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5:36 PM on 07.29.2015

The Consuming Shadow: Review

i thought about doing this review without any punctuation as a cute joke but then I changed my mind cause look its already annoying you isnt it its difficult to read dont you think wouldnt you hate it if the whole thing was like this you would wouldnt you and you might think this is quite an early review i mean i cant argue it came out yesterday but ive completed like twice jesus what do you want

So The Consuming Shadow is an indie horror game developed by Zero Punctuations Ben Croshaw, hence my bad joke. It's a 2D roguelike which gives you sixty hours to find out which particular ancient cosmo-beast is trying to batter into our world via Stonehenge, and then stop it. Stopping it is as easy as incanting a four syllable banishment spell at Stonehenge, but the difficulty is finding out what exactly those syllables are, and ensuring that you banish the correct interdimensional beastie. Presumably banishing the wrong one is bad, but I wouldn't know because I'm a fucking grade-A banisher.

Each game begins with a short little monologue from your character, and the option to either set out on your journey, or kill yourself. So far so grim. Assuming you don't end it all before the game has begun, you'll find yourself in your car with nothing but few quid, a syringe full of hardcore drugs and a unread text message. All the necessary tools for an excellent next sixty hours. 

Starting from the north of England you must work your southwards to Stonehenge whilst carefully balancing stopping by safe towns for supplies and missions from the Ministry of Occultism, and wading deep into the pandemonium dungeons found in towns already consumed by the titular Shadow. Finding the right ratio of jovial sightseeing and stoic occult investigation is vital to success; for not stopping for supplies in safe towns will result in defeat as sure as not collecting enough intel will.

Towns that are fallen will have a small paragraph or two of flavour text detailing what's going on, and a foreboding reason for going to one of the themed dungeons. It's in these dungeons that the majority of the horror takes place. These side-scrolling sections are I think where Mr Punctuation really wears his influences on his sleeve. They feel like a sidescrolling Silent Hill, and the monster design especially evokes his beloved SH2. Mechanically they're nothing special but I found these dungeon runs very compelling. There's a varity of objectives and they are always tense. Monsters are, like most of the game, represented by little more than shadowy silhouettes, and are infinitely more horrible in leaving your imagination to do the rest of the work.

The car is one of the best aspects of the game. It's your base of operations, and the only safe place you'll ever be. I found myself at times just sitting staring at my screen whilst my character sat staring at the dashboard, just to get a little breather from getting puked on by ceiling bastards. The travel system is excellent, it has very little involvement and fast forwards the journey to avoid boredom. It is, in fact, just about as dull as driving long distance is in real life, which for me quite genuinely is an amazing horror flourish. It's also tenser than a monstrosities membranes, because random events can occur whilst you're on the road, and any one of them can seriously mess with your shit.

There's never a right answer in these encounters, and each decision you make is equally likely to end in tentacles as another. You can't just memorise what to do in each encounter, and the only way to guarantee a good result is to have the appropriate item on hand, like a rosary to calm a maddened priest, or body armour to get yourself between a frightened hostage and armed gunman.

There's also a wonderful text message system. Whilst driving you can recieve texts from various numbers and can read or ignore any of them. In many cases you'd be better off ignoring, as a message from an unknown number threatening to butcher your children isn't exactly good for the old stress. Sanity is an important resource in this game, and difficult to get back. An encouraging text from a member of your family might help, but mostly you won't be getting back what you lose, and most runs will see you turn to the syringe before the journeys end.

This is a temporary solution however, and sanity loss will haunt every minute of gameplay. It's really quite impressive just how much The Consuming Shadow is willing to inconvenience the player in the name of making you feel every single lost point of sanity. I don't say that as a criticism either, it's brilliant. Your controls will reverse, enemies will appear that aren't there at all, doors switch position. Texts will get darker as well. I was genuinely quite shaken when first playing through the game when I opened up a text that simply said 'YOU'RE DREAMING YOU'RE DREAMING YOU'RE DREAMING YOU'RE DREAMING YOU'RE DREAMING'

I don't need this shit while I'm driving.

My favourite part is that the game even fucks with things that you'd consider 'outside' the game proper. For example when entering a dungeon at particularly low sanity, rather than displaying your actual objective as normal, your objective will something like 'it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts.' It's really quite chilling to have basic gameplay functions messed with, and none more so than making decisions in towns or events flash up with the 'kill yourself' option from the beginning. The lower your sanity the more difficult simply getting through a supply run can be. It's a very nifty way of simulating the tension of trying to fight off suicidal urges planted in your brain by eldritch forces.

The Consuming Shadow isn't perfect of course. It's just that the flaws are sort of... boring. I don't want to even bring them up cause everything else about it is just much more interesting. There's no seperate sliders for sound effects and music. Boo hoo. The combat is a little simple. Waah. It could sure use some polish but I sort of don't care. It's one of these games that is far more than the sum of its parts. It's got a legitimately foreboding atmosphere, and pairing the ticking clock race against time experience of FTL with cosmic horror in rural England is genuinely inspired.

It's basically The Fog meets FTL as a horror game that manages to maintain a grotesque sense of tortured intimacy whilst also being about the end of world via shadow-god, and that's cool ok. There's even characters to unlock, which is cool right. That's what people like, yeah. That and shooting themselves on a blank stretch of countryside motorway as suffocating darkness from beyond this matarial plane closes in, right...

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10:34 AM on 07.19.2015

Let's Have a Chat About Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed: Rogue is a good game, but it's relative goodness is not the subject of discussion. Rather, after finishing the game last night, I had a long think about some of its weakest points, and similarly shaky moments in other Assassin's Creed games. Story beats and narrative decisions that vacuum fun out of these games as sure as any escort quest. Sections that drop the bar so low a flatworm couldn't limbo under it. I'm talking about the present day/near future segments, because of course I fucking am. Fair warning I'll be discussing the series' direction as a whole here and will be as a result be very happy to use spoilers to illustrate points.

There's a moment right near the beginning of Assassin's Creed: Rogue that catches you off guard and throws you into a state of shock and denial. It's not because somebody important died, or because you lose something of great value, it's not even a jump scare. It's the first bit where you wake up from the animus and find yourself in the worst of all possible worlds; the Real One. Or at least the nightmare, pastel-corporate, gameroom that Ubisoft are this time passing off as the Real World. It's harrowing. Actually harrowing. I despaired out loud in my room because I'd played Black Flag and I knew what was coming: hacking minigames

I was so upset I really quite honestly just about turned the game off. The 'real world' sections where you play as a faceless Abstergo Entertainment employee are actually tortuous. Just thinking about them makes my teeth ache. I'm becoming more convinced the more I think about it that these sections in Rogue where developed by a completely seperate team. Everything looks like it comes from a different game entirely. Even the writing takes a dive. They're filled with chipper, interchangeable supporting characters so bland I couldn't remember their names if I had my own fucking Animus to check with. It feels like an episode of CSI that's heavy on the cyber crime. All techo-shite about hacking and and and and and... this.

