Hermitage: Strange Case Files (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: The game contains mentions of abuse, bullying, self harm, drugs, and suicide. Although TMW has not managed to fully check the CWs, they assume there are more, but these alone are biggies for a fair few folks.

Well… That’s been one hell of a ride.

Yeah, sometimes all you can really say as an opener is something so simple, because Hermitage: Strange Case Files is an emotional rollercoaster, and, naturally for a horror adventure game with obvious Lovecraft influences, it’s a deeply unsettling experience at times.

Ah, a many angled doggy. Sadly, a bit too eldritch and hostile to be pettable. Sorry, you cannot pet the dog in this game.

Slight, yet important tangent here, because I know something’s going to be said: Yes, Lovecraft was a racist fuck to the point where even his peers went “Whoooooah there, buddy!” Yes, a lot of his work has racism, and indeed, much of the subtext and theming is racist as fuck too. But if you are to judge a later work riffing on the created mythos, not on its own merits, but just as a sentence that starts with “This person liked Lovecraft’s work, ergo, they are -”, you’re doing a disservice to the creator in question.

Okay, that said, let’s go into it. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a supernatural mystery visual novel, mostly from the perspective of a bookshop owner whose landlord is… Mysterious, and knows more than they’re letting on, his lawyer cum investigator friend, and the various people who are caught up in horrors that said trio help solve. The first chapter is available as a free demo, and oh boy, it’s a doozy. A private school. Bullying. Strange dreams that prove to be real. I would definitely say, if you have a trauma trigger about school bullying, that the descriptions are uncomfortably on point. In each chapter, there are only a few puzzles, the majority of which are to do with sliding clues onto questions to answer them (three per question), with three chances on each, and a bad ending awaiting if, well, you fuck any of them up.

This guy… This cryptic god-damn guy…

So, let’s get the bad out the way: Scarlet text on a dark transparent box, with sometimes dark backgrounds? HAVE. COLOURBLINDNESS. OPTIONS. Some of the questions, perhaps due to the translation from Chinese to English, are worded in such a way that you likely won’t get it the first time, and sometimes, when you click to fast forward text before clicking again to skip the line… Well, it just skips the line before it’s done. Okay. That’s the bad out the way.

The writing is good. It will frustrate some folks to know that it has the feel of a sequel at the beginning, but most things get revealed by the end, don’t worry. It’s descriptive, it’s emotive (oh boy is it emotive), and the characters, even the ones who are introduced for only one chapter, are fleshed out as well as they can be for their screentime. It draws you in, and I honestly didn’t realise the first chapter took almost 2 hours, because, well, there were only five puzzles (technically four), and the writing drew me in.

Please do not do this. No, really, I can’t fucking read this at all.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned accessibility issue, it’s styling… The character designs are sharp, an ink and airbrush style you often see in manhua, with the occasional more painted look, the menus of the game fit the mood and theme of a mystery game well, the locations are nice, and the soundtrack and ambient sound… Mmmm, chef’s kiss, it’s good stuff.

So yes, if you like horror, if the content warnings don’t turn you off, and if you like a nice visual novel to keep you up at night, then Hermitage is a definite recommendation from me.

Have. Colourblindness. Options. This is not a request.

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Ultimate ADOM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £17.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Review: Early Access

Ah, ADOM. I’m going to say this now, if you don’t like hard, old school roguelikes, stay away, because ADOM is very, very traditional. In the “If you don’t know the systems, you’re unlikely to get past Level 3, and random start is Challenge Mode” sense.

MONSTER CLOSET, WOOOOOOOO!!!!

Also if you find a clunky UX which occasionally does things like have text that’s obviously code (such as, in at least one of these screenshots, “DRINK_SYMBOL”) offputting. Because that’s a thing too.

