The Flame in the Flood Preview

Flame Review size

“A rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of a forgotten post-social America. Forage, craft and evade predators”

The Flame in the Flood caught my attention a few months ago. A kickstarter from the art director of the Bioshock series, as well as a team of veterans from Bioshock, Halo and Guitar Hero. Not a bad set of experienced creatives to have on an indie project.

The gorgeous art style, the graphics, as well as the soundtrack – I was sold on the trailer alone. It did the job of catching my attention pretty well.

I’ve recently been enjoying my rogue-lite/rogue-a-like games, as well as playing the early access game ‘The Long Dark’, another survival game.

The Flame in the Flood combines these 2 genres very well; the art style and soundtrack suit it brilliantly. Survival games can seem daunting at first. The style of The Flame in the Flood just takes the edge off for me, makes it a tad more approachable.

As it stands when I played, TFITF is early access and only has “endless” mode available, with story mode coming soon.

Flame 2 review

You find yourself stranded in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back, luckily for you a dog dragging a backpack finds you and you’re off on your way to survival! Or most likely certain death.

Your canine companion helps with finding resources around the various islands (think back to Fable helpful mutt). He means well, but barking at everything and even the gear you discard gets a bit annoying, but who can stay mad? He’s trying to help……. I think?!

Survival comes in the form of watching over your character’s vital hunger, thirst, health, warmth and fatigue. In order to keep everything ticking over you forage for whatever you can and use various resources and materials to craft weapons, traps, food and medicine. Sounds easy enough? As each play through is procedurally generated, you might not find what you need straight away. My first run through I tried standing toe to toe with a boar (Don’t!) and came off worse for wear with broken bones and lacerations. As I couldn’t find anything for a splint or to help heal my lacerations they got infected and left untreated you do indeed die.

My second run through I came across the resources to not only snare a boar but made myself a splint, then I died of exhaustion, after all of that!

 

My current playthrough is turning out much better and I’m even managing to plan for the worst. I’ve got more penicillin than a chemist and I’m jerking rabbit and boar like a pro! It’s safe to say the difficulty does start increasing the further downs the procedurally generated river you go, twisting and turning along the currents. I say difficulty; I mean more things trying to kill you.

Wolves start appearing in packs and I’ve started having to weigh up risks of scavenging against taking on more than one predator. There are other aspects throughout the game to start considering, your raft being the other point of your focus. You can dock up at repair islands and make repairs or improvements to your raft. Parts of my play through seem to be scarce and few between, bits and pieces can be crafted but nothing made quite just yet.

ss_cf6b460d2a1ec9b8cf3caf9ae2f67b2d8f1cc60b

For a preview in an early state, The Flame in the Flood looks great, the art style is gorgeous and music/soundtrack is fantastic, it suits each environment and period of either dread, fear, fight or travel well. I’m really looking forward to what the story mode brings. As it stands right now, it doesn’t have the longevity on its own, but I’ll use the endless mode for a taster of what else is to come.

TFITF would suit any gamer, it’s easy to get to grips with after a few deaths, you learn a bit more as you go and form solutions from where you went wrong, like a good rogue-lite game should.

If you’re not a fan of survival games this shouldn’t put you off, the crafting elements, visuals and soundtrack are great. It’s genuinely harrowing in parts, whether you’re crawling with a broken leg after getting away from a wolf or being thrown about on your raft.

To my surprise (given its early access release) I have experienced no bugs. The Flame in the Flood is well worth checking and I’m really looking forward to coming back to this one as it updates and nears full release. As it is, it’s unusual, it’s beautiful and oozes creativity.

Subterrain: Underground Base Apocalypse – Early Access

download

5 days, 5 hours, 9 minutes… (On Hardcore mode) that is how long it took for me to die… it was not a painless ‘in your sleep’ death, it was a fist through the face, shattering my skull style death, from a creature that could only be described as the Incredible Hulk, on steroids.. 5 days, 5 hours, 9 minutes of life… and I enjoyed every moment of it…

Subterrain: Underground Base Apocalypse is an Early Access, Sci-Fi survival game from the South Korean developer Pixellore.

It is played from a top-down perspective, and controlled with a keyboard and mouse; currently there is limited control pad support.

