Source: Review Copy Price: £19.99 Where To Get It: Steam
The Maid of Sker (Y Ferch O’r Scer) is an old Welsh ballad, telling the tale of a love denied by class differences, a harper loving a maid, the maid being married off after the father denied the dalliance, and the maid dying of a broken heart. Or, in some versions of the tale, being locked in a tower, dying, and haunting the mansion forever more.
Okay, in at least one version, it turns out alright in the end. But it’s that second one that’s pertinent, as Wales Interactive have decided to take a stab at a first person survival horror, where the maid’s song, a song she was forced to sing, has corrupted the entire household into murderous, faceless mirrors. Or… Maybe it’s not as clear cut as that? Still, we’re here to look at the overall stuff, so how did Wales Interactive do?
Well, aesthetically, they nail it. Since the creatures you face hunt by sound (and they’re faster than you), their deep breaths and clumping footsteps fill with dread, and the areas each have a distinct flavour, be they outside or inside. It feels, in essence, like a place, which happens to have monsters in it.
On the gameplay end, however… It can be pretty frustrating. The stealth, not so much, although there are definitely frustrations there (I get it, you’ve got a cough, Thomas, and I also get that it’s there to add a little spice to things, but it felt random and irritating.) I didn’t find the AI omnipotent at times, as others have said, mainly because I took great care not to bump into anything. But mileage apparently varies there.
Meanwhile… The puzzles. Some are obtuse and frustrating, and I can’t help but feel what happened was that I missed a document somewhere. In any case, that and the protagonist being seemingly the only properly mute character in the whole thing is also a tadge annoying (I’m going to note, with some amusement here, that some have said the perfect Welsh singing of Ms. Williams with a seemingly English accent was offputting… Believe me, butt, I can sing flawlessly in Welsh, but my accent is English too. Bloody Radio 4 cursed me.)
Still, there’s enough it does right that it still errs on the side of recommendation. The introduction of the monsters is well done, the little vignettes you see, such as the gravekeeper seeming to burn someone alive, are good, and you get the picture of what went on very early on. It’s kind of bleak to read, at one point, the tally of these hotel owners/shipwreckers’ victims (Clothes 2/6, Trinkets 1/6), and then, later on, to hear your dear heart talk, seemingly oblivious, about how her father and brother were swearing over the guest vanishing, but no money coming out of them. So, aesthetically, it works, and horror wise, it does more than just jump scare (although it does that too, so the jump scare averse, stay away)
I won’t say I had the best time with it, but I can at least lay that partially down to frustration with the puzzles and the feeling I was missing something (especially maps for certain areas, which bugged the hell out of my completionist reflexes), and partly down to my pickiness with horror coming from years of familiarity. And it does, in the end, have more going for it than against it.
The Mad Welshman loves his home country, and its relationship with myth and the supernatural. It’s a largely untapped resource, to be quite honest. Doctor Davies, Warlock Exorcist, when, folks?
Source: Review Copy Price: £14.99 (OST+ BTS £7.19) Where to Get It: Steam
I can’t really lie, but when I looked at Church In The Darkness, I was… Wary. A game about cults, especially American ones, can be… A widely variable experience, in terms of narrative quality. Often, cults are enemies, generic or otherwise. Sometimes interesting things are done with them. And, at worst, they can be games with an odd poltical slant while the company in question vehemently denies there’s any politics… Despite the fact there clearly is.
But, I’m happy to say, there are interesting things about The
Church In The Darkness, even if I unfortunately couldn’t tell you
everything at the time of review. After all, the cult in this game
can have multiple possible actual motives. But I can tell you
how it presents this cult, and how it plays, without either hitting
spoiler territory, or ignoring its themes.
First, let’s begin with it being the late 1977s. Conservatives were
in power (Specifically, Gerald Ford, but Watergate only having been
three years previously was still in people’s minds), and were pushing
back at rights movements and welfare programs alike. Vietnam had only
ended two years previously, which, even today, has left its
psychological scars on people. And, while there were fights for
women’s rights, and the blaxploitation film movement, it was mostly a
time of rising conservatism, and a bigoted focus on “Traditional
Values.” And this could be argued to be one of the points from
which conservatives pushed harder for using “Socialism” as a
dogwhistle for everything progressive they hated in America.
