Kingdom Come: Deliverance Preview

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As Frugal Gaming’s resident historical gaming expert, it’s that time again, where my Frugal Gaming overlords dust me off, pick the twigs out of my beard and wheel me in front another historical gaming epic. This time, my wizened, rheumy gaze has been cast upon KingdomCome: Deliverance, an open world chat-em-up of medieval proportions.

KingdomCome: Deliverance is aiming to be as grounded as possible in historical accuracy. Set in 15th Century Bohemia, (known as the Czech Republic these days), you will find yourself taking part in a story of intrigue and revenge while trudging through the mud-caked streets of villages and castles, chatting to the locals or skewering them with long-swords. As with all early access, this comes with the requisite suite of bugs and glitches and it’s also not representative of the whole game, as the beta provides a chunk of the middle-game to play through. It’s plenty to test the ambitions of the game as well as the systems and characters intended to populate the sprawling map.

Thankfully not all the details of medieval life are present. I’m yet to die of the Plague, my teeth look remarkably Californian and, in a bold statement of going against the trend, there isn’t a button that I can press to defecate. As it is now most of the voice acting and dialogue is temporary, but you get the gist. Most of your time will be spent cajoling scraps of information from NPCs by completing quests. Most quests can be completed in a variety of ways and will dynamically update depending on your actions and while you can use aggression to force information, it’s best to explore the dialogue options as much as possible to level up your conversation ability.

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On the occasion that you have to let your steel do the talking, the combat system built for Kingdom Come: Deliverance is unlike any other sword-fighting system I’ve seen in a game. Warhorse have put a lot of effort into doing it ‘right’, particularly for a game that has a first-person perspective. By using a simple dial in the HUD you can select different stances, parry incoming attacks or attempt feints to get past your opponent’s defence. It’s a little clunky at first but once you get a feel for the rhythm of a sword fight it’s deeply satisfying. To be clear: there’s no way to blindly hack and slash your way out of a fight – you’ll just exhaust the protagonist, you have to be patient but decisive, plus landing the odd punch when you get in close is as funny as it sounds. Incidentally, this system translates well while using a controller, but more on that later.

Built with the Cryengine, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is graphically demanding, so a decent PC is useful to enjoy all the graphical bells and whistles, but I can assure you it looks great on medium settings and of course the game will be optimised prior to release. In terms of environmental design, this game takes trees and forests to another level, the flora a fauna of this game is totally stunning. There are layers of detail in almost all the environments and the towns and villages, making them feel lived in rather than designed. And for all you equestrian fans out there I can officially reveal that the horses in Kingdom Come: Deliverance rank among the best that video gaming has to offer. Resolute, proud beasts, they provide you with dependable transportation, companionship and should you have the time (you will) you’ll find yourself gazing at them while they stare back with deep, soulful eyes.

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I have to applaud the current crop of actors that appear in the game. The dialogue and script are entirely placeholders at the moment. But they reveal a snapshot of the game in development. I spent plenty of time talking to the locals and although it can sometimes feel like you’ve stumbled into the village am-dram Shakespeare rehearsals, I became rather fond of their shonky dialogue delivery. The protagonists voice is the one you’ll hear the most and I grew to love his wooden, stoic exchanges with NPCs, making his utterances of surprise or anger all the more (unintentionally) hilarious. I had to mention this as I’m almost sad that these performances won’t make it into the final game. I appreciate the developers are aiming for AAA values for Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but there is a certain so-bad-it’s-good quality which I hope some hint of will remain in the final build.

My biggest concern with this game is the fact it’s launching on both consoles at. Due to its focus on historical accuracy and faithful recreation of past locations and events, I do wonder if console owners will be drawn to a medieval game that doesn’t feature dragons, spells, or competitive multiplayer. This game is by no means an action-packed hack and slash-a-thon, it is a thoughtful, almost lovingly created slice of historical reconstruction set in a delightful environment with quirky personalities, and even though I approached this game with all the cynical caution my wearied eyes have witnessed in early access games over the years, Kingdom Come: Deliverance won me over with its charm and simplicity.

