Geneforge 1: Mutagen (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£7.19 for hintbook and bonuses, somewhat recommended)
Where To Get It: Steam

Geneforge is a name with associations for me. The clunky charm of Windows 95. College. Being able to play 2nd Edition AD&D without wincing. Not all of these are dependent on the time it was released (Windows XP was the same year as Geneforge, and AD&D… Well…) But they’re associations for a reason.

Geneforge is what we would call “oldschool.” It only takes one look at the screenshots to see eras bygone in game design, and the game was, originally, pretty damn tough. Save early, save often.

Although difficulty selection is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?

“You feel a deep compulsion” are words you generally don’t want to be hearing in a tabletop game.

In any case, being an old school type RPG is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength, in that the developer has considered how classes might be seen by the NPCs of the game, different dialogue options exist for both classes and skills, and dialogue is rich with lore.

It’s a weakness because some design elements have never really been fixed, and combat can be brutal for the unprepared, although it does ease you in very well.

God, that UI. That UI has no scaling options, and so icons are very small, so very small. Text is not quite so small, but it’s still… This ain’t the most accessible visually, and, as an aside, you will be holding down Tab a fair bit to see what the hell is interactable, and even that won’t necessarily help you with items that are just on the floor.

But for all that, Geneforge is nonetheless an interesting RPG, with a very unique world. In it, biomagics, “shaping”, are a rigidly controlled, yet powerful magic, that has shaped its society. Small, pig like creatures with humanoid faces take the place of computers, created to be repositories of knowledge and scanners, meant to last a long time. Servant beings have been created, and…

Shapers: We make monsters for utility reasons. Also dickwaving reasons.

Look, Shapers are Not Nice People. It’s made abundantly clear early on due to the early dialogue, the matter of fact way in which the protagonist is so calm about magically created/changed beings, how he just assumes that the humanoids on the island are servants, but ones who have gone a long time without a master… What sets alarm bells in his head is the canisters, one of your prime forms of levelling up in the game. They change you, change you from the inside out, insert skills, powers into your mind, your essence. And would you look at that, they’re also Shaper creations, although banned, a dark part of the Shaper’s already dark history.

Aesthetically, it’s… It’s clunky. It’s unapologetically clunky, and clearly still made with small window sizes in full screen in mind. Nothing really scales, so at larger resolutions, like, y’know, the now common 2560×1440, it’s somewhat eyestrain inducing.

“I cast death” “Hrm, what kind of death do you cast?” “Particularly deathy death.”

Combat, well, it’s turn based, it’s action point based (you can do multiple actions in a turn if you have the points, if not, well… Boohoo), and it definitely has its nuances and interesting encounters, although it will often boil down to “Murder things horribly with the right elements.” But it’s still good, and I still like it.

Still, overall, this is, again unapologetically, a niche game. It’s for those who love the old 90s isometric RPGs, with all their jank and dialogue heavy funtimes. I enjoy it… But not everyone will, and I’d only cautiously recommend it because it’s a good example of its genre.

The Mad Welshman prefers to play with artificial life. Don’t judge.

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Crown Trick (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm… Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re not having fun, be it a good or bad game. Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re having fun with a bad game. But with Crown Trick… Despite knowing it’s a well designed game… I’m not actually sure I’m having fun. And it feels awkward to say that.

Y’gotta respect a bird who wants to derring-a-doodle-doo.

The general story idea is a pretty cool one: There is a plague of nightmares upon the land, nightmares that draw people in, ne’er to return, and the last hope, the last of her world saving kind, is a child who appears to have no arms, aided by a large crown with a single, annoyed eye (generally speaking, not a sign that this assistance isn’t due to villainous ulterior motives, but that’s by the by.) And so a turn based, procedurally generated roguesortakindamaybelike begins, with shenanigans and buying stuff to improve future runs ahoy.

And make no mistake, it does interesting things with its formula, having a cool visual aesthetic, nice soundwork, and a cast of enemies and bosses that are interesting and challenging without being frustrating.

Except for Dr. Frank. Fuck that guy.

Like, you see those words, and you know he’s a bastard.

So, how does it change up the formula? Well, the level structure is more of an episode thing, with a unique final boss to each area, than a single sprawling “Beat this in one run.” It has familiars, which add special abilities to the list, interesting gimmicks in each area, and a variety of weapon types with their own quirks, such as the shotgun, which can either hit three enemies, one 2 tiles away, the other two on each side, or it can hit a single creature point blank 3 times in one shot. So yes, it’s a video game shotgun.

And, speaking of guns, the guns are… Honestly the weakest weapon type. It’s not that they don’t have powerful abilities, as the rifle can hit everything in a line within a 4 tile range, and the pistol’s final shot is a double-tap… But the clip is ridiculously small, so, unlike any other weapon type, it’s 2-4 shots, depending on the weapon, and then a turn wasted reloading. I’m sure some people like it, but it just feels less useful than, uhhh, every other weapon, including the axe, which, for best effect, needs multiple enemies right up in your face, ready to inflict pain.

