With the core essence of a Far Cry game perfected Ubisoft has turned to a couple other items with which to differentiate each instalment in the franchise. Most notable is the wide variety settings, each of them driving the narrative and mechanical stylings of the game. This particular choice of location, that of rural Montana in the USA, was an interesting one, generating a lot of conversation of how Ubisoft would approach many of the delicate political topics that are top of mind today. Strangely though little of the conversation focused on what the game itself would be like which, I’m happy to report, is still as enjoyable as ever. There are some choices I’m not a huge fan of however, taking away some of the depth that this franchise was famous for.
You are the Rookie, a new junior deputy in the Hope County sheriff’s department. You arrive at Eden’s Gate to serve Joseph Seed, the leader of a local cult, with a federal arrest warrant on charges of kidnapping with the intent to harm. Although Joseph offers no resistance, he claims that God will not allow him to be detained. As you escort him away the cult members lash out at you, downing your helicopter and your team along with it. You learn that the sheriff’s department has been infiltrated by the cult and they’ve prevented the National Guard from responding. It’s now up to you, deputy, to free Hope County from clutches of Eden’s Gate and rescue your team.
Far Cry 5 continues the series’ use of the Dunia engine, a highly modified version of the CryEngine. The visuals are stunning with obvious improvements in lighting, textures and the attention to detail. This is probably one of the few games, especially in the open world genre, that manages to look good both at distance as well as up close. This does come at a price however and my rig, no longer the towering beast able to take all comers, was brought to its knees more than once. A few tweaks here and there ensured that I was able to get smooth performance but some sacrifices had to be made. Most notably was the draw/level of detail distance which, whilst on foot, wasn’t much of an issue but was readily apparent when I was say flying in a helicopter. All things considered though I think it’d be safe to say that Far Cry 5 is likely to be one of this year’s best looking games.
As I alluded to in my opening paragraph Far Cry 5 maintains the formula that the franchise has perfected over the last 14 years. Whilst the long held tradition of climbing radio towers to uncover parts of the map has (thankfully) been removed you’ll still be liberating outposts, picking up various side quests and working your way up to taking down the Big Bad Boss of the day. Many of the core mechanics and progression systems have been streamlined significantly which, depending on your point of view, could swing either way. One of the most notable additions is the Arcade Editor, allowing you to craft your own levels and experiences within this Far Cry world. The less notable, more notorious, addition is microtransactions allowing you to bypass the built money grind if you so wish. For this old player it has raised an interesting conundrum as I’m typically a fan of streamlining games but in this instance I think it’s taken something away.
All Far Cry games start off with you being someone who really doesn’t have the skills to survive in the situation that find themselves in. Then, over the course of your play through, you begin to build yourself up through the various trials and tribulations the game throws at you. Part of this included a rather in-depth and daunting perk tree which progressively allowed you to build out your character along your desired path. In Far Cry 5 however many of the skills that you would’ve had to previously unlock, like say heavy takedown, are given to you by default. This does mean that you’re far more capable earlier on than you’d otherwise be, something that does help to speed up the pace of the game, but the downside is that the perk tree no longer feels as impactful as it once was.
Many of the talents are simply incremental upgrades to things you already have and a good quarter of them are dedicated to reducing the respawn times of your companions. To be sure there are a few that make a huge difference in how you’ll approach certain challenges the game throws at you but rarely did I feel the same power increase as I did in the previous games. Quite often I was left with a bunch of points and no real desire to spend them on any of the perks as I couldn’t see what advantage I’d get out of them. In fact the biggest power increase I ever got was when I finally got myself a helicopter with machine guns, something that takes a whole lot of pain out of the games more laborious moments. I’d forgive the lacklustre perk system if the other means of progression felt a lot more impactful but, honestly, they seem to suffer from the same sameness problem.
The power of your weapons feels largely determined by the type so that guns in the same category are largely as effective as each other. The higher tier weapons, which you unlock from increasing resistance levels across the board, usually come with more quality of life perks rather than an increase in overall effectiveness. The sniper rifles, for instance, go from bolt action to semi-auto, the rifles semi to full-auto and so on. The bow, unlike other Far Cry games, feels pretty damn useless once you get yourself a silenced gun of any description (which isn’t rare either, pretty much everything can be silenced). The prestige guns are also just unique skins rather than more effective versions of their common counterparts meaning any cash spent on them is ultimately wasted. Once I’d settled on my loadout (pistol, rifle, LMG and sniper rifle) I didn’t change it for the rest of the game.
What this leads to is an overall combat experience that, for a while, is somewhat varied but quickly deteriorates into a repetitive slugfest. It’s a shame really as the slow increase in my character’s power level was something I always enjoyed in the Far Cry series. Being almost untouchable at the end always felt highly rewarding, allowing you to breeze through challenges that were once a complete showstopper. In Far Cry 5 however it feels like after maybe 4 hours or so you’re basically at the limit and there’s little more that will change how you play. Of course it’s still fun to strafe an outpost with a chopper or sneak around with your cougar companion but the lack of variation does start to wear on you after a while. Thankfully the game recognises this and campaign progression gets faster the more you complete, allowing you to blast through the last area in about half the time when compared to the first.
Crafting has been radically simplified and decoupled from the progression system. No longer will you be hunting down rare game in order to craft a new wallet, instead they’ll form part of your cash flow that you’ll funnel into the upgrades of your choice. All you’ll be crafting now is consumables including all your explosives and “homeopathics” which include the usual foray of decreased damage taken, increased speed and so on. This does mean that the progress system is a bit more universal, alleviating the previous Far Cry game’s issue where you could have all the talents in the world but could still only hold 5 arrows at a time. Materials are found everywhere, including on enemies you defeat, so it’s rare that you’ll ever be wanting if you need to crafting something. Overall I think the changes are good from a quality of life perspective but does take away something that was kind of a signature of the series.
Far Cry 5 still retains many of the issues that Ubisoft’s open world games are renowned for like the incredibly janky physics and an AI that’s dumb as dogshit. As /r/gamephysics will attest to there’s a bunch of whacky physics interactions with vehicles, people and the environment. None of these are game breaking and many are great fun to watch. What’s less fun is the AI which, when it’s being used to control your companion, routinely goes completely off the rails. I had one instance when I was in a helicopter (which the AI was piloting) where it would randomly land for 30 seconds before taking off again. It didn’t even seem to understand that it shouldn’t land in the river and proceeded to so, almost killing us both. Similarly characters that are leading you or part of an escort mission get horrendously confused if anything out of the ordinary happens like, say, a fire happening near them which they caused. Of course that also leads to some rather fun times when you can really screw with the enemy AI but with the lack of a quick save/load system it’s not nearly as fun as it could be.
All of this being said though, for all its flaws, Far Cry 5 is still very much an enjoyable experience. Ubisoft has obviously taken a line to make the series more approachable to a wider audience, cutting down on a lot of the elements that would’ve been overwhelming to players just jumping into the franchise now. Whilst long time fans of the series, like myself, may not enjoy those changes I can recognise that a lot of reviewers are seeing these as positives. I couldn’t point you to exactly what made the game fun for me but I certainly don’t regret the time I spent in it and I’ll attribute part of that to the game’s story.
Whilst initially the game felt like it’d hit close to home on a lot of hot button issues the game draws a rather well crafted line straight down the middle, ridiculing both sides as much as the other. Many have criticised the game for not taking a stance one way or the other but, honestly, did anyone expect Ubisoft Montreal to make a political statement on the current state of the USA? Instead many of the side quests and throwaway parts lampoon the stereotypes of both sides with your redneck preppers on one and your new age hippie vegans on the other. Is that a missed opportunity? Sure, but I’m not looking to big name publishers and developers to make a statement. I’m looking for a fun game experience that I can switch off the higher order parts of my brain to. When I want to be stimulated I’ll take a deep dive into the world of indie titles.
