Gauntlet Review

gauntlet_logo_fin_lg_transpGauntlet

PC

Dev. Arrowhead Game Studios / Pub. WB Games

We are one year away from the 30th Anniversary of the Gauntlet arcade machine. An enormous, throbbing beast decked out in primary colours and boasting four sets of joysticks and buttons. Playing the original arcade machine as a kid with friends was like reaching some sort of gaming nirvana as you jostled at the machine, laughing and screaming at each other as, “Yellow Wizard was about to die,” whilst, “Green Elf shot the food.”

Now in the super high-tech future, where everyone is constantly interconnected and the government have at least 8 cameras on you 24/7, you get the chance to relive those halcyon days of yore. Happily though, you don’t have to go to the trouble of leaving your house and going down to a stinking arcade full of foul-smelling teens; you can save that experience for gaming conventions instead.

New Gauntlet offers the player a hack-and-slash game that is definitely tuned to the mulitplayer experience. You can set up or drop into a lobby and play with friends or internet ‘randoms’. At this point I’d like to observe that the public games of Gauntlet I’ve played have been with some of the least-wankerish people I’ve ever met on-line. Countless times people have saved some gold for their team-mates or judged who needs life-restoring food the most before rushing in and snatching it up. I’m not sure what the deal is with that. Don’t blame me though if you end up playing with more selfish types – your mileage may vary.

G_SCaps_090714_CL_09After a pretty basic intro where you’re introduced to what the Gauntlet is (some mad Wizard’s challenge) and who the characters are, you’re dropped into the game proper. You may choose from four character types; Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf and Wizard. In the original game they were all ranged characters but with greater or lesser defence, melee strength and magic. In the new Gauntlet there is actually a significantly greater distance between the characters. The Warrior has no ranged attacks and he succeeds by kiting and then going all-out into the throngs of enemies. Valkyrie has a shield which she can use to block as well as a dash, enabling her to dance through tricky situations. Questor the Elf fires a couple of kinds of arrow and drops bombs and finally, there is the Wizard.

Merlin controls very differently from how you may expect if you’re at all familiar with the Gauntlet franchise. Firstly he has 9 attacks where most of the others have 3. Secondly, you select these attacks with a Magika style spell system. Double tap X and then aim with the right stick to unleash a frost beam, whilst double Y gives you the traditional fireball. B, then X gives you  a short range but powerful magic blast and so on. With these powers the Wizard can create shields, teleport in a blaze of flame and summon icy-doom shards amongst other things. In order to stop Wizard being crazily overpowered though, the control system is very awkward to use on the fly until you get used to it. Even with practice, selecting the right spell in the heat of the action can be extremely tricky – especially when casting a fireball when you meant to teleport can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, this can mean a lack of effective 4-member teams, since many players don’t want to be the Wizard.

And that’s a problem because Gauntlet is a mulitplayer experience.

The fun of combining abilities and working with/competing against your team is where all of the fun is to be found in Gauntlet. Although you can tackle the game as a single player, it’s optimised for multiplay. Grinding through the dungeons by yourself is, unfortunately, quickly boring. The game is neither pretty enough, nor characterful enough to get away with its more tedious sections as a single player game. In fact, I would say that if you don’t plan to play on-line or with friends, Gauntlet is one to avoid. Its limited tile-sets quickly become monotonous, and after grinding out some gold to unlock a few special abilities, I found that I’d have lost interest in the game long before reaching the end – and it’s not an especially long title with just a 3 sub levels for 9 main sections and 3 boss fights. Those bosses, which are exciting encounters in multiplayer with the right amount of danger and reward, are tedious grind-fests in single player.
G_SCaps_090714_CL_12Juggling my positivity for the on-line experience with the single-player one is a difficult task. Gauntlet is a simple game should offer a simple pleasure with a pick-up and play style – but it doesn’t quite lend itself to that. In single player, the levels are too long, and your abilities too weak to really feel powerful and like you’re rampaging through your foes as you did in the original game. With the pacing feeling off and the combat and level design somewhat uninspired, Gauntlet is an underwhelming experience, even at its modest price point. However, throw 2 or 3 other characters into the mix and the game comes alive, delivering a much faster paced game where you compete – in different ways – with friend and foe alike. It’s both challenging and rewarding to go score chasing in the dungeons of Gauntlet.

As a couple of final notes, Gauntlet is designed for control pad play, although I found myself preferring mouse and keyboard for playing the Warrior at least, so it’s worth experimenting with both to see what suits you. Also, the game offers a ‘classic’ graphics mode, which just makes everything pixellated and crap looking. It lacks definition and so the game just ends up looking like a frenzy of angry smudges. Don’t bother with that – Gauntlet has always looked clean and cool. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Karlos Morale needs food… badly.

Karlos Morale

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Gauntlet is out now for PC – available on Steam for £14.99 HERE

Iron Fisticle Review

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Iron Fisticle

PC

Dev. Confused Pelican / Pub. Curve Digital

 Yeah, you read it right.

Fisticle.

No, I don’t know either, you’re just going to have to try and go with it.

Search engine friendly titles aside, what’s to say about Iron Fisticle – a game which at first glance appears as comfortable and familiar as a well-worn pair of slippers? I mean, they sound nice but you wouldn’t buy them from the shop like that. Actually, that’s an idea. One of you stop reading now and go and open a business selling pre-broken in slippers and let me know how you get on.

Whilst we wait for feedback on my latest sure-fire business winner, let me tell you why Iron Fisticle belongs, not on the scrapheap but in your hearts – or at least Steam accounts.

Designed as a loving throwback to the days of 10p guzzling arcade classics such as Gauntlet and Robotron, the two-man team behind Iron Fisticle have brought us a twin-stick arena shooter. You must guide your knight either solo or with a buddy sitting next to you, through a beastie infested set of rooms, ever descending towards a final encounter with the monster-scum who sucked up all your fruit and vegetables. Confused?

You will are.

