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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Omensight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Artbook £7.19 , Soundtrack £7.19 , Collector’s Edition £29.87)
Where To Get It: Steam

Omensight is, on the one hand, a game I quite like, set in a world I quite like, and spiritual successor (set in the same world, but some time/place else) to another game I quite like by the same company.

On the other, it’s a game where some of its options and choices are, to my mind, flawed and hamhanded. Still, let’s describe what’s basically going on. Because this will be the last time, both in game and review, it is basic.

Battle animations are fluid, and you can dash quite a bit round the battlefield… But then, so can some of your opponents.

Omensight is a spiritual successor to Stories: Path of Destinies (by the same company), and involves many of the same themes and mechanics remixed. There are time travelling shenanigans for our hero(ine. Being some form of spirit, gender is not assumed) , the Harbinger. There are fights to be fought against enemies using light, heavy, and special attacks in combos, with better performance leading to better rewards (And some enemy types being largely immune to some attacks.) There’s lore to collect, with the overall goal of solving a murder mystery: Who killed the Godless Priestess, whose demise has unbalanced the power structures of two warring kingdoms, and is about to end the world in a single night?

Problem the first: The solving bit is slightly inaccurate. What you’re doing is going through the last night of four individuals, trying to encourage them to lead you to both clues and, in the end, the solution via the cunning use of memories and following them. Sort of a Dirk Gently mystery. And the more efficient at solving the mystery you are… The less you get to know about the characters, the world, and the very mystery you’re involved in, beyond the core bullet points.

Twenty minutes after taking this screenshot, I accidentally ended up taking the path to the next chapter, through my desire to open locked doors. WHOOPS. This screen (Reminding of clues) is not available in “True Detective Mode.”

Equally, beyond a certain difficulty level in the detective mode, you lose out on a tool that can just as much remind you where you are after a break as supposedly give away the way forward. The same way forward that the Priestess will mention… The characters will mention… And… Look, as a murder mystery, it plays its hands too heavily, which means it’s very tough to miss out on the solution to each chapter’s conundrum. Which leads into the problem that you can, quite easily, miss the story collectibles because the game is too good at solving its own mystery.

Continuing on, there are four keys, and each chapter contains one of the titular Omensights, visions with which the plot’s direction… Changes. Funnily enough, the game does foreshadow its twists fairly well, even if, as noted, I don’t feel like much of a detective because its clues are heavy handed, and the four main characters are fairly well written. They play on you being a silent protagonist. Sometimes, as in the case of the cheeky (Yet brittle) leader of the Rat Clan rebellion, Ratika the Bard, they put words in your mouth. Sometimes, like when you’re collecting things, they speculate as to your motives. This can get annoying, but I also appreciate that yes, when the Harbinger, the being that both presages and is meant to prevent the apocalypse, takes a break to smash barrels for money, you too would wonder what was up with that. The voice acting is pleasant, although sometimes stereotypical (Hi Emperor as Grand Vizier! Hi Thug Bear With A Heart of Gold! ), and the music is good. Not always memorably so, but it fits well with its areas and its timing.

One of the titular Omensights, which the Harbinger will then show other people… To get to the truth in perhaps the messiest way.

Beyond the sound and story design, combat in Omensight is a little annoying, as, on any difficulty above the easy, quick reflexes are mandatory for the dodging, and being able to quickly visually identify your enemies is mandatory if you want to do well in a fight, as some enemies have shields (Meaning that light attacks will just bounce off), some have counters (Meaning you’d best be away as soon as the Angrier Exclamation Mark appears, or else), and some are flying, and so a pain in the rear end by definition (with the saving grace that all but one of these flying enemies falls down when hit, and can be coup-de-graced immediately after.) It doesn’t feel especially great, and, for all that there’s a lot of fighting in the game, it’s by no means the strongest aspect of it.

For all these flaws, Omensight still works fairly well, partly because it has a fairly strong storyline (Although it’s a downer… Apocalypses generally are), some solid, low poly aesthetics (Each area has a different feel, and I like that) , some good voice acting and music, and adjustable difficulty separated into the detectiving and combat end, so, if you really want, you can turn both to their lowest settings, and just… Enjoy the ride. That’s the nice thing about adjustable difficulty: You get to do you.

