Category: Reviews

P.A.M.E.L.A.

Developer: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Publisher: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Music:  NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Platforms: PC
Released: 18th June 2020
Genre: Survival Action, Horror, FPS

You wake up from cryo-sleep, it’s dark, with flashing monitors. A gentle voice speaks out to you, from PAMELA, a benevolent AI, who explains. Her city, Eden, a utopia where petty crime was a rare event, has fallen. Her people infected by a horrific disease. They tore each other apart, tipping a paradise into darkness.

But you are her hope. A human free from the disease, kept in stasis, she has woken you up to find out what happened, and to put an end to it.

A first person survival horror game, P.A.M.E.L.A. forces you to keep moving, keep seeking, and to keep on alert. With the dark atmosphere, minimal information, and constant danger, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart.

P.A.M.E.L.A. will tell you the controls, and a bit about the items you find, but it doesn’t hold your hand. And it can be quite brutal. Every encounter could be your last.

With dozens of tools and resources you can find and utilise,it takes everything you can to survive. You’ll have to look after your thirst and hunger metre, but also the electricity in the buildings you explore. Resource management is an extremely valuable skill. You’ll also find yourself hacking, scavenging, hiding, and fighting. It’s a lot to keep track of.,

But even when you die, the respawn system allows for you to upgrade and improve your character. With time you can unlock new areas and their cryo-pods, so you don’t lose as much progress, and the game encourages you to keep going, with tantalizing bits of information giving you insight into what happened, and just who PAMELA is.

The audio experience is quite minimal, it’s very quiet, except for when it isn’t. That’s when I know it’s time to be cautious. Muttering and heavy breathing signals that I need to start coming up with an alternative route. Heavy metal footsteps make me jump, but these are more subtle sounds. I find myself relying on my ears more than my eyes at times. It’s a very tense experience. And the music that does play is to highlight the environment, and what you’re seeing.

Upon my first attempt, I was confused, overwhelmed, and just a little bit terrified. My first death was sudden, and took me by surprise.

During my second attempt, I had a better idea of what I was doing and what I needed to do. I went even further than before, and became more confident in my actions, but also more cautious: fighting was something to avoid. This death honestly hurt a bit, but I was determined to do better.

During my third attempt I had found my stride, figured out the pattern, and I was making speedy progress. Not all of it was lost, but I had to keep pushing forward to keep the game moving. I had set goals for myself, making more cautious decisions, even taking the effort to find a safer detour if an enemy was in my way.

I was having fun, enjoying the story, and I needed to find out what exactly had happened. I was hooked.

That’s not to say it is a perfect game, I ran into frustrating glitches with the UI, enemies pathfinding was laughable at times, and some minor controls would just stop working and sometimes I felt like I was play-testing.

But, it is a very compelling game, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Bugs aside, it’s easy to see why fans of the game are so devoted to it. It’s interesting, challenging, and a very rich world, all for you to uncover.

Now, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the team are constantly updating this game. I actually had a very frustrating time with bugs on my first run, but within a week a lot of those bugs were resolved with an update. This is a studio that cares about the health of their game!

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 15th July 2020

Wandersong

Developer: Greg Lobanov           
Publisher: Greg Lobanov
Music:
A Shell in The Pit
Platforms: PC (Mac/Microsoft), PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch
Released: 28th September 2018
Genre: Adventure, Platformer, Indie, Story Rich

The goddess Eya has grown bored and is planning to end the world and start anew. There’s only one chance to stop it, a brave hero foretold by legend – sadly you’re not that hero. In Wandersong you play as a bard, that I named Lute, who wants to save the world whether it believes in him or not. You might not have a big sword, but you’ve got passion and a song to share. Accompanied by the ever-pessimistic witch Miriam, you travel the world to find pieces of the mysterious Earthsong. This game is split into seven acts, each in a unique location for you to explore, with new mechanics to use and new faces to make friends of. The world of Wandersong is beautifully vibrant, crafted with bold colours and a cute 2D-style that feel like they’ve been plucked from a storybook. The world reacts to your presence (and more importantly your music) which makes it feel incredibly alive, flowers, leaves, and animals all dance along beside you. Unfortunately, the character sprites aren’t properly sized and have jagged edges when played on a large enough screen. This can be distracting but doesn’t take away from the overall experience and isn’t a problem if playing handheld. Beneath the cheery aesthetic and whimsical concept of Wandersong run deeper themes of self-worth, self-identity, and destiny. It is a game about fighting when there’s no chance to win, of being hopeful for the sake of hope itself.