Actually, it’s all remarkably straightforward, which helps the game develop an instant rapport with the player. If you’ve ever played a twin-stick game before, you’re immediately familiar with 90% of what’s going on. Guide your knight with the left stick, fling axes at the encroaching orc menaces with the right. Open chests, collect upgrades and limited-time special weapons. Kill everything, unlock the exit. Escape.

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So what’s the draw?

Well, firstly, the game manages that all-too-rare trick of using 16 bit style graphics and yet taking advantage of some of our modern lighting effects to add some extra panache. It takes a set of instantly familiar sprite tropes and warms them with fire effects and super smooth animations. It shaves away all the rough edges that you’d actually see if you went back and played Smash TV or another of Iron Fisticle’s forebears. It’s sweet, it really is like having a sexy, late 80’s arcade cabinet in your front room, albeit without the fag burns and stench of teen-sweat.

What makes Iron Fisticle a glorious triumph though, is how delicious it is to play. Buttery smooth to control, it also has the kind of crunchy, satisfying feedback usually only found in piercing a crème brulee. Constantly allowing you to pull off deft feats of skill, skipping past enemy projectiles, cutting a swathe through enemies then executing a perfectly timed dash to escape a wild floor hazard, the game is extremely satisfying from minute one. It gets better still once you realise that you can raise your own difficulty level on the fly in the game by wading into the midst of a sea of enemies trying to chain together pick-ups. Recover food items in quick succession and you’ll receive a significant points boost. The on-line leaderboard is surprisingly addictive, even for someone with crab-hands like me. With the 360 pad in hand, I was soon dodging and weaving my way through the first few levels like an old pro – which is exactly what I am now I guess. I’ve been playing games like this for nearly 30 years.

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Christ alive. That’s a long time.

It plays wonderfully, looks gorgeous and even manages to have decent sound assets that tie the action together well.  Of course, it’s not all perfect so let’s take a look at where the game falls a little short.

Actually I’ll list these, then if the devs want to fix them, here’s a simple job sheet.

  1. MAKE LESS GREEN. Lots of the enemies, collectibles and floor gubbins have green in them. I don’t know why green crops up so much but it does and there should be less. Seriously though, in a fast paced action game, the last thing you want is to confuse a goo blob for an apple whilst you’re in the midst of a swarm.
  2. TWEAK YOUR GENERATOR. In between some stages, you get to play a little Mario-esque side scrolling platforming bit, collecting coins and dodging hazards. These appear to be randomly generated – sometimes it appears they can be unbeatable, which is obviously irritating for the player. So, just give it a poke please.

This is a tricky review to write in the sense that what makes Iron Fisticle a great game is the feel of the thing. It has a ‘just-one-more-go’ vibe (aided by a degree of persistence in some of your character upgrades) that’s rare in video games full-stop. Each time you play, you feel like you can push that little bit further, either in progress or point score. I’ve found myself playing this over bigger titles simply because it offers instant gratification and a great experience. Time will tell how long this remains my go-to game for a quick 20-30 minute run out but with the possibility of forthcoming procedurally generated infinite dungeons to play in at a later date, this is going to be hanging around on my desktop for a while at least.

Every game of Iron Fisticle I’ve played, I’ve done so with a big smile on my face. Not too shabby a result for £6 worth of investment. It seems you can put a price on happiness. Who knew?

Karlos Morale

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Iron Fisticle is available now for PC

Hatoful Boyfriend Review

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Hatoful Boyfriend

PC

Dev. Mediatonic / Pub. Devolver Digital

You may not know me but I’ve been writing for FrugalGaming a year now. It’s unusual for someone like me to be allowed within these hallowed halls – you see, I’m a little different than the others here. It doesn’t come up very often and if you didn’t know something was slightly ‘different’ about these guys, well, you probably wouldn’t even realise… You see, they’re all, well – aha – I guess I’ll let you find out for yourselves.

Let me tell you what I did during the summer, before work restarted and all the drama began; I played a PC game called Hatoful Boyfriend. It’s one of those games people have seen around, hanging out. Some people think it looks kinda cool, others think it’s a joke because it dresses a bit different. Well, now I’ve hung out with it for a couple of weeks – and let me tell you – it may have some pretty queer looking trappings, but this game is no joke, that’s for certain.

I was interested in Hatoful Boyfriend right from the very start. There’s this weird back story there. You can tell it’s Japanese in origin, but that’s not the thing that’s intriguing about it. See, the game has this whole thing about birds, it’s stuffed full of them. Where you normally expect to see a normal looking guy, you get a pigeon, dove, parakeet – some such avian creature. Now, the younger children will no doubt tell you that this is all foolishness, a silly conceit on the part of the programmers. How wrong they are – but you must not blame them in their naivety. We were all there once.

So there are somewhere in the region of a dozen different guys within Hatoful Boyfriend and each one merits exploration. Indeed, if you truly want to find out what the real deal is – why your human narrator has ended up in a high school like St. PigeoNation’s  – then you need to spend the time getting to know them all in detail. Believe me, it’s worth it.

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Talk about hidden depths! I can’t believe what I discovered as I started to push past that surface and let go of my preconceptions.

You’re going to have to uncover it for yourself of course – but I can give you a few clues on how you might get started. I’ll tell you a little secret too, but only if you swear not to tell anyone else. You’ve got to promise, otherwise I don’t know if we can still be friends.

So, Hatoful Boyfriend is much more of a story than a game. Think of it as a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ book and you won’t be far wrong. There’s no way to fail as such, you will just get different outcomes to your particular story dependant on the choices you make.

Much of the time will be spent hitting the return key as you make your way through the dialogue boxes that pop up to tell you what’s happening at school that day, or what one of your pigeon friends has said to you. Behind the dialogue boxes are some static images that are just flavouring. They’re not particularly stunning, but you’re not one of those shallow people who’re only interested in looks, are you?

The story is about your second year at a prestigious  school for birds where you are the only human student. Your concentration is on your studies and maybe finding some work, but romance is certainly in the air. As you make decisions about your school career, you find yourself drawn into relationships with the people around you.  Of course, some end happily, others less so – yet all are worth pursuing because you’ll find yourself enriched by uncovering the mysteries of your school year.

