Maid of Sker (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Maid of Sker (Y Ferch O’r Scer) is an old Welsh ballad, telling the tale of a love denied by class differences, a harper loving a maid, the maid being married off after the father denied the dalliance, and the maid dying of a broken heart. Or, in some versions of the tale, being locked in a tower, dying, and haunting the mansion forever more.

This will probably be the last daylight you’ll see. Along with something you’ll be seeing a fair bit of.

Okay, in at least one version, it turns out alright in the end. But it’s that second one that’s pertinent, as Wales Interactive have decided to take a stab at a first person survival horror, where the maid’s song, a song she was forced to sing, has corrupted the entire household into murderous, faceless mirrors. Or… Maybe it’s not as clear cut as that? Still, we’re here to look at the overall stuff, so how did Wales Interactive do?

Well, aesthetically, they nail it. Since the creatures you face hunt by sound (and they’re faster than you), their deep breaths and clumping footsteps fill with dread, and the areas each have a distinct flavour, be they outside or inside. It feels, in essence, like a place, which happens to have monsters in it.

Ew.

On the gameplay end, however… It can be pretty frustrating. The stealth, not so much, although there are definitely frustrations there (I get it, you’ve got a cough, Thomas, and I also get that it’s there to add a little spice to things, but it felt random and irritating.) I didn’t find the AI omnipotent at times, as others have said, mainly because I took great care not to bump into anything. But mileage apparently varies there.

Meanwhile… The puzzles. Some are obtuse and frustrating, and I can’t help but feel what happened was that I missed a document somewhere. In any case, that and the protagonist being seemingly the only properly mute character in the whole thing is also a tadge annoying (I’m going to note, with some amusement here, that some have said the perfect Welsh singing of Ms. Williams with a seemingly English accent was offputting… Believe me, butt, I can sing flawlessly in Welsh, but my accent is English too. Bloody Radio 4 cursed me.)

Eesh. When you care more about proper records and salvage than people. Wreckers…

Still, there’s enough it does right that it still errs on the side of recommendation. The introduction of the monsters is well done, the little vignettes you see, such as the gravekeeper seeming to burn someone alive, are good, and you get the picture of what went on very early on. It’s kind of bleak to read, at one point, the tally of these hotel owners/shipwreckers’ victims (Clothes 2/6, Trinkets 1/6), and then, later on, to hear your dear heart talk, seemingly oblivious, about how her father and brother were swearing over the guest vanishing, but no money coming out of them. So, aesthetically, it works, and horror wise, it does more than just jump scare (although it does that too, so the jump scare averse, stay away)

I won’t say I had the best time with it, but I can at least lay that partially down to frustration with the puzzles and the feeling I was missing something (especially maps for certain areas, which bugged the hell out of my completionist reflexes), and partly down to my pickiness with horror coming from years of familiarity. And it does, in the end, have more going for it than against it.

The Mad Welshman loves his home country, and its relationship with myth and the supernatural. It’s a largely untapped resource, to be quite honest. Doctor Davies, Warlock Exorcist, when, folks?

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Death Come True (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Death Come True definitely has a quiet pizazz to it. Protagonist wakes up in hotel with amnesia, sees on the news that he is, apparently, a serial killer… And something is definitely wrong with the hotel he’s in.

Like, y’know, how every time he dies, he wakes up in the same bed, the same time, reliving the same events. And that there’s a scary murderer on the loose in the hotel.

Yes, he does use that chainsaw, so content warnings for both glitching and murder by chainsaws, hammers… Oh, and a suicide or two.

So… This is one of those games where yes, deaths abound, but each death brings you closer to the truth. And while I wish it were longer, I can certainly understand why it wasn’t so. It’s technically a visual novel, as there are no puzzles, a heavy emphasis on story, and the mechanic is “Make choice(s)”, but it’s presented in a full motion video, fully voice acted form. Interesting stuff we don’t see a lot, because… Well, it’s fucking expensive.

But did I enjoy this experience? Well, this is one of those where, when asked that, I wave my hand back and forth, if only a little before saying “Overall, yes.” I enjoyed the acting, and the writing, with characters who are easily identifiable, and two or three out of the small cast you can sympathise with. Each film segment is fairly well shot, I was brought into the story, and there’s some subtle visual imagery I quite enjoyed, that makes sense later. And the UX is solid, even nice, as it shows a tiny preview of your path (even if it takes a short time to realise the choices are pretty much always on the left… And right.)

