Games built by students are, for the most part, completely terrible. Many of my friends went into game development courses and the games they developed as part of them were clunky, god awful messes that never made it onto their resumes. That’s part of the learning experience though as it’s one thing to play games and think you understand how they’re crafted and a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it yourself. With the democratisation of game development and distribution tools however we’re starting to see more games from students that will likely become the foundation upon which their creators look to build their future careers. Burning Daylight, made by a team of 12 students from The Animation Workshop, is likely to be one of those games as, whilst far from perfect, it does showcase just what that team is capable of producing.
Waking up naked in a grotesque slaughterhouse, you have no recollection of who you are or where you come from. Your only clue is a mysterious tattoo on your chest. You must now escape and travel through a dystopian society in order to uncover the mysteries of your origin. The story is set in the future where life cannot sustain outside, what remains of human society, now lives in megastructures waiting for the day, when they once again can live outside.
Burning Daylight’s artwork is quite an interesting array of barren dystopian corridors, oversaturated neon futurscapes and minimalistic nature scenes. Given that the game is really just a walking simulator these different landscapes are mostly just there for you to get a sense of the world you’re in, giving you different views of what life in the the giant megastructure is like. The artwork simplistic but still above par for what I’d expect from an all student team. The animation could do with some work though as all the interactions feel incredibly stiff and unnatural. Strangely the team did a good job of making the Unreal engine feel like Unity, something about the modelling style and lack of overused specular maps. All things considered though Burning Daylight does a good job of communicating story elements through its visuals, a key concept in walking simulators like this.
There’s really no mechanics to speak of, save for a few extremely rudimentary puzzles that you’ll have to solve. That’s likely for the best too as the ones that are implemented are a little janky, both in their implementation but also in their logic. Indeed whilst I’d consider the visuals above par the rest of the game’s implementation is very mediocre. The game crashed on me once and for some reason didn’t record that I’d actually gone past a checkpoint, forcing me to replay an entire section for no reason at all. In a 45 minute game this is no real drama of course but it’s not like checkpointing is a NP hard problem.
The story is an interesting one, told mostly though the activities of those milling around in the background as you run past. It’s nothing original but thanks to its short duration it gets right to the point. There’s some overemphasis on things that don’t mean anything to the overall story, like your character being naked from the waste down for half of it, but thankfully you can ignore them. The story in the game is self contained however the Steam page paints a picture of a bigger world that I think the developers want to explore. Given the game’s success I think there’s a real possibility of that happening.
As a standalone game Burning Daylight isn’t much: a 45 minute walking simulator experience with good artwork that’s marred by its janky animations and rudimentary mechanics. However what it represents is something much more: students can now go from concept to public release, giving them real world experience that they can then leverage into something more. Whilst Burning Daylight isn’t exactly game of the year material it is a solid first try from those who’d never attempted the craft before.
Burning Daylight is available on PC right now for free. Total play time was 47 minutes.
Transport Tycoon has a very special place in my heart. It started back when I was a young lad, the game likely coming to me from my father who’d got it from some friends at work. I remember loving building little bus networks and trying to figure out just exactly how to make a business profitable. I was so proud when I made my first virtual million, ever so slowly creeping towards the goal as I finally began to understand the mechanics. Decades later I’d revisit it with my wife and house mate. All of us installing OpenTTD and having a blast competing with each other for hours on end. So when I saw Rise of Industry I was instantly intrigued, the gameplay giving me instant waves of nostalgia for those times. Whilst I can very much appreciate the mechanical depth that’s been built into this game there just wasn’t that something, that X factor, to keep me coming back after I’d grasped the base mechanics. It’s a shame really as I think that there’s probably a great game in there somewhere, it’s just not where I’m looking for it.
The premise is easy to understand: you’re a new business owner seeking to profit from the old fashioned game of supply and demand. You’ll choose a place to plonk down your headquarters which gives you the rights to build various gathering and production buildings in the region. The town has demands that you can meet, although you’ll want to pick your products carefully as not all of them will put you on the path to wealth. From there you’ll work through a tech tree to build even more elaborate products and infrastructure, allowing you to extract even more profit from your town. Over time you can expand your empire to other regions and you’ll have to set up transport routes between your different areas as there’s likely going to be things one place has that the other needs. As you’d expect this can all get pretty complex and whilst the tutorial does a good job of giving you the basics from there on out it’s up to you figure out how you and your company will profit.
Rise of Industry has the tried and true low poly look that’s very much in vogue these days. For the most part the developers have done a good job of keeping the visual confusion down with most buildings being recogniseable from a decent distance, saving you the trouble of hunting for that one factory you put in the middle of everything. Performance is also quite good, only really suffering when you fully zoom out and numerous other towns come into view. By default the UI is painfully small but thankfully there’s an option to increase the scale of it, making the game quite a lot easier on the eyes. The developers have also done a good job with the sound design, emulating a lot of other simulation style games. I’m not sure how to describe it, just that there seems to be a certain kind of soundscape that screams “You’re playing a simulation game!” which everyone uses. It seems the 2 or so years it has spent in various beta and Early Access forms has paid off.
Where TTD was focused just on the transportation of a few kinds of goods Rise of Industry takes it well into the next level with multiple different industry types all requiring their own specific set of resources. The staple is the Farmers Market which is mostly focused on items that can be built directly but the rest of them typically have requirements for products that you’ll need to manufacture. Of course that then means there’s usually inputs to those factories that you’ll have to gather first before you can start generating that item. From there you can start moving up different tiers of products which will likely require input of products from the previous tier. This then progresses up a further 2 more tiers, finally culminating in “prototype” products which win you the game once you sell one. There’s also a city levelling system built in, essentially allowing you to help the city expand and, by extension, get more shops for you to profit from. I believe there’s also trade built in here somewhere but I never got to the point where I needed to do that. Suffice to say there’s an absolute truckload of stuff to explore in Rise of Industry which is both a blessing and a curse.
Logistics will play a large part in your success and whilst the tutorial gives you the basics of how to run things it also sets you up for a micromanaging nightmare. Warehouses by default will gather everything produced in their radius, you don’t need to set up requests for them like the tutorial tells you to do. You can, however, direct places outside of their gather radius to send things to them, something which helps immensely if you didn’t plan your layout particularly well. You’ll probably need to make use of the manual routes quite often regardless as it seems that, even in an abundance of a particular resource (say water) some places will still not get their needs filled for whatever reason. Further on you’ll also have numerous routes going everywhere, something that’s easy enough to keep track of whilst you’re building them but becomes a tangled web of crazy once you’ve moved onto the next item you want to build.