In Subterrain, you play as Dr. Albert West, a scientist residing in the first permanent colony on Mars in 2050. As the story begins, you have been locked in a containment cell for just over a year- for murder. You recollect the events of the last few weeks, a guard throwing you your last meal, a tin of beans, before telling you of an imminent transfer. Minutes after being told this your door starts to slide open, a power failure leaves you stuck in a room with no obvious way out. From your cell, you can hear chaos outside… and then silence.

A week later you are still in your cell, your meagre tin of bins now empty. Now is the time to find out what has happened. Working your way out of your cell and to the train system you witness horrifying scenes, dismembered bodies, and strange mutated creatures litter the corridors.

Unlike most survival games, where you are given all the time in the world to gather resources, construct bases and weaponry and generally explore your surroundings, Subterrain slightly breaks the mold.ss_018e9588e55f3c3f8577f506882ffde4f6fc04b2

The longer you play, the more the “Minerva” virus mutates, making the mutants faster, stronger, and generally more of a pain in your backside. The variety of creatures in the game at the moment is on the relatively small side, spiders, giant spiders that shoot green snot at you, floating eyeballs, zombies, super zombies, super incredible hulk zombies, and spitting zombies, but the developers are constantly tweaking and adding bits and pieces, so this may improve at a later date.

At the heart of the game is Central Control, the only safe area (well… mostly safe) from here you have access to various rooms including:

The Research lab, where you can analyse and improve equipment and weaponry found in the world

The Engineering Lab, where you can find the 3D & Bio printers, with which you can create useful items (such as Co2 tanks, med kits, bandages, weaponry and armor’s)

The Mine, where you will find the mining equipment needed to gather ores from beneath Mar’s surface.

And the Biosphere, where you can grow food.

In contrast to Central Control, these labs are not safe, and will need to be cleared out, or carefully navigated to get to the equipment each section holds.ss_223fdcb914a4f0d0aa8030646d25e40166138ac3

As well as the Mutants you will be fighting against the atmosphere, in many of the areas the temperature and oxygen generators are broken and will need to be repaired before you can safely (well.. relatively safely) explore.

Central Control also houses the power plant for the colony, this will degrade over time so again, time is not on your side as you try to escape the colony before the power goes out and you are overrun.

Outside of the labs you will need to divert power to the other areas you wish to explore, courtesy of the train system. As you work your way through Subterrain, you will find data pads with small details of what has happened on the colony. And occasional hints as to where you can find items of importance.

In this fight for survival you will also have to keep an eye on your hunger, thirst, sleep and even toilet needs – yes Dr. West quite happily tells you/thinks out loud to himself that he needs a “dump or a piss”. Food will need to be eaten, drinks will need to be drunk, bleeding will need bandaging, and broken bones will need setting.

As you get into fights you raise the risk of getting infected with the Minerva virus, at which point you will need to find pills to fight the infection, if the rate of infection gets too high you will start losing health and will eventually die.

The art style is lovely to look at, and the games audio manages to capture a feeling of isolation, your vision is obscured by the dark, with only a flashlight (or glow stick) to light your way, creatures loom out of the dark, bodies slowly exposed as you get closer. An eerie silence apart from the occasional groan from a mutant leaves a feeling of unease

Satellite Reign – Early Access Preview

concept_04 review

Set in a futuristic neon lit cyberpunk city, Satellite Reign is a Syndicate inspired top down RTS game from 5 Lives studios. A Kickstarter project that smashed its target of £350k, at the time of writing it is currently in a Pre Alpha build. The game starts with the basic of tutorials, move, run and gun before allowing you free movement within this blazing yet rain soaked atmospheric metropolis. It is stated that the current build does not have a playable tutorial, I feel maybe a step by step introduction into a mission or 3 to gently guide you into things would help draw you into the basic game mechanics and I’m sure this will be included as development progresses.

