Pony Island Review

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Taking inspiration from the My Little Pony series of toys, Pony Island…. only kidding. Don’t let the title mislead you, Pony Island could not be further from the bright and sparkly world of My Little Pony, it does, however, feature a pony.

You begin the game seemingly about to play the Pony Island game for the first time, but then something happens, taking you to a much darker version of the game in which you are ultimately trapped, along with another lost soul. Together you both take on the task of breaking out of the game into freedom without having to sacrifice your soul. I told you it was nothing like My Little Pony.

Pony Island features a sinister narrative with elements of dark humour consistent throughout, mainly through the text-based dialogue you encounter with other characters. You won’t be rolling around in hysterics, but it will raise a chuckle every now and then. The main gameplay mechanic used to progress the narrative is mainly puzzle based, interspersed with platforming sections. The puzzles are hacking mini-games based in and around computer programming. “Wait! I don’t know anything about computer programming!” I hear you cry, do not worry, you don’t need to know anything at all. I certainly don’t and found the puzzles to be fine. They are challenging, especially towards the end of the game, but the difficultly-curve is nicely balanced so that you learn as you progress. Some players unfamiliar with puzzles may find these sections frustrating.

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The platforming sections follow a similar difficulty curve to the puzzles. You take control of a pony that has to jump over hurdles. As you progress, you unlock the ability to fire lasers at enemies and to fly for small distances. Later on, all of these skills are combined into difficult levels requiring quick reflexes. It can be frustrating sometimes, but they are actually quite fun despite the simple premise of the levels.

So Pony Island is unlike any other game you have played or will likely to play in the future. Would I recommend the game though? From me, it is a resounding YES! Whether you enjoy puzzle or platform games or not, Pony Island deserves to be played. It is both a game and a unique experience that constantly springs surprises on you and will stay with you beyond the couple of hours it takes to complete. Plus, it only costs a meagre £3.99, which is an absolute steal for such a memorable game.

Pros

Uses different game genres to good effect

Unlike any other videogame or interactive experience

Memorable story

Cons

Could be frustratingly difficult for some players

Score: 9/10

Empire TV Tycoon Review

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Empire TV Tycoon, Developed by Dreamsite Games, a small Indie studio based in Madrid, has recently been released on Steam for £9.99.

In Empire TV Tycoon, it is your job to make your television channel the most popular and successful channel for the failing Empire TV Station. You will create the schedules, select the adverts that play in between each show, and the marketing campaign to advertise your channel.

You will have 30 days to make your channel the best one at the station. This is done by accumulating 300 fame points, with each successful show and awards ceremony win you are awarded points.

At the start of each game, you will select your channel colour (Red, Blue, Green) and name your character. This has no effect on any choices you make in the game, other than the colour of your channel floors and clothing your character wears.

The Empire TV building has 13 floors.

Each channel has 3 floors for them to work with:

The Players Office: Here you will plan your schedule, decide what adverts to play at which times, and work out your marketing schedules.

The Workers Office: Here is where the staff you hire will work from, these include Marketing Managers to organise your marketing campaigns, Production Assistants to assist with the movies that you make, Scriptwriters to write the scripts for your movies and TV shows, Public Relations to help hire bigger stars for your movies & Hackers to help cover your illegal movie broadcasts.

The Players Studio: Here you will produce your own shows and movies. A successful show will need a good script and the best stars you can hire to perform in it, after selecting your actors you will need to distribute points into various sections, want the production to have great special effects? Pump the points into post production. Want better costume design? Put more points in there, and so on.

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As your television show or movie is being made you will be notified of various situations affecting the production. A company may offer some products to use in the shooting, an actor may develop a substance problem and need therapy, your actors may have a falling out and its up to you to fix the problem, or even a group of mafia reviewers who will want a bribe to not give your film a bad review. Your choices in resolving each issue boil down to saying yes or no to a response and the result will have a small effect on the production.

There is also the Technology area where you can purchase your channel upgrades, these include expanding your workers area so you can hire more staff, upgrading your satellite to increase your audience reach, upgrading your studio to have higher production costs and many more. Of course to access the upgrades you will need money and enough fame points.