Pros:

Historical accuracy – you might learn something!

Sword fighting system – it’s like fighting with a real sword!

Voice acting – nutters, jilted wives, drunk soldiers = lol

Cons:

Historical accuracy – can’t see the COD community jumping on this

It ain’t finished – can’t wait to see the finished article

Naval Action Preview (The Naval MMO).

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Naval Action is an early access title with grand ambitions for the MMO scene. In some ways Naval Action is aiming to be the age of sail game to beat, featuring a huge historically re-created map of the Caribbean, authentic ships and realistic naval combat. Upon booting up the game you’ll be asked to choose a Nation to represent (Great Britain in my case) and you’ll be given a starter ship (a basic Cutter). The nation you choose determines where on the enormous map you begin and then you’re pretty much left to your own devices. As is often the case with Early Access there is no tutorial, and by design Naval Action features very little hand-holding, but more on that later.

Eager to find out what the open-world sandbox nature of the game was like, I hit the ‘sail’ button as soon as I’d located it on the entirely placeholder but functional menu system. I took a moment to admire my little boat bobbing on the water then set sail and sped off in search of a battle. After sailing around for a while I engaged in combat with a random NPC and after much hammering of keys and baffled grunts of frustration I got my tiny little stern handed to me. I returned to port with my tail between my legs. It was clear I would need to do some research. With the help of some informative YouTubers, I returned to the game with some understanding of how I might succeed as an 18th Century naval captain. Although not an absolute sim, Naval Action does opt for the realistic approach: cannon ballistics, the pitching and rolling of the sea, and most importantly wind are all important factors to consider when sparring with other ships.

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Fortunately, Naval Action goes some way to helping you avoid fights you can’t possibly win, but when you do get into battle you are transported to a separate instance where you and up to 50 others can duke it out across the waves. From my experience, these instances are entirely clear of obstacles and land (even if you start a fight near the coast) so there’s no danger of running yourself or your opponent aground. You can also escape from a fight if you have the speed to pull away from your attacker, it will be interesting to see how these mechanics will translate to a drawn out chase or when hunting in groups. In most cases, however, battles are a tense balance of ammunition, crew and sail management, all while trying to manoeuvre to keep the wind in your sails and your target within reach. This is also where I suspect Naval Action will divide the crowd: battles are long. You should expect most 1 Vs 1 battles to last up to half an hour or more. Just as it was in days of yore, cannons are notoriously inaccurate, stick a dozen or more on a boat on the ocean and they become even more inaccurate. Thankfully there are plenty of firing options, it takes some practice, but you’ll soon be skipping iron balls across the water and into the exposed side of the bad guys.

Clearly, the most amount of polish has gone into these moments of combat; the sails and pennants flutter in the wind, while movement feels weighty and cannon fire leaves a dense cloud of smoke wafting across the deck. As you circle your prey, you can chip away at their hull armour to encourage leaks or employ grapeshot in an attempt to reduce their crew numbers, or use chain shot to shred their sails to reduce their speed. You can set your crew to prioritise sailing or gunning or set them to plug leaks and repair damage. You can even perform boarding actions if you can get close enough although, weirdly, boarding is played out by selecting actions in a turn-based mini game.

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Naval Action is an MMO, meaning lots of people can play it at once, and I sincerely hope they eventually do because it can feel a little sparsely populated at times. Of course, the main goal is to form large fleets and go on the rampage. You can also take control of ports, smuggle contraband, craft items, build ships or simply trade goods between ports. I’ve read, in a few places, that Naval Action is comparable to Eve Online. There is some truth to this comparison but the biggest caveat that sets Eve apart from other multiplayer games is its single server structure. Naval Action currently requires you to choose from four servers and any progress you make does not carry over. If however, this game does eventually migrate onto a single server, then it will open up a myriad of possibilities. Players would be able to form power blocs of controlled and contested territory, a player-driven economy would develop as a result thus making crafting and trade much more meaningful.