Each part of the world has a distinct theme and different musical mechanics to explore it. You’ll be channelling ghosts one day and steering a ship with song the next. Discovering new abilities feels like a natural progression of the characters and story, rather than just ‘unlocking’ something. Through this, and a steady incline in complexity, it’s able to keep things interesting. Most of the game follows the structure of travel somewhere new, explore and meet people, solve the problems with music, and learn another part of the Earthsong. Wandersong does keep things fresh with a diverse cast of characters, a sprinkle of humour, and a lot of puzzles.

The most important tool you have on your quest is your voice which can be utilized through the song wheel, at almost any point during the game. The song wheel is basic and consists of different brightly coloured segments that each produce a different note. Not only do you use this to navigate the world but to solve problems, talk with people, cure monsters, and even name yourself. The stick on my switch sometimes felt too clunky to navigate this wheel precisely, but it didn’t take much away from the game.

Hidden throughout the world you will meet a mysterious figure named Mask who teaches you a new dance at every interaction. While not necessary for the story, it was nice to hunt him down during each arc. Once learnt, you can whip these dances out whenever you want. From an endless pirouette to caramelldansen, they will only enhance whatever scene they are used in. I really appreciated this feature when the story got particularly bleak, it’s hard not to feel better while dancing, and even harder when it’s a jaunty jig.

Puzzles come in two forms: copying a tune on your song wheel or using it to manipulate the environment. It manages to do a lot with these two concepts though. Copying a tune can happen as game of musical memory, a rhythm game or just a casual jam session. These puzzles aren’t the purpose of the game and so Wandersong is forgiving if you mess up in some way. The worst you will face is being reset to a nearby save point.  As a puzzle platformer newbie, I appreciated this, but some players may grow bored without a challenge here.

Wandersong promises a lot in its music-focused premise and does not disappoint. The OST weighs in at 160 songs spread over 3 albums, all of which was composed by A Shell in The Pit. Every song from the epic, to the melancholy, to the joyful are united by their gentle flowing sound and fit perfectly into the storybook world. Being able to sing along with the music really brought it to life, even if my timing was never perfect. Sound Effects were created by Em Halberstadt in close co-ordination with the soundtrack. Sometimes it’s hard notice the noises of the world but not because they aren’t worth noticing, they blend so well with the music that they can feel like another instrument in themselves.

Wandersong is a game where you aren’t the hero but that’s okay. It is an incredibly unique experience and one that sticks with you after you finish playing. The world is beautiful and uplifting, crafted by people who clearly cared about what they were making. It’s the perfect game when you’re looking for something a bit more casual or if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.  If any of this review sounded intriguing to you, Wandersong won’t let you down.

Reviewed by Maylee Flannery @MayleeFlnnery on 24th June 2020

Moving Out

Developer: SMG Studio, DEVM Games
Publisher: Team17 Digital Limited
Audio: Lenny Macaluso & Various Artists
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC (Windows & Mac)
Release Date: 28th April 2020
Genre: Action, Multiplayer, Couch Co-Op