 

Who is this for? What do they want, and why are they ruining my Assassin's Creed game to get it. I fear that the truth is that there's some creative director at Ubisoft who's responsible for all this garbage. Some guy who's proud of the connective narrative thread created by the conceit of the Animus. Some berk with enough influence to crowbar it in to every game and everyone just doesn't have the heart to tell the prick to stop. Worst of all, the over-arching narrative is literally just a lie. It always has been, ever since we got to the end of Assassin's Creed II and collectively realised that the present day Creed game they were teasing probably wasn't going to happen, and all of the crap with Desmond and gang was just something that was also happening whilst the meat of the game took place in the Renaissance. 

There's nothing there. With each successive Creed game the story outwith the Animus became more muddled and redundant, filler content designed to keep you happy until Desmond finally dies. The whole of Revelations is just Desmond in a coma having a dream about something much more interesting. Now that Desmonds 'arc' (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) is finally resolved, why is this being forced on us? It's because the Real World/Animus dynamic is the entire framing device for the series. The narrative is built on rotten, wormy foundations and not one team has come at these games with the balls to just tear them up rebuild. That isn't even a good metaphor because rebuilding is a generous way to put 'taking out the bits nobody likes.'

When did this...

...become hotter than this?

While we're at it, the Animus raises too many awkard questions. If the games are meant to have this sort of meta thing going on where the Animus simulation is the game that you're playing, then why is it in third person? Nobody remembers in third person. If I die (sorry 'desynchronize') then surely that must be a real memory? What's the explanation for watching a memory of someone collecting a digital collectible fragment that they can't see by virtue of, ya know, it being their memory of 1758 or whatever. It's such a half-arsed attempt at a cute meta-joke. It's so stupid that I liked it when the first game came out, and in 2007, I was fourteen.

There's a whole rich history of characters to explore in Assassin's Creed. Ezio was great, and there's all of his disciples to choose from. The Kenways, apart from Connor, are really cool. Haytham in particular is enormous fun, especially in Rogue, and it was great to see the games taking the Templars vs Assassins dichotomy and shaking it up a little. The Assassins have always come off as brash wanks as far as I'm concerned, and Rogues protagonist Shay's slow transformation to Templar is believably written.

Pictured above is the Animus flawlessly simulating my own memories of actual Hell.

I even like all the daft Precursor stuff. The Apple of Eden as a mind control device? Cool. Mad alien devices beneath a church causing the Great Lisbon earthquake? Well cool mate. I'll even grudgingly admit that Bartholomew Roberts turning up in the present day at the end of Black Flag was kind of an okay payoff, even if it definitely wasn't worth playing even one hacking minigame.

Fuck off.

Doing parkour around extra-terrestrial temples is great fun, walking around a bland corporate office space when I could be firing a broadside into a man-o-war is not. You could do just about anything with this franchise at this point, and breaking my immersion to get ordered around an office building with an iPad is one of the very things you'd think you could 100% not get away with.

The best thing they could do at this point is just drop the Animus stuff and use the Assassins vs Templars dynamic as the framing device for stabby romps through exotic historic settings. You know what, I wouldn't even mind if they did more of the present day stuff, as long as there's compelling gameplay there. As in, you know, just make the modern day Assassin's Creed game we've been waiting for. You could put in whoever is responsible for the hacking dialogue in Black Flag and Rogue so I can peel off their fingernails with a hidden blade.

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12:53 PM on 06.27.2015

E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy - A Beautiful Mess

E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy is a fucking stupid, janky, uninintuitave video game. It's got too many ideas, too little guidance, and far too much exposition. It's also host to one of the longest played hours on my Steam, and one of my favourite games, because it represents the sort of hopeless, determined imagination that can get shit done. Made by a small indie developer called Streum On Studio, it's a first-person shooter, role-playing... thing set in a distant future so far up the arse of Warhammer 40K that somebody at the Games Workshop decided to let Streum make the upcoming Space Hulk: Deathwing. At least I assume that's how they got the job.

E.Y.E was developed for that faithful old horse the Source Engine and so it looks bloody gorgeous, just like everything made in Source because Source is the best engine ever made, alright. Another old faithful you'll find in E.Y.E is the classic 'protagonist with amnesia' opening that developers use when they can't be arsed thinking of a narrative structure to tie together the bunch of cool levels they made.

You wake up from a weird dream - and you know it's a weird dream because your character helpfully mutters 'this weird dream again...' to himself - to find yourself in a cave and you set off on your opening quest to figure out what the bloody buttons are. Once you've overcome that, your second quest is to rebind the buttons to a configuration that a game made by humans might have, and as a reward you pick up a gun with whatever sensible key you assigned 'use' to. There's a guy muttering something to you from what is presumably an earpiece, or maybe a brain implant because everything's cool and cyberpunk, but really you're just wandering in the dark trying to find where to go. It's amazing, like the developers are introducing you to this new world by attempting to craft an opening that's about as confusing to the player as the process of birth is to a baby. I suppose it's appropriate, given the whole amnesia thing.

Once you're out of the nightmare birthing chamber that is the cave, you get to shoot some guys in gas masks and trenchcoats. Oh yeah, now we're really dystopian cyberpunk baby. Having shot the dudes, you finally get back to the home base from which the missions are staged, and people with names that sound like somebody gargling sand speak to you in an endearingly stupid mix of serious space marine wank-speech and anachronistically modern phrases like 'I'm on it!' Few lines of dialogue are voiced, but the lines that are (for the best I should think) are not spoken in English, but in a made up future language that sounds like Klingon being played backwards at half speed. Honestly the voiced dialogue actually does sound pretty sweet and it elegantly adds texture to the game world whilst also avoiding the issue of cheap voice actors being shit.

By this point in the game it should be clear that your player character is some sort of psionic cyber-marine working for the Secreta Secretorum, an organisation that is never adequately expanded upon but the name of which helpfully proves my point about the developers obviously just wanting to make a Warhammer 40K game. I've been riffing on the game a lot but the atmosphere is actually really arresting, and it feels like a first-person shooter answer to Dark Souls in a way. That is in that it's a very deep RPG with a highly obfuscated plot and lore delivered in snippets. This is what makes E.Y.E special, as without all the cyber-dystopia window dressing it would basically feel a lot like Half-Life 2. The shooting is almost exactly the same as its more famous Source Engine cousin and other than the cool psionic and cybernetic powers it's a fairly standard FPS. 

