Early Access Preview – Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space

Outlawplanet

It’s Life Jim, But Not As We Know It

Science Fiction has been around for a long long time. Regardless of the form of media, it is the one genre that has truly transcended the reality that we live in. From the 19th Century written works of Jules Verne, to the billion dollar movie franchises like Avatar and Star Wars; Sci-Fi in all its many varied forms has never been more popular.  Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space is just ones man’s vision of the genre, it’s a vision that’s so unique that Sci-Fi fans of every creed and colour from, Trekkies to Browncoats and Whovians will all find something they love.

Fabrizio Zagaglia is the man quietly tinkering away on this Early Access title; apart from having a name that sounds like it’s been ripped right from the pages of a Dan Dare comic and an imagination that must be up there with Clarke, Lucas or Roddenberry, he’s clearly a very talented developer as my hands on time with Albedo:EFOS has shown.

The gameplay on offer combines two elements not usually found together in the same game. First person shooting and first person adventure gameplay, with some really interesting puzzles thrown in. I was extremely sceptical about how these systems would work together, but my apprehension was completely misplaced. Both of these styles work very well and in some cases much better than more traditional games that focus on just one of these elements. The standout mechanic without a doubt has to be the physics based puzzles that litter the games many rooms.

MankindIntergalactic Planetary Planetary Intergalactic

On top of the great gameplay, Albedo also offers a level of polish and refinement that is becoming increasingly rare when it comes to independent games on Steam, and early access titles in particular. Graphically it really is verging on AAA domain, both technically and aesthetically. Albedo has a fantastic art style that’s clearly been influenced by 60’s Sci-Fi B-movie trash. It’s a joy to see it all in action, and I have to remind myself that it’s all down to one man working away in his self titled ‘Albedo Cave’. If you’re not already convinced then take a look at the trailer, it’s all in-game, in-engine as the PR folks would say.

hallmidAlbedo:EFOS has gone some way to restoring my faith in the whole Early Access program. It’s already very playable and polished even though the released date for the full game is still a good four months away. Despite having their hands full on development duties the team are really active on the steam forums; constantly answering questions or asking players for opinions, it’s great to see them being so active and their answers just go to show how much passion and belief they have for the game.

I’ve really enjoyed playing Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space, if you have even the vaguest hankering for anything Sci-Fi it’s well worth checking out.

Developed by Z4g0 and Ivan Venturi Productions

Published by Merge Games

Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space is available now in Early Access for £10.99, You can find the game on Steam and it’s also available on Green Man Gaming

Frugal Gaming Review – Shadow Warrior

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A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

Reboot, Remake or Re-Imagining? I’m not sure which one best describes the snazzy new version of 3D Realms 1997 over the top action-fest. Having originally launched just a year after the cult hit Duke Nukem 3D; which was also developed by 3D Realms, the first game to bear the Shadow Warrior name never seemed quite as popular. It was a good couple of years down the line that I first played it, and whilst it was a solid game it never held the same kind of lasting appeal as the old King did. Fast forwarding fifteen plus years and Shadow Warrior, which launched on Steam some time ago, is now available on the current crop of consoles. Whilst it was Take-Two interactive and Borderlands darling developer Gearbox that finally birthed the abomination that was Duke Nukem Forever, it’s a relatively unknown developer backed by an indie publishing heavyweight that has shepherded Shadow Warrior to release. So, have Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital managed to outdo the big boys? Well let’s face it outdoing the “shittiest game of 2011” isn’t really that hard, but Shadow Warrior not only makes the Nukem effort look rank amateur, it’s a cracking game in its own right.

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Have You Paid Your Dues Jack?

Filling the shoes of Lo Wang; a wisecracking assassin, you start the game working for a powerful businessman called Zilla. Your task is to retrieve an ancient katana currently in the possession of a collector, if the 3 million dollars that Zilla is prepared to pay doesn’t do the trick, then all options are clearly on the table. Needless to say the money is rejected and you soon find yourself killing loads and loads of people with rather sharp implements and the occasional gun. It’s not long into Shadow Warrior’s 20 odd hour campaign that human enemies will be the least of your worries.

The sword that you were after turns out to be rather special; one of a set of three, that when combined can slay immortals and is pretty much Kryptonite to demons. I did mention demons right? What started as a simple retrieval mission, quickly escalates into pretty much saving the world from all manner of hell spawn. The story actually surprised me, it’s well thought out, well written and the voice acting for the most part is pretty good. It’s funny too, and in a much more grown up way than I was expecting. There is still certainly lowbrow humour, but Shadow Warrior doesn’t rely on this stuff for the laughs, using it more as a homage to the original game and also everything that has influenced it.

shadowwarrior-walkingdead1This Is Going To Take Crackerjack Timing Wang

Gameplay in Shadow Warrior is some of the most fast paced and frantic that I’ve ever experienced in a first person shooter. Enemies swarm, overwhelm and always feel threatening. Combat is played out at such a pace that I really appreciated the ebb and flow of engagements. A five minute onslaught followed by a lull to catch my breath and poke around the corners of the fantastic environments leaves the whole game with a real sense of pace and timing. There is plenty to do in these less hectic periods too. Collectibles abound and hidden areas are scattered throughout the game. Whilst it’s still an A to B kind of game, the levels are so large that it leaves plenty of room for exploration.  From hidden shrines, fortune cookies and pixel art Hentai girls, there is a lot to discover and adds a whole lot of replay-ability for the kleptomaniac inside within.

