Convoy Review

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Grab your trucker hat and get the leather jacket.. We got ourselves a Convoy!

Developed by Convoy Games, Convoy is a squad based, tactical combat, roguelike game. And being a roguelike game, Convoy is a permadeath game, meaning you have 1 life, lose that life you start again from the beginning.

Imagine the world of Mad Max, 3 rival gangs roam the planet, fighting anyone who is not affiliated with them, a few settlements have popped up offering travellers a chance to trade and generally survive the relentless assault from the gangs, and in between all of this, is you. Your spaceship has crash-landed on this barely habitable wasteland of a planet, Omek Prime, and in an effort to gather the parts needed to repair your ship; you set out in a Convoy.

At the start of each game you select your MCV (Mobile Command Vehicle), and a pair of units to escort and protect it, as you progress through the game you can unlock a further 7 MCV’s and up to a choice of 13 pairs of units. And while you start out with 2 vehicles guarding the MCV, this can be expanded to 4 over the course of your game.

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Once you have made your choices, you are presented with the options to learn more about game world, lore and your objectives, of course there is also the option to skip these and get straight into the game, which is useful if you have played a few times.

The game world is laid out with hexagonal tile’s spread across the map; you will need to travel across the map looking for the parts needed to get off this hell hole. Whilst on your travels, you will run into random encounters, ranging from strange men in robes to radio broadcasts, traps and many more scenarios. The random encounters are well written and at times quite surprising with how they play out.

Combat is interesting, whilst you have no control over the movement of your MCV, you do have control over the various weapons systems you can install onto it, you do, however have total control over the escort units. During the combat portions of the game your enemies will appear from various places over the screen, you will then need to position your escorts into the best possible positions for the defence of your MCV and taking out the attacking forces, keeping in mind the maximum range of your weapons, positioning the escort to block incoming fire, and being mindful of the debris fields, pylons and canyon walls that roll past while you are fighting.

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With the ability to pause the game and issue move and attack orders, Convoy plays out like an intense game of chess.

Convoy is also randomly generated, meaning each playthrough will be different. The main and side objectives, the random events, and different outcomes in each game will change from playthrough to playthrough.

There are similarities to FTL: Faster than Light, both are roguelike strategy games, both feature pixel art style and relaxing soundtracks, and most importantly both are fun as hell to play.

8/10

Pro’s:
Randomly generated games, lots of replayability

I am Bread – Early Access Preview

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I Am Bread

Bossa Studios

PC

As a student in the late 90’s my relationship with Bread was a loving one, the most versatile of foods was regularly toasted with such treats as baked beans, Pot Noodle and Jam. Not Marmite, never Marmite.
Other than the obvious benefit of cost, the other pro’s were the ease and time required to create these snacks, maybe if I had experienced ‘I am Bread’ during these hazy days, my whole outlook on life may have been completely different.

I am Bread is a physics based early access game from Bossa Studios, famed for Surgeon Simulator, where your sole objective is to become toast, by any means necessary. Currently spread across 4 days, your mission is full of danger. In control of your piece of Mighty White using keys assigned to each corner of the crust, you need to avoid obstacles such as smashed plates, ants and your most dangerous foe – the floor.
Hitting the floor or collecting shards of glass does not result in insta-death, rather an edibility rating which starts at 100% and reduces with each unwanted guest, hitting the floor begins a countdown more generous than the 5 second rule, but creates tension and requires skill to rescue your bread to higher ground and safety as the clock ticks down towards zero.

i-am-bread-is-the-weirdest-video-game-of-2014-983-body-image-1417558886As the edibility rating goes down the bread gets visibly dirtier. On the flip side there are also tasty things to fling your bread into, butter and jam for example, which also handily allows you certain sticky suction abilities to get to your destination. Hitting the keys assigned to the corners allow you to climb the terrain, however there is a grip meter which reduces and in conjunction with the tricky control system, unlike my favourite brunch, this makes your task difficult and time consuming. I understand this game has controller support, however I was unable to try this; I would go as far as recommending a pad if you have one, it surely can’t make it any harder.

There is delight if you can master the direction and movement of your slice, launching off tables onto chairs and scaling refrigerators towards your target of heat. On the first day the toaster in the distance is obvious, but further days require problem solving, not just for how you are going to get there, as much as where you are going and what heat source you are looking for; hair-dryers, TV’s and gas fires make for unorthodox toasting appliances.

i-am-bread-l1During your journey you can sometimes be hindered by the view angles, in one case I was stuck against the fridge and a container in the kitchen, the screen had locked onto the bread and trying to dislodge myself meant things turned ugly and jittery.

The level design is good and not too large or small, and there is plenty of dangers to avoid and decisions to make as you plot your route, the sounds of cracking cutlery and bottles are spot on, although the music is repetitive, there is room to change or add to this down the line.

When you get to your final destination and have achieved your transformation into toast, you are then scored based on what percentage of edibility you have left,the toast quality (you can burn your toast) and the deliciousness rating, which can be increased with condiments, the time taken to have gotten there, and finally a grading before progressing to the next day’s challenge.