The Smooth Moves Furniture Removalists Company hires you and your friends to move furniture. Moving Out is a game about, you guessed it, moving furniture out of houses with friends. Set in a small town featuring 30 main levels or removalist locations you must hone your ability to move things quickly and efficiently. Being a game heavily focused on cooperative play there isn’t too much story to dive into however the dialog between characters is rather comical, pulling out jokes related to how much they broke while moving or the irony of certain situations you come across. Moving Out has a similar art style to Overcooked with sweet 3D animated characters that strangely make me think of the children’s animated series Noddy Toyland Detective. It also takes loads of influence from the 80’s making this game feel a touch retro giving shout outs to 80’s films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Once you are well and truly in the game you discover the main objective which is – How fast can you move out? Using a tiers system consisting of gold, silver, and bronze, gold being the fastest time and bronze being the limit for progression (meaning must attain at least bronze on each level to progress further). There are also extra achievements for each level such as ‘don’t break ANY glass’ or ‘break ALL the glass’. From a mechanics perspective you must pick up appliances, tables, beds, and other such household items then carry them to your removalist truck. However, that is easier said than done (even in real life). Some of the items require you to have a second person to carry such as a couch or may be someone needs to distract a disruptive turtle that is running around preventing you from getting to the truck. Also, your player movement is not smooth, meaning it requires some concentration to get yourself where you would like to be, and not to mention the art of loading the truck is a game in of itself.

The controls are simple making it easy to learn and designed in a way that anyone familiar with consoles can get the hang of quickly. You must jump, grab, throw and even slap your way to victory. The game requires teamwork and coordinated planning to get the shortest times and obviously the more players involved the easier it is not to mention the strategy needed to deal with awkwardly shaped objects like L shaped lounges or pinball machines. In saying that more players can also mean more yelling!

As you progress further into the game you are no longer just moving people out of homes rather experiencing weird obstacle courses where you are trying to move items across sinking platforms or chasing chickens and pigs. Just as you start to get the hang of it the game throws a curve ball, similar to Overcooked in its design catching you off guard and increasing the level of strategy needed to succeed. My only point of criticism is I wish there was an online mode as it currently only allows for local play so if you’re looking to play with friends in different places I wouldn’t recommend.

Something that is really considerate is the ‘Assist Mode’ which gives you as the player to ability to choose which elements of play are too difficult if you are finding the game play too challenging and you’re simply not enjoying yourself. This may have come about from previous developments by SMG Studio such as Overcooked which had a pretty steep difficulty curve after a certain level.  This ‘Assist Mode’ is a really nice touch meaning that if you have friends or family that aren’t used to console games this allows things to be extra easy for those learning. I personally feel really cared for by the developers with this feature.

The soundtrack for Moving Out is always keeping you in a good mood. It’s really hard to be mad at your friends when you’re so busy grooving out to some awesome 80’s vibes. You may even recognise the songwriter Lenny Macaluso known for co-writing the song The Touch with Stan Bush in 1986. In 2019 Lenny joined forces with SMG Studio to deliver you the best body moving tunes while your moving homes.

All in all, it feels awesome when you execute a plan and achieve the time you set out for, or when you collaborate before attempting a level for the 100th time. Moving Out is moreish, and an exhilarating way to bond with housemates, provided you don’t swear at them too much. Moving Out is so much better than actually moving out and I recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed Overcooked or enjoys a classic couch co-op that anyone can play.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 6th May 2020

A Short Hike

Developer: Adamgryu
Publisher: Adamgryu
Audio: Mark Sparling
Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac
Release Date: 5th April 2019
Genre: Adventure game, Indie game

It all begins with our main character in a car on their way to Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Our protagonist Claire, is an anthropomorphic bird who is going there to spend time with her aunt May who works as a Park Ranger. In the introduction scene we immediately notice something isn’t right based on the dialogue between the two characters. Once they have arrive at the park Clair sleeps the whole day, waking up late just like a teenager would. She gets frustrated that there is no reception as she is waiting for a very important call, so her aunt suggests she climb the highest peak in the park (Hawk Peak) to get reception. Deciding to go through with it, we now follow Claire as she explores the park meeting a range of characters all the while trying to make the hike to Hawk Peak.

A short hike is an animal crossing turned indie art-style adventure game. Being all about exploring the various areas of the park, finding items, completing quests and finding hidden treasures. All of this is tied into the progression of the game which is quite straightforward, get to the top of the mountain. What is stopping you? Because the hike is such a hard one, you have to collect gold feathers. These golden feathers allow you to double jump more, climb for longer periods of time or run for longer periods of time. So in order to complete the hike you have to have enough feathers. These feathers are either found, or bought in different ways.

