Subnautica: Below Zero (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Earlier Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2.

At first, it was hard to put into words why I was less satisfied with the finished Below Zero, despite the cool things it added, the new creatures, the weirder world, and our visitor to the world getting into Big Trouble. It’s not unsatisfying, and I would err on the side of “It’s pretty damn good”, but something bugged me.

And then I remembered the earlier draft of the story. The one I gushed about way back when.

Ah. That’s part of it.

Yes, you’re right. I definitely count two pairs of appendages that could beat the hell out of me, old lady.

See, way back when, Robin was cheery, enthusiastic. She loved the world from the get go, and Sam was the serious one, the one who covered your ass, somewhat, as things started moving. But now… Well, it’s a different Robin. A Robin who was previously Sam, come to find, uhhh… The Sam who was previously Robin.

Woman of colour as the protag, and the game doesn’t make a fuss about it? This is good, and I’d honestly like to live in a world where drawing attention to this as good wasn’t a thing I felt the need to do. But right from the get go, their zest for the world, that pep, something that I definitely resonated with… Well, it was gone. Replaced by a no-nonsense protag who, honestly, I’d have preferred way up in the sky, watching over you, adding practicality to your wonder.

Still, the rest of the game is good. I won’t say excellent, because it has less landmarks, and is therefore harder to navigate around, and a lot of the early game relies on the oxygen plants dotted around the deeper areas (I personally assume Robin just sticks her face in there and huffs it up like a bong with her rebreather) to both create tension and segments where you need them to go to certain important places. The land remains mostly a sidenote, and the sea remains, as it should be, a big focus.

It gets prettier the further down you go. And then you forget about your oxygen gauge because it’s pretty, and you sigh with your last breath.

And, lack of landmarks aside, what a sea it is. Green tinted vine caves, where thieving sea-monkeys, bombfish, their nests, and an ancient alien signal reside. The “smokestacks”, where thermal vents, giant mantis-shrimp (complete with punching action), and the first of the Big Boys resides. The forests of creepvine remain entrancing (and confusing), the coral chasm is a place of beauty, and the frozen underside of a glacier is a dangerous place where the smallest things can and will hurt you reside.

Guess where an important early game plotpoint resides? Nah, I’m kidding. It’s actually in a cave in the coral chasm.

Anyway, aesthetically, the game remains as on point as its predecessor. Underwater is beautiful, the UX remains pretty much unchanged, the neofuturist look of everything gives our intrusion a sterile feel, just as it did in the last game, and yes, the dystopian messaging of how Alterra is colonialist and crapitalist as fuck remains, although nowhere near as obvious at the beginning as it was in the earlier story version.

Yes. Alan the Alien. I fail to see why this is strange, Robin the Human-But-Not-Bird.

Overall, I’d still say that if you love the idea of survival and crafting in an alien ocean world appeals, or you enjoyed the original Subnautica, that Below Zero is worth it.

But when, like me, you remember the bright eyed and bushy tailed Robin who was thrust into WTF and somehow still remained optimistic? Well, you don’t enjoy it as much.

Still not leaving the world. Don’t wanna, can’t make me.

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Cloud Gardens (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Sooner or later, everything falls to ruin. Everything returns to nature. And Cloud Gardens, as much an experience as a puzzle game, is all about that. All about making it happen. And, in its sandbox mode, all about making something that will look all the more… Bleakly beautiful, once it’s been overgrown, nature triumphing over the works of man.

The steel may be rusted, but the plants, the plants are always verdant, the colours of life steel cannot match.

Yes, that’s a very poetic way of putting things. It’s that kind of game, even though there’s not a single word spoken. Like how a cactus in a corner, with bricks around it, and the fact that candles were my items for the majority of it… Led to a sort of shrine. It’s meditative. It’s quiet. And the only sounds are the ambient music, the light thuds as you place items near your plants (in order to make them grow), the rustle of growth, and the gentle, echoing drips as you replenish water from harvesting seeds, to make new plants.

This game isn’t perfect. It tutorialises well, but some of its areas are tricky as hell (especially the overpass signs early on), and it’s sometimes hard to see elements, leading to confusion as to why you aren’t either losing because you haven’t overgrown the world enough, or being given more stuff.

Who knows why those chairs are there. Maybe they sat, to witness the end. Maybe they were forgotten, the remains of a picnic. Their story may never be known.