The Advertising area is where you can take new adverts, each set of adverts has their own viewing requirements before paying out, if you meet the viewing figure requirement you are rewarded. If you do not you will be penalized so you won’t want to take on high paying adverts until you are certain you can meet the requirements.

The Movie library is where you will buy and sell your TV shows and movies. You will want to keep your library fresh as your audience will only tolerate repeats for so long.

At the top of the building is the restaurant, here you will find the loan sharks. If you ever find yourself short of money, these are the guys to visit. Although if you can’t pay them back you better not be too fond of your kneecaps!

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Another slightly shady character hangs out behind the building, the illegal movie seller. You can visit this fellow to “acquire” some of the biggest movies not yet released, the downside being that if you are caught playing an illegal movie you will be fined for it.

The station day runs from 2 pm till 3 am, with the schedule divided into blocks. You will have early morning and late night slots, these are the low audience slots for the day, and your prime time slots between 20:00 – 22:00 this is where you want to place your biggest and best shows.

Half the fun is trying to work out what will appeal to your audience, they consist of men, women, children, the elderly, couples, athletes and geeks.

While kids may love the comedy show you’re planning to schedule, the elderly will probably hate it, and the Westerns they love will put off the women and athletes.. you have to work out what will appeal to the masses at that particular time slot.

Occasionally you will find one of your reporters waiting for you in the building entrance. Sending them out to cover special events, festivals, alien invasion or hostage rescues will produce a special one-off television event show. You have access to this show for a limited time, so again you need to work out the best slot for it to go into.

With its catchy soundtrack and lovely simple graphics, Empire TV Tycoon is a fun little game to play, it is surprisingly in depth for a casual simulation game, and has a habit of kicking your ass if you let yourself get complacent with your schedules.

It is also full of little Easter eggs ranging from the movie seller who looks like Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg, the illegal movie seller who bears a passing resemblance to Clerks Silent Bob.

If you are fond of management simulation games, you will enjoy Empire TV Tycoon.

Score: 7/10

Pros:

Entertaining

Easy to learn

Scratches that management game itch

Cons:

Can get repetitive

Can get confusing at times

Rebel Galaxy Review

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When I first happened upon this game, a quick glance at some videos and game imagery, I let my imagination lead me into believing this was some sort of space sim, maybe even an Elite clone. It seems to be a mistake that a lot of people are making.

It really is not an Elite clone, despite the looks.

Sid Meier’s Pirates would actually be the closest game in terms of mechanics, or for anyone that hasn’t played that game – the closest you will find is probably Assassins Creed: Black Flag. Not played either? Let me tell you all about this game then: I may reference the above games, but only in to tell you that Rebel Galaxy pulls off what both the said games failed to do – great combat and varied challenging ways in which to kick the bad guys in their ‘proverbials’.

Let’s get on with it then and let me keep it simple. A three-word review perhaps? If so, that would be ‘Pirates in Space’. Sadly, I can’t get away with that and as previously mentioned I enjoyed this game and it more than deserves me spending some time in telling you why. This is not Elite….. I repeat, this is NOT Elite

You begin the game with a small animated intro – flying to your first space station your character is looking for their aunt. You meet some shifty looking space-spivs and soon enough you can explore the station. Go the bar, bribe the barman for information on local bounties. Go to the commodities market and become a space-trader – buying and selling between the multitude of different space stations. Go the shipyard, there’s a great selection of varied ships to be had, with different numbers of turrets and placements for the likes of mining lasers.

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The story begins and this is my only real gripe with the game, it’s under-boiled and not that interesting. It matters not in the slightest. Why tell this shit then Lee? Well, most of the non-playable characters are given decent animations and the voice acting isn’t bad either! Just a shame they never gave them something interesting to say. I have to admit, my brain switched off during most of the dialogue.

The game is played out in a horizontal 2-dimensional plane. This really works well for combat and space travel and this was another positive surprise for me. Freedom is also at the heart of this game, play as a good guys, a bad guy, a miner, a trader.

Let’s talk about sex.