Personally I started with John’s area before moving onto Faith’s and finally Jacobs. Out of the three I felt Faith’s was the strongest as it drew me in with a believable tale of how she came to be the person she was. John’s comes in at a close second for his portrayal of your stereotypical televangelist with an empowering catchphrase. Perhaps due to the order I played them in Jacob’s felt incredibly weak, lacking anything to draw me in. Of course it’s a highly predictable narrative (all the way up a certain point, which I won’t talk about) but that’s one part of the Far Cry formula which I didn’t expect to get touched. Overall the narrative and its pace of delivery are well done enough that I was able to forget about the other flaws, at least for a little while anyway.
Far Cry 5 is certainly another solid instalment in the franchise, even if the streamlining of some of the games more iconic features didn’t sit well with this reviewer. The game retains the series penchant for high end graphics which are sure to delight fellow eye candy enthusiasts. The progression system, whilst more concise than it ever has been before, feels like it takes away some of the core aspects which drove the growing power fantasy aspect which I felt was core to the Far Cry experience. Couple this with the other lacklustre progression mechanics and the core of the game, whilst still retaining the things that make Far Cy good, just isn’t as enjoyable as it once was. However the game is still worth playing, maybe even more so for those who haven’t played the series before. The narrative, whilst missing the mark for many due to its fence sitting nature, is enjoyable for what it is. For Far Cry fans this instalment is still a must play but it falls short of reaching the same heights as some of its predecessors did.
Far Cry 5 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 45% of the achievements unlocked.
Amanita Designs has developed quite the reputation for creating simple games with beautiful hand drawn visuals. Whilst they’ve been active since 2003 it wasn’t until their release of Machinarium in 2009 that they really broke through as a developer. Since then they’ve gone on to release several games in their trademark style, many of which have won praise for their visual design. Indeed I remarked as much in my review of their second full length game Botanicula back in 2012. I gave Samorost 3 a miss, mostly because I didn’t have the time to play through the previous 2, but when I saw CHUCHEL I was excited at the prospect at playing another one of Amanita’s games. However, whilst the trademark visual comedy style remains, this particular game failed to grab me in the same way Botanicula did.
You follow CHUCHEL and his pet/friend/enemy Kekel through a variety of challenges with one goal in mind: to get back that delicious cherry. To do so you’ll have to complete many and varied challenges ranging from simple things like distracting a watchful beast to playing a simplified version of pacman. Each of the panels is filled with clickable items that will react in varying ways, some producing rather hilarious and unintended effects. Solving the puzzle doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get your hands on that cherry though as a disembodied hand, which seems to revel in torturing poor little CHUCHEL, will likely sweep in at the last second and take it away from you.
Amanita’s visual design is as great as ever in CHUCHEL, leaning more towards a child like hand drawn aesthetic than its previous more dream-like works. The backgrounds are usually simple watercolour inspired designs with soft colours bleeding out and mixing together. Items and characters stand out from the background thanks to their hard edges and use of solid, bright colours (with the exception of furry things like CHUCHEL). The design has a children’s book feel to it with each of the levels feeling like it could be a page from one of your childhood favourites. It should come as no surprise that the game has already been recognised by the Independent Games Festival with an Excellence in Visual Art award.
Like their previous titles CHUCHEL is a point and click (sans adventure) game, requiring you to explore the environment by clicking around to figure out what you can and can’t do. For the most part the puzzles are contained to a single panel however there’s a few that take place over multiple, increasing the challenge. You’re quite unlikely to get stuck as the game seems to recognise when you’re taking too long to solve a particular puzzle and begins dropping hints about what you need to do. However there’s a lot to be uncovered should you take your time in solving the puzzles with much of the games content hidden in non-puzzle elements. This is then accompanied by a great soundtrack and excellent foley work which is sure to captivate many players, both young and old.
However unlike Botanicula, which managed to engage me right through to the end, CHUCHEL just failed to grab me. More so than its predecessor I believe CHUCHEL would likely be enjoyed more by children and played on an iPad as the game lends itself well to the platform. Playing it on the PC, whilst far from a bad experience, just feels like its half a stepped removed from how it’s meant to be played. I haven’t yet had the chance to unleash this particular game on any of my nephews or nieces but I’d hazard a guess this is the kind of game that could keep them thoroughly entertained for hours on end.
For me though there just wasn’t enough to keep me coming back to play it. The art and sound design are great but the puzzles quickly start to feel repetitive after a really short period of time. I personally could only play it in ~20 minute bursts before I grew tired of it. Perhaps the lack of even a simple overarching narrative, which Botanicula had, is the key here as there really wasn’t much beyond wanting to see the next scene to keep me going. I’ve barely played it for an hour and I just simply don’t feel like going back to it. Maybe I just need to watch someone else play it.
CHUCHEL is proof yet again that Amanita Design is a master of their style, delivering another gorgeous point and click adventure game that’s sure to delight many. The hand drawn childlike aesthetic is simply beautiful, echoing the kinds of things many us would’ve drawn as kids. Unfortunately the repetitive nature of some of the puzzles combined with the lack of even a simple overarching story made it hard for this reviewer to remain engaged with it long term. Still it’s easy to recognise the quality of the work put into making CHUCHEL and, whilist I might not have enjoyed it as much as their other games, it’s still likely worth picking up even if it is just for the kids.
CHUCHEL is available on PC, iOS and Android right now for $9.99. Game was played on the PC with just over an hour of play time and 0% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve started to grow rather fond of these little city simulation games, each of them bringing a different bent on the same genre. Looking back over my gaming history it seems to have started with Anno 2070, a game I never would have played if it wasn’t for a gentle prodding from a good friend of mine. Since then I’ve played quite a few of them (even an Early Access one, breaking my rule!), usually getting to my first victory until I moved onto greener pastures. It’s rare that one manages to bore me into not wanting to play again which is unfortunately what Surviving Mars managed to do.
The premise of the game is simple enough, you’re part of a mission to establish a colony on Mars. You’re given a base set of infrastructure, a truckload of cash and a set amount of time to build the colony up to a respectable level. Mars isn’t a particularly hospitable place though, devoid of much of the resources that you’ll need to keep your humans alive and happy. At the same time you’re still at the behest of your supporters who are keen to exploit the natural resources of this yet untapped world.
Now I’ve never played any of the Tropico series or other titles that Haemimont Games is known for so I don’t have much of a baseline to compare it to. On first glance I thought it had a little bit of that Unity engine feel to it but they apparently have their own, custom built engine which was upgraded for Surviving Mars. It has a similar visual style to that of Cities Skylines with heavily stylized visuals including simple textures and bright colours. There are some cool bits of visual flair like vehicles, buildings and infrastructure all getting dusty after being around for a set period of time. Whilst the simple visuals are necessary, due to the game’s heavy simulation load and potential for a lot of items on screen, they’re certainly not one of the game’s negatives. I only wish the game gave you a little more reason to enjoy them up close (more on that later).