Anyway, yes, despite this, it’s not a bad roguelike. It is, after all, one of the earlier ones that’s gone through a lot of rejigging, although this version doesn’t have the massive world traditional ADOM does. Gender options are alright (including, as I mentioned in my Early Access review, Tentacled… Gotta love Tentacled and Non-Binary as options… Although, as with older RPGs, each gender comes with stat mods… Not my favourite), class and race options are pretty plentiful, and there’s certainly a fair few systems to interact with, like summoning, grafting, corruption and mutation… There’s not all that many roguelikes where I can say “I, a Gray Elf Necromancer, decided I wanted a third arm that belonged to a goblin. I never did find a third dagger for it before I died, but I could have, and that would have rocked. Damn you, dark elf immune to life draining magic, which was my main healing…”

Bree-Yark is… God-damn, I think that’s one of the oldest tabletop/roguelike memes in existence… Glad to see it here.

And aesthetically, it’s alright. No major issues besides skinny text for accessibility, the chibis and monsters look alright… Honestly, my main problem is that it’s clunky. Progression has gotten faster, so levelling isn’t a big problem, but going through a mini-menu when you want to do certain things gets annoying quickly, even with a turn based game where taking your time and thinking is the preferable path.

In the end, Ultimate ADOM may well please traditional roguelike fans who don’t mind a little jank, but folks looking to get into roguelikes should definitely look elsewhere. I honestly wish I could say more, but… There’s not a lot else to say that I haven’t said before.

The Mad Welshman is one of the deities in this game. Well, he’s like one of the deities in this game. Certainly as stylish.

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Deep Sea Valentine (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (£3.99 artbook)
Where To Get It: Steam

On the one hand, I love my Good Queer Shit, this is well known. I like gijinkas (human anthropomorphisations of various stuff), and I like games that use engines that aren’t really built for the game. But…

When you’re not talking to people, you’re walking through a smallish world. Considering this is using a visual novel engine, I’m slightly impressed.

…This game tries way too hard. And the result is a little painful.

Okay, maybe more than a little, this thing… I think I heard ten memes in the space of five minutes, and my brain (and teeth) ache a little.

So… Anyway, the game. It’s a visual novel made in Ren’py, simple choices, a choice of sea life gals to smooch on Valentine’s Day, short, to the point… And it has top down walking in it. Top down walking that scrolls somewhat jankily, and… Feels superfluous, honestly. There are set situations you’re faced with, things only opening up (a little) when you get to a certain point, so… Why not go with a more traditional structure, choosing where to go, etcetera?

Cheese. Health Advisory: Do not use this line.

Honestly, that’s mostly dissatisfaction with the jank of the top-down, majority segment of the game. Aesthetically, it be pixels, with hand drawn character art for the conversations, so I’m not complaining about the aesthetics.

The writing, on the other hand… Ohhh boy. See, I was down with “It’s time to pick up women. [pause] Respectfully.” But then, shortly after?… Stans, Stands, Darude’s Sandstorm, lots of cheesy lines… It grated. It grated a whole lot, and the humour seemed forced. I didn’t really feel any attraction to anyone (much less the protag), and…

I… Really wasn’t joking about the Darude Sandstorm thing. SIGH.

As such, I… Really can’t recommend this, unless you’re a masochist, or are as internet poisoned as the two jackass boys who seem to be the nominal antagonists of the story. I like my Good Queer Shit, but this… This ain’t it.

The Mad Welshman would like to be, under the sea, in a cute dolphingirl’s parlour, in a cave… Alas…

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Hell Architect (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Much like describing my issues with demons/Lucifer as tempters, knowing where the hell (ha) to start with this review has been difficult for me. But what I can say is that I felt… An odd sense of disappointment with it. Maybe I’m just being picky. Maybe. But nonetheless, let’s start there.

Hahaha, clothes? Why would you need clothes in hell?… I bet you’re all 1%ers too, how does it feel to lose your underwear, let alone your shirt?

