Game Review – Townscaper and Dorfromantik: A Tale of Two Citybuilders

I decided to combine these two games into one review for a couple of reasons: The main one being that they are both extremely simple and don’t require a lengthy review. The other is that they are both very similar, while being almost nothing alike.

What the hell am I talking about?

The name of the game here is nothing short of beautiful simplicity. Not only are these two games easily played with just a mouse, but they are so conceptually simple that they are both casual, and chill–yet still able to occupy hours of your time if you want them to.

Let’s start with Townscaper.

There’s a (hideable) grid and colour plallet. It feels artsy.


It actually might be a misnomer to call Townscaper a game. It’s really more of a creative tool that even the developer himself describes as a “toy” rather than a game.

I think it’s far more than a toy, though.

Sure, it’s immaculately simple, and there’s no “game” to be played here. There’s no premise other than to build a town with as much creative freedom as your own mind will allow. But that’s the joy of it. You can think as much as you want about your next step, or not at all. You can just click click click away and turn your brain off until you think it looks neat. Or, you can create a masterwork of intentional design. You’re still never doing anything more than clicking on stuff, or choosing a colour. You have a fair number of undos and redos, as well. It’s like a mini-modelling software, where the only thing you’re modelling is a town, and the details like trees and bushes and benches are filled in for you.

All that is expected of you is to click away. It’s almost therapeutic.

Ok, I guess it is kind of a toy. From:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYvVZgXHb14



Alright, so what’s the deal with Dorfromantik? It’s pretty much the opposite when it comes to the ultimate “point” of the game, and especially when it is in fact, a game.

At its core, you’re building while trying to achieve a high score. You place tiles in accordance to generating points, as well as increasing the size of your deck. Oh yeah, it’s kind of a card game, too. A very simple one; it uses cards as a mechanic in the same way a board game might. You draw from your deck in sequence, and whatever card you’ve drawn, you must place. So there is a definite strategy. You want to place forest next to forest, and farms next to farms, and houses next to houses, while winding rivers and trains throughout. The game encourages that by giving you bonus points and extra cards for completing what are effectively small “quests”– wherein you connect a specified number of say, forest tiles together, or pass a grand total of river tiles placed.

You are shooting for a high score, but there’s no pressure at all.


While there is a fair amount of strategy to it, it’s still built on the rugged simplicity of doing only one thing at a time: pick a tile, place it on the board. It’s never any more than that, yet it’s also so much more than that. The fact that it only ever lets you place the next tile in the deck means you can never play the same game twice, or design the same map twice. Plus, you don’t even have to play the game if you don’t care that much about getting the top score–and there’s even a pure creative mode on the way.

Classic Mode already feels like a complete game. Ain’t no half-baked early access titles here.


So these games are similar and different in a lot of the same ways. While their differences make them great on their own, their similarities are what make them a great contribution to gaming as a whole. The fact that these two games are capable of captivating the creative juices with only a click is elevating. They are both games you could easily play, stress-free for 15-20 minutes before bed… or all day long, trying to create a rare Pepe, or recreating Minas Tirith. You can play these games with your brain off or on. It’s hard to say that about most other titles.

While they are also both still in Early Access, they are also both expected to release sometime later this year. They are also both extremely inexpensive and playable as they are.

I highly recommend getting them both.

/gameon

Here’s a 4/20 treat from the treasure that is Marc Rebillet. (some strong language, but nothing out of place for this page)

Game Review – Monster Hunter Rise: Quality of Life at its Finest

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Seriously. After watching a seemingly constant stream of disappointment across the board from the “AAA” game machine, CAPCOM has given us something we can finally sink our teeth into. Yes, it’s a monster pun and I’m proud of it.

Monster Hunter Rise puts every other AAA launch in the past 6 months to shame. Square Enix, take fucking note. MHR sold over 5 million copies in less than 2 weeks, to absolutely stellar reviews I might add, and it’s currently a Switch exclusive. After the laughable Avengers and OUTRIDERS launches, I’m playing a game that is just as co-op friendly, yet drenched in glorious attention to quality of life for the gamer.

You even have your own personal spy.


I’m not even talking about how much better this game is than Monster Hunter: World (and it is), I’m talking about features that this game has that I wish other games had. Features like: instant fast travel. No annoying animations, no having to find a fast travel location. Just open the map, click the spot, poof you’re there.

Or how about: gear wishlist. If you visit a blacksmith and decide you want to craft a piece of gear, you can put it on you wishlist, and you will be notified the moment you have the required components to build it.

There are also presets for everything. You can save dozens of presets for gear and items separately. So you can set your armor and weapons with one preset, then you can pick another preset to decided how many of which items you want in your inventory before, or even during a mission if you stop off at the base camp.

There is so. Much. Quality.

8 slots x 14 pages. 112 possible loadout configurations is a lot.


Sure, the graphics are a bit of a downgrade from World, but World is meant to run on more powerful hardware than the Switch. The maps are more focused, however. In a way that actually feels more immersive and dense. You have a more clear path to your goal instead of just meandering around for an arbitrary amount of time. The world is just more interesting, too.

You can also freely play with friends and strangers. I always found it strange that World is often attached to the “MMO” genre, when it isn’t, really. Rise has just as much multiplayer potential, but no one would accuse it of being an MMO. Its online elements are present, but not required. Yet, I still see plenty of room for future content and cross-overs, just like World had. If CAPCOM is smart, they will definitely keep adding to this stellar title, because it is not only above and beyond previous MH titles, it raises the bar in terms of the expectations we should have of a game like this at launch. Especially when we’re paying AAA prices for legacy franchises from A list publishers.