Or let’s not, but let’s talk about fighting instead. You will spend a lot of your game-time fighting in Rebel Galaxy. Thankfully the combat is this game is absolutely top notch. Referring back to my earlier comparison to both Pirates and Black Flag, combat in Rebel Galaxy is very similar, but those games failed to deliver anything meatier in terms of combat that a limp Quorn Lasagne.

In this game you can choose to fire your broadside weapons. This is where it mirrors the aforementioned games combat. Luckily, it’s leaps and bounds ahead in quality. You can affix different turrets to your ships and take control of then at ease. The broadside combat can be quite slow and clumsy (as it really should be), so firing homing missiles, or scatter guns is a lot more engaging and fun.

The game world is huge. I’m pretty sure there’s about 10+ galaxies, all connected by Mass Effect type relay wormholes and enough diversity between each (very large areas in their own right) galaxy. I’ve yet to mention these are procedurally generated as well. Travelling around in each galaxy can take a bit of time, but just like driving in GTA, there’s always something make you stop; distress beacons, pirates wanting to steal your goods etc.

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I have some strange ‘twitchy’ internal barometers to measure if I feel a game is balanced. One of those being the purse string test. If a game finds you having far too much money too soon and nothing to spend it on, that’s a fail. With the decent roster ships and upgrades and weapon to buy, there’s always good reasons to get out there and earn that dosh.

There are factions, but given the seeming lack of attention in the writing department (but, hey – this is a budget game) they actually lack any reason or heart to sway you from one to the other.

Bored of fighting? Go mining?

Bored by mining? Go Trade?

Seek out bounties, explore.

But all roads in Rebel galaxy lead to combat and everything else is just a distraction. As I’ve said before, it’s very satisfying combat.

I’ve actually spent about 20+ hours in Rebel galaxy so far. I was toying with a score. “A solid 8” were my thoughts. Now the game has dropped, it’s on sale for £13.49. There’s a lot of game here for that price.

It’s shallow, it’s dumb… but like all dumb shallow dates, it’s cheap and fun.

Pros

Lots to do

Combat is great fun

Great value

Cons

Bland writing and personality

Score: 9/10

Subterrain: Underground Base Apocalypse – Early Access

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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

Early Access Darkest Dungeon

Wallpaper_Ruins_New reviewI think the opening text for Darkest Dungeon sums up the game perfectly.

“Darkest Dungeon is about making the most of a bad situation. Quests will fail or must be abandoned. Heroes will die. When they die, they stay dead. Progress saves constantly, so actions are permanent.
The game expects a lot of you. How far will you push your adventurers? How much are you willing to risk in your quest to restore the hamlet? What will you sacrifice to save the life of your favourite hero?
Thankfully, there are always fresh souls arriving on the stage coach, seeking both adventure and fame in the shadow of the… Darkest Dungeon!”

Darkest Dungeon is a 2D rogue like dungeon crawler from indie dev’s Red Hook Studios that is currently on Early Access. Darkest Dungeon started life on Kickstarter and smashed its funding goal of $75,000 ending up at $313,337.

Wallpaper_LosingItBigTimeStory time!

You had a rich relative, what the relation was is unclear but he was rich and that’s what’s important. He lived lavishly in a big house where much drinking and partying was to be had. But, as is such with rich relatives he became bored and wanted more. After hearing rumours of an unknown power buried deep beneath the mansion, he decided to find it for himself. Unfortunately the power was more than he expected, driven mad by what he found, he wrote you a letter asking you to come home and sort out the mess he had made, and in his final act of madness took his life.
You have returned to the mansion to reclaim your ancestral home from the unspoken evil let loose by your relative.

As you play through Darkest Dungeon you will gather a band of heroes to take dungeon crawling, these range from Bounty Hunters, Crusaders, Grave Robbers, Highwaymen, Occultists and Plague Doctors. Each class comes complete with their own selection of powers, skills and abilities. Healers, Tanks, Ranged ,Combat Specialists… the usual RPG stalwarts.