There were two things that killed it for me: the feeling that every product is essentially the same and a lack of overall driving force to keep me playing. The first is easy enough to explain: basically every product you produce is basically the same in the end. Progressing through the tech trees really doesn’t reward you much more than giving you another building to look at. TTD at least gave you new vehicles, different kinds of transportation and a changing landscape with the passage of time. Rise of Industry by comparison feels pretty stagnant once you get everything set up and all you end up doing is counting down the time till the next research project completes. It’s much the same feeling I got after playing Stellaris for some time as the mechanical depth feels great initially but after a while it gets tedious as you simply wait until you can do the next cool thing.
The lack of meaningful competitors is probably what’s driving the latter as it’s blindly easy to build a profitable business, taking a lot of pressure away from you. Sure, your competitors pop up from time to time when an event or auction happens but they don’t ever seem to want to muscle in on your turf or say trash talk you when you’re trying to expand and losing cash like mad. The game itself does warn you about these things though, so the mechanism is in there for them to make the AIs something more than the one dimensional automatons that they are now. Without a meaningful adversary and little drive to want to achieve the next tier of products I ended up just getting bored each time I played, ultimately only ever making one save and even then I didn’t go back to it more than once.
Rise of Industry is a game I was so sure I’d like as it had everything that I’d want in a spiritual successor to one of my favourite childhood games. The aesthetics, mechanics and sound design were all done in a way that made buying it a no-brainer. However it just didn’t grab me in the way I expected it to, instead lacking that driving force that used to keep me glued to my seat for hours on end. To be sure I recognise that it’s a very well built game, one I’m sure many will find countless hours of enjoyment in, it’s just that it just didn’t hit the mark for this old reviewer. Perhaps if I’d been involved in it from its early days I might be singing a different tune but for me, today, Rise of Industry is something I’ll be leaving up on the shelf.
Rise of Industry is available on PC right now for $42.95. Total play time was 4.5 hours with a total of 29% of the achievements unlocked.
Steam’s recommendation engine, despite the unholy treasure trove of data they have on what everyone plays, is total arse. Even the new discover queue is a hit and miss affair; weighted extremely heavily towards the last handful of games you’ve played. I’d know too as I got recommended dozens of visuals novels after playing Dream Daddy and not a single other visual novel game (I don’t count Pyre in that genre, for what it’s worth). Suffice to say I don’t have a lot of trust in it and there’s not many games from there that I end up buying. Katana ZERO is an exception to this rule however as it popped up as a recommended game for me and was bought shortly after. The videos were just enough to grab my interest but its solid mechanics, great artwork and perfect game length is what makes it one of 2019’s more interesting titles to date.
You are a samurai assassin, blessed with the gift of precognition. This allows you to look into the future and plan out your moves, ensuring that no target is outside your reach. However you know nothing of your past, save for the fact that you were involved in a great war some time ago and you’re haunted by nightmares from your childhood. Your therapist is helping you though and thankfully the dose of the drugs he gives you is going down. So you keep doing his bidding, taking out targets that he gives to you after each session. Still though something feels off, time seems to flow strangely every so often, the past, present and future mixing together until they all coalesce back together. Although that can’t be right, time always flows forward right?
Katana ZERO has some of the best pixel art I’ve seen in recent times, seamlessly mixing in modern elements that give it a really nice visual flair. This is made all the more impressive that it’s created in GameMaker, something which has a reputation much like Unity for having a certain kind of aesthetic for all titles built with it. The frame rate was also consistently high, something that I’ve definitely not seen done a lot with other GameMaker based titles. On top of this Katana Zero has a great original sound track, one that’s available in ogg format in the game’s base directory should you happen to want it. Overall I’m very impressed with Katana ZERO’s level of craftsmanship.
Mechanically Katana ZERO is a kind of beat em up puzzler as every level is about planning out your moves, figuring out what triggers what and how to overcome seemingly impossible scenarios. You have a couple key mechanics at your disposal: roll which makes you invulnerable, the ability to slow down time significantly for a short period and your usual array of 2D melee combat mechanics. You’ve got one life and a single hit will take you down so you’ll have to plan your attack route carefully. There’s no upgrades, items or inventory to manage; all you have to do is make it to the end of the level by laying waste to everything in your wake. Of course that’s much easier said than done but Katana ZERO provides ample challenge without being unnecessarily difficult. A fine line to walk in this age of Dark Souls clones who are trying to out compete each other in brutality.
The combat is incredibly satisfying when you’re able to clear a stage in a single section, giving you that lovely feeling of being the badass ninja assassin. Of course there’s certain levels which have the “fuck you player” mechanics in them, I.E. things right at the end of levels that’ll kill you instantly and the only way to know about them is to play the level. The boss fights could also prove challenging for some as they all have very particular mechanics that aren’t particularly straightforward. Still Katana ZERO’s combat feels a lot more forgiving than other, similar titles that I’ve played in the past and I think that’s one of the reasons that it didn’t feel like a complete chore to play through to the end.
I only have minor gripes about Katana ZERO which says a lot about it’s quality. Every so often the game would lose its capture of the mouse which meant that it’d shoot out the side of game window and onto my browser running on the second monitor. Clicking would then minimize the game and, most often, lead to a death. The game can also be quite visually confusing when a lot is happening on screen, something which can make it rather hard to understand exactly why you died at one particular time. For me it always seemed to be the shotgunners because, despite being able to reflect the projectiles, it appears you can only reflect one of them. Given there’s like 20 of them coming at you it’s pretty much guaranteed death, even if you hear the ting of the reflected shot. Other than that Katana ZERO was pretty much solid.
The story of Katana ZERO is really what brings it all together though as it’s well thought out and given ample time to develop over the course of your playthrough. Initially it just seems like another typical super soldier story but it quickly starts morphing as you uncover other elements that I can’t discuss without spoiling it. I’m not quite sure how much control you have over the various elements but there was definitely enough freedom of choice to make me feel like I had some control, which is probably all you really need in the end.