You take control of 4 cyborg agents each with different abilities, a hacker who can access door panels and also temporarily knock out the big brother style CCTV.
The support agent can send out a world scan, which in a matrix style changes the view green and highlights objects or persons of interest and the agent can also heal your squad mates. The soldier deals out the pain and causes the most head on damage when plan A fails.
Finally the Infiltrator is the stealthily operative. These 4 agents can be levelled up with skills, which should make you life easier as well as opening up new ways to go about your business. Satellite Reign is a single player game, in the future I would love to see a 4 player co-op version with a friend controlling each of the agents.
Graphically the game is there, from the rain detail to the billowing steam effects and the beautifully bright signs and street lighting. The music is also full of deep bass and the thunder and rain effects add to the thick atmosphere and compliments and matches the view.

concept_011Mission control on the main menu lists the jobs available to you, giving detailed background to what is required, and an opportunity to purchase intel from either a bent enforcement officer or other shady characters who are in the know. Everything is for sale in the Downtown District. You start with a $1,000 which can also be used to scan locals for further information (which is currently a work in progress) as well as purchase weapons.

On starting one of the currently limited missions you can activate a ping, which sets off a tracker to direct you to your objective. Once in this location of interest, personally I found it tricky to evade or stealth my way past either the security cameras or guards, which then set off the alarms and the inevitable firefight (which then included enemy reinforcements). You can position yourself behind cover to increase your chances of survival and provides a defensive bonus against the enemy fire, however sometimes the positioning of my units felt clumsy and they didn’t always hold their position to where I had intended. There are relay beacons hidden around the city, interacting with these provide spawn points so your character will return at the closest relay beacon after they’ve died. Although I have found these missions challenging and frustrating there is an amount of satisfaction when something goes right, or using tactics and a bit of thought has turned a bad situation around.

concept_031If you’re a general fan of Sci-Fi, the original Syndicate back from ‘93, Deus EX or the film Bladerunner then you should be keeping a close eye on Satellite Reign, it’s full of potential and it’s got a solid foundation to build upon. Fans of this genre will also be pleased to know hover cars are in attendance, zooming and humming around the streets along with security drones; which I assume in this future do not provide you with 1 hour prime Amazon deliveries.

There has been a recent update 0.4 released which has doubled the size of the game area, the Industrial district has been added to complement the Downtown zone, which has it’s own set of corporations bossing the streets.

In its current state consider it a starter of seared scallops with leeks & lemon chilli butter, before your Sunday Roast, a topside of Somerset beef, which is currently on a slow cook. It isn’t ready just yet, but when it’s fully cooked prepare to crack open a bottle of red and enjoy this beautifully lit open world feast.

Satellite Reign is available on PC and is currently priced at £22.99.

Stranded Deep: Early Access Preview

island_foliageStranded Deep looks like a fantastic game, taking core concepts from successful survival games and developing them further, all the while sprinkling in a little island hopping and you’ve got a foundation for success. Unfortunately, in such an early state, Stranded Deep struggles to deliver more than a simple crafting system and very little to actually do once you’ve constructed the half-dozen buildings and exhausted yourself at the ocean floor while avoiding sharks.

You’ll initially be given a lightning fast tutorial on the plane that is destined to crash and deliver you to the start point of the game proper: Stranded in a life raft with your paddle in the middle of a vast ocean, with little more than a few bare essentials to see you through. You are surrounded by a number of islands that appear full of potential and all seems well, until the appearance of the first shark that circles your inflatable raft is a terrifying one as you’ll ponder the possibility that it will tip you into the water and you’ll have to survive a harrowing Jaws-like scenario as you cling to the minor possibility of survival.

Once safely land-bound you’ll find everything you need to survive in the form of logs, trees, bindings and crabs. Unfortunately with no real guide with your crafting you’ll spend a lot of time grabbing around for a lot of raw materials before you’ll finally craft an axe and a safe place to sleep at night. With no guidance the system feels daunting and broken and yet holds a lot of potential on paper. Everything is crafted in world rather than from a menu, you build a pile, equip the correct tool and build anything from parts of a shelter, to a new raft (to traverse island to island). This system is at such an early stage it becomes an annoyance to use, as you can’t bind items to keys or manage your inventory as everything is randomly assigned a slot at this stage in the build.

spearfishingStranded Deep looks absolutely beautiful. The Day & Night cycles are crisp, clean and will help truly immerse you in the world; however the islands across this tropical landscape are all too similar to really offer a true procedurally generated experience as promised. I spent a long time relying on my original supplies and struggling through because of the lack of individuality from island to island and wasn’t lucky enough to stumble across a bountiful shipwreck until much later.

