Blast Axis (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15 (Game has a free demo)
Where To Get It: Steam

Space is big… But it does seem like, whenever there’s a horde of aliens, mindless or otherwise, infesting somewhere, it’s somewhere we are. This time, in Blast Axis, it’s interdimensional, pink and purple beasties, who just seem… Well, aggressive overall.

At first, I have to admit I wasn’t enamoured of the 6-degrees-of-freedom shooty spaceship-in-a-space-station funtimes of Blast Axis. I enjoyed some things, like the bio-luminescent, odd entities that infested the station, and even found that bright green nightvision mode more tolerable than other games I’d seen it in (I’m just not the biggest fan of bright green night goggles overall, sad to say.) But the map, at first, confused me, and as I wandered through its first (zeroeth) level, I felt… Somewhat of a lack of cohesion. Wait, why is this tunnels and junk, tunnels and ju-

The sudden realisation people lived here. Worked here. Died here.

And then I hit the second level, and I started seeing a little bit of the scale. An avenue of buildings, big honkin’ walkways, doors… This used to be a place where a lot of people lived, and seemingly, in the grand tradition of such games, mined rocks, and presumably explored things where “Should” was probably a better start to their sentence than “Could.” And I also answered the question for myself I’d also asked in that first level. Where was the difficulty?

Well, let’s digress into limits. There are more than 10 monsters, but not more than 20. There are 6 weapons, 10 ammo types, a couple of firing modes… At first, it seems a bit limited. But those ammo types, those firing modes, do introduce interesting things, and, even on Minor Hazard (the game’s equivalent of “Easy”), it’s… It’s surprisingly easy to get blindsided, and from quite a ways away, by even a moderate group of gribbleys. Some fire swirly trails that hurt. Some fire lots of odd spikey icicle looking things that hurt, like a machine gun. But one of the first enemies you encounter is both the most interesting… And the one that blindsided me the worst.

Taken about a twentieth of a second after the little sod rammed me. In two seconds, his friend will ram me from a completely unexpected angle. Thankfully, this was early, so I had a lot of backup armour.

They’re inoffensive, squid like things, with a single large eye, and glowing some blue/purple/pink shade like every other enemy (I actually like that, it makes for better visual distinction, and the glow makes them easier to spot in the dark too. The very common dark.) And, until they notice you, they really do seem inoffensive. Hell, in the first level, you rapidly chunk them before they do. But when they do notice you, and you don’t notice them… That’s when it hurts. Because they’re suddenly fast, attack with headbutts, and then vanish into some corner, until they spot you again. And again. And again. Projectiles, you can see. The mine like enemies… You can blow up, easily. But those little sods? They did more damage to me than even some of the more powerful enemies later on, overall.

So, from an unpromising beginning, Blast Axis started winning me over. Cyclopean machinery, long dead… The axis of the outer wheel, so far away… The aesthetic started to win me over. The music is filled with low key dread, the station and the machinery of the game feel worn (even the ship is clunky and battered, and I love that.) Aesthetically, it pleases, even the slightly clunky menu, and the oddly 70s style title.

“I can’t shake him!” “Stay on target…”

This is not to say the game is without flaw. There is a dash boost, and it’s all too easy to trigger when you don’t want it to (the trigger is double tapping, but even “tap…tap” can sometimes trigger it, which is annoying when you’re being cautious.) The keys are rebindable, but I found it odd that Shift is the default “go down” key (normally it’s Ctrl.) And the map is… Hard to get used to, as it’s not your normal map, but a map centered around you. So using it can sometimes be a distinctly confusing and irritating experience.

Otherwise, though, this definitely isn’t a bad 6DOF shooter, and it starts you on the easy difficulty, which is nice (even if, judging by it, medium and hard are going to be utter bastards. Minor Hazard is challenging, tense at times, but definitely not unbeatable.) I wouldn’t exactly call it a good introduction to this subgenre, but it does feel like it has a solid place within it, with its own touches that make it interesting.

For cross dimensional invaders looking for a good space station to inhabit, please contact TMW, care of… Well, we’ll find you when you’re ready for an offer…

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OVERLOAD (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Normally, I try to avoid making references to other games in reviews, not least because it can introduce expectations that shouldn’t be there (see the Moonlighter review from earlier today), but, in the case of Overload, Revival’s 6 Degrees of Freedom shooter… It’s Descent.

“M’lud, if I could draw your attention to Exhibit A…”

For anyone young enough to not know why this is a big deal, Descent’s big selling point was the aforementioned 6 Degrees of Freedom. Want to float upwards and downwards, strafe sideways (that’s 2) , but also rotate in all three axes and move forwards and backwards in a science-fiction setting of robots gone wrong, and your mission to rescue the victims of what would eventually turn out to be both an alien invasion and Evil Corporation Shenanigans? Descent, and its two sequels had you covered, refining the formula.

Overload, funnily enough, refines it further. Although this is less surprising when you consider that the two Revival founders, Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, three of the original trilogy’s musicians, Dan Wentz, Allister Brimble, and Jerry Berlongieri, and more have been involved heavily in the development. They’ve had time to think about this. So… What’s the result like?