Have I glowed enough about this game, yet? It’s already been about 500 words and I’ve barely talked about the actual gameplay. And believe me, I will use every chance I can to use this as a dig towards other AAA publishers who have literally launched 3 games in a row at AAA prices to “mixed” reviews and massive drops in player counts. LOOKING AT YOU SQUARE ENIX. I still think FF7 Remake is a scam, too. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that one, but that’s a topic for another time.

Square is currently batting 3 for 3 with terrible launches.


I digress.

In a lot of ways, Rise feels similar to World, but with a more streamlined approach. While some argue it takes a bit of the “hunt” away, recent editions of Monster Hunter’s hunting mechanics feel arbitrary, and just extend the gameplay for no reason other than to take more time to do the same thing: fight the monster. So we might as well just get to it then, shouldn’t we? You can still wander around the maps, picking up items, and fighting mobs that spawn at different intervals, just as World allowed. But now, missions take less time because there’s less puttering around and more getting to the action.

Action that is great. Action that not only includes all of the diverse array of weapons and play styles available in previous Monster Hunter games, but refines them. Mobility has become a joy, with such a variety of ways to get around, including a personal dog mount, (called a Palamute, of course) and the ability to ride and control wyverns. Yes, you can ride monsters.

Look at the cute doggo!


They’ve also replaced the grapple hook and claw with a new mechanic called the Wirebug, which effectively gives you some lite Spider-Man abilities. You can grapple and swing in mid-air, while also being able to run along walls for several seconds. The Wirebug also has unique abilities with each weapon, and is what allows you to mount your prey–giving a new depth to combat yet seen in the series.

By the way, did I mention the cool quality of life features? Some of them even add to the immersion. You can actually choose your overworld theme. Themes, by the way, which appear to be sung by some of the main characters you interact with.

Pick your tunes.


And sure, it’s not perfect. There are even some little annoyances which have persisted through a number of the MH games, like cinematic sequence that happens at the end of a hunt. While it looks cool, it can be disorienting and a bit long–especially if there are still other active monsters on the field, because they don’t stop attacking during the sequence. The UI could stand to be a bit more intuitive as well. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve never played another MH game before. That said, there are a lot of in-game resources, and tutorials you can flip through to help you make sense of everything going on.

Ok, I’d be lying if I said this didn’t look super cool, though.


The reason why I am glowing so much about the quality of life in this game is simply because a lot of modern “AAA” games especially, don’t feel as if they were made by people who play games. There are certain features which should never be missing at launch; graphics options we should always be able to control, like motion blur and screen shake… there are so many things which annoy gamers, which manage to always be present at the launch of modern games, with the promise they will fixed later. I’m. So. Tired. Of. This. It’s one of the things I constantly debate about the hotly contested OUTRIDERS (yeah, I’m back to bashing Square Enix again), because people tell me how much better it’s going to get after polish. I don’t care about or want that. I want a game that doesn’t lock cutscenes to 30fps on my 3080 at launch, or force motion blur or have pointless animation sequences every time you walk through a door. I don’t think my expectations are out of line when these are extraordinarily clear oversights that any modern gamer should have pointed out at extremely early stages in development, never mind after a game is launched. A game which costs over $100m to produce, and has as lauded a publisher as Square Enix shouldn’t have bullshit oversights at launch. And the same goes for everyone else.

This is why MWR is so important a launch for me. It’s both a great game, and it didn’t have the rocky launch we’ve come to expect from big publishers, while still having sales well into the millions. It all comes down to commitment to quality for the player. This is what absolutely shines about Monster Hunter Rise. Not only is it a solid evolution of the formula, but it sets the bar for what expectations of a AAA release should be. One has to wonder how much influence Nintendo had in this, since it is a Switch exclusive, and Nintendo certainly has a track record of maintaining a standard of quality for their own products–with MHR being no exception. Perhaps there was some collaborative effort?

Either way, it’s a well produced effort by CAPCOM for Nintendo, and I’m here for it. This is the level of quality we should be expecting across the board.

/gameon

You also get an owl companion called a “Cahoot.”

Game Review – XCOM: Chimera Squad: Underrated and Overshadowed

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Like many others last year, I never got around to playing Chimera Squad. While I’m certainly not disappointed to have found it in my monthly Humble Bundle, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t take my own advice and consider that it was only getting negative reviews because it lives in the shadow of its predecessors.

I was right.

Chimera Squad’s biggest flaw is being tied to XCOM.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is (in)arguably the gold standard for turn-based tactical shooters. With its equally incredible expansion, Enemy Within, it is nearly a perfect game. Compelling story, great gameplay, challenge, depth, replayability… it has it all. I’ve put hundreds of hours into it, myself. Hell, I want to play it right now, just talking about it–and that’s the problem.

Chimera Squad is an XCOM game, very intentionally set in the XCOM universe. It doesn’t really place itself as a sequel, or an in-between to XCOM 2, it’s more of a side story. It’s sort of what Lower Decks is to the rest of the Trek universe.

Star Trek meta joke about the over-pronunciation of "sensors."
My apologies to those who don’t understand most of the obscure references I make.


