An update and a bit of a different review: Poor Pandemic Studios

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Post-writing edit: This came out to be a really long one. But damn, do I ever love Pandemic.

Hello again all! It’s been quite some time, both TD and I have been quite busy over the past couple of months, but hopefully we’ll start picking this up again now. Since around the start of March, I’ve had some major computer issues and also moved to a new home in a different part of the country, so I’ve been unable to both play games and get onto the internet for some time now. But, that said, a new motherboard, graphics card, removal of a RAM stick, finally getting the internet up, and I’m good to go again!

But, I’ve come back with something slightly different to talk about, until I’m able to hop back onto some new computer games I think you’d all like to hear about.

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Who doesn’t remember this being the intro screen to Mercenaries?

So, I got a chance to play some console games given my lack of internet and poorly performing PC. I’ve not been a console gamer for years but, now and then, there are games you have on console that either aren’t available for PC or you just feel would be better on a console. In my case, it was a bit of both. But, that said, I got a chance to play through and finish a few games I’ve had for years but never completed: Way of the Samurai, Metal Gear Rising and The Saboteur. Heck, I even went back and had a play on Red Dead Redemption and Star Wars: Battlefront II.

A very keen gamer might notice something about two of those games; they’re by Pandemic Studios. The Saboteur, a game I’ve been playing bit by bit for five years, and Star Wars: Battlefront (both I and II), potentially one of the greatest game series to date. They are games that keep pulling you back. And when I noticed this, I decided to investigate, what exactly have Pandemic done?

In order of release, and ones I consider of note, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (perhaps not as popular as it could have been, the multiplayer was fantastically fun and could be considered MOBA style), Full Spectrum Warrior, Star Wars: Battlefront I, then II (just one year later!), Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Destroy All Humans!, Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers, Destroy All Humans! 2 (just one year after the last one, again!), Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, Lord of the Rings: Conquest, and finally, The Saboteur. There are exactly four games on that list, the very first four they made, that I consider to not be noteworthy, but there are some other interesting things to note. Star Wars: BF II, Mercenaries: PoD, and Destroy All Humans! were all released in the same year. All very, very notable games.

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This is still a fun game to play to this very day. It looks dated, but is just as fun as ever. But… Why?

All these games are truly great in some way, and all are truly innovative. To this day, I still find it amazing that they could have such a wide array of different ideas in Battlefront. You had your standard infantry, but then you had actual star fighters in ground battles (in BF I, anyway), huge space battles, and droidekas that genuinely rolled up and deployed! And Destroy All Humans! might not have been the most mature game, but it was truly unique, I don’t think anyone else has come close to making a game where you fly a saucer, can literally destroy a city, abduct cattle, and probe humans. Mercenaries was a revolution due to the huge level of destructability of the environment, unheard of in a game at the time. I can’t speak for Full Spectrum Warrior, since I never played (but heard a lot about) those games, and we’ll come on to the other notable games shortly.

But from the ones I’ve noted above, a few things stand out. Firstly, they are all truly innovative. There are mechanics in each game that drove both the industry, and technical limitations. The strange thing about Pandemic is, their games have always felt they’ve been made under a tight budget, yet still come out great. Battlefront was never the prettiest of games, but it sure was engaging and they thought of everything, from the speed and precision of AT-ATs walking, to the droidekas, through to individual hero units. Mercenaries lead the way for destructable envrionments and sandbox gameplay. Destroy All Humans! was… Well… Quirky, that’s for sure. But undeniably, unique, to this very day. I can’t think of any game like it.

But there’s one other feature I’ve skimmed over. I want to go back and play all of them. They still feel appealing right now. Why?

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You could fly your saucer around, abduct people, then park up and wander round the streets using a disintegration ray. It really was something special.

If I’m blunt, I don’t know. They have a recurring appeal. Star Wars: Battlefront is slightly different, in that it has that first person shooter skirmish aspect, so every game is a different game. But Mercenaries? Destroy All Humans? The Saboteur? Why are they so appealing, when they’re purely story driven, single player games?

I’ll use my experience with The Saboteur as an example. About five or six years ago, I traded one of my PS3 games (might have been Mercenaries 2, actually!) with my friend for The Saboteur. It seemed great. Running around Paris fighting the Nazis, blowing things up and generally getting involved in the free roaming experience it was.

