permanent fortification of settlements if a turn is ended on one.  Good for taking a defensive approach against your enemies.

If you are an avid fan of Armello, it will be worth the entry price to enjoy these new heroes.  On account that there are no new game modes in this DLC pack, there isn’t anything that will change your opinion of the game; in my view it is still a great time.  All of the new characters fit right in with the others and while a couple are plainly a better choice to pick, any of the new heroes hold a viable path to victory.

 

Dungeon League (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Achebit | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Ever think of taking a cooperative game like Gauntlet and turning it on its head to make a competitive party game out of it? Taking fantasy classics like the warrior, cleric, wizard and… um… unicorn and putting them against the dungeon and each other? Then having them compete in various game modes that support fast and furious gameplay for the sole purpose of bragging rights? Nah… neither did I, but the guys at Surprise Attack Games and Achebit thought it would be a good idea so here I am to talk about it.

Dungeon League is a competitive party game that uses fantasy tropes to paint onto a foundation of competitive gameplay tropes to come out with a game that is shiny and new. Reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers like Gauntlet, it takes those basic 8-bit designs and turns them into a party game where you’ll face the dungeon and each other in an assortment of competitive game modes. Add to that an assortment of varied classes, quick leveling and gameplay that supports it, you come out with basic building blocks that this game is built upon.

Still in a very early build and only about an hour’s worth of content to play through, I did enjoy the bit of multiplayer madness that the game delivered. Featuring matches that only last a couple minutes at a time, the game thrusts the players into one familiar competitive objective after the next with only a bit of downtime in between. Throwing you into a randomized assortment of objective-based gameplay like deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and many more, the game seems to thrive on a fast and frantic play-style meant to push the players to complete the objectives as quickly as possible. After each round, the players are then tasked with using the bit of downtime to level up their character by way of an experience and gold system that allows them to upgrade special moves and buy items to create a beefier and stronger character for their next objective. All of this comes together into a quirky party game that could be enjoyable with friends.

The problem with friends, though, is that they have to be there to enjoy them (or they don’t exist to begin with but let’s not digress into my own personal problems) and, unfortunately, that’s not always the easiest to have around. The currently-available Tournament mode, and one of the future game types requires at least two players and with no online option to speak of, it means you’d have to gather a real life party to be able to properly enjoy half of the games types for some local play. While not too much of a major issue, it still presents a problem for those that prefer to play with friends online and for those that have no real friends (cries). On another note, while the game has some personality when dealing with the in-game vendor and trainer, that same personality seems missing in the monsters you encounter in matches. It is mostly a mix of generic monsters you’d find in most media based on a fantasy setting.

While not spectacular, Dungeon League has some potential. With a helping of two cooperative game modes and another competitive game mode on the way, the game plans to add variety to your dungeon crawling fun. Gauntlet (I see what you did there) mode provides a cooperative experience where up to 4 players will traverse a monster infested dungeon on a quest to defeat the Dungeon Master. In other cooperative fare, Survival modes pits the player and others against an endless stream of monsters all for the purpose of seeing how long they’ll last against the countless waves. Lastly, Dungeon Ball seems to be the last competitive offering to round out the game, where two teams are tasked with destroying each other, upgrading their minions and ultimately getting their ball to the end zone.

With a promise of other game types and an already fun early build, Dungeon League might warrant a look upon full release in 2016.  In the end, it might just be a game worth gathering friends around.

Dungeon League is available now on Steam Early Access.

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

 

PixelJunk: Nom Nom Galaxy (PC) Review

Developer: Q-Games/Double Eleven | Publisher: Q-Games || Overall: 9.0/10

Walk the aisles of your normal, ideal, grocery store.  Rows full of food line the aisles begging for your grubby little hands to take them and put them in your shopping cart.  But does any food really speak to your soul as well as soup?  Canned soup is one of the most important pieces of human culture, after all.

…Yet have you ever really thought about where your soup comes from?

Do you perhaps think that the planet of Alteria in the galaxy of Soupcon Valley would produce your favorite can of Green Sun Chowder made from Sunblossom and Greenstalk?  Or do you think the civil war and strife of the robots on Nozesi fuel the good time tastes of the delightful Split Sea Soup and/or Filet of Fission?

