15 Dec 2011

Announcement: DIY Reporting

I just thought I'd write up a quick post to let whoever reads this fine publication know that things may slow down to a crawl on the site leading up to Christmas. It's obviously a busy period for everyone personally - and it will be for me - but for once I've got a reason to halt activity here which isn't exclusively 'I'm feeling a bit lazy'.

No, sir. This time I'm not being productive because I am being productive. You see, I've been asked to contribute to the indie gaming coverage over at the excellent DIY Gamer blog which, besides making me feel incredibly honoured, also means that I will likely be batshit busy for the forseeable future. This could be the first step towards a career in something I love so I'm taking the whole thing by the nuts and running with it... however painful or strangely erotic that may sound.

That's not to say things won't get written on here. I'll still be completing the odd review (in particular the overdue Trine 2) and definitely continuing my Terraria diary, just... not right now.

11 Dec 2011

Here's an idea: Influence

My first impressions of Blanket Fort Games' Influence, prior to playing, were pretty neutral. It looks lovely - you can see that from the shots on this page, and particularly the ones shown here - but it also seemed as if it might be tame, too mellow to keep me from the many other IGF entries for any great length of time.

Happily, I was wrong. Although Influence may be simple enough to play (no keys or clicks required, only mouse movement) very rarely was I able to perform anything other than frantic hand-twitching whilst my eyes darted from corner to corner of the arena in search of my next victim or escape route. It is, thankfully, deceptively good.

Ideas form the theme of the game. Despite essentially being a deathmatch experience, Influence does try to recreate how certain thoughts can take on a life of their own, consuming alternate thinkers, pulling passers by into their ranks and, in certain circumstances, completely dominating anyone who might oppose them. Each id in the game must be captured for victory and doing so simply requires your followers to exceed the enemy's numbers whilst you convert them.

The music in the game is soft synths and sporadic piano key presses, all dynamically generated by the little ids in each army. Joyfully, capturing the opposition en masse will create a flourish befitting the effect of consumation and growth. You can even save the song at the end of each battle, which is nice option, particularly if you're the kind of person who revels endlessly in your own glory.

By its tranquil approach to RTS gaming, Influence is particularly reminiscent of Eufloria. It's just as straightforward but also as cutthroat as that title. The game is primarily a multiplayer experience, although you are able to set up custom matches against some incredibly aggressive AI opponents. I wasn't able to find anyone online to play it, but I was using the demo version and whether this is reflective of the online population in the full game I'm unable to say. LAN is also an option.

[via IGF]

Influence is currently available in demo form, here. You can also purchase the full game here for £6.00.

9 Dec 2011

Meet and eat: The Visitor Returns

Here's a quick browser game to start your day off, and hopefully one that will have you vomiting into your cornflakes. The Visitor Returns allows you to live out your wildest The Thing fantasies - goring, assimilating and imitating your prey in the name of saving your own slithering behind after crashlanding onto Earth.

The game takes place beside a remote US trailer home. With all the scavenging wildlife that such a setting provides it won't be long before you're squirting stink clouds and crawling up walls to tackle the really big game - the human inhabitants.

It's a nice little puzzler and, if you've got the stomach for it, one that offers a variety of grizzly ends for its final terrified victim. The solutions are fairly straightforward, but the results are so well animated that you're desperate to push on just to see what the little monster will come up with next.

You can play the game via the developer's website, here.

[via JayIsGames]

8 Dec 2011

Losing weight: Cold Equations

The IGF Main Competition is a natural breeding ground for experimentation. With Cold Equations we have a project which experiments with the idea of failure within games - how we deal with it and what it means when we do all we can to succeed but still can't achieve a satisfactory endgame. What do we expect when we enter into a game? Without thinking, we need to be the hero. We need to win the day, to rescue the girl, to shoot the mad Russian in the face (the western mainstream's idea, not mine). Cold Equations challenges this expectation.

In this respect it has a good deal in common with Krams Design's Egress, which I covered last month. Both games take the standard point-and-click approach and force it in a new direction. It's also something you'll be wanting to play again and again to test the game's parameters, to see if somehow you are able to make things go your way.

The plot of Cold Equations is based on a sci-fi short story of the same name. In it we find ourselves aboard an emergency supply vessel sent out from the mothership to provide much needed medical supplies to a small group of desperately ill colonists on a nearby planet. Problems arise when a stowaway is discovered onboard - a young girl whose presence pushes the craft over its weight limit. Carrying such cargo it will be unable to reach its destination and communications to outside help are unavailable. Where do you go from there?

Your first thoughts and, of course, your only option is to get things shifted from the craft. You have about three minutes to lose the weight of a child. You can spend some time talking to her, from which you'll discover her intention to see her brother on the destination planet and how she was only expecting a fine for hiding onboard, but none of this will help you both to survive.

The game is available to play online, here, and I advise you do so before reading any further into the story it's based on. You can read the developer's thinking behind its creation after your first play.