The amount of gameplay currently I’d say between 1 and 2 hours, due to the difficult control mechanism, if you can persevere with this and I’ve assumed there will be 3 further days worth of pivoting, leaping and dodging the total package should be around 3-4 hours in length. Currently ‘I am Bread’ is priced at £6.99 and that roughly makes it £1.75 per hour.
This game is original and can be fun, but for me, that burns to frustration as I slide down the refrigerator plastered in shards of glass towards my grimy doom.

I am Bread is currently available on Steam for PC HERE

Gang Beasts – Early Access Preview

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Have you ever found yourself craving something to play with your friends who are looking for something a little crazy? Gang Beasts has you covered in spades, with what is equal parts a wrestling game and a drunken fighting simulator and offers something different to anything out on the market today.

If you have ever felt your friends need to be taught a lesson, thrown into a grinder or knocked out and delivered into an incinerator on a conveyor belt? Then Gang Beasts will be the first game you pick up, once you gather up to 7 friends and pit these Morph lookalikes against each other in a deathmatch arena of your choosing. With very simple controls, Gang Beasts is one of the easiest games to pick up and get moving with – simply use shoulder buttons as arm control (Mashing punches while holding grapples) and then lifting your opponent in the air and deliver them to whatever mayhem the arena has awaiting them. Easy, right? Not so much. Your friend will wriggle, fight and punch while screaming at you to let them go and more than likely try to grab you to take you with them rather than simply let you destroy them.

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And, of course, the arena where you choose to face off with your friends will have just as much of a say in who wins as your ability to control your character. Perhaps you’d like to take the fight directly to a wrestling ring with a Royal Rumble style Ring-Out system? Or atop two trucks speeding down a motorway – avoiding the oncoming road signs while trying to ensure your friends are taken out adds a whole extra level of complexity to the challenge and this is key to each arena – every single one has its own unique quirk – like a running train or a tiny window cleaning platform for you to simply fall from if you’re not careful.

Gang Beasts does something every wrestling game has struggled with – it doesn’t focus on complicated systems or deep move-sets. Gang Beasts opens up the gameplay for everyone, to simply jump in and be extremely successful from the very offset without sitting down, learning a character’s moves and the tricks with the complicated control system. This leads to it becoming something the wrestling genre has struggled with for years: simplicity and addictive fun.

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The one thing you may think is missing from Gang Beasts is the addition of an online component to the multiplayer. I think it would be easier to gather people online than in person, I can’t help but think that Gang Beasts may lose some of its inherent charm if you aren’t all sat in the same room. Some of the best times I had with the game were trying to keep my controller away from a friend as he tried to bat it from my hand as I lifted him up and threw him into the huge, spinning fan to his doom. While I’d say Online Multiplayer is probably a must at some point, I would insist the best way for people to experience the game is to try and gather friends together to play in a room together.

Developer Boneloaf has done something incredible in creating Gang Beasts and with the recent backing of Double Fine I’m certain that great things are in store for this game even though, right now, it’s more than worth the £11.99 you’ll pay for Steam Early Access. With a promised single player campaign that is still in development and the constant updates that keep dropping I’d say we have a lot more to see from Gang Beasts and it’s an incredible journey I can’t wait to see unfold.

 

Oort Online – Frugal Gaming First Look

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Oort Online could be the best thing to use Voxels since Minecraft, maybe even better.  There are so many block building games out there now, we’ve covered a couple here on Frugal, and to be quite honest most of them are absolute pants. I’m convinced that Oort might be something different, something better, and before you stop reading thinking it’s just another clone of the hugely successful Swedish export, just have a look at the trailer below.

First up it looks absolutely beautiful, where other developers are happy just to use plain old simple blocks, Wonderstruck are really pushing to make Oort a real stand out visually.  Having had the chance to go hands on with the game, currently played through my web browser, I was absolutely awestruck at how good Oort looks in action.

One of the biggest draws, for me at least is how easy is it to experience all the different worlds currently available in the early build of Oort.  Not having to put in server numbers or ip addresses, if you find a portal, just walk through it and you’re there.  Peering through these magical portals and seeing a living world on the other side is quite magical.  You can be standing in the sun on a woodland hillside, and right in front of you is a snowy mountain range, just step through and you’re there, no waiting, no loading times, and no messing about trying to log onto a different server.

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I’ve spent hours over the last couple of weeks exploring the strange lands and discovering what other players have been building.  It’s a truly immersive experience and the list of features the developers plan to add has got me rather excited for what Oort will end up becoming if funding allows.

Having decided to forgo Kickstarter, the Wonderstruck guys are self funding via their own website.  With no arbitrary goals to reach, the money pledged it already going to good use.  As the total increases so do different aspects of the game that the team will be able to develop.  At the moment Oort is hovering just over $80,000 and that covers the base game with multiple worlds, building and mining and also weapons and combat mechanics.  The next target met will add crafting mechanics and a recipe system.  A nice feature is that backers will be able to vote on the next feature to be unlocked for funding, it’s a much more organic, community focused and open way of developing games and I like it.