Surviving Mars is a colony building simulator with all the essentials you’d expect from such a game. You’ll be given a starting location and a set of infrastructure to get you started but beyond that you’re left on your own. Initially you’ll just be commanding a drone army, one that needs little more than a stable power source to survive the harsh martian terrain. You’ll use that to build up the minimum set of infrastructure required to start bringing humans down which in turn leads onto bigger and better things. Along the way you’ll research new tech, explore new terrain and grow your colony further. Your win condition will depend on which nation you align yourself to and it could be something as simple as reaching a colony of 200, building multiple domes or researching enough tech. There’s certainly a lot to do and, in true simulation fashion, it may take some time to get to the next thing you want to do. For some that’s part of the charm but unfortunately, for this writer, it was what ended up killing it.
Getting started in Surviving Mars is a bit of a struggle as even the quick game option doesn’t really give you a lot of direction to start off with. It gives you a few basic instructions here and there but unlike other simulation games, which usually give you a simple mission which will help you establish a basic colony, Surviving Mars does no such thing. This leads to maybe an hour or two of screwing around to figure out what you should do, in what order and what each of the mechanics is best used for. I believe this is intended, mostly to keep some mechanics a bit vague in order to generate those desperate moments when you forget to do something and suddenly your colonists are running out of food or something. Whilst I’m all for emergent gameplay elements like that, indeed one of my favourite stories is trapping all my colonists inside their first dome in Planetbase with no oxygen and no power to get out, forcing them takes away much of their charm. Still most of them are easy to avoid even though there’s no base overview panel or similar to keep a track on all the colony’s key stats.
Building up your colony can be done relatively swiftly if you make good use of the resupply mechanic, allowing you to spend capital to get resources from Earth. The limiting factor there will be your research however as the small domes you get at the start are too small to be useful. Making you colony self sustainable is quite the challenge as the specialised buildings you’ll need to fabricate the different resources (like polymers, electronics and machine parts) all require specialised facilities, most only built inside domes, and the requisite resources. Both of those will require colonists and the greater the number and mix of them you have the harder it will be to ensure they all have everything they want. This is somewhat easier in the later stages of the game when you have access to bigger domes of course but it does mean that the first few hours of a game are usually a bit of a struggle. From there though it starts to drag a bit as you get into a repetitive cycle of: ordering new resources from Earth, expanding as much as you can, waiting for some tech to research and repeating until you’ve had enough.
Indeed that’s what killed it for me in the end. I was definitely making progress but I still didn’t have a fully, self sufficient colony that I could depend upon whilst I focused on the higher order things. I did have domes producing each of the resources but the rate at which they did was so slow it was barely enough to keep everything going. So instead I’d be focused on the resource depots (since there’s no page to say you have X units of metal or anything), figuring out what I needed where, ordering enough from Earth and then ensuring they all got transited to the right places. Strangely it feels a lot like one of Paradox’s other games, Stellaris, where you end up getting bogged down in the minutiae of running everything rather than having fun with the big picture.
A lot of this is born out of the lack of quality of life features that would make the game a lot more fun. For example drones have no idea about anything outside of their control zones, meaning that if there’s resources in one zone that are needed in another (even if those zones overlap) they will never get transported there. This makes setting up new areas a real chore as you have to manually transport everything there. The lack of a colony health or overview page makes checking up on resources a real pain with the only indication of a problem being the alerts when things are on the brink of disaster. Worse still the normal notifications like “We have an oxygen shortage” are usually inaccurate, actually meaning that a dome you just built (that doesn’t have people in it yet) hasn’t been connected yet. The research trees are hidden unless you discover it in an anomaly or research up the tree which means there’s no driving motivator to push you along one path or the other. Also there’s no drag to select a bunch of units, a real pain when you want to reallocate a bunch of drones between zones.
All of these things, combined with the dreadfully slow pace of research in the early game, make it really hard to keep going past a certain point. Some of Surviving Mars’ negatives are easy enough to deal with, like the lack of tutorials or quality of life mechanics, but when it takes so long to do so little with so much effort I just end up getting bored. It’s a shame as there’s obviously a good amount of mechanical depth in Surviving Mars but at 6 hours play time I felt like I had been playing for 30. I didn’t even get to check out the “individually simulated” colonists, not that I think that would’ve made much of a difference in anything.
Surviving Mars is a game that feels like it left beta just a little bit too early. The core tenants of what the developer wanted to achieve are there, a colony simulator with a Mars bent, but the things that would make the game actually enjoyable to a wider audience are missing. Perhaps this is par for the course with the developer and the game is perfectly built for their fans, I wouldn’t know as this is the first title I’ve played from them. Still considering their pedigree I had higher expectations for what would amount to their 9th game in the genre. Given that the game has mod support and DLC to come it’s entirely possible that these issues will go away in due time but that wouldn’t be enough for me to recommend the game as it is now.
Surviving Mars is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $39.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6 hours playtime and 12% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s a fairly predictable cycle in games when it comes to new genres. Typically there’ll be a bunch of relatively unknown titles that will experiment with various mechanics, setting the groundwork for the games that follow. Then comes the breakout hit, now usually an Early Access title, which gets heralded as the next big thing. Then come the clones, dozens upon dozens of clones, all of which attempt to emulate the breakout’s success. Most of these will fall by the wayside although a few will go on to develop the idea further, finding a dedicated niche for their particular brand of the new genre. Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide did exactly that, taking the essence of the Left 4 Dead formula and reworking it into a truly unique experience. I wasn’t aware a sequel was in the works so when I saw Vermintide II, had been released I was keen to see what direction Fatshark had decided to take this IP in. By and large it’s the same game but far more of it; much of it streamlined for a much more enjoyable experience overall.
Following the events of the first game, Grey Seer Rasknitt has successfully captured the five Heroes of Ubersreik. Without the interference of the heroes, the city of Ubersreik fell to the forces of Clan Fester. Rasknitt has since ordered the construction of a massive portal known as the Skittergate, which will allow the Chaos Champion Bödvarr Ribspreader and his Rotblood army easy access to the border-city of Helmgart. However, the Skittergate continuously fails to properly operate, disallowing Bödvarr to summon the entirety of his forces. When the Skittergate disastrously fails to activate again, the resulting destruction frees one of the heroes, Markus Kruber, from captivity. He fights his way through the skaven lair and reunites with the rest of the heroes: Viktor Saltzpyre, Bardin Goreksson, Sienna Fuegonasus and Kerllian. They then band together once again to push back against the Skaven and the Rotbloods.
Vermintide II makes use of the same Autodesk Stingray engine that its predecessor did, albeit with a bunch of modern improvements such as: DirectX 12 support, volumetric lighting and fog, texture streaming and an enhanced fluid system. The levels are noticeably less barren than its predecessor too, brimming with details at nearly every corner. There’s also a lot more variety in the levels than there was previously with not every level taking place in a run down medieval town. There are a few areas which could do with some attention though, like the ones bathed in fog which seem to torpedo your performance no matter how beefy your system is. Whether or not Fatshark will continue developing on this engine though is anyone’s guess as Autodesk has discontinued development on the engine as of January this year. Suffice to say I wouldn’t expect Vermintide III in the next 2 years or so if an engine change is on the books.
The core game mechanics of Vermintide II haven’t changed much from its predecessor, retaining the same game play that made the original fun. It’s still a melee first game, one with 5 different characters and a varying array of loot to change them up a bit, however there’s also now 3 “careers” per character. Each of them changes the passive and active ability of the character whilst retaining your level, giving you an opportunity to try different playstyles without having to change classes and start levelling all over again. The loot and crafting system has been streamlined, making progression a little more clear than it previously was. The mission structure has also been streamlined, making it a bit easier to follow the campaign’s story (if that’s of interest). Overall the Vermintide II experience is very much the same as its predecessor, just refined and polished with the lessons that Fatshark has learnt over the past couple years.
