Category: Reviews

Shelter 3 Review

Developer: Might and Delight
Publisher: Might and Delight
Music: Retro Family
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Released: 30th March 2021
Genre: Adventure, Indie

You are Reva, an elephant with a new calf, and your matriarch, the leader of your herd, needs your help. She is old, her eyesight is failing, members of your herd have been lost. And now, with a young calf and a small herd, you now must use her memories to reunite with the rest of the herd safely. The decisions you make will dictate your journey, your patience and bond with your herd will keep you safe. But it’s not easy, a slip in judgement, rushing at the wrong moment, or neglecting the needs of your herd will make your journey challenging.

Shelter 3 is a 3D adventure game, with a gorgeous artstyle that reminds me of a patchwork quilt, branching paths, and a beautiful insight into the life of an elephant, and the responsibilities she may have.

Shelter 3 takes a different approach to previous Shelter games, where instead of focusing on a single member of your family, instead you must guide and look after your herd, with the memories of the old matriarch to help your decisions. You have the ability to sprint, knocking fruit out of trees, sensing the environment around you, calling your herd into a protective formation, and to feed your calf. But you also have the ability to pluck flowers to carry with your trunk, play in the water, sharing joy with your herd. All these maintain the health of your herd, and their happiness.

The old matriarch will guide you to landmarks, and once you read that landmark she invites you to listen to her stories and her memories, deciding on the next landmark on your journey. You have a couple of options, with differing dangers and challenges. Fog, crocodiles, a maze of stones, dangerous ravines, swamps that threaten to drag you down. You’ll have to navigate them all.

And if you make the wrong decision, rushing through a river at the wrong moment, putting your herd in harm’s way? Well… I lost my calf that way, the hearts of the herd breaking. But I couldn’t just stop, I couldn’t just restart. My calf was not my entire herd, and so I had to continue, thinking of what I should’ve done.

This is not an action-packed game however. It is very slow-paced, linear, but I suppose that makes sense for a game about elephants retracing the paths of the past. There were minor interactions with the environment and my herd, but I really wish there was more I could do. Perhaps give them the flower I had plucked, or spray them with water. It felt very much like the journey was just about me, and not my herd.

I greatly enjoyed the music, the layered instruments, chords, and melodies replicating the quilt-like effect of the world in audio form. The music warned me of dangers, letting me know when it was time to be on alert. It immersed me in storms, beautiful rich plains, the paths I explored, the moments of joy my herd expressed.

Shelter 3 is a beautiful game, I cannot deny that. Visually unique and gorgeous, with layered textures that reminds me of a quilt. And the story starts out nice and simple, with wanting to reunite with the rest of the herd. Having lost members of the herd along the way, I felt resolved to see it through, to bring the herd to safety and security, the old matriarch telling me about how beautiful it would be.

And when we finally made it, the joy I felt seeing her old body rush forward with excitement was also met with sorrow as the realisation hit. She was reunited, and so happy, and it was beautiful. But it was also a story of loss, and life after death. The understanding that death comes for us all in the end, and sometimes it comes swiftly, with only snapping teeth as warning, or it comes quietly and peacefully, like coming home.

Monster Hunter Rise Review

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Music: Satoshi Hori
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
Released: 26 March 2021, 2022
Genre: Action role-playing

You are a new hunter in the beautiful, but small, village of Kamura. Your task as a hunter? To hunt the biggest, baddest monsters that roam this world. But that’s not all, you are also tasked with protecting this village from a devastating event called the rampage. Where a dozen monsters, bigger and badder than the one before it, descend upon Kamura in a furious siege. And you have to not only repel it, but also discover the cause of the rampage in an effort to put an end to this ferocious stampede.

Monster Hunter Rise is the newest game in the Monster Hunter series, with a semi-realistic 3D artstyle, detailed gameplay and mechanics, and a lineup of monsters who will challenge you, while managing to be distinctive from other games in the series.

Monster Hunter Rise at its base is just like every other Monster Hunter game. That is you are a hunter, and you hunt monsters, each unique and with its own set of behaviours and abilities. You can choose from 14 weapon types, such as a hunting horn, great sword, hammer, dual blades, bowgun, or sword and shield, just to name a few. Once you complete the hunt, you get rewards such as money and points, and resources from the monster you just carved. And you can use these rewards to make extremely cool and helpful armour and weapons, and upgrade your gear.

Monsters do not have a health bar in this game, and instead you will have to rely on visual cues to tell you when it’s exhausted, close to death, or if it’s about to do a particularly brutal attack. So you have to be observant, learn about the monster, and adjust your gear and approach to achieve a successful hunt.

Monster Hunter Rise also has some mechanics unique to this game, such as the addition of wirebugs, which creates wires that can help you pull off devastating abilities, hold onto monsters, and even allow you to ride the monster, controlling it for a limited time. Another unique feature is the rampage, where a stampede of monsters attacks the village, and it’s up to you and some brave NPCs to push them back before they can get through the giant gate. You have access to special, heavy-duty weapons, such as cannons and ballistas, to help, and when the gong is hit it gives everyone a surge of power, allowing you to go toe-to-toe with some of the more brutal monsters in the rampage.