Hatoful_Boyfriend_-_Screen_4

It is important that you are prepared to repeat your studies, as the your experience will vary dramatically playthrough-to-playthrough. It all culminates in a revelation that is totally beyond your expectations. After all – haven’t we all wished that we could repeat our time armed with the knowledge that we gained from experience? Still, even with that extra insight, you may find the outcome at turns harrowing, enlightening and shocking. I’d share my revelations with you – but then, how will you grow as person without making a little effort yourself?

Don’t be concerned about cruel glances and whispers behind your back from other people whilst you’re playing Hatoful Boyfriend. Unfortunately, it’s in some people’s nature to be jealous and cruel. It might be their upbringing or they could have simply been born with a nasty streak a mile wide – but the spiteful and mean will find they get what they deserve; in the end, if you stick at it and persevere, so will you.

Now, you may be wondering about the people here at FrugalGaming and how it is that they’re so different from you and I. Believe me, the clues are there, scattered around if you care to look for them. I only wish I’d found out the truth before it all began but now it’s far too late for me. I’ve done what I can for you – the rest is in your hands. Try your best, be my shining star. I’ll be watching – best of luck to you, always.

x

Karlos Morale

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Hatoful Boyfriend is out now for PC. It’s probably not what you think it is.

Divinity: Original Sin Review

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Divinity: Original Sin

PC

Divinity: Original Sin

PC

Larian Studios

Back in the old days, before video games became about fist-bumping, ‘Let’s Play-ers’ and people calling one another ‘bro’, gaming used to be a pretty solitary occupation. You played, you experienced the highs and lows of adventuring in foreign worlds pretty much by yourself. Sure, there were multiplayer games that let you stomp your friend into the dirt – but once they’d gone home to have their tea, it was just you versus the cold, unforgiving computer.

And it hated you and wanted to see you burn.

Fast forwards to today and everything is about social, multiplayer experience. Your friend no-longer needs to be sat in your bedroom, holding the crap controller, in order for you to play with or against them. In fact, they don’t even need to be your friend, as you can log in and play against similarly-minded people across the world. Most of whom, it would seem, have carnal knowledge of your dear mother.

Larian Studios have created an RPG that is at once a throwback to the glory days of PC RPG titles and a showcase of what can be achieved with a modern perspective. If you think Baldur’s Gate or Planescape Torment you won’t be far wrong – isometric display, somewhat open-world experience, although with a strong narrative thread, compelling characterisation and – at times – brutal difficulty. Original Sin offers a clarion call to all those who have been searching for a similar gameplay experience that takes advantage of the fact that we now have something a little higher-end in our gaming rooms.

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Divinity: Original Sin brings back the glory days of ‘traditional’, quality adventuring in a wonderfully realised and well-constructed world, whilst at the same time offering the fascinating spin of allowing you to play co-operatively with a second player picking up the role of one of the adventuring party. An equal role, giving them as much choice as you, an equal share in the glory and portion of the blame if it all ends in ignominious defeat. This was a key part of the Kickstarter promotion and certainly helped to generate the hype around the game – but it’s certainly not necessary to have a second player in order to enjoy D:OS to the fullest.

Original Sin does not hold your hand as you step onto its beautiful shoreline in your role as a Source Hunter and try to uncover its mysteries. Unlike most current adventure titles, the plot isn’t spelled out to you from the get go. We’re given a small amount of context as to why you find yourself arriving on the outskirts of Cyseal – you’re investigating a murder – but soon the scope of the narrative opens out considerably and becomes as engaging as any of the classic CRPG titles of yesteryear.

WHAT IT DOES BEST: LEVEL OF DETAIL

As soon as you dive into the game and are past the mercifully brief tutorial section, you’re thrown into the deep end, with a living, breathing world unfolding in front of you. Soldiers are fighting battles you can help with, and the level of strategy available to you in the opening encounter is huge. From the get go you can choose whether or not to charge in head on, flank or attempt to pincer some fairly hefty, tanky enemies as a well as a spellcaster. Unlike most modern games, it’s entirely possible for you to get killed in your first real fight if you simply decide to walk up to your opponents and whack them with a sword. Splitting your two opening party members, luring enemies into terrain based hazards, forging alliances with friendly NPCs are all possible in that opening battle and it serves as a strong indicator of things to come. You can – and must – really find your thinking cap and wedge it on tight if you’re going to succeed.

The character interaction, inventory management and mystery solving are all highly involved, and as deep and open-ended as you could possibly wish for. The world is populated by the usual generic NPC fodder of course, but aside from the surly barman, untrustworthy imps and bumbling soldiers, there are also Ogres suffering with ennui, displaced seashells with an aching desire to return home and then psychotic elderly Source Hunters. Added to this is your relationship with that second main character, which you can choose to make problematic for optimal stat bonuses but are also very unpredictable if you’re playing with a second player online.

In short, Divinity: Original Sin succeeds where so many other RPGs fail in creating a believable and engaging world that remains that way for its entire length – I’m looking at you, Skyrim.

Divinity 4WHAT IT DOES WORST: LEVEL OF DETAIL (!) OVERWHELMING

Trouble is though, all this depth comes at a price. The game raises a thick, grubby middle finger to the casual gamer. Cards on the table, if you’ve not got the time to devote to playing through the game in some significant chunks, this is probably one to avoid. It does not lend itself at all to piecemeal gaming.

If you’re comfortable with spending a half hour managing your inventory, checking various stats of weapons, popping to the merchant for a quick repair job, clicking through some dialogue trees and assessing which of your four party members would be best equipped to do a given task – all before you actually try a new section of the game – then you’re fine.

If you think that struggling through a particular cave, only to find that you’re simply under-levelled to complete it is all part of the fun of exploration – then this is the title for you.