PixelJunk: Nom Nom Galaxy makes you ask these questions and more.  Well, actually none of that matters because the name of the game is business and market share.  The real test comes in beating your enemy’s robot workers into eternal jobless poverty by creating an efficient soup factory that satisfies the needs of the universe.

Getting down to the essential basics of the game, the robots need soup and you are making the soup, delivering it to the hungry patrons via rockets.  Finding material that is usable for cooking across sprawling sandboxes, you are equipped with your buzzsaw which cuts through and helps you gather many of the things you’ll need.  You’ll also be punching a lot of things.  On the factory production side, you’ll have to maintain, defend, and build out a soup factory that is as efficient as possible.  Robot workers can be hired to assist you in this pursuit, and their operation is a small callback to the logic of Lemmings.  What this ends up being is an interesting mix of game genres in a sci-fi setting with some sparse story to set up the scenarios each planet presents.

What I mostly enjoyed about Nom Nom Galaxy is that it is a sandbox game with a clear objective at hand.  As far as the sandbox genre goes, Starbound is the only other game I’ve played with any large amount of time, which is built mostly on a free-form playstyle that centers on improving your crafting and character’s gear.  Nom Nom Galaxy distinguishes itself from this by giving you developer-designed planets full of ingredients to exploit to the best of your ability, earning upgrades after beating a planet.  The factory’s efficiency becomes a main focus of the gameplay as a result — which can be detrimental to the exploration aspect the game provides, as it essentially becomes the opposite of business efficiency.

As you make your way through the planets, each will provide an upgrade or new thing to buy to change up the gameplay a bit.  Eventually you hit a point, about midway through the game, where scenarios start to take place and you’re no longer able to use defense towers, robot workers, or other things you’ve grown accustom to using.   As the existing system can be a bit complex to learn and understand the controls/logic of the game, the pace is set about right.  Enhancements such as, and being able to use, a double jump or a rocket boost changes the way you play entirely.

Ingredients are varied and many have specialties about them.  There’s about 20 unique ingredients which can be combined with each other, resulting in 400 recipes.  Some ingredients are special and take a long time to find/grow, some you have to kill mobs for, and others are common and plantable.  It’s always fun to find something new in the game and seeing what will result when you combine two different ingredients can be satisfying.

When you combine ingredients, a Soup Can pops out of the Soup Machine.  You take the Soup Can into the Soup Rocket, and the rocket delivers the payload which affects your market share by a base of 5%.  Depending on the market trends that pop up every now and then, the game influences you to try and find different ingredients, or stop using one that might be a commonly used on in all of your Soup Machines, forcing you to change your focus.

A good 20 hours or so of gameplay got me within range of the last three stages of the “Conquest” mode.  Unfortunately Nom Nom Galaxy didn’t live up to the same perfection in its difficulty as PixelJunks Monsters did, and I had a relatively easy time getting through it as I mastered the game’s logic.  Half of the levels in the Conquest Mode are used to introduce you to the gameplay itself, and the latter half tests you to master it to only some unique challenge.  Each planet introduced something new, but the core gameplay being so complex brings down the experience a bit, I fear.  We spend too much time “learning how to play” that when we finally get around to unlocking everything substantial and playing “for realisies” you only have a couple of planets left and the last level of the game, which will require you to use everything at your disposal.

Each planet has the option for endless play, only after you attain 100% market share.  You are also able to continue building your factory as it was or start from scratch in this “S.O.O.P Simulator” mode.  While the planets will always be the same, they offer enough variety and quantity to not have to worry too much about that.  Though since there is no meta game, you are working on each planet on an individual basis.  There is also a mode called Galactic Challenges which take a unique approach to the games formula and pretty much anything seems to go here.  You could be racing from point A to point B or trying to sell as much soup in 10 minutes as you can.  Challenges expire after about 36 hours, and you compete against all other players here, either at the same time, or asynchronously via global rankings.  You can also “Quick Join” and matchmake with another player, however the capability did not seem to be enabled in the review build before release.  I assume there could be some sort of generation for planets in this mode but I can’t be sure.