Whilst I guess that Shadow Warrior is best described as a first person shooter, it has plenty of meaty guns after all and it no doubt that helps with marketing the game, but it’s also somewhat of a disservice to what I consider the star attraction. Apart from shooting down the occasional winged beast with which ever gun was easiest to equip, I played pretty much the entire game with just my trusty katana. Slicing and dicing foes hasn’t felt this good since Jedi Outcast back in 2002, and with a repertoire of unlockable special moves, it really does make you feel like a wise cracking badass katana master.

For those who do prefer gunplay, it’s still solid but nowhere near as rewarding as wielding a sword, nor as refined. Shadow Warrior does feature Iron Sights, but instead of utilising the customary left trigger, you have to half pull in the right trigger, which then zooms you in. Pulling the trigger all the way then fires, it’s as awkward to use and it is to describe and to be honest if guns are your thing then hip-firing seems to work just as well. The selection of death dealing mechanical devices is pretty good and players will find themselves immediately at ease with the selection. Much like the unlockable special katana moves, all the weapons can be upgraded which is a nice touch if that’s the way you want to play.

SW_Screen_1Give Me Your Best Shot Pal. I can Take It

Graphically Shadow Warrior is a bit of a mixed bag. Environments can look stunning at times and the frame rate remains a pretty constant 60fps throughout, which in itself is an impressive feat, considering the amount of action that can be going on around you in the more hectic scenes. Where the game does stumble is in the character models. Most look average and some just look plain bad. It’s more of a niggle than anything else and didn’t detract from the enjoyment that Shadow Warrior offers, but they do definitely stand out as one of the games weaker points.

Shadow Warrior is a great package with a lot to offer. A meaty worthwhile 20 hour campaign, fantastic frantic gameplay, well designed levels ripe for exploration, meaningful weapon and character skill trees and a whole lot more.  Shadow Warrior is perfectly balanced, providing enough nostalgic nods to its forbear and the genre in general whilst feeling and looking resolutely modern. Flying Wild Hog have shown what can be done with some of these older licenses that are ripe for revival and I’m looking forward to seeing what the studio does next.

Hail To The King Baby, his name is Lo Wang.

8.5/10

Developed by Flying Wild Hog

Published by Devolver Digital

Shadow Warrior is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4

Xbox One version reviewed.

 

Frugal Gaming Review – Fantasia: Music Evolved

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Come Along And Sing Our Song

I’ve spent a good few hours over the last week waving my arms around to the beat of a bewildering array of different pieces of music, I imagine most of the time I looked like an over eager Orangutan trying to direct traffic, but I tell you what, Fantasia: Music Evolved has reminded me that games can be a whole lot of fun.

I love dancing, and whilst it normally takes a considerable amount of alcohol for me to truly get into my groove, I’d like to think that I don’t do a bad job once I get going.  It’s probably this reliance on a couple of drinks that has generally precluded me from enjoying any dance or rhythm games that couldn’t be played via some plastic instrument, but Fantasia has changed all that.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

Developed by Harmonix, the studio that brought us Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Dance Central to name but a few, Fantasia aims to fuse music, motion and magic whilst wrapping it all up nicely under the banner of Fantasia – one of Disney’s most enduring and memorable films.

Following in the footsteps of Walt’s favourite son, you start the game by taking on the mantle of the new apprentice to the sorcerer – Yen Sid.  Moves and techniques are introduced over the first few immediately recognizable songs and then after that you’re free to explore Fantasia and its catalogue of over 30 included tracks.

Gameplay is very much what you would expect. Using the Kinect sensor to track your hand movements, you basically have to conduct the song. You accomplish this by following the on-screen prompts that tell you what sort of movement to make with your hands, also the direction in which to do it.  From deft flicks to air punches, flicks and holds to punch and move, it’s hard to explain with mere words, but in action it’s easily understandable and after a couple of songs it came to me as naturally as dancing like my dad.

The prompts all take centre stage but the magic happens at the bottom of the screen.  An ethereal silhouette tracks and shows every move you make in real time.  Whilst you do see your whole body, the game itself is only interested in your hands and as such they glow with supernatural light as you wave them around.  It’s a truly magical experience when you first see this all happening in real time, much akin to my first experience with sparklers on bonfire night, making crazy shapes and patterns on screen as you consistently vogue around your living room.

_bmUploads_2013-06-04_433_2013-05-29-TheShoal_Screenshot_02Such Wonderful Things Surround You

The campaign sees you exploring six different realms: From the Hollow, with its magical creatures, to the Solar System, with retro space stations and monkeys in space. The environments are all pure Disney and exploring them in between songs is a complete joy. They all feature interactive elements and have lots of secrets to find, it’s almost a game in itself to be honest and it ties everything together really well. There is a story running throughout the campaign that sees you battling the Noise and you will also come across a couple of characters that help explain everything that’s happening. Whilst I found them a little bit annoying, I’m pretty sure children will love them.

I’ve Heard There Was A Secret Chord

No matter how polished the presentation of Fantasia is, the game would be for nought if it did not have the music to back it up. A rather eclectic collection of pieces has covered just about all bases, from Nicki Minaj and Super Bass, the ever present Message in a Bottle by the Police, to classical pieces from Mozart and Vivaldi. It’s not the sort of mix you would find on a Spotify playlist, but every song or orchestral piece works so well with the game-play mechanics.

