Sunless Sea Review

buoywallpaper1-1024x576 Review SizeVictorian London has sunk beneath the earth and supernatural forces roam this new sunken world, you are the newest Captain in the city ready to make your way into the unknown realm of the Unterzee. This is Sunless Sea from UK studio, Failbetter Games, a rogue like exploration game with a heavy emphasis on storytelling.

Each new game has you creating a Captain, you start by selecting your background, were you a street urchin? A poet? A war veteran? An ordained priest? Or are you a natural philosopher? Your choice of background decides which of your stats get a starting bonus and an appropriate officer to help run your ship, the officers give another bonus to your skills and can be improved with quests, or until you find a better replacement.

aHR0cDovL2ltYWdlcy5lY2hvYmF6YWFyLmZhaWxiZXR0ZXJnYW1lcy5jb20uczMuYW1hem9uYXdzLmNvbS9sYXJnZXIvbm9jdHVybmV3YWxscGFwZXIuanBnThe next step is to choose an ambition, what is your end goal? How will you decide if you win or lose?
There are 3 choices:
Find your father’s bones, recover your father’s remains so he may have a proper burial.
Fulfilment, gather enough knowledge to write a masterpiece and retire.
Wealth, get rich, buy a mansion, maybe even have servants and start a family.

Finally you will decide on your name and how you will be addressed are you a Sir, Madam, Captain or Citizen? You then choose your character portrait. I’m quite fond of my Lord with a pipe smoking silhouette. With that in the bag you are released into Fallen London.

Whilst in the various ports Sunless Sea plays out like a choose your own adventure book. Select an area of the port you wish to visit and depending on your skills and items in your inventory, you have a variety options to select from. For example whilst in London you may choose to visit the Labyrinth Of Tigers, a supernatural zoo of sorts, if you have enough money you could choose to buy a specimen, if you had acquired a certain item you could offer to sell one to them.

Shark review SIZEVisiting all the locations in the ports will reveal a variety of tasks to complete, sometimes you will have a passenger who wants safe passage to a certain location, maybe someone wants information about a place; someone may want a certain item returned to that port. Collect your tasks and it’s time to head out to zee. As always your starter ship is fairly unimpressive, but eventually you can upgrade to bigger, better and faster ships over the course of your story.

Whilst you’re in exploration mode Sunless Sea changes to an overhead viewpoint, now that you’re in charge of your boat you have to use W, S, A, D to control your speed and direction as you head out to find Fame, Fortune or your Fathers bones.

Sunless Seas game map is huge, and randomly generates with each new game meaning a slightly different experience each time you die, if you are like me you will die a lot. Death may be due to roving pirates, a flock of zee bats, giant mutant sea crabs or jellyfish, once I was even sunk by a sentient iceberg…

bonny_reefs-1024x575Combat is a simple affair, you can fit a variety of guns, cannons and torpedo launchers onto your ship to attack or defend yourself. When you find yourself in a battle you will see a firing arc onscreen, one for each weapon you have installed on your ship, as long as you keep the enemy within that arc (or arcs) your weapons will charge up, you may fire before the bar is full, but your accuracy will suffer.

Combat is not the only way to die, you need to keep an eye on your fuel, supplies and terror levels as well. Run out of fuel at sea and you’re informed that your lovely little boat has just become an oddly shaped house floating in the ocean. If this happens you’re given the choice, float aimlessly for a while, pray to a zee god for help, try to signal distress, or abandon ship. Running out of supplies is similar, the lower the supplies dwindle, the more your crew loses heart before falling into the lure of cannibalism. Combine these with running out of fuel and you are basically left watching your crew eat itself. Your terror rises through a combination of situations such as sailing with the lights off, sailing in the middle of the zee, taking damage and some quests result in your terror levels rising. Once the terror reaches maximum level your crew will mutiny, that never ends well.

nemesiswallpaperDeath is just around the corner on most journeys, and when you do sink below the waves after a misjudged battle, starvation or a rather violent mutiny, you’re presented with the Legacy screen. From the legacy screen you can select any perks or items you wish to leave to the next captain, I’ve had the same not quite-as-rubbish as the starter deck guns passed down through the last 5 captains.

I found Sunless Sea very entertaining to play, with its Gothic Steampunk visuals with hints of Lovecraftian horror themes, the fact that the stories differed with each new game added to the enjoyment. Failbetter Games say they were influenced by such games as Faster Than Light (FTL), Don’t Starve, Sid Meier’s Pirates, and Elite, so if you are a fan of these you will find Sunless Sea a lot of fun to play.