While not adventuring you will spend your time in the village, here you can upgrade your heroes, and various buildings to help your team relax. Yes, relaxing is an important part of your team management. Whilst in the dungeons you will need to keep an eye on your health and on your stress bar, the stress bar indicates your team’s stress level in Darkest Dungeon. Unlike the health bar which will go down as you take damage, the stress bar goes up as you play and travel further into the darkness, when it is full your characters resolve is tested, this will give your character’s an affliction such as Paranoid, Selfish, Fearful, Abusive and Masochistic. Obviously these are bad.

Occasionally you may get a positive affliction such as Powerful, Vigorous or Focused.. but I’ve seen more abusive crusaders who refused to listen to orders thus getting an entire team wiped out than I’ve seen focused ones.

8_CrushingBlowCombat is turn-based and easy to learn. Squad placement is essential, certain skills can only hit certain opponents stood in specific places, and certain skills will change the positioning of either your opponent or yourself. If you get knocked into a space where you can’t use a skill, you best pray you don’t die before getting back into position.

In Darkest Dungeon, death comes fast and comes often, it will lure you in with a false sense of security, and then beat you down until you’re begging for mercy, and then it will laugh in your face and continue beating you. When a hero dies, he is gone forever. You will need to try and train up a replacement to take his or her place and hope they last longer than the last one. The Enemies vary from traditional human bandits, spiders, ooze’s to the more Lovecraftian themed gothic horror creatures, unspeakable monsters that penetrate the minds of men and create madness and insanity

In its early access form, there are currently 10 class’s available to hire and 3 areas to do your quests in, with more planned for a later date.
Darkest Dungeon looks gorgeous, it reminds me of a graphic novel coming to life on screen with its amazing hand-drawn art style, Darkest Dungeon is a very enjoyable game and has a LOT of promise. But it may just be a little too hard for some people, the difficulty is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness, if you play games for fun and relaxation, this may not be the game for you.

I look forward to seeing how Darkest Dungeon progresses.

Darkest Dungeon is available on Steam Here

Dead Effect PC Team Review

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A group of FGUK writers get their hands on Dead Effect, here’s their thoughts…..

Derrick Ritchie’s Thoughts……

Let us just get the awkward stuff out the way first. The movement in this FPS feels particularly odd, the enemies are stupid and, at times, ridiculously cheap, the script is truly awful and the voice acting appears to have been carried out by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s understudy and a bloke from down the pub. The controller support is frankly lazy and the whole game feels rushed from tablet with very care having been taken over the port.

But through all of this, through each stage of irritation, there is something enjoyable in here. After a while the head popping of deranged bad guys becomes kinda fun, and the continued circle strafing, while not as outright bombastic as something like Serious Sam or Doom, is still a pleasant distraction. Somehow I found myself slowly working through this game and before I knew it the end had been and gone (be warned the ending is particularly abrupt). It will not be memorable but as a six or so hour experience to vent some frustrations I have played much worse.

By the standard measures this is a thoroughly average game, but one that had a surprising ability to keep me playing. Keep an eye open for it.

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Adam Belcher’s Thoughts……

On paper, Dead Effect looks like your two favourite Sci-Fi gaming franchises in Dead Space and Mass Effect spliced into one horror RPG.

It starts off in space, you awake from hyper-sleep and it’s apparent rigor has initially frozen your hands in front of you, you find a weapon quickly followed by a small number of hungry un-dead. So far so good, right?

In grabbing their attention the blood thirsty enemies start shuffle towards you in a ‘Shaun of the Dead’ fashion, as you unload your recently discovered pistol rounds looking for the head-shot.

Searching the ship you can find cash, ammo and even Kindle tablets lying around which try and help you make sense of the madness that has taken over the ship..

The game does control OK, and offers controller support however engaging with anything a pop up suggests you use the keyboard instead, the reload speeds are agonisingly slow, however at the end of the mission there is an opportunity with the cash & gold found in game to purchase weapon upgrades such as damage, mag size, reload speed and accuracy as well as restocking ammo and grenades.