I’ll let you guess which clan is which.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. It’s incredibly hot at Chez TMW.

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The Spatials: Galactology (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Spatials: Galactology is an ambitious game, in some aspects. Building and managing a station, exploring worlds, diplomacy, tourism… There’s a lot to the game. And so, it’s perhaps unfortunate that I’ve not been able to get very far with it because it doesn’t explain most of its own complexities, and some of them? Just plain don’t make sense.

The Hygienizer 3000. On a permanent Spin Cycle, it seems…

Case in point: The shower has interrupted the sleeping. It will always interrupt sleeping if it’s in the same room. Even if, as in the above shot, it is neither in use or supplied. Now, I can’t speak for all showers, but my own? Doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s utterly silent until turned on. I have yet to encounter a shower that does more than silently sit there until turned on. Admittedly, putting a shower in your bedroom is probably not a wise idea (It’s clearly not a futuristic sonic shower, it needs soap. Which I don’t have) , but that it’s the noise that’s the problem? Baffles and infuriates.

Okay, a load from the nearest quicksave fixed that. Showers set to be built elsewhere… With a whole bunch of balloons in the shower room because, inexplicably, they also make the place look bad. So decorations are mandatory if you want people to feel good. Noise mainly seems to impact sleep. And then something breaks down. I’m also running out of metal to build things with. Ohhh yeah, I can set my ships to pick up cargo from more than one place, why didn’t the game tell me this before? So, off I go, to a thankfully human planet with metal on it, and… My first combat encounter, hoo boy! Combat, diplomacy, exploration, it has it… NO, STOP BUILDING THAT STORAGE DEVICE, KEEP YOUR FRIEND HEALTHY, YOU – Oh, the only guy with a gun is dead.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM UNWARY PLAYER DELICIOUS.

Time to restart, I guess! Or… Not. The Spatials is, it’s true, an ambitious game, with a lot of elements. But I am, funnily enough, not one of those people who enjoys basic, important mechanics obfuscated from me, and it does this a whole lot. It has the dreaded Decoration Tax, a mechanic I’ve always despised, not least when it’s employed in the oddest of places. Yes, I can understand how a recycling machine may be noisy and clunky. I do not understand why a shower room won’t be enjoyable for its occupants unless it has a minimum of 2 balloons (1 to cancel the shower’s aesthetic penalty, 1 to improve the aesthetic to “slightly nice.”) Research, similarly, means the early game, normally a case of “Build things to make you self sufficient”, becomes “Research these eight things you need simply to get people to come to the planet and buy things before your money runs out.”

The Spatials: Galactology, will, I’m sure, be fine for people who actively enjoy the heavy amount of micromanagement and wikiplay needed to get off the ground here. I am not one of those folks, and the unfriendliness and lack of decent information is a major turn off. Its aesthetic is serviceable, but the bizarre internal logic… Not so much. Not so much by a long shot.

Every now and again, the VP will turn up and give you big demands for desperately needed money. It’s p. safe to say I did not, in fact, build 8 objects.

The Mad Welshman has already railed against the Cabinet Tax… But Balloon Tax? This is getting silly…

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Ghost of a Tale (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

A lot can be said about how intimidating it is, playing a largely pacifist mouse in a world of giant, angry rats, that it’s taken me this long to take a look at Ghost of a Tale, the stealth action RPG by SeithCG. But, like Tilo, the mouse bard protagonist of this game, I’ve gotten over that, and honestly? I’m glad I have.

I feel you, little guy… They *are* scary!

Ghost of a Tale is, at its most basic level, a game where you, Tilo the mouse bard, must explore an ancient keep, hoping to save your wife Merra (Imprisoned, like you, for treason) and escape. Of course, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t have either the tension or the interest, so there’s a pretty wide cast of characters, some friendly, some not quite friendly, and many of which aren’t friendly at all, considering that they’re either beasties out for any blood they can get… Or the rat guards, who, understandably considering the charge you’ve been imprisoned under, aren’t exactly fond of you.