As an early access game, there are a few quibbles, navigation is all but left up to you, this is by design but it’s a design decision that doesn’t produce any gameplay, and getting lost isn’t much fun. The lack of any land mass appearing in battle instances is a minor disappointment; I think it would provide even more tactical options. And Naval Action is no slouch in the resources department, you’ll need a fairly beefy PC to pump the water up to max settings – pun not intended. None of these quibbles are deal breakers, if you’re playing Naval Action it’s because you like ship porn. And Naval Action is like the holy grail of ship porn. It’s deliriously beautiful to look at. Each screen is like Patrick O’Brian book cover (look it up, kids). It’s a real pleasure to look at. It’s a good job too, because you’ll need to commit a lot of time to advance to the next ship with more guns, sails and crew. And while it’s still early days for the game there are plenty of mechanics to learn and skills to master, it’s not a game that’s intended to pass a few hours on a rainy weekend if this is your niche you’ll be here for months, if not years to come. Better batten down the hatches, a storm’s a-coming.

Pros:

-Realistic 18th Century naval combat

-Beautiful environment

-Ships!

Cons:

-Challenging mechanics

-Resource intensive

-Needs more players!

Tempest

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What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Well I could fire him, but that might reduce my crews’ efficiency and if I do that I might not be able to fight off the furious tentacles of the legendary Kraken. First things first, hopefully, this port I’ve just docked at has the ammunition I desperately need to make it to the next archipelago where a potential new recruit awaits with vital information for my next mission.

This is the life of pillaging and skulduggery that Tempest offers: sail the seas, choose your allegiances, keep your crew alive, supplies up and above all keep your boat afloat. At first glance you’d be forgiven thinking Tempest is a cute nugget of boating action. It comes in at a paltry 80mb to download, in an age where we are accustomed to downloading a 20-gig-plus game on Steam then wandering off to do the hoovering or watch another episode of Making a Murderer, Tempest was good to go in the blink of an eye. And that’s not the only surprise, for such a wee game it looks pretty and sounds great. A brief word of warning at this point, Tempest has clearly been designed to work both as a regular PC game and a mobile game. Various aspects of the control scheme support touch controls, so navigating the menus can initially feel a bit unintuitive. Unlike some PC-mobile conversions, however, Tempest implants both control inputs thoughtfully and they rarely get in the way of the core game.

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Finding yourself with a basic boat and rookie crew, you start on the fog-shrouded world map. As you explore you uncover ports and landmarks that offer missions or opportunities to upgrade ships, buy and sell goods, or hire crew.  In a rather neat mechanic (which, by the way will be dope on a touch screen), you must ‘draw’ your route on the map. As you travel, you’ll encounter pirates and other factions randomly but frequently. Each battle is played out on a random 3D map and you can choose to auto fight if you’re feeling lucky or decline to engage in combat if you have that sinking feeling. You can occasionally choose to take a side in a larger battle, this is good way earn loyalty with particular factions and can ease the challenge of fighting multiple enemies at once. Battles can get tricky, particularly when fighting multiple enemies alone and I spent a fair amount of time crashing into the various islands dotted about because rather than looking where I was going, I was aiming my cannons at the bad guys.

The combat is the real star of the show; ships buck and creak through the surf angling for the perfect shot. Movement translates really well, ships feel heavy and lumbering, while you fight the currents and wind to keep the accuracy of your cannons at their most optimum. You might be familiar with the combat of a certain Assassins Creed-Pirate edition game that made some waves in its release a few years ago. Basically, the same principal exists here: catch your target on your broadside, unleashing a devastating volley of canon fire to reduce their hull to splinters. You can buy a number of upgrades for your ship, providing incrementally improved equipment. Disappointingly, you don’t start with the ability to perform boarding actions, they only become available when you buy and equip guns for your crew. You can also purchase other weapons like mortars and longer range guns to open up more options for sinking pirates.