You can upgrade your cybernetics and psychic abilities along with putting points in more standard things like accuracy and endurance, and there's a whole host of cool shit you can get up with your powers. You can upgrade your cyber legs and jump really high, you can cloak, you can create clones of yourself, you can even make an enemy explode by teleporting inside them. Nice.

As I said though it's a janky fucking mess, and there's a long list of issues with being a Divine Cybermancer. You can perform research to unlock new stats and equipment, although until you've actually performed the research you can't know what it will unlock, and aren't even informed once you have, leaving you to guess basically. This is a recurrent theme, and very little of the games mechanics are actually explained in any intuitive way. This is another thing it has in common with Dark Souls, though the larger information base for the latter game offsets the barrier for entry more than for E.Y.E. Objectives are clear as far as gameplay, being marked on your hud, but their story significance so often gets lost in the fucking exhausting exposition of it all. It's a shame because the game world is genuinely intriguing, and the environmental design says what the endless lines of dialogue just can't seem to.

I'd like to refrain from calling E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy a flawed gem, because that phrase is now more common than actual flawed gems, at least if you're working under the assumption that I am, which is that flawed gems are the most common sort of gems. It is though. It's a functioning mess, a promise that if you believe hard enough in, absolutely can be delivered on. It's one of my favourite games, and I'm very much looking forward to that Warhammer game Streum On Studio wanted to make in the first place. Get this one on Steam gals and galettes. 

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11:26 AM on 06.17.2015

Apotheon: Review

For me, Apotheon is that feeling of having missed out on something great for the longest time, and being very annoyed about it. This feeling is thankfully offset by the sensation of playing an absolutely delightful game. I had noticed it floating around on Steam earlier in the year, but never took a great interest. Oh how the Steam Summer Sale can illuminate the path to wisdom.

So Apotheon is a 2D side-scrolling action-platform-puzzler based on Greek mythology. Of course, even before I played the game I knew it was gorgeous. Literally any screenshot of it is worth ten million billion words. The central conceit of the visuals is that the game is a living Greek black-figure pottery painting, with the art-work itself reflecting traditional examples of the same. It's really quite alarming when you first play as seeing the sheen and cracks of pottery underlaying the moving and breath world is disorientingly cool. It's a magical effect, creating what I genuinely reckon is one of the most beautiful games ever made. It's a perfect fit for the gameplay, and the result is an oddly authentic game world with enough internal logic to feel like a real living place.

In aid of this authenticity it's got some fairly accurate world-building, casting the Greek gods in the same light that the Greeks themselves saw them. Just as arrogant, ignorant and self-centred as any mortal. In fact the plot revolves around the capriciousness of gods, with Zeus decreeing that mortals are to be cut off from Olympus, leaving the earth barren and lawless as the life-giving powers of the gods are no longer afforded to humanity. Hell, the only reason half the game happens is because Zeus' wife Hera wants revenge for his lechery and infidelity, choosing you as her weapon against him.

By far my favourite thing about Apotheon though, is the sheer frankness, and amount, of nudity. It's absolutely awash with naked people. Naked men, naked women, naked warriors, naked nymphs, naked mortals, and naked gods are all in great supply. Apotheon has the grace to never treat this as anything but just the ways things are in its world, after all there's an abundance of naked people on the ancient pottery it's based on. Other games set in ancient Greece typically err on the side of modesty when it comes to character design, including lots of strategically placed tunics and scraps of clothing, but Apotheon has no qualms about depicting a world as close to the source material as possible. 

It's refreshingly egalitarian in its approach to nudity as well, depicting a great deal of dicks. I had a particular deal of fun picking out the wang of Zeus' himself whilst recieving a stern scolding from him. I'm not ashamed to admit I spent probably the first three hours of gameplay giggling like a nine year old about it, simply because it's so unusual. Other games set in Ancient Greece maintain a hypocritical veneer of modesty, whilst creepily taking a great deal of glee in portraying as many tits as they feel like they can squeeze in. Refreshingly, if breasts didn't come in pairs, I'd say Apotheon would actually feature more boners than boobs. This might also be gamings foremost collection of sexy people, with just about every character you meet adhering to the Grecian ideal, with all the sculpted muscles and gigantic voluptuous butts you could as for.

This is, after all, an action game and not a porno, so I'll leave the genitals alone for now. Mechanically it's a joy, for the most part. Combat is equal parts precise and hectic. Many enemies display a huge amount of skill, dodging your attacks as well as any human player, and fights against more than a few opponents will be tough. Crafting potions and bombs is essential to success, and you'll need every tool at your disposal to get through some of the harder sections. There's a special kind of feeling in besting an opponent at the last crucial second before they kill you, by launching your sword through the air into their big stupid head.

Players looking for a relaxing experience should definitely stick to the base difficulty, as the more challenging Champion setting causes much faster enemy attacks, and comes along with a mechanic that interrupts your attacks when you are struck. With some of the more larger and longer fights later in the game this can get incredibly frustrating, but it's worth noting that in many encounters I was simply approaching them wrong. Often a simple change of tactic, or the use of a handy potion can turn you from a desperate, frightened animal, to a level-headed killer.

There's a great variety of enemies, and yes many of them are naked. It's a shame there aren't more bestial foes however; I'd like to have seen a few more mythical monsters turn up, but giving the game its due, it is a story of mortals versus gods, and most of the gods are firmly humanoids. Still the inlcusion of a hydra or two would have been cool.

I'm genuinely amazed that this is a game that has finally done weapon degradation right. Apotheon pulls it off by having an abundance of weapons available, creating a kind of ammo system where you'll have to scavenge or buy new arms when the old ones break. There's a huge variety of weapons with cool effects and enchants on offer, despite a limited moveset for each class. If there's one big complaint I have it's that you don't get to cut loose with your cool powers quite enough towards the end. I'd like to have seen a new game plus mode perhaps to offset this, but it would sort of break the game so maybe not.

Despite some frustrating encounters when you approach them head-on, Apotheon is a satisfying 2D ancient murder experience, with a cast of all too human gods to deal with, in both senses of the phrase. It's worth buying for the standard price alone, but the Steam sale has turned it into an absolute bargain. If I were you, I'd be getting it just to say you own one of the few games, maybe the only game in fact, that features full on erections.

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2:23 PM on 06.07.2015

Armello: Early Access Review

Did you ever wonder what it would it would look like if the Starks in Game of Thrones didn't just take wolves as their sigil, but actually were wolves? Well your search is over my friend, for I give you Armello! All joking aside the basic premise of this game is more or less Redwall meets A Song of Ice and Fire, and lemme tell ya, it works.