But overall… Cloud Gardens is an interesting puzzle experience, with a good aesthetic to it, and simple, yet gripping play. Although the theme might make some folks depressed.

The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day…

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure whether to call this calming, or depressing. Probably both.

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Subnautica: Below Zero (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1

Ah, Subnautica. An oceanic first person survival game, a bit of a rarity as a subgenre, and damn, was it beautiful. Even though the ending had you leaving the planet, I never got there, because I loved the sea too much. Still, Below Zero, its sequel, has changed the planet, or at least the region… New meter, new creatures, new overarching threats… Looking forward to more of it, just as I have before…

These are not optimal conditions for a re-entry, asshole!!!

But… Below Zero’s new story… There are some beats that are the same from when I last looked at it, and there are certainly some interesting changes, but… I don’t know, it doesn’t grab me as much. Maybe that’s due to the lines not being voiced yet, because, I freely admit, I loved Robin’s voice (and her enthusiasm, in the old story, about the world she was researching.) Maybe it’s that it has a similar start to the previous game, but with a little extra boneheadedness (Okay, going to find out what happened? Good. Flying close to a meteorite on descend? Nooooot so smart.) But… As a starting point, I am going to say that the story hasn’t been grabbing me, so far, as much as it had previously.

Ah, Sea Monkeys… My old enemy…

ALAN remains interesting, though. And so, funnily enough, does the world of Subnautica, now frostier than its previous incarnation. And the threats, also, have changed. I was surprised by the brinefish my first time, and, holy shit, I almost died from the innocuous little bastards. You see… They freeze you. And naturally, if you’re frozen underwater, and you’re close to running out of oxygen… You’re very… Very dead. Add to this the creatures I’d previously talked about, the Sea Monkeys (who steal shit from your hands), among quite a few others, and you’ve already got some new, interesting wrinkles in the world.

Ohhh, don’t worry, players… Bombfish are still there, and they’ll still do their best to kill you while you try to harvest that sweet, sweet sulfur.

Not pictured… The sound of something angry which isn’t close… But I don’t know how “Not-close” it is…

Aesthetically, the game remains as pleasing as its previous incarnation, with the soundscape really immersing you, letting you know there are threats around, and otherwise so calming, the musical stings being relatively rare… And visually, the world is as intriguing as its previous incarnation.

Essentially, if you want to try oceanic survival games in a science fiction world, Subnautica and this sequel remain the top of their field, and, despite my lukewarm reception to the new story, I still heavily recommend this, and look forward to where it’s going.

Still not leaving once I’m mostly done with the plot, Subnautica team. Can’t make me!

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Besiege (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back when it entered Early Access, Besiege was a darling of streamers who loved contraption games. In a sense, I can see why they liked it. In another, it’s… Not the friendliest of games. But I can definitely see the appeal.

An attempt at building a rocket launcher. This failed.

Okay, so, the unfriendliness is a good start, because, honestly, this is going to be the biggest turn off. UX wise, the menu options are tiny. And, apparently, UI scaling was at its biggest level when I ran it, so… Yeah, that needs a rework, folks. You can do bigger than that. Indeed, only by zooming into the planet menu was I able to see where the heck I was meant to go for the first world. Secondly… Building, and the tutorialisation thereof.

I get that it’s a toolbox to play with, and that experimenting is at least some of the fun, really I do. But how, pray tell, do I stop a bomb exploding instead of launching it? I don’t know. How do I aim a rocket well? I don’t know. How do I give my poor siege engine four wheel drive? This, I had to look up. Turns out you can rebind keys on individual parts. It ain’t the friendliest. You need boomy things to kersplode rock or brick. This, at least, I got.

Boom. Playing with bombs is rather difficult. I still haven’t worked out how to do it.

And I will admit that finding an unexpected solution to an early puzzle was amusing and interesting. You can see it pictured below. Well, the aftermath, anyway. Basically, bomb on top, what was meant to be a hinged holder for the bomb, with a piston to launch said bomb toward the obelisk I was meant to destroy. On the downside, the hinge tilted back, as it was meant to… And the entire machine exploded. On the upside, the machine did not, in this particular case, have to survive to do the job, as the burning, flying parts of my machine formed a giant, impromptu shotgun blast, and blew the obelisk to smithereens.

I don’t really see it catching on, though. Bit of an expensive solution for a medieval civilisation, that.

VICTORIOUS! What do you mean, is it sustainable? PFAH!