[via IGF]

Cross-platform: Fader

"This is Fader. It is a game about space, confusion, duality, triality and escape". I was contemplating leaving this post entirely to that one line from developer, Chris Makris, but Fader is definitely a title that warrants some further discussion.

Another entrant to IGF this year, it is a game of iconical indieness. A two-tone, minimalist, thinking man's platformer. I know that we have so many of these sorts to choose from currently (and, no doubt, many more to see release in the next twelve months) that the market should be saturated with idea clones and copycat visuals, but it's a testament to this sector of the industry that so many fresh ideas can still be retrieved from one base mechanic - that of making a little man jump around on a 2D plane.

So, take Fader - here the idea is one of duality, as described in the quote above. You control two characters onscreen, one above the other, but in essence you only really control one. That is, your actions on the keyboard will be reflected by both characters at the same time. Intriguingly they inhabit separate planes of existence so, when one hits a door but the other looks to have free reign to proceed, neither can move. And there's your headfuck.

I love the concept, but I'm also enjoying how incredibly threatening the game comes across in the video below. There's something disconcerting in the way the ghostly audio combines with the transposed layers of existence. And there are some great sci-fi zapping and buzzing sounds that just seem to hang in the air when the player interacts with doors, lifts and switches.

Having the two characters at cross-purposes but needing to work together is a novel concept and I think it reinforces a theme which is prevalent in computer games: Escape. We always seem to be running from something, whether it's the Half-Life Combine, or the ghosts in Pac-Man. We're constantly trying to break free from constraints placed upon us and here, imprisoning the player in two settings at the same time seems to make it so much more tangible.

We'll see how it plays on release, but Fader is something I will be keeping a very close eye on.

[via IGF]

Keep on running: InMomentum

The recent deluge of indie bundles has provided me with a chance to go back and check out some releases that I'd missed over the last twelve months. Usually I'd read the reviews, watched the videos, became eager to play and.. ach, was too skint to pay for any of them. Well, the three-thousand-four-hundred-and-twenty-five bundles we've had in the last week have helped to fix that situation. These days - these last few days in particular - we've been able to buy a shed-load of indie gems for practically nothing.

Well, InMomentum was one such game that I'd spotted when it was released last month. Purchased through bundle new-blood, The Indie Gala, it was the first of the games on offer that I loaded up yesterday to play. It's a fairly simple concept. You're a virtual runner within some kind of simulation. You need to get from point A to point B in as a fast a time as possible. There are other things to worry about like orbs and checkpoints but traveling onwards is pretty much your main concern. It's like Mirror's Edge, but also not at all like that game.

On offer are the abilities to wall-jump, double-jump and gain momentum to travel further faster, usually through the air to another set of abstract objects on which you're intending to run along. At first it feels clunky. At first, when the controls aren't mapped to your liking and you haven't yet had a good enough feel of the way you can interact with the world, you fail and fail hard.

I was cursing my luck and gnashing my teeth at first. I was trying to figure out how anyone but a seasoned Quake 3 deathmatcher could navigate such treacherous paths at a velocity greater then that of a three-legged cat.

And then it clicked - and I was flying forwards, bouncing from wall to wall and using the inbuilt ability to slow time to heave myself across gaping chasms to fall with the grace of a young, athletic pigeon. Your association with the controls in InMomentum becomes entirely unconscious, it's twitch gaming in the sense that I could feel my brain twitching as it struggled to keep up with what I was seeing onscreen. And that sensation is the draw of the game. There are online leaderboards to beat and you're able to hook up with other thrillseekers online, but I was happy to play just for the rush of retaining the momentum in every movement I made.

So it seems a fantastic game - there's not a singleplayer campaign to speak of, but it doesn't stop you from giving the odd half an hour here and there to improving your first-person gaming skills. That said, I'll wager you'll never come close to this guy's silky platforming abilities.

7 Dec 2011

Square peg, square hole: Block Planets

What's the biggest block you've ever encountered? A breeze block? A shower block? New Kids on the Block? Come now, let me show you something bigger than all three of those things - something that happens to be neither weighty, wet nor talentless...

It's Block Planets!

Why the exclamation mark, you ask? Well, it just looks like the sort of game which would misplace punctuation in a bid to entertain. Just like me.

Block Planets by Finnish indie team, BetaDreams, is a bold and rather attractive three dimensional puzzler. Played out on large cuboid worlds the aim is to rotate planets and maneuver a small eight-cornered friend through various tricks and traps in search of its other half. What happens when the lovers meet? Block babies, or awkward flat kisses, I'm guessing.

From the trailer below it's looking rather adorable, although I'm still unsure as to whether the player has control over the world or the block buddy, or both. Time will tell I guess - the game is nearly out of beta so a full release is forthcoming. In the meantime, Block Planets is entered into the indie DB Indie of the Year Awards which ends in just under four days so if you like it, vote for it.

