Category: Reviews

It’s Literally Just Mowing

Developer: Protostar (Dean Loades & Matt Knights)
Publisher:
Protostar
Music:
Protostar
Platforms:
Mobile (Android & Apple)
Released:
27th February 2020
Genre:
Mowing Simulator

It’s a Sunday morning and you FINALLY get to sleep in… You’re all snug like a bug in a rug, nice and warm in your little blanket cocoon… then *click, cluck, click*… BZZZZZZRRRRRR!! Oh no the blasted neighbours are mowing! Don’t you hate that? But not to worry It’s literally just mowing is SO much more relaxing than waking up to your neighbours clipping grass at 7am on Sunday. In this magical mowing world, mowing lawns isn’t loud, isn’t sweaty, and it’s not even sticky, itchy, or dirty. Surprisingly, the developers of It’s literally just mowing Protostar have made mowing quite relaxing, almost meditative.

I know you must be thinking this is weird given that summer in Australia means you end up having to start mowing the lawns again right after you finish BUT NOT IN THIS GAME! This mowing simulation game is very much set in North America and you get to use ride-on mowers which makes for an easier mowing experience (even in real life).

It’s literally Just Mowing is set in multiple different landscapes, varying from community areas and courtyards, to mostly just different people’s backyards. Starting with a brief tutorial that is very easy to follow you begin your journey of mowing the yards of your very first street. Getting the luxury of not only mowing their lawns but also gathering lots of different collectables. Such as cats, birds, bugs, and other cute backyard critters. You’ll know that you can catch something in the backyard by tapping on a white glowing orb that hovers across your screen. For each animal or object that you find they are worth a certain number of gems common collectables are worth less than rare ones which you can spend on unlocking different types of toolboxes where you have the chance to win upgrades to your mower, the driver’s look, you can even pimp out your rims.

That’s right, this game contains microtransactions, ads and loot boxes. Like most free to play games their needs to be some mechanic where the developers can make a little cash. Gems can cost $0.99 for 500 up to $49.99 for 32,000. Don’t stress though these microtransactions and so on don’t take away from the overarching experience of the game. It’s Literally Just Mowing focuses primarily on creating a soothing, even mindless experience. You sit on your mower, swiping up, down, left, and right around an over-grassy patch to see it all snipped away as you pass over. During the Christmas break you didn’t mow grass you were sucking up snow that had taken over. There are 74 different collectable items in the game that aren’t just backyard creatures but also old lawn mower blades, seats, tires, and other parts that can also come in multiple colour schemes.

From a sound perspective, It’s Literally Just Mowing is super chill, from the pause menu to the sounds of full-on mowing everything has a gentle hum that is peaceful. You can hear the sounds of a busy suburban neighbourhood, birds chirping, and the wind blowing through the trees. Honestly if you are one of those people that find the sound of rain or white noise calming the sounds of this game will lull you into a relaxed state.

Overall, It’s Literally Just Mowing is a game where you get to zone out. If you can get past microtransactions and ads, you won’t be disappointed. This is the first time I felt so calm to be mowing and I guess that’s what the genre of simulation games is all about, feeding you the reward of doing the task minus the real-world physical effort. There are many other mowing simulation games on the App Store but I have to say after playing this one I feel like I don’t need to look any further for my ride-on gardening needs.

Ready Player Two

I was incredibly excited for this book to come out. I was a big fan of Ready Player One despite its flaws as a debut novel. Unfortunately, Ready Player Two falls into many of the traps that a sequel is known to have. The following review may contain some spoilers surrounding plot and characters.

Ready Player Two took me much longer than I anticipated to finish. I thought it was going to be a book that I picked up and finished in a matter of days, but it took me over a month to complete. The book has one glaringly major flaw: pacing. The first several chapters rush you through the three years since Wade won the contest. It’s a big information dump that includes information I believe would be much better placed throughout the novel. It removes a lot of the mystery that could have been there. It also almost immediately establishes the story as fast-paced which means that for the next 366 pages the reader is in for quite the ride. The exact opposite happened.

It took a bit too long to get to the inciting incident and the appearance of the corrupted AI Anorak. The twelve-hour time constraint that is placed on the High Five is often forgotten throughout the novel and the characters don’t ever move with a sense of urgency even though it takes them the better part of twelve hours to locate the first five of seven shards. Somehow, they manage to get the last two shards in just under two hours AND also fight off an army in the real world. It didn’t make sense from a narrative perspective and it severely messed with the pacing of the overall story.

The thing that I loved the most was how Wade’s idealisation of James Halliday slowly unravelled throughout the story. It made for an interesting amount of character growth, but the story was very much still rooted in Wade and his own obsession with Samantha. Wade was simultaneously judging Halliday’s inappropriate obsession with Kira Morrow while being equally obsessed with his own ex-girlfriend. Wade never really learns anything from the situations he’s placed in. Not to mention, all of his friends exist as mostly 2D characters in the story.