A lot of the aspects of the baked-in challenge actually disincentivizes you from exploring.  You’ll be dealing with maintaining the workflow of the factory, depending on its need to rely on you to acquire/scout for ingredients.  You are also equipped with an Oxygen tank which limits the distance you can go without finding a source of oxygen or heading back to base.  You’ll also be called back to base when your rival sends monsters to disrupt and destroy your base.  You can automate the defenses a bit by loading it with laser guns and missiles, but you’ll still need to make sure you are there to pick up any of the stragglers and repair buildings.  If at any point your Office is destroyed, you automatically lose the game.

At the end of each day, the game pauses for “Break Time” and saves your current progress.  During Break Time you’ll be shown informative stats, graphs, and how much money you earned.  An added layer of planning is involved as any ingredients that are not currently inside Soup Machines or planted will disappear.  When planting items, it will expand your potential to increase your output substantially, but only if you plan correctly.  Personally I felt like it made the game a lot easier to have the capability to grow your own ingredients since you could plant a lot of the same common ingredients over and over in each level and usually the AI competitor would not match very well in a challenge as long as you had a good production going.  Progression to new zones is limited by recipes you discover, so there is an incentive to experiment, but not much since it was easy to meet those expectations and I never really had to replay anything unless I fucked up severely or neglected my base on purpose.

Sound and visuals is also another high point.  There is a lot of insanity going on initially.  It will take a while for you to understand what is going on, but the art is fantastic and intricate.  The robots are uniquely designed and I loved discovering something new, or going to the next planet to see the theme.  Sound is also well done for the most part, but there was a surprising lack of music.  PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden had great soundtracks, but Nom Nom Galaxy seems to take its cues from PixelJunk Shooter with a minimalist approach to music and sound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different.  Monsters is probably one of my favorite soundtracks ever, so it was a bit disappointing to not have another great soundtrack to listen to.

As a big fan of the PixelJunk series I was completely satisfied with this entry.  While it breaks the mold of “simplicity” all of the other games established within their own genres, Nom Nom Galaxy files down several different genres into core tenants that work together in an interesting fashion.  The game is very ambitious and I enjoyed the humor quite a bit.  Replayability might be Nom Nom Galaxy’s biggest fault, but there is certainly plenty to do and you can keep doing it for pretty much as long as you like.  There just becomes a point where you kind of “get it” and in this case I don’t see myself coming back to visit it very often like I do with PixelJunk Monsters.  It is, however, a lot easier to play the game for very long sessions.

 

Hacknet (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Team Fractal Alligator | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Outlook: Good

Writing previews for games are a bit of a challenge.  Previews serve as a way to give the readers an introduction to a game they may anticipate, and hopeful readers look for positive impressions before they have access themselves.  I tend to typically give preview builds the benefit of the doubt and stay hopeful that the final product will potentially deliver.  In this case, Hacknet definitely holds an interesting and unique potential.

Hacknet simulates a hacking environment, not unlike something you may see in exaggerated form on a TV show.  Through a number of commands you’ll solve what is essentially multi-layered puzzles that will force you to master a routine while solving the unique mission at hand.  The preview build provided to me allowed for approximately 40 minutes of gameplay, which included a Tutorial, a “test mission,” and an actual mission.

The gameplay serves as a backdrop and a storytelling device to a mystery involving the death of a hacker named Bit.  The preview build didn’t delve too deeply into the actual meat of the story, but mostly just alludes to some of the characters you are potentially going to have more interaction with later.  The simulated hacking environment uses real UNIX commands, so if you have experience with command line actions you’ll be able to pick up on most of what is happening pretty quickly.  The forced memorization of commands has the potential to be daunting if you aren’t comfortable with that sort of interaction with a computer, however.  One of the highlights of the game is its lack of hand-holding, so it appears that you’ll need a notepad or a good memory to execute the time-based puzzles correctly.  Ideally, you’ll be learning most of the commands as you go along, so the puzzles will probably become more advanced and require greater care to execute perfectly.  Hacknet aligns itself with “Papers, Please,” challenging different parts of your brain than what you may normally be accustomed to for games.

What got me really digging the puzzles was the sleek/futuristic user interface coupled with the music.  The music was contextually designed and matched the mood of what was going on appropriately.  The music really played a key part in turning up the tension when the first hacking challenge took place.  They didn’t want to give too much away so the game abruptly turns off once you hit a certain point in the puzzle/mission.  As an aside, they included a functional clicker mini-game, which implies there are possibly other mini-games that might be added to create variety.