The kingdom of Armello is under threat. The King, a burly lion with a giant sword, has contracted Rot, and it's driving him mad. In response, the four clans of the Kingdom have gathered their mightiest heroes to seize the throne and bring peace to the land. Naturally this means a lot of backstabbing, battling and a general lack of any real cooperation. This is because mechanically the game is a four player digital boardgame that allows for only one winner. You pick a character, currently from a roster of four, more if you backed the kickstarter at a certain level, but more on that later - and you're off.

The game takes place on a random board each time, with each player starting at one corner. Each turn a player fills their hand with cards, which have various effects. Some can be equipped, providing permanent bonuses to combat or explorations, others function as traps, whilst some are straight spell cards, played by consuming resources. Each morning, like all creatures with the Rot, the King will lose a hit-point, bring him closer to death. If the King dies of his illness, the player with the highest prestige wins. This is the games bread and butter win state for the most part. Prestige basically represents Armello's political currency, and most games end with a player manipulating the game to end up as top dog when the King cops it.

The player with the highest Prestige is also known as the Prestige Leader. Truly an inspired title worth fighting for. The Prestige Leader basically functions as the King's Hand from Game of Thrones, and the position is worthy of equal envy. You advise the King by choosing to back an edict of his each morning. He brings forth two with every new dawn, and they're generally all bad. It's up to the Prestige Leader to try and push the Kings madness in a direction that is as beneficial to them as possible, no easy task as the game progresses and the King grows ever more insane.

The other three ways to win are by slaying the King in single combat, with the caveat that you survive the fight. If you and King slay each other, the victory will be handed to the Prestige Leader, as you lose all Prestige upon attacking the King. This is one of the rare occasions where death is a real issue in the game, as death generally only nets you a small loss of Prestige and a respawn at your home territory. There's really only two other ways to win if I'm honest, as one is just a variation on the Kingslayer win, requring only that you have higher Rot than the King when you kill him. For all intents and purposes this is exactly the same, though a higher level of rot will make for an easier fight.

The final victory type has you collect four spirit stones to bring to the King, which will banish the darkness that grips him, and conveniently for you, kill him in the process. The Prestige victory is as mentioned by far the most common, and the others exist mostly as ways for players to sneak a win out from under the Prestige leader, who as the player who gets to dictate the pace of the game, is generally the guaranteed victor.

Each of the heroes is specialised for a certain task. Thane, of the Wolf Clan for example, is a skilled and aggressive warrior, recieving greater dice rolls in combat, along with a tidy ability to pierce enemy defences by burning sword cards. Sana, of the Bears on the other hand, is a natural caster, recieving a larger base pool of the magic resource. She also comes with an ability to use her magical abilities as a combat stat when fighting creatures who have the Rot. This applies to everyone, including the aforementioned King.

To be quite honest there's really far too many rules to go into, and explaining them would take several thousand words, but please don't take this as a a criticism. Armello is very easy to pick up, and the intricacy of its ruleset is one of its strengths. Take away from my thoughts only that there's enough of backstabbing and last minute wins to permanently cripple your relationship with any friends you play it with, and  I will be happy. It's genuinely lovely to play with some mates, and sneaking a win out from under your friend who thought he had it in the bag is a special kind of pleasure.

I really don't have many complaints with the actual game. I think it's very solid and despite being unfinished, it absolutely nails the atmosphere and style it sets out for. This could easily be a final release and there'd be few points of contention, and that's some of the highest praise an early access title can get. I do, however, have one glaring issue. The game was funded on Kickstarter, and backers who payed a certain amount get four unique heroes who make up the exclusive Bandit Clan.

I can't fully express how bullshit this is, especially considering that there are only four heroes in the the game as it is, with eight planned for the version 1.0 release. Come released those unique heroes will be as much as half the roster, currently they're as much as the full roster again. On the Kickstarter page there are over 20 heroes planned for the game, but several months on from the March 2015 estimated release it's easy to wonder how long we'll be waiting for those. It might be different if we were talking about a limited production of physical merchandise, but this is digital content that could easily be offered to everyone, that is sitting their stagnant for the wider audience, while a privileged few who either had the money, or were lucky enough to catch the game before the funding campaign ended can enjoy.

I understand that developer League of Geeks wanted to give backers an incentive, and by all accounts the unique heroes were a massive selling point for many players, but this is a frankly staggering amount of content to withhold from the community at large, especally those like myself that hadn't even heard of the game until they saw it advertised on Steam.

On the Kickstarter page it says these are a true exclusive available only to those backers, but there's also a post from League of Geeks regarding the absolutely reasonable backlash from players who feel a little cheated. The post discusses the possibility of allowing the unique heroes to be released to the wider community, with the permission of the backers. 

This is a really embarrassing situation to see a developer in, because either they're withholding a large amount of in-game content, and not just cosmetics mind but real actual content, from the majority, or they go back on their promise to the minority. If I was one of those special backers, I'd be all for the community at large getting access, but I'm not going to be the one to tell them the extra money they paid was a waste, so this is on League of Geeks alone. Having said that the £18.99 I paid on Steam actually doesn't come too far off the amount the special backers paid in Australian dollars when you factor in exchange rates which certainly doesn't help. The best option at this point seems to be some kind of timed exclusivity, or a small DLC asking price for the extra heroes.

Armello is an addictive game of politics, bribery and backstabbing that'll have you hating your friends as much as your enemies, and there's a surprising amount of emergent storytelling to be found in the randomly generated maps. It's just a shame that a foolish promise on the part of the developer has left many players, including me, feeling like we're missing out on some of the coolest content. 

EDIT: So I just found a post by League of Geeks detailing the final update with the Bandit Clan heroes and it seems they're going with timed exclusivity, along with unique skins which will remain exclusive to backers. This is is super good to see but honestly this shouldn't have been an issue in the first place. This decision was as the result of a poll from the backers who were allowed to vote on whether the heroes would be made available and it's great that those players decided to share the love.

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2:14 PM on 05.03.2015

Endless Legend: Guardians - Review

Prior to deciding I wasn't really into numerical scores in reviews, Endless Legend was the only game I ever scored ten out of ten. I did this only because I loved it so, not from any objective perfection on the part of the game. In particular I lost hours to Endless Legend's knack for taking familiar threads and spinning them in unique ways. The first DLC offering, titled Guardians, treads a familiar trail. Each addition it brings to the game is Amplitude Studio's take on one strategy trope or another.

So let's cover the titular Guardians first then. There are five in total, four corresponding to ubiquitous fantasy elements fire, earth, air and water. The fifth is the Dust Guardian, Dust being the Endless universes answer to magic all-purpose super-substsance. Designs for each are really sweet; I particularly like the Flame Guardian Fotios, who looks positively tortured, lumbering around a writhing tentacle of arcane flame. Each Guardian is as cool as you've come to expect from Amplitude Studios excellent aesthetics, but the Earth Guardian is a little dull.