Pacing and characters aside, I still enjoyed the many references to pop culture that were scattered throughout Ready Player Two. Cline possesses an intense knowledge of 80s pop culture and I found myself reaching for some of the films mentioned in this story. There was more of an emphasis on movies than video games, but gaming still found its way into the plot. I would love to make my way through all of the John Hughes films and I have this book series to thank for that.

I wasn’t incredibly fond of the ending of Ready Player Two. Everything was being tied up too quickly in a nice little bow. The choices that Wade and Samantha made weren’t entirely believable to me as a reader and I felt that their decisions betrayed their characters a little bit. It became clear that Wade hadn’t learned from the experiences in the past twelve hours. Unfortunately, the ending made the entire story seem redundant. Just as Wade appears to be learning from the events he’s been through, he makes a decision that undone all of that hard work. Not to mention that apparently the very high stakes that kept the High Five on track during this quest weren’t very high at all. Plot points were half-heartedly resolved, and I feel both the top and tail Ready Player Two could have benefited from a little more care and attention.

While I’d still recommend Ready Player Two to fans of the first novel, I’d suggest that new readers stick to the original novel. While my experience left me somewhat disappointed, I understand the value of a novel such as Ready Player Two in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature genres. I’m not usually one to reach for either of those genres in the novels I read, but as a video game nerd myself, it’s important to be represented in that way.

Ready Player Two addresses accessibility in video games, artificial intelligence, climate change, death, grief, loss, love, and obsession. It is ideal for readers in the Young Adult and New Adult age ranges, but is appropriate for all readers older than 18.

Journalism, Reviews, and Accessibility in Video Games

Can I Play That?

Can I Play That? was established in 2018 as a hub for disabled voices in gaming and serves the disabled community with perspectives and reviews full of information relevant to their experiences and abilities, information that is difficult to find in traditional games media. Can I Play That? has also found another purpose through its ability to not just inform its primary audience but to give feedback to developers and create conversation about accessibility within the community.

I spoke with mobility editor Grant Stoner of Can I Play That? about his and his colleagues’ work in showcasing the importance of developers using a holistic approach to accessibility and enabling use of a broad range of accessibility options from beginning to end of the gaming experience.

Grant spoke to me of his own experience writing one of his first accessibility reviews for Can I Play That?, he noted in his initial review of Gears of War 5 that the game was rich in accessibility options that made it easier for him to play, but lacked the option to toggle many actions such as aiming on and off during play so that players were forced to hold buttons down for extended periods. Less than a month later he was forced to update his review as developers The Coalition had pushed an update adding the ability to toggle aiming to the game.

It’s easy for accessibility features to feel tacked-on to a game and fail to provide real solutions to the variety of barriers players can face, but Can I Play That? has become a hub for a growing movement in the games industry that embraces accessibility as an ongoing process, one that starts at the beginning of development and continues after release.

2020 Can I Play That Accessibility Awards

Can I Play That?’s 2020 Accessibility Awards have concluded and the winners have been announced. Taking the top award of Best Overall Accessible Game was The Last Of Us Part II, a game that debuted mid-last year to rave reviews of its wide array of accessibility features and was regarded as a milestone for gaming accessibility.

The Last Of Us Part II also took the top spot for Best Blind/Low Vision Accessibility. Other individual accessibility category winners included:

  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Best Deaf/Hard of Hearing Accessibility)
  • HyperDot (Best Physical/Motor Accessibility)
  • Immortals: Fenyx Rising (Best Cognitive Accessibility)
  • Among Us (Most Accessible Mobile Game)
  • and The Outer Worlds (Best Post-Launch Accessibility Improving Patch).

Next-Gen Console Accessibility

Can I Play That? also has continuing coverage of 2020’s next-gen console launches, including accessibility reviews of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.

The PS5 coverage so far  has praised features like automatic screen reading, system-wide accessibility settings and UX improvements. The included DualSense controller was divisive as its advanced haptic feedback was great for blind/low-vision players but left the controller bulky and difficult to use for those with mobility issues.

The Xbox Series X  shares most of its features with the existing Xbox One iterations, the familiar updated UI and Game Pass access, both already popular with disabled gamers. Backwards compatibility of both games and controllers and the lack of Series X exclusives both make the Xbox ecosystem more appealing for gamers of all kinds. The new console also comes with a new, slightly smaller controller design with improved grip.

– Article written by guest writer Hazel

Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin


Developer: Edelweiss
Publisher: US: Xseed Games; Worldwide: Marvelous Inc.
Audio: Hiroyuki Oshima
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: US: 10/11/2020, JP: 12/11/2020, EU/AU: 20/11/2020
Genre: Indie, Side Scroller, Platformer, Japanese Action Role-Playing Game, Rice Farming Simulation Game.

Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is based in a Japanese folklore fantasy world where you play Sakuna, the daughter of Takeribi, the god of war and Toyohana, the goddess of the harvest. Living in the Capital of Yanato, part of the Lofty (immortal) Realm, she has cultivated the habits of a feisty, spoilt, lazy drunkard, who manages to get exiled to the Isle of Demons with some humans until they can figure out how to get the humans back to the Lowly (mortal) Realm.

This is a game where you will need to scavenge for food and defend your home… because the humans are helpless, and you are a lazy goddess. So, utilising the tools at your disposal, a sickle and hoe, you reluctantly get to work… Very reluctantly.

Visually it has anime styling, but with Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock) influence giving it the hint of something akin to the game Ori. But also, with enough realism in the world to draw you into the farming simulation.

Yeah, so, Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is a strange beast of a game. It’s equal parts: Side Scroller, Platforming, Fighter, Beat ‘em Up; a Japanese Role-Playing Game; and a Rice Farming Simulator. And the developers went far and beyond when it comes to the realism of this rice farm sim with cultivation, farming and harvesting. So much so that players have been known to research rice growing on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for just, rice growing guides.

So, the rice growing loop in a nutshell? You firstly fertilise your field using a base of night soil (yes, that’s human poop) and let it mature with some basics like beast horn and leaf matter, then you till it into the field while removing any stones, and then sow the rice by hand. Next, you maintain the field by keeping an accurate eye on water levels, ground temperature, the weather, and pest control. Once it is grown, you harvest, dry and then using traditional kokibashi you thresh them to strip the grains from the stalk. Then you polish the rice to your preference. And the resultant quality of rice is affected by every. Step. Of. The. Process. You get a nice little note telling you the details and results afterwards.

The other side of the coin is the relatively standard side scrolling JRPG beat ‘em up. The stage design has some nice platforming mechanics, and the monsters are semi-repetitive, however the bosses can have quite a steep learning curve. Luckily, the games respawning mechanic is very forgiving, basically starting you from the start of the level on death, resetting just that levels progress.

So basically, you go out and beat-up monsters/demons to collect stuff to take home to use to make different farming tools or clothes and feed yourself and your mortal pseudo-family (daily boosts). Then, you spend the rest of your time growing rice, to also feed your family, but also because EVERY advance in your rice harvest directly correlates to upgrades in your battle prowess.

Throughout every part of the game, you are serenaded by the traditional Japanese instrumentation composed by Hiroyuki Oshima. The musical melodies softly relaxing while tending to your homestead and upbeat and motivating while in battle. There are also realistic soundscapes of the seasons and areas played over the top of these making for such a delightful aural experience that I sometimes just sat there and listened for the simple joy of it.

Combat though is punctuated with Sakuna yelling the same few lines during combat, which I remedied by changing the language preferences to Japanese Voice Acting. This could be my inner weeb raising its head, but once I turned on the Japanese audio the voice acting soothed my inner farming and grinding angst making for a far more enjoyable experience.

Overall, while Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin has quite repetitive gaming loop, I found the farming therapeutic in its repetition. Moreover, coming home at the end of the day and having a meal with my pseudo-family and hearing about their pasts, the discussions of religion and belief or just family dynamics gifted me with the stillness and contentment of just, a happy family. If I had to classify this game in just one word, it would be forgiving. For the easy respawns, the many avenues to increased strength and game progression, the many ways it tries to help you along, and the family who not only helps you be a stronger, but also be a better, person in the end.

Dune Sea

Developer: Frolic Labs
Publisher: Frolic Labs
Music: Jake Butineau
Platforms: Steam, Switch
Released: 10 – 10 – 2019
Genre: Side-scroller, adventure

You are a goose, and it’s time to fly.

Perched on the edge of a cliff, you don’t know what’s ahead of you, but with a leap you spread your wings, embarking on a journey.

The destination isn’t important, the joy of Dune Sea is in the journey. The process. Watching the landscape go by, making your way through the air, finding and coaxing friends to join your ramshackle flock, avoiding obstacles, learning how to soar with acrobatic grace.

Dune Sea is a side-scrolling adventure game, if adventure meant a meditative zen-like experience with a little bit of a challenge. With a simple, low-poly art style, soothing music, and a steady pace, Dune Sea is exactly what I needed to play, when everything was too overwhelming, too noisy, or just took too much energy.

Gameplay is soothing, if that wasn’t clear already. It introduces controls simply and slowly. First, let’s figure out how to hop off the cliff and spread your wings. Next, figure out how to fly quickly, change directions, and how and where to land for a rest. A some of the controls are explained to you, but a lot you are left to figure out. You’ll pick up some little collectables and learn that it’ll give you a bit more stamina. You’ll also learn what happens when you do run out of stamina.

A lot of it is very straightforward, and what you’d expect from a game like this. But you have a few interesting tricks to learn. If you encounter a flock of birds, honk at them! One of them may decide to tag along for a little while. And with enough bird friends, you’ll be able to unlock new and interesting pathways, and move past difficult obstacles. Is it necessary? Not really! But who doesn’t want a ragtag flock who can help you blast rocks?