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Acquiring those upgrades is perhaps one of the biggest challenges, as money is hard to come by. Your main priorities will be keeping your ship stocked with the necessities to keep gameplay engaging, like an endless supply of cannonballs because you’ll burn through them rapidly, medicine for your crew, because they’ll likely get injured in every battle, and spare money for repairs because you’ll need to repair after every battle too. And everything is rather expensive, so some balance tweaks here and there would make that cycle a little more forgiving. It is possible to find yourself with no money and no ammunition and without ammunition you can’t earn money and without money, you can’t buy ammunition.

Tempest is in early access, so not all the promised features are present in this build. The current tutorial consists of a few text boxes explaining the controls and concepts but when and where they appear is not always consistent. It’s not always immediately obvious, for example, which buttons to press to fix your damaged ship, or how to re-stock your cache of cannonballs. But the game is simple enough that after a bit of experimentation you’ll have most of the basics covered.

According to the developer, a big content patch is just around the corner, so by the time you read this there’ll be more to explore, more ships, more upgrades, plus it’s likely some of the features already implemented will be improved. As it stands Tempest is a neat little ship-em-up, it’s stable and fun to play and that is a rare thing in early access games. Let’s face it the only reason you’re reading this is because you want to play pirates, and Tempest will surely scratch that itch. With a few balance tweaks, it could become one of those hidden gems on Steam that always puts a smile on your face.

 

Pros:

Great ship combat

Plenty of content for such a small game

Ships!

Cons:

It’s not finished yet

A few balance issues

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch – Tyranid Invasion

A_Team Review

It’s a pretty good time to be a gamer and Games Workshop fan. There’s a slew of games that have been announced or are in development covering the breadth of Games Workshop universes. And while the ten-sided dice and miniature painting may not appeal to everyone, I’ve heard space marines make for pretty good video game fodder these days.

Rodeo games have gratifyingly focused on a little-known corner of the Warhammer 40k universe with their latest game Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion. The Deathwatch are a special chapter of elite space marines handpicked from their respective legions and tasked with eliminating the zeno threat across the galaxy. In 40k, Space Marines are genetically modified post-human super soldiers, that have back up hearts and lungs that can breathe poisonous atmospheres, they are essentially immortal as long as their heads don’t get chewed off and in Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion they face their arch nemesis and perhaps the most alien of the 40k races, the Tyranids. With a name like that the Tyranids are (obviously), an extragalactic race hell bent on consuming all biological life in order to multiply.

Deathwatch started off as a mobile game before it was enhanced with updated graphics for this PC release. The mobile DNA of the original game comes across quite clearly in this enhanced version. Somewhere during the port process Rodeo Games must have offended the Machine Spirit. This version of the game still carries over some of the mobile versions quirks; some instructions still ask you to tap the screen and although the micro transactions have been removed, you are awarded space bucks at the end of each mission with which you can buy packs of cards that will randomly award you new space marines and war gear.

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The gameplay is turn based so it is slow and methodical, the space marines don’t have a great deal of movement range, so you will end up moving incrementally towards the objective while reserving action points to leave your marines on overwatch for the enemy turn. The action takes places across grid-based maps (or boards if you will) which occasionally causes problems with movement and positioning. Marines and enemies take up one square, meaning if they are standing in a doorway, your other marines cannot see, move or shoot past them. The line of sight mechanics also prevents your squad from seeing what lurks behind visible enemies until they’re reduced to chunks of meat.

Mission variety is limited, with most objectives providing a mix of running down the turn counter, or moving the squad from one position on the map to another. You will frequently find yourself creating overwatch traps and waiting for the bugs to come to you.

There are camera controls, allowing you to compose cool scenes and zoom into the action, however, moving the camera anywhere other than its default birds-eye-view obscures the markers around the base of each character that display remaining action points. Irksomely, during enemy turns the camera pans to active enemies to display their move, while in principle this makes sense, it often doesn’t show which of your units is being targeted so you have to wait for the camera to pan back to your squad before you see which marine as being targeted.

