Powerwash Simulator (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Muckingham, a town where beautification committees are considered quaint, and where Health and Safety Inspectors dare not enter, for fear of their lives, has a new hero. The hero they need. The hero they may or may not deserve. The one who’s going to clean up this town!

Hitting tab allows you to gauge the herculean task in front of you. And whether you missed a spot.

Oh, I’m sorry, was the title not clear enough that all that heroic guff was hyperbole, and that it is, in fact, a relaxing game about washing things with a high pressure hose, a variety of nozzles, and whatever background music you choose to put on, for the game deliberately has none? Because yes, it’s a game about cleaning things, both big and small, with a high pressure hose, a variety of nozzles, and whatever background music you choose to put on.

It’s pretty clever, actually. Because it’s not only a game you can take at your own pace, nobody can actually say it isn’t a challenge. That one tiny nook you missed, that’s stopping you from that dopamine inducing ting of “This has been cleaned now!” That swearing as you realise that your quick sweep has just left dirt that you can’t see, outside of your super-power of briefly turning dirt bright yellow, but is nonetheless all over the sodding place. Oh, and let us not forget trying to find that one support or timber out of 21 (people who’ve already bought the game know exactly what I mean) that has only mostly been cleaned.

Considering the state of Muckingham, I’m assuming it went on the “Nearly Unused” listing on mBay.

It’s got it’s challenges, that’s for sure. But it’s well designed, in that it’ll give you a big one, maybe a couple of big ones… Then a smaller job. Then a few more big ones, maybe a medium one, smaller job, so on… It’s well paced, in its career mode, and the writing of the characters who hire you is humorous indeed. From the old park keeper who doesn’t understand why people are complaining about a little bit of muck (read: The whole fucking park), to the bakery folks who live in a rustic cottage, one Hansel and Gretel Hexenjager, who are definitely bakers and not anything else!

It’s pretty accessible, with a right click toggle of the water to save your poor finger if you wish (although alas, your wrist is likely to suffer if you play for long periods), clear UX, the bright yellow of the dirt sight clearly contrasting with a good 99% of the surfaces (so even though some grime may not be visible at first glance, it will always be when you Tab to check), colour coding for your nozzles…

And, aesthetically, it’s solid. Often bright, colourful locations, making a night and day transition from Ye Liveliest Awfulness to pristine, friendly locales, the sound of the pressure washer against various surfaces is relaxing, and fitting… It doesn’t have music, it’s true, but this is a deliberate decision so you can put your own on.

Your reward for a job well done is to see the work you’ve done… Being done. Ah, watching that dirt vanish in moments is… Slightly taunting the time you actually took doing it…

I like Powerwash Simulator already, a bunch, and I’m very unlikely to change this opinion. There’s a lot of rinsey, bubbly bang for your buck if you’re into nice, relaxing simulation games that aren’t really simulations, per se, but are good enough that you can imagine you’re having a nice, relaxing time drenching things at high pressure and watching the muck and grime and rust melt away…

…Ahhh, bliss. Even for a mucky pup like myself!

Oh, and the Multiplayer Beta dropped, so soon, you’ll be able to powerwash with your friends, too, wheeee!

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Foreclosed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Cyberpunk. Proper cyberpunk, not neo-futurism or cyber SF. Comic book aesthetic. Stealth, gunplay, hacking… You’d think this was right up my street.

But, in short, it’s not. I quite Foreclosed pretty early, and I’m not ashamed to say that. Because, on several levels, it just. Didn’t. Work for me. We’ll get into it after I explain what the game is.

Mmmm… A stealth section where I don’t have quite as much info as I’d like. Well, the important stuff is there, at least.

So, a third person (occasionally switching to first person, more on that in a bit) shooter with levelling, stealth kills, stealth, low health (at least to start), and “hit arrows in the right order” based hacking minigames. Oh, and the stealth kill is a QTE, button mashing 2. That’s your basics, right there. So… Let’s get into the few parts it got right, and then… The bits it got wrong.

In terms of general aesthetics, the music was good, tense stuff, chilling out during the quiet moments, the comic book aesthetic was indeed like some gritty inks I’ve seen in the past with colour, the voice acting (what I heard of it, anyway), was good, the comic booky bits looked good, and…

He’s a big feller.

That’s pretty much it. That’s… Pretty much it. Our protagonist takes up a lot of screen real estate, switches between walking and running… Well, seemingly in predetermined areas that nonetheless feel random, it switched to full screen mode whenever I came back to the main menu, keys don’t appear to be rebindable, default mouselook is fast, the first person camera has headbob you can’t turn off (and has a disorienting switch), the third person can sometimes be fucky, and there are segments where you’re forced into a different third person perspective than “behind the protagonist” (thankfully with absolute movement controls, so left is still left, right still right, and so on.)

