XCOM: Chimera Squad (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the game that has been colloquially called XCOP (and other, lewder names, thanks to our old friends, the serpents.) It’s been talked about for a little while now, and, to be fair, the XCOM rebooted series has definitely made for some interesting times (I really should do an XCOM 2 Going Back at some point, missed the boat on that one.)

It’s interesting to see how similar the basic formula is, and yet… It adds little touches I find interesting, and pretty fitting.

Not much like rappelling through a window to take down crime…

The general story is as follows: Congratulations, the war is over, and now, aliens and humans live in… Relative harmony in a place called City 31, one of the most diverse cities on the planet! And then it starts going to shit, when a hostage situation by whiny bigoted shitbags who otherwise wouldn’t have the power to cause a hostage situation ends up with the mayor rescued… And then immediately blown up by a plasma bomb. On the first official operation of Chimera Squad.

Well, shit.

There are three gangs suspected, a bunch of psionics who believe they see the true future of City 31, a set of Muton scavengers and weapons dealers who are collecting Elerium for… Reasons? And religious alien-human hybrids, who preach salvation for, er… Non X-COM supporters. Each of them has the potential to be the real bad, but I suspect the real answer is “None of them, something nastier’s in the woodshed.”

It can get a little chaotic, but this situation, at least, is under control.

Can’t really say, even though I’ve been playing it avidly, it has only been a day or two since release.

What I can say is, apart from cutscenes being motion comics rather than fully rendered scenes, for the most part, aesthetically, it’ll be something you easily recognise. Right down to fucking tiny back buttons. Tip: Right mouse is “Back one step in a menu”, as well as move. Still annoying. In any case, the aesthetic of the models remains largely the same, except… Ohhhh yeah, since it’s a diverse city, and this is a new team called Chimera Squad… There are aliens on your squad. Pretty friendly ones, all told. Except Torque, the snake lady, who is a snarky, irritable woman. In place of classes, there are the field agents, each with their own unique skill tree, specialties, and lines on recruitment and during story time. It definitely helps give that more down to earth, personal feel.

Proud XCOPs. Early days yet, but they’re good folks. Well, okay, at least some of them are assholes. But they’re the Good Guys.

The other thing that gives that down to earth, personal feel, as well as a higher degree of risk management, is that no, unless you have enough agents to back you up, or androids… You are all alone, and every bleedout hurts. Every death is to be avoided at all costs. And, of course, you are cops. Rescuing civilians gets you small bonuses. Taking in perps alive gets you intel, one of the three valuable resources, and is worth more score-wise than dead. Good luck with that, although it can be do-able on even the big-ass Legionnaires, Mutons who still have their old power armour. Each mission is spread into a series of breaches, and, with each breach, things get hotter.

So, it’s an interesting riff on the established formula, there’s some good, tense moments, difficulty adjustments, the usual fun stuff, and, thank fuck, a restart mission and a restart encounter button. I’m enjoying it quite a bit, and I think XCOM fans and turn based strategy fans will too.

The Mad Welshman loves a good action movie sequence. Maybe, one day, we’ll have turn-based games that turn your mission replay into one. Ah heck, the game’s good enough without.

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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access 1

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than riddling demons with holes with dual wielded SMGs. The kickback, the satisfying noise, the rapid thuds followed by the larger thud (or boom) as the monstrosity from another dimension finally keels over. In your imagination, of course, because while there’s bullet trails in Jupiter Hell (allowing you to see just how much ammo you wasted murdering them), death animations aren’t really that impressive, nor do they need to be.

Oh. Wait. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than seeing the sizzling holes, melting a demon piece by piece, with dual wielded plasma SMGs. I stand corrected.

Buddy, you can… See all these bodies around, right? And me, without a scratch?

What I’m saying is, 0.8.8, the Dual Wield update for Jupiter Hell, has a feature that’s pretty damn satisfying, even if it has some qualifiers, like “You get this cool thing if you survive your first three level ups”, “It will still take up two weapon slots”, “Remember how you had that ammo problem? It will chew through ammo faster”, and “Only Marines and Scouts get this. Sorry Techies.”

Of course, it’s not the only change, although hacking turrets feels… A little underwhelming, as an example. Find the computer terminal on a level, spend 3 of the new combo armour replacement/hacking items, the multitool, and bam, turrets are… Deactivated, seemingly. Since I’ve never seen a turret shoot someone, and they have an ammo drop next to them, that’s basically what I assume, anyways. I mean, it makes levels slightly easier?