Katana ZERO will go down as one of my big surprises for 2019, coming out of nowhere and providing an experience that is just well done all round. The art, music and mechanics are all on point, providing ample amounts of challenge without making it difficult for difficulty’s sake. The story is engaging, well written and appears to give you just enough influence to make you feel like you’re in control of what’s happening on screen. I could go on but realistically if your interest is piqued I don’t think you could go wrong by giving Katana ZERO 4 hours of your time.
Katana ZERO is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $21.50. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4.6 hours playtime and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
The one thing I’ve always hated about most Metroidvania games is when they show you something that you’re not able to access with your current abilities. Often this manifests extremely early on as you explore the level only to find there’s a part you can’t get to with no indication of when you’ll get the requisite ability to explore there. Quite often those areas aren’t even necessary for you to explore, just a bonus or something, so their inclusion is merely to draw you back to earlier levels. To be fair there are some examples where this is done well, the revisiting of the level being driven by story or other mechanical elements, and for those I have far more leniency. I tell you this mostly preface my thoughts on Supraland as it’s this particular mechanic, as well as a handful of other issues, that made this a game I didn’t want to play past a couple hours.
The Steam store page for Supraland proclaims, among many other things, that the story is “minimal” and that’s absolutely true. Whilst the premise is quite cool, all the characters are toys in a kid’s sandpit, the plot itself is ridiculously basic: you’re the red guys and the blue guys have shut off your water supply and it’s up to you to turn it back on. However to actually get to the blue guys you have to make your way through numerous different challenges, many of which will require you to upgrade your equipment and skills in order to do. I’ve read elsewhere that there’s a little more too the story later on in the game but it does nothing to expand upon it at all, save for having little dialogue instances between NPCs which have nothing to do with the plot at all.
The graphics of Supraland are heavily stylized and simplified, giving it a very cartoony feel. The developers have managed to avoid the typical Unreal engine game feel, keeping the use of specularity to a minimum. There’s a heavy use of depth of field which is supposed to give you the feeling that you’re a very small being in a large world. To some extent this works however it can have the effect of simply making everything disorienting like in the screenshot below. The issue here is, of course, perspective as whilst the game touts that it only has a tiny map of 9m2 that’s somewhat meaningless if you’re scaled down in size. So try as you might to make it feel like a small world with tiny people it’s going to end up feeling just like normal anyway, no matter how much you try to use depth of field or tilt shifting to change that.
Supraland bills itself as a combination of games like Portal, Zelda and Metroid which is horrendously disingenuous as it’s much more akin to the run of the mill indie puzzle platformers we’ve seen many of over the past decade. To be sure there are elements that you could say are borrowed from each game: the platforming from Portal (although that’s a stretch), the semi-open worldedness of Zelda games and the reexploration mechanic from Metroid. Realistically it’s just a bog standard first person puzzler with a tacked on RPG progression system. There’s really nothing wrong with that but the appeal to authority of titles with much greater pedigrees is what’s getting me. Honestly I was going to write this off as just your average indie puzzler until I reread the Steam page but now I feel compelled to point out all the faults given that it thinks it’s a combination between 3 of arguably the most influential titles in the puzzler space.
The combat is simple and implemented poorly. There’s really no nuance to it at all with enemies just running directly at you or standing dead still whilst they shoot from you at a distance. There’s also no way to block so you’ll likely end up dying to the first enemies since their melee range is the same as yours and there’s nothing you can do to stop them from hitting you. Once you get the gun you can basically just kite everything around but in its default form it’s annoyingly slow. Not that you’ll be wanting for upgrades for long though, even with rudimentary exploration you’ll be unlocking the upgrades in no time flat, even with the requisite barrel running task that serves no other purpose but to burn more of your time. But let’s not judge the game based on the one attribute which it doesn’t trumpet the most, let’s take a look at its puzzles and exploration.
The puzzles are incredibly simple, most of which you’ll solve pretty much straight away without too much of a thought. Others are easily solvable with emergent behaviours that the developer hasn’t taken into account, like being able to bypass entire sections of the game by walking on terrain that hasn’t been properly walled off. This only gets more ludicrous the more mechanics you have access to, giving you all sorts of means to break the game and bypass core game mechanics. This would be fun if it weren’t for the fact that it also means that there’s a certain level of gank to puzzles you can’t bypass, necessitating replaying certain puzzles over a few times in order to get them to complete properly.
Exploration is rewarded, although most of the time it’s just a few coins hidden around a corner or somewhere else rather obvious. The other parts are, of course, hidden behind mechanics you don’t yet have access to, something which will necessitate you trudging all the way back through the levels in order to get back to it. There is a rudimentary fast travel system however you can’t access it from a map (I don’t believe there is a map, actually) and it takes a good 20 seconds for it to travel you somewhere. This makes retreading ground a pretty annoying experience and, given that most of those hidden rewards are just basic upgrades, there’s no real compelling reason to do so.
It’s for these reasons that I didn’t find myself drawn back to playing Supraland after the first night I sat down with it. The fact that most of the work was done by a single developer is commendable but the marketing of it could not be further off the mark. The game is simplistic in all the wrong places, making combat a chore, puzzles easily waltzed through and the prospect of going back to retread old ground something I don’t think any sane player would want to do. Of course the reviews on Steam paint a much different picture and so it’s quite possible I’m on the wrong side of the fence for this, but in all honesty I simply cannot see what others find enjoyable in this game.
Supraland is available on PC right now for $28.95. Total play time was 2 hours with 27% of the achievements unlocked.
The biggest problem with having a game you really enjoy is that it sucks up all the oxygen for other titles. For me currently that’s The Division 2, a game that I will definitely review in the near future, but between it, our new baby and work I’ve had little time to look at many of the other top tier titles that have been released of late. So once again I turn to the indie scene, looking for more casual experiences that don’t ask much of my time but hopefully provide a good experience nonetheless. Feather, from Melbourne based developers Samurai Punk, fit the bill perfectly with its simple visuals, great music tracks and stress free mechanics.
The premise of the game is simple: you’re a bird and there’s a big island you can explore. As you fly around it you’ll find different things you can interact with, most notably the large circular totems that, when flown through, change the music to a new track for you to fly around to. There are no objectives, no enemies to fight or even an end to the game; it’s just simply a place to explore with a handful of different songs for you to enjoy. When we’ve been inundated with numerous games overflowing with mechanics, many designed to keep us coming back or to spend more money on microtransactions, it’s nice to have something that is as simple as it looks.