It’s not nearly as deep, it’s not nearly as dark, and it’s definitely a more casual gameplay experience compared to its big brothers. It takes a much lighter, but more direct approach to the story, and your unit is made up of indisposable characters integral to the plot, rather than a lineup of random recruits you may lose along the way. So it’s more narrative focused, and has less overall decision making as to where to go next.

None of these things are poor design choices in my opinion. The problem is that it’s impossible not to compare it to the other games, which are inarguably better. So, I can understand why some people might pick up this game and say, “wow, this just doesn’t hold up to other XCOM games,” and dismiss it as that.

I get it. Nothing beats the mech suits from Enemy Within.


You might miss out on a fun game, though.

It’s true, it doesn’t have the depth or diversity of gameplay as the bigger XCOM games, but that doesn’t make it a bad tactical shooter on its own. In fact, I’d say it’s a very good one.

Since it is made by the same developers of the original games, you can expect that the combat is good. Really, good. It feels a bit more forgiving on those higher percentage chances to hit, as well. Plus, because you are working with unique characters, they also have unique abilities. There’s no need to train or modify soldiers, you can just pick from characters you like. There’s also a new Breach mechanic, which gives you the opportunity to surprise enemies as you bust down a door, or blow a hole in a wall.

You can even split your squad between multiple breach points.


Since your unit is made up of important characters, they communicate frequently and seem to have varied dialogue depending on who you chose for the mission. They also contribute to the narrative aspects and feel like characters who were built with consideration, having more than just one dimension. There is a lot of quality game here that shouldn’t be tossed aside just because it’s a more casual approach to the genre.

It’s also not without some depth on its own: there’s weapon and item crafting, there’s unit customization, there are a variety of different mission scenarios and side quests that deviate from the main story. It’s not just a narrative focused, one-and-done game. There’s no reason one couldn’t find a hundred hours or more here.

You have a base where you can do base stuff.


Plus, I actually like the concept of it being more of a mid level cop division of XCOM, rather than being the top tier focused on saving the world. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the stories from the clean up crew, and not just from the guys making the mess. Being the sole savior of humanity is a heavily used trope in gaming. There’s plenty of room for diversion from that.

Again, it’s so easy to compare this game to its bigger brothers, but you’re best not to. While it fits well into the XCOM world building, it might be easier just to think of this as a game made by a different studio designed as a love-letter, instead. You might just enjoy it more as a thing by itself, rather than as something trying to live up to the original–because that bar is higher than most.

/gameon

No photo description available.
Remember: avoid manhandling and/or panhandling.

Game Review – Kingdom Two Crowns: A Royal Upgrade

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first installment of the Kingdom series was a curious take on tower defense. I enjoyed it. I put at least a few hours into it. I played New Lands, as well. The problem with both was the depth required to keep me engaged.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the series. I like tower defense, and I like strategy games. This series manages to combine elements of both in a way that is both minimalist, and yet, deeper than it seems on the surface. There’s a nuanced approached to how these games are designed and I am a big fan of how well it combines simplicity with conscious base design.

This is where Two Crowns succeeds.

Effectively picking up where its predecessors left off, Two Crowns shares much of the same gameplay: explore either direction of a 2D world, find treasure, expand and defend your base, build a boat to reach the next area.

It even says it in the do-hickey.


The thing Two Crowns does so effectively compared to its predecessors is the world building. Travelling between levels is travelling between continents. You can and will go back and forth on your boats. It’s fun to see your old bases still operating as you return, and the new challenges waiting when you get there.

The world is grander and full of more interesting things to find, too. There are curious ruins which have various effects when you unlock them. There are cottages with extra characters hiding inside, which you can coax to come join your kingdom. There are even several mounts to find and ride while you explore.

Wage war against The Greed while astride a badass Gryfon.


The mechanics are otherwise very much the same as the previous games. Controls are extremely simple, with very little guidance, allowing you to feel impressively immersed in this little 2D kingdom. As each day passes, waves of enemies grow increasingly difficult. So, you’ll have to continue to upgrade your base, and recruit villagers to defend it, just as before. However, if you lose your crown, you return to the same kingdom as a descendent, with many of the original facilities in place–which gives a sort of extra-lite, rogue-like progression. So, even when you fail, the game encourages you to keep going.

There are some things that might give it a little edge, though. It lacks some depth of control, like being able to command your units, or actually fight with your own character. When you respawn as a descendent, previous areas you explored already have their treasures plundered, which can make early progress a bit tedious in return attempts.

Small things aside, I really enjoy this one because there just aren’t many games like this. It’s a simple game with a big ability to charm and tweak the right buttons for a lovely mix of tower defense, strategy and adventure. It’s a game I will definitely keep coming back to.

/gameon

No memes, just another pretty picture.

Game Review – Mech Mechanic Simulator: I’m a Day-Trading Grease Monkey

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What do stock trading, logic equations, and mini-games based on 30 year old puzzle games have to do with repairing giant robots? A lot, apparently. It certainly makes for an interesting combination of elements forming together like a bit of a hap-hazard Voltron. Seems appropriate for a game about repairing mechs, anyway.

Ok, so I know I just threw a lot of crazy images together, but I’ll try to make sense of it all.