If you’re lucky to spawn near a cache of special gear hidden in an underwater shipwreck, then you’re going to enjoy the first hour far more than if you’re left to do it on your own. You may also happen across the watch that gives you very basic readings of thirst and hunger, which will help guide you – though not by much considering your need for food becomes almost a singular focus as it diminishes at an almost impossible rate, while thirst will last a week without need to be managed. The mechanics became a lot more stressful once I was aware of them and an annoyance as opposed to a challenge as they should be in a game of this type.

island_foliageFor something that looks like a game based on Castaway you’re given no objective for survival or escape and after a couple of hours you’ll have probably seen a lot of what the game has to offer at this stage and even some things you weren’t supposed too – like a flying shark that randomly jumps a mile out of the ocean. I want to love this game. This is the survival game I’ve been wanting for a long time – no silly natives attacking you or zombies waiting around every corner, but simply you against nature. The lack of direction or coherent mechanics makes enjoyment tough and the lack of variety in the world stops you continuing for the immersion.

I’d love to see an end goal in place to allow me to get rescued and a much more robust tutorial that tells me exactly what I can do within the world, while adding a lot more variety and options with.

Fractured Space Preview

keyart_logo

Aside from Zombies, Space games are making their way up the popularity charts as a gaming flavour of the year.

Fractured Space, released on November 2014 and currently in Early Access is here, looking to capture and hold a position in the gaming galaxy.

There isn’t a great deal of story or history in the Fractured Space universe at this time, and I’m not sure that it necessarily a bad thing, the game is all about the here and now, and who needs a reason to jump into a galactic battlecruiser an fight Red versus Blue with a shoot now don’t ask questions policy?

Controlling a battleship teamed with up to 4 pilots, with the main objective being to capture and control space ports across 5 sectors whilst stopping the opposing team doing the same, and eventually creating a path to the enemy’s base which is required to be destroyed to reach the end game. The gameplay is quite slow an tactical, it can be a case of taking on the enemy head on, or avoid each other in a race to the enemy base, in order to get there you first need capture and control 2 points in either the Alpha or Beta sectors, there is also a central Gamma zone, which opens up after time an if controlled offers a resource boost, but other than that this area of space holds no other interest and the game can be won without laying claim to it.

fs_ea_screen_00Winning can be achieved by the awesome amount of weaponry and firepower available dependent on your chosen ship type from the generous range available in the hanger before you go into battle, currently there is a sniper, stealth, close range, heavy and general support classes, each with their varying stats in offense, defense and mobility.

The classes are quite self explanatory, heavy has low speed and mobility and is a big target but can take a lot of damage, the sniper picks off targets at great distances and the stealth has a cool cloak capability to sneak up on your opponents or to escape from heavy fire when the space shit hits the fan.

The control system is simple to pick up with the WASD looking after the directions, Shift and Control for the vertical, the mouse for aiming an firing. The display handily highlights numbers 1-6 at the bottom, for any of your specific ship abilities, 4 activates the jump drive to travel between the sectors an 5 covers a jump back to base if it’s under attack or you need a quick retreat.

Your damage meter is near the centre of you screen and reduces as you take hits, your ship also shows signs of visual damage with sections on fire, once your meter hits 0 your ship explodes an you have to wait for a respawn timer before you are returned to base in a shiny new ship with a new found hard hitting emotion for revenge.

fs_ea_screen_01As you progress the ships loadouts can be customised as well as the crew from which there is currently 2 to choose from who take up the important roles of captain, pilot, engineer, comms and tactical, who frequently pop up in game to give you status reports which is neat feature and creates a feeling that it’s not just you being a spaceship. It would be good to see an expansion on this either with a greater number of crews to chose from or maybe even an option to buy/hire crew members with various levels of skills or attributes which may have an impact on your ships base stats.

As this is an online only game currently it is advised to check when the most active time is for your playing sessions, which currently recommends between 7 and 10pm UK time, I have struggled some nights to find a game, not being able to find a server to field 2 squads or maybe just enough to field a 2 versus 2 game, hopefully as the community builds this should become less of an issue.

fs_ea_screen_03There is also an opportunity to play with the makers on a community playtest which is usually on a Thursday, you can also jump on teamspeak where the details can be found on the Fractured Space forum and chat either tactically whilst you play or generally in the relevant channels. I’ve listened in to a couple of sessions now and they have a lot of drive for this game and are more than happy to answer questions thrown at them and sound a friendly and approachable group.