Each and every song available also has a couple of remixes. You can switch to these on the fly at certain moments in your performance. Orchestral version of Blue Monday by New Order? Amazing. An alternative rock version of Vivaldi’s 1st Movement of Winter? Surprisingly good. These remixes take the 30 or so songs available and make it feel like much, much more. The song choices on offer are a solid start and are already supported by the obligatory DLC. If you feel the need to expand your library, these add-ons are also rather reasonably priced. Further remix packs, whilst not offering new songs, add further variations to some of the songs already available too.

_bmUploads_2013-06-04_440_2013-05-08-ThePress_Screenshot_01Music Makes The People Come Together

Leaderboards, multiplayer and the ability to record your performance add up to a pretty good offering from Harmonix latest game. Fantasia: Music Evolved is a great all-round package that I’ll be playing and enjoying for a good time to come, however it’s not completely flawless and a couple of niggles hold it back from being an out and out master-class.

It almost feels that at times it wants to shy away from being too much of a Disney title. Whilst the visuals are clearly Disney through and through, I can’t help but feel that big fans of some of the musical numbers that litter their films are going to feel a little short changed. Not one song from any of these films feature at all. Kids would go mad for Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid or Hakuna Matata from the Lion King, and the lack of any orchestral score from Star Wars or Indiana Jones films, really does feel like a huge missed opportunity. Hopefully this sort of music will crop up down the line as DLC.

The recordable performances are a great idea, but whilst they catch what strokes and notes you have hit, one of the best features of the game is missing from these recordings. The Silhouette that is shown whilst performing these songs is strangely absent from the actual recordings. I’m not sure if this is down to technical limitations of the hardware, but it’s a real disappointment that it’s not recorded, I love to be able to watch back my friend’s attempts at hitting all the prompts with magical jazz hands.

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Fantasia: Music Evolved is a must buy for anyone who has either an Xbox 360 or an Xbox One with a Kinect Sensor. If you have a decent audio set-up, then all the better. Out of everything I’ve played in the last year, this made me feel that my investment in a 5.1 surround sound system has been worth every penny. It’s a shame that both Fantasia and D4 which I reviewed earlier have been launched at a time when Kinect is no longer standard with Xbox One. Both show what the hardware is truly capable of and offer an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

Fantasia at its heart is a game that will offer anyone who plays it great music, fun movement controls and a whole load of magic.

Score: 9/10

Fantasia: Music Evolved is available at retail and digitally for Xbox 360 and Xbox One

Developed by Harmonix

Published by Disney Interactive

Frugal Gaming Review – Defense Grid 2

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It’s Party Time For The Guys In The Tower

My first taste of a Tower Defense game was playing Field Runners on a smartphone back in 2011, I quite liked it but quickly got bored.  That same year Assassins Creed added the awful Den Defence mini game to Revelations and in one fell swoop it pretty much put me off the genre completely. It wasn’t until mid 2013 with the launch of Microsoft’s Games with Gold program on the Xbox 360, that saw Defense Grid: The Awakening go free for subscribers that I had another chance with the genre.  Whilst some bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t a AAA game, I quickly fell in love and devoured the game and all its DLC.

Fast forward to 2014 and Defense Grid 2 is now available on PC, Xbox one and PS4.  Its journey to release has been a rather complicated affair.  A Kickstarter, titled Defense Grid 2 that succeeded in reaching its target, but not the stretch goal that was required to make the full sequel. Add to that a white knight investor who stepped in to back the project and also a publishing partnership with 505 Games, now Defense Grid 2 is finally gracing the various digital store fronts.

DefenseGrid2_Release_2014-08-01_13-36-38-89Putting My Defenses Up

So has Defense Grid 2 been worth the effort to develop? More importantly, has it been worth the wait for fans?  As far as I’m concerned it’s a resounding yes on both fronts. For those not in the know, in simplest terms a Tower Defense game uses real time strategy and lets you place towers and traps across a map to stop the enemy. It’s a really simple idea and whilst there are countless variations, the original Defense Grid was in a league of its own.

Just as it was in DG, the aim of each mission in DG:2 is to stop invading aliens from rampaging across the map and stealing your power cores.  To achieve this you need to build towers, both to attack the enemy and change their path. To achieve your genocidal goal you have nine different tower types at your disposal. Each type gives you different attacks and uses that are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. From your standard machine gun tower to lasers, missiles, Tesla energy and even temporal structures that slow the enemies advance. Each of these different options can also be upgraded twice after deployment and change colour dependent on their level. All your green towers regardless of type are basic level armaments, with yellow being medium and red being the highest level.

The core mechanics of the game haven’t really changed since the original, the few changes that are made are definitely welcome; like the decision to exclude the infuriating flying enemies that could only be taken down by one tower type. Whilst the campaign may seem pretty similar to what went before, a plethora of options available when choosing your mission adds a boatload of re-playability. From increasing the waves of aliens to one hundred, or making you play through the level with restrictions on your turrets. There are a whole lot to get through and you’ll have your work cut out trying to get the over 60 achievements and trophies that are up for grabs.

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Defense Grid 2 is also a much more social affair. A small display in the top right corner tracks your score against any friends who have played the mission too.  It’s a bit like racing against a ghost time in Forza, except this time it’s the points earned from slaughtering the hordes of aliens you’re trying to top, rather than faster sector times. An end of mission graph also gives you statistical bragging rights and shows where you might have fallen behind, or at what point you blasted past your friend’s score. It’s a great and unobtrusive feature that just adds everything up in the background and gives you all the details at the end.

