Flockers – Early Access Preview

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School of Flock

You would be forgiven for thinking that all Team 17 has done is create games that star psychotic invertebrates, who like nothing more than beating the living crap out of each other. Alien Breed and Superfrog are a couple of their other franchises, but these never found the same sort of traction that the wiggly little stars of the 20 plus games that bear the Worms moniker.

So Team 17 are back with a brand new game. Titled Flockers, the game puts you in control of a flock of sheep trying to escape the evil machinations of the Worms who have been using them as suicide bombers for the last 20 years. Very much like the cherished and sorely missed Lemmings, the game tasks you with herding your flock from A to B, whilst trying to avoid the spike traps, buzz saws and all other sorts of painful, comic, death dealing machines that lie along your path.

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Breaking Baa-d

Released this week via steam early access, I’ve been lucky enough to get hands on with the game for the last week or so, and it’s shaping up quite nicely. With 25 levels available at the get-go, and a few, if at the minute limited actions that your sheep can take. The levels are well designed and land just on the right side of hair pulling frustration, which means you always want to give it one more try.

The targets set for each level at first seem rather generous, with only a few of your flock needing to survive to proceed to the next level. However getting even a lone lamb to the end zone can be a real challenge, if you’re a member of PETA the game might not be for ewe.

To achieve your goal of freedom, your sheep can perform a few different functions. Whilst you don’t have the traditional blocker that was seen in lemmings the sheep can huddle up into formations, so you can effectively block the flock, and also create a staircase of sheep that any herder from one man and his dog would be proud off. My only gripe about these formations is that once in position, the sheep just stand there. A nice little animation of them actually blocking the way or precariously balancing upon one another would be nice.

The other 3 functions you can perform are jumping, exploding and scaling high walls like Superman. These three actions look good when performed, the Superman sheep dons a cape and the jumper a woolly hat. I’m not quite sure why that one is relevant, maybe an actual knitted jumper would have suited better? The issue for me is that there are only the three actions, I’m really hoping that more are added as the games continues to develop. One of the biggest strengths of the original Lemmings games was the variety of actions that the green haired furry critters could take, and the problem solving options that opened up.

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Baa We There Yet?

The game-play itself is enhanced by hidden golden fleeces in each level, I’ve not yet managed to reach one of these but it adds great re-playability, as it adds to your end of level score- which are nicely compared on end of level leaderboards. The inclusion of leaderboards is a great touch, my twitter feed has been full of Trial Fusion times over the last couple of weeks and whilst multiplayer wouldn’t really suit this game, the offer of bragging rights over your friends is fantastic.

A fully featured level editor is also included with levels being shared via the Steam Workshop. Due to issues with resolutions, at the time of writing I wasn’t able to try this out myself but a couple of home-made levels are already available. If you’ve got a sadistic streak then by all accounts you’re going to love this feature, and it will only add to the games long term value.

On a whole the game already looks and sounds great. The sheep themselves are little bundles of fluffy joy with great movement animations and a real personality to their sound effects, even when being minced up. The levels also look good, and although work is still underway to include depth of field techno magic, the basic assets look fantastic with two distinct styles already available across the 25 levels and a third on the way.

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Flock and Awe

It seems to me that the idea for this game to be released via Early Access is to actively involve the gaming community in its development rather than the direct need for funding. This for me, is what Early Access should be about. The Developers themselves are pretty active on the games Steam forum and are shouting out for feedback. These are all good signs, and if you loved Lemmings or Worms for that matter you’ll find something in this game that will be right up your street.

Flockers is the first game that has been released this way that I can wholeheartedly recommend without any reservations whatsoever. In its current state it’s fully playable and offers some real head scratching challenges. The fact that it’s great for a quick 10 minutes of play or equally, several hour long sessions trying to beat your high score and climb the leaderboards, really speaks to the games strengths of simplicity of design and real hidden depths of its challenges. I’m looking forward to playing this game throughout its development and as a member of the community maybe helping to shaping the way it turns out upon full release.

