Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.99 (Game plus soundtrack £23.18, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
My word, this one is a delight. I mean, I’ve heard some… Interesting things about the developers, nothing you could repeat, mind you, but…
I am joking, I’ve heard nothing. But that’s the most fitting intro I could think of for a game set just before La Revolution, in which scheming is rife, including yours. Who shall you side with, who shall you snub, and what shall you wear, while avoiding poverty because your fiancee ran off to God knows where before you even arrived?
In any case, this is a life simulation game, in which you’re balancing various stats (it’s a relatively simple one, so it’s favour with factions and characters, money, peril, and exhaustion) while engaging in social situations in a visual novel style format. Read the text, enjoy the expressions, pick the most suitable path for you, and see what ending results (or, you know, aim for a specific one)
At the time of the review, I was, essentially, already on my way to revenge, revolution, and a lesbian romance with an older widow. Perfect path for me, honestly, I love me Dat Good Queer Shit, I dislike the Bourgeoisie, and the noblewoman who snubs you at the beginning of the game is a hateful bitch. I could have curried favour with another lady (a painter for the Queen), some men, the military, the church, but… Naaahhhhh. So, what do I like and dislike about the game, then, now I’ve mentioned this?
Aesthetically, I love it. Expressive characters, solid writing, clear UX, music that fits both the period and the mood, good tooltips… My only bitch with the UX is that when something is grayed out, this is the time to hit Escape to go back, but it does not, in fact, inform you of this. Oh, and the windowed mode going a bit fucky from time to time. But, overall, it pleases me, very good.
Now, the core gameplay loop and the writing? Oh. God. Yes. The gameplay is simple in all its elements. When you’re not at a party, you get one thing to do a day, like buying a new dress, selling or disseminating that Hot Gossip, engaging in encounters, trysts, furthering one of the stories, some days gives you invitations to parties, where declining hurts your credibility (remember, this is also the word for “Someone believing you”), and accepting sets a day aside for attending said party. When you do, you get two social encounters, picked from a pool. Do well, get nice things, maybe some bad things, like Peril (leading, obviously, to bad things. Do poorly, get more of the latter, and expect your reputation to plummet.
It’s easy to navigate, which leaves… The writing. The characters are, as mentioned, expressive visually, and it’s the same in terms of writing. Madame Honorade Gazelle (alas, a Bourgeoisie… Maybe I can persuade her otherwise), for example, is a firebrand, teetotal, but passionate, and caring not for your silly conventions. Camille, your maid… Well, I screenshotted one of her exchanges above, she’s most definitely not law abiding when she needs (or wants) to be, and a cheerful and helpful servant. Alas, not romanceable. Maybe that could be in a patch, or a DLC? After all, out of the romance options, only two are gay (out of six), and we could do with a bigger scandal, couldn’t we?
In any case, to folks who like lifesims, visual novels, and intrigue with a historical touch, this is a very good pick. I’m having a lot of fun, and I expect to have more.
Give us Camille if you want to live, developers. The villains and villainesses demand Camille. (We won’t really hurt you. Camile pweaaaasee?)
Source: Review Copy
Price: £54.99 (£79.99 with Season Pass, £26.99 Season Pass)
Where To Get It: Steam
The Sengoku period is one that is heavily used in Japanese media, and it’s for a good reason: There was drama, there was intrigue and backstabbing, and it was a time of great and bloody change. And Samurai Warriors, well… It’s been a long running Musou series, alongside Dynasty Warriors, and of the two?
Yeah, I like Samurai Warriors more. Sorry, Lu Bu.
Okay, primer on Musou games: They’re an action genre, involving cutting through vast swathes of weak enemies, fighting their commanders, taking territory rapidly, and fulfilling objectives to clear each mission, usually ending in either an escape or a boss fight. It’s twitchy, it’s button mashy, it loves high combos… And it’s grand. There’s a great feeling to slashing up tons of foes in an over the top fashion, people literally being juggled before your blades, slammed before your special attacks, and slammed into the ground by other specials.
So… Yeah, Samurai Warriors is fun. But is it accessible, does it look good, are there any critiques?
