Conglomerate 451 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access

It is the far future. And you’ve got a job ahead of you, commander. Because you’re the head of a private agency (not a corporation, honestly, really!) who has been tasked with dealing with the criminal influence of four cacklingly evil corporations, on behalf of the government. In sector 451 of the city of Conglomerate, and yes, they did call it that. So… It’s cyber, but not punk. Still.

Two “Good Boys” (Spoiler: Not Good Boys At All) and a very angry man kitted out like a personal tank. Oh, and a bomb.

So yes, this is one of those step based RPGs (first person, move a tile at a time, moving costs time but turning or looking around doesn’t, effectively turn based), with random loot, random enemy placement, a pool of maps, a research tree… It seems like a lot, but what it boils down to is: You do missions, which are usually kill a thing, kill lots of things, or find a thing. And doing these things breaks the influence of one of the four corporations who are openly criminal in the sense of drug dealing, slavery, and the like. Them’s your basics.

So… Last time I reviewed this, I said it was mostly solid, pretty promising, with a few things that needed work. That opinion has, apart from the whole “It’s released” thing, not really changed all that much. Because it still has issues. It’s just that they’re now mostly in terms of writing and accessiblity, rather than one of the two minigames being tedious as hell (the hacking has changed to be something a little more quickfire than “Click on some text when you see it”), and the money part of the game’s economy not being great (unlocking the in-mission benefits like “Can always ambush enemies if they don’t see you” costs money now. Which I’m fine with.) Not changed, however, is the fact that the bigass gun which looks like it can chew a room to shreds has a range of… 9 meters.

Yup. This thing still only has a range of 9m, single shot. Who the heck knows why…

Now… Even if you have white writing, folks, it’s going to be nigh illegible with a moving background, or something of even roughly the same value. That’s an accessibility issue, for which there is no option to fix. Dark red health on a dark brown background? That’s hard to read, so… Colourblindness issue, no option to fix. These are both two examples of how the game could work on its accessibility (a third being UX/Text scaling.) And then… The writing/barks. I’m not expecting Great American Novel, folks. What I do expect, however, is not to be very tired of the AI’s yakking two minutes into a mission. Yes, I get she was built by bad people to help you do bad things to bad people. I got that in the first two voicelines about how gleeful she gets about murder.

What I’m less fond of is references, without a hint of self awareness. Ah yes, my training mission was a “Kobayashi Maru” type. Mmmhm. Why yes, AI, we did come, we did see, we did kick its ass… But both of these references are almost as old as I am. And no, there is no option to turn off these barks, which… Sorry, developers, they’re not well written, and in one case (SPU chips, which add a little to stats), it doesn’t even make sense. Copper and some wires, but maybe it will be useful? I… AI? Have you been trained? At all?

Okay, okay, lemme try one. “You fell for one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’, but only slightly less well known is this: Never make an 80s reference when a critic plays the game! Aha, ahahaha [dies]”

So, in terms of aesthetics, it’s alright. There’s some good enemy designs, the world maps are interesting and aptly get the feel across, the sound isn’t bad, and the visuals for attacks are kinda cool in places. In terms of gameplay, it’s a little grindy, but otherwise, I’m actually down for a limited set of map layouts, partly because you know vaguely what to expect. Improvements have been made in some areas… It’s still got jank, but… I’d still recommend it somewhat for fans of step-based RPGs, because it ain’t bad.

But it could definitely work on its accessibility.

The Mad Welshman would offer their services as a dystopia writing consultant, but… Well, not much point.

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Der Geisterturm (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.58 for game+soundtrack, £4.67 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Der Geisterturm (The Ghost Tower) is a sequel, or maybe parallel game, to Das Geisterschiff, which I’d reviewed previously. As a member of Eberbach Corporation’s combat corps, you… Are told that you’re dead. And if you want a second chance at life, congrats, you have to get up a tower full of droids ordered to murder you a second time.

Cacklingly evil corporations. Go figure. Now, Das Geisterschiff was tough. Der Geisterturm? Is murderously tough. As in: I have yet to get to the second level tough. And there comes a time when you have to resolve to see if you can beat a thing later, and say that you currently cannot.

“By the way, we’ve put you in a death tower for unspecified reasons. It was in the small print of your contract.”

Now, it should be noted that individual enemies are generally not that tough. And that you have a shield, albeit one with limited energy (and another option we’ll get to later, for its extremely situational usefulness.) And indeed, you have a lot of options, that you need to switch between if you want to do the best job you can. And even combat stances and ram responses, that can set how you react to ramming (a valid tactic, when something or someone is lighter than you.) Changing your stance and ram responses, turning, and turning your shield on or off appear to be instantaneous. Switching weapons, moving, and waiting, however, is not. And we’ll get into why that makes the difficulty curve sharp in a moment.