Sometimes, the lack of explanation can be frustrating. I had quite a lot of trouble at the very first launch, where I was told to press two buttons, but I didn’t really know how to, or how long, or in what order.

I’m not afraid to admit I crashed off that cliff at least half a dozen times. But once the mechanics of flight clicked, it clicked, and the rest just fell into place. It helps that it is a forgiving game, with plenty of checkpoints. You don’t get punished harshly for a mis-timed dive. Instead the game goes ‘hey, let’s give that another go’. So you spend less time struggling, and more time just enjoying the journey.

In addition, there is a Zen Mode, where you don’t even have to worry about obstacles or crashing. You can choose to only have to fly.

Like the simple art style, and soothing gameplay, the music just ties it all together. You don’t HAVE to listen to the music, but I think you need to. It’s so gentle, melodic, easy to allow into the background of your flight. It really ties it together, giving pace to your experience. Gentle guitar tones, violins in the background, an echo of the melody rings in the background. It feels open, and warm. I wouldn’t fall asleep to it, but I found it relaxing. I had a better meditation experience playing this game, than I did in my last yoga class. Everything just compliments each other so well, woven into one experience.

There’s no rush, no glaring need to keep flying, no overwhelming drive to DO things. It just lets you fly.

What is Dune Sea? It is a journey, an experience, that serves no other purpose than to just let you experience it. Your destination doesn’t matter. Your goals can be to just stay off the ground. You can build a giant mega-flock, or you can just see where the game takes you, for as long as you want. It’s not exciting, it’s not busy, it’s sort of boring. But in the way that paddling down a quiet river in a canoe, and you look up at the sky and watch the clouds drift by is boring. In the way that sitting by a stream, and tossing sticks into it and mentally betting on which stick will reach the big rock first is boring. In the way that sitting on the train and watching the landscape change and the buildings go by is boring.

It just felt like, for a few minutes at a time, I could just breath. And fly.

That is Dune sea.

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 2nd of December 2020

Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales

Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Music:
John Paesano
Platforms:
PS4 & PS5 Exclusive
Released:
12th November 2020
Genre:
Action-Adventure, Single Player Campaign

Miles Morales was bitten by a genetically enhanced spider and gains powers very similar to Peter Parker, however with some key differences that are quite ‘shocking’ (I’ll explain later). Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales starts off where Marvel’s Spider-Man ended, without giving away too much essentially Miles has been taken under by Peter and is learning the ropes, or webs rather. However, Peter is going away for a few weeks with Mary Jane thus leaving the city in Miles’ capable hands. After recapturing an escaped inmate from a prison convoy Peter reassures Miles that he can handle it.

Miles however is new and a little nervous, and after Pete leaves things start getting a little crazy. An energy company Roxxon Energy Corporation starts some dodgy power plants, there’s a high-tech terrorist group called the Underground run by the Tinkerer, Miles Mum (Rio Morales) is running for Mayor of Harlem, AND there’s also the everyday crimes of New York City, not to mention lots of other plot points that I’m not telling you because you should totally play the game.

Set in New York City in late December you get to spin your webs through a gorgeously snow covered Manhattan which is laid out exactly the same as the first Marvel’s Spider-Man game from 2018. If you pre-ordered Miles Morales, you do get a special spidey suit that is the animated version of Miles Morales from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There are also a bunch more awesome suits that you can unlock throughout game play.

Speaking of game play, what’s new, and what cool things can Miles do that Peter can’t. Well I did say it was rather shocking, Miles can absorb and release electrical pulses or blasts, had can also go invisible for short periods of time. He basically has the same abilities from the animated film Into the Spider-Verse, plus a bunch of just regular Spider-Man abilities like having a Spidey Sense, super strength, wall climbing and so on. In terms of how all this feels it’s more or less exactly the same as the previous Marvel’s Spider-Man just with a couple of extra things.

The combat feels good (again, exactly like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2018), where you can create cool combos as well as work your way through the narrative unlocking skill points to advance your character level and skill tree. The skill tree in Miles Morales is interestingly, much smaller than Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the combination moves are the same but for some reason don’t display all the moves from the previous game despite having a lot of the same moves. I also found some bugs within Miles Morales that was a little unfortunate such a swinging through Manhattan and then glitching out and ending up INSIDE a building with no way out, in which I had to restart at a checkpoint. There were also little things like sometimes voice lines playing up. Granted there was a huge patch 1.7GB that appears to have addressed a lot of these issues.