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Deathwatch does get the look of the 40k universe right. The use of Unreal Engine 4 (which seems to be the current go-to game engine for 40k games) is used to great effect. The marines look every bit as menacing as they should and the environments are particularly faithful to Imperial architecture and 40k scenery. Additionally the weapons are spot on; bolters are lethal and accurate while the heavy bolters lugged around by devastator marines have the satisfying percussive boom of a gleefully over-sized gun.

 

In many ways Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion feels like you’re playing the tabletop game with the miniatures and there is something rather nice about that, there’s no two player mode in this game, but I suspect it’s top of the wishlist for a sequel.  I also spent a lot of time while playing this thinking it would make a great mobile game, and for that reason I can’t recommend it highly enough. But if you’re looking for a deep tactical turn-based Space Marine shooter for your PC, you might be disappointed and at £20 you’d have to be an Imperial acolyte to succumb, especially when the mobile version can be had for peanuts. There is a good game here and I have no doubt a few DLC packs or even a sequel aimed more at the PC crowd could win over the non-compliant. Despite its issues I genuinely hope this isn’t the last outing for the Deathwatch.

 

Score: 7/10

Pros:

-Focusses on a less well-known part of 40k universe

-Environments and characters look great

-Would make a great mobile game

Cons:

-Lacks tactical depth

-Some balance issues

-Awkward camera controls

Warhammer – End Times: Vermintide Review

 

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So now this I’ve spent a bit of time with the official release of the game, I can happily say that Vermintide is still great. The full release has ironed out the majority of the bugs from the beta and what remains is a very entertaining game.

The combat is visceral and intense, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enemy swarms of rat-folk but if you luck out and get some helpful teammates you’ll be hacking your way through hordes of snaggle-toothed vermin in no time at all. Each of the five hero classes come equipped with different weapons and abilities, and learning the nuances (yes, you read that right) of each is vital to the team’s success. The Empire soldier is powerful and versatile, whereas the Witchhunter whips around lunging his rapiers and dual wielded flintlock pistols. As the elfin Waywatcher, you’ll want to keep a distance, sniping from afar, while the Dwarf ranger likes to get his hands dirty, swinging his axe into crowds. The Bright Wizard is the most surprising, she can tank more damage that you’d expect of a wizard and in the right hands she can be devastating; her charged fireball spell is capable of taking out huge crowds with a long cooldown being the drawback of such a huge blast.

 

Regardless of the situation it’s always worth exercising caution before ploughing into the fray, and it’s best to stick with your team rather than go off wandering: if you get caught by a gang flea-ridden rodents on your own, you’re pretty much done for. Blocking with the melee weapon soon becomes a vital tactic and while blocking you can also shove enemies who get within reach causing them to falter long enough to line them up perfectly for a beheading.

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As with Left 4 Dead, the overriding pleasure of this game is the necessity for cooperation among your fellow pest controllers. Lose all your health and only your teammates can revive you and if you bleed out completely then you’ll be whisked away and imprisoned until your team rescue you. Effective teamwork is essential to turn the vermintide; gunner rats will lock onto you and unless the rest of the team kill him sharpish, you’re Swiss cheese. The Rat Ogre, a ‘juicer rat’ with proper roid-rage, will need everyone hacking and shooting to bring it down.

Most of the stages culminate in a final set piece where, inevitably, the team is swarmed with hordes of Skaven. These points are understandably challenging but even on the normal difficulty setting you will frequently see the defeat screen. This is probably the biggest criticism I can level at the game – the balance between being challenged and being wiped out is skewed somewhat in the rats’ favour and can sometimes feel a bit unfair. This may be addressed in the future but it’s by no means a deal-breaker. It’s a testament to Vermintide’s quality that it keeps you coming back for more – just to see if you can get through the next level or pull off a great save.

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At one point, all but one of our team were downed, surrounded by Skaven picking away at our reserves of health, only for the plucky Dwarf to come barrelling through the crowd like a hairy cannonball to fight off our attackers and revive us. It was a truly heroic moment that lasted a split second before unrelenting hordes of Skaven overwhelmed our already depleted team mere yards away from the end goal.