And this was just what I saw in the first… checks… Half hour. I died precisely twice, once in the first stealth section (that one was most definitely my fault), and once in the first proper shooting segment (that… The protagonist is pretty squishy, the cover’s not great…)

Dead. And again. And again…

I’d have maybe switched to a lower difficulty (yes, there is a lower difficulty), but when I see this many problems this early on? Foreclosed was definitely not for me. I’m honestly glad I found this out early, even considering this is a review copy.

It’s a shame, really. There’s enough of interest here that if these problems were fixed, maybe it would be a fun, interesting romp, much like one of its main inspirations, XIII. But alas, it was not to be.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he looked at the television screen sky, and puffed on his neon vape. Time to get back to the grind…

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Scarlet Hollow Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (It’s sort of a season pass deal, episode 1 is £4.79, episode 2 is £5.19)
Where to Get It: Steam

Content Warnings (taken from the official site) Realistic Gore; death; dead, dying and injured animals; children in peril; child death; claustrophobia; emetophobia/vomiting; disturbing imagery and situations

Mystery horror. It’s a difficult thing to write, honestly. You’ve got to get the right balance between a sense of normality and… Something being off, before that something decides to come knocking.

And said somethings can be… Ewwwwww…

And so, Scarlet Hollow begins in a very simple way, well known to horror fans: An estranged family member, going to the family’s run down, decrepit house in a run-down, slowly dying town for their aunt’s funeral.

And it doesn’t fuck around with the “something off”, either. The guy on the bus is loud on the way there, and subtly unstable. The cat (if you can talk to animals, more on that in a sec) is a proud French asshole. There’s a forbidden wing, a seriously tired and frumpy cousin, and yes, you are very much a stranger in a strange land.

And this is before things even kick off.

So, yes, Scarlet Hollow is a visual novel, episodic, and only episodes 1 and 2 are out right now. But buy it once, and when the rest of the episodes come out, bam, they’re yours! And it’s… A really cool experience, gently unsettling until it decides to go all out, lowering and spiking the tension well… And aesthetically, it’s very on point.

Even if you’re haunted by grief and gribbleys… Don’t let your bathroom get this stanky. Seriously.

Inks abound, crosshatching, all that good pen drawing shit I know and love, and solid colour choices, muted when it needs to be, loud when it needs to be. Musically, it’s good, accessibility wise, it’s good, and it’s got… A lot of choice. Just to start off with, pronouns (YESSSS) and two special traits. For my first go through, I picked talking to animals and book smarts, and… Wow, I spent a lot of the first ep sounding like a pompous grad student, while also being dissed by Frou-Frou for butchering their native language. Ehehehe. So… Yeah, that, combined with hidden meters, meant I got a fair bit of choice paralysis, not helped by…

…Curse you, Black Tabby Games… You know about scroll-wheeling in Ren’py, and you cockblocked me. Then I shall have to save a heckuva lot

Why, bless your butterbiscuits, Gretchen, you are the sweetest little Southern Pugge I’ve ever met!

Anyway, yes, queer horror, romance options, complicated relationships… If you like a visual novel with a lot going on, then Scarlet Hollow is really good. Oh, and obviously, if any of the content warnings are triggers for you, stay away, and if they aren’t, keep an eye on the CW page for further warnings that may or may not occur.

No, dating the pug to get adorable doggy “kisses” is not an option. Sorry, go for Purrfect Date or Hatoful Boyfriend for that, and apologies.

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2000 to 1: A Space Felony (Going Back)

Source: Charity Bundle
Price: Name Your Own
Where To Get It: Itch.io

Ah, I do love a good murder mystery. I love gathering the evidence, presenting it, drawing conclusions… But y’know what I don’t love?

Not-twists. Now, not-twists come in several flavours, but one of the most common ones is a twist that is not foreshadowed in any way, shape, or form.

Every time you present evidence or collect it, this, err… Gentleman repeats your testimony on the case.

Why is this relevant? Well, we’ll get to that. First, let’s get another thing clear: This is an alright game of its genre, with relatively few statements to untangle, a fair amount of evidence to poke at, has simple controls, a nice accessibility feature in the form of the option of glowing evidence points (with obvious interactions being obvious), and can be solved in less than an hour, if you’re so inclined or already know how to solve it. Since you’re in a spacesuit, you can rotate and the like, so some motion sick folks might dislike it, and, as far as I’m aware, there’s no windowed mode or resolution changes (BOO), but this is a lesser complaint.

