Abyss of the Sacrifice (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £30.99 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The game has the following CWs: Mentions of suicide, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, parental abuse, and human experimentation.

Hrm. Hrm, and other thoughtful noises.

The characters have, at times, a seriously rocky relationship. And there’s good reasons, plural.

Abyss of the Escape is a visual novel/escape room game, in which five girls are trapped, seemingly alone, in the ruins of FOUNDATION, an underground home for humanity after the surface basically got fucked. And shit’s not going well for them, not helped by certain things along the way, and the secrets and traumas each person has. It’s interesting, dark stuff.

It’s such a shame then, that it’s timeline implementation is awkward, and many of its puzzles are obtuse, some downright frustrating in their lack of information. I had to rely on hints for a fair few puzzles, and a few, in particular, I would not have found the solutions to without either pixel hunting, or looking the solution up. All I will say about that, if you play it, is that two numbers you haven’t lit up are hidden inside another, single digit number. It must also be said that some of the puzzles feel out of place for the situation.

Huh, big barrier in the garbage room? What purpose did that serve, except to arbitrarily separate the two characters involved for a dual viewpoint puzzle? Making tea? Good Doctor, I understand that you don’t want to let your daughter near your best tea, but an entire puzzle about tea making is only going to interest the tea fanatics. Who will then get turned off by the puzzle lock on the crucial ingredient. Although the last puzzle of that scene did fit the character of the Doctor.

I kicked myself after realising the solution. And this is an early puzzle.

And these two faults kind of taint the whole experience, which is a shame, because there’s some legitimately good writing in there, including the main twist. The rather heavily foreshadowed main twist.

Aesthetically, it works. Clear UX, some good illustrations, solid music, some good VA, and overall, as noted, good writing, because a good twist is foreshadowed, but even heavy foreshadowing works if it doesn’t quite make sense until the twist.

But yes, the awkward implementation of the timeline, some obtuse and sometimes arbitrary puzzles, they bring the game from legitimately good and interesting, to a cautious recommendation with heavy qualifications.

See this? THESE HELP PEOPLE GET INTO YOUR GAME IF IT’S A TADGE BIG.

Timelines, VN devs. I’ll stress this and stress this until it sinks in. Timelines. They make our lives easier.

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Leak Elite (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Leak Elite is the kind of game I’d normally like a lot. It has a storyline about a group of hackers, who aren’t after some evil corporation, just leaking emails, fucking with people, enjoying the process. It has strategy puzzle elements. It would normally be extremely my jam.

It looks like a simple map, doesn’t it?

But it doesn’t tutorialise well. Beyond the absolute basics, it tells you… Nothing. Ah, okay, I’m meant to block the spawn of a follower using this deallocation, wot removes a tile. This is the first time I’m doing it, game… How?

I didn’t actually work out how. I knew it had something to do with patience, with waiting for patrol paths, so the spawn got blocked… But the security requirement was tight, so I ended up with no clue what to do.

Which is a shame, because its lo-fi aesthetic is pretty good. Its tunes are pretty chill. Its chat logs are… Well, they are indeed believable for a group like this, even down to the casual ableist slur.

Yup.

But when two of the beginning server nodes, including the important one, are rough af to deal with? Well, that’s a bad sign, and, not being able to complete what’s effectively the tutorial mission, I bowed out.

Sorry, Leak Elite. You are, in fact, too Elite for me. Maybe hardcore strategy puzzle fans will get it better than I did. Maybe not. We’ll have to see.

(EDIT: Since the release of this review, the developer has changed security requirements for some of the levels, and clarified the final part of the first mission. So yes, if you have problems, let the developer know, and please give your feedback constructively.)

Leak Elite, as it turns out, was too 1337 for my n00b ass.

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Umurangi Generation (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £3.99, DLC £7.19 (good stuff), Soundtrack for DLC £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Photography is one hell of a thing. Like all art, it can show beauty or ugliness. It creates feelings, and often informs. And so, Umurangi Generation is all about… Just that. In each area, get all 10 basic photos (and five bonus objectives), and get more tools to take more photos.

Your four friends. Remember, it doesn’t count as taking a photo of them if even one is left out. Who would leave a cute penguin friend out? Monsters, that’s who.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Hahaha, it’s not. In many respects. Control wise, it is actually that simple. Hold up camera, take photos, get money, although you get more for photos with lots of objects in that have lots of colours. You can even fiddle with exposure, colour balance, and tint, if you think it looks cool. Take the photos you’re asked for, get to the red marker, always where you start (the yellow one is a sign for the postcard objective), hit E, you’re done. Do it in 10 minutes for extra kudos.

But it’s not that simple, for a couple of reasons. First, some of your objectives are out of the way, difficult to find, or outright hidden. Sometimes, you need a specific lens, which makes it tough to deal with. And, the further you go on, the further you realise these are, essentially, postcards from hell.

I needlessly tilted that one, but… Yeah, shit’s going to hell…

At first, it’s subtle. You can just about see a UN blockade in the first area. Then it becomes more obvious: The troops are here, and the world is somewhat fucked. And the folks high up? They don’t give a fuck. It’s a dystopian future, which you’re living through and documenting… Just like photojournalists covering some of the events of the modern day.

Some of it, yes, is fantastical, like the Squids, but it’s all couched in a sense of reality, however strange it may seem. The UN soldiers on break are lounging around, smoking. The people of the city are… People. And it’s all with a sense of its location, a Maori world, with their symbols and culture… And graffiti and snaps you need to take… That paint the whole, grim picture.

