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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Abyss Manager (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Sometimes, a game changes in Early Access. Quite dramatically, at times. Others… Not so much. Case in point: Abyss Manager, a game where, last time I looked at it, I effectively said that the game didn’t want to be played, what with poor tutorialisation, lots and lots of grind, and, due to a big part of that grind being trying to balance beefy bastards of various species trying to kick down your door as a dungeon keeper, tournaments between other dungeon keepers, exploration, research, building up your funds… And beefy bastards takes up the majority of that time. And this, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crying shame, because there’s a cool research tree. Exploration is an interesting idea, even if its implementation is pretty basic: Send X of your employees to a site, hopefully pass a skill check, get loot.

FFFFFFFFFF-

…Come to think of it, most of the systems in the game are like that. It’s a very dry game. It’s colourful, aesthetically, with some good lo-fi spritework, but battling is the majority of what you do, and everything else… Well, it’s just kind of there, and some of it (exploration and matches) will take some of your most powerful creatures away from either employment or the battlefield for several turns (As in, easily 7-10, sometimes more.)

As such, there really… Isn’t much to say. The grind still exists, as bad as before, the systems are ho-hum, the aesthetic can’t really save it from that, and, even turn based as it is, it’s somewhat stressful to play. I find myself struggling to write more, and so… I guess I’ll finish up by saying that, alas, things didn’t improve, and I can’t recommend this unless you’re really a fan of grind. It’s no doubt added some things, but… I can’t see them, precisely because the overall experience is dry and unappealing.

Yup. It’s pretty much a loss all round.

The Mad Welshman sighs. Sometimes he hates his job.

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Autonauts (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Robots can be frustrating things. Colonists and their needs can be frustrating things. So… What happens when you put them together? Well, it sure ain’t cherry pie, friends. So… Autonauts is a colony building game, but instead of a group of colonists you control (directly or indirectly), it’s robots. Robots you… “Program.”

I would say we’ll get to that in a second, but no, it’s a core issue with why I find the game so damn frustrating. It’s got a programming language, programming limitations, but, apart from being able to delete instructions, what is it actually? It’s monkey-see, monkey-do. You set the robot to record actions, you do the things, and… Once you’ve done that, you’d think it was over, right?

This, funnily enough, still doesn’t seem to do the job right. If only I had… A variable to compare rather than a binary state…

Well, not quite. You can change some conditions, such as loop conditions, but without knowing that (It doesn’t actually teach you that explicitly, you have to futz with that menu you see (or know Scratch, and how it does that too) to know this.) But otherwise, there’s not a lot of programming going on, and, since the robots were designed by the Department of Cut Corners, the early game is a massive drag for several reasons. Let’s start with getting your basic industry up and running.

So, in the tutorial, it tells you you need three robots to log and replant an area. Fine, cool, this is technically true. What it doesn’t tell you is that, if you don’t want to be rushing around trying to fill every one of their needs, from recharging (the default bot’s battery life can best be described as “Shit”) to needing tools when they break, you’ll want an extra two bots, one for recharging, one for making tools, a set of crates to put those tools in, and to go back and adjust the robots so they get a tool from the crate when theirs is broken. Not to mention the log chopping bots, the plank chopping bots, the storing bots, the recharge bots for all of these, the mining bot, the stone storing bot, the charging bot for those

Pictured: A bot about to run out of battery, halting progress until I recharge him, because I hadn’t, at this early point, realised you can program a robot to recharge other robots (Disclaimer: A robot needs to not be charged for this instruction to be programmed.)

And until you have that basic logging and mining setup, you’re going to be manually doing a lot of this work. Does it get any easier later on? Not… Really. Because then, there are colonists. Who are factories of a resource called, no joke, Wuv. Suffice to say, I have very little Wuv for these parasites, because while I and the robots are working our asses off to fill their pyramid of needs, they… Well, they don’t really do anything except generate Wuv. Which you need for research to improve their needs, and…

Oh shit. We’ve got more industries to deal with. Which you’ll be setting up bots for. You can, to be fair, make this slightly easier by… Building several robots to build robots, a specified number, rather than an infinite loop. That way, you can just hit play on up to four bots to build a more complicated bot. (their charging bot is always active unless it loses battery, and no, another charging bot won’t solve the problem, it’ll just delay it a fair bit (Unless their batteries run down simultaneously early))

But I hope I’m getting across my main problem with this game: It is perhaps the most busywork colony builder I’ve come across in a while, because there’s not much breathing room for things to just work without… Oh. Yeah. Doing the legwork to build, program, and equip several bots for a single task that… I dunno, maybe those lazy bastards we’re feeding, clothing, and housing could help with?

Okay, arable land, check… Cooking pot, check… Wait, crap, now I need, like, three or four new robots. Per meal type. SOD.

Aesthetically, by the way, it’s quite pleasing. Nice low poly look, good sound, the music is… Well, it’s meant to be relaxing, but, as you might gather, it hasn’t helped a lot. It has clear menus (Although it should be noted that the Blueprint encyclopedia is also the “What’s in the world” encyclopedia. So you know), the Scratch interface for robots is somewhat clear (Yes, I missed conditional loops for hours, so you can imagine how frustrated I was before this small, but very significant detail was spotted), so… This is alright.

But I have to admit, I’m not having fun with it. My colonists are parasites, my robots are flawed, and for every new task I need to do, there’s a lot more setup than is perhaps necessary, and I didn’t feel like the tutorialising was clear. Is it an interesting approach to a colony building game? Yes. Is it unfortunately an unenjoyable romp into this territory? Well, for me, at least, it was.

The Mad Welshman does count his blessings. At least it’s not the SP10 series we’re using.

Okay, that one was a little obscure, even for me.

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Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

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Archeo: Shinar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
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.

Yes, they are massive assholes.

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.

Oh look, it’s our old “buddy” Frans! He’s going to get a phobia in just a second, and he deserves 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.

Yes, there is also a lootbox joke. SIGH.

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.

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