Accessibility wise, it’s solid. Aesthetically, it’s great, I’ve always loved the kinds of flair the game puts in (giant brush strokes, loud kanji, and soft 3d characters), and its music is solid. Mechanically? Well, it’s one of those simple in practice, hard to master type deals. With RPG elements like skill trees (and skill points shared between the entire cast, which means you’re going to be grinding a fair bit if you want to do it well), and skill gems, weapon skill upgrades, that sort of thing, it nonetheless eases you in nicely with the first campaign (With ya boi Oda Nobunaga), then branches out. And then, well, you’re going to be working out how to get certain side missions, getting skills, upgrading buildings… But the core remains walloping the shit out of people to get territory in a map.
Overall, I really enjoy Samurai Warriors. The difficulty curve isn’t too steep, the tutorials aren’t too heavy, and I recommend it to people wanting to get into the subgenre, or musou fans.
Where To Get It: Steam
Let’s get one thing noted right now, because I know this is going to turn folks off: Archeo – Shinar is a game with the theme of 1920s archaeology, which, as fans of history may know, was colonialist as hell. The game embraces that as a thematic element, so you are not playing some philanthropist, but an asshole, employing assholes, exploiting land, meddling in ways that distort history, and the like. So be warned.
Fortunately, it… Honestly isn’t the most engaging of games on its own. Essentially, it’s a 30 turn game, with two main segments: Planning and Management, and Expeditions. The planning phase is the meat of the game, but the expeditions are what mainly earn you the points, events, and interest of the game, with the expeditions being… Well, what your planning went toward, with some added risk management thrown in. Do you use the person good at Archeology now, or do you save him for a potential check down the line that might be much harder (or use another skill which you weren’t warned about, because he’s a really good everyman.) Succeed more than you fail, and you win reputation and money for your shameless plundering (earning artefacts you can sell on the black market for big successes, and phobias, debuffs for your explorers, on essentially chance.) Fail, and you get recompensed a small amount… Probably smaller than what you spent on it.
Meanwhile, the management is where most things happen. Do you try and sell your story to one of the papers? Who do you hire? How do you train them? Do you make them take more risks, or play it much more cautiously? What do you bring along? And what land do you bid on, to exploit for bonuses down the line? In all of this, reputation is important. Build up a good rapport with one paper, you can use it to slander the other explorer(s). Get good land, and exploit it well, get nice things. Take a risky play on the black market that pans out? Free money, awwh yiss!
Thing is, a lot of this is, effectively, a black box, even on Easy. You know what things do, and you know what the majority of checks are going to be on an expedition, but a lot of it boils down to taking a chance. And, for me, at least, it didn’t really feel enjoyable. It looks good, with a simplified style that fits the period it’s representing, some nice music, and a mostly clear UX with good tooltipping, but its humour fell flat for me, its embracing of its theme (historically accurate though it may be) didn’t sit well with me, and playing it… Well, it didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing, even though I was staying afloat, and had a hotseat to fall back on to learn the game.
And that, in the end, is what killed my engagement with it. Still, maybe others will find enjoyment, and that’s about the best I can personally say.
The Mad Welshman despises the bullshit the UK, among others has perpetuated over its history, not only in archaeology, but folklore, culture… A fair bit more than that, let’s say, in understated British fashion.
Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (OST+ BTS £7.19)
Where to Get It: Steam
I can’t really lie, but when I looked at Church In The Darkness, I was… Wary. A game about cults, especially American ones, can be… A widely variable experience, in terms of narrative quality. Often, cults are enemies, generic or otherwise. Sometimes interesting things are done with them. And, at worst, they can be games with an odd poltical slant while the company in question vehemently denies there’s any politics… Despite the fact there clearly is.
But, I’m happy to say, there are interesting things about The Church In The Darkness, even if I unfortunately couldn’t tell you everything at the time of review. After all, the cult in this game can have multiple possible actual motives. But I can tell you how it presents this cult, and how it plays, without either hitting spoiler territory, or ignoring its themes.
First, let’s begin with it being the late 1977s. Conservatives were in power (Specifically, Gerald Ford, but Watergate only having been three years previously was still in people’s minds), and were pushing back at rights movements and welfare programs alike. Vietnam had only ended two years previously, which, even today, has left its psychological scars on people. And, while there were fights for women’s rights, and the blaxploitation film movement, it was mostly a time of rising conservatism, and a bigoted focus on “Traditional Values.” And this could be argued to be one of the points from which conservatives pushed harder for using “Socialism” as a dogwhistle for everything progressive they hated in America.