Let’s just start with the core game:

It is a mechanic simulator at its base. There are many, many games of this type, and a good portion come from its publisher and their “friends.” I put “friends” in quotes, because it seems like a number of these Chinese publishers have an invested interest in each other, especially considering I even got a loyalty discount for owning other games. Some of you may be familiar with PlayWay as a publisher. Their history of mechanic and repair simulators is long and storied.

PlayWay’s two best-selling games. They like their mechanic sims.


If you’ve never played one, it’s fairly self explanatory. You are a mechanic, and your job is to fix things. So in Car Mechanic Simulator you fix cars, in Mech Mechanic Simulator you fix mechs. I think you probably get it at this point.

The basic gameplay loop is as it sounds: pick up an order to repair a mech, complete the tasks required, send it back, get paid, repeat. Fixing and replacing parts is pretty straightforward: use the scanner to diagnose the problem, pull a limb off the suit, put it on a table and begin stripping it down. Like other mechanic simulator games, there are various stations to be unlocked and upgraded which allow you to repair, clean and craft individual components. So you can remove rust, weld, fix electronics and apply a fresh coat of paint… basically all the things you would expect from a game like this.

So far so… the same as every other game like this, right?

Click the shiny thing. Take it out. Put in a new one. Ezpz.


Wrong.

It seems like it’s going to be like most other mechanic games until after the first few hours, and you start unlocking stations that aren’t at all similar to other games in this genre.

For example, there is a functioning mini-stock market, featuring rising and falling values of the companies whose mechs you service. As you support the company, its stock grows, and so does your income. If you own stock in a company, and complete a contract from that company, you get extra compensation for the job, so it’s worth buying at least a few shares to boost your income.

I guess it seems kinda appropriate after the whole GameStonks fiasco.



While some of the cleaning and repair stations are fairly typical; cleaning off rust, and welding broking parts as one might expect. But the electronics station has you play a minigame to repair components that reminds me a lot of the classic puzzle game, Pipedream.

The calibration station actually requires you to solve a logic puzzle (aka, math), which upon completion, puts you in a virtual environment wherein you “calibrate” the mech by running around and shooting things. Eventually, you unlock stations which allow you to build your own mech, customize it with various paint pallets and decals, and even take it on missions.

TIL “calibration” means doing math and then shooting stuff.


There’s a surprising amount of game here for one with such a simple premise.

I wouldn’t call it perfectly executed, however. There are some things which feel a bit, oversight-y. For example, some of the background assets feel a bit cheap. Could be store bought or just default engine assets. The lighting could be more natural, as well. There’s a bit of a feeling that the game didn’t have a lot of artistic direction. The android “helper” is also entirely useless and unfunny. Thankfully, his voice over can be turned off in the options menu.

There are also some minor bugs, and missing textures here and there, although I might excuse them as 1.0 issues which could easily be polished in a patch or two. I even got a reply to my Steam review from the developer, asserting this would be the case.

I love getting replies to my reviews. Active devs warm my heart.


Despite some of the lack of polish, and the game going off script with stock trading and atypical puzzles, it still manages to work. I have to give this studio credit where it’s due: no one else made a game about fixing mechs, and no one else put a stock market in a mechanic game. So kudos for the creativity, and lots of points for the effort.

I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out of this one.

/gameon

Have a mech-related topical meme.

Game Review – Loop Hero: I have a problem

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So I bought Loop Hero a few days ago, and can’t seem to do anything else. I’m not the only one, either. While it hasn’t blown up quite to the extent of Valheim, which is an unstoppable machine of unrelenting consistency, it’s doing quite well for an indie game quite intentionally designed to look like it was made 30 years– so much so that it even has a CRT scanline filter.

In its first week, it sold over 500,000 copies, and sits at a 95% with nearly 10,000 “overwhelmingly positive” reviews. It rocks a very consistent 40,000 simultaneous players, which is pretty good for a roguelike, reverse-tower-defense, deck-builder. I know, it’s confusing just saying it. It’s a game that’s hard to describe, and even harder to illustrate with images. Even following a guide wouldn’t make much sense without actually playing the game yourself, and it’d probably be pretty boring to watch a play-through.

Time for some stuff on a page.

Yet, this is probably the most innovative game of 2021, so far.

I’ll do my best to break down what makes this such a hit.

First, you take two, simple, recognizable and ancient game formulas and flip em. Especially the tower defense part. Like a TD game, you have a set path of travel, except you are the character on the path, and baddies spawn to impede your progress. You place towers along the way to give you bonuses and resources to collect, but they also act as spawners, increasing the number and variety of monsters in your path. The point of it all, is to complete as many loops as you can before returning to your homestead, where you use the resources you acquire to build up your base, unlock new items and classes, so you can return to the loop to gather resources so you can continue to upgrade your base. It sounds repetitive–and it kind of is–but it’s also marvelously addictive.

There are lots of stats to read. Read things. It helps.


The roguelike elements are present, in that every loop is unique, and you start fresh at level 1 every time. Death is not nearly as punishing as most games, and often serves as a narrative punctuation, and you even still get to keep at least 30% of what you gathered, or more if you have the right items which protect your losses. So, while it is technically a roguelike, the elements are more of a gameplay mechanic, rather than simply your main incentive to stay alive.

So far, it probably all sounds pretty straightforward, right? Do loops, get loot, repeat. Yet, somehow I’ve already done this for 35 hours in 3 days, so there’s something in there keeping me going, and it’s the depth.