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$15 will get you a digital key for the game at launch, $25 and you’ll be able to jump onboard with the beta when it launches.  There are loads of Youtube vids out in the wild covering Oort and the devs have started doing regular streams via twitch if you want to find out more. Lots of crowd funded games ask for cash before having anything to really show, Oort on the other hand is playable right now if you back at a specific level.

Not everyone feels comfortable with the whole crowd funding scene, but there are more ways than splashing the cash to support Oort Online if you like the look of it.  Oort has flown through the Steam Greenlight process in pretty much record time.  In just 5 days it had enough community support and it’s now definitely going to be releasing via Steam. Even though the Greenlight Campaign is over you can still check out and follow the page and it’s a great way of showing support and also keeping an eye on Oort as it develops.

I was lucky enough to be given access to Oort to help with this preview, but I’ve still pledge at beta access level, thats how much I believe that Oort is going to be something rather magical.  As with all early access games, I’ll be doing a more in depth preview when the beta launches and a full review upon release.

Oort Online can be found HERE

The Steam Green Light Campaign HERE

 

Masters of The Universe – The Return of the Space Sim

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It’s Hip To Be Square

There has never been a better time to be a nerd.  Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen and No Man’s Sky are all set to make the next couple of years a truly magical period for anyone who has ever dreamed of exploring the stars.

If you follow either myself or our very own Ugly Geezer on twitter, you will no doubt have seen plenty of mentions of docking, hauling fish and lots of other geeky stuff.  We, along with a couple of other Frugal Gamers are fast developing an addiction to Elite, and I’ll be writing a whole lot more about both it and Star Citizen in the coming months.

But for now I thought I’d share a couple of other Space Combat games that might quite easily have gone unnoticed in all the razzmatazz of the bigger hitting titles that seem to be on course to truly resurrect the long dormant genre.

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wings logoFirst up is Wings of Saint Nazaire.  An indie game being developed just a few people, its a modern take on the much loved old school space shooters of yesteryear.  Utilising the unity engine, the team have forgone the modern obsession with polygons, tessellation and other techie gobbledygook and gone truly old school, with everything being based on 2D sprites. In action it looks amazing and sounds even better, the current soundtrack is a work of genius.  Out of all of the current crop it truly takes me right back to many happy hours spent playing the first X-Wing on my dads PC.

The video above gives you an idea of what the team are aiming for, better still if you want to see the latest build of the game you can head over to the website and try it for yourself right now.  Playable on Windows, MAC, Linux or straight in your web browser there is no reason not to try what already is a cracking little game.

Sophisticated Bitch

Enemy Starfighter has been brewing nicely and its playable at this years PAX PRIME.  It’s another game that has definitely turned my head.  Whilst not looking as showy as Elite or Star Citizen, it has an art direction all of its own.  More colourful and clean, as you can see in the trailer below it’s looking like another corker.

Asides from the ship to ship combat, it’s looking like you can expect to take control whole armadas, the only thing better than one ship is lots of ships right?  I’ve not been hands on with Enemy Starfighter yet but I’m chomping on the bit and it would be a great idea if they released a development build much like Wings, mentioned above. Oculus support is also being implemented, my resolve of waiting for a consumer release of the rift is getting rather shaky.

Make The Money

Galazy Quest ArtLast but by no means least is Galaxy Heist by indie studio Space Bear Development.  Currently in an early Alpha stage of production, rather than trying to be all things to all people, Galaxy Heist is focusing on ship to ship combat and fps boarding actions.  Multiplayer is clearly the focus here, teaming up with friends, pillaging and marauding though space really does sound like a dream come true and with the possibility of console versions this could be a great pick up and play game.

With Galaxy Heist coming along nicely and a planned Kickstarter launch towards the end of the year, its definitely one to look out for.  It they can capture the co-op intensity of games like Payday 2, add some fantastic Space battles they could well be on their way to a sure fire hit!

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All three of these games are well worth checking out and undoubtedly I’ll be writing a whole lot more about them over the next year.  For  a genre that has seemingly been MIA for a hell of a long time, its great to be heading back to the final frontier.  Short of a full remake of the X-Wing series, I could not more excited about the next couple of years.  Forget your Xbox One and PS4’s, your Call of Duty and Battlefields, this is the next generation and long may it reign.

Wings of Saint Nazaire can be found: HERE

Enemy StarfighterHERE

Galaxy Heist: HERE

 

Frugal Gaming Interview: 4PM

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A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the rather interesting indie game 4PM that’s currently available on Steam.

I really liked it, and found it to be one of the most interesting things I’d experienced in quite a while.  If you haven’t checked it out yet you can find my thoughts on 4PM here

Following on from that I had the opportunity to have a chat with the games creator- Bojan Brbora. He was and still is a film-maker by trade; he even has a page on IMDB. We chat about the differences and challenges of developing games compared to films.  The way 4PM came together and the people who helped make it.  Lots of talk about Steam, from the Greenlight process to the review system.

You can find some of the highlights below or if you fancy it, the full audio of our chat can be heard on this page too.

Bojan Brbora is the games Director (BB) and PridedLlama is Interviewer (PL)

PL:  How did 4PM come to be?