Combat still feels the same with you facing down untold legions of enemies in face-to-face melee combat. With the introduction of the Chaos into the mix there’s a wider variety of enemies although, truth be told, most of them are just different skins on the same kinds of enemies. The same depth of combat remains with the intricacies of dodging, blocking and using the right weapon type all making a big difference in how challenging a particular level is for you. This time around I decided to play as the elf which, whilst incredibly fun, probably wasn’t the best choice given my penchant to get far too personal with large groups of enemies. This was largely negated by her passive (allowing me to heal up to half health) though so I think it worked out in the end. I have heard (and seen) that the dwarf is currently stupidly overpowered but haven’t had a chance to give it a go myself.
The loot system has been streamlined although the same modifier mechanics remain. Hidden throughout each of the levels are 3 tomes (which replace your healing potion), 2 grimoires (which replace your potion slot and reduce your party’s health) and potentially some loot dies. Each of these will increase the quality of the loot box you’ll get at the end of the level, should you complete it. Each of those boxes contains 3 items with the higher grade boxes having a higher chance of better gear. All of the items power is directly related to your current power so, at least in the early stages, its best to just equip whatever the highest power items are that you have. The quality of the items just increases the number of additional buffs and traits they have with exotics, the highest tier, having unique abilities. Just like its predecessor this allows for an insane amount of customisation for your character, granting you the ability to hone your playstyle to its ultimate perfection.
Crafting is best used to replace that one item you’ve had that’s lagging behind all others. Much like the loot boxes crafted items will be rolled at your current power so it’s quite unlikely that you’ll be able to get a big boost from crafting something which is already close to your current max. Instead if say all your gear is at 100 but one is at 90 crafitng a replacement for that slot will likely yield the biggest gains. Similarly, whilst you can upgrade the quality of the items, it doesn’t change their power. This is somewhat unfortunate if you have a build centered on one item and its power starts to lag but such is the loot treadmill in this game. Crafting up to exotic level is possible however, just rather expensive, so you’ll likely be able to re-craft a certain item if you need to bump up its power level. There’s also apparently “veteran” level items which are red and max stat rolled versions of their exotic counterparts but I’ve yet to see one since I’m still a scrub playing around in Recruit difficulty.
The additional polish means there’s fewer issues in Vermintide II than there was in its predecessor but it’s far from bug free. My poor dwarf friend in the screenshot above got stuck in a piece of the environment which, whilst hilarious, left him stranded there. Thankfully we had a boss spawn shortly afterwards which knocked him out but without that he would have had to leave the game completely. Some levels still have the rather irritating bug of enemies spawning behind walls or being able to clip through them, so sometimes you can end up with a packmaster pulling one of your colleagues away to a place where you can’t get to them. We even had a globedier spawn behind a wall at one point, allowing him to lob gas grenades at us unhindered whilst we tried to deal with a bile troll at the same time. If your group is skilled enough issues like this won’t stop you from completing a level but given that this doesn’t feel like intentional behaviour it’s more of a chore than a challenge.
There is a story here, one that I’m sure has some detail to it, but it seems to fade into the background. The banter between your characters is as good as ever, ensuring that I quickly grew to despise the elf I was playing because she’s just an insufferable ass. But apart from that I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything about the game’s overall story beyond the fact that the skaven teamed up with the chaos in order to sack Ubersik and we’re trying to stop them. I’ve also not managed to complete a single chapter either, my attempts at the final boss in Act 1 always meeting with disaster either through players leaving or the not-so-great bots providing little help in those fights. That all being said I have played this game for far longer than I did its predecessor so maybe, eventually, I’ll figure out what’s going on in the story.
Warhammer: Vermintide II is a solid improvement over its predecessor, retaining the core of what made the game fun and cutting away much of the extraneous cruft. The improved game engine ensures that the new, highly detailed environments are able to shine through even if a few of them could do with a bit more optimisation. Combat, levelling and crafting have all been streamlined for the better, making the overall playing experience that much better. Some of the same issues that plagued its predecessor still remain however but aren’t beyond fixing through a few good patches. Overall, for a gaming I wasn’t expecting a sequel to so soon, I’m impressed by what Warhammer: Vermintide II brings to the table and I’m sure I’ll be spending a few more good hours in it over the coming months.
Warhammer: Vermintide II is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 12 hours game time and 27% of the achievements unlocked.
Games as a medium have matured extensively over the past decade or so. Numerous ideas and stories which would have never previously been explored now find their way into game form. Increasingly we’re seeing games based around cultures and their mythologies, providing a new and interesting lens into these worlds that typically wouldn’t have been explored in this medium. Mulaka, the second game from indie developer Lienzo, explores the lore of the Tarahumara people through a 3D platformer beat ’em up. It’s one of the few examples where I can say that the developer knew their limitations and chose to focus on where to best spend their effort. The result is a simple, relatively short game that achieves what it set out to do with only a few minor hiccups along the way.
You play as one of the Sukurúame, a Tarahumara shaman who has tasked themselves with ridding the world of the corruption that has begun to plague it. To do so you will have to enlist the help of the demigods who will imbue you with their powers in order to cleanse the corruption from the land. The path before you won’t be easy however as many of the normal creatures of the land have been warped and changed by the corrupting magic that now infuses the world.
Mulaka utilises a low poly visual style with bright, solid colours and little texturing to be seen. The art style is somewhat reminiscent of older Nintendo 64 like Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Goemon’s Great Adventure with the NPCs having flat faces with simple textures. Under the hood this is all powered by Unity but, thanks to the customised art style, manages to avoid that trademark look and feel. Consequently the game runs absolutely lightning fast on any semi-modern PC and, given it has a Switch release, would likely run quite well on nearly anything you cared to throw at it.
The game can be largely categorised into 2 major parts: the 3D platforming and puzzle sections, and the now standard “Dark Souls-esque” style of combat. Each of Mulaka’s levels requires you to find 3 stones in which to unlock a door to progress to a small final section, most of which are found via exploration or completing a quest set by one of the NPCs. Initially they’re your stock standard platforming puzzles but as you unlock new abilities they change into more of a traditional puzzle experience. The combat follows a similar progression, starting off with your typical dodge/roll/parry and quickly building into more complex encounters thanks to multiple different types of enemies and the new abilities you unlock. There is a small progression system in the form of currency you’ll receive from defeated enemies but, honestly, I did the vast majority of the game with only buying one (and that was actually a mistake). Overall there’s actually not that much to Mulaka in terms of game mechanics but for things it does do it does them well.
Combat isn’t exactly a challenging experience as most enemies can be defeated by simply spamming one attack at them. Whilst challenge initially comes from trying to figure out how to tackle new enemy types it unfortunately tends towards simply throwing more enemies at once at you. The upgraded enemies you’ll come across later in the game are simply bigger, badder versions of their earlier incarnations and so they don’t really feel like that much more of a threat. The bosses are however all quite interesting, attempting to recreate that same feeling you get in the Dark Souls series of being a very small person going up against an unbelievably giant threat. Suffice to say you’re not going to be playing this for the challenge (or taunting your friends to “git gud” at it) but it was somewhat refreshing to have a combat experience that didn’t feel like it was getting in the way too much for once.