Enter… The Collective Justice Mission, a radical (by 1970s
standards) group, charismatic leaders and all, who’ve relocated to
South America to found what they consider their ideal society, under
a regime they think will support them. And enter you, Vic, a man
asked to find your friend’s nephew, Alex, and try to get him away
from this group. Now… Enter nuance. Enter narrative and choices.
Overall, the game is a stealth game. Vision cones, distraction
tactics, going loud, going silent, going nonlethal, and procuring on
site. It’s visually clear, the voice work is great, and has a few
stars like Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie, playing Rebecca
(Cult Leader 1) and Isaac (Cult Leader 2) respectively. The controls
and play are easily understood, and it’s actively recommended you try
it on easy until you’re comfortable with the idea of extra handicaps.
But this, honestly, isn’t the most interesting part of it to me. And
I feel that was the intention.
What was interesting, to me, was the discoveries, and the narrative.
I did say it was nuanced, and I stand by that. Alex is latino. Other
characters are folks of colour. Rebecaa and Isaac are… Well,
they’re white, and, since their motives can differ from playthrough
to playthrough, you don’t notice, at first, what kind of
radicals they both are. Because, for the early game at least, they’re
emphasising that this is their home, their paradise in which they’ll
show America that they are wrong, and that they are
right. And they’ll mention injustices, historically accurate ones,
from gripes to serious matters.
And the people walking around, the wooden huts, the rural life… At
first, it all seems so bright and cozy, with the exception of, you
know, people shooting you when you’re detected, then locking you in
an increasingly difficult to escape situation each time, with one of
the cult leaders telling you that your imperialist ways won’t stop
them, that no-one can stop them. And they are convincing, full
of fire and brimstone when it comes to enemies, sweet and caring (at
first) for their devotees. When you find Alex, no matter who you were
sent to consult who is at least neutral to your presence, he’ll tell
you that the cult, genuinely helped him, emotionally and physically,
out of a bad situation, and he’ll even be confused by the fact his
family is looking for him, considering they had previously ostracised
But, the more you explore, the longer it goes on, and… You start
noticing there’s trouble in paradise. Alex may tell you that food is
scarce, and others who let you talk to them may also tell you
troubling things (Or they’ll deny that there is a problem, because
the cult had, seemingly, genuinely done good things for some of its
members.) But this is a cult with guns, and firing ranges. Sometimes
(often) you’ll come across corporal punishments and shaming, from a
public haranguing session, all the way to people being stoned and
locked in cages. There are relatively few farms, relatively few
And, over time, the tone of the respective cult leaders… Changes.
In the playthrough where I’d gotten the furthest (Yes, you can, once
you’ve found Alex, just book it, but I didn’t take that option once),
Isaac started sounding more tired, talking like a divorced husband
trying not to let the children know how bad the fights had gotten,
while Rebecca… Her fire and brimstone tone got louder, talking
about her allies in the South American military, and more emphasis on
not being stopped. Even the documents, scattered around, show
that this paradise is rotten to the core, unbeknownst to its members
who form the peel.
But even when I met Isaac, snuck into his home base (notably,
separated from Rebecca’s), he was loudly denouncing me as an enemy,
someone who would murder him, kill his great dream… Even as I
just… Stood there. Hell, I don’t think I even had a gun, at that
point. And this was jarring, until I realised… Oh. Yeah. To him,
I’m the Great Satan, aren’t I? No matter what I do, I want to take
away one of his flock, and see what’s really going on, and that’s
anathema to him. Well, shit.
Now, in the interest of balance, I will say this is probably one I
want to come back to, not just because I find the narrative as
presented so far interesting and pretty well presented, but because I
want to see if it stays that way. It isn’t the easiest to
sneak around, and I have to do a lot of sneaking around, with
the rare villagers’ clothing not being as big a help as you’d think.
Which, again, makes mechanical sense, as everyone here knows each
other. Clothes or no, get close enough, and they’ll recognise you as
an outsider, as other.