Each Guardian has unique strengths and weaknesses, though strength is the emphasis. They're all immensely powerful. For instance the Flame Guardian works as a one-ancient-demigod army, spraying flames and death wherever he steps. They also possess more subtle abilities, like releasing a flare to reveal tiles around them, or causing a flood to destroy tile improvements like extractors and watchtowers. Subtle may not have been the best term, but you understand. 

The Guardians are a cool addition, and it's nice to see the Amplitude versions of strategy mega-units. It's amazing fun to have them stalk from city to city absolutely crushing multiple units at a time on their own. It's like harnessing your own personal titan, however it's the very harnessing of them that I have an issue with. The process of acquiring them is suuuuuuper uninvolved and kind of tedious. It's as simple as reserching them on the tech tree and then pumping resources into them to build them. I do like that you have to select a tile in your city to build them on; it feels like your performing some mighty summoning ritual or something. It's just I'd like so much more of that. I want to have my hero find ancient texts in abandoned Endless ruins, to follow the breadcrumb trail of arcane scribblings and inhuman knowledge, only to finally unearth one of the great monsters from it's monumental prison. We get none of that, just boring old research. You can sometimes get a quest to defeat and control a neutral Guardian wandering Auriga but even that is uninspired as hell.

I'm also not totally convinced they're worth it. They are very expensive to produce, costing a large amount of research you could be spending on other things, and following that a massive amount of production or Dust to actually build. The first game I had in the Guardians DLC was a cakewalk where I was lucky in my starting position and was left free to develop a ridiculous economy. In a four-fifty turn game I was making enough Dust per turn by around turn two hundred that I could literally have rush-bought one Guardian per turn if I wanted. I used the Guardians in that game and they were very effective under those circumstances, but I found it difficult to justify the cost in more closely matched games. Why spend the industry on one unit when I could spend it on five? Or ten? Or several city improvements. It seems that the quest to capture one is a less risky prospect, and a little more exciting.

Other additions in the pack include legendary buildings (wonders) and legendary deeds. These are actually much cooler to be honest, and I'm a very big fan of how they change up the gameplay. I'm an economically minded strategy player. It's more interesting to me to win through leverage, diplomacy, and finely ground Dust than it is to achieve victory through conquest. These buildings and challenges provide a myriad of bonuses, some incredibly powerful, that can give a player like me the edge. I've always felt that while certainly viable in Endless Legend, economy and influence tend to fall behind when compared to the snowball potential of just steamrolling over the whole map after an early military lead. These go a long way to help. Plus one hundred percent Dust when a city is happy you say? Don't mind if I do. A building that gives a twenty percent boost to both science and Dust? Why of course. 

There could do with a lot more though if I'm honest. I think there's one wonder per age which is disappointing. It would also have been nice to have some unique wonders for each faction, that were a little less powerful but played to their unique quirks a little. Guardians is a little disappointing by virtue of association with Endless Legend. It's a good pack that garnishes the base gameplay in some interesting ways, but there could do with just a lot more of everything really. I'd have especially liked a bit of lore on the Guardians beyond what we have on their unit descriptions. I liked this pack but I am sad for what it could have been. It's good, but if I still did review scores, it certainly wouldn't be a ten like it's mummy.

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3:00 PM on 04.19.2015

Westerado: Double Barrelled Review

Westerado is basking in style. It's a pixel-art spaghetti western featuring a mysterious masked bandit, shady wild-west business deals, and a whole lot of six-shooter shootouts. It's absolutely gorgeous and is accompanied by a cowboy soundtrack that at least sounds incredbily authentic. You're set loose in a free-roaming western sandbox to exact vigilante justice on the killer who wronged you, with nothing but the scrap of a clue, and your trusty revolver. It sounds great, but for all of its presentational flair it's a shallow pool when you stick your head below the surface.

There's a great game hidden in here. It provides you with a huge amount of agency and never presumes to move beyond pushing you in the right direction with the hunt for your nemesis. You can buy clothes, guns and hats (hats hilariously function as hit-points) at your leisure as soon as you have the cash. You help the cast of cowpokes, ranchers and sheriffs with their problems, and are awarded clues that will narrow the search for your target. The questlines are actually pretty good fun, and there's a cute sense of humour at work in Westerado. One quest charges you with delivering a shipment of hats to a US army fort because they're running out of precious armour. Another sequence allows you to get involved in your very own affair with the wife of a public official. It's in the mechanical meat of the quests however that the game falls flat.

The favours you do for the good folks you encounter almost invariably involve shooting. The gunplay at first is smart and satisfying. You have to manually cock your gun between shots, and reload each bullet individually like a real revolver leading to methodical firearm exchanges and careful use of ammunition. The weapons have real impact and look great to use. The trouble is that you can only shoot left or right, and so can everyone else, necessitating a lot of weird up and down strafing that looks as awkward as it feels. There's no cover to speak of, bullets pass right through almost all terrain, which makes reloading in a big gunfight tricky and most large encounters are so much vertical dodging as you look for an opening to get a shot off. This is compounded by low difficulty with the base character as he can wear three hats. Each hit you take is one hat, and if you get hit with no hat it's death, but they drop off of enemies frequently. I'm so terribly disappointed by the combat in Westerado. Eight-directional fire and the ability to hide behind terrain for cover would have absolutely turned this one around. Even just the ability to fire up and down would be a vast improvement. I have visions of frantic dashes from gravestone to gravestone in a sandy cemetary as you gun down bandits in all directions one by one with bullets whizzing by, but I'm stuck with what feels like a side-scrolling shooter on an isometric plane.

There's stuff to like in the way Westerado deals with consuequence however. It's clearly meant for multiple playthroughs with the story unfolding in different ways each time. Each decision and quest takes you down varied irreversible paths. I love the way the game deals with failure as well. Though there's no permanent death, there are permanent fail states when you lose. Many sequences can be attempted only once and defeat carries permanent changes to the world. Rather than punishing you for your failures, the narrative incorporates them, and they become fixed events in the ongoing tale. 

The world is lovingly realised and each corner is a gorgeous work of environment design. The towns feel alive with the hustle of activity, and the open plains are filled with wildlife and vegetation. It's just such a shame that a dearth of interactivity leaves much of what you do feel like skimming the surface. That said side-quests are abundant and inventive at least in premise. The horseback shootouts break things up a little and actually the mounted sequences are actually much better suited to the two-directional fire.

Unlockable characters and multiple story threads will maybe do something to increase your mileage a little, but a few hours play should leave you satisfied here. I liked this game, but the restricted and awkward combat is a shame. I'd love to see the same team make another pass at a similar type of game with expanded scope and more dynamic gunplay, but I think that despite it's problems Westerado has enough character and unique ideas to be worth your time.