That may sound like an obvious extreme negative – but it isn’t necessarily so. There are clues as to where you go – but you have to look for them. Not every quest begins with a character with a giant yellow exclamation mark over their head – so progress in D:OS requires time, dedication, seriously ‘legwork’ and patience. But the rewards – oh – the rewards are so worth it.

AT THE END OF THE MONTH, WHEN ALL THE BILLS ARE PAID AND I’VE GOT THAT SPARE CASH, BURNING A HOLE IN MY POCKET, WOULD I BUY THIS GAME? YES I WOULD.

The story, the detail, the sense of accomplishment when you beat a significant monster or solve a tricky puzzle is sensational. I am shocked at what these guys have achieved in a short amount of time and with a relatively modest budget. Basically, every triple A RPG from the last 10 years has been put to shame. If you consider yourself a fan of role playing games – particularly the golden age of CRPGs – you owe it to yourself to purchase Divinity: Original Sin. A true, modern-day classic.

Karlos Morale

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Divinity: Original Sin is out now on PC

Obludia Review

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Obludia

FobTi Interactive

PC

 “Oblud-ee, Oblud-ah, life goes on, bra!”

Obludia is a 2D Arena Shooter from FobTi Interactive. What does that mean? Well, it means that screenshots are going to look very much like The Binding of Isaac and this is somewhat misleading, since the game plays bugger all like Mr. McMillen’s classic* title. Instead it’s got much more in common with games such as Robotron or Smash TV, where a significant number of enemies pour into the arenas and you can change up weapons on the fly to try and cope with the different threats.

* Is it too early to call it a classic? It feels like a classic in its genre, yet it’s only been around for 3 years.

Your Van Helsing looking character has to kill things because of… uhh, there is no plot… because he’s in a dungeon and that’s what you do in those places. Your enemies range from cute ickle spiders to what looks like Orko from He-Man; all foes, whatever their appearance, need to be dispatched before you can move on to the next level. So, you bustle around the arenas, avoiding traps and whacking skeletons with your sword or blasting them with a shotgun. Since this is all that the game has to offer, the core action needs to be spot on – and it isn’t quite.

The worst offender is that the collision detection seems slightly off, especially with regards to jumping enemies. The hit-box on creatures seems to extend out past their sprite, so what should be a narrow avoidance ends up being a hit.

Next up is the floor patterns, these do a great job of masking bullets and floor traps which can lead to unfair injury. I think it is the fourth level where this is at its’ worst, with the dark floor colouring masking a lot of hazards.

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My first attempt – and I notice, most YouTube videos – ended at the hands/feet of the end of level one boss. This giant spider bounces around the screen shooting in multi directions and is accompanied by a swarm of its regular sized brethren. Nothing you face prior to this point is even 10% of the challenge of this brown git. And yet, once you work out that it’s easily taken down by spamming dynamite (a resource that is ridiculously cheap in the in-game shops) you now have the secret key to beating all of the games’ bosses. Hurl dynamite, blast what remains with shotgun and that’ll do it. Not quite the challenge I was expecting after that first encounter.

Aside from boss-brutalising dynamite, the shop also sells magic and health buffs, ammo and a pet dog that collects coins for you and sometimes goes berserk and eats enemies. The doggy is cool, but like everything else in the game, you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen the character model before somewhere. It’s all very familiar – but that has a positive side too.

You see, by being so familiar and so straightforward, Obludia manages to be a great ‘brain-off, pick up and play’ title. It doesn’t require any complex thought – no need to carefully budget or conserve ammo, no need to worry about where you spend your skill points since it makes little difference – all you have to do is have a quick blast.

I feel short sentences do this game justice.

The game is not very difficult. I am perfectly OK with this.

Even the ‘carnival-esque’ music lends itself to a sense of a disposable, throwaway experience. You play for a few minutes, try to hook a duck, and win or lose you’ve enjoyed yourself. It was a bit of a giggle – a silly bit of fun – and sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for when you sit down at your PC. Not everything needs to start with 25 minutes of cut scenes and have thousands of pages of lore to wade through. Have gun? Kill stuff. Simple enough for anyone to understand.

 

“Oblud-ia, you’re breaking my heart

You’re shaking my confidence dail-y…”

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Mid-review, a patch hit which prompted the following:

Developers, is there any chance you could wait until you’re satisfied with your game before you release it? This isn’t a problem exclusive to Obludia by any means. I tried to open my save file for the game – FATAL ERROR – so I look it up on Steam. Well, it turns out that the developer has been mucking around with the achievements, and as a result, people’s save files have become borked. So I start a new game and – OH LOOK – the difficulty of the first level has been changed with new hazards added. Without discussing whether or not these changes improve the game, the fact is that the game is now different to the one that I was playing a couple of days ago. It’s different to the game I expected to play.

Perhaps it’s me. I come from a generation of gamers who bought physical media of games. When the game was released, that was pretty much it (with very rare exceptions) and you kept the product you paid for. Somehow, the idea of a developer being able to fuck around with a game you bought without warning and significantly impacting on the gameplay feels off to me. Presumably you playtested it and were happy with the build that you released and expected people to pay for. That was your final version. For all the 20 people kicking up an angry stink on web forums bitching about some aspect of your game, there are probably 10 times as many who were perfectly satisfied with what you did and so don’t feel the need to cry about it online.

I understand how patches work. I understand the artist’s need to keep adding brushstrokes. I also understand that many companies use patches as an excuse to shunt out half-finished crap onto gamers and expect them to beta test their games for them (I’m looking at you, Electronic Arts). How about you take some pride in what you create and hold on to it until you’re happy the game is the best you can do

by Karlos Morale

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Obludia is out now for PC for £5.99 on Steam

Endless Legend – Early Access Preview

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Endless Legend – Early Access Preview

PC

Amplitude Studios

Hoo boy. Where to start with a game as grand in scope and sweep as Endless Legend? A game that thrusts you into a world that, at first glance, appears like many other 4X games of its type and yet has stupendous – almost dizzying – levels of depth that it  could consume your waking (and quite possibly sleeping) thoughts utterly. Sound good? Let’s dive in.