They may be chilling out now… But things are going to hell.

Climate change, war, the price of rampant capitalism… All seen through a camera lens. You’re just trying to get by, in a world getting closer to apocalypse, a world where the leaders desert their duty because they don’t see it as a serious problem… A world that can feel all too real.

It’s a solid, sometimes depressing, sometimes beautiful game. It engages with its subjects through its level design, and I’d highly recommend it. Well, except for folks for whom this will be too depressing.

The Mad Welshman admits he got too-real vibes. Yes, even during the bigger stuff.

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Cats Organised Neatly and Box Cats Puzzle (Review(s))

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: CON £1.99. Box Cats £1.69
Where To Get Them: Steam (CON) and Steam (Box Cats)

After a bit of thought, I’d decided to lump two games together for this one: Cats Organised Neatly, and Box Cat Puzzle. Mainly because the basic idea is the same: Fit cats into boxes. They’re around the same price, as well. But, while the basic concept is the same, both are subtly different experiences. Different flavours of cat herding, if you will.

Yup, those are definitely cats, they are cute, and they’re being organised neatly. The advertising standards commission is content.

Of the two, I’d say that Cats Organised Neatly is the more fleshed out game. A chill vibe, cute cats, rotation, a gallery of catte… Its puzzles, however, get nastier quickly. Box Cat Puzzle, meanwhile, is less polished. There is none of this rotation bollocks, you know where you stand with the pieces… Even if they’ve got a minimal representation until you place them.

But placing them, again, brings a different vibe. Cats Organised Neatly’s cats are cute. They are uniformly cute. They make you go d’aww regardless. The idealised form of cat, the cats cat owners see when they’re not seeing their cat be catlike in the “I own you, not the other way around” moments. While Box Cat Puzzle is very… Yup, they are definitely cats. Yes, sometimes they’re cute. But I chose the screenshot below for a reason.

I mean, let’s face it, that’s a work of god-damn art. <3

Okay, two, I just couldn’t help but appreciate the aesthetics of four cats in a circle licking their balls. This, too, is part of Cat Life. Box Cat Puzzle also has an editor, which is a nice feature.

They are similar. Not the same, each having their own flavour, little differences that make them their own works. But I chose to review them together for one simple reason…

Regardless of the fact that both are good in their way (although you’ll quickly tire of Box Cat’s music loop, so points deducted, and both have elements in their UX that are less than clear, namely the back button in Cats Organised Neatly actually being the way you get to both the menu and the puzzle select (ARGH), and the buttons that aren’t “get the pieces out of the box” in Box Cat, it’s… Kinda hard to write a lot of words around a puzzle game about putting cats in boxes. So, since I had two to hand… Why not both?

Both is good. Both are, in their own way, good. And if you like a puzzle game involving cats, well, these are both cheap options that provide some fun. And that ain’t bad.

Cats own people. Not the other way around. All cat owners know this… Well, except the ones cats have trained particularly early…

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Superliminal (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £5.79)
Where To Get It: Steam

Perspective is a very funny thing. It can trick us. It can aid us, although not always in time. Looking at it differently allows us to change, or to empathise with others. But it can also damn us if we don’t change it.

How does that bear on a puzzle game in which you seem to be trapped in an Augmented Reality meant to be for your therapy? Well… Everything. Because fighting through the nightmare you find yourself in requires you to look at things a different way. Here, let me illustrate.

This was quite small before. And now it’s big. Because I decided it was big, and made it so by shifting my perspective.

Take the nearest cuboid object to you that you can lift easily. For me, it’s one of my vape juice containers. Hold it up at arms length in front of you. Looks okay, right? Now hold it in between your eyes, and, as expected, it looks bigger. Hold it end first, and, as expected, it looks longer.

So far, so expected, right? Well, the thing about Superliminal is that changing the perception of an object’s size changes its size. You have to pick something up to do it, but essentially, every puzzle is about perspective, be it looking at things from a certain angle to turn them into objects, picking something up and holding it in such a way it appears bigger to make it bigger, or smaller, understanding how perspective can trick us into thinking there’s no hole in a shadowy room, even if the room’s well lit…

From this, I conclude that the protagonist is a fan of Rage Against The Machine. What a coincidence, so am I!

Perspective. And the way the story progresses is also about perspective. Although I really can’t explain how, or why it’s connected to feelings of hopelessness, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety… Without getting into massive spoiler territory. Hell, just saying that has spoiled something for a fair few people.

But I like it, even if some puzzles are infuriating. Apples. Ohhhh, apples have been the bane of my existence at least once. You will scream when you get one in particular. Please don’t throw things. You probably need those things you want to throw. Deep breaths… Deeeeep breaths.

Better? Good.

Because… Everything is going wrong? Okay, in the context, this is fitting to the game, but I couldn’t resist…

In any case, even though it’s a somewhat short game if you know exactly what to do, it all comes together pretty neatly in the end with an “Ah” moment (probably combined with a “You bastard” moment), its puzzles, while sometimes infuriating, are clever, and, for puzzle fans, this one comes recommended.

But that’s just my perspective. Maybe you’ll see it. Maybe you’ll have to shift your head around a bit to see it. Maybe you never will.

The Mad Welshman has to see a hero(ine)’s perspective. How else can he craft his easily escaped deathtraps so they find it easy to escape?

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