Fatshark should be also commended for the efforts they’ve gone to adhere to Games Workshop canon, although the story is minimal, the heroes’ personalities and relationships with each other are revealed through their in-game banter. Pull off a couple of decent kills as the Dwarf and the Elf might, grudgingly, congratulate you.

The levelling system also sets Vermintide apart from its forebears, experience is gained and weapons are awarded at the end of each level. Weapons can be upgraded back at the tavern via a basic crafting system, but this gives Vermintide a measure of longevity and variety that keeps the experience fresh.

As mentioned in the preview, the Warhammer setting shouldn’t put you off, Vermintide is a blast whether you are a fan or not. Before I got Vermintide to review I joked that being a Warhammer game it would likely lack depth. I couldn’t have been more wrong: co-operation is essential but balance issues aside there is room for individual heroics while managing health resources and backing up your allies creates a tension that’s altogether thrilling, desperate and above all fun.

 

SCORE: 8/10

Pros:

-Great combat

-Good banter

-Fun to play

Cons:

-Balance issues

-The odd glitch

Vermintide Beta Preview

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Vermintide is the co-op Left 4 Dead-alike from Fatshark studios, and us frugaleers were lucky enough to get a couple of codes for the recent beta. Straight off the bat it’s worth mentioning that we encountered some bugs. Obviously this isn’t the finished article but I’ve played dozens of betas this close to release that was much more representative of the final product. I encountered a few crashes at the end of rounds preventing me from collecting XP and levelling up – in fact I didn’t even realise there was a levelling system until the game finally stabilised. I also encountered a few lag spikes and a couple of clipping and ragdoll glitches.

Despite the expected beta hiccups, when Vermintide works it’s great fun. Gameplay is near identical to Left 4 Dead so if you’re a fan of those games you’re in good hands. At times, Vermintide is in danger of borrowing too much from the L4D template: ambushes are random, save for the odd scripted set piece. There are even equivalent enemy types: the Packmaster grabs players and drags them away, the Poison Wind Globadier flings gas bombs and explodes when killed, and then there’s the Rat Ogre, a huge hulking monster that takes all four players to bring down. There are a few differences, however Vermintide gives you a choice of five heroes to exact pest control throughout Übersreik, each has a melee and ranged attack, with class specific weapons that are unlocked as you progress through the levelling system. This being a beta, there wasn’t much time to unlock weapons, or experiment with the crafting system, but it’s clear that the developers are attempting to remain faithful to the source material by offering a handful traditional RPG mechanics.

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With that in mind it’s rather disappointing that this isn’t a traditional RPG; the environments that you hack your way through are rather gorgeous, Fatshark have clearly gone to a lot of effort to bring the Warhammer world to life and it’s a small shame that the frantic nature of the gameplay means you don’t have much time to soak in the atmosphere before another relentless wave of axe-wielding subterranean rat-people emerge from the sewers. The heroes all look great and I would happily play through an entire single player campaign as a dwarf ranger with a Yorkshire accent and a bad attitude. The dialogue throughout the game hints at entertaining personalities and on the odd occasion, the banter between the heroes is perfectly pitched for this kind of fiction. Even the in-game lobby, a dingy inn in Übersreik is an environment that would look great filled with NPCs.

I enjoyed my time with Vermintide, as a game specifically designed to be infinitely replayable it certainly won me over with repeat plays and if you get a good crew together cooperative play can be very rewarding. The environments, characters and voice acting are all superb, but Vermintide’s similarity to gameplay established by Left 4 Dead and the Warhammer setting shouldn’t put people off, Vermintide stands on its own as a great cooperative hack and slasher.

Available Via Steam 23rd October. Full review to follow on release.

Stasis Review

 

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In stasis no one can hear you scream. Stasis is an adventure game from South African developer The Brotherhood. Built over five years by a small team led by Chris Bischoff, Stasis is clearly a labour of love.