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1:53 PM on 04.11.2015

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin HD - Thoughts

This is more of a 'thoughts on' than a review and assumes a level of familiarity with the base game.

So I love Dark Souls. I played through the first game five or six times in a row, and while it didn't have quite the same impact, I really enjoyed Dark Souls 2. Mechanically it's more or less the superior game as far as I'm concerned. The ability to power-stance weapons, meaningful dual-wielding, viable archery and more engaging casting all conspire to a more satisfying experience even if the plot and setting aren't quite so memorable. DS2 definitely suffered from unfavourable comparisons to its older sibling, the shadow of which obscured some of the second games charms. 

From Software have been steadily polishing up some of the sequels shortcomings over the last year, with expanded content and lore in the DLC, and now with Scholar of the First Sin. I was entirely skeptical at the notion of the HD version from the start, but at the discounted price for repeat buyers it costs the same as the DLC bundle, so for someone like me who hadn't bought the expansions yet, it's actually a great excuse to dive back in. If you have the aleady DLC however, I'd stick to the free patch. The visual improvements are lovely, especially lighting, but not at all worth almost the price of a brand new game.

So how's the new stuff? It's pretty good thusfar; I haven't worked through everything yet and if I did I'd be writing this two weeks hence. I like the new enemies placements, especially nearer the beginning. It's nice to see Heide Knights in places that actually make sense. It also doesn't hurt that returning players will be in for a few surprises. There's some moments that can only be adequately described as 'cheeky' on the part of From Software. It's cool to see them toying with player expectations and dropping some completely unexpected ambush at an area you remember being a daudle. I'd say the best part of all this is a smoother diffuculty curve. Vanilla DS2 had a fancy for crazily fluctuating difficulty throughout that has been smoothed over here.

What a lot of you will be most interested in though, is the new lore and ending, the latter of which I haven't seen. Eh, well Aldia's cool anyway. His voice is spot-on for how I'd imagine it and his weird sort-of-encouraging-but-in-a-way-that-makes-it-seem-like-he's-a-little-too-into-watching-you-suffer shtick is intriguing. You get the sense he's just sort of... interested in you, and holding his cards close to his chest, and getting them severely burnt in the process.

I'm into the expanded options for Fragrant Branches of Yore, and I can say with pride I only consulted the wiki for a total of fifteen seconds before deciding it wasn't sporting to check what the got me. For me though the Crown DLC's have been the main attraction. I've played through Crown of the Sunken King and Crown of the Iron King, and I can say in a tone brokering no argument that Sinh is the best boss in Dark Souls 2. Absolutely loved it although I thought the Squalid Queen fight was pretty bullshit. The difficulty was very arbitrary, because she summons either a squad of easy goons, or another bloody boss, and it seemed to be totally random which she'd choose. 

The environments in both are top quality as well, echoing the maze-like loops and shortcuts found in the first game. Sunken King in particular has an oppressive feel that I love to get ground down by. Both packs have a sense of discovery, no investigation, to them, like you've just missed something momentous and you feel compelled to piece together the events. I am disappointed by the lack of NPC's in the DLC though, it would have been nice to meet the doomed inhabitants of the dead kingdoms like you got with Drangleic.

On top of this the new weapons are a rea treat. My favourite is Yorgh's Spear, a huge stalactite looking lance with a crazy moveset. I can't really speak to how the patch and DLC affect PVP as I'm more interested in the PVE aspect of the game but the expanded armoury of rings, armours and magic swords seem like they'd shake things up a bit. The ring that deflects spells looks like a useful ward against one-hit-horror casters.

I enjoyed Dark Souls 2 in its vanilla state a whole lot, and the DLC or patch probably won't sway those who were disappointed. In fact, I reckon pretty much everyone has made their mind up and I'm just rambling into space, but if you're looking for a reason to get killed over and over again I'd say this is just the thing. It's an odd sort of feeling, it's like coming back to an MMO you knew every inch off and finding the world changed. It's been huge fun for me just seeing what's different, and the enitrely new to me DLC is holding my interest without much effort. It's definitely worth it if, like me, you're crying yourself to sleep pining for Bloodborne.

Also, if you're a representative of the Bell Keeper Covenant, two of you bastards owe me forty thousand souls.

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10:50 AM on 04.03.2015

Rampage Knights: Early Access Impressions

Some games are expansive, engrossing, and deep as a well. Others are pure popcorn; cheap and shallower than my now cold coffee. Rampage Knights falls into the latter camp in much the same way as an anvil falls onto Wile E. Coyote. It's as simple as games get really, which is no surpirse as it's pretty firmly a beat 'em up. It is however a lot of fun, especially with a friend.

You pick a class, from a roster of four, and then you set off to hit guys over the head until they die. What helps Rampage Knights stand out amongst the shambling early access masses however, is its flattering nods to The Binding of Isaac. Loot can dramatically change the way you hit guys over the head. For example, you might get a lightning rod, a magical item that allows to hit guys over the head not with your sword, but with the power of Zeus. You might get the bomb stick, which fires out bombs when you hit someone over the head particularly hard. Combine that with an item that makes you immune to explosions, and you're in for a good laugh, especially if your multiplayer partner doesn't have immunity to explosions.

Of course I'm being unfair; simple though the game is the number of hilarious item combinations is impressive and, like The Binding of Isaac, you can stupendously overpowered by the end. Rampage Knights is actually pretty hilarious in general. Cartoon visuals combined with some great item concepts make for consistent laughs on your first few runs. My favourite is the 'Ass Potion,' which when drunk will always give you 'Ass Disease.' There are two variants of 'Ass Disease,' one which will morph you into a human-donkey hybrid with associated benefits, and the other...

Here I am modelling 'Ass Disease' variant two.

There are a few issues with hit detection which can hopefully be sorted further into the development of the game. I'd say there's a big issue with classes at the moment as well. There's two that are obviously by far the best. The Assassin can become invisible and insta-kill downed opponents, seriously tenderising tougher enemies. He can also run and attack much faster, and loses a paltry twently health to offset his strengths. It's by no means enough and don't even get me started on the Barbarian class, who gains a ton of free strength and a little health for good measure. Marry this to increased size which negates many of the hit-detection issues and it allows you to stun-lock around six or seven enemies at a time.

The main issue however is the lack of content. The core experience is great fun, but the game is far from finished. There's more items to be added, more enemies, more levels and right now there's no progression system in place for levelling classes. All of this will be added over the coming months but it's frustrating to see such a well-polished game on early access. It's basically like if someone showed you their amazing oil on canvas landscape and you noticed that there was a suspicious white void to the east where all the rolling hills should be. I actually really wish they'd held off on release because just a little more to do would have gone a long way to increasing the life-span of this one. When you reach the end there's nothing to do except jump in a hole and die, because there isn't actually a proper end. Couple that with no progression system and it's hard to find reasons to jump back in at this point.