Of course, this doesn’t bring secret doors, shortcuts, a hint system in the form of a seemingly friendly blacksmith, a small web of intrigue, and something about an Emerald Flame, a great evil that may or may not be rising again… And some fine characters, all set in a beautifully rendered environment. There’s a fair bit to do in Ghost of a Tale, and I appreciate how, while the rats are a threat, they’re a threat that can be dealt with in a variety of ways, including running away (Even walking, you are slightly faster than the rat guards) and hiding until they return to their posts. Failing that, slime trips them up (if they’re not wearing boots), bottles knock them out (if they’re not wearing helmets), and, eventually, two sets of armour that allow you to move unchallenged… Past the guards, anyway.

I get the distinct feeling I’m not meant to be up here… Yet.

There’s a fair amount I like about Ghost of a Tale, as the shortcuts are helpful, the world is pretty, and the characters are, when they speak, charming and amusing (Kerold the Frog Pirate, for example, has a fine example of breaking the fourth wall with items that don’t turn up until you know they’re there… I won’t spoil it for you.) But this isn’t to say there aren’t things I get a bit grumpy about. There’s a fair amount of the game that can best be described as “Collectathon-ing” , and some of the puzzles are a little obtuse. There are maps, but it’s a case of finding a safe spot to look at your inventory, and memorising.

Still, overall, I find Ghost of a Tale more charming than frustrating, and, despite being intimidating looking in the early game, it’s a cool game that emphasises exploration and trickery over violence, and a pretty accessible one at that. Worth a go!

Top of the world, ma! (No, really, highest point in the game’s rather large map, apparently)

The Mad Welshman is not ashamed to admit the Rat-Guard scared him. It just means they’re doing their job well, is all!

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The Alpha Device (Review)

Source: Free
Price: Free
Where To Get It (Free) : Steam

For all that the “Walk in a desolate area and listen to audiologs/read notes” subgenre of computer games is much maligned (and sometimes rightly so), when done well, minimalism can be turned to advantage, and the story becomes so much the richer. So it is, for me at least, with The Alpha Device, a game that definitely has its flaws (One of which confuses me greatly), but, storywise, enthralled and entertained me.

Simple geometric shapes are fun when you put them together, kids!

Let’s get those aforementioned flaws out of the way first. If you’re not a fan of the school of graphic design among indie games of “Return unto the mostly untextured, if not uncoloured polygons”, then odds are you’ll be predisposed not to like this. Which would be a shame, as the game does clever things with simple shapes (Clever things like using simple shapes as templates to poke holes in other simple shapes… To make shapes that become both more full of holes and chunky bits.) Furthermore, the game is gamepad only, which, I must say, confuses the hell out of me, considering it’s coded in the Unity engine, which makes both multiple control schemes and other quality of life improvements… Well, not a doddle, but certainly not beyond. Still, the game is effectively free, so it would be highly impolite of me to do more than express my confusion there.

Now… The voice acting is an advertising point of the game, and considering that the sole voice actor, David Hewlett, is well known, and has proven his chops multiple times, this is a good point. He really sells the bitterness of one of the last human beings well, that loss and confusion, swinging easily into the undercurrent of hopeless anger that characterises his own storyline. It helps that the story surprised me with how, like Mr. Hewlett’s acting, it swings comfortably between scales, moving from the galactic to the personal, back and fore in a slowly closing gyre, to its twist conclusion. The twist, admittedly, felt a tiny bit off, but only a tiny bit, as it was more that it relies on you realising the dissonance of the audio logs (and your discovery thereof) , than a not-twist, or some other, completely out of the blue revelation with no foreshadowing.

Not pictured: Some good voice acting.

And then… Ah, well. While the game is, technically, quite short, lasting approximately an hour, this is a technically. I won’t spoil the precise mechanics of that technically, but it was fitting, it was clever, in its way, and it satisfied my black little heart, for, listening to the story, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of anger of my own in sympathy with the protagonist.

As such? Well worth a look if you like minimalistic storytelling.

Simple. Geometric. Shapes.

The Mad Welshman has done his best to keep this review spoiler free. That is all.

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