The game itself is fun to play and teamwork is definitely recommended, some of the ships I felt were slightly unbalanced but these I imagine are being tweaked behind the scenes on a regular basis based on player feedback and how the games pan out. Currently there is only the one game mode, in the future I’d like to see this expanded as well as maybe a higher player count for full scale battles or even a smaller maybe 2 on 2 cat and mouse type mode on a reduced playing field.

Fractured Space developed by Edge Case Games is currently £6.99 on Steam, and if you’re into online only multiplayer space battles even in it’s Early Access phase and feel you want to contribute it’s worth taking a look now and make space in your calender for Thursday evenings. For anyone else it’s worth keeping an eye on maybe adding it to the wish list and climbing aboard when the player base can guarantee you a game at your convenience.

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms Early Access Preview

Heretic_Kingdoms_Shadows-LogoEarly Access Preview

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

PC

Developer: Games Farm

 If you’re like me, you know about as much about Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (Shadows’ predecessor dating back some 9 years) as you do heavy crossbow ballistics. To be clear, I know absolutely zero about heavy crossbow ballistics. Having had a quick squizz at some info and screens for the 2005 game however, it looks like it’d be right up my street. I wonder how come I missed it? Ah, probably youthful exuberance and heavy drinking are to blame, as they were for so many poor choices back then.

Still, now relatively sober, I’m in a position to explore the richness of a new RPG world, and as such have dived in to Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms – a game which at the very least should win some awards in the category for Most-Generically-Named-RPG-Of-2014.

Falling somewhere between an action-RPG like Diablo and a slower paced, Neverwinter Nights-style role-player, S:HK is a game that spans two fantasy themed worlds at once. Once past the Tom Baker (yes, that one) voiced introduction, you arrive in the shadow realm where your demon main character – The Devourer – kicks off proceedings. In traditional ARPG style you wander around and smack the crap out of spooky ghosts and what-not, sucking up their precious souls and exploring dark recesses. Once you find your first vessel however, things start to get interesting.

screenshot03Shadows takes an interesting approach to traditional RPG party building, by making it somewhat similar to Trine, insofar as you hot-switch between characters, but only control one at a time. Your first choice comes in a Charnel House, where three recently deceased heroes are entombed; you must choose a body based either on whose story you find most engaging or -probably more likely – you work out which one is the ranged hero, which the tank and which the mage and choose on that basis.

You can only take one to start, so hoover-up your character archetype of choice and journey out into the world and re-unite the kingdoms, or smash it apart or kill the king or devour his children, or whatever the plot is supposed to be. If that sounds somewhat ‘handwave-y’ and non-specific, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access and fleshing out and developing the way in which the story is delivered is still likely to be very much a part of that process. Secondly, the characters that you pick to become your avatar and the choices that you make with them allow – according to the developer – for a multiplicity of potential story paths and endings. At the very least, it’s nice that the game changes significantly based on your selections in ways outside of ‘how do I kill this kobold?’

screenshot02Back to the fighting and exploring mechanics, you explore a variety of locations causing mayhem and death. Enemies drop loot, although not at the levels you’d be looking for from an ARPG. Interestingly, healing items are pretty scarce, which causes the players to try and be more careful than might at first seem suited to the game style. There is a different mechanic used for healing and resurrection than you might expect, which draws upon the idea of the ‘two worlds’, since the Devourer can harvest souls in the dark world that can be used to heal heroes in the light side. Switching between the two worlds is as simple as tapping the W key, which changes your avatar to the Devourer. Heal up your characters and send them back into the fray, or switch out one avatar for another and let them take punishment for a while. The game is designed in such a way that the player must switch between the two worlds in order to solve puzzles and make progress, in a manner reminiscent of Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain. Also like that game, the transitions are appealing and add to the players’ immersion with the world.

Both worlds are crisp and cleanly designed – at times very visually appealing – however, like the title, it can tend to err towards the generic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as there is nothing wrong with familiar and comfortable tropes if employed with style. The stylishness from S:HK comes from its branching storylines and its characters’ dialogue which is lively enough to keep  you clicking through the story.