Undeniably fun and tense, is the very short answer. Last time I looked at it, I mentioned that the refinements to the formula are, for the most part, more to do with level design and quality of life than, for example, major rejiggings. Multiple difficulty modes, with the nice touch that challenge leaderboards are separated by their difficulty. Looking at the map pauses, and, considering the general gameplay loop, this is a godsend, and, while the maps are indeed mazelike, I never found myself truly, hopelessly lost like I did in the original games. Although, equally to its credit, I’ve felt ambushed, claustrophobic, and tense, aided by the often casually oppressive sounding music, the almost-screams and growls of the Automatic Operators. Logs being short and sweet, upgrades, secrets… It’s an interesting mix of the more traditional and the modern, and it works.

Particle effects can, on the one hand, obscure what’s going on. On the *other* , it makes this Auto-Op about four or five times scarier, even after it’s dead.

Good example: This is a game that has monster closets, in the traditional sense of the phrase (Secret places that open on triggers, usually once you’ve done something, to reveal… SURPRISE ENEMIES, HAHAHAHAHA) , and… I don’t mind. You know you’ve done monster closets right when they feel natural… And, just as nice, they have an actual, narrative reason to be there. I won’t spoil it, but the overall idea is that a set of colonies around Saturn have gone dark, and, carried in your slower than light craft, you have to work out why robots have gone bad, why colonists have been reassigned, and why the hell the company’s founder, Gabriel Kantor, seems so certain he can burn his bridges and unleash death and destruction for a set of colonies that are nowhere near self-sufficience. It’s similar enough to the plot of the original Descent (hell, it even has references to the Evil Corporation of the original games, the Post Terran Mining Corporation), but the differences, and the explorations therein, short as they have to be due to constraints, pleases me.

In short, this is not only an excellent addition to the 6 Degrees of Freedom Shooter subgenre, it’s also an excellent Descent game, and well worth a look. Oh, and there’s a free level editor too.

The mood in these tunnels can be described with phrases like “Somewhat tense”, segueing quickly into “AHH DIE DIE DIE PLEASE DIE”

Yes, The Mad Welshman freely admits the possibility of rose-tinted goggles. He also admits the possibility that it’s just fun as hell to blow up robots in space.

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Overload (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Release

Six Degrees of Freedom. Ahhhh, I remember well when that phrase was marketing magic. Wait, a first person shooter where you have complete freedom of movement? Sign me the hell up!

Wait, no, I didn’t sign up for thiiiiii- BOOM.

While OVERLOAD is certainly not the first game to attempt a revival of this particular genre of first person shooter, where you pilot a spaceship, destroying robots gone bad, OVERLOAD hits me squarely in the nostalgia glands because not only is it headed by the original Descent developers, Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog (Not to mention various folks who worked on other Descent games in the original series, and the original CD soundtrack composer, Allister Brimble), it’s very clear they’ve refined their formula over the years.

When OVERLOAD eventually leaves Early Access, it will have 15 story missions, several challenge maps, and, of course, a variety of murderous robots to destroy, guilt free. The story missions follow the same rough formula as the game it’s a spiritual successor to, where you enter a base of some description, attempt to hunt down a generator, blow the hell out of it, and escape. Meanwhile, there are secrets, monster closets, upgrades… It is, in a sense, a very traditional game.

While the game definitely has its dark areas, a combination of the flare, your shots, and the explosions of deadly robots will light your way.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t feel traditional. It feels very modern indeed, and at least part of this comes from, as mentioned, this obvious, yet hard to pin down refinement. Levels aren’t quite as claustrophobic as in the original Descent games, and so far, I’ve had very little trouble familiarising myself with the levels, the controls remain simple, but fluid, and the difficulty seems pretty balanced so far. So far, so appealing to the first person shooter crowd, and this seems unlikely to drastically change, considering the polish shown so far.

I will, however, freely admit to a minor bias here, due to the developers actively tickling that nostalgia in small, but noticeable ways. Example: While playing the first Challenge map (Essentially, survival against endless waves of deadly robots, escalating in difficulty as you go), something was grabbing me, something above the dark, yet somehow quite clear visuals, and the sound design, which, even through the chaos, will occasionally give you something memorable (Some of the more melee/explosive based robots seem to growl and, occasionally, scream at you, while still sounding like… Well, like robots. It’s quite disturbing!)

“Wait… Is that… Is that the original Descent theme, remixed?”

In single player missions, once the reactor has been destroyed, and providing you find the exit, you get to feel pretty damn badass. Just like you might have in 1994

Immediately closing the game, I hunt around, and lo and behold… It was. Darker. Nastier. While still retaining enough of the motifs that gripped me while I was young (and having nightmares about four clawed robots, being interrogated by violent tiger aliens, and skeletons with rocket launcher shoulderpads, as well as the more usual Daleks and Critters.)

In summary, it’s Descent, but for the modern generation. It’s not the only one by a long shot, but so far, it’s the one that’s coming out ahead in my mind as the best spiritual successor, and a nice confirmation that sometimes, the original developers retain the Good Ideas they had in their younger days. It seems fairly accessible, but if you’re on the fence, there is a free demo, and that, at the very least, is well worth a go.

The game, whether in single player or Challenge mode, can get a little busy, what with all those chunks, explosions, and pews going on…

The Mad Welshman is well aware that medical science poo-poohs the idea of the nostalgia gland. But it exists, oh yessss, it exists…

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