For the first time in the series, DG:2 also features a true multiplayer component. Playing at the same time, any aliens that you vanquish will appear on your opponents map at the same spot you killed them. It’s a good addition and reminds me somewhat of multi-player Tetris, instead of flinging lines of shapes your opponents way, it’s masses of aliens. I can see a lot of people enjoying this mode, if a few more of my friends picked up DG:2, I’d probably spend more time with it but for now the single player leader-boards suit me fine.

DefenseGrid2_Release_2014-08-01_14-42-05-74There’s A Mighty Judgement Coming

The original Defense Grid set itself apart with high production values and an interesting campaign, something that Defense Grid 2 builds on to with some degree, with other areas feeling like a bit of a letdown. The game still looks good and plays smoothly, but for a title that is only available on Steam and the current generation of consoles, graphically it feels slightly underwhelming. Everything is running at a higher resolution and a rock steady frame rate, but it’s the lack of any extra sparkle that’s glaringly absent. It doesn’t detract from the game in anyway, but I’m sure if DG:2 was a bit more of a spectacle to look at it might well find a wider audience.

The original campaign had a lot of charm and wit, narrated by a suitably British artificial intelligence. The whole thing was quirky and appealing. However, the sequel just seems to add a whole lot of noise. Multiple AI’s all natter away at the start and finish of each mission and after the first few times of listening to them babble on, I soon found myself tuning out and dismissing what they were saying entirely. Where the lack of graphical finesse feels like a missed opportunity, the story and voice acting in DG:2 feels much more like a step backwards from the stellar work of the original.

I really like Defense Grid 2. The core game-play is still superb and a few of the niggles I had with the original have either been removed altogether or sufficiently ironed out. The social leader-boards, multiplayer modes and the improved re-playability are all great additions and will almost surely keep me engaged for a long time to come. Even though the narrative disappoints it still feels like a bonus in a genre where a story is usually absent altogether. If you played the original game, Defense Grid 2 will be the best Tower Defense game you have played since then. If you’ve yet to try the original then you are in for even more of a treat.

Score:8/10

Developed by Hidden Path Entertainment

Published by 505 Games

Defense Grid 2 is available on:  SteamXbox Store and PSN

If you’re interested in finding out more about what went into the development of Defense Grid 2 a fantastic series of articles written by Russ Pitts can be found on Polygon.

Frugal Gaming First Look – Mushroom 11

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Underneath Your Garden Shed

Every once in a while a game comes along with an idea so brilliant that you can’t understand why someone else hasn’t already come up with it.  Imagine if that idea was so simple that absolutely anyone could understand, play and enjoy it.  Mushroom 11 is looking like it could be that game..

Described by it’s creators as a puzzle platformer; the whole game is controlled simply by the movement of the mouse: No clicks, no special moves and no keyboard, just movement – it’s an absolute joy to play. You won’t be finding any hedgehogs, plumbers or marsupials on show, you control an amorphous green blob.  I’ve named mine Daz.

I’ve been hands on with an early build of the already award winning game developed by Untame and I’m mightily impressed.  You basically control your blob by shaving away bits of its mass which will then appear on the surface area you’re not stroking.  It’s probably not the most elegant way of describing it but check out the trailer below and you will hopefully get what I’m on about.

Starting the demo from scratch, you’re guided not by words or prompts, but by the environment and level design itself.  It’s a great way of introducing you to the initially very alien control method.  Within no time I was caressing Daz like a professional, nudging, moving, tickling and guiding him along the path.  It’s not just obstacles and puzzles you come across as you traverse the bleak landscape either.

m11_Mar14_ss_1_4They Have Come From Very Far Away

Lots of lifeforms just as strange as Daz share the post apocalyptic environment. Firefly-like flying things, smaller round blobby things and fire-spewing plant things all litter the path of your blob.  One that at the minute doesn’t seem to have much effect on your lifeform is that, just like the B-Movie megastar, you can consume these other lifeforms.  I’m hoping that in the full game the absorption of these other creatures might lead to special abilities, like a temporary resistance to lava, or a hardening of the outer layer of your blob.  There’s lots of opportunities for the Developers to play with here, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can come up with.

Even in this early stage of development, Mushroom 11 is easy on the eye. Environments look good and whilst the one level that I’ve played through is pretty much a great approximation of urban decay; I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing plenty of other environments as the game progresses. The star of the show remains the central character, the animations of his growth spurts as you remove some of his mass are great and quite literally busting full of energy.  For a fellow without a face, body or anything remotely associable with human emotion, I’ve grown quite fond of Daz and his simple desire to survive has really drawn me to him.

m11_Mar14_ss_6_2So far I’m really impressed with Mushroom 11 and I can’t wait for the full game – that said it’s the scope of accessibility that Mushroom 11 could offer that has got me most excited. My ageing mother could play this, a 5 year old could play it and I certainly want to play a whole lot more. Whilst I played with a mouse, it’s clearly suited to touchscreen devices and possibly even motion control. At the minute it’s confirmed for release at some point in 2015 and will be hitting PC, Linux, Mac and handhelds. The handhelds listing is curious, I’m guessing the PS Vita and 3DS’s must be a shoo-in, but lets face it the biggest handheld gaming platform by far is smartphones so who knows where the game will end up.