BB: I’ve played games most of my life, and the interactive storytelling elements really interested me. Whilst I was film making I was also trying out new games just to see where the medium was going.  So I’ve had two big loves one of them is film making and the other one is games and I really wanted to try it out.  I never thought I’d be able to as the technical skills and knowledge all seemed a bit much at the time, but with things like unity the tools had become a bit more easier to use.

PL: Was it a big change to go from film making to games?

BB: From a technical point yes, but on the basic side of keeping people engaged and interested, I actually think it’s quite similar.  The part I’m most interested in is the narrative. I think that’s the same across writing, film making, comics, anything that has a story.  You need to have something that gets people hooked and have them want to see what happens at the end basically.

The biggest challenge was just how long it takes to create these things.  I knew it was quite complex but I didn’t realise how complex it actually was until I started programming.  It’s true to say that about one week in film making terms equals about two months in game development. To keep cost down I decided to do about 80% of the technical development myself.  This was also a factor in why I wanted to do a relatively short game, something that I could finish in 8 or 9 months.

PL: I’d read that if 4PM was successful enough you plan to continue doing this, have you made any progress towards this already? Have you got any ideas?

BB:  I’ve got a few ideas bouncing around, but at the minute it’s still about pushing 4PM, getting as many people to play it as possible and getting feedback so the next one is better and I can learn from this.  I want to see how people feel about 4PM and then plan the next project.

PL: You have had some fantastic positive coverage from the media, I noticed a piece in the Guardian the other day. On the flip side everyone knows what Steam reviews can be like, even though the store listing describes the game well, people are buying it expecting something else, then finding themselves disappointed leaving negative reviews.  It must be frustrating?

BB: It was quite surprising how many people, mainly on Steam and some Youtubers too almost seemed to hate it, because they expected something totally different.  It’s difficult to manage expectations.  Some people seem to want the same thing over and over again, someone asked me why is it not like The Stanley Parable, well it’s just different. It’s hard to explain something when you can’t compare it too many things. There are similar elements in other games but it’s not really like them.  There were some really harsh things said on Steam but it’s all part of the learning experience and will help me explain to people what the next project is all about.

PL: I guess the feedback now is so immediate, you put your game out there, especially on a platform like Steam and you’re getting feedback straight away, positive or negative.

BB: It’s a tough crowd but it’s a good thing, it’s a bit like the Wild West.  You’re out there in the open and anybody can say whatever they want.  People vote with their wallets and it’s very black and white, it’s not like the film side where you have the art festivals where you can still get a load of traction, coverage and financial backing but with this it either works or it doesn’t. Everyone loves it or very few people like it and it can just disappear after a while.

PL: I know I keep going back to film making, but I thinks it’s interesting with many Game developers such as David Cage and Hideo Kojima often described as frustrated directors, you’ve obviously got your feet on both sides of that.  In regards to promoting the game and getting it out there, has it been easier with 4PM being a game rather than say a short film about the same subject?

BB: With 4PM is was a bit easier than with a film because when I put it up on Steam Greenlight,  I think it looked so different from anything else up there.  The posters and the trailers did the job on their own in a way.  In a film it would be more difficult because you’re on a more level playing field; everyone is always pushing the medium and experimenting when it comes to films.  New ideas in games are almost quite rare.  People make similar games, remake older games or they change little bits to make them different but essentially games are not as experimental as one would think.  So if you have something different it can promote itself.

PL: It’s a very small team that has worked on 4PM, it seems like a real collaborative effort, Stefan Kaday wrote the story, so how did it come about?

BB: It started with the roof situation that’s featured in 4PM, it was a very small prototype for a course module at the end of the first year.  I showed it to a few people and there was a lot of good feedback and people said I should develop it further. I sat down with Stefan, who was a screenwriter at the school and we started to plan out how the characters ended up on the roof.  He went back and started writing. I’m not a writer by trade and I like working with other people and getting peoples feedback and thoughts.  Getting others to participate and creatively investing in the project is great and Stefan was a good match.

PL: The music is 4PM was also really good, both the original compositions and also the tracks by other people.

BB:  All the music apart from what’s heard in the club scene was made for the game.  Some of it was a 6 piece orchestra from the Royal Academy of Music and two composers from the film school who were really good guys and jumped right in.  The music in the club is from a Bosnian band, it’s a really cools song and they are really good guys, I got introduced to them through a friend.  I needed music for the club and obviously I couldn’t pay royalties but they were like “were going to be in a video game! that’s great here you go”  Many people have asked about the music and there are a lot of people out there making great music who are very open to letting you use it, the band are in the credits and they are featured on the website and I would really love to work with them again.

PL:  The graphical style of 4PM is quite unique and it works really well.  It does have a few rough edges due in part to having such a small team working on it.  Do you plan to bring more people into help with the next game if money allows?

BB: The aim for the next project is to either get some funding, maybe do a Kickstarter and then build a small specialised team.  Someone to work on 3D modelling, an animator and a programmer.  I’d be picking up bits of work everywhere and producing on the project side.  I don’t plan on it being a one man band operation next time, however nice of an achievement it was, it’s quite.  It’s good to have more than one person on the team, someone else for constant feedback and pushing through the rough times together.