[via indieDB]

6 Dec 2011

Opening minds: A Closed World

Over the next few months I’ll be browsing the list of IGF entrants, found right here, and giving some thoughts on a few which happen to have caught my eye. First up, A Closed World.

This is very much a game made with the intention of changing preconceptions. It’s a cornerstone of indie development, this ability to put forward ideas that challenge how we view gaming and, sometimes, the world around us. The topic of study here is homosexuality and the struggles that people have against those they love - family or friends - who can’t understand their way of life, and certainly can’t condone it.

The game, currently in prototype, begins: ‘Has it ever occurred to you just how much of our lives is affected by the answer to a very simple-sounding question?’ and then proceeds to ask you your gender. Shortly after you’re dropped into a forest with another simple-sounding choice - either you fight the monsters or you wander alone forever. It’s blunt, but fits effectively. There’s no threat here if you don’t want there to be. You can exist and you can remain unharmed, or you can fight your personal demons and remain true to yourself.

Monsters are dotted about signifying different relationships within the character’s life. Interacting with them will initiate conflict, but not before providing a snippet of an argument in order to provide a subtext for the forthcoming battle. And then you’re required to take part in not so much a heated exchange of words, as an exchange of differing ideas and beliefs. The general rule to grasp here is that ‘passion defies logic, logic challenges ethics and ethics sway passion’. You’ll be fighting monsters with these rules as they defy your sexuality and it provides a sizable indication of just how frustrating and appalling these sorts of circumstances can really be.

Beating your demons will advance the story of a young gay couple trapped by their parents’ prejudice. After that you’re left to wander the woods forevermore, or keep fighting.

It’s a great idea, well suited to the stylings of a stripped-down JRPG. The analogy isn’t stretched, although it is far more of an idea than a game. The battles are intentionally mediocre - you’re supposed to get a feeling of the desperation of such a situation. It’s commendable - not particularly enjoyable, but enlightening. It’s also one of those remarkable little games that highlight just how much further games have to go in order to accurately reflect the world around us.

EDIT: There's a really good written response by Game Director, Abe Stein, to the criticisms recently levelled at A Closed World largely regarding the opening question mentioned above. As a point of interest, in my experience I took it as a fairly meaningless (but pointed) proposition. The game brings up a list of things that gender affects and then proceeds to portray something that largely obscures the male/female divide. As in, it means everything and nothing at all, particularly in this instance.

30 Nov 2011

Gunpoint or: What Gamers Want

Here's a something that's looking rather splendid: Gunpoint. A game that its creator - PC Gamer writer man, Tom Francis - describes as a 'stealth puzzle game that lets you rewire its levels to trick people'. I've not previously covered it here on the blog, but I have been watching - ever watching - as it has grown from something merely promising to something that simply demands to be played.

Francis has provided a new video which perfectly outlines the way in which Gunpoint plays so there's little reason for me to go into much detail here. I will, however, respond to one of the questions ventured in the clip. That being: 'Is this a game worth paying for?'

It's an interesting thing to ask. In current times, when the indie market is saturated with freebies, bundle deals and standard sales of all things fun and downloadable, I actually think now more than ever gamers are able to assess and spend exactly what they want on any given title. And this doesn't mean just waiting for offers to drop prices to a sensible level. We witnessed exactly how generous people can be in the light of indie talent when the recent Humble Voxatron Bundle raised almost £1 million dollars in a sale that lasted only two weeks.

Already I've seen comments in response to the below video and almost exclusively the answer is: yes. Yes, I would like to pay you for putting the time and effort into making this game for me. Buy yourself something nice. Or, even better, make me something else with it. And when the community around us is doing this sort of thing - when the people playing and supporting the indie treats we've been party to over the last year are generally that way inclined - you know that PC gaming has such a long way to go before it dies the death that a few of the larger corporations had previously prophesised.

So yes, Mr Francis, I would like to buy your game please, based on what I've seen so far. £5.99 has always seemed like a nice price.

28 Nov 2011

Terrarian on Cadillac: The House on the Hill

It’s been a long while since I’ve diarised my exploration of a single game and I thought Terraria, given its recent massive update (and the fact that it was going for pennies in the recent Steam sale) was an excellent choice to start one off.

I’ll say now, at the time of writing this I have absolutely no experience of
Terraria. Other than pictures or news articles that I’ve skimmed over in the past six months my knowledge of how the game is played and how the open world elements pulled together is completely barren. I am a blank slate ready to be filled with dreams and desires by this rather sweet looking - although, I suspect, incredibly daunting - game.

First things first, let’s get me a character created. Now, usually, when I’m playing roles in games I quite like to use a female protagonist. I’m not embarrassed about admitting that - at least, I’m not embarrassed about admitting that on a gaming blog. I just think it adds an interesting perspective to any game, puts the character’s struggle in a more interesting context. It also turns it away from becoming some manly power fantasy. By the looks of it the character models here are essentially sexless, so I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I’m going to go woman anyway.

So there she is: Martha of planet Cadillac. She’s pretty awesome because I created her.