The puzzles are similarly none too difficult with the majority of them being a follow the bouncing ball kind of deal. The 3D platformer puzzles can be solved in numerous ways, many of them I’m sure weren’t entirely intended by the developer. Other smaller puzzles (like the water one shown above) only have a single solution and can usually be solved in a few minutes. Mulaka could do a slightly better job of communicating when you’re not able to solve a particular puzzle due to you not having the requisite ability as this is one of those games where not everything in every level is available to you from the start. For instance you’ll likely find items behind a big rock with red claw marks on it, something which can’t be cleared until you get the bear ability. The game doesn’t tell you this (nor for any of the other blockers) so it can sometimes be a bit of a guessing game as to what you can access right now and what you’ll have to come back for.
There’s also some quality of life improvements that could be made, 2 of which jump immediately to mind. First off the upgrade vendor is only in one map which means you’ll have to trek back there every time you want to purchase one. Since the game already has characters that travel from map to map with you it’s not out of the question to bring said upgrade vendor along with you. Secondly the potion crafting, whilst simple and concise, is needlessly laborious in its resource collection mechanic. In order for you to craft a single potion you’ll need to get 4 of a certain item and then you’ll automatically create one. As far as I can tell those resources will spawn an unlimited number of times meaning that the second you find a resource you can, in theory, fill your potion inventory. However the time taken to do so is a little bit too long in my opinion and instead could take inspiration from the estus flask idea in Dark Souls (I.E. refilling them all at certain points). I admit that there is a small lore reason for the gathering mechanic but I’m sure that could be worked in other ways.
The game is well polished in most respects although there are a few minor issues here and there that could use addressing. As the above screenshot shows there are numerous places on several maps where you can fall through the world. Thankfully instead of outright killing you the game will simply teleport you back to a safe place after you fall for a while so it’s not a major issue when it happens. The hit detection, both for your character and enemies, could do with a little tuning as well as some of the enemies attacks connect when you’d think they’d miss. Thankfully these are minor gripes in the overall scheme of things and I’m sure future patches will work most of them out.
The story is steeped in the mythology and culture of the Tarahumara people with many of the places, stories and even game mechanics taking inspiration from it. With your character being an entirely mute protagonist it is a little hard to engage fully with the story. There are some interesting pieces here and there and the story’s ultimate climax is cool but, overall, I didn’t get that much out of it. Looking at the Steam page there’s a bunch of videos that the developer made diving into the culture and how it influenced the game so had I watched those before playing I might be saying something different.
Mulaka’s greatest strength is that it achieved what it set out to. Too often I’ve seen both indie and AAA developers strive for grand visions that can never be fully achieved, resulting in games with half baked ideas and broken implementations. Mulaka instead had a simpler, narrow vision which helped it focus more on what mattered. The game that came out the other end is simple, short and concise. There’s improvements to be made though with some levels needing a little more polish, a few quality of life improvements here or there and a little more story work could elevate this title to much greater heights. None of these are terminal issues though and, should the developers decide to revisit this world, I’m sure a follow up game could strive for a much greater vision.
Mulaka is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 5 hours play time and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
Kickstarter opened the gates to underserved gaming niches, allowing us gamers to vote directly with our wallets and see incredible games come to fruition. Not every game was a hit of course and even looking at my backing history there’s several titles in there that, had I known what they’d become, I would have put my cash somewhere else. Kingdom Come: Deliverance falls somewhere in the middle for me; on the one hand I can remember wanting to back this game as even at the concept stage it looked fantastic. However 4 years after I pledged to the Kickstarter campaign (at the Duke level) much of that hype had disappeared, lost in the some 100+ games I played in the interim. That’s possibly what has led to my lukewarm impressions of the game, even though I can definitely appreciate the amount of effort that Warhorse Studios put into it.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance starts off in the silver mining town of Skalitz with young Henry, a simple peasant, living under his mother and blacksmith father, Martin. After finishing some errands for his father, Henry joins him in completing a commissioned sword for King Wenceslaus’ hetman, Sir Radzig Kobyla. While Henry wishes to explore and see life outside of the village, Martin insists that a quieter life is much safer. Immediately after an army of Cuman and Czech soldiers under Sigismund of Luxembourg’s control attack and raid Skalitz, killing all who do not flee. Henry holds on to the sword and runs but later comes back for his mother and father, and witnesses their murder under Sigismund’s crony, Sir Markvart von Aulitz. Henry flees to the safety of the castle, but is too late, and is forced to ride out to the nearest castle of Talmberg.
Depending on what kind of rig you’re running it might not be immediately obvious that Kingdom Come is running on CryEngine. The reason is that, at least on the PC, the game wasn’t exactly optimised at launch. Now my PC is no slouch although it is just over 3 years old at this point but even it struggled to get things running properly with its default configuration (as the below screenshot will attest). Searching around the forums revealed that the game really, really struggles if it’s running on a traditional hard drive, even if that hard drive is say a RAID 10 array capable of 400MB/s throughput (like mine). Using a custom user.cfg file fixed most of the issues but moving it onto my main SSD fixed the rest. Even with all those fixed Kingdom Come is a game that, strangely, looks a lot better up close than it does from afar. Usually most games are the opposite. These issues run deeper than just the graphics though, something I’ll dive into a bit more later.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a true to its roots RPG, taking its inspiration more from the pen and paper variety rather than its more action oriented brethren. There’s a bevy of different stats for you to build up, each of which will require you to do certain things (like say, running to increase vitality) to level them up. Similarly there’s a lot of skills, many of which will require you to be trained in them first before you can start improving them. There’s the usual array of loot along with the requisite inventory management to go along with it. Combat also takes the form of more “traditional” medieval fights which typically means that taking on more than 1 or 2 enemies at a time is a recipe for disaster. There’s also a bunch of status mechanics like hunger, sleep and injuries, all of which will need to be addressed if you’re to stay in top fighting condition. I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few features in here too as the game is quite massive in scope and I’ve only seen a small fraction of it (for reasons I shall explain). All of this is presented in a period correct medieval setting, meaning there’s no magical powers or fantastical elements.
FPS games that deal in melee combat have always been somewhat awkward and Kingdom Come is no exception to this. The mechanics of it are pretty simple, you have an amount of stamina (tied to your current health, which is an interesting mechanic) which you use to throw punches, swing your sword and dodge/counter/block enemy attacks. With a sword or other weapon equipped you choose the direction of your strike which has a direct impact on your enemy’s ability to block it. What this results in is a game of cat and mouse with the NPCs, trying to figure out which angle to hit them from. I do get that they were going for a more realistic feel to what medieval combat would be like but it just wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
One feature that’s notably missing, and I think one that sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me, was an unlimited, on demand save. Whilst that’s changed in a recent patch (now with a save and exit function) it did mean that the game was a lot more laborious than it would otherwise be. There were a few times where I lost quite a bit of progress, whether due to my own fault or the numerous technical glitches, because the save point was quite a while back. This also meant that one of my more favourite things, quicksaving and then being a total jerk for no good reason, was stripped away. Say what you will about save scumming and what have you but things like that really do help to keep me engaged in games like this. With such a restrictive save system I no longer feel like experimenting or just having fun for 10 minutes before I break for the night. The save and exit feature somewhat addresses that but, honestly, without a quick save/load it’s really only a halfway solution.
This isn’t even mentioning the larger game design issues which made what was supposed to be the games opening hours more frustrating than they could be. You see an early mission requires you to pick a lock in order to get an item. No worries, you’re given some lock picks and a practice lock to work with to get going. So I spent a few minutes honing my skill until, unfortunately, I broke my lockpick. Alright, I thought, I’ll go into town and buy a new one. Not a single vendor in the town I was in had any and, looking up places to buy them showed that I’d probably have to spend another 30 minutes travelling (I didn’t have a horse) to get more. Great, that mission is now dead to me until I figure out a way around it. Sure it’s not like I couldn’t do other missions but these small issues are numerous and they all make Kingdom Come less enjoyable than it would otherwise be.