But first, improvements! They are, for the most part, small, but they exist! Everything is blue now, rather than a somewhat disconcerting red. Items have visible representation (although sometimes tiny visible representation, like keycards), cutting down on “Where the hell is the thing?” … Somewhat! It’s still got that low poly aesthetic, with unidentified bots as wireframe cubes, but… We’ll also get into that.

This time, I have the upper hand. This time.

So… Der Geisterturm inherits some of the problems of its predecessor, and manages to make some new ones, alas, making the buy-in that much more difficult. For example, once an enemy has been identified, it should stay identified… But it does not. And, considering there are two basic enemies in both the tutorial and the first level, with only the latter allowing visual confirmation without analysis, this is kind of important. And now… Hiding and switching weapons. Yes, we definitely need to talk about those.

Hiding is, for the most part, useless. Enemies have an audio range, but generally speaking, this is big enough that your one for one movement doesn’t actually allow for getting far enough out of audio range (or sight range) to wait out their searching. As to switching weapons, well… Some enemies have vulnerability to bullets, others to lasers, others to explosives… You have limited ammo for each… And the first level’s encounters? Appear to almost exclusively consist of one drone that is weak to lasers. And another that’s weak to bullets and ramming. They appear in pairs, one of each type. And, as mentioned, switching weapons takes a turn, and they always appear in patterns that, if you concentrate on one, or run to lure the bigger one into range, you will likely take at least some damage from the other.

Every time you analyze an enemy to remind yourself of its weaknesses, three or four pages of this will turn up. Not the biggest fan of this.

Still no larger map, so get out those mapping tools, folks, no in-game options and key rebinding, which is doubly annoying because the game forgets it’s meant to be in windowed mode the moment you start a game…

Basically, I’d like to recommend Der Geisterturm, because it has an interesting aesthetic, a dark world, and a fair bit of atmosphere, but… While I could recommend Das Geisterschiff with the qualification that it’s hard, Der Geisterturm feels… Well, it feels much less fair. And maybe that’s intended. But it’s a turn off for me. I don’t particularly miss the days of the hard as balls wireframe first person RPGs like Wizardry 2, you see.

The Mad Welshman is an Old, it’s true. But he does not look kindly upon the past of computer games overall, except what we can learn from it.

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Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.69 (£3.36 Collector’s Edition, £2.09 for artbook, soundtrack, other extras)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Itch release

Content Warning: This game has themes of self harm and suicide, and a depiction of suicide. As such, the review has been age gated, and this content warning has been added to the original review.

(more…)

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Das Geisterschiff (Going Back)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £7.19 (£13.79 for all DLC, OST £2.29, unreleased tracks £1.25, remixes free)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: Although this review is not age gated, be aware that the game has mentions of forced drug use and kidnapping early on.

Ah, the corporate dystopia. The corporate dystopia where people have fucked the planet, the rich have gone to space, and the rest… Are left underground, fearing the sun they once loved. Yup, that totally isn’t too real right now, nosirree… Although, to be fair, the rich would be using rich people spaceships, so at least we get the black comedy of watching their autopilot ignore an asteroid.

See those sunbeams on the right? The sun is so hostile now, it’ll start melting the armour of an exosuit. And, as this note outright states later, it cooks a human in moments.

In any case, Das Geisterschiff is, as you might have guessed, one of those corporate dystopia games. You, the nameless protagonist, have joined a corporate Combat Unit, in order to hopefully make enough money to get off Earth.

Well, we all know how that’s meant to turn out. And, indeed, this game is hard. A fitting kind of hard, but yes, a fair amount of the time, avoiding a fight is the absolute best thing you can do once an enemy hits your radar. And if you do get in a fight, there’s still a fair amount to consider: Do you use some of your limited ammo? Or do you get up close and shoulder-barge the robotic sonuvabitch, because they’re lighter than you, and they can’t take i- Argh, this one was a suicide bomber, great.

Also on the good side, the game is atmospheric as hell, and the atmosphere is dark. The music is heavy saws and bass beats, threatening in tone, the world is dark as hell (As denoted by the content warnings above. Whee, lot of age gating this month!) And your shadowy boss is, as you quickly discover by the second mission, is shady as hell. Well, he is a corporate dystopia boss, of course he is.

It’s a low poly feel, but a good one. Y’know, red aside. And yes, I had trouble telling these screenshots apart when picking them to upload.

Still, content warnings aside, it’s not all roses. Accessibility wise, everything is shades of red, and quite dark, and while the text is sans serif, and the menu text is readable, the notes and talking type text are somewhat small, even on full screen with a big monitor and downtuning the resolution. And part of the game’s difficulty is somewhat of a lack of clarity as to what things are. For example, the screenshot lower down the review is a horrifying scene, if you know what those cuboids are (They’re dead bodies.)

