Satellite Reign – Early Access Preview

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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.

Freedom Planet Review

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Freedom Planet

PC

Dev/Pub Galaxy Trail

 

After spending 3 million hours grinding up levels and crap items in Destiny, did you stop and think to yourself, “Why do I even play games at all? I haven’t been enjoying myself for days – this feels like a chore.”

When some little oik gives you a hard time about your K/D ratio on the latest dreadful military shooter, do you experience ennui of soul, ponder your life choices and consider jacking it all in to go and referee roller-derby matches?

Where are the thrills of yesteryear? Everything that was once new and shiny now seems old and decrepit; your gaming enthusiasm is sapped and needs a boost.

That’s presumably why people flock in their droves to pick up the latest franchise title, despite diminishing returns. Like a crack addict searching for a hit that will match the first one, they’re all addicted and desperate.

Not you though, dear reader. You’re above that kind of thing. You are, to paraphrase Uncle Monty, a sponge looking to suck up new experiences.

So with that said, let’s review something that looks like 16-bit throwback Sonic rip-off! Wooo-hoooo!

Aw, look, I’m only 3/4ths kidding. Freedom Planet does bear the trappings of a Megadrive or SNES classic title on the surface but is in fact one of the best slices of arcade platforming that I’ve played for a long time. To be clear, this isn’t a precision platformer in the style of MeatBoy, rather an exploration and adventure title (with a story!) Much more akin to the Hedgehog and Wonderboy games of this world.

Bold and striking in its graphical style, Freedom Planet is beautiful to look at and wonderfully smooth to play. You begin the game as Lilac, a purple dragon teenage girl who spends her time adventuring with best friend Carol – a green, motorcycle driving cat. They soon become embroiled in an adventure to save their world of Avalon from an interplanetary villain and the stupidity of the adult leaders who just won’t listen, damnit.

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During your quest, you’ll meet up with a friendly alien masquerading as a duck and a lost dog-girl who needs friendship, as well as an assortment of other animal themed NPCs. The writing is pitched just-so; in order to avoid what could have been unbearably saccharine characterisation. Sure, it’s cutesy, but Freedom Planet still manages to tell a competent story and actually make you want to take down Lord Brevon for reasons besides, ‘well, he’s on the right-hand side of the level, and that’s the way I’m going.’

According to the Wikipedia article, Freedom Planet began life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game and – in the nicest possible way – it shows. The common tropes are there, spin attacks, smashing robots to reveal creatures inside, tons of pick-ups etc. Most notably however, the game manages to capture the sense of speed that Sonic had at its best. You can careen through levels at a breakneck pace, avoiding many of the obstacles but also missing out on the goodies. When Lilac catches loops and really builds up speed, I was reminded of Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2, which was so fast it seemed almost impossible at the time. It’s a testament to the quality of the programming in both cases that I’m struggling to find decent examples since.

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Freedom Planet is a challenge without being impossibly difficult – if you just want to see all the levels and have some effortless fun, there’s an easy setting which is very forgiving – and is suitable for gamers of all abilities. However, really exploring all the games nooks and crannies is going to take a while. There are 3 playable characters eventually open to you, each of who has a distinctive play-style. Beating the game with all 3 is going to take some considerable time, since they can’t all take the same route – especially when it comes to battling the bosses at the end of each stage. I was surprised to what degree I was required to change up my tactics when tackling them with the different characters. It certainly stops the game becoming too repetitive. Having said that however, I found that I definitely had the best experience playing the game as Lilac and found the other two to be still fun but less so. This is probably due to the speed with which I had to get through the game for review however. Leave it a couple of weeks between playthroughs and you’ll probably have a better experience.

It’s heartening to see a game that has gone through Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight end up as such a resounding success. Now on Steam, it hasn’t come out in Early Access with excuses all cued up and promises of future content that may never materialise. Freedom Planet is an extremely well designed, developed and executed game that is -above all else – fantastically good fun to play.

I was always convinced we were supposed to be having fun. Thanks, Galaxy Trail, for making a game so good and so accessible as to remind us all.

 

Karlos Morale

Score 9/10

Freedom Planet is out now for PC (£10.99 on Steam)

Obludia Review

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Obludia

FobTi Interactive

PC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel short sentences do this game justice.

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

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

 

“Oblud-ia, you’re breaking my heart

You’re shaking my confidence dail-y…”

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

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

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

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

by Karlos Morale

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Obludia is out now for PC for £5.99 on Steam