I’ll be covering Mushroom 11 in more depth closer to release, it’s really shaping up rather nicely.  Anyway that’s enough from me, I’m off to stroke, tease and cajole Daz down a new deep dark hole.

You can keep up to date with all things Mushroom 11 by signing up the the newsletter on Untame studios website which can be found HERE or by following them on Twitter.

Early Access Preview – Son Of Nor

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Son Of Nor has been around for quite some time. Whilst the successful Kickstarter ended back in May 2013, the game was already picking up awards in 2011. Whilst the awards might not be well known and even Google struggled to find any reference to them, it does show that S-O-N in one form or another has been knocking around for a good few years.

2244 people pledged a combined $151,175, just scraping past the $150,000 target. Development goals were set, with a planned beta due to launch in Q1 2014 and a full release following in Q2 of the same year.  Fast forward to the here and now and as is often the case in game development, plans have changed slightly.

An Early Access version launched on Steam back in July, giving both the Kickstarter backers and also anyone else who wanted to pay for the opportunity the chance to check out the game and contribute to its development.  It was around this time that stillalive studios formed a partnership with a couple of publishers to help distribute the game internationally.  Son Of Nor has had a couple of sizeable updates since then and it was with this latest build that both Chris Purdy and Mr Karlos Morale had some hands on time.

_SON_2014-09-15_16-41-06-72Chris Purdy writes

I’ll be completely honest I’m rather conflicted about Son Of Nor. On the one hand after watching the trailer, I couldn’t wait to dive in and get cracking. It looked like a game that was packing in elements of Jedi powers, terraforming similar to what was seen in Fracture and environments and story that’s clearly nodding and winking at Prince Of Persia.  On the other hand and firmly back in reality, it’s clear that Son Of Nor has got a long way to go to get anywhere near to reaching it’s potential.

Played from a third person perspective and developed in the Unity engine, Son of Nor looks like a classic action adventure game. The unique set of powers that the game gives your character are exciting and fresh, with the ability to use telekinesis to hurl objects in the air, alter the terrain by raising and lowering the sand and also a few good old traditional spells thrown in for good measure.

However at the moment these powers are hugely let down by a poorly implement control system, and animation that quite frankly just isn’t up to the task as of yet. It’s a shame because some of the ideas that the team have come up with are excellent.

The first half hour of SON was a real chore. A few menial tasks for NPC’s and a battle with some lizard men was frustrating, dull and a complete turn off.  The outdoor environments were extremely lacklustre and graphically on a par with the sort of thing you would have expected from early PS3 or xbox 360 stuff.  Whilst that might sound rather harsh, the reality is that people do expect a certain level of graphical sophistication if it’s presented in 3D. Perhaps a completely different art style, like a borderlands-esque cell shaded world, would have smoothed over the rough edges.

_SON_2014-09-15_16-43-45-34The game does pick up somewhat once you move away from those environments into a temple area.  Son Of Nor immediately looked a whole lot better, no doubt helped by the simple geometric designs of the rooms and objects.  These environments were clean, minimalist and stylish, and to be honest it’s a shame that the whole game doesn’t have this aesthetic.

Gone too was the woeful combat and forgettable tasks, instead the temple was full of puzzles and traps that could only be solved by using my telekinetic powers. These powers are still just as fiddly to control as they were in combat but without the threat of getting killed I could take my time and I actually found myself enjoying this aspect of the game.

Maybe Son Of Nor’s problem lies in its ambition.  There are so many elements jumbling around together that even an established AAA studio would struggle to pull it off, let alone a small team of developers, spread around the world who work together over the internet.  Certain elements like the power based puzzles show real promise but virtually everything else detracts from this one stand out element. To add to the burden of development the team are all supporting a slew of Virtual Reality devices which seems a little odd for a game that plays completely in the third person perspective.

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Karlos Morale writes

The trouble with games like this is, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Currently, Son of Nor is not a delicious rhubarb crumble. Instead, the rhubarb remains resolutely buried in the ground – obstinately refusing to give up its flavours.

Son of Nor might end up being a decent enough title – there’s certainly scope – what the developers say they’d like to achieve sounds ambitious and interesting. However, what we’ve got is a limited 3rd person adventure with underwhelming controls, graphics and AI. At £15 it looks like an expensive gamble until such time as there’s a bit more to see to pass judgement upon.

It’s in such an early state that currently, although you can choose a character, it always defaults back to the generic bloke. That was a little awkward for Lillianna, especially after I’d taken the time to dress her up nice and everything.

Developed by stillalive studios and published by Viva Media

Son Of Nor Is currently available via Steam Early Access and can be found here.

Frugal Gaming Review – Ancient Space

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Ancient Space is real time strategy game based in; you’ve guessed it, Space! It’s been a good while since we’ve had chance to experience this genre in this setting and as a card holding, badge wearing Sci-Fi nerd I was rather looking forward to getting my hands on this game and seeing how it stood up to the much cherished 15 year old classic.

The first thing that stuck me is that despite the games wallet friendly £14.99 price, the developers certainly haven’t skimped when it comes to the presentation.  Both the graphics and sound design are brilliant.  Ships themselves are nicely detailed and the vast depths of space you will fight over are simply gorgeous to look at.  Add to that a strong cast of voice actors, with some well know names for Sci-Fi fans, some rather decent music and it’s a very well presented package, that at first glance belies its price.