But, unless you’re using things that sort of look like they’re usable, you’re not going to work things out. And you’re definitely going to have trouble finding upgrades, as the only clue I’ve seen is “They’re near those black boxes. Mostly.” Finally, you seem to only have a minimap. So I hope you brought your mapping software! (I didn’t, my first time, mainly because I’ve gotten so used to, y’know, actual maps.)

Six corpses. laid out. And if you hadn’t found another body in this level that explicitly tells you it is, you might not have guessed.

Finally, while I’m not entirely sure if it’s a bad thing or not, there are only a limited amount of saves. 100, to be exact. And it should be remembered that if you come into an area with low health from another, you might as well restart the whole chapter, with what you’ve learned. Because you’ll restart with that low health.

Would I recommend it? Sort of. As always, if the content warnings and accessibility problems turn you off, then no, and I also wouldn’t recommend this to first time players of first person RPGs. But for the more experienced player, it’s definitely an interesting one, just… Use a mapping tool.

The Mad Welshman loves him a dystopia. In fiction. Can you rich old assholes stop trying to fanfic yours in real life? Ta.

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Neo Cab (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£7.19 soundtrack, £13.93 both)
Where To Get It: Steam

The Gig Economy is toxic as hell. Living from job to job, trying to draw in custom, and, all the while, expending your health and resources for uncertain gains. It doesn’t help when your field is muscled on by larger folks, who either think you’re replacable, or are actively working to replace you. And so it is with NeoCab, where you, Lina, are the last human cab driver. An autocab company has pressured the rest of the cabbies out, and you… You aren’t doing so hot.

Allie gave me 5 stars. “Us Gig folk gotta stay together!” Yup, you are 100% right, sister.

So, naturally, I was down for the concept of the story from the get go. And found other, interesting things. A mood system. Some weird and interesting characters. And the fact that I would be really bad as a cab driver. So let’s get into that.

The general story you’ve heard, with the exception of activists against cars (in general, not just Capra’s automated cabs that aren’t actually as safe as they claim to be. Big shock about that last point, I know), Capra’s cops having a “donation” scheme (Yes, they shake you down. Bastards), and… Despite the main story being somewhat predictable, and the game taking about 3-4 hours, one way or the other, I never really felt like the main story was a focus, so much as a frame to hang… Everyone else on. And yes, that can be a point against it, but stay awhile, and listen.

This guy… Is such an asshole.

Here’s a fellow gig worker, who, on the one hand, is asking stupidly invasive questionnaires for Capra. On the other, she’s just trying to make her way too, and she gets you. Solidarity, sister. Here’s a pair of tourists in their own city, who think you’re a robot. Their rating goes down when they find out you’re actually a human, not the Capra product they’d heard about and were excited for, but they fit into this overall theme, and they are… Characters, for sure, and there’s cracks in their relationship. The strange quantum accountant, the woman who thinks, from her work, that the timelines have become unstable, and that something is seriously wrong with the universe. She’s obsessed with entropy, and… I can relate.

But there’s something that unites a lot of them: You have to remind them you’re not just a service, a product. You’re a person. Some get that right off, and they’re usually the good ones. Some, like the two Capra fanboys (well, one and a half), are actually disappointed when they can’t just… Consume. And some… They just hate your profession, what they feel you symbolise. Maybe, if I’d taken different paths, like some of those 1.5 star customers that it’s generally recommended to avoid, I’d have more, but… You’re a gig worker, in a hostile, capitalist world. And that is well written. It helps that some of the characters are very quirky, in a good way.

I mean, I wouldn’t mind winning the lotto, if only so I don’t have to worry about my bills, but, overall, sure, lady.

But your mood plays into it too. For example, you can’t convince those two Capra groupies you’re a human unless you get emotional in some manner (Mine was happiness.) But it shuts you off just as much as it can help. Lucky for you Savy gives you a mood bracelet that actually works early on, huh?

Aesthetically, the game works, and works well… The music is this futurist style, fitting the mood, the characters are characterful and well animated, and the cityscape is well constructed. It’s one of the few paperdoll style animations I really got behind.

So, in conclusion, I like NeoCab. Partly for its politics. Partly for its interesting characters. Partly for its aesthetic and writing. Would I recommend it? Yeah, overall, although if you’re a big capitalism fanboy (yes, those exist) then it definitely isn’t something that’ll sit well with you (I’d still say play it, but that’s because I like to get up on a soapbox once in a while.) As to being a bad cab driver? Fair warning, your rating drops below 4, game over, you’re screwed.

I’m a bad cab driver.

The Mad Welshman isn’t actually seeking more proof he shouldn’t drive. But this month just seems to be the month for it.

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