This game is way deeper than it appears on the surface, and even with the amount of time I’ve put in, I still haven’t figured out all the potential tower combinations that exist. Like many other tower defense games, you can combine the effects of towers to either help you, or hinder the enemy, or sometimes vice versa and both. However, these effects are not immediately obvious, and exist nowhere in the game’s description or lore. When you unlock these combinations, they are described in the in-game encyclopedia, but you will not be instructed on how to make them.

There is a surprisingly wide variety of characters and a clever narrative to unravel.


This leads to complexity of gameplay I never thought possible from a tower defense game. Suddenly, I’m not just arbitrarily looping to unlock better gear and new buildings at home, but I’m doing it to make new discoveries about how the game works. For such a seemingly simple game, I’ve never had so many, “ooooooooh,” moments, where I realize how to modify or improve my gameplay techniques.

This is the spark of creativity. Not just from the developer, but also for the player. It’s why people like crafting games. People like being given choices, and opportunities to build and invent. It’s not just sandbox-y, player freedom, it’s the feeling that your creative choices make you better at the game. That’s a magical feeling. Loop Hero pulls off that magic in such a way that it somehow feels like it’s reinventing the wheel with mechanics that aren’t all that new. It’s almost like if someone just flipped a tire inside out and realize this could be a whole new way to get around.

K, sometimes you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel.


Which is perhaps why it’s so appealing. There’s nothing here that should be entirely unfamiliar to the seasoned gamer. The basebuilding is fairly straightforward, but open-ended. You have a large grid, and you can place most buildings wherever you want within reason, and within a certain radius of other buildings. The deck-building is simply picking the bonuses and towers you want to show up in your hand while you’re looping. Collecting loot and leveling up in the game is straightforward, increasing in loot rarity and monster difficulty every time you start a new loop. Combat is simply watching your character attack, while you sort out which items you’re using.

Yet, there’s also no other game to compare this to. It has somehow taken so many familiar elements of game design, and made something entirely new. This isn’t a clever homage, or a throwback, even though it looks like it is.

What it is, is something that will inspire a new genre. I am quite certain we will soon see Loop-likes, and I am here for it.

/gameon

P.S. I just learned there is a game called Reinvent the Wheel and it looks neat.

Game Review – Everspace 2: Early Access AF

I’ve been trying to put together a comprehensive modern review of No Man’s Sky, but I keep getting distracted by other games. This one, in particular, I’ve been paying attention to for a while. But since I have already pushed the level cap, I figured I might as well do a review.

Normally, I’d hesitate doing a review outside of Steam for a game so fresh into Early Access without an available end-game, (compared to say Valheim where you can fight bosses, dive dungeons, and pump hundreds of hours into base-building alone, or Dyson Sphere Program, which has obvious missing elements, but you can still achieve the final goal of the game), but I’m making an exception because of how polished the current game already feels, despite barely breaking into the prologue of the story and having a level cap of only 14.

Also, the game takes some pretty nice screenshots with an ANSEL powered photo mode.


While there are a number of random encounters, and continuous spawns of baddies in certain areas, the game is fairly hard-capped for content at around 25 hours. The other important thing to note, is that this game will likely never be content complete during Early Access. It never was for the first one, (and I bought the first one in Early Access, as well) so I don’t expect it to be in this one. The developer has also expressed this sentiment. I think it’s important to know this going in, because the last game had some lamentations of abandonment towards the nearing of its completion, because it didn’t get a lot of updates towards the end.

However, when it did release, it was a massive opening up of content and narrative, so I have the same expectations for this game’s release.

So what comes along with those expectations?

Expect a lot of screenshots.


Well, Everspace 2 is a lot like the first one, mechanically speaking. In fact, it’s near identical. Fans of the first game will slip into the feel of the sequel without skipping a beat, and that’s not a bad thing. The first game had great graphics and smooth gameplay. It had tons of exploration, combat, crafting and variety of encounters. The problem, is a lot of these mechanics felt locked behind the roguelike death: both in how you unlock more ships, but also in that none of your efforts felt like they mattered. While the progression shared a lot of similarities with FTL, it didn’t quite use the formula in a way that fit the narrative. FTL rarely wants you to fail, despite its difficulty curve, while Everspace *needs* you to fail at least a few times to further the progression of the story. Every time you play FTL is intended to be a new adventure, whereas Everspace is a continuation of the same adventure by one individual.

It’s not to say that I think Everspace uses the FTL progression system poorly, but I think it could have done it differently.

The first game takes pretty screenshots, as well.


Thankfully, we have Everspace 2, which does away with all that and drops us into a sprawling open world. All of those materials you acquired, you get to keep and stash and hoard and craft with. Unlock ships so you can line your hangar with them. Buy them, trade them, upgrade them. There is a lot of freedom already available in this early version of the game.

Not to mention variety of gameplay. There are a dizzying number of puzzles hidden around every nook and cranny. You can literally fly inside the core of orbital space cities to dig for locked containers, and find their respective keys. There are mini-games to detonate giant asteroids for their resources, or bounce lasers by physically strapping a mirror to the front of your ship. It’s even scratching the ARPG itch with the crafting and loot system, and has a lot of potential to fill the void left by classics like Freelancer and Descent.

Seems legit.


I don’t want to go too hard into comparing it to legendary games, or games with much bigger scopes and much bigger studios. The developers have already expressed how intimidating that is, and they want to temper expectations, which is fair; considering how far hype can take a game, and inflate expectations.