The boss battles are pretty epic and might a I say REALLY HARD! There are four difficulty settings; Friendly Neighbourhood, Friendly, Amazing, and Spectacular. I was on Friendly, and I had a certain boss battle where I had to fight Rhino and a bunch of Roxxon hooligans at the same time. I played this part out for close to 2 hours before I completed it. Now you might be thinking “Evie, come on! Are you really that bad?” … Well you’d normally be right however this time no, I felt the stages of the fight with Rhino challenging and engaging however I was completely lost as to my objective for defeating him thus spinning me into the endless cycle of trying to take him out in a way that was never going to work. I felt mislead by the design of that battle and it was EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING. After a short visit to YouTube I was handed my solution that I thought was way more complicated than it needed to be. In saying that most of the game play isn’t too much different from the last game which is fine because it ties in really nicely with this extraordinary universe as well as compliments the brilliant story that is Miles Morales becoming his very own Spider-Man.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales sound track is spectacular fusing modern RnB/Hip Hop rhythm with Orchestral suspense and hype thus creating this wonderful expression that is very clearly Spider-Man with all the DUN DUUN DUN DUUUUN DUN but also this new flavour of Miles shining through. John Paesano the composer has crafted a masterful score that elevates your game experience to a new level AND adds that extra intense emotional rush to every wonderfully written cut scene. The music on its own is awe inspiring enough and here is the link to the OST.

I have to say as a die-hard Spider-Man fan and someone who just loves the Marvel universe this game has narratively done justice to an extraordinary hero Mile Morales. In saying that this game I felt fell short on it’s promise with a price of $95 maybe if I had of played on a PS5 my experience would have been different and my review would be more positive however. For that price I wasn’t expecting so much of the game to be basically the old one just with a new narrative and a narrative that honestly didn’t take long to play through. The map was basically the same (which makes sense because New York), but a smaller skill tree, same combat feel, less spidey suits, and for that price I was expecting more.

Not that this game isn’t truly amazing just that for that amount I wish I had of had more than 3 days to play through it. I still recommend playing Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales it does incredible justice to the story of Miles and to the continuation of the Spider-Man franchise just maybe wait for the price to drop if you aren’t a big die hard Spidey fan like me.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on the 2nd of December 2020

Shapez.io Review

Developer: Tobias Springer 
Publisher: Tobias Springer 
Music: Peppsen  
Platforms: PC (Windows, Linux) 
Released: 21st May 2020 
Genre: Simulation, Puzzle, Strategy, Base Building

Do you remember the carefree days of your youth? Those picturesque mornings spent lounging in your loose nappy while trying to push that yellow triangle shape into that yellow triangle hole? The endorphin rush as it slipped through and you clapped your chubby little hands and smiled at how smart you were? Well, Shapez.io feeds you the same shapes from your youth, with the same chase for endorphins. This is a game, nay, and addiction, that caught my attention when described as Factorio Light”, base builder, puzzle & strategy game, where its light simple interface and relaxing music conceals the insanity of the game within.  

The first few hours of Shapez.io has you extracting shapes from nodes of Circles and Squares and belting them to the hub. The shapes ponderous progression ends as they are swallowed and stashed away to be consumed for glorious levels and upgradesThis progress is marked by a Pavlovian bell and splash screen, a new building at your disposal to firstly cut the shapes in half, then turning them, then learning about colouring them, and oh the colours you will create! From the bright base colours of red, blue and green you will create majestic magenta, cynical cyan, ludicrous yellow and gloriously complex white.  

Now, as the hours pass by in a blur, it is a battle for space as you try desperately to feed shapes into the sixteen mouths of the hub, speeding your progress. The denial builds as you realise that soon you will be tearing down all your work to start over once more. Then – on the horizon – rises our saviour shape, a dearest blue teardrop marked with a pure white circle. Her appearance marks the first evolution, Blueprints. Suddenly complex shapes become a breeze as you can copy and paste structuresyour factory size exploding as efficiency and balance become your bedfellows. The only thing hindering this expansion is the speed at which you can create and store these precious blue tears of divinity, as the size of the structure dictates how many of them you will need to move or copy it.  

20 hours later I had gone through spreadsheets of data, many hours of waiting for shapes to be made and stored, two soft restarts, one day of depression and a race to get to level 20.  

In all seriousness, the ingenuity of the game is glorious. With the infinitely generating map the only limitation is your own imagination, and possibly the speed of your computer processor. I did find it occasionally frustrating that the game could not keep up with my impressively expanding and massive factories. My aging i7 stuttered and lagged even on the lowest settings due to the lack of support for multithreading. For as the game slows so does progression, so there you must walk the tight rope between factory size and efficiency. So, you focus on upgrading your factories, so you process shapes faster and more efficiently.

The difficultyscaling of the different shapes is mostly well balanced with player progression. After level 20 you unlock the sub level of wires, logic gates, and others, culminating in free play mode at level 26. I sadly did not get that far, bowing out at the 26-hour mark as I unlocked the new prospect of wires and switches. One day I may gaze into the abyss of never-ending upgrades and an unending random shape generated level system beyond that. 