The scene opens to a beautiful day on Cadillac. My guide and I stand on a cliff edge and he fills me in briefly (very briefly) on how to get started. First things first, it seems: chop trees for wood, build workbench, make stuff. So off I go, and as I’m indulging in a spot of deforestation without a care in the world a green blob bounces in from nowhere and attacks me. My sword deals with it, no problem, and I find myself wealthier as a result. Score. Onwards I go, chopping through wood, knocking through stone and earth as I climb to the tallest point on the hill on which I stand. This, I think, is a wonderful place to build shelter. The Sun is on its way down. I should get something built.

After some brief foraging - on the internet this time - I learn how to construct walls, a door and some rather natty dining furniture. It’s not complicated, but I needed the direction. Just in time for nightfall I put the last bits in place and, although the zombies are beating on the door, it’s far better than them clawing at my face. I decide to make it my goal on Day 2 to convert my naturally formed cellar into something a little more practical.


I head out west to look for trees to bring down. I’d stayed up all the night, crafting myself some fancy wooden tools: a new sword and a mallet for knocking in walls. A couple of deep ravines slow me down on my way, but wooden platforms I’ve brought along allow me to bridge any gaps. I make my way through a wall of cobwebs before I finally happen across a perfect woodland plateau filled with the tallest trees I’ve seen so far. I work fast to bring the them to their knees.

It darkens as I head back and, once I return home, I notice a new guest in the cave beneath it. A fluffy white rabbit. I instantly decide to make it my pet and hurriedly knock together some wooden walls and a door below to barricade the thing inside. Just as I finish darkness falls again. There’s more trouble tonight. I’ve a zombie trying to chew its way through my cellar door and, every time I take a break from building to deal with it, it flees as I open the door. Several times it does this, but on the fourth attempt I nail it. More money for me! Hoorah! Just as I’m celebrating my victory however, another one - a disgruntled relative perhaps - arrives to do exactly the same thing. I’ve never experienced rats this big before.


I’ve been so busy putting the finishing touches on my marvellous shack that I haven’t planned what to do today. Somehow, now that I have this piece of the world that is mine alone, I don’t want to leave it. I want to decorate it, make it homely, invite the neighbours round for tea. Well, perhaps I can look into that.

Before this though, I head out to deal with an irritating green blob left over from last night and just as I open the door - just as I go to swing my sword - something white bounds past me. “Bonzo, noooooo!” But it’s too late. He throws his tiny form at the blob and now lies split in two, entrails oozing onto the green grass below. I shut the door immediately. I don’t know why. To shield my eyes from the horror perhaps, but in 2D nothing remains hidden behind walls.

I don’t feel like doing anything today. Nothing besides immortalising my late friend’s memory.

First look: KarBOOM

KarBOOM is the type of game that will brighten up anyone's day. Even if you're a miserable old dog who only plays solitaire three times a day to keep your mind 'active'. Even if you're one of those wretched men, dismissive of PC gaming as something entirely nerdy except for that one endlessly recurring interactive spreadsheet, Champion Footballship Sports Leader Man, another activity involving a spherical piece of leather which allows you to briefly forget the awfulness of your own existence. Yes, even you will stop and stare and possibly think 'coooool' before going back to your most tedious forms of entertainment.

I speak the truth. Here is a game that could easily be described as sumo wrestling with Micro Machines, and both of those things are great. Better than solitaire, infinitely more exciting than football. Matches are played on a circular arena of some kind, all cars facing inwards and then... you're off! The goal is to smash any other players out of the ring and accrue the most points before time's up. Variations to this theme are provided by mutators which can be added together in any combination to mix things up a bit. With these active you can play capture the flag or tag, or give everyone nitro boosts, or all three of these things.

To play online you'll need to register at the official site. Generally only platinum accounts are able to access the servers, but currently all standard accounts are being automatically upgraded to platinum status anyway, simply to get people online and playing the game. With any luck, KarBOOM will take off because it's a short, sweet and solid little arcade brawler.

It's colourful and friendly enough to get the whole family involved and that, it seems, is creator Jibb Smart's intention. He explains: '[Having] two brothers close in age to me, I grew up playing games with or against the people next to me, and that's really where the fun is at', a point with which I absolutely concur. In any case this sort of thing does seem to be on the rise, what with Trine 2 on the horizon and Renegade Ops already allowing us to race alongside our comrades. The difference here is that KarBOOM allows for competition between eight players at once on one PC - something so incredibly rare for the platform that it really does deserve a special mention.

KarBOOM is still very much in development, but you can dowload the latest version, here.

S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G F-U-N: Wordsmith

Here’s one for the creative spirits amongst you. Wordsmith by Cheers Games gives you an opportunity to let your imagination run wild as you traverse the land conjuring food, weaponry, vehicles and more to aid your cause, which typically involves bothering things until they die (your ultimate goal being to slay that dragon up in the castle to the east). But Skyrim, this ain’t. What it does offer is a chance to create a large number of items from nouns spelled with Scrabble-type letters collected whilst playing. These can come from almost anywhere: Bash a reed to bits and you’ll be rewarded with R-E-E-D, knock a crab out you’ll get C-R-A-B, boff a skeleton and, well, you get the picture.