But, overall, I feel it goes interesting places, and I do want to explore its multiple motivations, its multiple potential endings. And that’s a good sign.
The Mad Welshman believes in giving interesting narrative its fair due. And there’s… A lot to unpack here.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £23.79 Where To Get It: Steam
Welcome to Basingstoke, a town filled with sausage rolls, quaint pubs, AND THE LIVING DEAD. We hope you enjoy your stay in the picturesque recycling bins, sewer pipes, and assorted possibly-safe buildings. There is no escape.
My character’s name sounds a bit like Gordon right now. There is no reason I find this fitting at all.
Basingstoke, the latest offering from Puppygames (and not the small English town, although it is set there) is an interesting game. It’s definitely an action game, but avoidance and stealth, rather than killing, is the main focus (Although weapons do exist, only a few are guaranteed a quick kill, and most of them are loud.) It’s procedurally generated, and has older game concepts just kind of strewn about, like save items, level-based gameplay, and the like. It is, in short, a mix of old and new ideas, starting with perhaps one of the older ones: Science going wrong, because a big company delved into things Man Was Not Meant To Know (Never goes wrong in a videogame, amirite?), and so Basingstoke is now a hellhole filled with zombies, mutants, aliens, and death-robots. A hellhole that you, the latest interviewee for Omnicorp, have to escape.
And it works. It works really well. Part of that is that Puppygames is no stranger to adding their own touches to arcade based play, and have a solid grasp of the low-poly aesthetic, with good sound design and occasional music. And part of this is that, most of the time, it feels fair, with the difficulty escalating sensibly, except when you screw up and trigger a loud noise, in which case the sudden horde of zombies is, definitively, your fault.
My last thought was “DO NOT RUN IN THE HALLWAYS”, oddly.
There’s also good variety in play. Myself, I mostly like non-confrontational play, creeping around, distracting enemies with sausage rolls or sandwiches, occasionally setting groups of zombies on fire with a molotov or flamethrower, if I can get hold of the salvage needed to build them. And the game supports this quite well. Get some Instant Coffee (freely available from drink dispensers, relatively common), and you can mix it with a sandwich, kebab, or the like to turn the zombie that eats it on its fellows. Or, y’know, just have a nice cup of coffee. Still, running hell for leather everywhere is, definitely on the early levels, still a valid and workable strategy if you’re clever about it.
And each has their downsides. My stealthy play, for example, is mostly slow, and I don’t get to explore everywhere. As such, my item use suffers somewhat. Running, meanwhile, attracts Tentacles, and even the twitchiest of players will occasionally get caught out by one that spawns either on top of them, or in such a way that it’s going to grab you. And in Basingstoke, one hit is a kill for your player character.
With revolutionary new RECYCLEBIN-O-VISION, you can see exactly how boned you, in fact, are.
There’s a fair amount to like about Basingstoke. For example, I can start from later levels if I really want to, and the Insurance Policy, if I can afford it, means I get to save mid-level (once.) There’s infinite retries on a level. It can turn down the flashing and gore, and it’s largely pretty clear how to play, tutorialising well. It also feels tense, without being aggravating. Yes, I can die at any second. But I know the progress from the previous level won’t be undone, and I can still try again. I know my progress overall won’t be undone. And I find myself, overall, looking forward to whatever evil thing the game is going to throw my way, be that for me, like when I made a proximity mine, or against me, like the large alien carnivores of the Underground. Well worth a look if you like stealth action titles.
The Mad Welshman sprinkled coffee, breadcrumbs, and bean juice over his egg and bacon sandwich, and smiled nastily. Somewhere, some zombie was going to have a very, very Full English day.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £19.49 Where To Get It: Steam
A lot can be said about how intimidating it is, playing a largely pacifist mouse in a world of giant, angry rats, that it’s taken me this long to take a look at Ghost of a Tale, the stealth action RPG by SeithCG. But, like Tilo, the mouse bard protagonist of this game, I’ve gotten over that, and honestly? I’m glad I have.
I feel you, little guy… They *are* scary!