The preview build left me with a generally positive impression, and I’m looking forward to what the complete game will offer.  Hacknet will be $10 when it releases in August.

Information from the press release is as follows:

Hacknet is an immersive, terminal-based hacking simulator for PC. Dive down a rabbit hoIe as you follow the instructions of a recently deceased hacker, whose death may not have been the accident the media reports. Using old school command prompts and real hacking processes, you’ll solve the mystery with minimal hand-holding and a rich world full of secrets to explore.

Bit, a hacker responsible for creating the most invasive security system on the planet, is dead. When he fails to reconnect to his system for 14 days, his failsafe kicks in, sending instructions in automated emails to a lone user.  As that user, it’s up to you to unravel the mystery and ensure that Hacknet-OS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Exploring the volatile nature of personal privacy, the prevalence of corporate greed, and the hidden powers of hackers on the internet, Hacknet delivers a true hacking simulation, while offering a support system that allows total beginners get a grasp of the real-world applications and commands found throughout the game.

Hacknet will launch on PC via Steam and the Humble Store on August 12, 2015.

 

Reveal Trailer:

 

A preview build of Hacknet was provided to Squackle.

 

Fort Meow (PC) Review

Developer: Upper Class Walrus | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 7.5

 

The question is as old as time itself: Which four-legged beast makes the better domesticated pet? A dog or a cat? The dog, known for its obedience and loyalty, is commonly known to be “man’s best friend.” On the other hand, cats are known for their independence and for being the little super-villains of the household, which makes them the favorite animal of the internet. Though, thanks to Fort Meow, I now know the answer to this conundrum is dog. It’s definitely dog.

Grumpy Cat
Don’t give me that face.

Fort Meow is a physics-based strategy game that involves building forts, cats and bad adult supervision. Playing as young Nia (I see what you did there…), you find yourself at your grandparents’ place only to find them missing. After not calling your parents, and instead rummaging around the attic (like any good horror movie character), the only clue to their whereabouts seems to be hidden somewhere in your grandfather’s journal. The game then tasks you with building fort after fort with household items to defend yourself against a constant onslaught of cats that want to distract you from reading the journal and discovering their nefarious schemes. Along the way, you encounter your grandfather’s flying robot to help you further explore the house and eventually stop the Catpocalypse… Which all seems like a pretty complicated setup for a tower defense puzzle game about evil cats.

 

Despite the silly and complicated set up, the game itself is actually quite fun. Fort Meow switches between a tower defense and exploration portions and both do well to make the game enjoyable. The tower defense portion of the game is much like Angry Birds, but in reverse. Instead of trying to destroy buildings and those inside of it, you take the role of the person inside of the fort who must build one strong enough to prevent any cat from forcing their way inside. Though, like any good game, the premise may be simple but it still manages to challenge the player. Constantly, I’d find my forts barely surviving and on the verge of collapse. Plus the time mechanic, which serves as a sort of cost for the items in your fort, is an effective way to limit your resources enough to make your forts strong but nowhere near impregnable. Lastly, while the gameplay in Fort Meow is mostly solid, the “physics” that the game mentions as a selling point don’t always play out as planned and would probably leave Einstein scratching his head in confusion.

Gravity
E=What the heck is that?!

The exploration portion of the game may be a smaller part but it still manages to do a good job at integrating your expanding amount of fort pieces into the overall plot as you unlock every room in your grandparents’ house. While a few of the items you pick up are simply roadblocks that attempt to withstand the flying cats, others are roadblocks that have rather interesting gimmicks to them. From lamps that halve damage, to boxes that capture kitties and fortify themselves in the process, and even objects that attempt to shoot the felines out of the air, the game offers you a wide assortment of items to build your fort around. Unfortunately, the same amount of imagination wasn’t put into the puzzles used to unlock more rooms in the house. Simply being notes that you unlock with gameplay, they tell you exactly how to solve the uninspired “puzzles” in the game. This makes unlocking more rooms into a meaningless “Where’s Waldo” exercise instead of a fun brain teaser.