PL: 4PM was Greenlit on Steam in about 2 weeks, how did you find the whole process?

BB:  It was a great way of seeing if the community would like it.  I put up the trailer, few screenshots and a description up. I didn’t really expect much.  It was a bit of a test, if it went through Greenlight then that meant I should really finish it and release it.  At the time it seemed I was mainly competing against 8bit zombie games, having something like 4PM next to all that helped it stand out. I kept the design and trailer interesting ‘precise’, I think that’s why people really engaged with it.  There was just so much positive feedback, 12-13 pages of people saying they want the game.

To go from that to release, where we have roughly 50/50 positive and negative comments was like a total slap in the face.

PL: You mentioned earlier that you’ve always played games, what’s your top three of all time?

BB:  Top three, that’s tough.  Half-life 2 for sure, probably Mass Effect and then Jurassic Park: Trespasser.  Remember that one?

PL: I’ve never even heard of it!

BB: You’re missing out! It came out in 97 or something like that.  It was a 1st person game that let your explore a dinosaur infested island.  There was no user interface, basic physics, great music! Very flawed but for what it tried to do at the time it was amazing.  Interesting game.

PL: We’ve talked about Steam reviews and people can see the description of 4PM on the store page.  If you had to write a Steam review for 4PM now, what would you put?

BB:  That’s difficult as I made the game!  If you want to try something different and think about something, give this a try.  It’s only £3 anyway.  How wrong can you go?

 

Interesting stuff and I really enjoyed speaking with Bojan, obviously a huge thank you for him for taking part in this.

 You can follow Bojan on twitter here https://twitter.com/BojanBrbora

 4PM is availble on Steam right now http://store.steampowered.com/app/281840/

Gods Will Be Watching PC Review

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I Love You But I Gotta Stay True

If you know where the late night seedy area of your conurbation is, you might find someone willing to don a pair of red shiny stilettos and stand on your scrotum.  If these services are available for around £7 all the better, it will be over quicker and be far less painful than trying to play Gods Will Be Watching.

I love point and click games, I’ve written about my love for them before, when I previewed the unfunded Kickstarter project for The Breakout.  GWBW is not a point and click game, well the game is controlled via point and click but that’s as close to the DNA of the genre that it gets unfortunately.

It’s more like torture porn, and I don’t mean in a good way where you can sit back relax and knock one out whilst watching some slap and tickle.  You are the subject of the torture, and if the developer wanted you to feel like a Daddy Longlegs having each limb pulled off, then bravo. It’s an accomplished piece of game design, but I think I’d rather book into Gitmo for a fortnight all inclusive.

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My Morals Got Me On My Knees

So I’m going to try and be constructive with this critique, but first here’s a bit of history about the games development.  GWBW was the product of the Ludum Dare 26 Game Jam.  The theme for the event was “Minimalism” and with that in mind the team created a single scene with minimalism  as the core gameplay element.  You and your team had to survive 40 days in an isolated environment before being rescued.  It was a neat idea, filled with morally ambiguous decisions, and the plaudits soon followed.

Following the success of the game jam, a crowd-funding effort soon materialised and the $20,000 raised on Indiegogo smashed the $8,000 original target back in August 2013.  At some point darling indie publisher Devolver jumped on board and the rest as they say is history.  Fast forwarding to 2014, and the game has now hit full release.

I’m Begging Please, Stop Playing Games

The first mission finds you in control of a team trying to hack a computer aboard an enemy installation.  Your team each have their own responsibilities.  One is in charge of ensuring the security team doesn’t storm your position, another is looking after hostages, a third controllable character is your electronic warfare specialist-  tasked with boosting the hack speed and crippling attempts to stop your hack.

Are your hostages looking a bit too calm for your liking? You can shout at them or give them a bit of a kicking. Likewise, if they are on the edge of doing something stupid you can try and calm them down.  It’s the same mechanic for keeping the attackers back, firing a couple of shots forces them into retreat, where as negotiating halts them in their tracks and gives your team breathing space.

The second episode- titled ’20 Days of Words’ concentrates on just two of your team, who after being captured must survive 20 days of extreme interrogation. I’d hazard a bet that this would be Dick Cheney’s favourite part.  Don’t answer the questions? You get hurt. Sustain enough injuries and you die.  You can give your merciless captors the information for a brief respite, but give too much away and it’s game over.  Another member of your team does come into play and offers some limited help, but I think you’re getting the idea of this game now. The 6 playable scenes all revolve around the same mechanic, and to be honest I only progressed through trial and error.

Described as a point and click thriller, in reality it’s a point and click resource management game, a brutally tough one at that.  I was lucky enough to get early access to Gods Will Be Watching and was stuck for over a week on that second mission.  It really can be that tough to figure out.  A challenging game can be a great thing, look at the success of Dark Souls.  Where that particular spirit crushing game requires skill, GWBW is all about the unseen algorithms running in the background that are quite honestly incomprehensible to people like me.  The game became a real chore for me, any enjoyment I was having was completely sapped.