Multiplayer though is the guardian angel of Rampage Knights. It's absolutely hilarious. While you can't actually directly hurt your partner, you can still hit them as if they were a normal enemy. I played Barbarian one run with my mate and annoyed him to no end by doing nothing more than standing swinging my massive sword at friend and foe alike. It's also much harder as they up the enemy count significantly and the challenge is welcome as the game is pretty easy in single player. There's just too many strong items that you can simply stack into yourself. Again this is likely a problem with content, as later levels will obviously test your build more rigorously.

It may be shallow, it may be unfinished, but if you're looking for a cheap laugh with a friend you could do a lot worse. You may want to leave off for a few content patches though.

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3:00 PM on 03.23.2015

Ori and the Blind Forest: Review

Ori and the Blind Forest really has one of the most engrossing openings I've ever seen. It's beautifully coloured, masterfully animated, and dramatic, adorable, or mournful as the occasion demands. It doesn't so much as pull on your heart strings quite so much as it has your heart pulled apart by horses. It draws you into its Ghibli-esque world, acquaints you with its whimsical inhabitants, and introduces the central conflict in around five minutes. It's legitimately brilliant. Whether it was through skillful storytelling or gorgeous visuals I couldn't really say for certain, but it blew me away. 

So when the actual gameplay started I was quite frankly underwhelmed. It's the first real misstep the game makes. It's jarring after an introduction I could only really describe as a sucker punch. It's like watching a villain just walk away when he has the hero at his mercy. I was left disoriented by how little danger I was facing. Of course this is the tutorial section of the game, but it would have fit better to introduce more basic mechanics in the intro, rather than nail stabilisers to our wheels once the plot got rolling. This slow patch is a minor speed bump however, and Ori very quickly shows its true colours. It looks at first like a standard (if gorgeous) 2D platformer, but complicated platforming soon arises out of simple mechanics, and what at first appears to be an incredibly lazy combat system soon reveals something very engaging.

You start with little more than a jump, and a basic attack. Combat is dominated by the use of a little spirit orb, called Sein, who follows Ori and fires auto locking ghost lasers when you hit the attack key. At first it produces an overwhelming sense of 'that's it!?' as every enemy is dealt with by simply spamming attack. As enemy diversity increases and their attack patterns become more problematic however, the combat really shines. It's hectic trying to avoid as much damage as possible with Ori, whilst Sein unleashes spirity death upon your foes. Ori has free movement whilst Sein attacks allowing for some very interesting encounter design with enemies on walls, ceilings and in mid-air that you'll have to deftly avoid whilst getting in as many attacks as possible.

Where Ori really hits its stride is when you get the confusingly named 'Bash' ability. It functions like a sort of kick-flip parry. Any enemy or projectile in range when you hit the appropriate key will cause time to freeze as you line up a direction to hop spritely off of them in. It has the double effect of knocking your reluctant stunt-prop in the opposite direction from you, which as you can imagine leads to some very fun puzzle and battle design as you redirect projectiles to activate mechanisms and kick enemies to their thorny doom. This ability is absolutely essential for navigating basically the entire second half and I think it truly makes the game. It's an incredible mechanic that stands head and shoulders above some of the more cookie-cutter platforming tools at your disposal. It makes backtracking an absolute joy as you chain kicks between enemies and hanging lanterns, deftly eating up sections that gave you trouble earlier in mere seconds.

On the subject of backtracking the game clearly wants to be metroidvania, but falls a little short. Aside from a few dungeons you enter as part of main story events the whole thing takes place in a sprawling, open 2D world, but there's little reason to return to many areas unless they're on the way to an objective. As mentioned before though the backtracking is actually great fun. I found myself appreciating the sense of familiarity with the forest I had gained by the end. It's just that much of the game world becomes redundant once cleared. It's never hard to tell which way you're meant to be going, so exploration is purely for those that want to glimpse every sumptuous frame, though for that I couldn't possibly blame you.

Obviously, Ori and the Blind Forest is obscenely beautiful. A sideways glance at literally any screenshot would tell you that, but it's a different thing to experience it in motion. The forest of Nibel, though of course two dimensional, is filled with layers of subtle animation and compositional nuance. Shadowed branches dart across the foreground obscuring the layer of play, whilst ancient woodland stretches off into the background. It's a genuine feat as far as I'm concerned; a true visual achievement. There are few games as stylishly presented as this, probably the only thing as close is Klei's Mark of the Ninja.

There are a few problems with the platforming. I feel like some of the earlier puzzles are pretty obnoxious considering the tools you have at hand in the beginning. In particular the wall jump ability feels very imprecise to me, but thankfully it's quickly superceded by more efficient means of travel. The several escape sections can be frustrating too, and you'll almost certainly have to rely on trial and error to get through them. Often there's little indication of what you're meant to do before a rock or icicle crushes your adorable head, often hazards will appear without telegraphing at all in these sections and they gave me a lot of grief. They force you to make the whole thing in one go as well, meaning the exhilaration of these adrenaline-fuelled runs is quickly spent.

I had a lot of fun with Ori and the Blind Forest. It's got a great thing going with the bash mechanic and it's best moments are in hopping from enemy to enemy to reach your goal. It's got a sweet story that delivers an appropriately warm ending. It's all very bullshitty power of hope type stuff but it gave my heart a twinge so hey-ho. Honestly it could get away on presentation alone, but it doesn't hurt that its gameplay delivers all the fun of being a nature spirit as well.

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6:44 PM on 03.15.2015

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number - Review

Not much about Hotline Miami 2 is easy. It isn't easy to play, it isn't easy to understand, it isn't even easy to look at. It's lurid, sweaty, and grimy. The closest thing it seemed to have to a proper protagonist is a self-righteous and hypocrytical police detective. That doesn't do the game proper justice however; that's only the immediate feeling I got as murdered my way through it's technicolour drugscape. There are over ten playable characters in total, all of whom seem to be one shade or another of asshole. Anybody looking for something approaching a digestible, or even satisfying, conclusion to the Hotline saga will be disappointed. This isn't a bad thing. It's just like I said; Hotline Miami 2 isn't easy.

This isn't a true sequel. The game jumps from events before, during and after the original. Like its predecessor it's equally interested in events that don't occur at all, and the boundary between reality and fantasy is hazy. It feels like more of a post-script, albeit one much longer than its main body of text. What story there is in Wrong Number is focussed on cause and effect, the chaos set in motion by the violence of your actions in Hotline Miami. All of the 'protagonists' are implicated in the original slaughter-fest in one way or another. A struggling writer looking for inspiration, the son of a murdered mobster, and a quintet of copycat killers make up just half the roster of maniacs. There's something in the Miami air, and it's driving people off the rails in droves. You can feel the fever emanating from the screen as you play.