It is not without its faults though; travelling between the islands towards the start of the game can be quite slow.
The AI can easily become confused in battle if you manage to approach an enemy from the rear and stay squarely behind them they will try to turn to face you constantly, and as weapons and attacks only charge while your opponent is in the targeting arc, this can lead to an entire battle in which your opponent may have 3 times the health of you but won’t fire off a single shot.

Pro’s:

Simple, easy to understand controls
randomly generated maps add to replayability
Heavy emphasis on storytelling
Massive selection of stories and quests to run through

Con’s:

Very slow pacing to start
Enemy AI can be a bit clunky

8/10

Crowntakers Review

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Crowntakers Review

PC

Dev. Bulwark Studios

Pub. Kasedo Games

 

Genre defining is a laugh, isn’t it? In order to give readers a quick overview of what a game is, we’ve developed a shorthand to explain the mechanics in a quick and broadly reliable manner. It does naturally lead to arguments about what exactly constitutes an RPG, an FPS or a Katamari-esque open world collect ’em up, but for the most part this serves a useful function for everyone. With that in mind, let’s take a gander at RPG-lite, Rogue-like, turn-based, RNG-focused fantasy battle game, Crowntakers.

The old king is under threat. The evil duke threatens to usurp the throne and conquer the kingdom for himself and all looks hopeless. Fortunately for everyone, the old king liked to put it about a bit during his younger days and has sired a butt-load of illegitimate offspring that he can now appear to in a dream and cry to for help. Instead of telling his royal highness to cough up for a load of missed Christmas and birthday presents and pointing out all those missed primary school nativity plays, the newly-royal bastard snatches up a sword and rushes to the kings’ aid. If nothing else, we learn that it’s a wise man who goes around impregnating women across the country – you never know when that valuable resource might need to be tapped later down the line.

Crowntakers_Preorder_DLC_Screenshot_3With time of the essence, Hamish McYourAvatar must gather together a band of mercenaries in order to defend the kingdom. For some reason, you don’t even have one friend who can help you out in your predicament, so you’ll need to cough up some gold for everyone you want to be in your party. Luckily, the inns scattered around the land are stuffed to the gills with pikemen, bowmen, assassins and assorted other character classes to be your Boba Fett for the journey.

And what a journey it is. Hoo boy. You start off in your house and follow roads around a strangely hexagonal land, stopping periodically to explore a feature of the landscape or fight some miscreants on the road. A typical playthrough might go like this:

  1. A new world is generated. Leave your house. Follow path around corner.
  2. Ooh, a tower! Let’s look inside.
  3. There are some rats here; should we search the tower or clear out the rats?
  4. You chose search and were bitten by rats – lose 2hp. (If you had chosen clear out rats, you could equally have been bitten or found items. It’s random!)
  5. Find wolves in road. Decide to be prudent and avoid battle until you’ve found a companion.
  6. Oh, that’s the only path you can take.
  7. Fight wolves on hexagonal grid. It’s only one wolf so should be no problem.
  8. You spawn randomly. Too far to reach wolf this turn. OK. Put back to the grid wall to avoid back-stab. Raise guard to enable counter-attack. Feeling confident.
  9. Wolf critical hits you for 4 damage. You miss with your retaliation.
  10. You attack and hit for 2 damage. Wolf retaliates and hits you for 2 damage, killing you. LOL SO RANDOM. You disappear in a puff of smoke.

Don’t worry though, it’s a rogue-like. You get to start all over again and even keep any experience points you’ve earned – pretty sweet. Try again and you’ll progress a little further, maybe unlock a new character, and so on. If you’re familiar with this style of play, you’ll already know if that mechanic is something you can live with; persistently lose until such time as you don’t. You are heavily reliant on RNG to keep you alive during the initial stages, let alone give you a reasonable chance of success. It is absolutely vital therefore that any rogue-like game either excels in gameplay or story world in order to keep you playing so you can make progress.

Crowntakers_Screenshots_02Sadly, Crowntakers is a pretty charmless experience. The world of the game is generic to the point that it might as well not exist. In fact, the ascii-based world of games like Angband do a better job of conjuring up a game world by forcing you to use your imagination. There’s nothing wrong with the functionality of the graphics, they are clear enough, but are so familiar as to be immediately forgettable. Your little men and women have zero personality – something that could have been achieved with a modicum of animation and a little bit of dialogue – so it’s hard to get invested in keeping them alive. They’re just a resource – and a resource that can be snatched away from you by the game at any time in a completely arbitrary way.

You need to explore the kingdom in order to get money and other resources. Without items, you can’t buff your character or heal. Without money you can’t hire any mercs. However, you can’t plan your trip around the kingdoms effectively because each point of interest gives you one chance to explore it only. So, to use the rat house example, you might decide it is best to explore that last, since it could damage your party. But once you’ve clicked on it, you have to decide straight way. If you try to return later, there’s nothing to do there.

