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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SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £39.99 (£54.98 for Deluxe Edition, Season Pass £19.99, Extra Dispatch Missions 1 £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

No, that isn’t a word salad up there in the title. Or, rather, it is, but it’s a meaningful one. It is, indeed, Super Deformed (Bobblehead Gundams fighting, basically), It is part of the G Generation series (The first to hit the PC, in fact), and you do, indeed, Cross both Rays (in the beam weapon sense) and, occasionally, Rays (In the “That’s their first name sense.”) Simple, no?

Damn bloody right I’ve got a Hyakuri on my Sortie team!

Well, that still doesn’t really tell us anything, and it only tells fans of Super Robot Wars something when I say it’s like that, so… It’s a turn based strategy game, with some customisation, lots of units, 13 campaigns covering the Wing, Seed, 00, and Iron Blood Orphans series and some of their spinoffs, like Seed Astray, lots of characters… And a system that encourages a certain style of play… Namely, that if you weaken multiple enemies, a single Gundam could kill up to three of them at once. Oh, and you can also link your Gundams of the same team in a single, devastating multi-target attack.

Or you can fluff a 78% chance, and swear at the wasted energy, the resource that only really renews without docking back at base for Warships and Story Gundams, maybe taking a hit yourself into the bargain. UWAAAAAAGH! –Splode.

This is 5 of them. And only a few of them are short.

And I definitely don’t feel guilty for this taking a not insignificant portion of my review budget, because, as mentioned… 13… Goddamn… Campaigns. At this very moment in time, 13 hours in, I’ve gotten 29% of the things to get (Which… Isn’t actually as far along as I’d like. Especially since I haven’t yet got my two favourites available in this game, the Gusion and the Hyakuri), and have finished most of… The first missions.

Yeah, be prepared for each of even the first missions to take… A while. And doing well, getting those sweet, sweet extra missions? Unlocks… A harder part to the mission, which will test your endurance and tactical skill. You get some neat unlocks though, whether through that, developing higher levelled mechs into different mechs, combining designs, adding abilities to your characters… More of which you can unlock… There’s a lot to it.

Although sometimes, what results from developing mechs can be a distinct downgrade. Gundam. Zaku. Gundam. Zaku… GUNDAM.

Aesthetically, well… Gundam has always been known for some good tunes, and some high drama in its voicework, and this game is no exception. A dramatic sting happens with every phase change (from you, to enemies, to different groups of enemies if there’s more than one…) There are theme tunes, attract movies, the top down forced perspective stuff is mostly clear and alright, the battle animations are great. You can skip them once you’ve seen them, to save time, but… Don’t skip animations just by weapon, as different units use those weapons in different ways. One Gundam will have a proper Beam Rifle, one will use two Beam Pistols, and, in a particularly silly animation, one will slap two Beam Pistols together to make a bigger Beam Pistol that they fire. It’s very pretty.

Now, not all is roses. The UI text can get pretty damn small sometimes, which isn’t great accessibility wise, there’s some “Your mileage may vary” in the fact that the game is using moments from the series completely, so there’s a lot of dialogue and narration between missions (You can skip this, but for those who don’t like to, be warned, it goes on a while a lot of the time), and in some series, you’re going to get severely hamstrung if your Sortie mechs are, for example, all using Beam weapons in IBO, where nearly everything resists Beam Weaponry.

I LOVE CANNONS!!!

Say goodbye to that 4K damage, friendo, you’re only doing 1.5K tops against a Graze. And you will feel shame at not being able to damage what’s effectively a mook with ease. On the other hand, IBO units do pretty well in Beam heavy series. Muahahaha. Finally, yes, there is grind. Some units can only be gained by either maxing out meters, or developing them from other mechs, which requires levelling them up. Thankfully, this grind can be lessened by doing “Dispatch” missions, which take your group out of play for a certain time (From 2 and a half to 12 hours), but… You don’t actually have to be playing the game to run that timer down. Actually a pretty reasonable way of handling it!