From then on you’re spelling your way to victory. Press the space bar, type something in and you’ll be rewarded with the chosen object - yours to place anywhere you wish or to equip if it’s equipable. Not surprisingly, this ability creates a phenomenal level of brain-freeze. When ten or so different letters have been collected it should be easy to think of at least one useful noun, but the capacity to make this happen consistently alluded me. Alluded me, that is, until I discovered I could make a space rocket and flew off to eliminate a bothersome bird that had been taunting me from the air. So then I had B-I-R-D and my options to progress had expanded.

This is something that Wordsmith does particularly well; puzzles are created on the fly. That previously unreachable goal - to fish for a fish, or to chop a tree - is one step closer to being realised with every new item you make and it’s great fun to mess about with. I haven’t come anywhere close to completing the available demo, but it’s been a blast to experiment with, constantly testing the game to discover what it will allow you to make. And, Laurie Cheers - sole developer on the project - is adding in new content all the time, filling in the gaps between what’s available in the game and what people are requesting.

The game is currently available for pre-order for $5 but will retail for $10 once released. A beta is in production, details of which are here, but if you like the sound of it (and why wouldn’t you?) check out the demo, here.

25 Nov 2011

Everything in its right place: English Country Tune

English Country Tune by increpare games is a brand new puzzler with a fairly abstract design aesthetic. The menu screen itself is a collection of interconnected spherical worlds around which you almost float as you select each part to play. But it works terrifically.

The completion of the puzzles themselves can centre around several conditions. You might be maneuvering little orange balls into their wireframe cages, or you may have to remove solid blocks known as ‘whales’ from the world by knocking them from the edge of existence. Although victory conditions may differ, the kind of structures that the game takes place on remain the same, albeit becoming far more elaborate as the game progresses.

Each level is made up of a collection of cuboids over which your avatar - a flip-flopping square of equal size to each cube’s side - can travel over in any direction (providing their are no barriers). It’s a really interesting game to control, simple in its visual stylings and only the arrow keys are required to move. After a few tutorial levels, you’ll start to get the hang of just how things work and, despite how complicated navigation could have been in this environment, increpare has done great job of keeping things simple here.

The variety of puzzles in English Country Tune is commendable considering how restrictive the basic mechanics initially appear. The game does a good job of adding in little tricks and twists as you progress and, although things can become overwhelming, for the most part I found the puzzles to be far simpler than they first appeared. It’s an interesting feeling, spending ten minutes on a puzzle, racking your brains, only to discover that the solution was only a few short steps away, down some pathway that somehow just didn’t occur to you.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some real brainteasers here. There are many. I’m completely stumped on several puzzles, but most solutions do come with great elation and often a facepalm as punishment for your own stupidity. Problems do arise when complexity of the setup of an individual puzzle makes it tricky to pre-plan a solution, after which you end up madly testing directions for some kind of undeserved epiphany, but this is not often the case.

English Country Tune is both minimalist and calmly executed. The persistent ambient music makes a decent attempt at soothing any brain-ache from particularly difficult puzzles and generally the game is thoroughly pleasant to dip in and out of. It’s hard to take for long stints as it rarely lets up in required concentration once it gets going, but there’s plenty to be rewarded by here and a good deal of content to make your way through.

Burning down the highway: Freeway Fury 2

You know that feeling when you're so angry to be stuck in traffic that you just want to put your fist through the windscreen, climb atop your car and surf your way from A to B? No? That's because you haven't played Freeway Fury 2 by Serius Games.

Play consists of pelting down motorways from an early GTA perspective and every time you hit trouble - which generally consists of traffic blocking each lane - just hit the 'Z' key and ride on the roof. Time will slow down in this mode to allow you to decide which other roof to hop onto. Then it's a quick yank out of the previous owner and you're merrily burning your way along the tarmac once more.

It's neatly constructed, easy to control and, although you'll probably start off bashing bumpers with every vehicle around you, you'll quickly be breaking all kinds of traffic laws without a scratch on your bonnet. It's thoroughly satisfying to plan a perfect route between cars and there's a natural rhythm to play which is easy to slip into, but rather hard to maintain. Crashing into others slows you down or kills you outright and, naturally, missing your jump can result in some very colourful skidmarks.

Check it out via jayisgames.com

Buy: AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome

Not the most imaginative blog title, I'll give you that, but I just couldn't think of a tagline that wouldn't be dwarfed by the immensity of Dejobaan Games' latest game title.

You see AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, despite being the scurge of journalists and amateur video game bloggers the world over, is actually something we need to be writing about right now. I covered the original game back in 2009 and found it be a perfect mix of high velocity freefalling and instant comedy death. This week Dejobaan have released an updated version of the first release with all new content and what appears to be some tweaking of the visuals.