The graphics are a very low poly affair with little to no texturing, just plain solid colours. This simplicity is augmented slightly by the implementation of some more complex lighting effects and the inclusion of a full day/night cycle for the island. I played this on my now 3 year old XPS, which happens to rock a Geforce 970M, and initially had some issues with the frame rate not being the greatest. Granted it’s not as powerful as the desktop equivalent I have in my gaming rig but it was a little disappointing to see it struggle with something so simple. It may just be how the default configuration was set up as it does have a very high DPI monitor and running the game again on my home rig showed no issues.
The flight mechanics of Feather are pretty great; simple enough to be approachable yet there’s a few subtle things thrown in that you’ll need to master if you really want to explore the island fully. Climbing high and diving down will allow you to approach speeds that you won’t be able to normally and using space bar to hover is a necessity if you want to explore the underground cave system. Unfortunately other players (who will drop in you session from time to time, ala Journey) don’t seem to be as masterful of the controls and so interaction with them can be a little hard. I often found myself and another player going in circles trying to look at each other.
You’re probably not going to spend too long in Feather as even exploring at a leisurely pace would see you get around the island in under an hour or so. That’s likely to make the $15 asking price a little high for some, especially with no plans for the game to grow beyond currently what it is today. This is certainly one of those titles that could benefit from integration with the Steam Community Workshop as there’s already a solid fanbase who love the game for what it is. I don’t usually gripe about price and playtime but it’s sure to be a key deciding factor for many.
Feather is a fantastic, if a little short, experience. The simple premise and it’s solid execution make it a great distraction, something to play if you’ve got a bit of time to spare and don’t want something that asks much of you. However its greatest attributes may be the thing that drives some players away, not wanting to spend their money here when there are many other greener pastures to farm. Still I enjoyed my time with Feather and hope that the concept helps Samurai Punk delve further into developing titles like these.
Feather is available on the PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $14.50. Game was played on the PC with 27 minutes total play time and 100% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s not often that a developer simply explaining the mechanics sells me on the game. Usually if you can’t simply show how it works through a gameplay trailer or similar I’ll switch off as even high concept games can hook you with as much. Still though I was intrigued by the voiced over trailer that GrizzlyGames put on their Steam page for Islanders, a rework of typical city builder/strategy games where there’s no resources to harvest, economies to manage or little NPCs trotting around. No instead everything is based around the buildings and how much you can make of them, something which sounds simple on first take but takes some real practice to get a feel for.
Graphically Islanders has a bright and simple aesthetic, taking inspiration from the numerous low-poly games that have made the style quite popular with the indie crowd. The simplicity is also partly born out of necessity as you’ll quickly start to crow out your little island in short order, making it a bit of a visual challenge as the game progresses. The highly saturated colours coupled with the varied biomes and procedural generation of each island means you’re not likely to get bored of the visuals any time soon. After spending my time in high end visuals from AAA developers it’s been nice to go back to a more visually simple game.
The core mechanic of Islanders is intriguing: instead of it following the usual city builder or RTS trope of giving you a main base and then letting you loose to harvest resources instead you’re given a handful of buildings. Each building you place will give you a certain number of points, something you can maximise if you understand what gives them bonuses. Just blindly plonking down buildings in places that give you the most points isn’t actually a bad strategy to start off with, however you quickly realise that if you want to go after the high score you’re going to have to be a lot more strategic about it. Each of the different island biomes has different mechanics available to it and you’ll need to understand each of them in order to maximise their effect. Further to that there’s numerous late game buildings that have synergies that you’ll need to build towards and that’s when the real challenge starts to set in.
You’ll likely want to set up various areas that are dedicated to a certain kind of synergy like say an area for houses, another for mansions and an area for all your farming/brewing/logging activities. This is because those buildings not only have synergies with themselves they also have strong disaffinity with each other’s late game buildings. This is something that became painfully obvious to me after I’d clustered as many buildings together in one spot only to realise that the late game buildings were effectively useless, preventing me from going on any further. Thankfully there is an out for this but you’ll want to use it strategically lest you abandon all the good work you’ve done and, by consequence, many of those delicious points.
The mechanic I’m referring to is the ability to travel to the next island. The game does confirm with you that you want to move on but it never goes into the why of it. If you’re like me you’ll likely just hit the next island button the second it becomes available, a viable strategy in some cases, however you’re likely better placed to hang onto it until you get yourself into a corner. You see Islanders will go on for as long as you have a building (or + sign, which allows you to get more buildings) in your inventory. If you find yourself in a position where you can’t get to the next lot of buildings and you’ve got a next island available you can continue afresh there. The game will then reset the target score to just 20 above your current, giving you free reign over the next island. Whilst this isn’t always an option understanding this is what helped me go from the 8,000th ranked player to around the 800th. I’m sure there’s even deeper strategies than that but honestly, I’m happy enough with that.
Islanders does have a good amount of polish on it although you can still pull off some shenanigans with building placement if you fiddle for long enough. The platforms seem to be the easiest ones to mess around with as I was able to embed a few water platforms in places where there was no water. You can do this by finding a place where it’ll let you place it and start sliding it against one of the invisible walls the game puts there to help you with placement. Done right you can slide along them for quite a ways, giving you a lot more options than would otherwise be available. I didn’t find any other issues during my playthrough so hats off to the developers for testing it thoroughly.
There are a couple improvements I’d like though. An undo button, even if it was just for the last thing you placed, would be nice as a small quality of life improvement. I can’t tell you how many times I placed a building awkwardly only realising I could’ve done it better if I moved the camera a little bit. It’d also be nice to have a mode that allowed you to rearrange things, possibly with a higher requirement on points for each level, as it’s quite satisfying to place a building just right and have all those little tokens tinkle away onto the score board. Thinking about it more most of the things I’d like to see in the game are just things that’d make me want to play it for longer, not so much things that need to be fixed.
Islanders is a fantastic twist on the typical city builder game, stripping away the mechanical complexity and replacing it instead with skill mastery. The visuals are simple and wonderfully colourful, a trend I’m very much happy to see continue in casual titles like this. The mechanics are simple but take some time to master and even then you’re still at the hand of RNGesus. I may have only played a couple hours of Islanders but I can see it being a good distraction every so often, especially when I’ve only got one hand free (the other holding my daughter, get your mind out of the gutter).
