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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Cloudpunk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £16.99 (£24.98 for game and soundtrack, soundtrack £7.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The City. We all know The City. It’s a dark place, always raining, always cloudy… Or is that smoggy? Yeah, it’s smoggy… Ramen’s your go to vending food, the lights are neon, and the streets are grimy and filled with refuse, both human and otherwise. Welcome to this version of The City. Welcome to Cloudpunk.

And this is one of the nicer portions…

But what is Cloudpunk? Essentially, it’s a narrative delivery service game, set in a dystopian future city with high tech… And low life. You’re a worker for the Cloudpunk service, a service that doesn’t want its drivers to be known as Cloudpunk. You keep hearing the word CORA, and can’t pin down what that means. And within your first hour, you’ve either delivered a highly suspicious package (or haven’t), talked to a variety of people, and met your neighbour, the android Evelin, whose close friend locked away memories in her mind, and is decrypting them (like you, not wanting Corporate Security’s attention) by… Punchcards.

No, the memories aren’t on the punchcards, that’d be silly. But the encryption key to her memories is.

Evelin has many problems in her life. This is but one.

And so, you fly through the world, in your hovercar, walking round places, picking things up, delivering things that you’re meant to deliver after picking things up, and, after a point, just… Exploring. Looking around. This is your first night, and most drivers apparently don’t survive their first night. So why not enjoy yourself, talk to people, get a feel for the city first, eh?

And there’s a fair bit to it. Not only is there the main story, with its sometimes wonky voice acting (mostly pretty good, though), its almost surreal cyberpunk setting (and yes, this counts as cyberpunk, you are Little People, and even living is a rebellion), and its people. An Engineer for the city, the city that’s falling apart, but only he knows what’s up. Red street signs blinking three times is bad. Also blue signs in general. Aaaand orange, yellow, green… Purple’s the worst though. If you see purple, you’re fucked already… Well, according to him, anyway. And he’s just one example.

The Marrow, as you can guess, has been sucked dry by the ghouls.

Aesthetically, this game is pretty good. It uses voxel art (that’s cubes instead of dots) pretty well, the music ambient, synthy, and very fitting, and the soundscape… Police fly by, hovercars and trucks (called HOVAS, collectively) whibbleywhoo over the place, and the rain… Nearly always… The rain.

I don’t really have bad things to say, to be honest, but if a game mostly about exploring in your car and on foot, about keeping the gas going, keeping your HOVA repaired, and exploring the story isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. If it is, Cloudpunk’s a pretty solid example of an exploration game with narrative, not just story.

…And I do love me narrative…

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Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (And a whole buttload of DLC, totalling £71.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I loved Darius when I was young. It was a great example of the imaginative boss design of shmups, along with Xenon 2’s bosses. An evil empire that has a design theme of fishes, crabs, and cephalopods for its giant boss ships? Oh. Hell. Yes. It helps that the series has had one hell of a soundtrack, and it’s been alright on the difficulty for a shmup.

I would have shown screenshots of mowing down smaller enemies, but with only a few exceptions, that’s relatively quick, even if the waves are placed in such a way you move a lot.

So, once again, the Belsar have invaded, with their fish-like ships, and it’s up to the elite Silverhawks to scramble to save the day. Go save the day, hero!

Bam. Plot done. Let’s talk about the game. Like earlier titles in the series, it’s split up into various routes, although, unlike previous entries, there’s a single main route, and side routes. What makes this one interesting is that you can unlock ships from throughout the series (and, with DLC, play ships from other properties, including the jetpack cannon funtimes of the Space Harrier protagonist), and play with those… Although you’ll get a chance to try out most of them in any case, some of which have unique tricks, and all of whom have at least one different element. Each mission is split up into at least two stages, often with multiple boss fights against memorable ships (the same models, such as King Fossil or Mirage Castle, have appeared pretty much throughout the series, so returning players know most of what to expect.)

Including this asshole. Ohhh, I’m sure many Darius players remember Thousand Bullets…

Missions also have mutators from the base of “All types of powerup, your special weapon charges from killing enemies”, such as limited or no drops, or your special weapon automatically charging (You’d think this was a godsend, but no, the challenge usually matches that mutator.) Beating each stage earns you a proportion of the score as points to purchase ships (Ships from later in the series, such as the Murukamo, require a lot of points, so if you really, really want to play those early, expect to grind the earlier missions a lot), and to spend on, if you choose to use a custom ship, powering them up for the mission (just using them is free, but if the mission has a no-powerup mutator, you really want to power them up appropriately, or better, than the preset ship you’re given)

When it comes to soundtrack, it’s great. The music, as mentioned, has been strong through most of the series, and this one is no exception. Visually, it works well, ships with powerups being denoted with strong, saturated colours, and foreground elements you could conceivably smash your ship against more saturated and brighter than the background, as it should be. The UX is clear, the sound is good (although, fair warning, if you’re using one of the older ships, it uses similar sound effects to the games they’re from, and changes the soundtrack in some places. They’re still powerful, so, er… Don’t discount them, even if chiptunes and beepy pew-pews aren’t your thing.)

Oh wait, I did have a wave screenshot!

It does get difficult somewhat early, due to some of the bosses having revenge bullets, a boatload of health, and some nasty attacks, but it plays very smoothly for what it is (a port of a PSP game), it’s a good shmup with a great soundtrack… My only critique is that there’s no english language version of the special guidebook you can get as DLC. I’d love to read that. Ship DLC is pretty cheap individually, and there’s certainly enough playtime that you won’t feel the need to play with those until you’ve finished the main game. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has both Arcade and Story modes (The mission route mode I’ve spent most of this review talking about), remote play, and Chronicle Mode, an interesting mode where there are 3000+ worlds on a “cabinet” that you share with other players online.

So… It comes highly recommended as a shmup which, while it gets bullet helly fairly quickly, is interesting, cool, and with a great soundtrack!

The Mad Welshman loves the inventive shooters, with the interesting boss designs. Don’t give me boring old “Ships, but big.” Give me things that make me say “Omigod, this is a thing I want to share!”

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Full Service Shop (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Name your own price (Option to donate if the game pleases)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Content Warnings for the game include dubcon, drugging, mind control, mental programming, and hypnosis, light mind break, memory changes, restraint, oral, and edging. However, people who are going to cry foul at the mental aspects of this, read the review before commenting, thanks.

The game has a full list of content warnings (the majority of which have been presented here) in a TXT file in the main game directory.

(more…)

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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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