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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Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99 (Plus artbook £3.99, and some item DLC, ho-hum)
Where To Get It: Steam

Step based RPGs (A first person style of RPG where you move in discrete steps, hence the name) are, when done well, a delight. When they have an interesting world, some interesting gimmicks, good balance, and well written characters, I’m happy.

So it was pretty pleasing to come across Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. Which has all of these, and a little more.

Madame Dronya, and her Resting Bitch Face.

The general idea, at least at the start (There are, of course, twists. Big ones) is that an asshole witch is looking for a gateway to the land of the dead, found in a dungeon complex, deadly to humans because of its Miasma (a supernatural fog), inside a well in a small town. Ah, okay, not a protagonist you can sympathise with, huh?

Well… It’s a little more complicated than that. But still… The story gets interesting quick (Although there is some content warning worthy stuff, like an encounter where a priestess presumably forcibly gets it on with the witch protagonist (played for laughs, but I winced), and, naturally, death. Lots of death, for reasons which become clear as you play.

As to the game? Well, the simplest way I could put it is “It’s one of the closest things to Etrian Odyssey we’re going to get on PC until Atlus puts Etrian Odyssey on PC”, but that would, honestly, be reductive. It’s a step based RPG, with automapping, and, shortly into the game, knowledge of where the enemies are. This is useful, because, in the case of enemies early in the dungeon, once you’ve levelled to the point they’re absolutely no problem at all, it’s best to avoid the tedium (and there are reasons to go back to level 1, although, fair warning, don’t do it early.

See that thing on the right? That thing on the right is going to ruin your day if you don’t prepare for lots of them.

However, it’s not always useful, as, for example, there’s an area in one of the first proper dungeons where you’re trapped in an area with several rocky bastards (do not bring fire element attacks to this fight, you will die horribly), with a high ambush rate, and so, unless you know beforehand that it’s there, you’re going to have a nasty surprise.

And death, itself, can be a nasty surprise. After all, your adventurers aren’t the witch and company. They’re puppets, magical dolls imbued with souls of adventurers gone by, and, if they die, or if a special attack to break their parts hits, and does its job (like many status attacks, it doesn’t always), well, their effectiveness is lessened until you get back home, and repair those parts… If you have the resources. Higher level dolls need higher level parts.

I like this. I like the class system. I like the way parts of the game’s mechanics are unveiled slowly, from mapping, to enemy sight and ambushing, to villager quests, better dolls, checkpoints, shops… And I love the aesthetic. Good music, great voice acting, interesting enemy and character designs for this weird, dark world, and a clear UX. My only problem is that sometimes, the path forward is distinctly unclear. Oh, I have to threaten this lady? I have to say no to the statue which turns out to be a bit bonkers? Ah… This was less than clear, game.

Oh, this poor swampy dryad…

But, overall, Labyrinth of Refrain is a solid RPG experience, and I like it quite a lot.

The Mad Welshman does love him some Etrian Odyssey style shenanigans. It’s such a shame that firstly, Etrian Odyssey isn’t on PC, and secondly, experiences like it are a gamble, pleasure wise…

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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.

(more…)

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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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