And now I’m on fire, how ’bout that?

Anyway, yes, I forgot, all this time, to say what Jupiter Hell is, for the folks in the back. Jupiter Hell is a turn-based roguelike, heavily inspired by Doom (Its spiritual predecessor actually was Doom: The Roguelike, and it was only Bethesda’s litigiousness, in spite of Id Software being cool with it, even flattered, that it is not called DoomRL2 today.) Actions like moving, reloading, firing… All take a certain amount of time, and the enemies, similarly, work on a timer. Diagonal movement costs two squares of movement, but moving doubles your chance of evading shots, so it’s valid to, when seeing a big old bundle of enemies, to book it to a safer position. Indeed, considering enemies will now hit cover when they see you most times, and only get out if you destroy it (sometimes possible) or lure them out (a risky move in some cases, but risk management is the name of the game.)

And how does all this feel? Well, easy mode feels pretty do-able, although you definitely have hairy moments. Normal is a roguelike experience, something that takes a fair amount of tactical thought to defeat… And, of course, there’s challenge modes. I don’t recommend challenge modes for the casual player, or the higher difficulties. But it is casual playthrough accessible, with relatively minimal unlocks for getting certain achievements.

Poor dualjay. He never got to see the plasma pistols…

It helps that it also looks and sounds pretty good. Shots sound satisfying, the clank of one of the chonky security robots is a sound that, once you know the enemy itself, makes you break into a cold sweat and hunt cautiously for both the robot and the best cover, the maps look pretty good for being tile based, quite atmospheric, and the music… Well, as with its inspiration, it veers between heavy, driving metal, and ominous, low tunes, setting the mood for each area. Oh, and then there’s the Marine/Scout/Techie, whose angry growls evoke that 90s protag feel, but in a way that’s not, like quite a few of the 90s FPS protags, a dickwad. Just a dude very, very angry that shit’s gone to hell.

So yeah, Jupiter Hell is getting closeish to release now, the devs have been very good about trying to balance it while maintaining interesting mechanics, and, while I don’t think they’re quite there yet, it’s a pretty good roguelike to start your entrance into the genre.

The Mad Welshman has nothing against demonic denizens. He just wished they’d stop trying to kill him.

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Endcycle VS (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, Endcycle Vs didn’t interest me, despite loving Megaman Battle Network’s combat system of a 3×6 grid, split in two, in which the player and their opponents use abilities (Chips, in the case of the player) to attack the enemy, a new hand coming when the old one is used. After all, it was multiplayer only, and not even mod support was going to bring me to that party.

But now, it has singleplayer and… Well, I’m somewhat bouncing off it, to be quite honest.

This one’s a nasty one if it hits.

Mainly, it’s for a very simple reason: Everything is fast. And can seemingly move diagonally, although that may be just that they’re… Going really fast. In its inspiration, MegaMan Battle Network, things generally don’t move quickly. And the few enemies that do are considered the biggest pains in the ass in the series. Similarly, some moves where instant hits (known as hitscan), so you at least knew that, the moment you hit the fire button, something would get damaged.

And neither of these appear to be true, with the exception of swords, in Endcycle Vs. Spreadshots? Slowish projectiles. Cannons? Slowish projectiles. The “Rush” Sword is, in fact, a leisurely dodge. And grenade and trap type weapons both have a specific range, and are, generally speaking, slow. Meanwhile, enemies fast. Can you perhaps see the problem here?

Chips, chips, chips. Enough to open a chip shop. Which they have.

Now, less a problem and more “Something different, to maybe get used to” is the fact that, instead of getting a new “hand” of chips once you’ve used the last, you have three sets of four chips, each with cooldowns, and you can switch between chips with the space key, and use one of those four chips with the arrow keys. Okay, cool. But what this, generally speaking, means is that you’re either waiting on a cooldown, or rapidly switching between ability sets. Now, you can set everything to attack chips, if you really want, but it’s good to have some sort of healing, some sort of defence, and some sort of area or panel grab chip, which makes neutral panels yours, or enemy patterns neutral. Because you can only move on neutral or your panels, so without those, you can get hemmed in.

One of the two endless modes replaces one of your chips after each victory, your choice. But you cannot choose “None.” And, as you can see, sometimes this means getting a “No options you like” moment. Like this one.