Graphically, the game does look slightly dated, however the enemies are varied in detail and scary enough to be effective and the lighting and gas effects adds to the atmosphere, interior ship detail is also adequate and there is no need for a map as you are directed to your objectives using either the green or the red doors. The narrow corridors create an element of claustrophobia along with the sound effects as you move forward, and you know damn well that there’s a Conga line of misery around every corner.

At the end of each level you get your mission stats to show you how well you did to scratch the completionists itch you no doubt have. When you eventually get eaten alive your ability to re spawn requires your in game cash accumulated to continue, which is slightly different and feels very much like pay to play, which paying the current price of £5.59 maybe shouldn’t be necessary?

Ultimately the game works, offers a by the book Zombie shooter in space, and if that floats your boat, then give it a shot.

Dead_Effect_(PC___Mac)_-_02Ian P’s Thoughts…………..

Originally available on iOS and Android, Dead Effect is a first person shooter set in 2045 aboard the spaceship ESS Meridian. Waking early from a cryogenic sleep we find the ship has been infested by zombies. We must discover the source of the outbreak, eradicate the walking dead and save the ship. It’s a budget release, currently priced at £5.59 on the Steam store, so I was expecting too much.
There are three game modes to keep you occupied. A story mode, which will take roughly four hours to complete, more if you want to start new game plus to collect enough cash to buy all the available weapons and upgrades. All are pretty standard fair, pistols, shotguns, rifles and the predictable chainsaw make their customary appearance. Then we have the Survival and Biohazard modes, these are basic challenges maps designed to test your zombie slaying prowess. Sadly there is no multiplayer which is a shame.
The graphics are palatable, it does, manage to represent what a spacecraft may look like, the lighting effects do a fairly decent job and zombies look somewhat convincing. Character movement is a little rigid, even for the undead, there is a slight mannequin feel to the whole proceedings. The sound effects do a reasonable job of creating an eerie atmosphere, without ever really being convincing.
Overall would I recommend Dead Effect? No, not unless you were a die-hard FPS fan. The controls are poorly implemented, the story is very short, the game mechanics are misguided and poorly judged. There are worse games you could play, but there are also so many that are so much better.I am still not convinced that iOS ports to PC are a good idea and Dead Effect has done nothing to convince me otherwise.
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My Thoughts……….
If you’re after for something cheap to fill your time, Dead Effect will satisfy that hunger. I thought for the price, it looked rather splendid given it was a port from a game built for tablets. The controls are a let down though, sometimes it felt like I was fighting against them. But, there is something very moreish about this game.
If you like horde-mode type games and have a few quid spare, I would say give it a pop, but do bear in mind what the braniacs above me have written in their criticisms.

Currently available on Steam for £3.99 HERE

Animal Gods Pre Alpha Preview

d123dee29be54395b7d6cf2634ddea10_largeAs my first game preview, I took a look into a game from Still Games, a tiny studio of just two people. This game has reached it’s Kickstarter goal and a demo is freely available to download. It’s not a huge demo, but from what I played, this game has serious potential. The link to the demo is on their Kickstarter Page.

The game itself places you as the protagonist, Thistle, in 15th Century Europe, armed with a magical (and rather natty) cape, and a 200 year old Bronze Age sword. Two things hit me like a Spartan phalanx when I booted it up. The first, to say that this game is pre-alpha, the graphics are simply beautiful. Powerful colour combinations and bright sharp edges, mixed with shadows that resemble tribal markings, give this game a very stand out appearance. Resembling a Zelda: Link’s Awakening top down view (which was the designers intention) this game doesn’t suffer in comparison, it appears to want to build on that and make it wholly theirs. The second thing was the musical score. It was both haunting and catchy in a Halo choral choir sort of way. I found myself humming it later on and not being able to place it until I played the demo again.

9e5bf778c2134a14e0def5ed72d92c40_largeThe demo is a few short screens introducing me to a very simplistic control system (that on the personal computer formats screams for keypad support), allowing for both left and right handed people to play quickly and easily. I enjoyed the mechanics of swinging the sword, and using the magical cape to avoid pitfalls and other traps. There was an odd moment where input lag killed me, happily this only set me back to the start of the current screen. As this has already been Nintendo verified it is available on the Wii U controller, so movement will be a lot crisper than WASD/arrow keys pressed in conjunction. The end of the demo shows Thistle dropping tantalising hints as to his mission and the missing Animal Gods.