This isn’t to mention the numerous issues it has with performance, optimisation and game breaking glitches. In addition to the texture pop in issues the game will lag horrendously in cut scenes if you have G-Sync enabled, yet again requiring a custom config to fix. Lock picking, for some unknown reason, enables mouse acceleration meaning that you’ll need a custom mouse profile or something similar to counteract the effects (making that particular mini game incredibly frustrating). Timed events for NPCs will sometimes simply not work, like when I was told to go to the training ground to meet the captain. I waited next to it for 2 days and he never showed up, requiring me to restart the game to my last checkpoint and try again until it worked. I’m not the only one to experience weird behaviour like this either as many of the Let’s Play videos on YouTube will attest. I know that, as gamers, we’ve come to expect this kind of jank from large RPGs but that doesn’t excuse it. For some I can imagine these things are actually a source of fun but, for me, they just soured me even further on the whole experience.
Which is a right shame as the story seemed quite good. Sure it was relatively predictable how things were going to start but it was truly refreshing to play a game from the perspective of a nobody from nowhere with no prophecy or powers behind him. Careful attention was paid to fleshing out the world with bits of story, interesting conversation between NPCs and a range of dialogue options that were all dependant on how you built your character. Indeed I feel that I should probably wait another 6 months or so until the major issues have been patched out and the mods start rolling in, allowing me to mold the core game of Kingdom Come into something I’d enjoy. That way I could experience the story without having to worry about all the other elements I’m not so keen on.
To be sure Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a great game for a certain subset of gamers: those who’ve been lusting after a true to form RPG in a medieval setting. 4 years ago I thought I was one of them, my pledge on Kickstarter a testament to that, but since then it seems things have changed. I’ve become less tolerant of the jank that these large scale RPGs seem to bring with them, no longer wanting to have to deal with troubleshooting performance issues just so I can play the damn thing. I do recognise the amount of effort that goes into producing something like this though as there are many aspects of this game that I can appreciate for their objective quality. The attention to detail in the world and the story are two such elements, ones that I might be able to enjoy at a later date. If this is the first you’re hearing of Kingdom Come: Deliverance then the game might not be for you but for those Kickstarter faithful I’m sure they’ve got their moneys worth.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 5 hours play time and 8% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s no denying that the original Monument Valley set the bar for what a mobile game could be. Its minimalistic visual style has since been replicated by dozens of other titles but none have come close to matching it in terms of overall experience. Indeed even when compared to games on dedicated platforms it still ranks up there as one of the best puzzle games I’ve played in recent history. Of course I was devastated last year when I saw Monument Valley 2 was released on iOS and not Android, leaving me wondering when it would be out. Out of luck I was browsing the app store and, happily, I discovered that the sequel had been released. What followed was perhaps the best 2 hours of my gaming life this year in one of the strongest sequels I’ve ever played.
Taking part in a different corner of the Monument Valley universe to the one Ida inhabits Monument Valley 2 puts you in charge of Ro, another keeper of the world’s geometry. However her story is not one of tragedy and reviving a world left barren, instead it is of Ro, her child and what it means to grow up in this strange world. The journey is one they start out on together but eventually, as it always is for members their race, is one where they must part ways. The infinite mothers of the past are there to help guide you but ultimately it is up to you to carve your path through the world’s geometry and care for the monuments.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that ustwo games had retained the same art style as the original but the differences between the two are night and day. Whilst the overarching style retains the same minimalistic aesthetic, with the signature elements of simple shapes and bright colours, there’s a much greater use of shading, lighting effects and more overall “modern” design elements. The developers have also been much more adventurous when it comes to experimenting with the visual style they created with a much greater variety between different puzzles. Backing all of this is the impressive soundtrack and foley work, all of which is tied directly into how you interact with the puzzles on screen. Usually I scoff at games that tell me to reach for the headphones but in the case of Monument Valley 2 you’d be doing yourself a real disservice if you didn’t. It is so, so rare to find a game that manages to execute all these elements together so well. Rarer still are sequels that manage to improve on a formula that they defined before (I can only think of Inside as another example). Once again ustwo has demonstrated their mastery in crafting experiences like this.
The same non-Euclidean puzzle mechanics return for the sequel, making up the bulk of the Monument Valley 2’s game play. Each level plays out in much the same way as well with the puzzle’s main mechanic being introduced early in a simple form before it’s exploited in more varied and complex ways. The experimentation in visual style extends directly into the puzzles as well as the designers have been free to integrate more wide and varied visual elements with which to play. There’s also the rather fun addition of letting you drawn your own spirograph thing at the end of each sequence, a simple thing but one that brought an immense amount of joy to me. I think the best way to describe it is that it is the original but improved in nearly every way, something few sequels manage to get right.
For players of the original or veterans of the non-Euclidean puzzle genre though there’s not likely going to be much challenge to find here. I remember the original having numerous head scratching moments, some requiring me to put the game down for a bit to mull over my approach. This time around there was none of that, each of the puzzles being solved pretty much directly without much fussing about. I’m in two minds about this as, on the one hand, the reward from completing a challenge is (to a point) tied directly into the effort required to solve it. On the other there’s something to be said about puzzles that are designed in such a way that the pace of the game, and by extension its narrative, are maintained (like in The Turing Test). That is perhaps the only true negative I can level at the game, if you could call it that.
I did have some slight issues with touch recognition again with some interactions not working exactly how I’d expect them to. Again this could be a hardware level thing and this being Android small things like this are somewhat expected. For reference I am using an original Google Pixel and I did give the screen a thorough cleaning after I identified the issue first time around. That certainly made it better but there were still times when touches didn’t seem to register properly. However these weren’t constant so my overall impression of the game wasn’t tarnished much. It certainly didn’t wipe away the huge smile I had on my face the whole time I was playing.
PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
Monument Valley II is one of the greatest examples of the basic writing principle “show, don’t tell”. All the information you need to understand the story is shown to you on screen and some of the things are so subtle that when you notice them a whole narrative blossoms in your mind. For example when you send your child off she’s young, her footsteps moving in double time to yours in order for her to keep up. Your world then turns to grey and the soundscape changes to a set of cutting, piercing noises that show every moment is a burden without her in your life. After then however colour slowly begins to return to your world as you know she is on a journey of her own making. Then when she returns you see that she’s no longer a child anymore, she’s a woman, now ready to take the responsibility you’ll bestow on her. Few games manage to communicate such complex emotions through such a simple medium with so little dialogue. After playing through numerous games recently with such a derth of narrative playing something like this reminds me of why I love narrative-first games. To ustwo I’m thankful for being reminded of that as it’s far too easy to forget sometimes.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Monument Valley 2 is a true gem of a game, one that extends itself far beyond the confines of the original. The art style has been improved in ways that I could never think of, the unbridled creativity of the level designers shining through in each level. The mechanics remain largely the same and will likely pose little challenge to those who played the original. However examining each of these parts individually feels like I’m doing the game a disservice as the overall experience is so much greater than any one component. Really for a game this good and of such short length there’s little more to say than this: go play it, you won’t regret it.
Monument Valley 2 is available on Android and iOS right now for $7.99. Game was played on a Google Pixel with approximately 2 hours of total play time with 100% of the achievements unlocked.