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You Got Me Begging You For Mercy

Gods Will Be Watching was designed to be hard, PR spiel suggested that I savour the difficulty and it has been designed to crush.  That’s why this review is coming a good couple of weeks after release, holding back on writing this has also been rather fortuitous, in a 180 only beaten by Microsoft dropping Kinect, the developers have dropped a big patch titled “The Mercy Update”.

The update adds several new difficulty options when playing, from just decreasing the difficulty to doing away with it all together with the simply titled “Narrative” option.  It’s a great idea, but for a game that has been designed to crush it’s a surprising flip flop.  Difficulty aside, the biggest stumbling block is that it’s really hard to develop a connection to the characters and hence care about their fate.  Interesting relate-able characters would have made me plough on through the torture, or even want to play through the narrative again, but it just missed that spark for me.

Gods Will Be Watching is undoubtedly a great concept mired, by lacklustre characters. A game mechanic that at times is unfathomable as it is tough.  The dark and mature themes are a refreshing addition and the developer; Deconstructeam has clearly got some strong unique ideas about game design, and although I find GWBW a bit of a misstep I am excited to see what they come up with next.

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Gods Will Be Watching is available now on both Steam and the Humble Store

 

Frugal Gaming Recommendation – 4PM

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Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning 4PM is not a game, and as such it won’t be getting a score, this is more of a recommendation than a review.

So if it’s not a game then what is it? Well it’s a short interactive narrative led experience, that should be experienced by as many people as possible.  I’m going to keep this recommendation as minimal as I can. 4PM only took me thirty minutes to complete.  But almost everyone of those thirty minutes are well thought out and necessary to the tale that the developer is trying to tell.

Screenshot 2The story touches on guilt, love, alcohol abuse and suicide.  These are grown up themes that the developer – Bojan Brbora has treated with care and honesty.  The short interactive scenes take you from 10AM to 4PM in a single day in the life of Caroline Wells.  I don’t want to touch any further on the story as it does need to be experienced rather than read.

This is all the work of one guy, and whilst the high production values he has strived for haven’t quite been met, the overall visual style is still beautiful if a little ragged in places, but it doesn’t detract from the experience.  The small selection of songs that feature in the soundtrack are pitch perfect and really round out the overall style of the piece.

Screenshot 124PM started out as a project at the National Film and Television School, which the developer went on to develop further and it does show.  The story here is the star and everything else has been carefully chosen and layered to bring this tale to life.  With the plan of more stories and dramas to come if this one is successful, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Brbora brings to us next.

I was gripped for the whole thirty minutes of my first experience, and I can’t wait to go back.  If you are open minded and partial to something a little bit different, the avant-garde 4PM should not be missed.  It’s only £3.00 on Steam and it has been one of the most refreshing things I’ve experienced in a long time.


4PM
is available now and can be found here http://store.steampowered.com/app/281840/

Developer: Bojan Brbora

Publisher: 4PM GAME

Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition Xbox One

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Cars, guns & zombies.  For lots of people that will be all they need to know.  Three of the most popular gaming tropes of recent years, all mashed together in a game that can only be described as a post apocalyptic episode of Top Gear.  Ultimate Edition currently available on just the Xbox One is an update of an update.  First released in 2009 on PC with the name Zombie Driver and soon finding its way to Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, with HD stuck on the end, this latest version includes everything previously released with the extra sparkle of a full 1080p 60fps presentation.

Played from a top down perspective much like the old Grand Theft Auto, Zombie Driver puts you behind the wheel of various vehicles from a yellow taxicab, school bus, limousine and all the way up to a tank.  These are not just plain old jalopies mind you, a plethora of Mad Max style mounted weapons have turned these once straight forward modes of transport into death dealing killing machines, a sadistic Pimp my Ride. Controls are sharp and responsive, but the camera seems a little too close to the action at times, especially when travelling at speed

Gallery_01The Quick and the Undead

Bashing, crashing and shooting your way through the Horde to rescue a bunch of civilians is pretty much your staple mission in game.  Drive from A to B, clear-out the surrounding area and evacuate the plebs back to the military HQ.  Ammo pickups, extra boost fuel and different weapons scattered across the city all help you achieve this, but it’s still just the same mission regurgitated with the odd huge boss thrown in for good measure.  It’s entertaining in short bursts, but not gripping enough for most to want to complete the campaign.

A couple of different modes did extend my interest in ZDUE but not by much.  Slaughter mode was definitely the most fun, you’re free to razz around the map like a boy racer, with the aim of surviving for as long as possible against increasingly tougher waves of the undead and mutated. It really is a lot of fun and would have been even better if you could play online with friends.  The same can be said for the Blood Race mode, a great idea which brings back fond memories of top down arcade racers of yesteryear, but without any form of multiplayer feels like a hugely wasted opportunity.

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Having never played either of the first two versions, I did a fair bit of ‘Googling’ and ‘Youtubing’ and the difference to the graphics of the game seem substantial.  It looks fantastic on the Xbox One; the fast/smooth frame rate definitely helps with the high tempo of gameplay.  Blood and gore is nicely done with your trail of butchery being marked out by slick red tyre marks. The amount of on-screen action is fantastic if a little overwhelming at times.  There is the odd omission, like the load out screen for you vehicles.  It seems to be rendered in 4:3 aspect which leaves big black borders down each side of the screen, even sitting a few feet away and having recently been to Specsavers I was straining to see all the detail and really had to lean forward. I’m guessing that this is a hangover from the original version but when so much care has gone into other visuals is a glaring fault which is a shame.