That being said, I still feel like this game’s potential is huge. Even if it doesn’t live up to the impossible standards of meeting nostalgia’s call to the 90s, or matching the sheer size and density of open worlds existing in games like The Witcher 3, there’s no reason it can’t stand in its own shoes.

For one thing, this is probably the most polished early Early Access release I’ve ever seen. Framerates remain smooth as silk, and there are no obvious missing textures or fritzy AIs running around. I’ve had no client crashes, no audio glitches; it nearly plays like a finished game right up until you hit the level cap and narrative cliffhanger. It’s nice to be able to say that when you compare to some recent full releases of “AAA” games.

Please Enjoy These Hilarious Cyberpunk 2077 Bugs
I know, Cyberpunk is an easy target, but I do actually love the game.


So, do I recommend buying Everspace 2 in Early Access?

Conditionally.

Yes if:

You really just want to play the game in its current state because you are desperate for fresh space action.

You really liked the first game, and want to support the developer while they finish this one.

No if:

You are expecting the game to be finished within the year.

You are expecting a complete, or near-complete game experience at any time during Early Access.


When the game is finished, I’m sure I’ll have no issues recommending it to anyone who is interested. I’ll continue to check in on the game as it develops, but I’m not expecting to see a *lot* of content added to the game until it’s finished, which likely will be some time mid-to-late 2022.

At the end of it all, I have no regrets with my purchase, and can’t wait to see what comes next!

/gameon

Enjoy this gif I made from the first game.

Game Review – Breathedge: Why are you mad that it’s funny?

Rating: 4 out of 5.


I know, I know, it’s another new new “survival” game. Believe me, I’m bored just saying it. But stay with me on this one.

The gaming metaverse is correct in the generalization of it being “Subnautica in space.” Especially in the ways that it counts. It has a great immersive quality, there’s lots to do, and it rides the line of chill and stressful without going too far in either direction.

This title’s most divisive quality however: its use of humour. Some like it, while others seem utterly repulsed by it. Enough so to leave a negative review, and they even seem to comprise the bulk of the negative reviews, against the otherwise high ratio of positive (90%) reviews on Steam.

In today’s news, games are no longer allowed to be funny.


So when is the literary use of humour enough to turn people off, and even stop playing an otherwise clever game? Well, we’ll get into that. But first, let’s talk about what the game is.

As is asserted and agreed upon by many, this game shares a lot of similarities with the highly acclaimed, Subnautica. It drops you into a dangerous, unforgiving world, with little but your wits to figure out how to survive and thrive after a catastrophic accident aboard a spaceship. So yeah, basically the exact prologue to Subnautica.

It’s not so bad being compared to this game.


You spend a lot of the first act just trying to survive. You have limited oxygen and limited tools, so you spend a lot of time just trying to acquire blueprints and materials so you can spend more time in space. Eventually, you move to build yourself a habitat, while further exploring and delving deeper into the narrative. The base-building is simple, easy and doesn’t ask for a monumental grind, but there is a chance you will have to fix systems along to way to keep your base in good health, especially as it grows. Item and gear progression should be familiar to most, especially if you’ve played similar games.

There is a divergent sense of atmosphere, most certainly, in the attempts at humour. Subnautica comes across more serious, and is occasionally absolutely terrifying. Breathedge pushes away from horrors of the unknown, and takes a more lighthearted approach. If I were to compare it to anything, it has some similarities with Borderlands, and Fallout, or Outer Worlds in its juxtaposed cheerful corporate dystopia.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate Vault Boy Reveal Trailer Nintendo Direct 2020 -  YouTube
Is it ironic that Vault Boy is now a Smash character?


So this is where the controversy begins: when is use of humour too much? I will admit, the game never lets up. Every item description, every helpful notification from your internal computer voice, every achievement even… are all written to be clever or funny. I can see how this might be tiresome to certain people, but in the later game it just blends into the environment. For me, the humour is just another element of the game, like the skybox or the art style. When jokes hit, it adds to the game for sure, but when they miss, I don’t find it any more detracting than a poor colour choice, or a low res texture. It can be distracting, but it’s unlikely to actually take away from gameplay, especially if the gameplay is good.

I’m sorry, but this is a spectacularly good Area 51 raid joke.


And the gameplay is good. While the humour absolves the game of starkness, and wedges out most potentially scary moments, I consider the eased tension a nice break from the stress and occasional terror present in so many other survival games. Subnautica is an easy comparison here, because it is genuinely terrifying at times, without ever classifying itself in the horror genre. It does a good job of this, however, by balancing the terror with beautiful, serene moments in shallow waters. Most other survival games also approach fear in various ways, especially in having more dangerous monsters come out at night, or even making sanity a mechanic with its own meter, like in the Don’t Starve series.

But there’s no day-night cycle in Breathedge, so no creepy monsters to pop out in the dark. And while there are things to shoot at later on, the game never really seems intent on jump scares, or generally causing fear reactions just for the sake of it. There are some creepy elements here and there, but the general sense of joviality never really lets you be afraid of anything other than dying and losing progress. Considering there are corpses littering the entire map, both those who were alive and dead before the accident (you were in a space hearse, transporting hundreds of coffins, after all), I give this small indie developer credit for going with a dark humour approach at what would otherwise be considered a horrific incident.

Oh look, my visor has frozen over completely and I can’t see anything. Great.