My favourite part about the mechanics in this game is how they all tie in so well with the genre and the exploration elements of the game. While there are loads of things to talk about I would like to specifically talk about three things:

  • The way you traverse the level
  • How the level itself is built
  • The interactions with other characters

The way you traverse the level is by either running, climbing, gliding or jumping. While in the beginning of the game you are held back by the amount of gold feathers you have, all of these mechanics are still so very satisfying, with the whole experience behind the game being about hiking, the developers have managed to create a set of super satisfying ways to do that simple task of taking a hike.

One of the reasons that it is so satisfying is because of the level layout, essentially the lay of the land is like an island where the middle is the highest point but all around the place you are met with different vertical layouts. Because all of these areas to explore you find yourself going up and down and continuously find hidden areas with ease, this lets you feel like you’re on real life hike. Especially when you find little sections along the trail that you like, or you stumble across a nice view.

I also want to mention the interactions you have with the characters scattered around the level. Not only is the writing amazing, the characters are so diverse with so many of them having a variety of different dialog depending on when you talk to them not to mention how often. A Short Hike is lighthearted and easy to digest, leaving every conversation you have to be pondered about and not left with a feeling of confusion.

The sound in this game reminds me of a mix between Zelda and a modern pixel RPG. With the sound effects having a pixelated effect however the background music being fully high quality. While I do feel that the developers missed out on one point about hiking which to me is a big deal, is the silence, the feeling of bliss and pure nature that you receive. But I also have to say that they did an amazing job with the soundtrack, Mark Sparling crafted excellent audio that changes based on the weather, location and what the player is doing. Letting you feel both epic excitement as you make your way to the top. I especially like the lo-fi chill music when gliding through the rain.

If the review so far haven’t shown my excitement for the game then I don’t know how else I can. In my opinion one of the best games of 2019, I could spend hours dissecting some of the design mastery within this game and I implore everyone to try this experience. While most other reviews on A Short Hike agree with me, aside from condemning it for having a short story line. I think it’s alright, because the story is just the facilitator for the experience of taking ‘a short hike’ which they executed well.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on April 29th 2020

Moonlighter

Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher:
11 Bit Studios & Merge Games
Music:
David Fen & Pablo Caballero
Platforms:
Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC (Mac, Windows, & Linux)
Released:
29th May 2019
Genre:
Action Adventure RPG & Business Simulator

Set in a distant world where strange ruins appeared filled with mazes and puzzles to solve. Will, the games protagonist and wannabe hero dreams of finding awesome loot to sell that he finds from within dungeons, as well as, not to mention killing dungeon monsters. Each dungeon is named after the people who attempted to loot them however as time has gone by dungeon crawling for rare finds hasn’t been very lucrative. In order to find rare and expensive items you must dive deeper and deeper into the labyrinth like dungeons which can become a high-risk investment. Will is a merchant who owns a shop called Moonlighter in a little town called Rynoka whereby night Will searches dungeons for items and by day sells them in his store. Moonlighter has a sweet pixel art style which couples nicely with the dungeon crawler genre. The animations are cute and simple which flow well with the overall visual design of the game.

Moonlighter is a randomised dungeon diver where you go off in search for loot, but you also have a side hustle as a shop keeper in town. The game is divided into these two major components that work together well. On one side you have the action adventure aspect where there are procedurally generated dungeons, where you fight bosses, collect gold and items and of course fight lots of enemies. Then on the other side there is the shop where you must consider consumer demand, shop upgrades, whether you spend gold on new equipment or to expand the town to further the games progression. These two elements come together well and feed each other, you will dungeon crawl for items and then essentially sell them in the store at a price of your desire. The tricky thing is managing the greed factor, it is very easy to get carried away in a dungeon searching for more items however, if you die you can say goodbye to that recently gathered loot.

The shop requires good management skills and learning all you need to learn when it comes to the shop is taken slow and steady from a tutorial perspective everything was smooth and enjoyable. The dungeon crawling was also excellent, my only dig would be some of the fighting mechanics were a little rough and sometimes it was hard to gage distance between myself an enemy which therefore lead me to take unnecessary damage. Some of the little features that was a nice touch is this pendant you receive early in game that converts items into gold, this allowed me to clear space in my inventory while on the go however you do have to consider the value of the items you convert with the pendant will be less than what you can sell in Moonlighter. There is a lot to focus on and consider from the gameplay perspective which makes this indie gem a fantastic experience. Exploration and achievements are the big focus with this game.