There are very few negatives that I came across, and all of them can be forgiven as pre alpha bugs/glitches. The sound dropped out once or twice, and the directionality of movement failed due to input lag. If the keyboard stays as the primary movement option then more difficult dungeons within the later game will become an exercise in absolute frustration. Saying that however, the dash effect from Thistle’s magical cloak was generous, that allowed a two or three pixel leeway when dashing across some of the larger gaps in the game preventing them from becoming anything more than a minor obstacle. Also, the movement lag wasn’t too bad as the sword swipes seemed to protect the character in a 180 degree arc, preventing you from being utterly overwhelmed (this may also be in part to a sparkle effect from the sword tip when it is swung) from all directions. Anyone who has ever played Z:LA on the NES or Gameboy will feel immediately at home.

79a2530425488de4b62a517262439da7_largeAll in all this game will be kept on my wish list for now, as the stretch goals seem rather promising, with weapon upgrades, a hard-core mode, a port to the PS4 and a bartering system all due in the near future as backers pledge more funds. I’m personally excited to see how far down the jRPG route they take this game and how they develop the adventure as a whole. You can clearly see the direction the studio want to take, and still have more than plenty of options to make it unique and yet familiar at the same time.

Developed by: Still Games.

Kickstarter And Playable Demo Can Be Found Here

Frugal Gaming First Look – Mushroom 11

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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.

Clockwork Empires – Early Access Preview

ce_text_banBack in March I became incredibly excited about Gaslamp Games’ Clockwork Empires after reading a preview piece; it promised a core system that had been developed for two years prior to moving onto actually building a game around the infrastructure they had created. Oh yeah, and Fishmen fighting redcoats because, well, why not? Perhaps, by nature of being early access, we are seeing something extremely early in its life and a little unfair to judge and perhaps it’s just too early to be available to the public. As of right now all you’ll get when you head into Clockwork Empires is a rather generic city builder set in a Victorian setting with the aforementioned Fishmen sporadically dropping in to make sure you are kept on your toes, rather than something fresh and new with a hint of Lovecraft to spice up your life.

You can see some of the in-depth personality AI has started to appear, but this is currently in small pieces of dialogue on character descriptions or icons that appear through the game. You’ll see your villagers deciding names for their own part of town – like their kitchen or the barn. You can see these quaint little touches happening and adds some fun to the constant slog to ensure your people don’t starve or are kept warm during long, torturous winters.

ce_mining_accidentClockwork Empires promises something akin to free will. Villagers will voice their displeasure at a monarch, or decide they are better served by going into the woods and joining a cult. In the most up to date build the majority of this is something you’ll have to dig to find and understand, the minutiae held in the depths of menus. Right now maybe that’s a good thing, as the few buildings you can erect won’t take you long and you’ll spend far too long micro-managing every little aspect, rather than setting the stage and letting your village grow with only the most minimal of interactions from you. This is where I’m hoping the game improves with updates, to allow you to sit back and enjoy what is actually being offered; rather than having you zoomed in all the time trying to manage the individual needs – something that, at the minute, is more of necessity than anything else – rather than spend time enjoying the world they are setting up.

The closest comparison I could come up with while playing was that of Peter Molyneux’s fictional land of Albion; I often found myself thinking of Fable landscape, as my villagers ploughed a field while watching the Fishmen climbing from the local lake to attack, as Red coats run to the rescue. It was these moments I probably enjoyed most. The actual atmosphere the game tries to create makes a nice change from most of the boilerplate world builders you run across. Clockwork Empires sets a tone and sticks to that and is all the better for it.