Flockers is currently available via the Steam Early Access Program and can be found here
http://store.steampowered.com/app/260330/

Developed and Published by: Team 17

Nether PC Preview

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Nether PC

Developer: Phosphor Games Studio

Publisher:  Phosphor Games Studio

Frugal Gaming’s UglyGeezer takes his boys down some back alleys and shows them his new Nether regions, as the latest update of Nether opens up a large new chunk of the map.

So there I was, hanging on in there. My craving to wander in a wasteland, scavenge for food and avoid any local bandits. Nope, this wasn’t me on my way to do some shopping in my lovely peasant filled locale of East London. Oh no,  this was my hunger and wait for the DayZ standalone reaching the end of its tether in October 2013.

NETHER!

I saw it appear on the Steam Store and it rang some bells, I remember reading a preview on the PC Gamer website and I have to admit my gaming G-spot became a little moist.

So around Halloween time, 2013, I was almost giving up hope! The DayZ Standalone release was seeming to become as unlikely as an unlikely thing on international unlikely day. I took the plunge and paid (I think it was £20 at the time) for the Nether Beta. Here was Phosphor Game’s first mistake, calling it a Beta. The game was early access, the game was incredibly accomplished for an early access game and for all intents and purposes the framework for a very good game was there. But it wasn’t a Beta. A Beta to me implies the last stage and Nether at that point wasn’t.

In short- Nether is an urban survival game of Player versus Player (PvP ) and Player versus environment (PvE). The PvP aspect offers up all the survival elements expected from this genre; hunger, the need to find food, weapons and ZOMBIES! Erm…. no, not Zombies, let’s have some teleporting aliens instead in many shapes and sizes. These creatures are of course called Nether and hence the games name! Whereas PvP elements just offers that fact that often it’s much easier to kill another player for food and loot. There are idiots that will shoot anyone on sight, and for a lot of people this has been a problem. For myself, I learned how to sneak around and stick to the shadows.

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I was actually completely enamoured. Nether played quite well, filled my survival craving and the whole concept actually worked. The urban environment oozes atmosphere, with one of the selling points being high rise buildings that could be entered and explored, bringing something new. I spent well over 60 hours playing in the city, mainly as a sneaky lone ranger, sometimes teaming up with friendly players.

Where Nether really veered away from the DayZ template was not just teleporting aliens and an urban environment, but central hubs (safezones) where you could take your looted goodies, sell and buy at a shop. It also has a RPG levelling up system and permadeath. Apparently, this was similar to the dreaded whore of gamedom….

WarZ!

ZOMG, lets have a drama!

Now things got really messy for Phosphor Games. To start with, a silly man who had the privilege to play a very early closed session, ended up recording a damning YouTube video comparing the game to WarZ. Then emerging from this cloud of brown guff, hordes of angry pitchfork wielding simple folk besieged the Steam and official Nether forums, proclaiming that Phosphor Games were in fact the makers of WarZ in disguise! They even had proof! The lawyer that applied for copyright on Nether was the same one as WarZ. The internet had tried and doomed Nether in a matter of weeks.

Common sense dictates these type of lawyers deal with hundreds of games and are essentially freelance, but who needs common sense on the interwebs.

I felt sorry for Phosphor Games. They had created something potentially special, they were undoubtedly wanting to reach out to their community and be led by what their community wanted  from the game, but instead they were being bombarded with these silly accusations and many gamers were foolishly believing them.Nether was a diamond in the rough and did need direction, Phosphor really listened to their community. Many loved the PvP, many loathed it and begged for PvE servers. How could you appease both sides and not ruin the whole concept of their vision. Well, Phosphor do seem to be trying ideas out all the time.

Nether 1

They did try a few ideas, one idea was a blood meter just using as an example. The more people you kill, the more blood on your hands, the more blood on your hands, the smellier you are and Nether would come hunting. It didn’t work out, a good few ideas haven’t. But it does highlight that this development team is listening and trying. There have been many problems, but the guys at Nether seem to have really been on the ball with addressing them and attempting making something unique.