Enter… The Collective Justice Mission, a radical (by 1970s standards) group, charismatic leaders and all, who’ve relocated to South America to found what they consider their ideal society, under a regime they think will support them. And enter you, Vic, a man asked to find your friend’s nephew, Alex, and try to get him away from this group. Now… Enter nuance. Enter narrative and choices.
Overall, the game is a stealth game. Vision cones, distraction tactics, going loud, going silent, going nonlethal, and procuring on site. It’s visually clear, the voice work is great, and has a few stars like Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie, playing Rebecca (Cult Leader 1) and Isaac (Cult Leader 2) respectively. The controls and play are easily understood, and it’s actively recommended you try it on easy until you’re comfortable with the idea of extra handicaps. But this, honestly, isn’t the most interesting part of it to me. And I feel that was the intention.
What was interesting, to me, was the discoveries, and the narrative. I did say it was nuanced, and I stand by that. Alex is latino. Other characters are folks of colour. Rebecaa and Isaac are… Well, they’re white, and, since their motives can differ from playthrough to playthrough, you don’t notice, at first, what kind of radicals they both are. Because, for the early game at least, they’re emphasising that this is their home, their paradise in which they’ll show America that they are wrong, and that they are right. And they’ll mention injustices, historically accurate ones, from gripes to serious matters.
And the people walking around, the wooden huts, the rural life… At first, it all seems so bright and cozy, with the exception of, you know, people shooting you when you’re detected, then locking you in an increasingly difficult to escape situation each time, with one of the cult leaders telling you that your imperialist ways won’t stop them, that no-one can stop them. And they are convincing, full of fire and brimstone when it comes to enemies, sweet and caring (at first) for their devotees. When you find Alex, no matter who you were sent to consult who is at least neutral to your presence, he’ll tell you that the cult, genuinely helped him, emotionally and physically, out of a bad situation, and he’ll even be confused by the fact his family is looking for him, considering they had previously ostracised him.
But, the more you explore, the longer it goes on, and… You start noticing there’s trouble in paradise. Alex may tell you that food is scarce, and others who let you talk to them may also tell you troubling things (Or they’ll deny that there is a problem, because the cult had, seemingly, genuinely done good things for some of its members.) But this is a cult with guns, and firing ranges. Sometimes (often) you’ll come across corporal punishments and shaming, from a public haranguing session, all the way to people being stoned and locked in cages. There are relatively few farms, relatively few people fishing.
And, over time, the tone of the respective cult leaders… Changes. In the playthrough where I’d gotten the furthest (Yes, you can, once you’ve found Alex, just book it, but I didn’t take that option once), Isaac started sounding more tired, talking like a divorced husband trying not to let the children know how bad the fights had gotten, while Rebecca… Her fire and brimstone tone got louder, talking about her allies in the South American military, and more emphasis on not being stopped. Even the documents, scattered around, show that this paradise is rotten to the core, unbeknownst to its members who form the peel.
But even when I met Isaac, snuck into his home base (notably, separated from Rebecca’s), he was loudly denouncing me as an enemy, someone who would murder him, kill his great dream… Even as I just… Stood there. Hell, I don’t think I even had a gun, at that point. And this was jarring, until I realised… Oh. Yeah. To him, I’m the Great Satan, aren’t I? No matter what I do, I want to take away one of his flock, and see what’s really going on, and that’s anathema to him. Well, shit.
Now, in the interest of balance, I will say this is probably one I want to come back to, not just because I find the narrative as presented so far interesting and pretty well presented, but because I want to see if it stays that way. It isn’t the easiest to sneak around, and I have to do a lot of sneaking around, with the rare villagers’ clothing not being as big a help as you’d think. Which, again, makes mechanical sense, as everyone here knows each other. Clothes or no, get close enough, and they’ll recognise you as an outsider, as other.
But, overall, I feel it goes interesting places, and I do want to explore its multiple motivations, its multiple potential endings. And that’s a good sign.
The Mad Welshman believes in giving interesting narrative its fair due. And there’s… A lot to unpack here.