chaos_in_fishtownClockwork Empires is still very much in its infancy, but has laid some impressive groundwork and built up a lot of promise in a very short amount of time. While I’ve probably spent a lot of time in Clockwork Empires being frustrated by silly little bugs or quirks in the gameplay, I still found enjoyment in what they are trying to do – the soul of the game, the atmosphere and the beginnings of the character AI looks like it has the potential to completely change the face of simulation games going forward. While it’s hard to recommend you pick this up immediately due to the lack of polish and actual content (The Gaslamp Games site estimates they are only 25% through development) I’d say this is definitely something you should keep your eyes on for what comes in the future. If you’re looking for something similar you’d be better served in the short term picking up Banished rather than frustrating yourself with Clockwork Empires, but would recommend that everyone check out this game on full release to see what has come of the promises they made.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter PC Review

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter PC Review

Publisher: The Astronauts
Developer: The Astronauts
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 25/09/2014

Ethan Carter is a very special young boy, he has ability to see what others cannot; It is this gift which has put him in danger. Lost, frightened and alone, he is in desperate need of help. Playing as Paul Pospero, an occult minded detective, you receive a letter from Ethan, his cries for assistance are deafening, you must help this young man and save him from whatever perils that threaten him. Without hesitation you make your way to Red Creek Valley.

The uneven floor crunches underfoot as you take the first steps along an abandoned rail road. The darkness of the tunnel, broken only by the light in the distance. Emerging into the warm glow of the sun, your eyes adjust quickly to the light. A thin layer of mist gently covers the surrounding forest; branches move gracefully as they are kissed by the wind. Moss covered rocks lie in peaceful slumber. The overgrown grass dances to the sound of its own tune.

Crossing a derelict and badly damaged wooden bridge you spot a cold, rusted train car, it has been left to time to do with it as it pleases. It’s only as you draw closer that you notice the blood stains. Peering further down you realise that something foreign is sitting on the tracks. With great unease you approach, the horror of what you witness sends a shuddering chill coursing through you. It is here that we leave your tale, the rest of this mystery is for you to solve.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_01The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a mesmerising mix of mystery and the supernatural. Rarely has a detective game been able to produce such an acute sense of unease. The world you have been tasked to explore feels real and yet so isolated. The minimalistic approach to gameplay only deepens the sense of atmosphere and intrigue. There is no inventory screen, no complicated mechanics, no map or compass, it’s just you and what you can see. You’re left all alone, free to explore Red Creek Valley in your desperate hunt for the young boy who absolutely needs your help.

Progression through the story is achieved by solving various puzzles or crime scenes. Examining a clue will bring Pospero’s thoughts on screen, increasing the level of immersion as you feel at one with his thoughts. Decipher them correctly and you will begin to piece together the awful truth, find enough clues and Pospero will be able to use his supernatural abilities to re-imagine the events leading up to the crime. Place them together in the correct chronological order and whole scene plays out to its devastating conclusion, shedding more light on the events as you continue your search for Ethan.

Devoid of all signs of life, Red Creek Valley is as haunting as it is beautiful. It is easy to become distracted by stunning detail and wonderfully rich environments the team at The Astronauts have managed to create. Whilst all signs of civilisation are slowly decaying, the true force of nature is in full effect as it reclaims the land for itself. The contrast between new an old is a wonderful setting for such a macabre tale.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_02The soundtrack only deepens the feelings of gentle discomfort. It is so wonderfully composed, subtle changes in pace and tone capture the emotions of each scene perfectly. From soft and soothing to chilling and suspenseful, the arrangement is always perfectly timed and perfectly implemented. It is a master class in how music can be used to provoke emotion. Couple this with gruff soliloquy of Pospero, and the atmosphere this manages to create is so intense it seems tangible.

The ability to freely explore makes for an incredible experience, yet it can be easy to become lost and without focus, especially if you miss a vital clue. The lack of direction can, at times, be frustrating. Having to retrace your steps in search of something significant will irritate some. A notebook which details your findings would have been of great benefit and would eliminate some of the senseless backtracking.

That being said, this is only a minor issue in what is a truly remarkable adventure. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a supreme example of interactive storytelling. The beautiful surroundings, the rich and detailed visuals, the complex story, the exceptional soundtrack all combine into an experience that will live long in the memory.  Red Creek Valley is home to something very special indeed.

SCORE: 9/10

Reviewer – Ian @Mrbaddog28