Speaking of things that are of, at best, dubious use, the cursed statues and their “blessings.” Cursed chests, I’m fine with. They provide interesting little wrinkles that make you balance the risk and reward, like not being able to change weapons for three floors, bleeding until you kill an enemy, and an “everything dies in one hit, including you (except in boss fights), for 8 rooms.”

But when it came to the cursed statues and their “blessings”? The risk well outweighed the reward, every time. I had no incentive to fuck with them.

I never noticed this nice little touch when you’re dying (the zooming in, which makes for this interesting look.) But it is nice.

Okay, I’ve been bitching a lot, but this is, legitimately, well designed overall. The weapon types are, for the most part, pretty cool, and I’ve been most at home with the dual knives, which, yes, can only attack adjacent enemies… But the enemies it does attack, it fucks up, especially as you get more stun in on enemies trying to attack you. Oh, yes, the stun system is fun too. Even bosses can be stunned, with a single attack knocking 1 off the stun counter, more if they’re either attacking you, or trying to use a special ability. And naturally, once stunned, you can fuck them up at your leisure, until they’re not stunned, after which… Well, they can’t be stunned again for a certain amount of time, and you have to whittle down the counter as before, but… The damage has been done.

There’s a fair amount of depth here, the game’s pretty accessible, it’s got some great visuals and good soundwork going on… And yet, I find myself unable to determine if I’m actually having fun with it. It’s still a good game, though, so maybe you’ll have an easier time working out if you’re having fun or not.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. Because review wizard needs coffee… Badly!

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Ziggurat 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.79, bundle £17.80)
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, well, well… Ziggurat was one of those games that, if you were into arena fight roguelites (Walk into room, if room has enemies, kill them all before you leave, get stuff, rinse, repeat, boss, end level) was not bad at all. Some cool bosses, interesting weapons (some of which were, alas, crap), and carnivorous carrots aplenty. Good times.

There is little more horrifying than seeing this as you close your eyes for the last time.

So now, we have a sequel, and it’s changed the formula somewhat. Let’s start with the story. In the first game, you, a wizard from a pool of wizards (some of whom were unlockable), had to go up the Ziggurat, a prison to seal away horrific beasties, as your wizarding exam. Turns out wizards don’t fuck around when it comes to higher education.

Alas, wizards are also known, beyond deadly educational procedures, for warring over things and causing apocalypses or other terrible events. So, yay, wizard schism, the Ziggurat (reminder: Prison to seal away very bad monsters) got blown up in the war. Now you, some of the few surviving wizards, have to clean up the mess this wizarding war caused by, er… Doing what you did last time, but in discrete areas.

And this is honestly one of the more interesting changes: Rather than a strict level based structure, it’s a more quest based deal, in which solving mini dungeons gets you cool stuff and money. Which you’ll need to level up your wands, staffs, spellbooks, amulets, and alchemical/mechanical weaponry. And your wizards. And, of course, you do that by blowing the shit out of stuff with those weapons and wizards.

Oh, whaddya know, one of my screenshots with shooting in it has the little bastards in it too. God-damn carnivorous carrots, cackling and getting everywhere…

But it’s still got a ways to go right now, and it shows. As far as looks go, it’s very pretty, and you can tell the modellers on the team have been improving their craft. And the new levelling system (XP and coins are necessary) and map system are definitely an interesting change. But it does need fine tuning, as, right now, coin drops are annoyingly hard to get, and I have far more things in need of a level up than I have coins to level them up. Add in that length 1 can mean 1 floor (okay, cool) or two floors (Less cool, that’s a war of attrition it’s not so easy to get through when you’re low level), and… Yeah, it needs a little work.

Aesthetically, a definite improvement, and pretty accessible to boot. Difficulty levels appear alright, although it’s definitely recommended you try the easiest difficulty first (don’t worry, you have multiple save slots, you’re good), and I can’t really say that being easy to be backed into a corner because you don’t dare look behind you is a flaw, as it’s very much by design (and a dash-dodge means you can leap over, for example, those fucking carnivorous carrots that are the bane of my existence.)

Hrm, what with running into this guy in repeated runs, would you say… Repetition helps hammer home a point?

It’s relatively early days, though, and as far as these arena type roguesortamaybekindalikes goes, it’s not a bad one, even now.

The Mad Welshman repeats that wizards should never be allowed to be prison guards. This sort of thing ends up happening, you get monsters everywhere… It’s a nightmare.

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Panzer Dragoon Remake (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh boy. Panzer Dragoon was a classic of the rail shooters. A weird world and story that could have fit within the pages of Metal Hurlant, a system wherein you earned credits by doing well at the game, and had to basically finish it in one sitting… Yep, a classic, arcade hard game. Only seven levels, but oh boy, they’re all a ride… So yes, it’s twitchy. And replayable.