Whilst I understand that playing a rogue-like is about balancing risk and reward, I feel that the developers have skewed the balance to the point that the fun is lost. If you’re a big fan of the genre, you might find something there to get your teeth into. All I can tell you is that I have played and enjoyed games such as FTL, Dungeons of Dreadmore and Binding of Isaac and found nothing here to convince me that playing Crowntakers would be a rewarding experience going forward.

Karlos Morale

Score: 5/10

Crowntakers is out now for PC for £12.99 on Steam

Heavy Bullets

Heavy_Bullets_-_Key_ArtNow that Heavy Bullets has actually received a full release, and my colleague Dedwoods42 is not available to do a follow up on it, the task has fallen on my shoulders. Following up on his stellar preview will be difficult, but I will try my best.

Let me start by saying that I found Heavy Bullets frustratingly addictive. It reminded me of spending all my money on House of the Dead, just to try and get a step further in the arcades. This is partially due to the Perma-death aspect of the game (that’s right- if you die it’s back to level 1) but not limited to it. I feel that games like this don’t really need a great story to drive them. The developer hasn’t provided a whole pre-game book to read, instead we have been given a few lines to explain there is a virus in the mainframe and you have been tasked with going in and resetting it. The reward? $5000. Fair bargain I’d say. This is more than enough story for me; I just want to shoot things.

This is my first Rogue-like game, and if they’re all like this then I’d happily scoop them up all day. What I really enjoy is the fact that is procedurally generated, which makes it damn hard! Death has never felt so inevitable, or so enraging! After having a few runs on this trying to progress – but falling prey to hidden worms, or a fatal wasp sting. I have devised myself a plan. You can bank money and power up objects to use in future lives, which is helpful. As the game is procedurally generated, sometimes the right power up machine or bank won’t appear when you most need them to.

Heavy_Bullets_1One gripe I have with this game is that no descriptions are given for the power ups. I was faced with a pair of sparkly stripper heels over a silver heart and I didn’t know what to choose. As is always the case, trial and error prevails. I feel that the life insurance and last will upgrades do need a description though, but I suspect that’s me not being used to the genre. I will say that the game offers many power-ups, but I can’t really tell you what they all do. As Dedwoods stated in his preview, the stripper heels give you a heightened perspective, by about 9 inches! I found the backpack was probably the most useful, giving you the ability to carry more than one power-up and toggle between the one you want equipped. Other than this my money is mainly spent on extra life hearts- giving you the ability to take more damage and red potions. There are more typical power-ups, such as missiles, but if you are a half decent shot I don’t find these as necessary as, for instance, the knife (close range one hit kill – if you remember to use it!)

Anyway, back to my completion plan. So far I’ve established you need to save as much money as you can, it’s best to probably have a few play-throughs, gather up money and store it. Having one item slot sure is a drag! The reason I would save so much money is for potions and life upgrades. Sometimes shops are few and far between, and as the game is procedurally generated they are never in the same place. This makes for a challenge: An incredibly frustratingly addictive just-one-more-go type of challenge.

Heavy_Bullets_3What’s perhaps so positively mystifying about this game to me is how all the elements complement each other; there is something beautifully enticing about the colour scheme – mixed with the amazing soundtrack from Doseone and the voxel-ish graphics. This game is like Minecraft on LSD with a revolver. The monsters further complement this sentiment. It draws me in like a moth to a flame, every time. Which is something that even Minecraft couldn’t do, perhaps that’s why I find this indie title so impressive. I haven’t before this found much of a solid footing on the indie scene.

One thing I really enjoyed about this game was how eco driven it is, you can have more than 6 shots for your revolver, but why would you need them when you can recycle your shots fired? Recovering you’re expended rounds adds a little extra challenge.  With a great soundtrack that makes you feel like an 8bit gangster, courtesy of Doseone and a colour scheme that for some reason reminds me of a GTA: Vice City sunset. I could see Heavy Bullets in an arcade cabinet in the back of an arcade where many kids would spend their weekends, crowding round watching as their friends spend their allowance to destroy the variety of enemies and bosses the game chucks out at you. If you wish to read the Preview – CLICK HERE

Score 8/10

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon Review

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Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon

PC

Giant Box Games

Way back in the dim and distant past, before Games of Thrones, before Labour governments and before even Justin Beiber, there was a time when computer games weren’t considered the coolest thing on the planet. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but there was a time when your mom actually frowned at you for playing on ‘that damn computer’ and exhorted you to ‘go out and get some fresh air’.  Parents spent all their time on work and cleaning, rather than having their faces buried in Candy Crush and gaming was mainly the province of adolescent boys who whiled away their days defeating wizards and blasting aliens out of the sky.