This feels refreshing to me. Sure, the jokes don’t always hit, and they are unrelenting, but it’s such a nice change of pace from every other survival game that plunges you into darkness every 10 minutes so it can send waves of enemies at your base. Even one of my more recent favourites, Valheim is guilty of this.

So now I have a game where I can base-build in peace, while still having to make considerations for the health of my character. I have a game where I can experience the struggles of surviving in a cold, unforgiving vacuum, while also being literally memed by the developer into crafting a helmet that has zero visibility, or a phallus shaped out of scrap metal.

Are you even gaming if you can’t grab and manipulate corpses inappropriately?


Perhaps I have a leaning preference towards games which don’t take themselves too seriously. I definitely have a bias against those which do. My recent review of OUTRIDERS might reveal some of those sentiments. Too many (especially “AAA”) games these days focus so hard on flashy visuals, and confusing, world-bending narratives, they forget to just let the player have fun.

In today’s ever advancing graphics engines and competitive push to sell VR hardware to the masses, it’s important to remember that games don’t need to emulate hardcore realism to be immersive, and I think Breathedge is more than capable of selling an immersive experience while reminding the player, and perhaps the industry as a whole, to have fun.

/gameon

May be an image of 3 people and text that says "SOIJOINED THIS SHITPOSTING GROUP, BUT THEY POST LOT OF DAD JOKES SOI DECIDED το MAKE A SHITPOST CALLING THEM OUT ON THEIR DAD JOKES BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MATCH MY NTELLECTUAL LEVEL OF HUMOUR IM REALLY ONLY INTO ΜΕΤΑ HUMOUR WHERE TS AN RONIC NON-JOKE WHICH ENDS UP BEING FUNNY BECAUSE THE PEOPLE IN THE CONVERSATION MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND THAT I JOKING. IT'S JUST A REALLY SOPHISTICATED LEVEL OF HUMOUR, NOT EVERYONE GETS I IT'S LIKE, RICK AND MORTY LEVEL HUMOUR, YOU JUST HAVE To BE REALLY SMART το GET T. ASTROS"
It’s clear that we just don’t “get” your level of humour, bro.

Game Review – I played the Outriders “Prologue” so you don’t have to

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Believe me, you don’t have to.

I’m at the point where I’m starting to feel like I want those two hours of my life back, and that’s the second time in a row Square-Enix has elicited that reaction from me.

Everything about OUTRIDERS just screams all of problems I had when I played Marvel’s Avengers last year, and maybe a few more. It was nice of Steam to keep a record of my feelings for me:

I do miss Marvel Heroes.

So how does OUTRIDERS expand upon my general disappointment? Well the cutscenes, for one. There are way too many of them. They constantly interject and interrupt any fun you might be having, and they run at a bizarrely low 30fps on my 3080. Gameplay, I average around 150fps on ultra settings, but as soon as we cut to cinematics, which is frequent, we go back to 30fps. Sometimes they even have you take control of the camera in 30fps. What year is this? What hardware restricts this low of frames during cinematics, especially when gameplay seems so well optimized by comparison? I also can’t turn off motion blur, which is appalling in a modern game.

The first hour of this prologue is spectacularly boring, as well. There is virtually no gameplay at all, and the few minutes there is, has you walking or running on rails and learning nothing about what’s actually happening in the game you end up in. It’s a lot of confusing conjecture that is ultimately very little help in understanding what the hell is going on around you. This leads to a full hour of non-gameplay before you actually get to gameplay.

Gameplay that is… clunky. Attacks don’t feel very weighted, nothing is particularly new or interesting, and the loot already feels exhausting. It feels like a game that is going to want me to grind for weapons, and that I’m lamenting the fact in the first 2 hours of gameplay is not good. Especially since the gameplay itself isn’t all that interesting. It’s generic shooting with some okish looking magic abilities that are honestly better executed in isometric ARPGs like Path of Exile or Grim Dawn.

Plus, the entire concept of cover is flawed. They set it up to be an important mechanic… right up until the point you want to engage any of your class abilities, which require you to play aggressively, as the game even tells you. If you want to heal as a melee class, you need to be close to enemies, and with ranged classes you need to be doing damage. So cover becomes a pointless mechanic the more you level up. It can’t decide between shooting and class abilities, and that’s not a good look for a looter-shooter.

You want a game that has a mix of shooting and powers? Go play Warframe or Destiny 2. They’re free and won’t waste your time. Or Vermantide 2, a great looter-shooter in the Warhammer universe. Or Deep Rock Galactic, a game about deep core mining space dwarfs, from the same publisher as Valheim. Looter shooters are a dime a dozen these days.

OUTRIDERS just feels like yet another blatant “AAA” attempt to tap into a market they don’t understand. Shades of Anthem and Avengers. Square-Enix needs to go back to making Final Fantasy games before they bankrupt themselves on “games-as-a-service.” This game just feels behind the curve, while even EA can see the writing on the wall about shoehorning multiplayer online services. When you look clueless next to EA, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

/gameon

And then I weep for the industry as thousands… maybe millions of people waste their money.

Game Review – Hollow Knight: A Love Letter

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hollow Knight is a perfect game.

I know, a bit grandios to begin a review of a game with such a definitive and superlative statement, but I truly believe there is no other way to describe this title.

So hear me out.