Gallery_08Beyond Re-Animator

Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition is the best version of a game made in 2009. If you owned or have played with the bog standard original or the HD version there really isn’t enough new things on offer in this version for me to be able to recommend it.  However if like me you haven’t played any of the others it offers a fun alternative to the bigger titles currently available.  You won’t find yourself sitting down and playing it for hours on end but in short twenty to thirty minute bursts its enjoyable enough.  I’m pretty sure that it will be appearing on PS4 in the not too distant future and after that I’m hoping that the developer – EXOR studios, will come up with something that doesn’t rely on cars, guns, or zombies.  Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition is a well crafted game, but their reliance on re-jigging the same game for the last 5 years can’t go on forever.

Score: 6/10

Developer: Exor Studios

Currently available for Xbox one on the Marketplace

Shovel Knight Review

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Rest assured, if there was any part of my body that even remotely disliked Shovel Knight I would have ran with that just for the excuse of writing “Shovel Knight? More like ShovelWARE!” (Un)fortunately Yacht Club Games have opted to strip me of that minute amount of fun to instead offer a whole bucket-load more of fun within the actual game. Shovel Knight is not just an enjoyable product in of itself, but it’s turned out to be one of the most encouraging projects in recent memory and a candidate for Game of the Year 2014.

Shovel Knight comes to us from former WayForward Technologies developer Sean Velasco, who presumably left WayForward because he wanted to make games with fantastic audiovisual design AND have some actual game design in it (lol).  He claims to have been inspired by games such as Castlevania III, DuckTales and Mega Man; and in the current climate of popularised nostalgia baiting this can be where the eye-rolling begins. Often when developers start listing off old NES games as inspiration, and they seem to be mostly highly popular titles, it can translate into “my entire research for this project was the games I just happened to own when I was 8 years old.” However, the fastest way to sum up everything good about Shovel Knight is it takes all the great ideas and common sense of old Japanese developed NES games, brushes off the few scraps of dirt and presents in a lovingly polished fashion bursting with its own personality.

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Let’s do the mandatory Shovel Knight review thing and unfairly break the game down into its individual parts and which NES game inspired them so everyone gets a vague idea of what they’re in for. The graphics deliberately emulate the NES (although your Nintendo would probably explode if you somehow figured out a way to play this on one), the music actually can be played on an NES and so is 100% authentic chiptune music. You play as the Shovel Knight, who can swish his shovel as a close range weapon (Castlevania) and bounce off enemies with a down thrust like he’s riding a pogo stick (DuckTales); you have to fight a renegade group of Knights in a non-linear order to reach the final castle stages (Mega Man) to defeat the evil Enchantress who has enslaved the land (Castlevania again). As you navigate the map screen (Super Mario Bros. 3)you can visit towns to buy upgrades for your health, magic , armour and Shovel (Zelda II) as well as bumping into bonus “traveller” bosses and treasure gathering extra stages (Mario 3/Bionic Commando?)

As for the actual stages themselves, Mega Man was definitely the core inspiration in terms of the game’s single room puzzle-esque level design and style of boss battles, but here’s where constantly comparing Shovel Knight to its NES counterparts misses the point. It’s easy to comment on certain similarities between Shovel Knight and an entire memory stick duo of NES games, but ultimately I’d argue the main inspiration for the game was common sense.

Here’s an example of that; the stages in Shovel Knight are significantly longer than the average NES stage, so all of them have a whole bunch of visually clear checkpoints. When you die, you get knocked back to the last checkpoint (usually no more than half a dozen screens, and probably not even that) and take a hit to the wallet as bags of your money will dangle tauntingly above where you died, if you can get back to where you died without dying again you can get all that money back and there’s no problem as there’s no lives system at all. In addition, you can break the checkpoints to get a nice treasure boost, but obviously now you’ve lost that checkpoint so you better make sure you don’t screw up getting to the next one here.

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So what we have here is a forgiving checkpoint system that lets the less savvy player get through the game without booting them out of the stage for a couple of mistakes, that also offers motivation for the player to not die twice on one section as they’ll lose their treasure (which also encourages players to spend their treasure and engage with the game’s RPG elements regularly)…and it has an extra challenge built in there for the hardcore crowd without having to change a thing. Wow! That’s really smart! It kind of blew my mind how smart such a little feature is; it completely nullifies the frustrations that came with the lives system from the old Mega Mans, with its “throw yourself down a pit twice to restart with 3 lives” nonsense,without requiring any kind of difficulty adjustment.  I’ve always had low tolerance for games that still relied on lives systems in this era of gaming anyway but now there is literally no excuse for it. The way Shovel Knight handles it is just smarter, and that is so refreshing.