The music is cinematic with pleasant melodies that propel you further into adventure. The soundtrack is made up of sweet little guitar riffs and floaty sounds of the piano, this combined with charming orchestral elements. The score generates feelings of mystery and curiosity. David Fen composed and produced the soundtrack for Moonlighter except for Pablo Caballero composing and producing the original announcement trailer for the Nintendo Switch. There are 26 songs that comprise the soundtrack which are delightful and cheery at times and then there’s the mysterious and dangerous sounds of the dungeons. The overall sound of Moonlighter compliments the visuals and game play experience wonderfully.

Moonlighter is a highly praised indie game that has over 1,400 reviews on Steam, from a development perspective this game has been a huge success. I would like to reference an article that discusses the success of Moonlighter from Gamasutra which touches on the stages of developing a successful indie game, for all you indie buffs out there.

Moonlighter is a brilliant game that teases your greedy bones, challenges you, and encourages you to explore further in every dungeon dive in hopes of finding something rare and expensive. This game is a management experience where you must consider the economy, your business and your personal goals as the player. Moonlighter has so many items, enemies and features that there is even a Wiki on Gamepedia for all your wondering. The sounds, visuals and feel of the game is charming and really makes you feel like a merchant in a fantasy adventure world. I highly recommend this game for people who are driven by strategy and achievements.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 22nd April 2020

 

Vigor Beta Review

Developer: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Audio: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Platforms: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: August 19, 2019
Genre: 3rd person survival game, Looter Shooter

Vigor is a third person survival, looter shooter. The game has little story however it takes place in a post-apocalyptic Norway after the world was nuked. There seems to be a world power in charge as there are military air drops that happen frequently. Vigor begins with you choosing your outlander, you are then guided through a tutorial by a person named Alana. Once you get through the tutorial the story is pretty much over, from here your narrative is like that of any survival game; survive.

So what is this game? Well Vigor is an online looter shooter, borrowing the playstyle from Tarkov and mixing in some elements of a battle royal. We begin the tour of Vigor in this little hub world that you call home. Here you will find everything from your online store to crafting tables to a weapons range where you can practice. This little house is the main driving factor of the game, as you will be upgrading this ‘home’ until it is a fully functioning sanctuary. Sadly, there is not much in terms of customization just upgrades to an already existing template.

When you are not in this hub world you will be going out to loot. This is done through jumping into scenarios either alone or with a friend. You will fight on a map against a group of other outlanders, the goal is to kill, loot and survive. As the player you can leave at any time from one of the many escape routes on the map but, if you leave, you’ll miss out on the air drop that is spawned near the end of the round, and this drop consists of a loot crate containing precious materials. So, you might be wondering, “what’s the catch?” well, the catch is that if you die you lose everything you brought into that round including everything you found. So, you will always be playing with the risk of losing everything, which is very alike Tarkov in that way.

The gameplay itself is relatively fun and straightforward, displaying cool concepts. However, from my experience there was more frustration than fun. The third person controller does not translate well with the Nintendo Switch controller, making it hard to aim and move in a satisfying way. Things like this are important as there is little time to react to an enemy, this could be imperative to a life or death situation, thus making the game feel clunky and not as smooth as I would have liked. Unlike the Ghost Recon Series which is what I was expecting from this type of gameplay.

The leader board system in the game is interesting, in order to rank up you must donate food to other players therefore making your decision to rank up or not a contest between comradery or greed. In the pregame menu you can select either with yourself or a team select the quality of the loot you can find. By spending some premium currency, you can fill a bar that makes either the airdrop or the loot be more valuable this adds a competitive clout effect to the game.

Being a survival game, the sound is extremely important in making the game feel real and impactful. This is something the developers succeed in, making me really think about my choices between running, crawling, or sprinting based on how the sounds were making me feel. The soundtrack is also very nicely made, taking inspiration from its Nordic country. Adding a cool new feeling to a survival feeling that we have not seen before. The gun sounds and other SFX are also very enjoyable with nothing else to be said other than well done.