Let’s start with the gameplay:

Smooth, precise and varied. Challenging, without being punishing. Exciting, but allows you to breathe. The pacing is well mannered and accessible. Rarely does it feel like the game is being unfair, even when you fail more than once.

Attacks feel weighted, even while playing as a tiny character. A character identified as small, not only by the environment, but by the NPCs themselves. Yet, you are strong, and feel as such. Your character is an agile warrior, and you are constantly reminded with a clever progression of mobility upgrades and swift attacks, but you don’t become an overpowered God to early game monsters, either. Anything can kill you, and you are always required to play the dance of mechanics. There is something satisfying in this, as predecessors like Dark Souls have shown.

Dance, monkey.

While there is certainly souls/metroidvania inspiration in this game, I hesitate to compare it too much, as it is so very able to stand on its own legs. While some mechanics may be lifted, others are simply things it has in common. Such as the immaculate and deliberate level design. Rewarding exploration and discovery. Non-linear storytelling and unguided pathfinding. The challenging gameplay and varied bosses, requiring you to learn mechanics. There are a number of things which have a bit of a souls-like/metroidvania feel, and the fact that you have to go “get” your body after dying in order to reclaim some of your life does have some parallels for sure.

But all of those things contribute, and never feel reused or stolen. Namely, because the game’s world itself is unique and fascinating.

I want to preface this next part with the fact that I don’t like bugs. Spiders creep me out, and even just the idea of visiting Australia gives me anxiety because of how huge some of the bugs are. Hell, I’ve never even seen Antz or A Bugs Life, (and I am the appropriate age to have seen them) because that’s how not interested I am in bugs.

It is kind of adorable.


So when I say that this marvelous little bug world really drew me in, I want you to understand that I otherwise I have no interest in entomology or even just having bugs near me. It is easily the most immersive 2D game world ever designed, in my opinion. Character design is diverse and creative. Monsters are varied and curious, not always just typical “bad guys.” Boss fights are glorious and reward you in unexpected ways. Sometimes you meet a new friend. Sometimes you earn the respect of warrior-leaders. Sometimes you’re just learning something new.

Dung Defender is an incredible name, and you wish you thought of it.


The lore is also deep, while never spoon-fed. You have to read, converse and make decisions to unravel the mysterious world around you. There are some aspects debated to this day, such as the result of spirits being hit by the Dream Nail–an important weapon given to you, which gains power upon striking lingering ghosts–and whether or not it is good or bad for the spirits, as many you find are innocents and kind souls. This is the kind of thing which makes great games stand the test of time. Hollow Knight is a game worth pondering over, while you play it.

You want lore? We got lore for days.


I suppose I can admit to some bias when it comes to this kind of game. I do love metroidvanias, and I consider Super Metroid to be one of the greatest games of all time, without question. I like sidescrollers, and I like platformers, and Hollow Knight is most certainly inspired by some of the classics which guided the early game industry as we know it. It doesn’t hold back on platforming, either, and even has some challenging spots which require fairly precise wall-jumping. I wouldn’t call it as punishing as say, Super Meat Boy, or Celeste, however, and much of the truly heavy platforming is relegated to side areas which are not mandatory to progressing the game.

Mostly I just love existing in this little bug world, which to me is the sign of a truly great game. I remember when I was young, playing Ocarina of Time on my N64, I’d just ride on my horse around the open world for hours. Just ride. I can’t name too many games where I just want to spend time in the world without any specific intent to accomplish anything, and Hollow Knight is one where I’ve done circles around the map, just to see if there are any new undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Lots of goodies to find, too.


It’s safe to say I’m pretty excited for the follow-up, Silksong to release (hopefully) this year. As such, I’d really like to point out the wonderful developer of this franchise, Team Cherry. I own this game on both Steam and Switch, have pumped more than 60 hours into both versions, and would say that the performance is indistinguishable on both. It always runs at a steady 60fps, and I have never experienced so much as an obvious frame drop, glitch, or even localization error. It runs as smoothly on a technically hand-held console as it does on my brand new gaming PC with an overclocked i7 and 3080.

Part of this is due to the fact that they don’t give release dates until the game is close to finished. Which is easier for a smaller team, for sure. I followed their Switch development cycle fairly closely, and while they’d give updates every few months, they’d continually say they weren’t comfortable giving a release date until they were sure it was polished enough to do so. The same methodology has continued with Silksong. I believe this is the correct way to publicly develop a game. Internal goals are fine, but as soon as you tell the public a date, you create expectations, and we have a Cyberpunk, or No Man’s Sky situation where a game is delayed several times and still released unfinished. The only expectation we should have is that a game be finished. The date is irrelevant if it’s unachievable. (Expect an article about the fallacy of setting expectations via release dates sometime in the near future)

TBA until it’s done. As it should be.


I could probably write another several hundred words about all of the things that make this game great, but I feel like I may have made my point to the uninitiated, and am just preaching to the choir when it comes to the existing fans, so I will leave you with this:

Hollow Knight is a perfect example of why this is the era of indie games. Big publishers continue to have their blunders by either misreading the market, or releasing unfinished games, while spectacularly good indie titles are coming from tiny studios with big hearts, and a passion for what they’re making. No amount of Ray-Traced realism, and hi-res, next-gen graphics can replace that in my gaming collection.

Modern indie masterpieces like Hollow Knight are a glorious reminder that games are made by artists; and there’s a big difference between corporate-designed pop music, and an orchestral symphony.

/gameon