However, the true shining part of Shovel Knight is in the boss battles, which in all honesty, might be the greatest boss battles in any 2D action game. They certainly put anything in classic Mega Man to shame, and those Mega Man X bosses over there aren’t feeling too sure of themselves either. The vast majority of the bosses are against another knight or warrior with their own gimmick, as well the Black Knight who also uses a shovel effectively making him a shadow boss. Speaking of which, here’s a good test for action games, if your game has a shadow boss in it and it’s fun, then chances are your mechanics are pretty much ready to go. Boss battles in Shovel Knight do follow patterns to some extent but it definitely doesn’t feel like that most of the time. Fights against enemies like the King’s Knight almost feel like you’re playing against a second player. These fights are fast and furious, bosses don’t get stunned for too long so skilled players will be able to exchange down thrusts, side slashes and magic to get some “combos” going; but the subtlest touch that makes it near perfect is you don’t take damage from a bosses attack if you’re able to get a strike in first. This tiny little detail translates what in most games is a choreographed dance in pattern avoidance to an actual fight in your brain, if you “outwit” your opponent and get that first slash then as far as the game is concerned you deserve to be winning. It creates really challenging and engaging battles whilst at the same game communicating (through gameplay!) that the Shovel Knight is on par with these guys and is a mighty warrior in his own right.

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Before I briefly touch on things I didn’t like so much in the game, let’s just dedicate a small paragraph to the ridiculously fantastic soundtrack Shovel Knight has, which comes to us from Jake “virt” Kaufman with two tracks done by Mega Man 1 composer Manami Matsumae. Let’s just shovel this in here; because everyone will probably be saying this in five years and I want it on record, Jake Kaufman is the best Western videogame composer working today. He’s also possibly clinically insane, since he’s provided full lossless audio downloads of both the official Shovel Knight soundtrack and an arrangement album on his Bandcamp so you should probably check that out.

So regarding what I don’t like…there’s just kind of too much stuff which contradicts the simplistic nature of the mechanics and level design. You can explore the levels by breaking blocks to reveal hidden pathways and passages where you can find extra treasure and usable items. Treasure is predominately used for buying upgrades, but it’s not difficult at all to find enough treasure to max out the really useful things like shovel abilities and magic points. Other than that you just have items and armour upgrades, and in the case of armour I pretty much just bought them all for the sake of buying something and then only ever used one of them. There’s just too much of this stuff for a game this short, half of the weapons I used once to see what they do and then never picked them up again. Then on top of that there’s potions you can use, but to do that you have to buy a chalice, then you have to go to the lake and talk to apple fish king thing (don’t worry about it) who does a nice song and dance for about 2 minutes to give you a one use potion (things like invincibility and health etc.). But because it’s one use only you just end up putting off using it forever and accidentally beat the game with it sitting in your lap, it’s just a load of fluff for something basically pointless.

It’s not a massive issue or anything, but the problem is the game focuses a lot on the act of gathering treasure (note the paragraph earlier about losing treasure being used instead of a lives system) as its inspiration for exploring levels and completing extra stages on the map, so it feels like all this extra stuff is just there to justify having so much treasure in the game in the first place. The game could have used a bit more balancing in how you buy new magic and how you spend your treasure, because honestly by the end of my playthrough I started not caring about treasure at all when I realised I already had everything worth having and that made me far lazier in terms of exploring the levels.

Also, the level design is consistently tight throughout the game with every stage having its own bag of tricks that stays consistent with the game’s mechanics and basic rules, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t weaken towards the end. The final castle stages, probably in an attempt to be more “challenging” start relying less on clever tightly designed rooms and more on gimmicky instadeath traps that punish you for the slightest mistake. The worst part is the room where the walls move up and down, crushing you if a pixel of your shovelly body is caught under it. I died on this part about 50 billion times, initially out of sheer carelessness but eventually just out of boredom-fuelled impatience.

These are all little niggles, but Shovel Knight definitely needed to be a little more tight in its extra bits to be a true classic, but nothing mentioned above stops it from being a fantastic videogame. The soundtrack and the pixel art come from a place of artistic confidence and not just nostalgic baiting, the level design is fuelled predominately by common sense and everything is presented with a lot of care and love and a cute little story which ends the experience with a satisfied sigh. Yacht Club Games have proven themselves with Shovel Knight and the industry should look forward to their future projects.

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In closing; in the opening paragraph I described Shovel Knight as “one of the most encouraging projects in recent memory” and I’d like to end this review by clarifying that. Shovel Knight is encouraging in both its style of design and the future of the videogame industry in general. A bunch of cool people who knew what they were doing got together and had a great idea for a game, they pitched that idea to the public through Kickstarter who liked it and supported it. This gave them a comfortable budget to work with for the kind of the game they wanted to make, but not requiring 10s of millions of corporate dollars in an unsustainable five year developmental cycle. The product of this is a wonderful little game that the developers can be proud of and that players can love. We need more games like Shovel Knight, and you dear reader, need Shovel Knight in your Steam library.

The pressure’s on you now, Mighty No. 9,Inafune and his team better up their game to follow this.

Score:8/10

Developer: Yacht Club Games

Publisher: Yacht Club Games 

Platform: Steam, Wii U and 3DS in North America, other platforms to follow