You play as John Maracheck, a teacher on his way to make a new life on Titan with his family. Woken from suspended animation you find yourself in an unfamiliar ghost ship deep in space and separated from your wife and daughter. As you begin to piece together where you are and what has happened, you discover you are on a ship called The Groomlake, a medical vessel owned and run by the Cayne Corporation. But something has gone terribly wrong. No one is to be seen, and blood smears the walls and floors. After recovering from your rude awakening from stasis you are contacted by Te’ah, a member of the Groomlake’s crew.  She proceeds to guide you through the horrors that await in the depths of the ship and hopefully, back to your wife and daughter.

Like the games and films that obviously influence it, Stasis oozes atmosphere; steam leaks from severed pipes, walkways creak and corridors echo with the distant screams of what remains of the crew. Each screen is rendered in 2D, mostly static but with small animations and movement dotted around. Animation is used to great effect in Stasis, bringing to life the hulking industrial design of the ship, it also breathes life into some of the horrors you encounter along the way.

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The bulk of the story is voice acted, but the story is fleshed out by reading diary entries and emails on PDAs that are scattered around the ship, usually found at the feet of the recently deceased crew. Each section of the ship will have its own smaller story, gradually revealing the chain of events that lead to your awakening.  It involves a fair amount of reading, but helps to reveal more about the world you are in as well as offer clues to the larger picture.

Stasis is very much a traditional point and click adventure game, you have a small inventory where you collect and combine various items along the way. Puzzles are your main obstacles to progress and the puzzles in Stasis offer enough challenge to feel like you’re being smart when you solve them but not so difficult that you feel like pushing your eyeballs into the back of your head. I confess I did get stuck on a few puzzles but the game’s logic is sound enough that if you give it some time the solution usually presents itself.

Stasis wears its influences on its sleeve, references from some of the greatest horror and sci-fi films of the past are scattered throughout the game.  One in particular that stuck out for me is the name of the protagonist. It is wonderfully geeky, and I noticed it immediately and I highly approve. In other hands these references could have felt cheap and derivative but in Stasis they feel like a celebration of all that is and was great about the sci-fi horror genre, even if a line of dialogue happens to be borrowed from a great sci-fi film, it just brings happy associations.

Stasis hits all the right notes, particularly if you’re a fan of the horror sci-fi genre, even if you’re not, it’s a sublime example of the point and click adventure game, a genre that is deserving of more attention. Stasis follows a particular brand of horror from the likes of Dead Space, Aliens and Event Horizon so if that’s your thing this will no doubt appeal to you. If you’re yet to try a point and click adventure then Stasis is a great point to start.

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If I had to make any complaints about this game it’d have to be some of the voice acting. On the whole the acting is of a really high quality, the actor playing John does a fantastic job of portraying his horror of the sights of the Groomlake. However with this kind of genre, if you don’t sound convincing, it can occasionally take you out of the fiction of the game. Another quibble is Stasis is rendered in 720p without any options to scale to different resolutions and that’s a real shame. This game looks beautiful in 720p, it would look eyepopping in 1080p and above.

These are just minor nitpicks however, Stasis is a resounding success, it’s dark, gritty sci-fi at its best, it’s a meaty game with a great story that pulls the game along at a great pace. What makes this game remarkable is that it was drawn, programmed and written by essentially one guy. It should stand as a shining example of what lone developers and small teams can achieve with the range game making tools at their disposal. Auteurism is something bigger videogames sorely lack and now that game designers are going back to bedroom coding, the cradle of life where games originally came from, a game like Stasis should be highly regarded as a singular vision, no DLC, no micro transactions or pre-purchase incentives, just a simple game in its purest form.

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Sheltered Preview

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‘Family comes first’ is a mantra you will find yourself repeating while playing Sheltered which tasks you with keeping a family of four and their pet alive in the fallout of a nuclear holocaust. Once you’ve selected your adults, children and pet you are swiftly shepherded into an underground bunker to fend for yourself. Facilities are rudimentary and supplies are low. It now becomes your job to ensure everyone’s survival. Your main priorities are food, water and power. And to keep these things flowing you need a constant supply of crafting materials, gathered by sending members of the family on expeditions out into the wasteland to scavenge for food, medicine and the materials needed for building and upgrading facilities in your shelter.