If you've never experienced the delights of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, the premise is straightforward but typically abstract. You jump, you fall, you flip the bird at the jeerers or give the cheerers a friendly thumbs up. After that, it's all about points panels, looking to tag them at insane speeds whilst trying to avoid every single piece of matter looking to pop your body out of existence.

As a concept it's solid, as an experience its a serious rush, leading you to believe in your own superhero powers of perception and avatar manipulation if you actually manage to reach the ground unscathed. It's also on Steam right now under the sale, which is exactly why I've decided to post about it. Just make sure you get in there before it ends on the 28th November.


AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome is available to purchase on Steam, £6.99 standard price, £4.68 until the sale ends.

24 Nov 2011

Late to the Party: Renegade Ops

Of course, I would have reviewed Renegade Ops were I provided a copy to play with, but it was clearly not to be. Still, I picked it up for sale yesterday thanks to Steam's autumn of awesomeness and I can safely say that I'm glad I did.

If you're not aware of the game's ins and outs, the action in Renegade Ops is top down - driving for the most part - shoot 'em up fun. It's explosions every two seconds, shooting in a constant stream of fiery lead from whatever buggy you happen to fancy. Each one comes with perks, be it mortar strikes or shield boosts, heavy machine guns or ant lions. Yes, Gordon Freeman is here, fabled scientist from that series that time (and Valve) forgot.

Most of all, it's heart pounding good fun. I'm only a couple of levels and - although it's not the sort of game you can take for hours on ends - it very much sits in the back of your minding begging for you to return once you leave it for a bit.

And it looks fantastic. Remember, this is from Avalanche Studios, creators of the excellent and beautiful Just Cause series. Based on the same engine, we're once again treated to luscious jungle scenery and beaches where you'd happily holiday were it not for all the raucous warmongering going on.

Tasked with putting an end to hilariously overplayed villain, Inferno - and the comic book storyline is firmly tongue in cheek - you'll be set objective after objective by the magnanimous General Bryant with an aim to snuff the bad dude's venomous flame. And the mission orders really don't let up. Often you'll have multiple targets - hostages to rescue, mortar trucks to destroy and minions to slaughter - but it all comes together well enough and your thumb will happily twitch between the lot of them as your little vehicle careens about the screen.

This is satisfying, well meant shooty fun and I haven't even tested out its biggest selling point yet - the co-op.

Renegade Ops usually retails at £9.99 on Steam, but is currently available at £7.49 in their autumn sale.

First look: A Walk in the Dark

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I bloody love cats. I like having cats around the house because, no matter how shit your life might feel at any given moment, at least someone's having a damn good time, even if it is at your own expense.

A Walk in the Dark is a game, due for release next year, which casts you as one of these miniature beasts, fighting through a dark fantasy world in search of your abducted owner. Something demonic is afoot (and probably some cream or treats as I'm pretty sure no cat would ever aid anyone if there weren't a delicious reward involved).

Here's the trailer:-

That cat has some mad skills, no question. The developer, flyingturtlesoftware, are apparently looking closely at how the little mog controls to keep it at as near to the feel of feline grace as possible - although I'd suspect the transition from floor to ceiling and back again involves some sort of artistic licensing. Either that or my cats are broken. Stupid cats.

Final note: This particular bundle of fluff is called Bast which is possibly the best half-swear you could ever employ as a name for one of them.

23 Nov 2011

First look: Crashtastic

The favourite pastime of most modern gamers is shooting other things to death with guns that, in the real world, wouldn't fit in your wardrobe, let alone your hand. Just behind that? Probably ragdoll abuse. Truck Dismount and Stair Dismount first opened our eyes to this joy of joys. Trials 2 kept the ball rolling and now we have this here to light up our lives once more:-

Crashtastic clearly isn't beating about the bush when it comes to its own brand of polygonal mannequin abuse. And what a pleasing trailer - the plinkety plonkety piano work lends a nice serene edge to the rocket car smash action occuring onscreen. That's right: rocket action. From the looks of it cars will be custom built and rockets attached to provide carefully calculated propulsion to guide our brave little man to his goal... or straight into a wall.

The game is being developed by Mark Smith and scheduled for a soonish release according the website. Full details are apparently incoming. Could be one to watch.

Tested to perfection: Egress

If you're after something thoughtful to play this evening and you've about an hour to kill then you won't go far wrong with this short and perfectly free space adventure from Krams Design.

Egress sets the scene for a simple repair mission in which you, as shuttle commander, are tasked with fixing up a drifting space probe. Cue some brief point-and-click puzzle solving and a big fat space disaster. Fairly obviously things don't quite go to plan and very soon you'll find yourself stranded on an unusual planet receiving desperate messages from your crashlanded crewmate. It quickly becomes clear that this won't be a simple case of search and rescue. Instead: metaphysics and melodrama.