Vigor is an interesting and new experience that takes elements that are proven to work from other survival games. The game tries some new things that are interesting and sets the stage for some striking community play that I would love to see more off. However, the game felt clunky and a lot of my experience was unsatisfying, the player controller is hard to use and leaves combat to be avoided rather than desired. While the narrative in the game is one that is fairly no existent, it is awesome to see some new settings that could lead to some new and exciting gameplay frameworks. The audio in the game is great and the progression is easy to follow. Being a free to play game I would say it is worth picking up and trying out. Hopefully, the game will improve after the developers make improvements after this beta phase.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on April 22nd 2020

In Other Waters

Developer: Jump Over The Age
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Music/Audio: Amos Roddy
Platforms: PC (Mac/Windows) & Nintendo Switch
Released: 3rd April 2020
Genre: Narrative Exploration, Adventure, Atmospheric, Indie

Ellery Vas is a xenobiologist who discovers alien life on planet Gliese 677Cc while trying to find her missing research partner Minae Nomura. Ellery finds herself completely stranded in the ocean with a malfunctioning diving suit and you, a strange AI who is to guide her to safety while exploring extra-terrestrial fauna, and of course assisting her with the search for Minae. In Other Waters is a game heavily driven by narrative, and not just for the characters but also the landscapes you encounter, the creatures you discover, and the history of the planet you delve into. There are many secrets to divulge, challenges to face, and some that test the bond you share with Ellery. This game brilliantly touches on topics such as environmental destruction, life decisions, as well as human and AI relationships.

In Other Waters uses a gorgeous minimalistic colour palette such as teal, bright yellows and deep greens. They dominate the screen which you might think is too much however, it creates this very aesthetically pleasing visual that is a delight to navigate. These colours shift and change as you dive deeper into the depths of the ocean in pursuit of finding both alien and human life.

From a game play perspective this exploration, narrative driven, and emotional game depends completely on UI (User Interface). The aeroplane pilot like navigation system you use to assist Ellery around the underwater landscapes is stunning, simple and most importantly it feels like you are doing the thing you are intending to do. For example, you must collect samples of the environment around you to examine, and as you gather the samples you must click on different dials, buttons and knobs to make that process happen. The way Gareth Damian Martin (solo designer at Jump Over The Age) has designed this system really makes you feel like you are extracting something from the environment. There are other mechanics and systems that are also incredibly unique to In Other Waters that there aren’t many comparisons I can make however, this experience really depends on gathering information by exploring the ocean floor. The more information you gather the more the story comes together. I don’t want to give to much away so you’ll just have to pick it up and have a go.

As you explore the topography of the world around you in the blue-green depths of the ocean you do come across an abandoned base that allows you to recharge your suit and access other features such as; being able to further examine samples, engage with your diving suits systems, or may be check out the map to see where you have travelled since your journey began.

There is only one issue that tended to irritate me while playing and that was the dialog text box had a timer. This meant I had to keep up with Ellery communicating to me and if I had scanned the area there would be new dialog displayed in a different section of the screen at the same time. That was particularly difficult to juggle and that also made things challenging when I missed something Ellery was explaining to me. In saying that this is a small thing that doesn’t take away from the rest of the game’s experience or overarching feel.

Eery, endless, echoing sounds of the deep, Amos Roddy does an exceptional job of sound scaping the vastness of this alien planet’s oceans. There are plenty of echoes and tremors of the deep that you hear as you discover new things. You can really dive into the environment with Amos’ music submerging you into this alien water world. Some of the sounds are reminiscent of whale calls or dolphin cries, which all adds to this game’s rich and alluring adventure.