Shadows_Heretic_Kingdoms_Screenshot_2Destroy enough monster scum and you can level up your characters at the same time as improving their gear through loot drops. The skill trees looked a little overwhelming at first, but are actually straightforward once you take the time to explore them and think about how you’d like to build your characters’ abilities. Of course, going forward you ideally want to create a party with a range of complimentary powers in order to tackle the range of scenarios the game is going to throw at you.

My only gripe with S:HK so far is that currently, I think the combat lacks surety and solidity. Like the dice-rolling Neverwinter type RPGS you can miss an enemy standing next to you with an axe-swing which is always frustrating. Likewise, there doesn’t always appear to be accurate feedback for the player both on hitting and being hit, which detracts from the enjoyment in this combat heavy title.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final version of Shadows: Heretic Kingdom and playing through it further with different characters and seeing how the story changes. There is already a solid RPG here for the price of the entry fee which will hopefully only get better as time goes on.

 

Karlos Morale

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is available for £22.99 on Steam

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

Prison Architect – Early Access Preview

ss1You have installed a new metal detector at the exit of the cafeteria to curb the theft of cutlery, inmates are irate at the unnecessary search this yields and just as their anger hits boiling point all of your guards have decided it’s time to take a break or patrol some far flung region of your prison. If managing the incessant needs of digital prisoners sounds like your idea of a fun evening then Prison Architect may have you covered.

Prison Architect, from developer Introversion Software, is in early access on Steam and is looking to bring a new edge to the management-sim genre. Now, before we start you are going to have to realise something pretty quickly: The first prison you build is going to be a horrible mess. A horrible, bloody, mess. While I thought I got the hang of the basic controls once I had played through the game’s introduction tutorial, I soon came to realise that actually I had only scratched the surface and my first prison mirrored something similar to the film Bronson – a violent, unmanageable mess – rather than the Shawshank Redemption vision I had in my head.

But what sort of Prison Architect will you be? The game leaves that decision entirely on your shoulders once you’re settled with the basics; Prison Architect allows you to feel good about yourself, you will be able to build reform programs through education and enable prisoners to learn vocational skills through a workshop system that improves their morale and ability to reintegrate with society upon release. And, of course, if they step out of line you can chuck them straight into solitary to separate them from the main body of your population and leave them to rot which, in turn, provides a deterrent to the other prisoners who may be thinking of stepping out of line. Each prisoner you take in to your prison provides a revenue stream for you to continue improvements and is, of course, offset by the amount of danger an extra man or overcrowding your prison may cause. This delicate balancing act is how you’ll spend a lot of your game, earning some extra cash to improve but not wanting to throw too many inmates in at once.

ss4There is a simple tech tree which allows you to slowly introduce new ideas, staff members and rooms to your prison. You may desperately need an infirmary in your prison due to a riot that injured inmates and your staff or you have had a sudden intake of high-risk prisoners which means Patrol Dogs and Armed Guards are in order. Whatever type of prison you decide to build and how fast you need to expand is all down to how you set up the game to begin with. For a more challenging trial you can set it so you have a prisoner intake every single day at 8am and this means you’ll be focusing on some rapid expansion and introducing new cell blocks constantly while having the ability to switch off Prisoner Intake means you will be able to sit back and think about your prison design and put something together that makes sense and works far more efficiently and safely for your staff. You may have prisoners in with your main population that are awaiting execution – these are the most dangerous and likely to revolt because they have nothing to lose and need direct intervention by your guards on a regular basis. You can decide on the level of management you want on individuals and ensure they’re kept separate to the low risk, short stay offenders who may not need as much of your staff’s time.

Prisoners will try and escape or smuggle contraband into your prison, they’ll walk around and take every opportunity to skip out on you by utilising any minor flaw in your prison’s design. But, once the day is over and their time is served, your prisoners will be released, reformed and hopefully willing to contribute to society once again. You can drill down and even micromanage every single need of your individual prisoners. You’ll see how long they have left to serve and and whether they’re likely to reoffend once they are released. You can hire a psychiatrist who will help you manage these needs and build the prison’s daily schedule to ensure everyone gets what they need from their day. It is usually the silly things that tend to foil me in Prison Architect – the prison had expanded so rapidly and I had not thoroughly expanded my kitchen to an appropriate level and, therefore, half my prisoners weren’t eating during the one hour of meal time I had allotted which caused the starving to push back against my guards who struggled to control such a large rabid mob.

ss2Prison Architect’s simple two-dimensional art style feels crisp and responsive and allows the game to run on just about every PC or laptop you may have opening up the (Usual resource intensive) management-sim genre to a whole new crowd. The game looks great and brings a slight comedic twist to the violence and dark nature of running a prison full of incarcerated inmates. The interface is simple and so goes a long way into allowing creativity. With a new room or angle in your prison two clicks away creativity is easily embraced.