Kicking off the campaign with a basic tutorial is a good start. A few missions in and it soon became apparent why the tutorial was so basic, there is a distinct lack of depth to the strategy elements. Ship A kicks ass against Ship B, but is vulnerable to Ship C. Ship B knocks the stuffing out of Ship C but can’t stand up to Ship A. Ship C batters the crap out of Ship A, but is outmatched against Ship B. That is as deep as it gets.  It’s a real shame that at its core it’s so simplistic. Get your head around which ship to use in which situation and you’re a grand master, all you then need to worry about is the constant herding of your forces. And boy can that be a bit of a pain.

2014-08-20_00092Your forces seem to lack any form of intelligence or initiative.  They will happily blast away at ships their weapons have no effect whatsoever on, often ignoring targets that they could actually damage.  Even in the first few missions is becomes a real chore to constantly monitor what all of your forces are doing or not doing, as is often the case.  I guess some people might like this whole level of micromanagement that’s needed to get anywhere but it was really just a complete turn off for me.

The story did manage to catch my attention to start off with but it soon ends up going hand in hand with the tedium of combat. Despite the great cast doing their utmost to make you interested in the story, the lack of stand-out narrative moments in missions leaves the story with the one task of linking mission to mission.  A real shame considering the talent brought into voice some of the characters.

Whilst I’ve not been blown away by Ancient Space and I’ve yet to find the need to complete the campaign, I do think I’ll be going back to it at some point.  There are no specific bad elements in this game, but there are a few things that just leave me completely indifferent.  As nice as it looks and sounds, it was never going to be enough to carry the game alone.  The lack of any multiplayer is also a big disappointment, as an armchair army General, there is nothing better than being able to get one over on your friends, and the more simple nature of combat that’s offered in Ancient Space would have been rather more suited to multiplayer that it is for a single player campaign.

2014-08-20_00228The developers and publishers have pulled off a master-stroke by releasing Ancient Space before the much anticipated Homeworld Remastered even has a release date.  For people like me who can’t wait for that, this game has provided a pleasant distraction, even if in all honestly it highlights more what a 15 year old game did right than Ancient Space itself accomplishes. Not bad by any means but one for fans of the genre or other Homeworld junkies needing a quick fix.

Reviewing a game can be a tricky thing.  Whilst a game should be judged on its own merits, our opinions are formed by what we have already experienced.  Case in point with Ancient Space, and a somewhat popular classic called Homeworld.  Reviewing the new game without some comparisons to the old is an all but impossible task, and I can’t help but think I’d have enjoyed Ancient Space rather a bit more if I hadn’t loved Homeworld quite so much.

Score: 7/10

Developed by Creative Forge Games

Published by Paradox Interactive

Ancient Space is currently available on Steam and can be found HERE

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – Frugal Gaming Review

 

e314-02Roll Up, Roll Up For The Mystery Tour

Fabulous isn’t a word I’ve used before when trying to sum up a game, but it’s the only one that feels suitable when I think about D4.  An Xbox One exclusive with Kinect very much being the way it’s designed to be played may well have put some people off; but whether you choose to play via the Kinect or a regular controller you are in for a real if rather trippy treat!

To describe it as plainly as possible considering it’s creator, D4 or Dark Dreams Don’t Die to give the game it’s full title is a episodic mystery detective game.  You play as David Young, a former police officer turned private eye, who after the brutal murder of his wife has gained a rather interesting ability and a natty scar just like Harry Potter.  Now able to travel to a different point in space and time, its lets you delve into strange cases that would bamboozle regular investigators. The current first season of D4 includes three of these cases plus a rather lengthy prologue that sets up the ensuing madness.

Having only really used voice commands with the Kinect for the last year I was eager to try the game using only the motion controls and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s clear from the get go that D4 is completely designed around Kinect and it works wonderfully well.  I played sitting down and for the majority of the time just one arm was needed.  Reach out and grab the footstep icon on the floor and you move; swipe left or right to turn on the spot.  Pushing, pulling and grabbing play a part too, it’s really simple and having tried both Kinect and a controller it’s a lot more fun playing with Kinect, especially in the action sequences which will find you fighting a woman who thinks she’s a cat and also a drug dealer in a plane that’s been struck by lightning twenty thousand feet in the air..

d4-01Um Diddle, Diddle Diddle, Um Diddle Ay

Whilst the game mechanics are pretty straight forward, finding clues and questioning people for the majority of the time, it’s the characters themselves and Swery’s personality which really make D4 something special.  I’ve already mentioned the woman who acts like a cat, I’m still not sure if she’s actually a woman and not really a cat who David see’s as a woman – it’s that crazy.  Add to that a fashion designer who wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the nineties TV show Eurotrash, who also has a deep and meaningful relationship with a mannequin;  a muscle mary trolley dolley with a bit of a temper only dulled by drugs; and an extremely strange Surgeon who appears halfway through episode one with knife and fork in hand as he confuses you with riddles. I’m also pretty sure that the main character is bisexual.  It’s a complete whirlwind of stereotypes, some turned completely on their heads, all knowingly mocked and I absolutely love it.