What is 4X?

Basics first, 4X  – if the term is new to you – refers to the 4 core areas of this game type. In it you will; explore, expand, exterminate and exploit. The most familiar reference point for most people would be the Civilization games. Turn based, you start out with a small settlement and then use a combination of trading and other more pointed forms of expansionism to grow your empire at the expense of other races trying to become the leading power.

Amplitude Studios have already enjoyed considerable success with the excellent Endless Space, where you pitted your wits against a variety of other space-faring races in a struggle for galactic domination. This time around, your feet are rather more solidly on Terra-firma, but the environment you get to explore is no less rich and wonder-filled.

Getting Started

Job one in your list (once you’ve had a fiddle with the audio/video options – what’s the point of having a glorious PC if you’re not going to do that?) is to choose a faction from the roster available. Amplitude currently intend to top out at 16 factions, but currently there are about half that many. Most of the factions are based on broadly familiar fantasy tropes – the Wind Walkers with their nature affinity are this world’s Elves for example. Some of the races are very interesting and not your usual knight/dwarf/undead etc. fodder.

Each faction has its own distinct and customisable armies, for which a great deal of time has been spent developing some extremely attractive art assets. The different units are characterful, which makes them more interesting to play with . The game is a little slow to get started (a problem faced by all 4X games) but the high quality units and varied landscape gives you something to chew on until your kingdom develops. Rather than just looking pretty though, the terrain actually has different levels, which seems pretty obvious but actually makes it stand apart from many other 4X games. It offers something a bit different from ‘blocks you can go on and blocks you can’t’. Another element of note here is to wait for and then bask in the glory that is the switch to winter on the play-map. When winter hits, gameplay effects aside, the world becomes a veritable winter-wonderland, albeit a harsh one that could see your populace starve. Apparently, frozen potatoes aren’t the thing for the modern Aurigan.

Ardent_Mages_vs_Roving_Clans_Battle_ScreenshotPunching Above Your Weight

Once you’re into the game, you establish a base city to grow your empire from. You’ll need to choose a site that offers you a breadth of resources that suit your particular faction’s needs; the undead don’t need to worry about producing food to eat! Once your city is set up, you’ll be sending out scouting parties to find more resource deposits and to see what gifts or dangers the surrounding land may contain.

The world is populated by minor factions in addition to the major races, although some of these might end up being more significant as the game continues to be developed. The usual course of action is to put these people to the sword – and once pacified – rebuild their town under your own control. Greater influence means more assets and resources which can be spent on military and cultural development. Endless Legend gives you the freedom to pursue your conquest as you see fit but also hands out many quests for you to undertake that suggest routes you might take. The quests also help to build up the lore of the game which is truly impressive in its scope. In many games, lore is so much filler but in Endless Legend it’s well-written enough to be truly immersive.

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No Time For Losers

You can buy in and raise your own champions to lead your armies and they can be equipped with a variety of weapons and armour as well as other more esoteric items dependent on their class. These heroes need to be nurtured and developed as a powerful leader can absolutely turn the tide for you in battle. Again, these RPG-lite elements allow you to become more invested in the faction and its great leaders.

The battles themselves are somewhat reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic, instead of simply autoresolving (although this is an option, and a useful one early on as you learn the mechanics), you can actually visit a small scale battlefield and direct your troops in some turn-based battles. This level of micromanagement obviously affords the player some fine control and the ability to sacrifice particular units at the expense of others – something that helps with overall planning of resources and build queuing. Interestingly, you only take direct control of your troops every other turn, so you set a target for your particular units and then you have to leave the fine control to one side for the following round. This adds an additional element of chaos and randomisation to proceedings without pulling control from you completely.

What’s New Pussycat?

Endless Legend is still very much a work in progress, although at times with its depth and attention to detail it can fool you into thinking otherwise. The most recent updates have developed the road network and given the player the opportunity to take to the sea in search of new lands to claim.

The diplomacy system certainly looks as though it will end up being robust, although it isn’t yet fully implemented. The nuanced approaches you can take to trade and negotiation mirrors the care and attention that the rest of the game shows. At present however the AI don’t seem to respond appropriately  (or indeed at all) to your diplomatic posturing. Once the system does work however it will be yet another indication of quality for the title.

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Finally, the multiplayer element is being rolled out, currently locked at 6 players but the developers plan to move this to 8. You will be able to set a turn cap and timer on these games to ensure you don’t need to send a clone of yourself into work for the next week after you start a game. Once players are familiar with how the game works this could be a fantastic battleground. Some people are extremely good at this already!

My only reservation about Endless Legend currently is that it can be mind-bogglingly complex for the uninitiated gamer. Unfortunately, the game does not, at present, have a tutorial. If you haven’t played a 4X before, I’d say that Endless Legend is borderline impossible to approach until the tutorial is in place.  Slowly, we are seeing some tutorial videos popping up on the web for how to get started with the various factions although I can’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of any of them – particularly as the game is prone to change whilst it’s still in Early Access.

When it finally gets released, I am sure that Endless Legend will be a giant in its field. Whether it can take on Civilization has the poster-child for 4X, I am not sure. Certainly however, fans of the genre will find an awful lot to love about Amplitude Studios’ soon-to-be legendary title.

 

One Piece Unlimited World Red Review

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One Piece Unlimited World Red Review

Dev: Ganbarion

Pub: Namco Bandai

3DS

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Drink and the devil had done for the rest.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Yo ho, everyone! It’s a pirate’s life for you, should you choose to brave the bizarre world of One Piece Unlimited World Red, a game which has popped up for 3DS amid little in the way of fanfare. It’s based upon the successful ‘One Piece’ manga series (which is where my knowledge of that particular aspect of the game ends) and, like many things Japanese in origin, is as gloriously insane as a bag of badgers.

You play as Luffy, leader of the Straw Hat pirates; a disparate group of not-really-very-villainous sea dogs who arrive on the island village of Transtown because a creature that was a pen (?) at one point sort of leads them to it.