There is so much promise in Prison Architect, everything it already offers and the constant, major updates that are consistently pushed to Steam it’s hard to imagine how far the final game will go in polishing the base mechanics and adding new systems for the player to develop and maintain a large scale, working prison. With Prison Architect already tied into the Steam Workshop system you can download different mods and spend a lot of time looking at other people’s work to inspire the direction of your prison. The ability to share your ideas and designs means inspiration is only a click away when you get stuck or how to get yourself out of the corner you have built yourself in too.

Prison Architect is currently in Early Access on Steam and available for the PC, Mac and Linux with prices starting at £14.99 for the base game all the way up too £34.99  for the ‘Name in the Game’ edition which allows you to name a character and write their biography to be featured as a prisoner in the game.

Secret Ponchos – Early Access Preview

Secret Ponchos BannerSecret Ponchos is a rooting tooting top down PvP online shooter currently in Early Access on Steam.  Developed by Switchblade Monkeys, from my first look at the trailer I couldn’t wait to get hands on with this game.  From the moment I pressed play and the spaghetti westernised music started playing I was hooked.  The unique stylised art design was on show front and centre as I chose and named my outlaw, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, a few weeks later and I still can’t wait to get really stuck in.

For a game that’s all about PvP, not being able to get into a game can be rather problematic, especially if you’re trying to write a preview.  Over the past month or so I have managed to get a few games in, but the lack of online players sure hasn’t made it easy. No doubt with the full release, that won’t be a problem.

So first off you’ll have to chose what type of outlaw you want to be. From the Stone Cold Killer with a revolver and knife, to the recently added Matador complete with cape and Sword, the 5 classes currently available are all rather varied.  The individual design and personality really shines through and a lot of thought has been put into creating these characters, although a little more needs to be done when it comes to balancing their abilities.  Some characters currently feel really overpowered. Whilst I’m sure that tweeks will be made all the way up until Ponchos gets it’s full release, it can be frustrating to constantly go up against the same characters time after time as other players are looking for the easy victory.

sp_trainwreck_coverme

The arenas for these duels are also looking mighty fine.  From the eery Boneyard, to the bright sun drenched Train Wreck, just as much care has gone into their creation as the characters and its adds real atmosphere to the game.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what else the small team can come up with as I’m sure they will be making additions to the 4 maps currently on offer.

Secret Ponchos plays well and although support for playing with keyboard and mouse has been added, controllers are clearly the way its been designed to play.  Left stick moves your outlaw whilst right stick aims, add to that a dash ability and a rudimentary cover mechanic and you start to get an idea of how the game plays.  I really like the idea of the cover mechanic, pressing A lets you hunker down behind an object which breaks the line of sight from your opponents making you vanish off their screen.  It’s a great idea however in reality opponents just tend to rush you and makes it’s use rather limited at the minute.

Secret Ponchos undoubtedly has promise by the spittoon full, and I’m sure that if more people were playing it would be an absolute hoot.  However Steam metrics are currently showing at it’s busiest just over 70 people were playing at any one time add to that an average of 21 players daily, and you start to get a picture of why I’ve been finding it hard to get hands on game time. The devs are clearly aware of this and have gone so far as to recommend certain times to play, but for anyone on this side of the pond the times just aren’t feasible.

Whilst I’ve been playing the PC version, the PS4 game was originally due to release for free as part of Aprils PS+ line-up.  It was confirmed to Polygon that the delay was for more thorough testing and polishing, but no new release date has been announced as of yet.  Maybe once that version is out of the way the PC version can take centre stage and the game can flourish and achieve it’s full potential.

Secret Ponchos is available on Steam Early Access priced at £10.99 and can be found HERE

 

Divinity: Original Sin Review

New Banner

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.

Divinity 3

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

[wp-review]

Divinity: Original Sin is out now on PC