If you’re fortunate enough to find the right combination of materials (and have the time, energy, food fuel etc.) you can extend your shelter by building new rooms underground. I found this was vital early on in the game as there is no toilet or shower. The tier one toilet is a rusty bucket and while having a shower is nice they use a lot of water so building one becomes an important decision. There are no beds either so if you want any of your post-apocalyptic residents to get some much needed shut eye, you’ll need to build one of those too.

DZJYCnnIebMN6guv1R4COVKvFGqQYdams3kdRRhCmc0There is very little hand holding in this game, after a brief tutorial you are pretty much left to your own devices. Most of what I’ve discovered is through old fashioned trial and error. Whether that is because a more in-depth tutorial is yet to be implemented remains to be seen, the game has only just been released through Early access, but it’s refreshing not to be told how to succeed right away. Much of the thrill comes from finding your own creative ways to survive. The characters behave much like Sims, icons above the character’s heads keep you informed of their most pressing needs like hunger, thirst and tiredness. You are of course welcome to manage these yourself but you can also set them to look after these needs automatically. Something that isn’t mentioned in the rudimentary tutorial. It’s mostly a blessing as clicking relentlessly on people and a rusty bucket in the corner to make them do their business can get repetitive quickly. It is a double edged sword however, enabling automation means your characters will happily eat the last food ration – even if you were saving it for a special occasion.

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My first two playthroughs both ended in disaster. I began by sending the son out into the irradiated wasteland to upgrade our water filter without a gas mask or any protection from the hostile elements. Upon his return he became sick and thoroughly depressed and at one point he was curled up on the floor hugging himself and rocking back and forth. Shortly after, the Dad died from exhaustion and radiation poisoning, traumatising everyone in the shelter. I was left with the choice to bury him or use his decaying, fly-ridden body to feed those that were still alive.

The second playthrough went south much quicker, I neglected to build the family a shower and all the food we ate was contaminated so every meal they ate gave them food poisoning.  After which it was difficult doing anything, as each family member would fall to their knees to throw up, an animation which is just on the uncomfortable side of too long. At this point I decided to experiment with the fast-forward time function and left them, just to see how long they could survive without aid. It wasn’t long.

By my third throw of the survivalist dice things were slightly better. I managed to expand the shelter giving me valuable space to build extra beds, a shower and more water storage. About two weeks into the game the food ran out, the dog began to whimper with hunger, and died alarmingly quickly. I could have buried him, but I had two children and three adults to feed. Luckily I had built a stove to cook food and reduce the risk of poisoning. The dog’s passing did not go in vain.

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For a game still being developed, Sheltered has a plenty to do in it. There is plenty of scope in the crafting system, and I haven’t yet gotten close to repairing the camper van outside our bunker so that we can go on longer trips out for supplies. There is a combat system for when you come across other survivors which doesn’t work very well but is due an overhaul according to the developers.

The look of the game may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s surprising how much a handful of pixels can present graphic images of misery and despair. There are some charming details to be found, it took me a while to realise that the brown plies building up all over the floor was (mostly) the dog’s doing so I had to craft a mop and bucket to clean the floors.

The tutorial may be minimal, but the game is simple and intuitive enough to get you started with basic wasteland survival. It’s a nice touch to put the emphasis on experimentation and trial and error. Finding some small way to keep your family alive for one more day is often a relief as well as rewarding and fun. Some may prefer clearer guidance to ease them into the game’s systems as well as highlight some of the longer term goals however I suspect that may be missing the point. Sheltered wants you to improvise to survive and it is most rewarding when you find what works to sustain the life of the family just long enough to send them out on that last desperate expedition for supplies.

 

Pros:

Great crafting system – A rusty bucket for a toilet!

Atmospheric – Apocalyptic mood music!

Nice graphical details – Depression, trauma, vomiting kids!

Cons:

Some pretty dark concepts going on here – Depression, trauma, vomiting kids!

Some bugs and balance issues – but it’s still in early access!

It ain’t easy – people will die!