D4 looks great too, think of a much more colourful and polished version of the Walking Dead and you wouldn’t be far off, it’s the perfect art style to truly capture the bizarre ideas that are everywhere in the game.  Music is suitably groovy and ethereal at times; solid voice acting also brings the characters to life in an even more vibrant way and the casting is spot on.  I’d love to have seen the actors faces as they were reading the scripts, I really don’t know how they managed to get the lines out without breaking into fits of laughter.

d4-04It Shakes All Over Like A Jellyfish

You might well have gathered by now that I’ve absolutely loved playing D4, it’s refreshing and possibly the most bonkers game I’ve ever played.  It might not be for everyone but look at it this way – if you’re a fan of Swery you will love it.  If you’re a fan of Japanese games in general you’ll probably love it. Been staring at your Kinect wondering if you’ll ever use it? You’ll love it.

I’d never heard of Swery before playing this, I kind of thought my Kinect was never going to be used, and I still absolutely love it. I love D4 so much that I’m now a proud fan of Swery, I follow him on twitter and instagram, and I’ve just bought his previous game, Deadly Premonition on Steam. My one and only criticism of D4 is that I want more: more episodes, more crazy characters and just more Swery on Xbox one full stop.

9+1*/10

*  gets a +1 for featuring a lot a Cats because Cats rule.

D4 is available digitally for £11.99 on Xbox One and can be found HERE

Developed by Access Games

Published by Microsoft Studios

Written and Directed by Swery

 

Frugal Gaming Preview – Habitat

habitat_Logo_NoBackground

As a teenager, the underneath of my bed was a black hole of my own creation.  Discarded cereal bowls and cups of tea, dirty tissues, old magazines and the obligatory missing odd socks all ended up in the darkness.  Turns out the 4gency’s vision of the future is pretty similar, just set in space rather than under a Ikea divan.

Habitat is a physics based sandbox building survival strategy game; bit of a mouthful, but at least it’s clearly its own genre.  Having developed a couple of mobile titles, the developer is stepping up a gear with this game.  Following on from the successful Kickstarter project, Habitat is now planned for release on PC, MAC, Linux and Xbox One.

Happy Tat                                

Starting with a small habitat, your mission is to grow and expand this last refuge of mankind by making good use of the things that you find, the things that the everyday folk have left behind, just obviously set in space, rather than Wimbledon Common.  It’s a nice idea and having been hands on the with Early Access build that’s currently available on Steam, it does seem to be coming along rather nicely.

Nowhere near feature complete; at the time of writing Habitat offers you a brief tutorial and the sandbox survival building mode. Starting off with the basic Habitat module, you are free to use what ever trash you find floating around to expand and upgrade your life-raft. Everything has a use, from old booster rockets, Soviet era tanks, to flame breathing militarised dinosaur heads, yes really. The nature of the games physics engine affects everything.  Want to move your tub along to explore the vast reaches of space? Then just attach a couple of rockets: One on each side of your habitat, both facing the same direction will happily boost you on your way. Fire just the left rocket and your turn right, fire just the right and you will turn left.  It’s simple yet clever stuff.

Those same rockets could also be used as weapons, detach them from the Habitat and fire them up, they will streak off like, well, a rocket. Attach some heavier ordnance and you’ve got yourself a decent weapon system. Other junk might increase your power output, or simply extend your habitat offering more points to tether more even more junk onto.  Its a nice unique system and messing around with various configurations can be fun just by itself for a time.

ExplosionShotWombling Free

Early access is all about solving problems and involving the community in development, obviously for the cynics out there it can also provide a vital stream of income to support continued development. 4gency are certainly seem to be making the most of their chosen path of development. The guys and girls are extremely active of the Steam Forums and constantly asking for feedback both on the game itself and the current Development Roadmap.  Its great to see a clear and well laid out plan, I would love to see this as a minimum requirement for Early Access games launched on Steam in the future, so hats of to 4gency for being so open with the community.

I have enjoyed playing Habitat so far, but it’s not without its issues.  The current control method, especially for the camera controls, just seems so unnatural and convoluted.  It can feel like a real chore using WASD to move the camera, I’m hoping that this will be sorted as the game develops. I’m so used to just using a mouse in games like this and it would definitely benefit from having keyboard controls being optional, rather than mandatory. Whilst I’m sure the controls will be fine tuned before release, my other issue might well remain. At the moment you can only build and expand your habitat on a horizontal plane.  Not being able to build vertically really seems like a missed opportunity and would have added a bit more depth to construction.

UIShot_5Despite some minor issues I’m looking forward to the release of Habitat, especially on Xbox One.  It really does seems like the sort of game that for me would be suited to playing with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard, perhaps this is the route of my issues with the current control system.  Whilst I haven’t got a clue what form the planned single player campaign will take, I’m hoping it will give some legs to the fabulous mechanics the developers have implemented. It’s still got a while to go until it’s full release but its certainly a promising start and I’m looking forward to playing some more of Habitat as features are added.

Habitat is planned for release on PC, MAc, Linux and Xbox One.

Early Access is available via Steam and can be found HERE

Frugal Gaming Preview – This War Of Mine

Logo_Artwork

He’s Five Foot Two, and He’s Six Feet Four

War. War never changes, much like video games if we are honest.  From the classic arcade games like Operation Wolf to one of this year’s biggest hits, Wolfenstein.  If a video game is set around a war then you’re pretty much guaranteed to be playing as some tooled up bad ass, which spurts clichéd one liners as you mow down your foes with a big huge gun.  You’ve probably got a stupid name like BJ or Soap too.

