World of Horror (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

Content Warning: This game has body horror and mutilation imagery, mentions of suicide, self harm, and murder.

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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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Coffee Talk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29 (Artbook £3.99, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It is 2020. Elves, dwarves, orcs, fairies, demons… They all live in this alternate world… And they all have everyday lives. And they’ve got the same happinesses (mostly), the same drama (mostly), and the same problems (sorta mostly) as we do. And Coffee Talk, through the medium of a late night coffee shop, explores those lives in its fictional setting.

And yet, I’m almost certain somebody among my readership is thinking “It would be so hot though!”

I’m loving some of the little things. The joking between a vampire and a werewolf about werewolves using BDSM as a method for calming themselves during a fury (myth, in the setting. Some werewolves can calm themselves with sex, but for obvious risk reasons, they stick to vanilla.) The little things that remain the same, like people who’ve been there before giving advice to those going through troubles (Yeah, really is best not to leave issues unresolved, because yeah, they fester. Ain’t good for anyone. Wise advice, cop in a computer game.)

And, here’s the thing: Even though there’s wider story, a wider world out there, it’s these little stories, these slices of people’s lives, that are important. And I can only talk about so many, not only for space reasons, but spoiler reasons too. But I do want to mention that there’s one point that directly engages with the concept of fantasy allegories of racism, with a writer in this world pointing out that yes, there are different species to be racist about, but that wouldn’t mean that racism as a concept wouldn’t exist if there are only humans. And, of course, we know it to be true.

I did have a picture of making latte, but I deleted my picture of making latte art. Some things are too horrible for the world to see…

Now, mechanically, it’s very simple: Brew the drinks the customers want, or brew specific ones. There’s a pretty robust save function, and while, unfortunately, there isn’t a multiple save system, you can go back to previous days, and there are three profiles to play with… And the writing’s good enough that I’m reasonably sure you’ll have an okay time playing through. But also, as a free hint, be aware that the order of the ingredients is as important as the type of the ingredients. I learned that the hard way, and several saves and loads, my first time playing. I wanted to make sure I got a specific drink right, you see. And that, basically, is the mechanics: Make the kind of drinks you’d make in a coffee shop, what the customers want, and the story will progress. Make the wrong kinds of drinks, and you may just find other things, maybe good, maybe bad, will happen.

But of course, a visual novel, for that’s basically what it is, stands on its writing (It’s good, if you hadn’t got that from my two paragraphs of gushing), and its aesthetics. And its aesthetics, the pixel art of the various characters, their designs, the simple and clear UX (the menu is a little small, but not tiny. Just a little small), and the chill beats really sell the atmosphere of a warm, welcoming place where people can talk to the mysterious barista, each other, and be… Be themselves.

Catgirls, orc girlfriends… It’s like they know how to push them buttons…

I like Coffee Talk. And I’d recommend it. There’s not really anything more to say.

Except that no, I will never screenshot my attempts at latte art.

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Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the World of Darkness. A world of gothic woe, and equally gothic reaching for hope that is, in the long run, doomed to failure. Where supernatural creatures, indubitably powerful, nonetheless hide in the modern world, because yes, people would kill the hell out of them once they learned how if they were public. Well, actually, considering kink culture, probably not if they played their cards right. But anyway!

This woman is honestly pretty sympathetic. She’s gone through a lot.

This is a visual novel that, like another World of Darkness product I’d reviewed before (Preludes) is meant to be a sort of introduction to the world with the story of a newly embraced vampire, from one of three clans: Ventrue, the Blueblood powermongers. Brujah, the philosopher warriors turned anti-authoritarian. And Toreador, those who value art, even as their own artistic talent is crushed by the Embrace. And this is where people might start disliking the game, because the overarching story will remain the same in each playthrough, the main differences being how they lived and were embraced, and the person they’d known before their embrace. Add in that you can’t recruit more than two characters on a single playthrough, and definitely can’t do all the sidequests in the time you have, adds a little replay value, but if it being a shortish game is a big turnoff to you, or the general narrative arc remaining the same, then… This is not for you.

A fine example of the luscious painting style. Goshdarn, this is good stuff.

I don’t personally think of that as a bad thing. Nor do I think of the fact that it’s only really possible to fail at the very beginning as bad. Because I ask myself “What is the goal here?” And the answer comes up the same: It’s to tell a story, to immerse you into a world. Yes, that world is, in the World of Darkness, a world where even supernatural life, especially in the beginning, can be nasty, brutish, and short. But a game with that aspect would prove, as it has for me when sitting at the more adversarial tabletop sessions, unenjoyable. There is an interesting world, and the developers want to show it.

It helps that, aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. The characters and places are lushly painted, the writing is good, providing insight into this setting, and the UX is not bad at all. The soundscape, similarly, is pleasant, fitting with the scenes in question. Accessibility wise, resizable text is good. My only gripe, settings wise, is that there is no windowed mode.

I will note, however, that this guy has some serious Plan 9 vibes. Those eyes! <3

So, as such? My opinion is that it does precisely what it sets out to do: To tell a short story, from three potential perspectives, with potential choices for exploring other clans in the game, and aspects of a vampire’s life. It is, basically, a way to get you into the setting, to explore it a little and entice you to explore it further. And, again, I don’t really see that as a bad thing.

So yes, I don’t see the turnoffs as turnoffs myself, although I can perfectly understand if they are for you, the person thinking “Should I buy this?” My answer is that it’s a solid, short, story led visual novel with great art, good writing, and tight design.

The Mad Welshman values three things: Is it aesthetically consistent? Is it tightly designed? Is it interesting? This ticks those boxes.

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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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