Vampire 2
Like other evil creatures, light weakens cats.

On a more positive note, the art style in the game is a treat. Fort Meow uses simple and cartoon-like animation during its cut scenes, a comic style for the dialogue and storybook like drawings during the actual game to great effect. These styles mix well with the story and the atmosphere of the game. To a similar degree, the melody and sound effects are used to a comparable effect.

 

Regrettably, the game does have its downfalls. First, the game is short, coming in at around 2 or 3 hours of content and offering no replayable features such as challenge stages or a “new game plus.” This lack of replayability is a shame even with the small price tag attached to it. I would definitely pay a few more dollars for several extra hours of gameplay.

WTF

I’d gladly pay a few more dollars to dick around and make more fort
monstrosities like this one.

Another of the game’s undoings is the fact that luck plays a moderate part on whether or not your fort will withstand the cat’s flinging themselves against it. Enough times for me to notice, I would use the same fort in the same stage and each time things would play out differently. Whether it would topple over to one side, stand firm but eventually fall under the cat’s assault, or even withstand the full brunt of the cat’s attack seemed to be random and completely arbitrary according to the game’s whims, which took me a bit out of the whole process.

 

Charting this last bit of negative input on a mostly fun game as personal preference, I feel that the PC port would be inferior to the iPad version. This game seems like a fun portable companion to help offset any boredom while outside or while looking to kill some time before whatever activities the day has in store. Plus, playing it in short spurts while outside, as opposed to a sit down session at the computer, would probably make the game seem a bit longer in comparison.

my_drunk_cat_by_lowchord07
On the IPad, you could also play it while making
bad decisions like this cat here.

Don’t get me wrong, though. While Fort Meow has its hiccups I did still find my time with the game enjoyable. The only real decision to make is if these hiccups are enough to dissuade you from buying the game at the low 8 dollar price tag. If the game has anything else going for it, Fort Meow gives me another good reason why I prefer dogs over those evil cats.

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

A reviewable copy of Fort Meow was provided to Squackle.

 

Chariot Wars (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: OM Entertainment || Overall: 1/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780

When it comes to reviewing bad games, it’s always a hard decision to make. Do I make a tongue-in-cheek positive review, or perhaps a sharply sarcastic review full of jokes, or just a traditional opinion about the hopes and dreams that “Chariot Wars” completely and utterly destroyed? For this review I’m not quite sure what direction to go, because Chariot Wars just leaves me confused and maybe even a little sad when reflecting upon my time playing.

Considering the game is originally developed for mobile phones, the basic features are limited. You have only three modes of play to choose from: Multiplayer, Single Player Time Trial, and Single Player Story Mode, called Championship. Multiplayer requires you to register an account with the developer’s web site rather than using Steam. Single Player Time Trial is racing around one of the four possible unique tracks, alone, with no A.I. to race against.  Each track has two variations: Night and Day – all of which are unlocked only through the Championship Mode.   Time Trial is consistently pointed to by the “Game Tips” and even prompted as a gate before you enter the real “meat” of the game, which is the Championship Mode.

Here’s where things get… “interesting.” Chariot Wars’ Championship mode is a graphic novel murder mystery story with boring gameplay in between chapters. The story is by far the only redeeming factor this game has to offer and is actually quite hilarious and dark, in a campy way. The backdrop of Ancient Rome is used as the Captain of the Guard is called to investigate a double murder – one man crucified and a woman with her throat slit, holding a tattered symbol of the Cabal, which is a group of conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar. The murdered man is related to Ben-Hur (we finally have our sequel to Ben-Hur, ya’ll!) and before researching much of anything about the murder, the current idiot Caesar thinks it would be a good idea for the lead investigator of a murder to stop doing that and to instead replace the dead guy in the chariot race — and that’s when you take control of your chariot and race.

After winning the race, Quintus Octavian, the protagonist of the story makes out with a hot chick with a very large rack in some random room and then with her help figures out what the symbol is from, and so on. I don’t necessarily want to explain every facet of the story here, but you are rewarded for your effort of winning races with these story interludes. It may take a few tries depending on how well you know the track and if you can catch up to the computer players, but you’ll eventually win each race… hopefully.  Besides, you don’t have much else to do.