And outside of the rampage, there is the mystery behind the cause of the rampage. And solving that mystery will mean having to face, you got it, more monsters.

The music in these games have always been rather epic, and quite beautiful. And Rise is no different, including some beautiful singing from characters in the game. When the language is set to Japanese, you are introduced to poetic singing with the introduction of the monsters, like the game is telling you a story. And the audio experience can be extremely helpful during your hunt. Your characters will shout call outs, warning you when the monster is targeting you, but also telling your teammates when you’re in trouble, reloading your bowgun, or taking a health potion. It’s not essential, but it is helpful, especially if you and your friends aren’t using microphones.

I have been playing Monster Hunter for about 9 years now, and I’ve always enjoyed how over-the-top, challenging, and kinda goofy the games are. And I really got to enjoy the multiplayer aspect with the release of Monster Hunter World, and that hasn’t changed with Rise. Rise has streamlined a lot of the mechanics from previous games, making it less daunting. There are still a lot of areas that have me looking up guides to understand, but you can enjoy the game without it. The hunt itself still has a lot of details to think about and consider, and to hopefully turn to your advantage. I’ve had my friends find a stinkmink to lure another monster to our target, so that the resulting turf war would soften them up a bit.

I would advise making your way through the singleplayer village quests first, as that introduces most of the monsters, mechanics, and features of Rise, and they’re not too challenging. It’ll also introduce you to the ‘big bad’ monster. But once you are ready, jump into the hub quests for the multiplayer experience, and prepare for a wild ride. Whenever we felt things were getting a bit easy, boom. We’ve been mauled by a tigrex and someone just rage quit.

So what do we do? Have a break. And then try again. Craft a special hunting horn that looks like a cello but gives us earplugs, bring out some flash bombs and poisoned food, and get a bit smarter about our hunts.

And then once we succeed, cheer and pat ourselves on the back and go check out what cool armour we can make now, so you can get back to the hunt.

Hey, we’re monster hunters. What else are we going to do?

Carrion Review

 

Developer: Phobia Game Studio

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Audio: Cris Velasco

Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, Window, Mac & Linux

Release Date: 23/7/2020

Genre: 2D Action Platformer

 

Carrion is made for those who have, in one way or another, wished to unleash their inner Mr Hyde. And a warning to the wise and not so wicked, if you dislike the creepy, or are triggered by pixelated gore, the spatter and squelch of viscera, screams of terror, or unleashing the horror within… you are probably not going to be into this.

In Carrion, you control the hive mind of a symbiotic colony of an antediluvian ancestor to the tubifex worm, resulting in a cyclopian monstrosity of Lovecraftian horror. Basically, you’re a mass of prehensile tentacles and teeth bent on freeing yourself from the scientific dissection of your biomass.

Commonly, this game is described as reverse horror. Instead of playing the protagonist hiding from the horror as it stalks through the facility seeking freedom, you are the horror.

After breaking from your containment, you stalk your captors, ripping and tearing apart the available flesh to absorb as precious biomass. The biomass you will need to protect yourself while searching for the genetic skills of your kin scattered the of throughout the facility.

Towards those that dare fire upon your amassed power, you will revengefully return to chew on their corpses for the audacity of attempting to damage your majestic abomination.

Or maybe that’s just me…

What the developers at Phobia Game Studios really got right was the weight and movement in the game. The feeling of throwing doors, grates, vending machines, and human torsos come with a satisfying inertia and the added benefit of distracting – or even dismembering – your human opponents. This satisfaction also extends to the effects of your size on your movement as well.

Your own movement is also hypnotic. The worms that make up your body constantly move and shift, slinging out to fling you, swing you, and catch you. And while the movement looks complicated, it controls remarkably well.

I played on PC, and if you have ever played a shooting game, you know that your hand need not move from that position. The mouse controls your movement and prehensile tentacles while your left hand activates skills and levers, the latter of which are many.

Carrion is at its core a linear game pretending to be metroidvanian. The aim is to move from area to area, with you unable to traverse to the next without a new genetic skill. To reach the next save point, lever, or destroyable terrain piece, you are required to solve little puzzles or battle the different types of security intent on annihilating you.

And did I mention there is no map? You will have to rely on your own unique awareness and memory, a special little trap for overthinking completionists and people to took so long between gameplay that they forgot where they were up too… not that that happened to me.

Visually, the pixel art is perfect for the transitions between the clean, bright scientific active compounds, the rusted and disorderly industrialism, and the luminous greens and blues of botanical cave systems. It also means the game can live between the super realism of our imagination and the disbelief of pixelated abstraction, allowing for a modicum of separation between you and the horrors you commit. This is especially relevant as the game play actively covers all the interacted environment with a visceral palette of reds and purples as you course through them.

Acoustically, the game does balance the need for horror elements to the environment without overdoing it. So, while the screaming and whimpering of the cowering humans is ended with the crunch of cartilage and bones, there are no wet slaps of tentacles as you traverse. Instead, a pleasant soft carolling of schwips as your weight-bearing tendrils flail about to find purchase. The atmospheric soundtrack, composed by Cris Velasco, matches the horror theme perfectly. The tension-filled tracks, rather than filling you with dread, instead drive you further into the carnage as you lay waste to all before you.