But, here’s the thing: Overall? Hot damn is this value for money, with some moderately alright tutorialisation, to the point where you’ll very quickly get some tricks to shoot down units by the score, even Warships, and look cool doing it. For Gundam fans, well, hey, you’ve got a Gundam SD game you can play on PC (Super Robot Wars when, Bamco?), and for turn based tactical strategy games, you’ve got something you can sink your teeth into. Definite recommend here!

The Mad Welshman notes with some amusement that his sortie team is now several levels higher than… Well, anything except major story Gundams now.

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Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Review)

Source: Hard parted with Cashmoneys. Worth it though.
Price: £41.99 (Look, there’s DLCs and a Season pass…)
Where to Get It: Steam

Space Opera is, in a way, a high fantasy all of its own. Want space elves? You can have space elves. Want space dwarves? Sure, no prob. Want a monolithic evil empire? Well, we all have those days. So Age of Wonders: Planetfall is not, strictly speaking, that big a leap from the fantasy shenanigans of previous games. Spells are now Tactical Operations, roving monsters are often NPC factions (Not all of which have a player faction equivalent), and overall? There’s a lot of interesting changes here, all of which seem to improve that AoW experience.

I get the distinct feeling we’re naming them, rather than using their names…

For those who don’t get the fuss about Age of Wonders, it’s a long running 4X franchise which has boasted many factions, asymmetric gameplay elements in later instalments, and some cool worlds of high fantasy. Well, now it’s science fiction. Turn based, with a hex based combat system when you get into it with units, and… Well, let’s talk systems.

As noted, there’s a lot of changes, but the two biggest, to my mind, are the Mod system for units, which extends the utility of units, especially Tier I units, quite a lot, and allows a fair amount of customisation, and the ability to research both your military and social researches at the same time, which… Really streamlines play, and I like that! In addition, factions and classes further mix things up both in the unit and research side of things (Species who choose the Voidtech class, for example, get Void Walkers, beings who can clone themselves before a seemingly unwinnable fight, and if they die? Well… Their clone is now them, because they were time travelling, and you had the bonus of doing damage to a creature outside of your current strength)

There’s many enemies, always enemies. But they will fall before the superior meld of biology… And technology

The system of base building has also been rejigged, and I also quite like this. Before this, it was done in a slightly more traditional 4X manner, with building cities, expanding them, and the main difference was in Outposts (to extend your territory without building another city) and Watchtowers (Extend the vision range of whoever owns them.) In Planetfall, it’s a collection of territories, and expansion is through exploiting a sector within range (preferably connected), and then building an exploitation on that point. Forward Bases can pre-emptively claim a territory, although anyone who wants to either destroy that or take that claim for their own can certainly try, so defending forward bases is… An interesting dynamic, since the game doesn’t generally encourage hordes of units, overall.

It’s somewhat refreshing, after the hullabaloo (enjoyable hullabaloo, but hullabaloo nonetheless) of Age of Wonders, to see the turns just… Glide by, relatively speaking. And it helps that, aesthetically, Planetfall is very much on point. The UI remains the same, and is mostly readable and well organised (occasionally, there’s a button or two that confuses a little, but it’s easy to learn), the music is fitting and gets the mood going along with things, and the worlds are, again, clear about what’s what. There is also hotseat, always a favourite of mine, for anything up to 12 players (Which is a fair bit more than the current number of factions, but the existence of a DLC Season Pass implies, as with Age of Wonders 3, that more is planned.)

I do enjoy a good warrior woman. Almost as much as my queer readers do.

So… I don’t really have any gripes about Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Some folks might get turned on by the extra login (as they might have done with Age of Wonders 3), but many a 4X or Grand Strategy player already has a Paradox account, so… Overall, it gets a recommendation for 4X players, with the only advice for those new to AoW being “Save often, but especially before fights, so you can learn how it all works without as much frustration.”

