Tag: Review

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

shadowrunhk1

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Website: http://harebrained-schemes.com/shadowrun/hongkong
Australian rating: Unrated

Cyberpunk was a very 1980s thing, and sometimes that comes through in the modern games reviving the genre. Shadowrun began as a tabletop RPG in 1989 and the video games based on it retain some of the era’s qualities, including a fascination with Asian culture as filtered through action movies. Street samurai wield katanas, every city has triads and yakuza, and the world is run by megacorps with names like Shiawase, Wuxing, and Renraku.

So in Shadowrun: Hong Kong of course you work for a triad boss based out of a mahjong parlour and one of your missions is to mess with the feng shui of an office building to harm the owners’ profits. It trades in pretty broad stereotypes, but that’s the nature of Shadowrun’s pulpy adventure fiction background, which mashes up cyberpunk and urban fantasy so that the street samurais are likely to be elves, the triads and yakuza backed up by shamans, and the megacorps run by dragons.

(more…)

Audiosurf 2

audiosurf1

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Dylan Fitterer
Website: http://www.audiosurf2.com
Australian rating: Unrated

You know those visualisation things you get with music software like Windows Media Player? The ones that accompany whatever song is playing with geometric patterns, rising and falling and changing colour in time with the music, sort of like what 1990s movies thought cyberspace looked like? Audiosurf takes that idea and makes a video game out of it. Feed it an mp3 (or, new in this sequel, a stream from SoundCloud) and its algorithm analyses the music’s tempo and beat and changes in intensity and then maps them to a rising and falling rollercoaster/racecourse hybrid, which you fly across in a spaceship.

Still with me? Good, because there’s more. While the speed you travel is entirely at the mercy of the BPM you can flit left and right across three lanes on that track to hit certain blocks while dodging others, collecting them in a grid beneath you and earning points. Audiosurf is two games in one – both a score-attack game of reflexes and careful choices about which blocks to grab, and a transformative experience that can turn your favourite music into a physical space and then pull you across it.

(more…)

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

lb3lanternworld

Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Website: www.legobatman3beyondgotham.com
Australian rating: PG

The Lego games are released on a schedule as constant as Call Of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, and that means they can be formulaic. Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes was one of the series’ innovators, however, introducing fully-voiced characters and an open world. Between missions you and a friend could hoon around Gotham City in Lego vehicles or climb its buildings looking for secrets and punching on hoodlums. It basically had everything I want from future Arkham games and threw in a playable Superman as well.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham expands the roster even further, pulling various deep-cut characters from the DC Comics catalogue, while shifting the focus away from Batman’s home turf of Crimetown USA and into outer space. The villainous Brainiac has a plan to shrink the Earth and place it under glass like he’s collecting bugs, and he’s stolen the power of the variously coloured Lanterns to do it. Green Lantern isn’t alone, you see – in the comics he pals around with Red, Pink, Blue, Purple, Orange, and Yellow Lanterns. It’s a whole thing.

(more…)

Review: Costume Quest 2

cqtrick

Platform: PC
Developer: Double Fine
Website: www.costumequest2.com
Australian rating: PG

Halloween in Australia is weird. I’ve only had kids come to my door in costume twice, but people love to complain about how this American holiday has invaded our calendar. White Australians complaining about cultural imperialism is odd, right? Kind of tone deaf and crass? Christmas isn’t any more Australian, and we mainly use Halloween as an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk anyway, like we do every other holiday.

The Costume Quest games are an insight into why Halloween is such a big deal for Americans, letting you play a gang of kids dressed up in dodgy outfits – a robotic suit made of cardboard boxes, a superhero costume that’s just a blanket cape and a pair of underpants on the outside – who are given free rein to roam the suburbs and pretend to be heroes and monsters while eating all the sugar. Those suburbs, by the way, are being invaded by aliens under the cover of Halloween and only you can stop them. Adults won’t believe that big green weirdo is a Grubbin from the planet Repugia and not just someone in a better costume than you, and anyway, you don’t need adults to stop them when you have The Power Of Imagination.

(more…)

Review: Wasteland 2

w2robofight

Platform: PC
Developer: InXile
Website: https://wasteland.inxile-entertainment.com
Australian rating: MA15+

I hate reviews that start with a history lesson, but Wasteland 2 needs some context. I’ll try to make it a short history lesson at least. Here goes.

The original Wasteland was a turn-based post-apocalyptic roleplaying game designed by Interplay in 1988, in which cowboy Desert Rangers protected irradiated Arizona from raiders and robots and, if you played like me, got gnawed to the bone by giant mutant rabbits like they were fleshy carrots being chomped by Bugs Bunny. It was popular enough that Interplay started work on a sequel, but not popular enough for publisher Electronic Arts, who cancelled it and then refused to sell them back the rights. Interplay self-published a different post-apocalyptic RPG instead, and that’s the origin story for the classic Fallout. Years later, the Fallout series has changed hands and members of the original Interplay team, now calling themselves InXile, finally got the rights to their game back and – with help from fans via Kickstarter – made the sequel they wanted to make decades ago.

(more…)

Review: Gauntlet

gauntletcrazy

Platform: PC
Developer: Arrowhead
Website: www.gauntlet.com
Australian classification: MA15+

The first time I played this remake of Gauntlet I accidentally shot the food within the opening five minutes, so if the only thing you need to know is whether it’s possible to destroy an entire roast turkey with a single, poorly aimed arrow just like in the original, there you go.

Gauntlet is a remake of the 1985 arcade game that gave us one of our first four-player co-op experiences and birthed a bunch of memes about the wizard needing food badly. Arrowhead, the developers of Magicka, have focussed on that arcade multiplayer experience and created a fast-paced action RPG that boils Diablo down to potent stock.

(more…)