Overall, Carrion is not a long game, and manages to find a place in the truly short list of games I’ve actually finished. The game’s length means it sits comfortably between learning how to utilise all the skills, and not overstaying its welcome. If you are looking to speed run this metroidvanian world in your first playthrough, I don’t think you’re going to get much satisfaction out of Carrion. However, if you choose to relish the screams, take revenge on those that hold you back, and take your time to work through the puzzles like the Dexter you always knew you were, then I think this sinewy tale might just be for you.

It is no wonder this game won the 2021 BAFTA’s Game Awards Best Debut Game and was nominated for best original property game.

Trashed Review

Developer: Josh Presseisen
Publisher: Crescent Moon Games
Music: Josh Presseisen
Platforms: Steam
Released: Early Access – 17/February/2021, Planned Release – early 2022
Genre: Adventure strategy

Garbage disposal and management is a problem that has plagued us for years, and it continues to be a problem far in the future, on a planet far, far away. Hundreds of ships dump their rubbish on some far-off desert planet, leaving bags of waste, plastic lawn chairs, and who knows what else.

And you, the newest hire, are tasked with solving this eternal problem: how to make all this trash go away?

Trashed is a strategy game about garbage management and disposal. With a chunky, 3D artstyle, your long flowing blue hair, and more than a few guns under your belt to take care of some problems you might run into, this is definitely a game meant to challenge you. And maybe overwhelm you, just a bit.

So, the main goal of Trashed is to dispose of garbage, and manage the waste and pollution it causes. A ship will come by about once every minute (or an in-game hour) to dump rubbish at a marked site. This can very quickly develop into a gigantic pile, with garbage bags just rolling all over the place. You need to move that garbage into an incinerator. You have a helpful robot that manages to push some bits of trash into an incinerator, and you can pick up a piece of garbage, and toss it in yourself. But you will not be able to keep up. And each bit of rubbish burnt will affect the air quality.

Thankfully, you have more than a few tools to help you out. As you earn money, you can buy a garbage blower, to move several pieces of rubbish, and blueprints to build more incinerators, air purifiers, solar panels, batteries, recycling machines, grinders (for the giant pieces of garbage that will get thrown onto your head by yet another ship), and more, including conveyor belts, which quickly became my favourite thing in the game.

In addition, you progress by picking up bounties from the office, requiring you to process a certain amount of garbage, or to kill some of the local creatures who will rock up to cause some trouble.

Of course, you can purchase various weapons to help you.

It’s addictive, it’s satisfying to optimise your dump site, to set it up so you only need to worry about some wayward rubbish. There are cutscenes with voiced characters, for some reason they’re all from Texas. I named my helpful robot Marvin. I love him. He gets stuck sometimes but he’s doing his best.

The music is pretty minimal, and there is a lot of silence in the game. The creatures I run into make some weird, alien-like sounds that makes me a bit nervous to hear. The sound of the ship arriving is overwhelming, and I’m glad to hear it go (mostly so it stops making a mess of things). It’s really satisfying hearing the constant sound of garbage being recycled and burnt, it tells me things are working. More music would be nice, but I find myself zoning out a lot, so I’m not too bothered.

There is one thing to note however, this game is in early access, and at the time of writing this review, in pre-alpha. There are a lot of bugs, there is only a portion of the planned content in the game, and I wasn’t able to actually complete the tutorial. My playthrough could be described as playtesting. This is not a finished product. But the content it already has, and the gameplay so far, is enjoyable. When I get past some of the worst bugs, and I get used to the rough controls, I found myself playing for hours. I had a playthrough where the bounties glitched out, so I couldn’t progress through the game, but I had so many conveyor belts, and you have never imagined air could be so clean.

I am looking forward to seeing this game continue to develop, and to revisit it over time. And I can’t wait until the team goes ‘Yup! That’s a finished game!’. Because my heart needed a garbage management game that takes place on an alien planet.

Grow Big (Or Go Home) Review

Developer: Quarant Inc.
Publisher: Quarant Inc.
Music: Quarant Inc.
Platforms: PC (Steam and Itch.io)
Released: 19 December 2020 (Ultimate Edition)
Genre: 2D puzzle

Your name is Bruce, the greatest gardener of all time. A master of balancing the needs of a plant, protecting it, cherishing it, coaxing it to its full potential. Your skills are so legendary, stories of it reach across time and space, revealing another one of Bruce’s skills; the ability to travel through time. How else are you supposed to keep pot plants alive in an ancient Egyptian tomb?

Grow Big (or Go Home) is a 2D gardening puzzle game, with simple mechanics, a quick pace, and levels that quickly become quite challenging, it has stuck in my mind like a series that I know I should enjoy, but really makes me work for it. And at the end, I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed it, but I sure am thinking a lot about it.

Grow Big (or Go Home) is quite simple. You control Bruce, and you need to use a watering can and mirrors to give indoor plants enough light and water to grow. You’re put into a room ( sometimes a house, sometimes a tomb, sometimes a spaceship), with a number of plants in pots. You don’t have a lot of time, just until the end of the day, represented by sunlight through windows moving across the room from left to right. Using mirrors, you redirect the sunlight from the windows towards the plants, and using a watering can that you need to refill after each use, you water the plants.