The Mad Welshman is torn between factions. So he spends most of his time with Planetfall banging his toys together and making “pew pew!” noises in Hotseat. He absolutely will not apologise for this. More 4X’s need hotseat.

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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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Deep Sky Derelicts (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Release

Balance can be a very difficult thing to achieve. I don’t think that’s always a well understood thing. The more complex a game is, the more likely one of its pieces can fail to interact with its siblings. And although I am certain it will be fixed, it’s interesting to note where Deep Sky Derelicts hasn’t quite got the balance down just right yet.

This combat, which I foolishly walked into, could be a metaphor or something.
But no, it’s me about to be clowned by a superior force.

Before we get into that, however, what the heck is a Deep Sky Derelicts when it’s at home? Well, it’s a procedurally generated, turn based game involving entering ancient hulks, fighting aliens, pirates, and robots, all to find two dreams of humanity: The Mothership on which humanity arrived, previously thought by the game’s spacefaring civilisation to be mythical, and citizenship, for lo, the spacefaring civilisation is a wee bit dystopic. Hand drawn art in a comic book style, some solid music and sound effects, and a mostly clear UI. Good stuff, potentially, and, aesthetically, already shaping up very well.

And mechanically, a fair amount of it is shaping up well, too. Most of the various classes work well, each having specialities of their own, such as the Bruiser’s Heavy Melee (at the cost of not having a ranged weapon, or a second tool), the Leader’s flexibility, and so on, with guns and addons being the main methods of customising your character’s deck of cards for the fights. There’s a certain joy in finding new and effective methods of murderising the opposition while ensuring your health or suit energy doesn’t get too low, because regaining the former is expensive, and losing all the latter (Drained by both exploration and turns of combat) is an instant death state… Similarly, the tutorialising is good, and mostly feels natural.

Even the most basic of attacks look good.

Alas, not all is currently well, and some things feel a little lacklustre. The Bruiser, for example, has the lowest ratio of combat cards to non combat at first, so they are, oddly, a class you have to build up before it really gets going, whereas others, such as the Engineer, can mostly get going straight away. Equally, not all weapons are equal, with the Assault Rifle getting the least use in my runs because… Well, without a high Weapon stat, it rapidly becomes useless against anything with the least amount of armour. At the moment, the ships feel relatively empty, which, in a way, is fitting, but also makes for minutes of… Well, wandering just to find something, and it’s very important to check the level of the ship you’re invading before embarking. There are four ships to start with, and closest does not mean friendliest. Just so you know. Finally, and this is definitely something that is being worked on to my knowledge, the game is not complete, so unless you’re gunning for the main goal as directly as possible, yes, you’re going to run out of missions, and consequently money. Money you need to re-energise your suits and survive.

These points aside, though, Deep Sky Derelicts is shaping up to be pretty fun. Some of the questlines are well written, and give a sense of a universe which has a lot of odd things going on, like God Machines (or machines with delusions of godhood… Take your pick), creative means of getting around the limitations of a space suit (and the disgusting results thereof) , and, of course, the things that populate ships. What makes all the janitor robots so damn murder happy? We may never know. Finally, when a run goes well, it goes very, very well, and I’ve been dissuaded from wanting to murder my entire team by… Well, finding some particularly juicy pieces of loot that make the combat go by even quicker, new things to see in the comic frame presentation of moves, and convinced myself “Okay, you don’t get cut off yet. Your kit’s too good.”

On the one hand, minimalist, and not a whole lot of events over the whole ship. On the other, this is clear as crystal.

So that’s the current state of Deep Sky Derelicts: When it’s good, it’s entertaining and fun, and when it’s bad, it can get sloggy quickly, which, thankfully, is fixable. It’s an interesting take on an idea we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, with a good aesthetic, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, because, as mentioned, balance problems can be fixed, and the writing of what’s in there so far is giving me confidence that, by release, I’ll be more positive about the game.

The Mad Welshman would give you more today, but he needs to get a suit refill. Stupid oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere…

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