But I quickly got bored. After a few story missions and blowing up a few of the freeplay objectives (which are literally just scattered around Paris and require you to blow them up with dynamite), I got bored and stopped playing. A few months (or years) later, I’d pick it up again, do a few more missions, blow up a few more freeplay points, then stop. Finally, last week, I completed the stories, had blown up around 50% of the freeplay objectives, and have roughly called it quits now. So, why did I keep going back?

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It also had a cool style feature; fighting for the Paris resistance, every area you liberated became colourful, whilst areas still under Nazi control were greyscale, with only the red of nazis and explosions coming up in colour.

The story was lacklustre at best. You are an Irish race car driver in Paris trying to get revenge for your friend who a competitive Nazi driver killed. Or something. It’s been a long time, I don’t really remember the story. But the gameplay was engaging and felt different, if a bit repetitive. Blow things up and shoot Nazis in different situations, that’s about it. The whole thing had an arcadey feel, and you were left with relatively open paths in missions; you could be sneaky and use silenced weapons and distraction explosions, or you could go in guns blazing. It felt very arcadey.

That’s not really got us anywhere. OK, so why do I love Mercenaries? Again, the story was relatively poor an uninteresting, for both games. But it was chock full of free play things to destroy and do, with fun ways to do it; you could call in air strikes, vehicles, back up, loads of crazy things. The end mission of the second game sees you using a nuclear bunker buster. It’s exciting. But, repetitive. At the end of the day, a huge chunk of the game is similar free play objectives in different parts of the world. Yet it’s still fun, because that means you have to go about them all in different ways. There was an aspect of resource management, too; you could use that carpet bomb, but could you save it for later for a better use? This was both a blessing and a curse to gameplay, where the destruction aspect was one of the best parts, but you were limited as to when you got to use the best ones. The point is, you can run around in Mercenaries and accomplish nothing towards the story, but still have tonnes of destructive fun.

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Mercenaries: Need to sweep and clear a palace interior? No problem, bring in the tank!

So what really was it? What really made these games so fun after so long, despite the clunky graphics and the feeling of a relatively low production cost?

Well… They were simply fun. None of them took themselves seriously, there was a focus on raw, arcadey fun. You want that person’s tank in Mercenaries? Open the hatch, drop a grenade in, drive and shoot around happily. You don’t like the Nazis on Notre Dame? You’re The Saboteur, go kill one, steal his outfit, then sneak round the place dynamiting all their installations. You don’t think anyone wearing a white T-shirt should live? Adbuct them, disintegrate them, Destroy All Humans!! Even in Battlefront (and Lord of the Rings: Conquest), the overall game is the same but the actual combat is fun and just arcadey enough to be something you never get annoyed over, with a wide range of different things available for you; if I’m playing republic, I love playing as the jetpack trooper, but sometimes I’ll play as regular infantry, or a sniper. If I’m CIS, the droideka is a hell of a lot of fun, the magna guard has some awesome weaponry, and the super battle droid is just stupidly fun. Even LotR: Conquest had various classes and gigantic olifants to deal with!

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Not my favourite game, but I never owned it. Like Battlefront, this was a hell of a lot of fun with friends.

Maybe it’s just me, but you don’t get this much any more. Games are relatively serious, meant to be played to be the best. Perhaps it’s just the games I frequently play: Counter strike, Men of War, Red Orchestra 2… They’re not arcadey, they’re intense. The msot recent review we’ve posted regarding Magicka is an example of a game like what we’d expect from Pandemic: Insane fun, with little care to the actual story, that you can keep going back to for the raw experience of the gameplay itself. There are very few games that come close to that level of raw fun nowadays. Hell, the next most recent review that even comes close is King Arthur’s Gold, and that still feels like a relatively serious game! It’s not something you can just have pure, raw fun at. It’s not carefree run and gun, blow things up. It doesn’t make it a bad game, it just makes it less replayable, even for a game where multiplayer is all it really has.

Alas, Pandemic Studios are no more, so it is unlikely we’ll see such gloriously crafted games as frequently. Few games nowadays value gameplay so much over the initial appearance, with a keen eye to buck the trend. Pandemic knew graphics weren’t everything, and a storyline could only go so far for a replayable game. In 2007, they were bought out by EA, created Mercenaries 2, LotR: Conquest, and The Saboteur under their guidance (probably why they weren’t ever as highly received as their earlier endeavours), and disbanded in 2009, leaving unfinished projects Mercenaries 3, The Dark Knight and The Next Big Thing (genuine title) abandoned.