Through all the highs and lows you are serenaded to by the hypnotic music of Peppsen. This music has a beat that motivates you, a melody to hum to, and is still chill enough to fade into the background and let you focus. Combined with the satisfying clicks and clunks to punctuate the placement of buildings and belts the soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the hours of gameplay you inevitably invest in this game. 

After the long days of playing Shapez.io and being washed in the relaxing sonic waves of Peppsen’s Rectangle, I am left exhausted and spent. A washed-out husk of the man I once was. But, like the addict that I am, I want more of its blessed bright and colourful shapes. I want to compartmentalise, enhance, balance, and simplify. I want to learn the secrets of wires, buttons and logic gates. I also kind of want my life back. But who knows what the future holds? There’s a patch coming on the November 26th 

Reviewed by Tobi @TobiZendemic on 4th of November 2020

Amnesia: Rebirth

Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Music: Frictional Games
Platforms: Steam, PS4, Epic Games
Released: 20-October-2020
Genre: First person horror

You are Tasi, on a flight with your husband Salim, and he is nervous. Many people are nervous when there’s turbulence. You give him a little monkey plushie, and that seems to reassure him. Until the turbulence gets worse, much worse. Outside you see the world changing, literally, flashing between an ordinary storm, and something… other-wordly. And before you can begin to understand what you are seeing and experiencing…

You crash.

When you come to, you are alone. In the middle of a wrecked plane. There aren’t even any bodies around you. As you step out of the plane into the burning sun, it doesn’t take long for you to realise that something is wrong. Very wrong. And as you follow a trail to a cave, you’ll soon find out just how wrong things are. Amnesia: Rebirth is a first person horror game, with a semi-realistic artstyle, and zero combat. Your only defence is to keep moving, think quickly, and stay calm in an environment designed to make you nervous, stressed, and afraid.

Game play is rather simple. You can interact with objects, push and move them around, open and close doors, chests, and drawers. All these allow you to move around and hide. And you will need to hide. Crouching means you move more quietly. And you will need to move more quietly. There are dedicated buttons to allow you to peer around corners and doorways. All these to keep a low profile, and to be cautious.

And you will need to be cautious.

In addition, you have your health to keep in mind, but also your sanity. Witnessing scary or disturbing events will negatively affect your sanity. Looking at dead bodies, falling down, being in the dark for too long. Or being around the monster that pursues you. You will have to keep moving, stay near or create sources of light, and be prepared to be plunged into darkness in order to hide. It is a careful balance of staying physically safe, without allowing yourself to fall into a terrifying mental abyss. You will find yourself travelling through the world you know, navigating caves and rooms, forts and passes. But, with the help of a mysterious artifact, you will be able to travel between worlds. It is eerie, frightening, and dark.

The events that happened are revealed through flashbacks and episodes of psychosis. And slowly you piece together what happened to you and your team, and everyone on that plane. And why you can’t remember these things.

Most of the flashbacks are interesting, helpful, and informative, but far too many of the flashbacks only serve to disrupt the experience and yank you out of your immersion. But so far, that is my only complaint. And I say so far, as I haven’t finished the game yet, but let me tell you, my curiosity is stronger than my fear. But I am still afraid.

Simple puzzles, problem solving, and resource gathering will be how you overcome obstacles. These aren’t hard to figure out under normal circumstances, but when you know something is pursuing you, and you have to balance your own sanity and health with how quickly you make progress, well let me just say, even opening doors becomes incredibly difficult.

It can be quite overwhelming, but you find your moments when you can just relax and take a moment. Your journal helps you keep on track, which is helpful when I find myself rummaging through every chest for fragments of notes. And of course, you, your character, is given a reason to push forward. It’s not only your own survival at stake, but the survival of a potential future. This hope not only pushes you forward, but also grounds you.

And so, armed with a few tools, and your own wits, you must find a way to survive.

Amnesia isn’t only known for its use of visual horror, audio horror is also incredibly important. With the right chords, panic is struck. Musical cues tells you that something is happening, and it adapts to the situation. A mysterious shadow? There’s a sound for that. You’re making your way through a series of rooms? The sound builds and builds until you’re on the edge of your seat, waiting and dreading that moment when the horror MUST reveal itself. These games uses the concept of ‘less-is-more’ to invoke fear, you fill in the blanks, you are told to be prepared, so you become braced for something, anxiety winding up within you like a horrible spring.

Let me address the big question: is Amnesia: Rebirth scary? Yes, it is. It is very scary. It leans on suspense, and the suggestion of ‘something’, rather than simply presenting the monster to you. Although I felt that the constant flashbacks broke my immersion rather often, and that it is possible to figure out a method of surviving an encounter with the monster, I think that is a practical response to a confusing, alarming situation. And as you gain your footing, learn and remember this world, and as you continue to resist the urge to give in to fear and hopelessness, you are rewarded with answers, memories, and a story of a woman who is unwell, struggling, and heartbroken, but continuing to survive because she must. It has a lot of the traits I admire so much in these games, but it is not Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or A Machine for Pigs. It is it’s own, unique story, with its own unique character, and it’s own unique monster unlike anything I have witnessed before.