In Other Waters is receiving accolades and praise from players and critics around the world and all of this, of course, is well deserved. This game is a unique and interesting experience that is unlike anything I’ve played before. Amos Roddy’s beautiful and haunting music fleshes out Gareth’s intention of creating a game that compels you to explore deeper and deeper. In Other Waters evokes feelings of wonder and intrigue encouraging you to think differently about the environment, people and almost go so far as to ponder life altogether. In Other Waters is a game for indie lovers, people who want to experience insightful narrative and enjoy world exploration.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 15th April 2020

Element Space

Developer: Sixth Vowel, Blowfish Studios
Publisher: Inca Games
Music: Sixth Vowel
Platforms: PS4, Xbox 1, PC
Release Date: 14 Feb, 2019
Genre: Turn-based tactical squad RPG

Element Space starts off by introducing you to our main protagonist Captain Christopher Pietham and his two comrades Rafael Guerrero and Jun Zhao. They are situated on-board the star-ship Inspiration which is where the game takes place 200 years in the future. The galaxy has been ravaged by war when several different factions went out to colonise space, for the player the game picks up at the end of this war, with Cap. Pietham tasked to relocate the ship Inspiration to the city of Truce. The ship is going to be the meeting location for the new galactic congress that will start the unification process.

This is however foiled when an underground rogue terrorist organisation known as Tempest foils these plans. Sabotaging the relocation and somehow manages to frame Cap. Pietham, forcing him to go rogue if he wants to save the galaxy and bring Tempest to light!

The game-play in Element Space will very much remind you of games like Xcom, however, like the developers themselves the stats are not quite the same. While Xcom is very much a numbers game, maximising your percentage chance of success. Optimising your team to be the ultimate task force, Element Space takes a different approach. Here you only have 3 different chances, you’re either going to hit, miss, or 50/50. This is because of their cover system being based on either full cover, partial cover or no cover. This makes the game more about tactical positing and line of sight rather than getting the best type of percentage. Also did I mention that in some cases your cover can be destroyed?! This makes the playing field dynamic where the best cover is constantly changing dependent on how you or the enemy is tackling approaching the situation.

I do have some grips however, such as finding UI text stretching out of place and being able to speed up some dialogue but not all the dialogue. While these might be small things in scope of things, it did make the game feel less polished which is a shame because overall I really did enjoy it the experience. While you can say that the game is a bit watered down in terms of combat, which I think is one of it’s strengths, it features a story that is straight out of a Mission Impossible movie which pulls you in and sets the premise for some very interesting world exploration. This is really highlighted in the dialogue system which is connected to a political reputation system. This make you really think about what you want to say to different characters because that may effect your image.

I played this game on the Ps4, without headphones which could have has an impact on some of the visuals, however, overall I found the soundtrack to be really nice! It is your classical space adventure mixed with some action techno beats. The sound effects also sounded really on point, almost too much. During one of the cut scenes they were so loud I could barely hear the dialogue. The voice acting for the game is very well made, really bringing the characters some personality. This was paired with some very corny dialogue which both had me giggling when I probably shouldn’t have. Which is a really nice change of pace considering how serious so many games are in their tone nowadays.

Overall Element Space is a really nice turn-based tactical RPG, I wish I could go more into the political system or the diverse cast of cultures the game has but I wanted to focus a bit on the actual game play. While the game has a couple of unpolished flaws that might make it feel a bit rushed. It delivers it’s core mechanics so well, that I still really enjoyed the game.

The core turn based fighting is very simple yet extremely effective in giving the player a number of different ways to tackle a puzzle. Having simple things like the destruction of cover mixed with abilities and a range of other factors, this is a game to pick up when you feel like testing your brain with some strategic game-play. Element Space is a fun, simple, and feel good tactical experience.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on April 8th 2020

Stela

Developer: SkyBox Labs
Publisher: SkyBox Labs
Music: SkyBox Labs
Platforms: Switch, Steam, Xbox One, iOS
Release Date: 17th October 2019
Genre: Adventure, Puzzles

Stela starts off with a rock in some sort of cave, out of nowhere the rocks starts glowing with weird blue ruins and out of them a woman is born. This is where we get introduced to our unnamed main protagonist who we will go on an adventure with. Like a newborn baby not knowing anything about the world we set out to explore and find what has happened, traversing desolate and hostile environments, facing both beasts and humanoid monsters. Stela’s story is told in the same way as games like Limbo or Journey, having to piece it together the narrative through symbols and world interactions.