Luffy himself seems like a relatively typical animé teenage boy – albeit one with a questionable taste in hats – but is soon revealed to be some sort of Stretch Armstrong type by growing his limbs and catapulting himself around the island. His colleagues have equally strange powers or outlandish body shapes that give them various advantages in life such as healing powers, enormous cannonball cyborg arms, and (cough) enormous boobs. Well it is a Manga spin-off, so if body shape issues push your buttons, you should know what’s coming ahead of time.

OPUWR_10_1397746240Somehow, most of the Straw Hat pirates contrive to get themselves kidnapped during nap-time and the responsibility falls to you – as Luffy – to rescue them and then go about fighting other evil pirate gangs for reasons that I am sure are probably well explained if you’ve read the comics/seen the films/eaten the instant noodle but which are pretty much lost on me. Still, borderline-incomprehensible plot aside, there’s nothing to stop you diving into the thick of the action.

And action orientated the game most certainly is, despite the trailers making it look very much like a Persona title or some other familiar JRPG style game. OPUWR is something akin to an arena style brawler, as you guide your player character and a companion through some very colourfully designed locales, periodically coming across groups of enemies whom you fight with an easily accessed range of fighting moves and some special powers. Punch ’em, kick ’em, dodge their blows, leap about with wild abandon and pull off some of the more exciting special attacks after you’ve built up your power meter. The familiarity of the gameplay actually benefits the game hugely, as they’re cramming so many ideas into the game outside of the core fighting mechanics, that the ease with which you should take to the combat really allows you to settle in to the game and feel like it’s not overwhelming you with a tidal wave of crazy and new.

OPUWR_02_1397746236When not smashing the ever-loving bejesus out of all-and-sundry, Luffy is also on the lookout for bits of old wood and other assorted crap, because he is basically blackmailed into helping rebuild Transtown at the start of the game. Build up more of the town, unlock more stuff to do and people to meet. Everyone’s happy – especially lovers of minigames, since they get to indulge their sweet-tooth in a spot of fishing and butterfly catching should the mood take them.

Actually, not everyone’s happy. Lovers of lengthy RPGs are decidedly unhappy, since the story can be polished off in about 5-6 hours with little difficulty (some reports are saying 4). Although you do really need to be super direct to finish it in that time and you’d be missing out on a lot of the town rebuilding stuff that really adds character to the game.

Adding considerably to the game-length is the coliseum mode which is certainly an interesting extra mode to play through. You start as a lowly ‘C’ grade combatant in an arena and your job is to fight your way up the ranks to ‘A’ class and ultimately take down a guy who looks like he was shot in the back with a flamingo.

JUST A MOMENT

1. This mode is great because it allows you to play with lots of different unlockable fighters and really hone your combat skills. It’s fun and rewarding to move swiftly from battle to battle since the combat is such a key ingredient in the game.

HOWEVER

2. The fucking thing does this bullshit when you’re most of the way through arena fucking Flamingo douche shows up and sends you back to the beginning of the arena run. WHY? Why do this? You have to start all over again and build your ranking up from scratch! AND HE MOCKS YOU! It’s like the game is deliberately trying to push your buttons.

U wot m8? U cheeky cnt I’ll smak u in the gabber swer on me mum #rekt

*cough*

OPUWR_15_1397746242Erm, so leaving that aside, do I recommend One Piece Unlimited World Red? Well, to be perfectly honest, any recommendation for this game is pretty meaningless. Just look at the box art – you’ll be able to tell instantly if the game is for you or not. If the idea of just running around a pretty world, having nonsensical fun and never quite being sure why appeals to you, buy it. If you fancy an RPG but don’t want any heavy grind, buy it. If you like ‘cartoonish’ arena fighters, buy it. If, on the other hand, you’re someone who is normally totally turned off by Manga, animé and that typical zany Japanese stuff, you probably won’t find anything here to change your mind.

I’ve got a soft spot for this kind of lunacy – so this game made me very happy. Give it a chance,  it might do the same for you.

If you’re already a fan of the One Piece series, we’d love to hear from you below. Where does this game fit in with the overall story? What’s the other game like in the series? Why does Luffy want to eat everything?

 

Karlos Morale

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One Piece Unlimited World Red is out now for 3DS, Wii U and Vita

Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon Review

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Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon

PC

Giant Box Games

Way back in the dim and distant past, before Games of Thrones, before Labour governments and before even Justin Beiber, there was a time when computer games weren’t considered the coolest thing on the planet. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but there was a time when your mom actually frowned at you for playing on ‘that damn computer’ and exhorted you to ‘go out and get some fresh air’.  Parents spent all their time on work and cleaning, rather than having their faces buried in Candy Crush and gaming was mainly the province of adolescent boys who whiled away their days defeating wizards and blasting aliens out of the sky.

In the olden days, graphics were shit. We liked to pretend that they weren’t, but we were seeing with our imaginations rather than our eyes. Still, that didn’t stop streams of titles flowing out of the doors of bedroom programmers and big software houses alike, all vying for the attention of the great unwashed teen-boy demographic. They were heady times for the gamer, with the software world constantly evolving new genres and pushing at the boundaries of conventional gaming.  Of course, the store shelves were full of film tie-ins and quickly outmoded sports games but it was at the fringes of the game world where the real fun was to be had.

So actually, pretty much like today really.

Arsebiscuits. Well this is ridiculous. What I wanted to do here was draw parallels with another game relatively few people heard of at its’ release called Fat Worm Blows A Sparky. Sharing the same crippling shortcoming of a stupid name that it’s hard to condense,  FWBAS and PBATEED are both maze based, top down action games which involve shooting various projectiles at monsters until they’re dead and the collection of items until satiety is reached. Although nearly 30 years separate these two titles, I was struck by how one reminded me of the other and also how I had suddenly become really, really old.

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It’s cold in here…

… and there are wolves after me.