ACAB.

And that preview, a very nice element in the UX… Becomes an eyesore after a certain point. I understand why they did it (It works with the narrative), but it’s hard on the eyes, and I will say that if you don’t like glitch effects, or have photosensitive epilepsy, that happens a lot, and this game is probably not for you. The path becomes pretty clear after a short while, and I would honestly have liked some sort of timeline feature to see the deaths, rather than replaying the entire storyline to deliberately make the wrong choices to see them, since, as mentioned, after a certain point, those nice previews go to shit, meaning that getting to those choices becomes a chore on the eyes.

Apart from this, where yes, the UX is most of my complaints (One of the deaths seems completely out of the blue, feeling like it’s there for the sake of a death, and one is rather dull compared to the others), I did legitimately enjoy my time with Death Come True, and I would say that if you’re interested in short visual novels with well acted FMV, and glitching effects are not a turn off for you, then this one is a nice pick, even if it’s slightly flawed in places.

Such a useful person, to just point the way!

My main issue is, funnily enough, with something that still fits in the game, narratively… But oh boy, am I not a fan of glitch effects myself.

The developers have very kindly requested I keep this as spoiler light as possible, and use the given screenshots.

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Cloudpunk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £16.99 (£24.98 for game and soundtrack, soundtrack £7.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The City. We all know The City. It’s a dark place, always raining, always cloudy… Or is that smoggy? Yeah, it’s smoggy… Ramen’s your go to vending food, the lights are neon, and the streets are grimy and filled with refuse, both human and otherwise. Welcome to this version of The City. Welcome to Cloudpunk.

And this is one of the nicer portions…

But what is Cloudpunk? Essentially, it’s a narrative delivery service game, set in a dystopian future city with high tech… And low life. You’re a worker for the Cloudpunk service, a service that doesn’t want its drivers to be known as Cloudpunk. You keep hearing the word CORA, and can’t pin down what that means. And within your first hour, you’ve either delivered a highly suspicious package (or haven’t), talked to a variety of people, and met your neighbour, the android Evelin, whose close friend locked away memories in her mind, and is decrypting them (like you, not wanting Corporate Security’s attention) by… Punchcards.

No, the memories aren’t on the punchcards, that’d be silly. But the encryption key to her memories is.

Evelin has many problems in her life. This is but one.

And so, you fly through the world, in your hovercar, walking round places, picking things up, delivering things that you’re meant to deliver after picking things up, and, after a point, just… Exploring. Looking around. This is your first night, and most drivers apparently don’t survive their first night. So why not enjoy yourself, talk to people, get a feel for the city first, eh?

And there’s a fair bit to it. Not only is there the main story, with its sometimes wonky voice acting (mostly pretty good, though), its almost surreal cyberpunk setting (and yes, this counts as cyberpunk, you are Little People, and even living is a rebellion), and its people. An Engineer for the city, the city that’s falling apart, but only he knows what’s up. Red street signs blinking three times is bad. Also blue signs in general. Aaaand orange, yellow, green… Purple’s the worst though. If you see purple, you’re fucked already… Well, according to him, anyway. And he’s just one example.

The Marrow, as you can guess, has been sucked dry by the ghouls.

Aesthetically, this game is pretty good. It uses voxel art (that’s cubes instead of dots) pretty well, the music ambient, synthy, and very fitting, and the soundscape… Police fly by, hovercars and trucks (called HOVAS, collectively) whibbleywhoo over the place, and the rain… Nearly always… The rain.

I don’t really have bad things to say, to be honest, but if a game mostly about exploring in your car and on foot, about keeping the gas going, keeping your HOVA repaired, and exploring the story isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. If it is, Cloudpunk’s a pretty solid example of an exploration game with narrative, not just story.

…And I do love me narrative…

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Wicked Willow (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£17.70 for game, OST, and art book, OST and art book £2.09 each)
Where To Get It: Steam

Magic has a Price. This is a common theme in fantasy fiction, especially in magical realism or urban fantasy, in which yes, magic takes a toll, isn’t always predictable, and sometimes… That price is too much. And when you are only just starting out? Well… A beginning is a delicate time.

…A delicate time that involves an axe murderer. Uhhh…

Good thing you’re able to go through it over and over again until you know what’s going on, know the consequences, and are maybe… Maybe able to deal with them.

And I’ll admit, the first few endings I got, I was… A little disappointed. I fucked things up royally several times, got myself in a coma… But eventually, I found other endings, the good ones… And I appreciated it for the good, queer funtime that it can be, when you get that happy ending.