Aesthetically, it’s alright. The music is good, light, but pumping beats for combat, a synth theme, various other tunes, all inspired by… Well, its inspiration. The spritework’s alright, the menus have a consistent font, and my main gripe is that it’s hard to parse cooldowns when you’re concentrating more on the enemy’s position rather than, y’know, you. Where the icons and their cooldown shaders are.

Overall, it’s very obviously designed for the Pro E-Sports crowd, balanced around people who are twitchier, more timing aware, and fine with longish matches because they’re darting around so damn much. But that definitely isn’t for me, and I don’t particularly see it being appealing to more than a niche crowd within the niche that is people who like this sort of battle game overall, and the people who, like me, loved a game boy advance series from way back when.

Stuff gotten! waves the tiniest flag.

There are other games like this in my future. And so, I don’t actually have all that much interest in coming back to this.

The Mad Welshman lives in the cyberworld. He has to admit, it’s a somewhat dull place. You get used to those rushing neon comets quite quickly.

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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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Der Geisterturm (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.58 for game+soundtrack, £4.67 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Der Geisterturm (The Ghost Tower) is a sequel, or maybe parallel game, to Das Geisterschiff, which I’d reviewed previously. As a member of Eberbach Corporation’s combat corps, you… Are told that you’re dead. And if you want a second chance at life, congrats, you have to get up a tower full of droids ordered to murder you a second time.

Cacklingly evil corporations. Go figure. Now, Das Geisterschiff was tough. Der Geisterturm? Is murderously tough. As in: I have yet to get to the second level tough. And there comes a time when you have to resolve to see if you can beat a thing later, and say that you currently cannot.

“By the way, we’ve put you in a death tower for unspecified reasons. It was in the small print of your contract.”

Now, it should be noted that individual enemies are generally not that tough. And that you have a shield, albeit one with limited energy (and another option we’ll get to later, for its extremely situational usefulness.) And indeed, you have a lot of options, that you need to switch between if you want to do the best job you can. And even combat stances and ram responses, that can set how you react to ramming (a valid tactic, when something or someone is lighter than you.) Changing your stance and ram responses, turning, and turning your shield on or off appear to be instantaneous. Switching weapons, moving, and waiting, however, is not. And we’ll get into why that makes the difficulty curve sharp in a moment.

But first, improvements! They are, for the most part, small, but they exist! Everything is blue now, rather than a somewhat disconcerting red. Items have visible representation (although sometimes tiny visible representation, like keycards), cutting down on “Where the hell is the thing?” … Somewhat! It’s still got that low poly aesthetic, with unidentified bots as wireframe cubes, but… We’ll also get into that.

This time, I have the upper hand. This time.

So… Der Geisterturm inherits some of the problems of its predecessor, and manages to make some new ones, alas, making the buy-in that much more difficult. For example, once an enemy has been identified, it should stay identified… But it does not. And, considering there are two basic enemies in both the tutorial and the first level, with only the latter allowing visual confirmation without analysis, this is kind of important. And now… Hiding and switching weapons. Yes, we definitely need to talk about those.

Hiding is, for the most part, useless. Enemies have an audio range, but generally speaking, this is big enough that your one for one movement doesn’t actually allow for getting far enough out of audio range (or sight range) to wait out their searching. As to switching weapons, well… Some enemies have vulnerability to bullets, others to lasers, others to explosives… You have limited ammo for each… And the first level’s encounters? Appear to almost exclusively consist of one drone that is weak to lasers. And another that’s weak to bullets and ramming. They appear in pairs, one of each type. And, as mentioned, switching weapons takes a turn, and they always appear in patterns that, if you concentrate on one, or run to lure the bigger one into range, you will likely take at least some damage from the other.

Every time you analyze an enemy to remind yourself of its weaknesses, three or four pages of this will turn up. Not the biggest fan of this.

Still no larger map, so get out those mapping tools, folks, no in-game options and key rebinding, which is doubly annoying because the game forgets it’s meant to be in windowed mode the moment you start a game…

Basically, I’d like to recommend Der Geisterturm, because it has an interesting aesthetic, a dark world, and a fair bit of atmosphere, but… While I could recommend Das Geisterschiff with the qualification that it’s hard, Der Geisterturm feels… Well, it feels much less fair. And maybe that’s intended. But it’s a turn off for me. I don’t particularly miss the days of the hard as balls wireframe first person RPGs like Wizardry 2, you see.

The Mad Welshman is an Old, it’s true. But he does not look kindly upon the past of computer games overall, except what we can learn from it.

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