But I’ll also admit that some levels were just plain fun. Kill 70% of a group of knights and archers? Well, I added a few saw blades to the sides of my poorly steering machine (remember how I said I wanted to know how to 4WD that puppy? Well, I hadn’t learned it by that point. By the end of the fight, one of my wheels had fallen off, but the knights foolishly leapt forward, and were torn to shreds. The archers had been eviscerated just as they managed to shoot off one of my wheels. Somehow. With arrows.

Aesthetically, its low poly look is appealing, as is the calm, relaxing, and ambient tunes that form the background of… Well, blowing shit up, stealing things with grabbers, building improbable machines, and generally causing objective based chaos. But it’s very much a niche sort of game, and the unfriendliness of it isn’t… Well, it isn’t making a friend of me, for sure. Still, it’s relatively cheap, it’s got a lot of levels to it, and you can, if you really work at it, make some utterly ridiculous machines. So it’s got that going for it.

Obligatory worldmap shot!

The Mad Welshman, honestly, just wants to see his machines burn. That’s the best part.

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Subnautica: Below-Zero (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 2

Ahhh, sunny Subnautica, where the equatorial ice shi- wait, what? Equatorial region… iced?

Yes, folks, welcome to Subnautica: Below Zero, sequel to Subnautica where it appears either the world is stranger than first appears, or the crash of the Aurora was a major boo-boo that affected the climate drastically. It’s still a beautiful world, but now… It’s a beautiful, cold world, eyeball penguins and everything. And, like me, the player avatar is very excited to be there, being a xenolinguist who finally has a job.

“If you find useful tech, we’ll pay you less than it’s worth, and buy out your rights. If you find cultural items, we’ll just take ’em. Alterra, BECAUSE WE CARE [More about what you reap than you]”

Unfortunately for her, the Alterra Corporation is still a dystopian futurist hellscape, the alien artefact shenanigans are due for a repeat, but, like me, Robin Goodall loves the heck out of the world of Subnautica, even in the deepest of Arctic winters. Even when it really seems like she’s going to have a terrible time.

Right, quick refresher: Subnautica was a first-person survival adventure set on an oceanic world, where things started a little annoying (Grab X Lea- where the heck do I get lead? Oh, near the HELLBEAST. Great), but was able to shift its focus very quickly toward a more exploration based playstyle, with a moderately strong narrative about the sole survivor of a star cruiser being shot down, and their encounters with the lost technology (some of it very self-destructive) left behind by a now seemingly extinct alien species. There was a lot of swimming, submarining, and, while your goal was to leave the planet, many, myself included, felt the world was too pretty to really leave. Below Zero is, effectively, more of the same.

Since the MYSTERY starts earlier, I can post the obligatory MYSTERY screenshot now, yay!

There isn’t a whole lot of story in the game as of yet, but what Below Zero currently has going for it is that the main conflicts are established within the first couple of hours: An unfriendly remnant of the alien race that (indirectly) caused all the trouble in the previous game, the Alterra corporation (Who would want to exploit the alien tech that… Caused all the trouble in the previous game), and, of course, the world being colder, and somewhat different to the world we knew. Oh, still mostly oceanic, still beautiful as hell… But, for example, gigantic mantis shrimp are now a problem you didn’t have before, and the bubbling filter plants of the previous game have given way to other filter plants, that give a burst of oxygen, then deflate for a while. Cold hasn’t yet been implemented, but if the heating pads or strange, radiator like eyeball flowers (Which burn you if you stand too close to them) are any indication, it probably will be.

Subnautica’s world remains beautiful, and feels alive as heck. Example: This little Pengling is catching fish. Like a Penguin would. D’AWWWWW!

And there’s two parts to why I’m fine with this. In Subnautica, Unknown Worlds proved their mettle in making demand meters that add some challenge, without overriding their core exploration and narrative focus, and they appear to be bringing those same lessons to Below Zero. Good. Secondly, Robin Goodall is a bubbly, lightly snarky character who refuses to let her situation (Boring, then very suddenly rather dangerous) get her down. Just like me, she loves the world, and wants to explore it, wanting to know what’s going on, and demonstrating a fairly strong moral compass early on.

It is, as before with Subnautica, a relatively promising start.

The Mad Welshman, never having left Subnautica in the previous installment, is presumably to be found somewhere out here. Either as a popsicle, or drinking coffee and smiling at penglings playing from his vast underwater base.

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