These games reviews serve a couple different purposes for me. The first is to push me to try things out of my comfort zone as there’s so much more to the world of gaming than just the AAA releases. The second, and one I’m finding increasingly useful as my back catalogue of reviews grows, is to serve as a secondary memory; a kind of online copy of my impressions of the game to augment my own. So when I saw The Fall Part 2: Unbound I had this feeling that I’d played something like it before which, of course, I had. So I felt compelled to give the sequel a shot as, after reading through my previous review, I remember liking the concept even if the implementation fell a little short. It seems that the developers have stayed true to their roots in that regard as Part 2: Unbound keeps the same intriguing story whilst retaining many of the issues that I grated up against before.
SPOILERS FOR THE FALL BELOW
Part 2: Unbound begins where the previous story left off with ARID being dragged away for repurposing. During this process she’s infected with a virus which, interestingly, allows her to redefine her core rule. No longer bound by the need to save her pilot, nor anyone else, she defines her new rule as: I must save myself. However a user on the network is attacking her body, seeking to destroy what is left of her. In order to save herself she must find out who this user is, reaching beyond the confines of her body into the vast network beyond. It is there where she meets others who will help her fulfil her rule, whether they want to or not.
The visuals of Part 2 don’t appear to have changed appreciably in the 3 years since the original’s release. There’s certainly a lot more detail in most of the scenes, especially those that deviate from the original’s corridor-only design. The visuals have the trademark “Unity Engine” feel to them which is especially noticeable when the camera zooms in for close ups. 3 years ago this was a refreshing change from the current trends but now? It feels a bit dated. This is somewhat understandable as the focus appears to have been spent more on the puzzles and level design, given the sequel is almost 3 times as long as the original.
Mechanically Part 2: Unbound is the same game as the original, requiring you to explore your environment to find the solution to the current puzzle. This time around however you’ll be doing the majority of that through others, taking control of other AIs to help you complete your task. Each of these different entities have their own set of capabilities and limitations, both of which you’ll need to exploit fully in order to progress.The game also introduces several new mechanics along the way which ramp up the puzzle difficulty substantially towards the end (although I’ll abstain from describing them as it’s most certainly spoiler territory). Combat makes a return with a couple additional mechanics thrown but it’s mostly a distraction from the core puzzle solving game. It’s clear that the developer has focused more heavily on the parts that were received well (puzzle design and story) whilst defocusing others. The result is a game that I’m sure will delight fans of the first but, for people like me, it does highlight a lack of growth in the developer.
I mentioned in my review of The Fall that it was clear that the developer and I weren’t completely in-sync when it came to puzzle design. That hasn’t changed in Part 2: Unbound as there were numerous puzzles that just simply didn’t make any sense to me. Sometimes it was something simple, like missing an interaction point, but other times the logical leaps required would never come to me. Sure I could try clicking everything in sight in order to find out but that gets tiresome really quick. The worse ones were problems that had an obvious solution that was locked behind some mechanic I simply didn’t understand, preventing me from solving the puzzle until I’d completed some other, seemingly unrelated, task. I’d estimate that about 65% of the puzzles made sense (even if they were challenging), 15% were faults of mine and the remaining 20% were just nonsensical. I’ve played worse, to be sure, but I’ve also played better.
I’d forgive the game for that, as I did for the original, if it wasn’t for the fact that the developer made many of the same mistakes again. The control scheme is still the awkward mess it was before with the game often failing to capture the mouse pointer. For dual monitor users this will result in the game minimizing itself every so often when you click outside of the game’s window. There’s also a few puzzles which you can get stuck in, requiring you to exit to the main menu in order to be able to reset. There’s even a few places where you can fall through the world, like when One is on the train (simply walk to the left, there’s no barrier to stop you plummeting off the edge). That will also require a restart to get you back again. For first games from an indie studio I’m usually quite lenient, it is after all not easy to create a game, but for further titles I expect to see some level of polish. It’s just not there unfortunately which is a real shame. Hopefully I don’t see the same mistakes in Part 3 (this is supposed to be a trilogy, after all).
The story is still great with the addition of 3 extra characters giving you a much broader perspective on the world that you find yourself in. Each of the new characters are given enough backstory to get you invested which helps immensely in driving you through the game’s more obvious flaws. It certainly had its share of climatic moments, the Josephs scene comes to mind, and the little bits of levity sprinkled throughout are a welcome distraction from the dark overtones. The game proudly announces “To Be Concluded” at the end, signalling that the next instalment is coming and will be the finale to the story, something which I’ll always take points off for. It definitely feels like the story I’d be much more into if it wasn’t for the awkward controls and illogical puzzles. It’s a shame really as I always hope to see indie developers grow beyond the confines of their original success.
The Fall Part 2: Unbound, doubles down on what made the original popular whilst retaining many of the things which I’d had hoped they’d change. The story and puzzles were definitely the developer’s main focus as the game is much longer and more in depth than its predecessor was. However things that marred the original, like the awkward control scheme, lack of polish in some aspects as well as puzzle design that simply didn’t gel with this writer, felt like I was playing almost the same game from 3 years ago. For those who loved the original these issues aren’t likely to pose a problem but for me, someone who loves to see indie developers grow over time, it feels like they’re stagnant. In my mind Over The Moon Games has one last chance to prove that they, and their IP, can innovate beyond what they’ve achieved so far. All this being said The Fall Part 2: Unbound is still probably worth playing for those who love a good puzzle and story, I just wish it wasn’t almost the same game as it was 3 years ago.
The Fall Part 2: Unbound is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $16.99. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours of total playtime and 43% of the achievements unlocked.
Years ago I used to troll through the new releases section of Steam, looking for anything that piqued my interest. I played a lot of things out of my comfort zone and grew to enjoy the wide and varied experiences that the Indie scene brought to bear. Back then the signal to noise ratio was quite a lot higher, mostly because there were far fewer games released per week (it’s something like 200+ on average now). Those days were mostly gone however as I could usually find something on the first page of “Popular New Releases” section but last week I came up empty. Enter Elementium, the game that managed to catch my eye with its Talos Principle like visuals. It isn’t anything like that though, more akin to an alpha release of a Kickstarter game than a full release on Steam that the developer is charging $15 for.
Elementium is a physics based puzzle game where the main mechanic is where you can change the size of objects through the use of perspective. That’s pretty novel, indeed the tech demo of the Museum of Simulation Technology is the only other “game” I can think of that uses it, however that’s where the interesting part of the game ends. What follows is a series of 40 levels, most of which can be beaten on first try in under a couple of minutes. The others? Well they’re fiddly messes, either requiring precise timing (something you’ll struggle to get done due to the ham fisted nature of the controls) or doing things that have a high chance of failing which will require you to restart the level (which takes approximately 30 seconds to load every, damn, time). Honestly I was going to be kind to this game at the start but after 40 levels I’ve simply run out of patience.
It does manage to look good however I think that’s more a function of the Unreal Engine’s asset store more than anything else. The sound design is god awful with each sound always sounding exactly the same including very noticeable things like your character’s footsteps. Indeed anything without a smattering of glowy lights looks like something that was developed over 5 years ago with that telltale Unreal engine feel about them. Suffice to say the audio-visual experience isn’t going to save this game and, unfortunately, the overall game doesn’t do itself any favours either.
Most of the puzzles are so blindingly simple that you’ll often wonder if there’s some kind of hidden switch or alternate solving method to unlock a secret. There are none and it’s hard to see why the developer built most of the puzzles the way they did. For example there’s one puzzle with 3 boxes in a room and a laser stopping a door from opening. To solve it all you have to do is put one box in front of it, that’s it. What were the other 2 boxes for? Just fun decoration? When that first happened I thought, maybe, that was just an early test puzzle or something but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Instead there are numerous puzzles with extraneous items strewn about, never to be used for anything.