It’s not that simple though. The sunlight moves quickly, so you need to move the mirror around. If the plant is hit by sunlight for too long, it will catch on fire, so it takes one use of the watering can to put out, or later you can use a fan to keep the plant cool I guess?

You often have more than one plant to look after, but you only have one mirror and watering can. So it becomes a balancing act, trying to give each plant everything they need, without them catching on fire, or being knocked over. There are simple obstacles to work around, like walls or furniture. I have rarely gotten so frustrated by a tree.

It gets really hectic, really quickly, and even with a dash ability, I found myself having to redo a level more than a couple of times until I found the method that worked best for it, or at least worked well enough for me to progress.

It also doesn’t help that some things you need to figure out yourself, like the bar next to the plant (is it a water bar? Does it need to be green for the plant to grow? No? Or no now the plant is on fire).

The game has a sort of theme song, themed to whatever the room theme is. Christmas? You get a fun little tune with bells. Halloween? It has more of a spooky tone. Ancient Egypt? More horns and drums! The music is all related, but they’re quite unique as well, with a bit of a flourish that is unique to the theme. On some levels it’s quite relaxing really. In others… less so. The rest of the sound experience is pretty satisfying as well, I enjoyed the little clicks of putting things down and picking them up, and the ‘plant is on fire’ sound is one that is immediately recognisable.

I liked Grow Big (or Go Home), but I’m not sure if it likes me. You can only progress to the next level by earning 3 out of 5 stars, so I found myself doing the bare minimum to move on. I found out you can unlock outfits though, so I did go back to try again and again. It is challenging, but frustratingly so, and I didn’t really get that sweet sweet dopamine hit when I hit 4 stars or higher. It’s not all that satisfying, and some control and design choices made me want to stop playing a lot of the time, but stubbornness kept me going. And for that, I will say it’s a good way to spend some time.

But why haven’t these people ever heard of keeping plants by the northern side windows?

Progressbar95 Review

Developer: Igor Uduslivii aka icoeye
Publisher: Spooky House Studios
Audio: Composer – Gemfire (Andrei Scerbatiuc)
Platforms: Mobile and Windows
Release Date: iOS/Android: Summer of 2019, Steam 8/9/2020
Genre: Simulator/Arcade/Casual/Experimental

While away from my aging beast of a computer and staying with family, I found myself listless and avoidant of the games I had brought along to play on my Switch. So, like any sane person, I started trawling the Google Play store for a game. A game that was not bogged down with ads and provided some escapism from this family trip without draining the rural wifi, or relying upon non-existent mobile connectivity… and for the low, low price of freemium. This is how I came upon today’s game, Progressbar95.

Some things really bring out the nostalgia in me. I thought the sound of a dial-up modem, or the smell of warm chipsets would be the only things that could bring me back to my childhood gaming world, but Progressbar95 brought out a new one in me.

I never thought I would hear that warming computer rattle sound again, the click as the cathode ray tube monitor started up, and while the start-up sounds have been changed, they are still reminiscent of the operating system … of your choice…

Yes, not only can you relive the operating system ending in 95, but you can go as far back as inserting a floppy disk in the A:\ drive and loading your DOS operating system. You can also push forwards to the questionable choices of the present, and even sideways to operating systems you may have only ever heard of. And for those of you who had fancier parents than I, you can even unlock the other operating fruit’s systems as you progress.

So why am I dancing around the names of the systems? Because that’s what Proagressbar95 does… there will be no glass filled wall holes or fruit-based names found in this game. Instead Wista, Largehorn, and Bar OS will tickle that nostalgia nerve within.

The progression of this operating system sim occurs through a range of casual arcade minigames, the premise of all being the collection of segments to complete the infamous loading bar. The points you receive award you with computer part upgrades that you need to then move to the next operating system.

The first core gaming loop to gain these points is to collect the completed blue segments as they fall from the top of your screen in the ever-diminishing space in your loading bar. All while avoiding pink errors, yellow fragmented particles, red system errors, complicated pop-ups, mines, electrical surges, occasional lasers and the omnipresent and always helpful Clippy. These are all available in the unlockable difficulties of Normal, Relaxed, Hardcore, and Custom, as well as the random bonus stages reminiscent of galaxy zooming screensavers and The Matrix’s computer interface!

But be not afraid of the many popups and system errors that will drain the heart tally at the top of your screen. You can occasionally fall back on the minigame fixes with Defrag and ScanProgress to assist you with errored segments and blue screen of death system errors. All with appropriately long cooldowns.

As you level up your skill by filling your load bar, your progression will unlock more minigames that take you deeper into the rabbit hole of nostalgia.

A selection of these being; ProgressSweeper, a mine-finding game similar to another sweeper game you may have heard of, with a double layered twist; Progress Defender, a tower defence version of the base game where you work to block the persistent Clippy and protect programs generating loading progression segments; Progress Commander, where you need to react to make sure to accurately move a command in time to build your loading column; plus so many more, and with current development schedules, even more are coming!