Islanders is available on PC right now for $8.50. Total play time was 2 hours with 73% of the achievements unlocked.
After their long hiatus between Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3 it doesn’t seem like Ubisoft is willing to let the series breath for much more than a year between releases. For some of the instalments this has been great, like the much loved Blood Dragon (which I’ve strangely not reviewed but I did complete) but it has cast a dim view on others like Far Cry Primal. With the wild success of Far Cry 5 it seems like Ubisoft was wanting to strike while the iron was hot and pushed out Far Cry: New Dawn as soon as they were able. Indeed New Dawn feels a lot like an overgrown DLC more than it does a full game, what with it borrowing so heavily from its predecessor and not adding a whole lot more in the mix. Still it was a mostly competent game in its own right, even if it was quite short by Far Cry standards.
17 years after nuclear war laid waste to the world in what has become known as The Collapse the survivors have emerged from hiding and are seeking to rebuild. You, known only as the Captain, are part of a travelling team of specialists that are helping everyone out in any way they can. One day you’re approached by someone from Hope county, Carmina, who’s settlement has come under attack from a gang of bandits called the Highwaymen. You agree to help however the gang gets wind of your impending arrival and derails your train before you can arrive. So begins your struggle to restore peace to Hope county, a task that will surely take more from you than you ever thought you could give.
The Dunia engine looks as great as ever, this time around with a more vibrant and saturated colour palette that instantly reminded me of Blood Dragon’s overblown visual aesthetic. This is very much contrary to the usual visual style that accompanies post apocalyptic games and honestly I quite like it. Sure, there’s times when it looks like someone let their toddler do the texture work, but it is both interesting and visually diverse. Interestingly it seems whatever optimisation problems were in Far Cry 5 at launch are gone as there was no need for me to tweak any settings in order to get solid performance and gorgeous visuals. Granted though the level of detail and pop-in was quite noticeable from a helicopter so it could just be better default selections than anything else. Still Far Cry maintains the standard it has long set for itself and brings a new visual flair to the post apocalyptic world that I’m sure will be replicated by others.
Where Far Cry 5 swing the pendulum more towards streamlining and simplification of the series’ core game mechanics New Dawn instead moves the needle back the other way a little whilst keeping most of the optimisations. The basics are still the same: limited weapon loadout, capturing outposts, crafting, etc. however the implementation of each varies somewhat from what Far Cry 5 did, enough so that it does play out like a very different game. There’s also some interesting mechanics that are included to keep you playing longer like infinitely upgradeable talents. recapturing outposts that get harder each time and a type of mission called expeditions that has the similar “harder each time” mechanic. It definitely seems like Ubisoft expected players to blast through the story and then continue to grind on these things for hours afterwards but, honestly, I don’t think anyone will see the appeal.
Combat feels a bit wonky as something weird has happened to the hit detection. Quite often shots that seem perfectly placed will miss, seemingly for no other reason than the game just didn’t think you were shooting at what you were looking at. It seems to get better with the higher end weapons so it’s possible there’s some stat I didn’t see which was affecting my aim in a way I wasn’t anticipating. Regardless the game doesn’t really educate you about anything like that so the first few hours are likely going to be spent wondering why you’re missing half your shots. Thankfully though headshots are a one hit kill, provided you have the right tier of gear for the enemy you’re trying to kill. You’ll also need a certain level of gear to even damage certain enemies, something that doesn’t become quite apparent until you run up against someone who seems impervious to all your bullets and only goes down to grenades. Thankfully the crafting mats for those are plentiful otherwise there would’ve been quite a few frustrating missions.
The crafting system goes back to its roots somewhat with animal skins now converting to various different crafting components that you’ll need to make the higher end gear. This does mean that hunting is no longer something you do when you’re strapped for cash; no you’ll need to go out and seek certain prey if you want to have the mats necessary to craft what you want. This wouldn’t be so bad if the maps didn’t really seem to lead you to the animals they say they do, quite often you’ll just end up in a barren area trying to figure out where the animal could be hiding. You don’t need to hunt of course, you can find most mats in chests or if you’re so inclined spend actual real money on buying them, but it is the fastest method by far. As someone who did enjoy hunting high end prey in the previous instalments I didn’t mind this so much although I would like the maps to be a little more reliable.
Further progression comes in two forms: ye olde talent tree and upgrading your own settlement. You’ll likely fill out the talent tree rather quickly thanks to all the points on offer from various activities: looting shelters, doing challenges and plain old levelling up. Of course the reason there’s so many points on offer is because some of the talents can be upgraded infinitely although I’m sure they reach diminishing returns at some point. I unlocked the whole tree without too much difficulty although to be honest I was just spending them at the end as I didn’t really need anything more beyond about halfway through the game.
Upgrading your base gives you access to various perks, most of which are quality of life improvements but others unlock the higher tiers of gear and vehicles that you’ll likely be lusting after. To get these upgrades you’ll need ethanol which comes from a variety of sources but the main one is from capturing outposts. After you’ve captured them once though you can scavenge them in order to bump them up a tier which, if you then go and capture again, nets you even more ethanol. Doing it with no alarms nets you a small ethanol bonus, which is pointless for the first level honestly, but doing it undetected nets you 50% more. For the tier 3 outposts this can be quite a lot, making getting those last tier upgrades quite easy. Of course doing that is easier said than done as the enemies at the final tiers can see you a mile away. Definitely a good balance of risk vs reward anyway.
Whilst there’s still some notable jankiness around, the combat being the worst of it, a lot of the polishes and bug fixing that went into Far Cry 5 have made their way into New Dawn. Even attempting some of the old physics tricks that would create some rather hilarious moments resulted in nothing much of anything happening. Disappointing in one respect but progress nonetheless. Some of the missions with unique mechanics (like the one where you travel north) were a little hit or miss, none of them requiring me to restart the mission but did point to those special instances not getting as much love as the base engine might have. So overall, given that New Dawn and Far Cry 5 likely share a lot of things under the hood it’s good to see progress in one translating to the other.
PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The story unfortunately doesn’t really stand on its own feet, needing to borrow heavily from the previous game and unfortunately not adding a whole lot to it. The main antagonists in the game are laughably shallow, only managing to get any semblance of a compelling backstory quite late in the game. The strongest character in the whole game is Joseph Seed and that’s really only because he was already so well developed in the previous game. Far Cry isn’t typically renowned for having a deep and compelling story but they’re usually at least got something compelling to drag you along. This time around though? I struggled to even remember some of the character’s names when writing the review and one of them is on a sign in a screenshot I took.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Far Cry: New Dawn keeps true to the series’ formula, delivering competently in that regard, but doesn’t do much more than that. Some of the changes feel like a nod back to previous games but the bulk of it is following the trend that the last few games in the series have set down. There are some things done right, like the fantastical visuals and the trickle down of improvements from Far Cry 5, but other than that there’s not much more to talk about. I can only wonder what this game might have been like if it was an expansion or DLC to Far Cry 5 instead of a standalone title as it’s not really a game for those that haven’t played it. Far Cry: New Dawn goes down then as a slight misstep from Ubisoft in the series, certainly not a fall from grace but a small smudge on an otherwise solid recent track record.
Far Cry: New Dawn is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC right now for $68. Game was played on the PC with approximately 11 hours total play time and 59% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s an increasing number of games that are made by developers as part of their own process of self reflection. For some this comes as a catharsis, a want to unburden themselves through their artistic expression. For others it is to mourn and pay tribute to those that have passed. I haven’t yet however come across a game which explored the actual process of self reflection itself which is what When The Darkness comes is to its creator. As a concept I find it thoroughly fascinating, even if the resulting execution makes for a so-so experience due to its bargain basement creation and lack of compelling narrative.
When The Darkness comes starts out in a similar vein to The Stanley Parable, with the game’s creator speaking to you about the game and how it’s basically over and you should leave. It then proceeds to dive into a series of vignettes, each of them exploring a different concept with each one becoming more abstract than the last. Depending on the choices you’ve made you’ll see different levels, each of them dealing with a particular aspect of the developer’s self exploration process such as: trying to understand the concept of meaning, how hard it is to escape past trauma and getting lost in your own thoughts without a path to find your way back.
The bog standard Unity visual flair is strong in this one although the developer did go to the effort to ensure that each level had its own visual concept that embodied their vision of the concept they wanted to explore. Some of them are quite interesting, like the one where you have to follow a path that you can only really make out if you’re walking right on the edge of it or when you have to leap from tower to tower and they only illuminate after you land on one. So whilst it’s not going to win any awards for eye candy it certainly gets points for its strong visual concepts that play directly into the game’s storytelling.
The game makes a point of telling you it has no meaning, both in how it advertises itself and numerous times over in the game proper, as well as saying it’s not something that anyone should play. Of course that’s all total bollocks as I’ve played games that truly had no meaning and ones that were never meant to be played and they are completely different beasts than something like this. I say this because I feel like it’s an overdone idea now and it feels disingenuous to the player to blurt such nonsense when it’s obvious that’s not the case. Critically it doesn’t add anything to the game’s experience either I feel as it seems like many of the things shown here are inspired by real life events that the developer has lived through. With that in mind it’s quite laughable to say that this game has no meaning as all the things it put forwards shows it does.
There’s a small narrative that ties parts of the game together although honestly it’s pretty loose and doesn’t do much to bind it all together. Given that this is mostly just an exploration of different concepts that’s not too much of an issue but I do feel like the whole experience would be a lot stronger for it. For me games always feel elevated when they’re put together as a cohesive whole and when they’re just a jumble of parts it’s just not as compelling. For what it’s worth though the story elements that are in the game are done reasonably well, they just fail to tie everything together like you’d expect. With that in mind I’d say that the developer definitely has the skills to do it, they choose not to invest their effort in it this time around. Instead they focused on each vignette individually rather than the whole.
When the Darkness Comes is an interesting exploration of different concepts through various game mechanics and visual styles. Its greatest downfall is the lack of an overarching narrative that could’ve tied the experience together better and no, the idea that the game has no meaning isn’t enough. Given that it’s free and short if you’ve never played this kind of high concept game before I definitely think it’s worth exploring. It may not be one of the highest scoring games I’ll play this year but it’s at least an interesting one and it’s certainly whet my appetite for what they may be working on next.
When the Darkness Comes is available on PC right now and is free to play. Total play time was 47 minutes with 34% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve very much come to enjoy the new breed of city building simulators like Frostpunk and They Are Billions. I think this is mostly due to their more relaxed pace than other games I typically play, allowing me to plod along at my own pace, only spending a little bit of time here or there to fix the minor issues in the mostly automated systems. Of course part of the fun is also figuring out just how those automated systems work and, most importantly, what makes them break. Dawn of Man, from the developers who gave us Planetbase, is another title in this vein and whilst it might not have the same brutal mechanical complexity that its predecessor did it still provided me with quite a few hours of enjoyable playtime.
You’re in charge of a tribe of people at the very dawn of early civilisation. You start in the stone age with all the trials and tribulations that comes with it: the availability of food limited to what you can find and hunt, stored resources don’t last long and working in the winter is a game of life and death. It is your job as the invisible hand behind this colony to guide them from their primitive origins and get them to the Iron Age…alive preferably.
Like Planetbase before it Dawn of Man has that Unity-esque look and feel to it that many indie games do. There isn’t a huge amount of detail packed into each individual asset, made more to be looked at from above rather than up close and personal all the time, but for the kind of game this is the visuals are more than appropriate. The lack of detail is also helps ensure that the simulation engine has enough grunt to keep everything running smoothly without running into noticeable performance hiccups. I didn’t notice any performance degradation during my time with the game so it appears to be well optimised for its task. Suffice to say though you’re probably not going to be playing this game for the visuals, you’re in it more for the emergent storytelling that the engine can provide.
Dawn of Man is like pretty much any other city builder that you’d care to point to as most of the basic tasks are the same. You’ll need to provide basic resources to your colony in the form of food, water and shelter all of which you have varying means of acquiring at your disposal. Beyond that you’ll also need to accumulate knowledge points, a kind of currency you’ll gain for hitting various milestones that can then be spent at the tech tree. To advance to the next age you’ll need to unlock that age’s key technology and it’ll come at a hefty price so you’ll need your colony to be somewhat advanced to make it. Beyond that the only other real challenge is the occasional raid from other humans or possibly even a couple animals but, beyond that, there’s not much more to the game. At least at the base level anyway.