This War Of Mine changes all of that.  Playing as a group of civilians, your not so simple task is to survive in a war torn city currently under siege.  A group of everyday people that have found themselves in exceptionally brutal circumstances, things like this are happening all over the world right now.  From Syria and Iraq to the Ukraine and no doubt countless other countries that never make it onto the news. It’s a bold and risky undertaking from developer 11 Bit Studios, the subject matter is so real, harrowing and relevant, that it must be handled with care and without diminishing the impact of the scenarios your survivors will face.  So far 11 Bit seems to be nailing it on every aspect.

The game itself is a 2.5D survival game with exploration, crafting, and resource management all thrown into the mix.  These different elements work together very well, it’s certainly challenging and the dilemmas the game throws up will undoubtedly give you pause for thought. Whilst one decision might be best for your band of survivors, it might spell doom for someone else.  The game is controlled completely via mouse; unobtrusive icons are used for actions that can be taken.  Click the eye icon on a door and you peer through the keyhole.  A hand icon lets you search for supplies.  It’s really simple and effective, letting you concentrate on the task at hand, rather than going through loads of menus.  Character portraits also let you switch between your survivors and lets you see their wants and needs.  Having got to grips with the basics I dived into the game.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_05What Is It Good For?

Day one of my attempt at survival found my three civilians; Bruno, Pavle and Marko holding up in an abandoned house.  Unable to go scavenging during the daylight for fear of sniper fire, I set them up to start routing through the scattered belongings of the previous occupants, hoping to find anything to help them survive.  Bruno, a bear of a man with a warm face was starting to feel ill, with no medicine to be found in the house it would be a priority when night fell and it was safe to venture outside.

As darkness descended, I had the option to finally go and explore some of the other buildings in the city.  Bruno was ill so I left him to sleep and Pavle was on guard duty. It fell to Marko, a skilled scavenger to search for supplies.  I had a few options but decided to play it safe.  A nearby abandoned house was my destination.  Scavenging through the detritus of war I found plenty of supplies and even some medicine.  Just as I was about to leave with my haul of loot I came across another civilian, a starving old man.  He asked for food, begged for food, but with my three survivors all hungry I kept what I found and left him to his fate.  It was a hard decision to make I wonder what happened to the old man.  Part of me doesn’t want to know but it wasn’t the only dilemma I faced whilst playing This War Of Mine.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_01The second day passed without incident, Bruno was starting to feel better after taking some medicine and I set around making life more comfortable for my three survivors.  Using the supplies I’d gathered on the previous night I built a stove and a bed.  Being able to rest during the day was a great help to the survivors and the warmth from the stove lifted the spirits of all three.  Once it was dark outside, Marko set out looting again and left Pavle to sleep, with Bruno taking over guard duties this time around.  It was a quiet night for Marko, however the same could not be said for Bruno and Pavle.

Another group of survivors had stormed the building, and although Bruno and Pavle did their best to fight the attackers off, all of their supplies had been stolen and Pavle had sustained a nasty injury. The group spent the third day licking their wounds, although Marko had returned with some supplies, the raid had left them critically low and Pavle needed bandages to heal his wound.  As the safety of darkness descended Marko once again ventured forth, desperate to find supplies to help Pavle.

The supermarket looked like a good bet, and to start off proved quite fruitful.  Food and drink were plentiful and with a backpack nearly full Marko pressed deeper into the store hoping to find some bandages.  Approaching a closed door, Marko could hear people talking on the other side.  It wasn’t a pleasant conversation.  Spying through the keyhole, a woman was scrambling around on the floor looking for food as a man in a military uniform loomed over her.  Favours were being demanded in exchange for food and it was all too clear where the situation was heading.  Marko could have left the supermarket, sneaking out the same way he came in but it just didn’t seem right.  Unarmed he opened the door, with a distraction created the woman ran for her life as the soldier raised his machine gun to shoot her down.  He should have run as soon as he saw the gun.  Instead he tried to tackle the man with fatal results, whilst he had saved the woman Marko paid the ultimate price.

twom_warchildAnd The Violence Caused Much Silence

The playable section of the game I’ve been hands on covers the first 12 days of the survivors attempt to eke out an existence in the war torn streets and buildings.  Everything I’ve just written about happened in the first three days, I can’t wait to see what happens in just the next nine days let alone the full game.  Its real edge of your seat stuff, looking after the three survivors and weighing up the risk versus rewards of scavenging in richer but more dangerous grounds is exciting and terrifying at the same time.  The decisions that must be made have real weight to them, the results doing absolute justice to the grim subject matter.

The presentation and art style is completely unique.  The game plays out with almost hand sketched animated visuals, think of an updated A-HA Take on Me and you wouldn’t be far off.  It’s really hard to put into words how good it all looks in action, it sets a sombre tone and yet it still manages to be beautiful all at the same time.  Added to that, the developers have used photographs of real people as the in game avatars for your survivors. The photos and art-style combined offer a stylised yet gritty look at the ravages this war has had on the city.

Details about release dates and platforms are thin on the ground and whilst I hope we will find out more about these things soon I’m certain that if 11 bit Studios carry on the way they have started it will without a doubt be worth the wait.  On so many levels This War Of Mine excels and it’s quite possibly my most anticipated upcoming release.

 For more information about This War Of Mine you can check out the Website HERE or the Steam page can be found HERE

This War Of Mine from 11 bit studios on Vimeo.