Crappy puzzle design would be one thing but the real irritation comes from interacting with those items. Picking up items can be a bit of a guessing game, often requiring you to get just the right angle on it to be able to pick it up. This because quite a chore when you’re working with big items as quite often you’ll be unable to put them down. The game says that the middle mouse button is the “drop item” button but it rarely works. What this often leads to is furious clicking as you try to figure out how to pick up and move stuff about often to no avail. Worse still the perspective/size mechanic works on items even after you’ve finished interacting with them. This is especially clear when you’re say dropping big boxes into holes as they’ll magically shrink as they fall down, even if you’re not looking at them.
The same feeling of extremely low effort applies to the other aspects of the game like the UI. Every element is simple text boxes, all of which will require at least 2 mouse clicks to register properly and even after you’ve done that it can be hard to tell if the game is actually doing anything. The final scene of the game is a simple portal that has 2 switches which, when pressed with the boxes, display the simple text shown in the screenshot below. This makes me think that at one point the game did have some kind of story, which might explain why there’s a pointless corridor walk at the start of each puzzle, but the developer simply didn’t have enough time to get it done before he shoveled this pile of crapware into the public eye.
This isn’t even a game where a few simple tweaks here or there would result in a game that I’d deem worthy of playing. Pretty much every aspect has to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch as there’s not one part of this game that doesn’t have some kind of issue associated with it. Visuals? Repetitive asset-reuse that makes every single level feel pretty much identical. Sound? That would require using more than a dozen sounds at a time. Mechanics? Every single one is implemented in a rudimentary, unoptimized way. Story? Don’t make me laugh.
Elementium is the kind of game I expect to see on /r/Indie where the developer doesn’t seem to understand why it isn’t selling. The fact of the matter is that this game barely qualifies as such, playing like an early alpha rather than a game you’re paying full price for. These are the kinds of titles that Early Access is designed to help, the ones where the developer has an idea they want to explore but hasn’t got a clue about how to make it fun. Further the extreme lack of polish on nearly all elements makes me think that this game didn’t see any external play testing at all as there’s no way any of these issues made it past even the most forgiving of family members. I tried to keep an open mind when I was playing Elementium, figuring that there had to be a point somewhere along the lines where it started to really come into its own. That time never came and here I am, 4 hours in the hole without much to show for it. Honestly Ignite Studios, if you’re reading this, email me: [email protected], you sound like you need the help.
Elementium is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 4 hours with 100% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve been staring at this page for far too long trying to figure out how to open up this review of The Red Strings Club. Sure I could take the easy route and direct you my review of Gods Will Be Watching, the previous game from Deconstructeam, but that feels disingenuous given how different this title is. I could mention that this is the first 2018 game I’ve played although that really means little in the grand scheme of things (except that I should probably do my Game of the Year post sometime soon). Even the fact that I was drawn to this game just on the mention of “cyberpunk bartending” doesn’t seem like good opening fodder. So instead you get an opening ramble of all of those things combined with my one line summary for this game: it may not do anything new but it is one of the more interesting adventure games I’ve played of late.
You’ll take control of several different characters throughout the game however you’ll mainly be playing as Donovan, the proprietor of The Red Strings Club. On the surface it’s simply a bar with amazing drinks, ones that are said to be tailored to your emotions. Under the surface however Donovan is a powerful information broker, holding secrets on anything and everything that goes on in the city. When a broken down android stumbles into his bar one night he becomes privy to some information that no one outside of an elite group of people inside Supercontinent megacorporation had seen before. This sets off a chain of events which will see Donovan pulling all the little red strings he has tied around his clientele in order to advert the subjugation of all mankind.
The Red Strings Club’s visuals are a blend of more traditional pixel art styles and the more modern high resolution versions of the same. It’s definitely a step up from the art style of Gods Will Be Watching which used the very low resolution style which I think was born more out of the game’s Ludum Dare roots. Under the hood it’s powered by GameMaker which honestly surprised me as games made using that platform typically have a very distinctive look and feel to them. Given that it’s been nearly 3 years since their last release I’d hazard a guess a good chunk of time has was dedicated to getting the artwork right and I’m glad to say it was time well spent.
Unlike its predecessor (which I’m very grateful for as I didn’t want to pray to RNGesus again) The Red Strings Club is more of a traditional adventure game affair. The game is primarily dialogue focused with most of the puzzles based around getting information from someone or influencing them to act in a particular way. The two interesting mechanics that the game brings with it are the bartending and what could be best described as bionic pottery. The former is the main mechanic of the game, allowing you to influence the mood of a person in order to pump them for the right kinds of information. The second is only done right at the start but cements some of the core aspects of the game, changing what options will be available to you. There are a few other mini-games but none that are different from your usual adventure game affair. Overall it’s a pretty stock standard experience which means most of the value comes from how well these things interact with the story.
Initially the bartending mechanics are simple, making it rather easy to figure out which emotion is the “best” one to use (it was usually the one that was hardest to mix up). However as more and more options are added it starts to become a lot more involved and it gets quite a bit harder to both make the drinks and judge which one you need to serve. There’s really no way to utterly fail, it seems there are certain pieces of information you’ll get regardless, but the better you do in these things the easier time you’ll have towards the end. There’s also a couple achievements dedicated to unlocking some special things through this mechanic but I couldn’t figure them out in my playthrough. It’s quite possible that some of my early choices precluded them happening however.
There are a few little annoyances in the 1.0 release of The Red Strings Club that I hope are addressed in future patches. Sometimes bottles won’t pour their contents for you, even if they’re tipped upside down. This appears to be related to how close the bottle is to other bottles, the shaker or the glass and if more than 2 of those kinds of objects are in the way it will refuse to pour. Additionally there seems to be something finicky with the “no spill” mechanic as I completed at least one drink without spilling a drop but did not get the achievement for it. The shaker will also sometimes mix drinks into a single one of their components, forcing you to redo it. None of these are game breaking but they can be a little frustrating. I’m sure these can be easily fixed in the next few updates.
All of these things are simply an aid to the overall narrative which, whilst thoroughly thought provoking, didn’t elicit much of an emotional reaction from me. The game does a great job of revealing information to you in a slow and respectful way, giving you just enough information to figure some things out whilst you have to guess at others. However whilst Donovan is given enough of a build up the rest of the characters don’t receive similar treatment, making it hard to empathise with them when certain events take place. Thinking about it more though the characters might be secondary to the overarching narrative itself which is why they don’t receive as much attention as you’d otherwise expect they would. It feels weird to say that the story is a great thought provoking narrative that has little to no emotional impact as that’s typically the basis upon which such stories will cement themselves in your mind.
Perhaps I just need a little more time to digest it.
The Red Strings club was a great game to open up my 2018 list to. Deconstructeam has evidently gone through a lot of growth over the last couple years, bringing everything that was good from Gods Will Be Watching and leaving everything else behind. At a technical level the game isn’t anything to write home about, feeling like a very traditional pixel art adventure game, but the overall experience feels well above par. This is most likely due to the strong narrative, one that manages to intrigue and provoke a lot of thought whilst, strangely, failing to drive a heavy emotional impact. If you had asked me after I played Gods Will Be Watching would I look forward to the next game from this developer I would’ve told you no but now, having played The Red Strings Club, I’m very keen to see where Deconstructeam goes from here.
The Red Strings Club is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours with 37% of the achievements unlocked.