Other ways to get points can be found by finding dead pixels on the screen, or lady bugs in programs, shutting down the operating system when you finish your playtime, mini puzzles, and a DOS simulation. This is one of my favourites, as in this DOS sim Command/DOS aficionados can find hidden cheat codes and bonuses in randomized file systems and match 5 HEX puzzles, plus the ability to explore the programming files and all that entails.

Finally, there is also Bin. Bin is your Tamagotchi-esque pet who needs constant reassurance, petting, and cleaning. Cleaning this pet daily rewards you with a nice chunk of points, especially if you fill them with folders from the previous day of DOS based files. Plus seeing them grow in happiness is its own reward.

However, this game would not be the joy it is without the nostalgia that glues it together. What immerses me in this game and makes me rave to my wife about resurfacing old memories, is the soundscape changes that match the game’s visual changes. A DOS based operating system would not seem accurate without hearing the A:\ drive clunk and grind away loading up the blue visual base, and the near constant whir of fans and hard drives in the background. I was almost disappointed when I reached the point where I managed to get solid state drives removing the need for the background hum, and then with joy did I see a popup asking if I wanted to keep it.

It’s the accuracy of these and the mouse clicks, the sounds marking the opening and closing of basic user interfaces, the alert tone of system crashes and associated hardware shutdowns, all of these makes the game feel close enough to the old experiences allowing one to wallow luxuriantly in the joyous nostalgia.

Now I experienced most of this on my PC, as once I returned from my rural family visit I wanted to explore this game through my other everyday screen. This means I generally missed-out on the pop-in advertisements and pay-to-progress elements that are built into the mobile version of this game. However, I did not find that my freemium experience was intruded or overwhelmed by these monetisation methods, and for those that do find issue with this, there is an ad-free price point available to purchase.

There are also a few bugs in the Steam version. Earlier in my game time (<20 hours) I was unsure if the game glitches were intentional or not, because, as we all know, operating systems can be very buggy. But as I put more time into the game, I was not too sure. Despite this, Progressbar95 has a great fan-based bug reporting system with constant developer updates and regular game expansions, so I can only see this game bettering over time.

So, if you are like me and remember fondly the days of A:\ drives, Windows upgrades and DOS commands, I would recommend downloading ProgressBar95, because at whatever price point you choose, the memories that this game revives are worth the price of entry.

Monster Hunter World

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Music: 
Akihiko Narita
Platforms: 
Microsoft Windows PC, PS4, & Xbox One
Released: 
22 December 2017
Genre:
 Action Role Playing Game (ARPG)

Monster Hunter World is the fifth instalment of the Monster Hunter series. For those of you who haven’t heard about Monster Hunter you play as a hunter that you can customise that is tasked with hunts to either kill or trap monsters that roam certain environmental landscapes. The idea usually is to kill them, harvest materials and use those materials to make new weapons, armour and other unique game items. You also have a friendly little side kick called a Palico which is an anthropomorphic cat that you can also name and customise that will assist you in combat. There is also your assistant Handler whose job is to keep you up to date with all your objectives and educate you on how the New World works.

In Monster Hunter World you start as part of the fifth fleet which has been called upon by the Research Commission to provide more back up to previous hunters in the New World. The major focus of the journey is to perform Expeditions into new environments to study Elder Dragons, which are very powerful monsters that play a big part in the ecosystem or each new area you discover. Early on in the story you learn that these monsters migrate to this New World every ten years in an event known as Elder Crossing. During the first initial cut scene on the ship to the New World you encounter Zorah Magdaros who is an Elder Dragon moving towards your destination. Throughout the rest of the main narrative, you are to discover why they migrate and what part they play in the ecosystem of this New World.

There are many twists and turns ahead should you take on this perilous journey, and if you should feel afraid do not worry Monster Hunter World is very big on multiplayer cooperative hunts. You can post a quest and other hunters can join you or you can join a quest that other players post. Not to mention loads and loads of optional side quests, special events and wonderful game cross overs; such as Geralt of Rivia or Mega Man. Also, once you finish the main quest line and hit the credits there is still more monsters to discover and challenges to face. The game almost seemingly never ends even after 50 hours of gameplay.

Something incredible about the Monster Hunter series is the impressive number of weapons you can choose from and you don’t have to be locked into specialising in one. There are 14 to choose from ranging from close combat, mid-range, high mobility, aerial, rapid fire, long ranged and versatile. I originally started playing on a Charge Blade which has to be on the most unique and if not most complicated weapons to master however provides insane damage once you reach the high hunter ranks. It has a couple of different modes such as it looks like a small sword and shield however you can combine them together to form a large axe that you can charge with power to deal massive blows. I later learnt the bow and arrow because some monsters fly and learning a ranged weapon definitely helps with certain hunts. Honestly one of the best parts of the game is enjoying a range of different weapons that can completely change the game play as well as the outcome of monster fights. I highly recommend learning more than one weapon.