Egress can be a little slow moving at times, but the Space Odyssey vibes are - for your first attempt at least - well worth taking the time to appreciate. Without giving too much away, there's replay value here and you'll likely restart the game as soon as it ends. Some really nice touches keep this from being just another nuts and bolts adventurer.

It also looks and sounds great. A superbly subtle music score compliments the bleak hand-drawn art style and both lend a real sense of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings.

Even if you only spend twenty minutes with this game, if you're a fan of science fiction you'll likely get a kick out of Egress.

Egress is downloadable from the developer's website, right here.

22 Nov 2011

Prettiness abounds: Trine 2

Excitingly, one of my most anticipated releases this year - Trine 2 - has almost arrived. It's due in December and from the little I've played of it in preview, it seems to be shaping up rather nicely. Of course, it's dazzlingly beautiful - your eyes will undoubtedly have hit the screenshots below before you were even aware of this post's subject matter. You'll also likely have seen demo vids scattered across the internet like pristine jewels on a monumental turd. But the most striking thing I’m finding so far with Trine 2 is how easy it is to slip back into over two years after its predecessor allowed us to swing, shoot, bash and magic our way through such gloriously vivid fantasy stages.

The similarities so far appear to be favourable. Cobbling together your own puzzle solution is still very much the order of the day and the trim, tight co-op mechanics of the original have definitely been maintained, but I haven't yet delved far enough into this world of physics fun to get a good impression of the new additions to play. Certainly the levelling appears to be more sensibly structured than I remember, offering several new abilities split between the three distinct characters (knight/thief/wizard). One unlockable ability allowing the wizard to yoink monsters into the air looks particularly appealing.

But the visuals. Oh, the visuals. Once again Frozenbyte appear to have extracted a fairytale world from the minds of woodland folk. Whether they've achieved this through torture or bribery I guess is their secret, but to be honest I’m fine with waterboarding nymphs and fairies if it produces something this exciting to behold. Water cascades pleasingly off whatever it falls upon. Plants unfurl and flourish, bending with creaking stems as you manipulate them for your own uses. The intricacies of each individual scene are consistently worth stopping and admiring, even if a couple of goblins do happen to be bearing down upon you.

When it comes to combat the controls are as responsive as they ever were. Your options for dealing out death differ with each character. The knight is naturally the toughest with hammer, sword and shield, but if you can find a safe spot to snipe from, the thief with her thwunking arrows is equally satisfying. Early on in the game there's not a great deal more the wizard can do than conjure boxes to drop upon the heads of your enemies but naturally, with levelling, this looks set to change.

All in all this is exciting stuff. Once I've the time to sit down and stomp through the campaign, girlfriend in tow, I'll provide a full write up.

21 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Jurassic Park: The Game

Do you remember when Spielberg’s original film was released - the jungle landscapes filled with the kind of creatures you’d only ever seen sketched in the educational books of your childhood, or crudely animated in early twentieth century monster movies? It was awe inspiring cinema, terrifying at times, always encouraging you to believe that such things were a possibility in this strange world of ours. Also, dinosaurs are cool. Above all, that was the message.

Amazingly, Jurassic Park: The Game inspires none of the emotional impact of the original film. Fear of raptors all too often becomes annoyance at lizards, depth of character becomes featureless friendships. and even the T-Rex - a legend amongst beasties - is reduced to little more than action filler.

The game is divided into four chapters, each essentially an hour long quick time event which you’ll experience from a number of perspectives. For those unfamiliar with QTEs, it's worth me advising that your only involvement here in moments of peril is to watch for symbols flashing up on the screen as you hurry to manipulate the corresponding action on your chosen method of control.

I'm not making it sound boring for comic effect - this is technically all you have to do when you’re not working your way through the odd static puzzle section. Admittedly, something frantic and usually dangerous involving huge lizards might be happening onscreen, but any excitement is tempered by the tedium of keeping your eyes peeled for the next sequence of controls you'll be required to mash. There is a reason that this doesn't sound fun on paper. It isn’t.

As an introduction to gaming, Jurassic Park might offer a small child an hour or so of face-twitching enjoyment - it might even educate them in some minor way. But then, when they fail to respond quickly enough with a button press they may just witness a young girl having her spine snapped in two by the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. And that's quite the contrast. The action sequences and workaday puzzles are too simple for adults, but the extreme violence portrayed in the death scenes is completely unsuitable for kids.

Without a doubt though, these (mostly) accidental sacrifices provided my only moments of joy throughout the entire experience. Watching any one of these whinging arseholes getting pasted and guessing as to what the twisted minds within Telltale's Department of Sadism would come up with next was a hook. In the darkened depths of their development offices someone at some point had definitely said, ‘No, you’re not seeing the bigger picture: I want nothing left of this guy after he gets crushed between two battling dinosaurs. And the little girl needs to be watching’ and I can respect that. I enjoyed these little moments. I also give it a month before Jurassic Park: The Game: The Snuff Movie makes it onto YouTube.