Look. At these beautiful. Environments.

Especially when, like me, you forget that you can change your direction of viewing with a keypress. Not least because the game, original and remake, doesn’t tutorialise. At all. You’d perhaps think that teensy bit of quality of life could have been put into said remake, but… Apparently not. See also “Both parts of the intro before you even get to the menu, hope you like 1920×1080 fullscreen until then.”

Funnily enough, no, no I do not. It’s annoying as hell to restore and max windows back to normal. Start in windowed mode is, as a general rule, going to get you less complaints like this.

Anyway, the game itself. The story is that a young man, Keil Fluge, who, chasing monsters, finds himself the owner of a blue dragon, and gets embroiled in an apocalyptic fight, in a post-apocalypse, no less, over Ancient technology (yes, capital letter. This is a post-apocalypse of a highly advanced society, of course they’re going to have left their potentially world ending shit lying around.) On his side, a blue dragon called Solo Wing. On the other, lots of gribbleys, an empire’s fleet, the Black Dragon, who Keil is charged to stop from getting to an Ancient obelisk.

The Black Dragon. It bad. It’s as cool looking as ours.

Cue shooting. Now, before we get into this, I would like to properly start by saying “Holy shit this game looks even more amazing than the original!” Trust me, even the original looked pretty damn good. The shooting, once you get used to it, is great, the music is good, the sound is good… Apart from an annoying colourblindness problem with the main menu (lessened when an option is highlighted, but… Still, another QoL that didn’t get introduced, BOO), the game is very much on point, aesthetically.

It would normally be something I’d definitely recommend, if it weren’t for the aforementioned quality of life and tutorial issues. Also, please note, folks, that even if this game didn’t have motion blur, there’s a heavy motion sickness warning. I’m not prone to motion sickness, but even I felt somewhat disoriented.

I’ve been inwardly comparing this to Metal Hurlant precisely because this is some Mobius level design. Look at thiiiis!

Nonetheless, the feel, the world, the aesthetics… It hits all the right spots, so it’s still a recommendation, even to players new to rail shooters. Controller might well be a good idea with this game, although it’s certainly comfortable to play with keyboard and mouse. But damn, I wouldn’t mind seeing more worlds like that one in video games. I wouldn’t mind at all.

I too, would agree to save the world if I was told I would do it with a dragon. I mean… [slaps scales] You can fit so many capitalists in this bad-boy…

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Paradise Killer (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£19.28 for game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

I love a good murder mystery. The twists, the turns, the red herrings, slowly being guided along a path. And sometimes… Being wrong. In a way, aside from all the other cool stuff, that’s what’s so good about Paradise Killer…

You’re allowed to be totally wrong. Even if you do need at least some evidence. And hell, even after a marathon session with one trial I felt was off, I’m still not sure I got the whole truth. Pieces were missing, strange pieces, but, considering how large the world is, I’d probably need a walkthrough to find the clues. But it’s okay, even if I feel like I shafted some friends in the process.

Regardless of right or wrong, the sentence remains… DEATH.

In any case, Paradise Killer is a first person exploration type murder mystery, with some visual novel elements (the interrogations, the trial, some of the puzzles) where the Council of Island 24 have been murdered just prior to the Island’s reality being broken down to make way for Island 25, Island Perfection (ha.) And you, Lady Love Dies, interrogator, investigator, and, when the time comes, executioner, must find out who did it. Maybe who plural.

Writing wise, it’s great, and aesthetically, it’s this strange 80s/90s vibe combined with urban fantasy, a paradise island with pyramids, some small hellscapes, obelisks, tenements… The supernatural and the “Normal” live hand in hand. The soundtrack’s great, the sound design is, except for the static in the second gate, good, and the VA pleases, very characterful.

I like Lydia. She’s down to earth, even in as strange a place as Island 24.

Now, mechanically… Ah, here’s where there are some imperfections. I’ve noted that you’re allowed to get it wrong, and this is good. But this is a fairly big open world, and, oddly, I feel that works against it in some respects. Hunt relics. Why? Completionism and a few quests, it seems. Hunt blood jewels. Why? Well, that’s more useful, unlocking a secret item needed for the best clues, unlocking fast travel points, and paying the toll for travelling from them.

But it definitely felt like a needle in a haystack at times, finding the clues. And then… There are the puzzles. Use symbols from a set to complete the image, except… I never used some. I never came across a lock that used some of the symbol elements. Maybe that’s by design, maybe not, but it kinda frustrated me on some odd level.

Yeah, ummm… Some of these, I didn’t use my whole playthrough.

Still, the mysteries kept me hooked, and the mysteries left are seriously tempting me to dive back in now that the review’s written, hunt down those final clues, and that, along with its aesthetics and writing, really nail it for me. Some of the platforming is annoying as fuck, but, overall, I would highly recommend this one, especially to murder mystery lovers.

May the million eyes watch over you as you play this…

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