The best, if not most incredible part of Monster Hunter World is the monsters themselves. They are fascinating, visually exceptional, diverse and extremely dangerous. Some of them are so hard that you definitely need a full team of hunters to take it down and some can be an hour-long grind. There are moments of such beauty for example during fights you have these scenes of incredible high-definition beasts up against these incredible environmental back drops that are simply jaw dropping. There is one particular hunt against an Elder Dragon where you are set in the volcanic pit with a what looks like a giant flying lion that explodes these incredible red and blue flames. Honestly there is nothing like it.

I should also mention the comradery of multiplayer hunting. Most of my time with Monster Hunter World has been cooperative, myself and some of the Zed Games team helped me climb in rank and experience by hunting together. There is so much fun to be had testing out different weapons and taking on different monsters all over the New World. Something that Zahra mentioned to me was, “Every hunt is different, even if it’s the same monster you fought before you are guaranteed to have a different experience the next time you’re out there.” Seeing massive fights between two different monsters or having your party crashed by an unwanted visitor is always a good opportunity to get the hell out of the way and see something new, maybe even try something new.

A quick tip for players interested in playing Monster Hunter World on Windows PC is get yourself a controller that is compatible, usually Xbox controllers wired or Bluetooth will work nicely. You can play using keyboard, however, depending on your weapon you might find your fights to be more challenging. On a personal level I find the controller to make to experience more immersive.

Akihiko Narita is the composer for Monster Hunter World and has created much of the soundtrack for many other Monster Hunter games as well as Resident Evil 5. His compositions are epic in nature, making everything feel like this grand adventure. There is mystery and suspense as well as fear and darkness. The orchestral tones and rising string sections of the music gives your heart a good stir especially when you’re fighting a Diablos. Speaking of Diablos this monster has some of the best sound effects, tunnelling underground and exploding up from under you. There’s the sound of monster roars that stun you in battle, some of these guys are pretty terrifying.

All in all, Monster Hunter World is extraordinary. It’s not my first Monster Hunter game and it certainly won’t be my last. If you are unsure about the soon to be released Monster Hunter Rise don’t be afraid to go check out this one instead. Plus, there is a massive expansion Iceborne should you love it as much as I did. To give you an idea of how resoundingly positive Monster Hunter World has been received internationally the lowest score it’s had was an 8/10 and with overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam you are bound to find something you love. Are you ready to depart on your quest hunter? I am.

Green Hell Review

Developer: Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Publisher:
Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Music:
Adam Skorupa & Krzysztof Wierzynkeiwicz
Platforms: 
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released: 
29 August 2018
Genre:
Survival, Adventure, Simulation, Indie, Action

It has been three years since Jake and Mia first visited the Yabahuaca people. Originally Jake & Mia visited the Amazon Rainforest to study and learn about the tribe. After returning from the jungle Jake published a book called “The Spirits of Amazonia” discussing all the cultural elements of the tribe and its customs. However, the book wasn’t received well by its readers and criticized Jake for using the Yabahuaca tribe for his own personal gain. This time Jake has returned to the forest undergrowth in hopes of learning more about the jungle’s flora and fauna while Mia (his wife) ventures off to visit the Yabahuaca tribe to hopefully gain their leaders trust, be initiated into the tribe and ultimately share their secrets with the wider world.

Dialog over walkie talkie:
MIA: “I need you here. Jake. Please, please answer me!

JAKE: “Mia, what happened? Mia, speak to me… Mia!”

As you might’ve guessed things don’t go so well for Mia and it’s up to you (Jake) to find her and bring her to safety. Of course, this is a survival game which means things are not going to be so easy. If anything, they are going to be extremely difficult. Well with all the dangerous wildlife, angry Yabahuaca, rainforest dwelling drug cartel and of course Omolu Corp searching for the cure for cancer what could go wrong? Narratively speaking Green Hell is a game with branching narratives and multiple endings making for an interesting and long journey that can end happily or in tragedy. So, watch where you step my friend.

There are 4 difficulty levels in Green Hell. There’s: A Walk in The Park, Welcome to The Jungle, King of The Jungle, and of course Green Hell being the hardest. The big thing with these difficulty settings is that you can have the option to turn tribe hostility on or off, predators on or off as well as Jake’s sanity, making for a truly terrifying experience should you be chased by a big angry cat through the jungle, at night, in the rain, whilst not being too sure that you hallucinated the whole thing. But don’t worry the tutorial eases you in. First by showing you how to check your backpack, inspect your body should you become injured, how to set up a camp, build shelters and so on. The controls and interactions are pretty intuitive and easy to follow making the learning curve a breeze to get through.

Similar to ARK: Survival Evolved, Green Hell is spectacular in its environmental design taking you through creeks and undergrowth with brilliant visual clarity. The Amazon truly comes alive if you can turn those graphics settings right up and even on a low-resolution the environment still looks pretty darn real. You can tell by how well the water animations have been done that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Making the terror that much more real.

There’s a bit to juggle in the first few hours of gameplay with learning a map, navigating a notebook with all the details of “How to do things” as well as finding the right time to rest, eat, and maintain sanity. You have a smart watch gifted to you from Mia that aids you with managing your player needs. As someone who gets spooked a lot this game is probably best played with friends. Green Hell gives you the option to play cooperatively both with survival mode and story mode. I find myself being more confident with decisions in survival games with friends by my side, but by all means if your more of a lone wolf kind of player than good luck to you.