Well, assailed by lupine foes or not, I guess we’d better explore Pixel Boy. You play the titular character, whose job it is to clear out the trap and monster filled dungeons beneath the ‘town’ of Resolutia. Town gets inverted commas because there are about 4 people living there and, frankly, they’d all probably be better off just moving a couple of miles down the road if the monsters are becoming an issue. Still, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, so Pixel Boy descends into the surprisingly cheerfully coloured depths to vanquish the offending creatures.

Bizarrely, the monsters that PB finds are mainly of the bird and earwig variety with a few turtles and spiders thrown in for good measure. Even more strange is that the monster fraternity seem to have been on a work’s outing to Disney’s Tron and come back with some rather attractive neon colourings. It certainly makes them easy to spot (unless they’re hiding behind a fucking door, but more on that later) so you’d imagine that hunting would be right out for them – as a result, when Pixel Boy comes calling, all the monsters seem set on killing our poor hero and possibly eating his remains.

Fortunately for our hero, he has a couple of tricks up his sleeve to help ensure he isn’t worm (or purple floating dragon head) food. These tricks come in the form of upgrades to his weapon and armour which can be put together in a huge variety of ways – around 6000 combinations – to suit the situation and your particular play style. Pick up floating pixel power-up, combine it with another, use your newly upgraded weapon to deal pixel-based death and destruction. So far, so straightforward.

Combine a split shot power up with a enlarging one and you get a combined weapon that shoots multiple bullets that grow as they travel. You can then add on boosted critical damage and other delightful goodies. Be aware however, run out of ammunition for any of your upgraded power-ups and you lose that ability so you need to keep an eye on ammo conservation and switch out abilities if you need to.

Murder and mayhem grants your character experience to build towards levelling up; then you may spend points on improving a range of stats for your character such as health, speed and damage.

Pixel 4

PBATEED is a rogue-like in the sense that the game has dungeons and punishes you pretty severely for death. Kick the bucket and you lose all your power-ups and collectibles, leaving you with a piss-weak pop gun that is bugger all use in the harder dungeons. Frankly, after act 2 you might as well re-start if you find yourself reset in this way and don’t have a ton of money to spend in the upgrade shop. For the more hardened rogue-like fan, there’s hardcore and ironman modes that offer a significantly more substantial challenge.

According to forums, the development team are looking in to reducing the penalties imposed for death in standard mode, but in my view I feel this unnecessarily nerfs the difficulty in what I consider to be a well balanced game. A careful approach to each dungeon will reward you with progress – it’s not a game that can be rushed through. Primarily the reason for this is that enemies have an annoying tendency to hide themselves behind walls and doorways – there is no ability to rotate the camera, so it is important to give yourself so covering shots when exploring a new room. Unless you welcome death of course? At my age, the grim spectre of mortality hangs too close to rush into his arms so willingly.

I have found Pixel Boy to be very entertaining and fun – albeit somewhat short lived. Eventually, the developers plan to make the game live up to its name of ‘Ever Expanding’ by including procedurally generated dungeons. Not too hard given the current set up which already includes randomised enemy sets.

Pixel 2

A quick word on the music – an “awesome electronic original soundtrack composed entirely by popular and talented French artist Pyramid.” I thought the music was pretty horrible, which is another reason to relate it to FWBAS (check out the YouTube video – worst music of all time), but then what do I know about music. I’m just a codger.

There’s enough here to give the game a solid recommendation as long as you are not after a more straightforward shooter. Giant Box should be warmly applauded for adding a lively and characterful game to our ever expanding collections.

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Karlos Morale

Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon is out now for PC

Knightmare Tower Review

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Knightmare Tower

PC

Juicy Beast Studio
Back in the late 1960’s, Tammy Wynette sang the words, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” in her hit song ‘Stand By Your Man’. Tammy was right, sometimes it is hard.

Sometimes it’s downright impossible.

You’re minding your own business, being a special and delicate princess, when some bizarre floating head thing kidnaps you and slings you into their enormous tower of doom and monsters. WTF are you supposed to do now? I mean, gone are the days where you can rely on a man to come and rescue you – it’s time to stand up and be an independent woman.

“Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, oh no no.”

If Beyonce and Jay-Z have taught you nothing else, establishing your independence comes from an almighty hip thrust and a sassy wiggle of the finger. Sadly, the floating head and his myriad of spiky denizens are immune to your womanly wiles. The only language they understand is a thrust to the face with an enormous chopper.

Luckily for you, a plucky hero with a big round head decides to come to your (and your similarly unfortunate sisters’) aid. Swinging a weapon about with wild abandon, this unnamed protagonist ascends the tower atop a throbbing rocket, then begins to leap from beast to beast bringing the powerful thrusting of doom to bear.

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Rising through the tower behind the hero is a hot, lusty lava flow, ever pushing upwards, yearning to cover all in a scalding ejaculation of death. Miss too many blows with the sword and our swashbuckler will be covered with the premature climax that signals another failure.

Failure is assured during those first rescue attempts, our fortune-hunter is woefully under equipped for this task in the beginning. Fortunately, enemies drop cash and other goodies which can be scooped up and spent in the between-game store. The shop sells various weapon, speed and armour upgrades as well as a variety of other boosts that will assist daredevil exploits.

With enough upgrades equipped and enough bonuses acquired from rescuing princesses lower down the tower, our brave adventurer will reach the summit of the stronghold and begin a battle against the diabolic floating head, who controls a hovering fortress filled with cannons, spike traps and assorted accoutrements of evil. Will peace return to the land once the enemy is vanquished and the princesses are rescued? Or are hero and princess alike fated to be stuck in the tower forever, covered in the ghastly emissions it produces?

Only you can make the difference.

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Knightmare Tower looks for all the world like a mobile game – and indeed there is a free version of the game available on line and a microtransaction enabled version for mobiles. The PC version costs £3, so is it worth this modest amount?
My answer is a completely unqualified ‘YES’, in capital letters no less, so you know I’m serious.