The gameplay itself is very standard in its rules – just get first place and win after two laps. For some odd reason there are huge floating coins that give you temporary speed boosts that don’t really make you feel like you’re going faster. When using a speed boost, everything becomes blurry and it feels like you’re all of a sudden in a Michael Bay movie, not knowing what the hell is going on. Considering the boosts are supposed to be good, they sure as hell don’t make you want to use them other than hopefully never having to play through that race again. Wonky physics, bad collision, weird animation, and the lack of any “warring” with other players (though you can bump into them) just isn’t fun. The scenery is also very strange, considering chariot races were always in a coliseum. There are snow-covered mountains surrounding you everywhere (and curving with the sky, which is fucking weird), waterfalls, random mixed species of trees, a blinding light source as bright as a sun coming out of a mountain (while it rains), and other oddities. This alternate dimension doesn’t seem like a very nice place to spectate or even race, not that the game is meant to be an accurate representation of anything.

And that’s kind of the game.   The music is generic and there is a strange chime that rings every time you click one of the menu buttons.  There are a lot of weird translation things going on, which adds a certain “charm” to the game, and the incessant badgering to go to the Time Trial mode to learn how to play is almost hilarious since you can’t play any new tracks unless you unlock them through Championship Mode, which you only do by beating the track! The races get harder as you go on, but you have to wonder how the difficulty is really ramping up when your chariot likes to all of a sudden go out of control a lot more often on turns as you progress.  At least the game didn’t crash while I was playing it.  You can also make funny things happen when you boost into one of the invisible walls on the race track.  If you ever get stuck in the scenery of the game, the only solution is to restart the track from scratch.

You can choose from several racers, chariot colors, and horses (all of which you have to unlock through play) which may or may not have an influence on your racer – it is sort of hard to tell. Another point of contention is that it’s $25 on Steam. Considering the amount of content the game has to offer, you have to wonder what the hell is going on.

And so there’s not a whole lot to keep you going. Other than the graphic novel portions and the strangely long CG video that displays a full length chariot race (presumably what you’d be “experiencing” while playing) full of random characters you probably don’t even play, you aren’t going to want to touch this game.

A reviewable copy of Chariot Wars was provided to Squackle.

 

Windward (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment || Overall: 7.5/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780

Sandbox games are varied and plentiful nowadays.  Needing to strike the right balance between theme and progression is important, otherwise interest can be lost quite quickly.  Windward, a naval-themed sandbox game, is one such game with an interesting theme and progression system.  While the game can feel rewarding, you may find that you are stuck in an endless grind cycle on the high seas that will test your resolve in more ways than scurvy can.

With no formal tutorial, single player might seem the obvious first choice for a new player of Windward. When starting a game, you’ll be asked to create a character, choose a faction, and start a new procedurally-generated world.  Once you establish a new game and character you’ll enter the map that you’ve generated and with your little starter boat you’ll find your way through figuring out the mechanics and progression the game offers.  Little help tips at the top will pop up in lieu of being initiated through a tutorial.  This may feel a bit cryptic at times depending on your ability to understand and find things with little direction as the help tips seem contextual and will change or pop up as you stumble across a new feature or thing it wants to tell you about.

While the maps are probably never the same, not much is unpredictable in the way the regions are laid out.  To actually play the game you’ll visit a town, take up quests, complete the quest, then get more quests, and repeat the cycle.  Quests usually fall in a couple of categories, such as killing pirates or traveling from Point A to Point B (which is what I named a couple of my towns).  Quests can be framed differently (such as hunting down a pirate/defending a town) but the end result typically is a variation of those two main quest types.  You’ll build up your resources and get equipment as you complete quests.  You also build up XP which allows for the assigning of talent points that increases your ships stats at certain thresholds (essentially levels, but they’re not really framed that way).  Selling the gear/random items you find is probably the fastest way to earn gold, but you can also dabble in trading cargo between towns — although that isn’t as straightforward as you would think as not every town is willing to accept all cargo.  Quests and Cargo both take up cargo space, so it usually ends up being more worthwhile to take a Quest instead of spending money to buy Cargo.  Depending on the faction you are in, you may fight against other factions (players and/or AI) who are vying for control of your region.