What really gets my heart racing is the music, with low tribal drums, maracas, bamboo pan flutes and suspenseful themes Adam & Krysztof have done and insane job of elevating the experiences of Green Hell to not just increase your fear but also showcase the native South American musical instruments. Touching on classical Latin guitar, whilst still keeping true to the native sound of the Amazonas, I am definitely impressed. Of course, most of the music is designed to keep you on your toes so be prepared for that.

To summaries my experience with Green Hell I have to say that as much as I spent my time working up the courage to venture further into the rainforest, there is so much going for it aside from the fear aspects. There are many moments of appreciating the natural world, spinning out with Ayahuasca, and learning about the wonder of the Amazon. The story is compelling and is a fantastic driving force when you are unsure about what to do. The music is heart thumping and beautiful and I’m looking forward to playing more of the Green Hell universe as the developers continue to expand on Jake & Mia’s story. Hopefully when you play, you both come out alive.

Windbound Review

sunsest over water with the word "windbound"

Developer: 5 Lives Studios
Publisher:
Koch Media
Music:
Zander Hulme
Platforms:
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released:
28 August 2020
Genre:
Adventure, Role-Playing, Survival

Narrative

All around you stretches the ocean. A beautiful giant, but an unforgiving beast. Right now, you have no boat and you’re treading water looking at the short a small distance away. You haven’t been given a story to go off, all you have is the ocean and the land in front of you. There’s a shrine on the first island, you walk to it and climb to the top where a shell hangs in the air, waiting for you to wrap your hands around it.

Windbound has an impressive and gorgeous art style that brings you into the world. If you imagine Zelda: Windwaker meets The Breath of the Wild then you’ve pretty much got Windbound in a nutshell. The art style is reminiscent of both the aforementioned games. I believe it’s rated for ages 12 and up which makes a lot of sense since you play as Kara, a lone traveller who has to hunt, gather, and craft to survive. The game has a steep learning curve when it comes to combat.

Gameplay

You can pick from two different play styles: adventurer and survivalist. I’ve been playing on adventurer mode to focus on enjoying scavenging and crafting. The bonus on adventure mode is that when you die (and you will) you get to keep all of your stuff when you respawn. In survival mode, you lose most of your items,09 and you are sent back to the first level at respawn. I would have found this incredibly frustrating as a player so opted to play the more relaxed, adventurer mode. I think I died about four times in the first level even on adventurer mode. I almost gave up, but before I did, I read a couple of guides to get a good understanding of what I needed to be able to thrive in-game. I’d like to point out, that survival games aren’t my usual choice for games and so I wasn’t as used to the kinds of mechanics I was about to run into. It takes time to learn how to play Windbound, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours exploring islands and the seas.

There’s one mechanic that I find both equally cool and frustrating. Each time you die and respawn, you’re sent to a different set of three islands. They all serve pretty much the same purpose; you look for shrines and collect keys while trying to upgrade your boat. If you’re playing on survival mode, you will lose your boat each time you die, forcing you to start over completely from the beginning. Except for this time, you’re armed with the knowledge you have gained from your previous playtime. Ultimately, the more time you spend playing Windbound, the better you will get at it.

Crafting is a big part of your gameplay and you will need to get good at it to survive. Crafting is another reason that I really adore Windbound. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from collecting parts for items and then seeing them done. You get to do a fair amount of cooking because you can slowly die from starvation. Food replenishes health and stamina, but uncooked food can do damage to your health. I spent more time crafting and cooking than I did trying to fight anything. This paid off pretty quickly because I was able to travel further and for longer without having to stop and refuel.

I loved spending time upgrading my boat and was constantly looking for ways to upgrade everything. Your boat acts as a good way to store extra items, but your overall storage is still pretty limited. I’d like to see more opportunities for furthering storage quicker into the game though. Not a lot of game mechanics are explained to players and there are some little side quests that should help you feel the world is a little bit bigger. I’m missing the jerky I left cooking on an island in level one. I can’t go back to it.

Music

I think one of my biggest highlights for Windbound is that the soundtrack was something I could have happily had on in the background while doing work or writing my review. Zander Hulme has done an impressive job of creating aural cues for the player. There’s a variety of pieces that play in the background of the game while you’re exploring the islands. You can easily discern between the general gameplay music and the combat music. Enemies nearby are often cued through the music. Hulme has created expansive, atmospheric soundscapes that give the game world a grand size.

 

Accessibility

I have included a section on accessibility because I am a disabled player that relies on some varied accessibility options to be able to fully enjoy games. The comments in this section are by no means a negative criticism of the studio. Accessibility options can be difficult to implement and I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job for a small development studio. However, this section is included as more of a guide for players who may experience some disabilities.

I think younger players or players with cognitive disabilities might struggle with the gameplay. The gameplay isn’t that straightforward. It took me about half an hour of gameplay before I realised that there were actually objectives and a bit of a story that was happening. Tutorials pop up on the screen as you encounter new items and unlike other games, they stay until you’ve had a chance to read through the entire thing. However, I couldn’t find these tutorials later to reaccess them. I believe there are some guides online. So if you’re a player with a cognitive disability, it may be worth keeping a guide open while you play.