Mechanically it plays almost identically to the original, but there is a greater focus on complex level design for this outing. Spaces are larger, and more labrynthine. In much the same way as the narrative takes a wicked glee from playing with your expectations, so too does the gameplay. The range of playable killers all have their unique advantages and quirks. Some are quicker to aim, some can dodge-roll, others spawn into a level with weapons already on them. One character doesn't start levels with the same bloodthirsty rage the others seem to, and with him you must work the bloodlust up by punching enemies faces to a pulp before you can even use a firearm. This makes his levels tricky as there is generally a greater focus on gunplay in Wrong Number. It's these design decision, along with an expanded variety of enemy types, that keep the slaughter fresh over it's lengthier run time.

It's aesthetically fascinating too. I say fascinating because it's rarely ever very pretty or appealing. It's garish and overbright to match it's drug-fuelled soundtrack. It's hypnotic in the way a gruesome slice of body horror is. Trapsing back through the massacre after the level is done and the music has stopped is just as affecting here as in the original. It feels odd to say, but it's almost like the empty space you sometimes feel after an orgasm. That sudden lull where you're brought back to reality. I don't think this is by mistake. One of the acts is named 'Climax' after all. It's a grimy game through and through, and often left me feeling unpleasant. It's only through morbid fascination with what directions I'd be taken by the disjointed, fevered narrative that I sat for hours at a time hacking and shooting my way through human bodies. This isn't to say that it isn't fun. the thrill of pulling off a flawless set of kills using nothing but the weapons to hand and your split-second decision making is still present, it's just that Wrong Number isn't easy to swallow. It's a series of cruel bloodbaths leading up to an act of unspeakable destruction. It should make you feel conflicted.

Music is as mind-blowingly excellent as in the first game. Here, in the soundtrack, is to be found the one friendly component of Wrong Number. The music is infectious and catchy as hell, easing you through the havoc you wreak, and through the frustration of failure. This is what makes it so arresting when it is cruelly yanked away from you at the conclusion of each spree, and you're left to wade back through the human cost of fun gameplay. Even I feel pretentious writing that, but this is a story about repercussions, and fallout. It seems appropriate that I was consistently unsettled by the slaughter, and it's a testament to Dennaton Games' mastery over tone that I can switch from gleefully eviscerating hordes of pixellated mobsters in one moment, to trudging through the broken remains of fathers, sons and friends the next.

Hotline Miami 2 is an ambitious game. I'd say it runs the risk of alienating it's audience with it's sudden tonal shifts and it's shattered narrative structure, but I think that's sort of the point. It's an experience if nothing else, with one of the most straight up fucking insane 'on drugs' sequences you'll ever see in a game, and a truly bold ending. I had a blast with this one, even if it did make leave me a little disturbed. That's fine though, not every story is supposed to make you feel nice.

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11:06 AM on 03.09.2015

Tormentum - Dark Sorrow: Review

The strength of many adventure games lies in building familiarity with a densely packed game-world, and getting a sense of how that world works by touching and tinkering your way across it. The world of Tormentum is particularly, even uniquely, well suited for this, because it's a place that is begging to be poked, prodded, and messed with. It's boney, fleshy, wet, and there's a compulsion to reach out and stroke it. Having no memories other than the faint image of a female statue, you awaken suspended in a cage above a comet-blasted wasteland in an airship. A rat the size of a man is in a cage across from you, and both of you are headed to an alien castle whose walls seem to be made of cartilage and flesh. I could go on narrating the opening but I won't because for crying out fucking loud just look at it. 

Deposited in your cell by a very metal looking fellow in a horned helmet, you're now free to get stuck into this mutated hellscape. I was a little put off at first by how your character doesn't actually move as you interact with the environment; they just stand there hooded and solemn. I missed the animations initially, but soon found that their omission  streamlined gameplay very nicely. I can't say I blame OhNoo Studio for not fully animating the game as every pristinely painted object in it must be an absolute nightmare (har) to bring to life. The world isn't static however, and it's commendable how much motion there is. Full body motion from characters would have been amazing but the game doesn't by any means suffer for their absence. A lot of people are pointing to H. R. Giger's work with reference to Tormentum and...

Yep.

Mhmmm.

Puzzles are pretty standard and often quite simple. It's very much the art style that carries this one, which isn't to say the obstacles are boring or unengaging. Look, put it this way, there was a few moments throughout that I was hit by the realisation that I was solving a sliding block puzzle, but the presentation is so slick, and I do mean slick as in moist aswell, that I didn't care. From obtaining mutant spider venom to poison a worm-beast, to returning a soul to it's skeleton using necromantic machinery, everything is so deliciously morbid. I even giggled at the cursor turning into a boney little hand when you browse over an interactable object.

Tormentum is pretty light on narrative, presented in tasters through letters and dialogue. This is probably for the best as what writing there is seems a little functional in comparison to the visuals, with none of the alienating weirdness present in the environments. The mystery is intriguing though, and I found it difficult to stop playing as I kept wanting solve one more puzzle in case I was given another snippet about what the hell is supposed to be going on. Whilst characters aren't amazingly written they look as fantastic as the world does. Humanoid insect guards, grey birds that look like elongated babies, and all manner of screaming, crawling horrors are to be found in the gloomy world of Tormentum.

The soundtrack is uncharacteristically subtle and it works in Tormentum's favour. There's everything from soft, spooky synths, to ominous plainsong. Tying it all together is clear fascination with all sounds gothic, and I love it. The sound effects are a joy as well, just as icky as the visuals, though there is no voice acting. As voice acting can be a big hit or miss for indie game budgets, I'm not too disappointed.

I've experienced a few crashes, but nothing too disastrous because as far as I can tell everything you do is saved. I never even lost one screens worth of progress, always being dropped back into the world exactly where I was. Apart from that the game runs very smoothly, which is to be expected. The crashes I had were all involved with bringing up the Steam overlay so if you do buy Tormentum watch out for responding to friends messages, although I'd probably recommend playing offline for maximum immersion. This game demands your full attention.

If you're into metal album covers I imagine Torumentum will rub you up in it's grim way. Seething, biomechanical landscapes and tortured eldritch beings are super cool in my book, and it's even got binary moral choices that aren't absolutely awful! Some will find it a little easy, and the some of the more eye-rolling puzzles would grate in a game that doesn't look as unique as this. Fortunately, it is as unique as this, so hop on the horror-train to torture city with me.

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