The characterisation is where Jurassic Park completely falls apart. For the amount time you spend with each of the islanders you should feel something for them by the last chapter of the game, but it’s impossible. Here is the father/daughter team. Here is the mystery woman. Here is the ruthless paleobiologist. Here are the macho mercenaries. If they weren’t so completely unreliable in their motivations and emotional responses there might have been a chance to see them grow. But they’re dull, obvious stereotypes and completely unfathomable in their intended appeal.

Take the dino doctor, Laura Sorkin, who we discover is an animal rights activist and wishes for all the lizards to flourish on the island. She wants the biological kill switch within each one of them destroyed by treating the water supply with a special solution. But the question is, if she’s so incredibly fond of animal rights, how could she possibly be involved in the park project from the outset considering the extent to which these creatures are experimented on and manipulated and restrained? An explanation is never once attempted.

And further on when she becomes involved in a heated discussion over the water incident with our hero, Gerry Harding, the player is required to enter the argument as both characters simultaneously, picking one person’s lines before rebutting their own point a moment later. The result is a confusing sparring match which makes as much sense as playing poker against yourself. Where does the player stand in all this? At this point, they’re not so much a gamer as an underperforming film producer.

This just one select example of how hard it is to become involved in the experience on offer here, but the truth is this sort of thing is typical of the entire game. Shoddy dialogue, underdeveloped protagonists, repetitive action... I wanted to like Jurassic Park: The Game. I wanted the John Williams score to stir something within me and carry me through this dreadful experience if nothing else, but at the end of the day not even a brand as big as this can save such lacklustre game design.

Jurassic Park: The Game is available for purchase on Steam for £21.99, here.

16 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Rochard

The country rock song that opens Rochard is, in some ways, a perfect analogy of the excellent mix of entertainment it introduces. This is a game that is as bouncy and lighthearted as it is a parody of everything that has come before it. The song gives a good idea of exactly what will follow, which is: space hicks and silliness.

You'll take the role John Rochard, an asteroid miner in search of some precious something or other... I'll be honest, you won't be playing Rochard to follow its story. It’s not as if I wasn't paying attention to the cutscenes that join level to level, just none of it was apparently worth remembering. What’s important here is that things have gone bad in space and it’s up to you to right those wrongs with guns and physics manipulation. I rarely need an excuse to engage in platform puzzling and mass brutality and this game has plenty of both.

Rochard has a fancy gun, you see, one that was apparently swiped from the hands of fellow game man, Gordon Freeman. With this you have the ability to grab onto objects, pull things towards you and swing ape-like from conveniently placed crates. It’s a weapon as well as a tool though, offering you laser power and a multiple grenade launcher in case any of that mining work requires the firepower more readily available to the Starship Troopers.

Of course, you won’t actually be doing any mining here. Each chapter is divided into a series of rooms, more often than not with puzzles to solve to allow you to move on to the next screen to further your quest. It’s formulaic in a sense, but owing to the tools available it’s generally up to the player as to how best to approach each problem. Crates can be grabbed and thrown to make stepping stones or to boost jumps, fuses can be switched to power any number of devices or to avoid hazards. Gravity can be turned on and off at the press of a button to allow you to float serenely about and reach tricky ledges. Enemies can be shot in the face.

There are so many different aspects to the abilities with which Rochard allows you to experiment that I won’t be able to lay them all down here. Suffice it to say, there can be a great deal of freedom as to how you mix them up to achieve your goal. Much like Frozenbyte’s Trine, Rochard understands that there’s fun to be had in letting the player experiment with a varied toolset.

And despite this complex arrangement of actions, the controls (at least with a 360 gamepad) fit sublimely. For those tied to their keyboards I would say that mouse aiming leaves something to be desired. Instead of a reticule with which to aim, any movements made simply decide the character’s facing, so it can be tricky to be accurate, especially under pressure. Truth is, you should already have a gamepad if you’re interested in PC platforming - these days it’s essential.

What’s interesting about this game is how much of it has been lifted in spirit from those preceding it. If you have any interest in physics puzzling, you’ll likely have seen half the moves on offer here, from the gravity gunning, to see-sawing and energy fields, very little here is brand new. But that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. Rochard is entirely derivative, but its constituent parts are so finely manipulated to fit in with the bigger picture that it doesn't ever become dull or obvious in its solutions.

The story is a different matter. It's entirely skippable. When you’re playing a fat miner with a gravity gun you really shouldn’t need any further motivation to become inventively sadistic to those who oppose you.

Few people may fall in love with Rochard, but many will find it impossible not to smile at its clean, cartoony nature and the increasingly elaborate puzzling antics. It may not be the most original game released this year but it's packed with variety and a desire for fun that is frequently refreshing. It's also a decent length of play for the price you'll pay and when time equals money for certain video gamers, this should be where they're looking.

Rochard is out now and available to buy on Steam, here. (£7.99)