There is, on the surface, nothing wrong with Hell Architect. It’s one of those pauseable real time management and building deals, in which you take care of your sinners while torturing them (sinners, apparently, still need food, drink, and proper toilet breaks (to make drinks) in Hell), building various things to look good to your boss (Lucifer, naturally), set underground (again, this is natural and common imagery of Hell), coming with a sandbox (the most commonly played), a solid tutorial, and scenarios to play with. All well and good.

Except… I can’t help but compare it to an earlier game, not only because of the (very) similar gameplay, but because it’s precisely why I feel so dissatisfied. The game being Oxygen Not Included (review here.)

Always fond of a wee cutscene, and I do like the painted aesthetic on display…

Aesthetically, it’s alright. UX is a little small, even on max scaling (upside: It has UX scaling. No congratulations, devs, this really should be normal across the games industry), but the cutscenes are visually appealing, what’s what is pretty clear, the music’s fitting, and the voice acting’s solid.

But it’s lacking the same character I saw in Oxygen Not Included, except with the torture devices. It… Feels blander, if that makes sense. And this is the thing… If I didn’t have this comparison, it would be an alright game in my book. Hell, it still is, perfectly serviceable, lots of playtime ahead, things to look forward to, tortures, etcetera.

Wh-whoah-whoah-whoah-whoah-whoah… They actually do have needs? Well, shit…

Even so, this is one of those times where, despite my heavy dislike of doing this, I can’t help but compare it to another game, and find it wanting in comparison. Maybe, if you like strategy/management/building type deals, you’ll find pleasure in this. For me, however, it just didn’t gel, even if that feels unfair to say, even to me.

I can’t ignore the emotional component of playing a game, however. That, as well, wouldn’t be fair.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t mind visiting Hell. They’re all pretty chill down there. Very big on responsibility for one’s actions…

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Foreclosed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Cyberpunk. Proper cyberpunk, not neo-futurism or cyber SF. Comic book aesthetic. Stealth, gunplay, hacking… You’d think this was right up my street.

But, in short, it’s not. I quite Foreclosed pretty early, and I’m not ashamed to say that. Because, on several levels, it just. Didn’t. Work for me. We’ll get into it after I explain what the game is.

Mmmm… A stealth section where I don’t have quite as much info as I’d like. Well, the important stuff is there, at least.

So, a third person (occasionally switching to first person, more on that in a bit) shooter with levelling, stealth kills, stealth, low health (at least to start), and “hit arrows in the right order” based hacking minigames. Oh, and the stealth kill is a QTE, button mashing 2. That’s your basics, right there. So… Let’s get into the few parts it got right, and then… The bits it got wrong.

In terms of general aesthetics, the music was good, tense stuff, chilling out during the quiet moments, the comic book aesthetic was indeed like some gritty inks I’ve seen in the past with colour, the voice acting (what I heard of it, anyway), was good, the comic booky bits looked good, and…

He’s a big feller.

That’s pretty much it. That’s… Pretty much it. Our protagonist takes up a lot of screen real estate, switches between walking and running… Well, seemingly in predetermined areas that nonetheless feel random, it switched to full screen mode whenever I came back to the main menu, keys don’t appear to be rebindable, default mouselook is fast, the first person camera has headbob you can’t turn off (and has a disorienting switch), the third person can sometimes be fucky, and there are segments where you’re forced into a different third person perspective than “behind the protagonist” (thankfully with absolute movement controls, so left is still left, right still right, and so on.)

And this was just what I saw in the first… checks… Half hour. I died precisely twice, once in the first stealth section (that one was most definitely my fault), and once in the first proper shooting segment (that… The protagonist is pretty squishy, the cover’s not great…)

Dead. And again. And again…

I’d have maybe switched to a lower difficulty (yes, there is a lower difficulty), but when I see this many problems this early on? Foreclosed was definitely not for me. I’m honestly glad I found this out early, even considering this is a review copy.

It’s a shame, really. There’s enough of interest here that if these problems were fixed, maybe it would be a fun, interesting romp, much like one of its main inspirations, XIII. But alas, it was not to be.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he looked at the television screen sky, and puffed on his neon vape. Time to get back to the grind…

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