One straight ending, and a whole lot of gay ones, including a transgender character. Yep, fair! Still… The writing, and the voice acting…

Valid.

They are… Alright. The premise is a good one, a groundhog day of a witch whose magic always has an unintended price, with a shady organisation (or, more accurately, way of life, the One Right Way) behind the scenes… Mostly… Still, the One Right Way speech, by the nominal villainess, is an interesting one, and unsubtle. People do often go through the world thinking there is One Right Way of living your life. One Right Type of Relationship. One Right Way to look at it all. I can’t really say more without spoiling things, but alas, the character who represents ORW, and their philosophy is… An unsurprising choice. Still, seeing some trans-euphoria happen in a story is definitely nice, so… Another good reason to like this.

Cheerful British Cat Called Shadow is my new band name.

Aesthetically, it’s a clear visual novel, it’s voiced, its progress checkpoints are both a system I rarely see outside of, say, the wild rides of Kotaro Uchikoshi (look them up, I’ve reviewed Zero Time Dilemma and 428: Shibuya Scramble here, as fine examples), and well represented and checkpointed, letting you know where you can find more endings…

Overall, I must say I’ve enjoyed my time with Wicked Willow. It’s writing may be a little stiff or overdone in a few places, but overall, it is, as the technical term goes, “Dat Good Queer Shit.”

Yes, “Dat Good Queer Shit” is a technical term. Don’t @ me.

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Wintermoor Tactics Club (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£6.39 OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Our hobbies don’t define us… But they sure as hell can bring us together, and tell others things about ourselves. I love art, and roleplaying, and generally, creative stuff. I love writing these reviews, and being critical and informative as best I can. And clubs… That’s where many people had their formative experiences, for good or for ill. Finding belonging, or exclusion, finding friends, ideas… Sharing.

Yes, the clubs are cartoonishly represented. But each one deeply connects with their hobby. And each other.

But what if, for some completely arbitrary reason, that club was shut down? How would that make you feel? Even if there was a reason, even if you didn’t lose the friends you made from those clubs, you would have less of a chance, less time to share that love of your hobby with your friends. And all because of something arbitrary.

And this, in a sense, is the core conflict of the Wintermoor Tactics Club, where the principal, for some unknown reason, begins holding a snowball contest between all the clubs of the school. The stakes? The club that loses each battle gets shut down. For good. All to find… The Ultimate Club. The Club of Clubs.

Look, I wanted to add this one in instead of a second tactics picture because it’s a Devo reference.

There is a reason for it, but, for the majority of the game, it’s going to feel arbitrary as hell, and corny when you do get there. Well played corny, with good writing… But even as a tabletop player who’s played some corny scenarios… Corny.

Anyways, yes, power of friendship, power of shared interests, a theme of tabletop tactics, because our protagonists are the members of the Wintermoor Tactics Club (plus folks who join the club after defeats, for various reasons), and the game is a cool hybrid of point and click adventure, visual novel, and turn based strategy. When you’re outside of battles, you do quests, talk to people, look at items for often humorous dialogue (love the library!), and progress the story in some fashion or another. And then… The battles. They’re all turn based and tactical, usually with three or four characters (sometimes more or less), but sometimes, they’re snowball fights, sometimes, they’re adventures to help the characters think, or to bring someone new to the group, sometimes, they’re progressing a character’s adventure to give them swanky new abilities. It’s solid stuff!

This is the kind of player character naming I can get behind…

Some of them are challenge maps with fixed stuff, which I know is a turn off for some folks, but, overall, it’s got give in how you play and which characters you use.

Aesthetically, I love it. Solid, cartoonish and expressive artwork, fitting and, in places, quite stirring music, a good, clear UX with solid text sizes and easy tooltips… And, as mentioned, some pretty solid writing, with very little tonal whiplash. When things get heavy, they get heavy. When things are meant to be light… You get the picture.

This is a solid game. It’s not a hugely long game, but it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have something like this, tight, well written, and with elegance, over some bloated, over or underdesigned monstrosity. Turn based strategy newbies may well have a good time with this one, as it’s a nice, gentle introduction to the genre, with a good difficulty curve, and giving you useful information, such as who is going to attack who and why. Which is something you can exploit.

The Mad Welshman does 2 Psychic Damage for a nerdy tabletop reference. It may inflict confusion, or do extra damage if you are weak to Nerd.

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