There have been a few updates since my last foray into Nether. Now with new regions of the map  opened up, new clan systems introduced with territory domination and capturing implemented, escort missions already in game, collecting remains of Nether to craft. The world of Nether is now a lot more involved than scavenging around solely for food, avoiding bandits, or looking for victims.

So a group of us from Frugal Gaming decided to venture back in together for a couple of nights to see what we thought of Nether, nearly six months on from the initial early release and for some, their first thoughts on playing Nether.

Dedwoods42

DayZ has spawned many clones since its inception. This is something that we’re all aware of. Many have been awful cash-ins (*cough* WarZ *cough*) – however, one stands above the rest as something that has come into its own. Nether started as a humble DayZ-alike, but has developed into something entirely of its own. It’s varied enemy types, RPG-like experience and levelling system and genuine direction (my one big gripe with DayZ being how lost you can feel among the vast landscape with very little to do) are refreshing – with survival and exploration remaining the backbone of gameplay. It’s extremely enjoyable, and very different – and if you have the time to put into it and get some levels and experience behind you, it can be a very different and rewarding experience.

Mark Kerry

Nether is a great survival thriller and is quite Fallout-esque, in a present tense kind of way. You definitely need to play with friends to benefit fully (or even survive the first few levels of your characters progression!) as you will face not only the enemies of the Nether but also the trolls of the internet who will be higher level than you and will kill you just for fun. There are some really interesting ideas here all tucked away nicely in a gorgeous, decimated city waiting to be explored. This is definitely one to watch, what’s on offer right now is a taste of what to come, showcasing great potential – this game will keep you guessing!

PridedLlama

With my expectations low I was pleasantly surprised by Nether.  It’s as rough as a badgers arse but the foundations, ideas and mechanics that have been laid down are promising.  As a complete noob to the game, it wasn’t immediately the most accessible experience, but with a little hand holding things started to fall into place.  With the success of other online early access titles it would be easy for this one to slip through the cracks and never see full release, I really hope this isn’t the case. It made for a refreshing diversion to our regular DayZ sessions, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

Karlos Morale

The post-apocalyptic world is a familiar trope, but Nether manages to shape its own bleak future into a fun playground for the brave explorer. Graphically, the ruined city with hostile aliens and humans of dubious intention is evocative of Half Life 2. It’s pleasing to see how many of the buildings and rooftops are accessible to the player; knife-fights in and around dilapidated buildings could be a thrilling experience – especially when the unpredictable Nether creatures join the fight.

Bwortang

Nether has spawned alongside a number of survival horror games trying to make it’s name within the genre. A post-apocalyptic urban jungle, where death hunts you down either by the unpredictable creatures who inhabit the land or the even more unpredictable human survivalists. A safe zone can temporarily allow you to drop your guard but caution must remain high as you scavenge to source food and weapons to remain alive, teamwork is not necessary, but joining a tribe could increase your chance of survival considerably.

From my trial session I can see this game has a lot of potential and some well presented ideas, and if they can keep the momentum going with the community driven updates, it could be the benchmark in this increasing world of survival horror games, I’d fully recommend giving Nether a trial if the opportunity presents, and I look forward to seeing what the final product will offer.

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My Final Thoughts.

Nether has evolved a hell of a lot these past six months, some of it confusing, some of it seemingly spot on. It’s hard to please everyone and of course impossible. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game be led by its community so much. Phosphor Games without doubt are listening to what people want and are trying new ideas out constantly. Massive updates have happened and more are to follow and new ideas being tinkered with all the time. There’s a danger in democracy, too many voices wanting different things, but their approach has been measured and thoughtful.

The game still has masses to fix, but unlike many early access games in this genre, Nether is more than playable. The price now is a measly £10.99. Any PC player that likes the genre would be mad not to give this a try.