Getting into these games is always a bit of a challenge as figuring out how the various systems interact with each isn’t always obvious, nor does the game really tell you much beyond the basics in the tutorial. Typically this is usually where I’ll restart my first game a couple times over, usually as it becomes clear I’ve backed myself into a corner I can’t get out of. For Dawn of Man though I didn’t end up doing that, instead I was able to find ways out of every dire situation I found myself in. Now I don’t know if this is because I’ve played quite a few more titles like this since I played Planetbase all those years ago but it definitely felt like there were a lot more outs in Dawn of Man than I’m used to having.
I say all of this because it means there’s no funny story of me failing miserably and killing everyone, apologies! 😉
Dawn of Man follows the usual trope of keeping things simple in the beginning but adding incremental complexity as you progress through the game. Progression in this sense is pretty linear as new tech is really only unlocked when you move to a new age and you’re only going to move to a new age once you’ve stabilised your colony in the current one. Of course I was playing on the first scenario so I’m not sure how this would play out in the challenge modes, most of which seem to have another built in layer of complexity in order to ramp up the difficulty a bit more. Further to that the game has Steam Community support so I’m sure there’s likely to be many mods and improvements that’ll add all sorts of interesting nonsense to the game in the near future.
For my colony the primary challenge typically came from being out of a particular resource which would stall my progression. The first of these was tannin, required for making leather which I needed for various upgrades and things to improve my colony overall. What I usually found was that, although those resources were available, the work zones I had put down weren’t getting filled with people to complete the work, there were even people showing as underutilised. The way to get around this it seemed was to put down multiple work zones for the same resource rather than having one stacked with the same number of people. Looking through the forums on this I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this kind of challenge and indeed it seems most of the games real challenge comes from the AI wigging out and doing something completely unexpected.
I had quite a few instances of this in my game, the funniest (well, looking back it now anyway) was when half my colonists were walking around starving themselves to death. For some reason there’s certain tasks that the AI will prioritise over eating, to the point of people working themselves to death before they’ll take 10 minutes to get a meal. I eventually worked out that the problem, and honestly this shouldn’t even be a problem, was that the food I had on hand still needed to be “cooked” even though it had been already. Certain other foods can be consumed instantly and, when they’re not around, it seems the AI prefers to try and keep them working than take the required time to cook. It’s a bit of an edge case, I’ll grant you, but there’s dozens of other emergent behaviours (like the AI not respecting hard resource limits you set) that you’ll have to figure out lest they become the downfall of your colony.
Dawn of Man does tend to hide a lot of information behind dozens of menus, many of which aren’t readily accessible. A lot of good information is shown on the various tabs you can put on screen but for some things, like which colonists are idle and which ones aren’t, need quite a few clicks to get to before you can see that information. Similarly, whilst some information is packed together well (like resource limits on the places where those resources are produced) others, like milestones and knowledge point tasks, are on completely different menus. This isn’t something that’s beyond fixing and at the very least I’ll bet that someone from the community will fix it up with a mod in the not too distant future.
Once you get past the basics with Dawn of Man though there seems to be a couple tricks that enable you to basically do whatever you want. For me I found that wool, which is effectively an unlimited resource, sells quite well with traders and so I was routinely clearing them out each time they came by. This is especially good considering that you can buy tech unlocks from them, something I always ended up doing as I’d routinely have 200+ units of wool just lying around. At that point I really was just running out the clock on the game to unlock all the tech and get the last milestone though. For me though that was enough as I was plenty satisfied with the time I had spent in the game by then. More serious players will likely find a lot of enjoyment in the challenge modes and community mods but for this old player I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth.
Dawn of Man is another competent city builder from developer Madruga Works, one that’s likely to provide many hours of entertainment to those who love this genre. It certainly felt a lot easier than other games in this genre have of late, although that could quite possible be because I’ve played a number of them over the past few years. Still if you’re after a casual, low stress city building experience then I think Dawn of Man will be right up your alley.
Dawn of Man is available on PC right now for $35.95. Total play time was 8 hours with 28% of the achievements unlocked.
When a titan of the game industry gets into a genre the anticipation is always high for what they’re going to bring to the table. The looter shooter genre which came to popularity with titles like Destiny and The Division was seemingly set to see a new competitor this year in the form of Anthem from BioWare. I have to admit, even though I tried my darndest to stay away from the hype for it, I was excited to see what it would bring to the table. Heck I was even hoping it’d become another Destiny, something I could pick up every so often when a new DLC dropped to enjoy a casual raid or two. Unfortunately though those high expectations haven’t been met and the game that we’ve received seems to be cut down in scale and burdened with numerous problems that prevent it from achieving what it set it out to do. To be sure, there’s some great fundamentals in here, but we as gamers are tired of mostly finished games; especially from AAA developers.
The Anthem is a force of pure creation, left behind by the shapers of this world along with their various relics that forged this place that we now call home. Every so often the Anthem rises again, it’s unbound power causing chaos by ripping through the land. You, a rookie tagging along with famed freelancer Haluk for your first mission, go to tackle the Heart of Rage: a cataclysm that’s being caused by a device called the Cenotaph. The mission goes horribly astray however, with many of your fellow freelancers perishing at the horrors that were created. With that the hope that many in the freelancers is dashed and you spend the next couple years taking on odd jobs to keep the lights on. However it becomes apparent that an old power, The Dominion, is seeking to control the Anthem by using the Cenotaph at the heart of rage. It’s up to you, freelancer, to ensure that the ultimate power of creation doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
If there’s one thing that Anthem gets right it’s the visuals which set the bar for what many other games will be compared to this year. They come to us care of the Frostbite 3 engine so it’s no surprise that it’s able to pull off all the modern graphics tricks in the book. Flying through the environments is a joy, the wide vistas providing many good screenshot worthy moments as you explore the world of Bastion. It can get a little visually confusing during heavy combat scenes (with the enormous amount of particle effects everywhere) and during puzzle sections (as puzzle items blend in far too well with the background) and I don’t think that’s something that’s ever going to change unfortunately. Performance is also pretty great as I never experienced a perceptible drop in framerates whilst I was playing. I did initially tweak the settings a little bit to get it running smoother, I think just by turning off AA. Other than that I didn’t need to touch anything else for the rest of my playthrough.