Ghost of a Tale is, at its most basic level, a game where you, Tilo the mouse bard, must explore an ancient keep, hoping to save your wife Merra (Imprisoned, like you, for treason) and escape. Of course, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t have either the tension or the interest, so there’s a pretty wide cast of characters, some friendly, some not quite friendly, and many of which aren’t friendly at all, considering that they’re either beasties out for any blood they can get… Or the rat guards, who, understandably considering the charge you’ve been imprisoned under, aren’t exactly fond of you.
Of course, this doesn’t bring secret doors, shortcuts, a hint system in the form of a seemingly friendly blacksmith, a small web of intrigue, and something about an Emerald Flame, a great evil that may or may not be rising again… And some fine characters, all set in a beautifully rendered environment. There’s a fair bit to do in Ghost of a Tale, and I appreciate how, while the rats are a threat, they’re a threat that can be dealt with in a variety of ways, including running away (Even walking, you are slightly faster than the rat guards) and hiding until they return to their posts. Failing that, slime trips them up (if they’re not wearing boots), bottles knock them out (if they’re not wearing helmets), and, eventually, two sets of armour that allow you to move unchallenged… Past the guards, anyway.
I get the distinct feeling I’m not meant to be up here… Yet.
There’s a fair amount I like about Ghost of a Tale, as the shortcuts are helpful, the world is pretty, and the characters are, when they speak, charming and amusing (Kerold the Frog Pirate, for example, has a fine example of breaking the fourth wall with items that don’t turn up until you know they’re there… I won’t spoil it for you.) But this isn’t to say there aren’t things I get a bit grumpy about. There’s a fair amount of the game that can best be described as “Collectathon-ing” , and some of the puzzles are a little obtuse. There are maps, but it’s a case of finding a safe spot to look at your inventory, and memorising.
Still, overall, I find Ghost of a Tale more charming than frustrating, and, despite being intimidating looking in the early game, it’s a cool game that emphasises exploration and trickery over violence, and a pretty accessible one at that. Worth a go!
Top of the world, ma! (No, really, highest point in the game’s rather large map, apparently)
The Mad Welshman is not ashamed to admit the Rat-Guard scared him. It just means they’re doing their job well, is all!
Even after release, Hacktag remains an odd sort of beast to me. It is, and, at the same time, isn’t my sort of game. It remains recommended because, despite my own problems, it is, nonetheless, an interesting and fairly accessible take on co-op stealth/hacking games.
Oops… I see trouble in my future…
Goodness me, that was a bit of a mouthful. Let’s back up a sec. Hacktag is, at the same time, competitive and co-operative, involving an anthropomorphic (that’s animals as people, in this case) world of corporate espionage, in which two players steal data in one of three mission types, either as a stealth operative, or a hacker. The gameplay in each is different, but has the same base idea: Do the things, don’t get caught, and if you do get caught, hope your friend (or you, in the case of Solo play) don’t get caught trying to bust you out. Occasionally, you do things together, and, overall, it’s a tense experience.
Aesthetically, the game works fairly well. Clear visuals, some good stealthy music, ramping up to fever pitch when, inevitably, something goes to hell, and its icons and tutorialising are pretty clear. The controls are understandable, and it comes in the three flavours of multiplayer (friends or random players), local (Two players, one machine), and solo (switching between controlling characters with TAB, the majority of my experience with the game.)
Mainframe hacking is the mission type added for release, and it’s a long, tense haul…
I’ve already mentioned that I find it a little odd that, despite its co-op nature, players are scored (and level up) separately, especially as co-operation is, in at least some cases, mandatory. Indeed, part of the tensions comes from situations like one player trying to unlock the way ahead for the other, to run into a situation like the alarm trap, which requires both players to deactivate (Indeed, one of the pictures of this review is a fine example of when this happens.) Nonetheless, unlockables, co-op play, an interesting visual style… There’s a lot to recommend it.
It isn’t, as it turns out, my particular cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something new in a relatively small genre (at the present time, anyway), this may well be worth a look.
As far as I am aware, while this deeply resembles a lootbox, Coins are earned in-game. Nonetheless, I did get a little skittish when I noticed this…
The Mad Welshman isn’t, as it turns out, much of a multiplayer feller.