Stela is a 2 Dimensional 3D game that focuses on puzzles and platforming. Stela is quite interesting as it plays almost like an interactive movie, having very simple inputs. I played through the whole game using just 1 hand in two hours. While I played it on PC I would have preferred doing so on a console to fully enjoy the immersive experience.

The puzzles were fairly simple, usually asking you to move objects, jump on a timer, or move when the light turns green. While I enjoyed these puzzles because they were simple and let me focus more on the story and the environment. There were several times I found the puzzles to be unfair, either lacking in prompts or directions. Having me play and die to see what I was supposed to do rather than letting me figure it out, I also managed to get 77% of the achievements by just playing through the game once making them feel kind of worthless.

The audio and visuals are some of the best I have experienced! Just like other games like Limbo or A Story of 2 Brothers the game features beautiful desolate areas, ranging from dilapidated buildings to snowy peaks to and area that reminds me of the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings. Each area features its own soundtrack and exclusive visual style, making each zone feel unique and interesting.

Overall I really enjoyed Stela. It took me 2 hours on the dot to play through the whole game and I felt completely immersed the whole time. The visual style and audio was captivating and felt original, I especially fell for the violins in the first section! The narrative made me curious and the ending was a real head spin. All this made me want to play through the game again to figure out the ending. I also got hints that there may have been an alternate ending but that is not confirmed.

While the puzzles were nice and easy, helping the game play feel smooth. It also was frustrating not having standard prompts for things, this often made me feel like I died not because of my bad decision making but because the game felt unfair. With all that considered, I would recommend Stela to anyone who likes adventures and theorising about narratives. I would also recommend playing it on Xbox One or the Nintendo Switch as that will maximise your immersion and therefore really let you enjoy the cinematic experience that is Stela.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on April 1st 2020

Devil Daggers

Developer: Sorath
Publisher: Sorath
Music: Sorath
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
Release Date: 18 February 2016
Genre: First-person shooter

Devil’s Daggers opens up in a dark room, and in front of you is only one thing. A floating dagger dressed in white light, giving off a holy presence. In no way does this scene represent what you are about to witness. As you walk towards it you are teleported to another dark room, but this one is not the same. It is faintly lit and horrific sounds start whirling around you, soon finding out that you are on a circular platform with nowhere to go.

You are armed with the power to shoot glowing red knives and you can hear terrible sounds getting closer, then out of nowhere a devilish horde of flying skulls come soaring at you. As you kill to survive more and more monsters appear, all in different shapes and sizes, yet all of them having the same horrifying look. All you can do is keep the killing going with no end in sight.

Devil’s Daggers is a first person shooter (FPS) game that combines the power fantasy of games like Doom with the disempowerment fantasy of horror games like Five Nights at Freddy’s. This creates an interesting take on a mechanic used to empower players by matching it with mechanics that go against this notion, which turns into an interesting dynamic we have not yet seen in first person shooter before.

The gameplay is fairly simplistic in it’s take, as the player you have one weapon shown from the perspective of famous retro titles such as Doom 1 or 2. This weapon has two attacks, one streaming shot which just lets you spray as much as you want, the second is a form of a burst shoot. You as the player move faster than your projectiles, which allows you to strafe and create streams of knives flying around, this adds on to the difficulty of aiming. Enemies spawn endlessly and designed to overwhelm you in different ways.

The audio is creepy and early quiet, not utilising much in terms of musical score but instead focusing on sound effects to create a creepy and eerie feeling. The best way I can describe it is this: Imagine closing your eyes and you are falling asleep, you start hearing something moving closer to you, trickling almost like small footsteps creeping closer. Then your head fills with the sound of spiders and centipedes crawling around inside your head… Not terrifying at all.

I truly enjoyed Devil’s Daggers, it is an interesting take on the first person shooter genre which primarily works around empowering the player however, utilising the creepy audio and overwhelming amounts of enemies I rarely felt empowered.

The game is also very addictive. I found myself getting to a state of dying, restarting, dying, restarting for quite sometime. This is thanks to the extreme difficulty mixed with the online leader board system. The game has one achievement and that is to survive for 5 minutes, giving you a comprehensive goal to work towards.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on March 18th 2020