With a slower pace, lots of suspense, and intrigue into what is going on, I hope to finish this game soon! I’ll just be doing it with the lights on.

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 28th of October 2020

Genshin Impact

Developer: miHoYo
Publisher:
miHoYo
Music:
Yu-Peng Chen
Platforms:
PS4, Nintendo Switch (TBA), Android, iOS, PC (Windows)
Released:
28th September 2020
Genre:
ARPG, Open World, Gacha Game

The story begins as two twins who are traveling across the stars end up in Teyvat and discover that it’s in the midst of a war, so the two twins decide to leave however they are caught out by a very powerful god, this god like character captures one of the twins thus separating them from each other (the twin that is captured depends on the choice of you the player). A period of time passes, and you (the twin that was sealed) awaken to meet Paimon who plays the role of guide and tutor. You are then led to the town of Mondstadt after you meet Stormterror of course, a dragon who later becomes the first antagonist you meet (trust me there’s no spoilers with that one). Over time you meet many different characters, encounter world missions, side quests, develop a reputation with the knights of Favonius (protectors of the realm), and create rapport with the people of Mondstadt. All this while you still search to find your missing twin and hopefully find the answers to the many questions that form throughout your journey.

Genshin Impact is a story rich game with many a quest. The Teyvat universe is filled with several different nations, Mondstadt, Liyue, Inazuma, Sumeru, Fontaine, Natlan, Snezhnaya, and Khaenri’ah.  So far you can only play in Mondstadt and Liyue. The game is huge so there is a lot to explore (not to mention download) and aesthetically looks like a fusion of Zelda Breathe of The Wild and the anime series Sword Art Online, It’s visually stunning and is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The gameplay is that Genshin Impact is an open world action role playing game, so you are free to explore as far and wide as you’d like, running, climbing, swimming, and gliding! Everything is of course limited by stamina which at times I found frustrating and thought maybe this feature would hinder my free to roam experience, however, I didn’t find that to be true as stamina aids in creating an engaging limitation when exploring but also fighting your enemies. Enemies yes! Of which there are many, as you progress through the game there a many different types of baddies that you encounter such as; Hilichurls which are goblin like monsters wearing masks, that run towards you with clubs or shoot arrows, there’s big and small ones of these. There is Abyss Mages that specialise in a particular elemental power and would be considered a much harder enemy to battle. There’s also Fatui which are bosses that harbour elemental powers and are definitely less common, but the most common enemy you’ll fight are slimes which are simple minded big blobs that bounce around either towards you or spitting elemental balls of frost, fire, or electricity.

Speaking of elements, the elements present in Genshin Impact are Anemo (Wind), Geo (Earth), Electro (Lightning), Dendro (Nature), Hydro (Water), Pyro (Fire), and Cryo (Frost). Each element is attached to a different nation of Teyvat and each nation themed after a real-world country such as Mondstadt being in close resemblance to Germany and Liyue to China.

I haven’t mentioned much about the protagonist, yet have I? Well there is just so much happening that I didn’t just want to start there. You the player controls not one but four different characters in a party, that you can switch between even mid combat. You can also upgrade your party members when you collect new characters, each character will have their own element that they specialise in, you can level each character individually, as well as weapons and special items. The big thing is to diversify your party, so you have different elements to switch between as elemental enemies are weaker to certain elements e.g. water hurts fire, fire hurts ice, and so on.

Now getting new characters isn’t just a matter of meeting them, Genshin Impact is still a Gacha game so let me explain what a Gacha game is first. Genshin Impact is free to play but the catch is that if you want certain new characters you must spend some money to receive a randomised item. It works similar to loot boxes. Basically, the Gacha element is there to incentivise you to spend real world money, it’s also how the developers get paid. Now you can get by without spending money of course! But you will be limited in some ways on what characters to play. Some characters that you meet you can only get from the Gacha mechanic while others are gifted to you throughout gameplay. I have spent close to 50 hours playing and not spent a dim and still have had an amazing play experience so don’t feel the need to buy if you don’t want to.

Genshin Impact has so many different quests to go on such as world quests, main plot, side quests and of course daily quests to keep you logging in regularly to get some sweet sweet Mora which is in-game currency that you can spend on cooking ingredients, upgrades for weapons and items, and leveling up characters.

When it comes to healing you cook meals that you then feed your party so that they can regain some HP however it has been a little frustrating to do as you must open your inventory > find the meal you want to feed a character > then select a character > then continues that process again if you want to heal more than one member of your party. miHoYo the developers have said that there will be a small update in November to make some minor improvements with a much larger patch coming in December that will add a whole new zone, touch up some of the UI, as well as provide players faster ways of healing that isn’t so tedious.