Anthem’s core gameplay sticks close to the looter shooter fundamentals starting off with you picking a particular character class that will define your playstyle. As you level up you’ll unlock the others and you’re free to switch between them you may not have enough gear to make one viable at your current power level without a little grinding. There’s a core story campaign which you’ll need to complete to unlock most of the game’s content including strongholds which are the game’s endgame content. You can customize your javelin’s weapons and abilities with loot drops, all of which have their own play style and synergies with each other. There’s also the usual tropes of daily/weekly missions, world events and a rudimentary crafting system to try and drag you back day after day. When all is said and done there is a decent bit of content in Anthem, maybe a little less than there was in Destiny when it originally released, but what’s lacking is a driving force to make you want to explore it.
Combat starts out being one of the most impressive parts of Anthem with all the abilities and dynamic aerial fighting feeling like something truly new to the looter shooter genre. The abilities are the standout parts of the combat, especially when you work together with your teammates to unleash some spectacular combos that explode in a glorious cacophony of particle and sound effects. I have to admit to having quite a lot of fun in my colossus with the shock coil attachment, an AOE lightning attack that just cooked enemies around me as a I walked at them and triggered off combos left and right. The ultimate abilities are incredibly satisfying as well, allowing you to do incredible amounts of damage against even the toughest opponents if you know how to use them properly. However after a time the combat starts to get samey and that’s when the cracks start to appear.
The guns, for instance, are nearly completely useless in comparison to your abilities. You’ll often be plinking away at an enemy for what seems like an eternity with your main weapons, just killing time until you can use one of your abilities again to do some real damage. This doesn’t even change with higher tier loot unfortunately as the abilities scale much better. The abilities to don’t change much past a certain point and most of them are just variants on the same thing like the flamethrower just being a cone version of the shock coil or the various versions of the mortar and flack canons. This, coupled with the lack of mission variety, means that after a certain point every encounter starts to feel quite samey and that’s when the boredom starts to set in. This is typically where the loot grind is supposed to be the draw card but unfortunately Anthem got this completely and utterly wrong.
You’re lavished with loot from the get go, which isn’t an issue in and of itself, however it’s not entirely clear which piece of gear is better than another due to the downright confusing stats page in the forge. Most upgrades don’t really feel like they change much either, especially for upgrades that are in the same weapon or slot class. Without a meaningful power progression you don’t really feel compelled to seek out better gear. Worse still it doesn’t really seem like playing on the harder difficulties (at least pre-end game) nets you any more or better loot, completely negating the reason for taking on the additional challenge. The difference between hard and normal can also be the difference between getting stuck on a mission for an hour and getting it done in 5 minutes, further pushing you towards simply playing it on the easiest and breezing through. Whilst I didn’t bother with any endgame activities I’ve heard that this situation continues on even there which honestly doesn’t seem like a good way to increase player retention.
Flying around the environments starts out feeling exactly like what was promised back when Anthem was first demoed although, for some weird reason, they decided to limit your flight time when you’re flying between missions. This is supposed to be counteracted by you diving every so often or flying through a waterfall to cool your javelin’s jets but neither of these seem to work consistently. I could understand limiting flying in combat but for exploration? It just feels like that was done to make the world feel artificially bigger than it actually is. Even then though you can see all of the world in a pretty short timeframe if you’re so inclined as the overworld isn’t as big as it seems at first glance. You also can’t fly over any of the mountain ranges you can see in the game, instead you get pushed back down by jetstreams, further limiting how you can travel. I think many of us were drawn to this massive world that you’d be able to explore in a giant mech suit but instead what we’ve got is a limited world with limited options to explore it.
Decoupling your javelin’s look from its armament was a good idea on BioWare’s part although, weirdly, they’ve essentially given you unlimited customisation options right of the hop. Sure there’s only a couple types of javelin cosmetic sets available but you’re given dozens of different materials and unlimited colouring options right at the start of the game. This means that you can basically craft your own visual style right away without much need for you to go searching for a bit of loot to make your javelin look awesome. Whilst I appreciate the ability to do this it further diminishes the value of end game loot as part of the appeal is wearing your high tier gear in front of others, signalling you’ve done the game’s hardest challenges. Combine this with the other loot issues and you’ve basically got very little reason to pursue any end game activities at all.
This is also not mention all the base technical issues that plague the game, even after the proper “release” (side note: if the game is playable by the general public, it’s released. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous to deflect negative feedback). Crashes and disconnects aren’t common place but do happen and without any kind of checkpointing system if you were in the middle (or at the end, in my case) of a mission you’ll have to do it over from the start. The UI is total garbage with even the simplest tasks taking ages to complete. Want to tag something as junk for mass deletion? That’ll take about 3 seconds to complete, just as long as it’d take for you to deconstruct the item manually. Challenges don’t track properly in the UI either and you’ll often get notified about tracking something which you’ve already tracked. Navigating between different panes defies usual UI conventions as well, often meaning you’ll end up completely quitting out of a particular menu by accident rather than going back to the previous tab. Anthem really needs some love when it comes to the quality of life department as simple things like this shouldn’t be so hard.
Anthem’s story was set up well for it to go anywhere the writer’s pleased and, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it for the most part. Sure the villains, characters and various plot twists are predictable and one dimensional but the world behind it was pretty well fleshed out. The voice actors also did a great job of bringing the script to life as well and I was surprised at the number of big name talent I recognised reprising their roles in Anthem. Honestly had the core game been better the story could’ve really shone but, unfortunately, it’s hard to enjoy a good story when so much of the rest of the game just isn’t up to par.
The weight of expectations has proved to be too much for Anthem as the game we’ve received after so much anticipation has left us all wanting. To be sure the game’s opening moments are extremely fun, bringing a fresh perspective to the looter shooter genre and setting you up for what feels like an epic BioWare experience. However the shine starts to quickly wear off as it becomes apparent that there’s just not a lot of variety in the core aspects of the game and little outside that to keep you motivated. The conclusion of the main campaign is where I left Anthem as there was nothing left there that I wanted to explore. It’s a real shame honestly as it feels like Anthem could’ve avoided many of these mistakes but simply didn’t. Perhaps future DLCs and patches will bring it back up to par, much like it did for The Division and Destiny, but we gamers are long past the point of wanting to play games that aren’t finished.
Anthem is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.99. Game was played on the PC with 15 hours total play time and 19.5% of the achievements unlocked.