It even has an interesting variation on the deaths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, on which it is very obviously based (C’mon, folks, at least say it’s an homage in the game, not a tongue in cheek “This totes isn’t based on a work by a handsome and talented writer.” The latter half being a claim I dispute anyway. I won’t spoil them, but rather than the relatively simple deaths of 2001, they’re more malevolent. Although one of them is a bit iffy. MAL, old buddy, you can see through the entire ship, how would you not know about that one?

Spacer, do you know what Clemenceau once said about AI?

So, aesthetically, it works well with its low poly style. It even has some tongue in cheek references, like the helmet of one of the crew being held in their arm, as they copy the pose of T. J. Kong from Dr. Strangelove. The music pays homage to the use of classical music in 2001, the writing is mostly solid…

Except for the not-twist. For the obvious reason that this isn’t foreshadowed, you’ll play through the game and… Wait, what? Only by doing something slightly different will this ending change. And, honestly, it’s a bit of a crap ending.

So, if you’re fine with a crap ending, preferring to focus on the gathering of evidence, the asking about evidence, and the presenting thereof, well, this is a solid short game. But if not-twists piss you off as much as they do me, then I can’t really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman eagerly awaits our AI overlords. Except not, because they’ll be capitalist bastards.

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Subnautica: Below Zero (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Earlier Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2.

At first, it was hard to put into words why I was less satisfied with the finished Below Zero, despite the cool things it added, the new creatures, the weirder world, and our visitor to the world getting into Big Trouble. It’s not unsatisfying, and I would err on the side of “It’s pretty damn good”, but something bugged me.

And then I remembered the earlier draft of the story. The one I gushed about way back when.

Ah. That’s part of it.

Yes, you’re right. I definitely count two pairs of appendages that could beat the hell out of me, old lady.

See, way back when, Robin was cheery, enthusiastic. She loved the world from the get go, and Sam was the serious one, the one who covered your ass, somewhat, as things started moving. But now… Well, it’s a different Robin. A Robin who was previously Sam, come to find, uhhh… The Sam who was previously Robin.

Woman of colour as the protag, and the game doesn’t make a fuss about it? This is good, and I’d honestly like to live in a world where drawing attention to this as good wasn’t a thing I felt the need to do. But right from the get go, their zest for the world, that pep, something that I definitely resonated with… Well, it was gone. Replaced by a no-nonsense protag who, honestly, I’d have preferred way up in the sky, watching over you, adding practicality to your wonder.

Still, the rest of the game is good. I won’t say excellent, because it has less landmarks, and is therefore harder to navigate around, and a lot of the early game relies on the oxygen plants dotted around the deeper areas (I personally assume Robin just sticks her face in there and huffs it up like a bong with her rebreather) to both create tension and segments where you need them to go to certain important places. The land remains mostly a sidenote, and the sea remains, as it should be, a big focus.

It gets prettier the further down you go. And then you forget about your oxygen gauge because it’s pretty, and you sigh with your last breath.

And, lack of landmarks aside, what a sea it is. Green tinted vine caves, where thieving sea-monkeys, bombfish, their nests, and an ancient alien signal reside. The “smokestacks”, where thermal vents, giant mantis-shrimp (complete with punching action), and the first of the Big Boys resides. The forests of creepvine remain entrancing (and confusing), the coral chasm is a place of beauty, and the frozen underside of a glacier is a dangerous place where the smallest things can and will hurt you reside.

Guess where an important early game plotpoint resides? Nah, I’m kidding. It’s actually in a cave in the coral chasm.

Anyway, aesthetically, the game remains as on point as its predecessor. Underwater is beautiful, the UX remains pretty much unchanged, the neofuturist look of everything gives our intrusion a sterile feel, just as it did in the last game, and yes, the dystopian messaging of how Alterra is colonialist and crapitalist as fuck remains, although nowhere near as obvious at the beginning as it was in the earlier story version.

Yes. Alan the Alien. I fail to see why this is strange, Robin the Human-But-Not-Bird.

Overall, I’d still say that if you love the idea of survival and crafting in an alien ocean world appeals, or you enjoyed the original Subnautica, that Below Zero is worth it.

But when, like me, you remember the bright eyed and bushy tailed Robin who was thrust into WTF and somehow still remained optimistic? Well, you don’t enjoy it as much.

Still not leaving the world. Don’t wanna, can’t make me.

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