Genshin Impact has a gorgeous soundtrack titled The Wind and the star Traveler which was released on the 18th of June 2020 and is tastefully composed by Yu Peng Chen from HOYO-MIX. There are 15 tracks on the album all over which feature in the main game and all of them compliment the in-game experience so well. With orchestral tones and a strong string section inspiring intense and dramatic feelings during battle to a jaunty tune with delightful sounds for exploring the big wide world of Teyvat. This composition is complex, rich and at times feel ethereal with the haunting female hum gliding ever so gracefully through the full body of the orchestra. You won’t want to miss a cutscene or fight sequence with this awe-inspiring soundtrack.

Genshin Impact has truly a captivating visual presence, heart-warming story, and completely deserves it’s success, grossing over $100m in less than two weeks after it’s launch it is the most successful launch for an original IP from a Chinese Developer ever! And is the second highest grossing game globally on the iOS. It is completely understandable that Genshin Impact would leave such an impact and I hope that you get a chance to play to, I mean it is free after all. I hope that your journey through that magical world of Teyvat leaves you with an equally positive experience as me.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 21st October 2020

 

Drake Hollow Review

Developer: The Molasses Flood
Publisher: The Molasses Flood
Music: Walter Sickert
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
Released: 2nd October 2020
Genre: Base Building, Survival, Multiplayer

The second game I reviewed for ZedGames was Flame in the Flood, a gorgeous survival game by The Molasses Flood. Now it’s my pleasure to review their latest release – Drake Hollow! In Drake Hollow you play as a human transported to a mystical world plagued by feral beasts and dark forces. You are tasked with defending the adorably helpless vegetable folk known as the Drake. This is hardly a burden though; the drakes are incredibly adorable. In addition to fighting monsters, you need to build a home that can support the Drake’s needs, hunger, thirst, energy, and entertainment. Yes, they can literally die from boredom. Search the world for resources to craft with. Fill your base with gardens, beds, wells, solar panels, puppet shows, and pinball machines. Spend an hour rearranging until it looks just right. Repeat. It might be that classic survival game play but it’s distinctly Drake Hollow.

As you progress through the story, you will periodically be transported (along with your drakes and camp) to a different region of the blighted world – each more difficult and rewarding than the last. Each region you visit spans more than a square mile and is procedurally generated so it will be unique from any other! Over the game, you will play through the seasons, each of which painting the world in its own vibrant palette. No matter what season you are in, the visuals of Drake Hollow are magical, fantastical, and unique. It’s a colorful, cartoony world scarred by destruction and dark forces. The blight monsters are a great juxtaposition to the cute drakes but still fit naturally within the world. I couldn’t shake the games aesthetic similarities with Fortnite, to the point I tried several times to chop down furniture for supplies. This isn’t a bad thing though; the game looks great and holds a lot of character in its designs.

Each map you visit consists of 20 or so islands to explore. You set off to find food for your Drakes and find more along the way. Then you want to age them up but to do that, you’ll need to fight monsters or the aether infection to get crystals. Unfortunately, the bigger the Drakes get, the more they need to eat, drink and keep entertained so you’ll need to collect resources and recipes to expand your base. I’ve not even mentioned curio crafting, defending against raids, or just getting across the seas so it’s safe to say you rarely run out of things to do. To secure resources in good number, you’ll need to set up supply chains across the map. Beams of light connect way-points between supply trucks and a base, across any distance. Building my first supply chain was when I discovered one of my favorite parts of this game – you can skate along the light beams! High speed, high altitude highways of light that let me live out my skater daydreams. Hell yes!

One of Drake Hollow‘s main draws is the co-op play. Up to four players can play together, fight together, build together, and explore the realm together. Unfortunately, there is currently no matchmaking service so co-op is strictly BYO but if no one will join you, or you simply prefer to run solo, the developers have made sure the experience is still robust and engaging. Plus, in a world full of adorable magic plant people, are you ever truly alone?

I played through the campaign twice within a week of the games release and was worried I would run out of things to do with Drake Hollow. Thankfully they released the sandbox mode, with cosmetics to unlock and no end to the fun! I adore the character creation in Drake Hollow, I change my look and outfit each time I open the game to play. Honestly, it’s not the most detailed system but the beautiful visuals and choices on offer delight me! Your hair can be in bright colours, available skin tones run the full spectrum, and every option for the characters is gender neutral!

The soundtrack for Drake Hollow is no less than I’d expect from the studio. It’s composer, Walter Sickert crafted several different instruments to create the specific sounds of the hollow! The sound effects mix with the soundtrack to form the magical world of Drake Hollow. The best part is the little noises the Drakes make when you interact with them – adorable chirps and buzzes.


The Molasses’s Floods previous game, Flame in the Flood was a spectacular survival game I fell in love with. So, I’ve been looking forward to Drake Hollow since before it was announced, and they did not let me down. Once again, The Molasses Flood has crafted a magical world, a captivating journey, and an engaging craft system with more on offer in every way. More to explore, more to build, and more cute cute drakes to befriend!