The first couple of hours I was in single-player mode, the grind became very prevalent.  Once you “get” the point of the game, there’s not much left to really “do.”  There is general game progression: leveling up towns by completing quests, and capturing/establishing new cities, and capturing zones until you ultimately capture everything in the map you’ve generated.  The progression in single-player is very slow and that is purposeful because the game actually seems to be balanced for a multiplayer environment where there are a large group of players completing quests and upgrading towns instead of just one person doing all of the work.  With that said, the game gets a lot more pleasant and less daunting if you play on an Internet server where you can find upwards of fifty people playing depending on which server you look at.  Albeit they are typically spread out on the world map, you do interact with people using the chat system and can potentially coordinate zone takeovers/defense by following orders.

The character you make at the beginning of the game will carry through to any new Worlds you generate and can be used online as well.  Your progression is saved locally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were server settings that force a cloud save for your character, which may mean starting from scratch.  You can also enter an Instance, which is separate from the main world you are currently playing in.  In Instances you fight against pirates and capture towns in a completely fresh region, offering gear and rewards from doing so.  Once you leave the instance, it disappears and will put you back into the persistent map you’ve been previously playing on.  Moving through the World’s map requires you to gain talents as regions have a minimum requirement to enter.  Being exposed to the multiplayer chat on a larger server, talent levels seem to extend past at least 100 and may extend as the game is updated.

The equipment in the game increases your stats, and generally improve your ship and abilities.  Combat can be a strategy-laden ordeal depending on what you get yourself into and equipping the right gear will allow you to hit harder challenges and capture towns/towers faster.  Most of the strategy comes from the way your ship is facing and making sure you keep within the firing arc to maximize your damage.  The equipment is ship-themed, such as hull, sails, crew, and captain among other things.  There are nice in-game customization items that change the look of your boat, as well.  You can also upgrade by buying larger ships, which take a significant amount of gold.  Apparently you can also get airships/blimps but it seems to take a very long time to get to that point.  It also seems that more ships are currently being added from chatter in-game on the server I played on.

Visuals of the game are nice to look at, although you’ll mostly see the same stuff over and over.  The game’s visuals all have an island/beach theme and you don’t see the art taking much of a varied approach to try different things.  It would have been nice to see different tile sets for regions so everything in the game doesn’t look and feel exactly the same.  The music in the game is very nice, but most of the tracks seem to be very short and loop quite often.  Water also looks really nice and I can appreciate the quality of the visuals existing in the game considering its scope.  Altering terrain is also an interesting aspect and you can make areas passable where they weren’t before.  Combat is also visually pleasing, although it can be a bit funny to watch cannonballs bounce around like basketballs and then disappear.

Perhaps the worst part of the game comes from its user interface design and potential quality of life enhancements that aren’t included.  My biggest problem is that the on-screen mini-map doesn’t display town-names, forcing you to open the larger map to see which town is which and how to plan out your quests better.  The larger map is also not resizable, so you wouldn’t be able to have it open as you were moving around.  I was also pining for an auto-travel or a way to constantly change direction of your ship without having to click down the whole time.  Positively, your ship’s abilities are able to be re-bound on the fly by right-clicking them and then assigning a key which reduces any sort of option-hunting.  The old-paper style of the UI is also very pleasant as it keeps with the naval theme and it’s more-or-less easy to tell if an item is an upgrade or not due to color-coding.

The most admirable aspect about Windward is that it is completely designed and programmed by a one-man developer.  It also seems that regular updates are coming through, as my game has updated at least two or three times since I started playing.  As far as a future update plan goes, nothing was currently readily available on the Steam Community that I could find.  I personally experienced no game crashes or frame rate drops and had a very positive technical experience.  The server I connected to a few times never dropped me and I was able to connect without much difficulty.

Windward is a nice, slow-paced experience that can definitely just be used as a time waster or a multitask while watching Netflix.  If the theme resonates with you, you may enjoy it more than others, but the grindy progression system could be a potential turn-off.  There’s no story and not even really an ultimate goal other than getting the best gear and ships, so the motivation to play is driven solely by progression in power level, which can easily get stale unless you get into the persistent PvP aspect of the game.

Windward is currently available on Steam for $14.99.

A reviewable copy of Windward was provided to Squackle.