There aren’t other characters that you really interact with in the first couple of hours or so which means that there isn’t a

 

massive need for subtitles, but as a player who is hard of hearing, I was disappointed when some enemies were too easily able to sneak up on me. I had no idea what was going on until the battle music was playing and half my health was gone. I was able to chat with Zander Hulme about this and he recommended turning down the sound of the music while keeping the enemy sounds on full. It helps to be able to play the game with a good sound system or headphones. Unfortunately, the game does not include a visual tracking system for enemies. As a hard of hearing player, I have to get a little bit creative about playing with the sound up.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to remap the controls on my PC. I am unsure about the ability for remapping on other consoles. There are generally workarounds for this if you have a physical or motor disability that requires the ability to remap.

Colourblind players may run into some issues but for the most part, Windbound’s art style and colour palette are distinct enough for colourblind players to enjoy without too many issues. My experience with colourblindness is on the guidance of my colourblind partner.

Overall Experience

Overall, Windbound is a tough but thoroughly enjoyable experience. I think players over the age of twelve, who enjoy survival adventure games will have a blast with Windbound. While I ran into some issues as a disabled player, I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job in creating something that is both visually and aurally appealing to players. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of survival RPGs, the art style alone in Windbound is enough to keep you coming back. It is far too easy to just spend hours hanging out on an island cooking, crafting, and ignoring the narrative objectives. So if you want a fun Sunday afternoon game, Windbound is the one for you.

Factorio Review

Developer: Wube Software
Publisher: Wube Software
Music: Daniel James Taylor
Platforms: PC only – Windows, macOS, Linux
Released: 14th August 2020
Genre: Simulation / RTS / Building / Management / Tower defence

Factorio in my house has a reputation, for my wife knows I will be lost for two days, rave of mathematical ratios and alien biters, and somehow gain the focus of a cramming uni student abusing caffeine and amphetamines.

But what is this, my game of 2020 and drug of choice?

Factorio was successfully crowdfunded in 2013 and released into early access on steam in early 2016. I first played Factorio later that year after binge watching youtubers creating vast belted megafactories. Visually, it is a top down, 2.1D isometric game like RTS games circa 1999, while also having a dreary diesel punk aesthetic. Despite this the world is rich with biomes, natural fauna, and easily identifiable resources to feed the factory.

Game play wise it is a beast of real-time strategy, automation, resource management and base defence.

The basic premise of Factorio is that you have crash landed on a planet and need to survive. This is really only present in the tutorial and when you set off your first rocket, the endgame trigger. The rest of the game is the dieselpunk version of Man Vs Wild while you set your mind to the machinations of the machine, engineering an extravaganza of a mega-base while protecting yourself from the natural life forms attracted by your pollution and hell bent on destroying your creations.

To create your first factory you mine, belt, chop, hand craft and build before progressing to automating with belts, inserters, and trains. The final step, if you are brave enough, the birth of true automation with flying robots, wires and storage all controlled through logistics and programming.

Your factory is now vast and consuming, both in resources and time. You stare bleary eyed at not only how long you have been staring at the screen, but how many hours you have now accumulated in your steam profile. Calculations and spread sheets strewn across your desktop as you have calculated the exact ratios of ore to final products.

This game captivates the engineer in me. The organisation to compact and replicate, modularise and expand. But I’ll be honest, I play on peaceful. For without this, those biters, worms and spitters come in ever increasing waves. They expand and search for weaknesses, and one day you look up from your hard work and hear the alarm and they’re chomping at your power station and everything goes dark.

Speaking of sound, the atmospheric sounds are inconspicuous. I don’t mean that in a bad way, rather everything sounds right for the situation. Footsteps on grass, sand, concrete and metal all sound right for the situation. The intervals between the musical interludes are filled with the wind in the wilds, or if you are in your factory the hum of machinery and belts, the crackle of arching electrics or the soft bells of sonar from the radar tower.

The musical composition of Daniel Hames Taylor highlights the desolation and feeling of isolation while still remaining calming and optimistic, it is also memorable and repeated enough so that years after playing, reopening the game and listening to the game’s music brings back instant nostalgia to the hours of gameplay you previously invested. However, should the music grate on your psyche, as in most things in this game, there’s a slider for that.

Overall while I’m sure you can tell I enjoy the game there are some teething issues for new players. The controls and key board shortcuts are extensive and while the tutorial shows a good selection of the basics, the huge selection of inbuilt shortcuts can be overwhelming to learn. There’s also little after the tutorial to tell you what or how to do things. You are left to your own devices, a research tree, and your own brain to guide you. This tends to lead new players to restart their first map a few times before getting into their stride. And when you set up your map everything has a slider, from the progression of the biters to how rich ore patches are, how many natural cliffs, water fronts and trees you need to cut down, destroy or pave over to expand your ever growing factropolis.

The developers Wube Software continue to actively develop the game, while also developing new toys and squashing bugs. The modding community is also highly active and can add different gameplay loops and complexities to your engineering marvel.

If this has wet your whistle for a play you can find a demo available at factorio.com, or you can buy if from that same website or from steam.