In the olden days, graphics were shit. We liked to pretend that they weren’t, but we were seeing with our imaginations rather than our eyes. Still, that didn’t stop streams of titles flowing out of the doors of bedroom programmers and big software houses alike, all vying for the attention of the great unwashed teen-boy demographic. They were heady times for the gamer, with the software world constantly evolving new genres and pushing at the boundaries of conventional gaming.  Of course, the store shelves were full of film tie-ins and quickly outmoded sports games but it was at the fringes of the game world where the real fun was to be had.

So actually, pretty much like today really.

Arsebiscuits. Well this is ridiculous. What I wanted to do here was draw parallels with another game relatively few people heard of at its’ release called Fat Worm Blows A Sparky. Sharing the same crippling shortcoming of a stupid name that it’s hard to condense,  FWBAS and PBATEED are both maze based, top down action games which involve shooting various projectiles at monsters until they’re dead and the collection of items until satiety is reached. Although nearly 30 years separate these two titles, I was struck by how one reminded me of the other and also how I had suddenly become really, really old.

Pixel 1

It’s cold in here…

… and there are wolves after me.

Well, assailed by lupine foes or not, I guess we’d better explore Pixel Boy. You play the titular character, whose job it is to clear out the trap and monster filled dungeons beneath the ‘town’ of Resolutia. Town gets inverted commas because there are about 4 people living there and, frankly, they’d all probably be better off just moving a couple of miles down the road if the monsters are becoming an issue. Still, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, so Pixel Boy descends into the surprisingly cheerfully coloured depths to vanquish the offending creatures.

Bizarrely, the monsters that PB finds are mainly of the bird and earwig variety with a few turtles and spiders thrown in for good measure. Even more strange is that the monster fraternity seem to have been on a work’s outing to Disney’s Tron and come back with some rather attractive neon colourings. It certainly makes them easy to spot (unless they’re hiding behind a fucking door, but more on that later) so you’d imagine that hunting would be right out for them – as a result, when Pixel Boy comes calling, all the monsters seem set on killing our poor hero and possibly eating his remains.

Fortunately for our hero, he has a couple of tricks up his sleeve to help ensure he isn’t worm (or purple floating dragon head) food. These tricks come in the form of upgrades to his weapon and armour which can be put together in a huge variety of ways – around 6000 combinations – to suit the situation and your particular play style. Pick up floating pixel power-up, combine it with another, use your newly upgraded weapon to deal pixel-based death and destruction. So far, so straightforward.

Combine a split shot power up with a enlarging one and you get a combined weapon that shoots multiple bullets that grow as they travel. You can then add on boosted critical damage and other delightful goodies. Be aware however, run out of ammunition for any of your upgraded power-ups and you lose that ability so you need to keep an eye on ammo conservation and switch out abilities if you need to.

Murder and mayhem grants your character experience to build towards levelling up; then you may spend points on improving a range of stats for your character such as health, speed and damage.

Pixel 4

PBATEED is a rogue-like in the sense that the game has dungeons and punishes you pretty severely for death. Kick the bucket and you lose all your power-ups and collectibles, leaving you with a piss-weak pop gun that is bugger all use in the harder dungeons. Frankly, after act 2 you might as well re-start if you find yourself reset in this way and don’t have a ton of money to spend in the upgrade shop. For the more hardened rogue-like fan, there’s hardcore and ironman modes that offer a significantly more substantial challenge.

According to forums, the development team are looking in to reducing the penalties imposed for death in standard mode, but in my view I feel this unnecessarily nerfs the difficulty in what I consider to be a well balanced game. A careful approach to each dungeon will reward you with progress – it’s not a game that can be rushed through. Primarily the reason for this is that enemies have an annoying tendency to hide themselves behind walls and doorways – there is no ability to rotate the camera, so it is important to give yourself so covering shots when exploring a new room. Unless you welcome death of course? At my age, the grim spectre of mortality hangs too close to rush into his arms so willingly.

I have found Pixel Boy to be very entertaining and fun – albeit somewhat short lived. Eventually, the developers plan to make the game live up to its name of ‘Ever Expanding’ by including procedurally generated dungeons. Not too hard given the current set up which already includes randomised enemy sets.

Pixel 2

A quick word on the music – an “awesome electronic original soundtrack composed entirely by popular and talented French artist Pyramid.” I thought the music was pretty horrible, which is another reason to relate it to FWBAS (check out the YouTube video – worst music of all time), but then what do I know about music. I’m just a codger.

There’s enough here to give the game a solid recommendation as long as you are not after a more straightforward shooter. Giant Box should be warmly applauded for adding a lively and characterful game to our ever expanding collections.

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Karlos Morale

Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon is out now for PC