According to Steam I have about 5 hours clocked on this game. I haven’t quite beaten every quest, but Story Mode is beaten and I’ve just been ploughing through Survival for the last couple of hours. The first time I played the game, I played for a solid 90 minutes. Never looking around, not even pausing to take notes for this review. I was thoroughly engaged and entertained, guiding the little hero around the tower, crushing monsters, slaying bosses and busting ceilings in an attempt to rescue those princesses. Yes, it’s a very simple title, but the action is well pitched and it gives that just-one-more-go feeling that keeps you blasting back up the tower.

The game would not work at all were it not for the hugely satisfying central mechanic of thrusting down the screen towards enemies. Incredibly responsive and accurate, it allows for deft skills to rack up big scores (or distances travelled), and at the same time means that younger or inexperienced gamers can enjoy the simple gameplay. My 3 year-old got that hang of the game very quickly and concentrated on playing it for a around 10 minutes. This is a huge amount of investment from a tiddler.

I think it’s likely that I’ve come to the end of my time with Knightmare Tower now, but I have enjoyed the game very much during its run. What it lacks in longevity, it makes up for with instant appeal. As you can see from the screenshots, KT is bright and cheerful, with just enough variety and character to see you through 5 or so fun hours of gameplay.

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What else are you going to spend 3 quid on, exactly? Two fifths of a book? An evening of shoving chocolate into your miserable craw whilst you blub in the corner? A really nasty blowjob from a crack-addled man-whore round the back of Poundland? Bus fare to get you into town in order that you can steal some paint and then use it to paint Shakespearean insults on your own garage door, just to see the confused expressions on the faces of your neighbours as they pass?

I mean, come on dude. If you’re thinking those things, you probably could do with 5 hours of distraction. It gives us time to come round your house and remove all the sharp objects.

Karlos Morale

7/10

Knightmare Tower is out now on PC and Mobile

Always Sometimes Monsters Review

Always Banner

Always Sometimes Monsters

PC

Developer: Vagabond Dog

Publisher: Devolver Digital

It’s half-past ten on a Friday evening and you’ve wound up at a party you had no idea about when you were putting your shoes on. There’s a lot of hipster douches there, but one or two reasonable people too and you get chatting to a dude with a scruffy beard who knows a surprising amount about physics. You’ve got a lot on your mind lately, life’s been up and down, all things are possible – both great success and dramatic failure. When a guy steps up to you and suggests you play this new game, Always Sometimes Monsters, and makes out it will change your life, you feel in your gut that this is the right decision for you right now. Swallowing your last mouthful of Stella Artois 4%, you pull out your phone and find the Steam app, purchasing the game on the spot, ready to play in the morning.

You arrive home about 2.30ish after the party ends; a little late since you unusually decided to walk home rather than take a taxi. Still slightly drunk, you decide that this life changing game cannot wait so you hit install and flick through your twitter feed. As your computer goes through its cycle your hand catches your pocket and you feel the packet of cigarettes in there, a half-remembered sensation with an almost pleasant familiarity. Although it’s been a while since you quit smoking, you auto-pilot to your back door, stand in the half-light and light up one of your party-cigarettes. Technically, technically, these still don’t count since they’re a one-night only deal, that’s for sure. Right now however, these feel good.

Back at the computer you notice a notification on your phone. A flashing light. At this point, it’s Schrödinger’s message. Until you access it, it exists in a million states concurrently. A potential lover, an emergency call from a loved one, a job offer from a different time-zone; all of these things at once and none of them at all. You pause, savouring the anticipation, enjoying the rush of adrenaline from all these new worlds stretching out in front of you.

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You flick your phone into life.

A message from Adam. Your closest friend for so many years before a poor choice of girlfriend landed in him trouble with drugs and, ultimately, the police. You’d heard the relationship was long since dead and that he’d cleaned himself up, yet you hadn’t had it in you to make the call. Half afraid there’d be no friendship left, half terrified that you’d have to hold his hand again while he cried and explained that he was unable to control his thirst for the powder that had destroyed the person you loved like a brother. The message reads:

Help me. I’m lost.

You have no idea what this means but are in no position to help anyone right now. You turn off your phone as the alcohol catches up with you and sets your head swimming. Leaning back in your chair, fighting the urge to heave, you suddenly recall another drunken evening from years ago. The crisp winter air had kept your head straight and you’d held her hand, been transfixed by the cut of her coat, how it accentuated her body. You’d sighed inside at the redness of her cheeks, softness of mouth and the way her hair had curled out from under that striped woollen hat. You considered the decisions that lead you to that point, and the ones you made that lead you away again. How the stars seemed to align for you that evening and how, no matter how closely you might try to replicate those circumstances it would never, could never, come again.

If you continue to ignore the message, will Adam be dead by morning?

The choices you make from this point could affect many futures, or have no impact at all.

Recalling the guy who’d suggested  (or was it forced?) Sometimes Always Monsters to you, his words fade but the almost feverish look in his eye was enough to sell the game to you. What was it he’d said?

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“It’s not an adventure to take lightly, it’s a new life that you engage with. It could turn out a hundred different ways and you’ll never be sure of the best fit. It’s filled with odd, awkward moments and strange busy-work tasks that don’t seem to fit. It’ll frustrate you, it’ll delight you. It can make you laugh or cry and sometimes you won’t be sure which is the right response. Sometimes it won’t seem like a game – sometimes it’ll feel like the only game.”

You click play game.

For a moment, or several, you lose yourself.

Constructed using RPG Maker, Always Sometimes Monsters is Vagabond Dog’s fascinating role playing game.  The player moves through a variety of locations in a bid to stop the love of their life marrying someone else. The small, independent studio have constructed what on the surface appears to be a very simple game but which actually tells a variety of stories; some humorous, some sad, but all work together to create a fascinating narrative. The maps of the game operate like the towns from many an RPG, filled with a developed array of characters who respond to the player’s actions in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. Short minigames pepper the adventure, although these are merely asides to an enthralling tale of love and life that player guides through their choices – many of which have repercussions that are far reaching and thought-provoking.

A thoroughly engaging and beautifully written title.

Karlos Morale

Always Sometimes Monsters is out now on PC

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