A quote from IGN on Pandemic states “where Pandemic once had made a pledge to release only polished products, Mercenaries 2 was rough and uneven.” And it’s true, Pandemic’s games may not have looked flashy but everything worked beautifully, and it was under EA’s guidance that Merc’s 2 struggled. The same was felt with LotR: Conquest, and the game was basically ignored. It’s a shame, then, that The Saboteur was the light flickering through the jarred door as it swung close, a light that was truly amazing at times but had clear moments when it wasn’t quite reaching it’s potential. And behind that closed door, the lights for what could have been three more amazing games remained off. Now dusty and abandoned, I wonder if people will still remember Pandemic in years to come?

Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

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An update and a bit of a different review: Poor Pandemic Studios

An Interview With Team Reptile, Creators of Lethal League, PLUS, A CHANCE TO WIN YOURSELF A COPY!

Vivid colours and a distinctive art style are immediate hallmarks of Lethal League
Back to make your day just that bit more insane!

A little while back I wrote an article regarding Lethal League, an awesome fighting game that went on a date with pong. Well, we loved the game so much we got in touch with Team Reptile to see if they’d give us some answers to a few questions we ended up asking.

Kindly, Dion Koster, the Game Director behind this crazy experience, got back to us to provide some insight!

First off: Where did the idea for Lethal League come from?
We had the idea from our last game, Megabyte Punch, which in turn was inspired by Super Smash Bros. In Megabyte Punch we kept shooting missiles at each other and then reflecting them back and forth. We thought this was fun enough for a separate game. I then made a prototype with some new a ideas added and it turned out pretty well.

A pong-gone-street-fighter game might not seem like a great idea on paper. What was the thought process to figuring out how the mechanics would work?
It’s an evolution really. You get an idea, you make it, if it’s fun it sticks. A game changing mechanic, like the increasing speed and hit-pause usually comes with multiple new issues to solve. So it’s also problem solving. Sometimes a problem is something that’s missing, instead of something glaring in your face. Solving those is more akin to creation than fixing. The ‘bunt’ solution was one such things, where there was contrast missing to all the high speed action. You could use it to slow the ball down and set it up for a better strike and it stuck because it turned out to be fun.

Bunt!
When you play, you’ll understand what awesome contrast the bunt gives the rest of the game

We absolutely love the colourful art style you guys went for, it complements the hectic fun and really makes Lethal League stand out. Did you consider any alternate art styles? What was your inspiration?
Thank you very much. We didn’t really consider other art styles for Lethal League to be honest. It was a very natural process. My inspirations are from street culture, hiphop and games like Jet Set Radio.

And what’s behind the character design? Mechanically enhanced crocodile? A skateboarding ex-working class robot?
I wanted to have fresh and individual characters, but from the same world and all within the street-theme. The Lethal League world is set in the near future where applied robotics is only just emerging. Every character’s concept can be traced back to many inspirations. For example, Candyman takes from Pacman, Deadmau5, tap-dancers and the puppets from Black Dynamite. Aside from making the characters look dope, I pay special attention to stay away from ‘cheap’ elements. Things like fad accessories or in-your-face pop culture references can bring a game’s value down in my eyes, especially long term.

We really can’t ignore the music, some of the best music we’ve ever encountered in a fighting game. How did you go about finding the artists behind the tracks? Have you ever thought about releasing a standalone Lethal League soundtrack?
Pretty early on in development we decided that we wanted to feature multiple artists in the game to have some fresh variations. 50% of the tracks are from artists we already knew from earlier projects or we knew from elsewhere. FlatAttack and RE by ZeroScar are from the guy who also composed the Megabyte Punch OST. We know Klaus Veen (Ordinary Days) for years already as a close friend. We found artists like Grillo, Bignic & Ishanna by listening to a lot of different playlists. If we heard something that would fit Lethal League we contacted the artists to see if we could work together. We definitely thought about releasing a standalone LL soundtrack but we thought it’s better to support the individual artist through their own pages/bandcamps/soundsclouds.(Note from Static: Honestly, check out the artists featured in this game. They are some truly creative minds worth supporting.).

Dice's special arcs the ball, rather than sending it in a straight line, which can totally throw off an opponent.
You can see the artist being played on the boombox. Convenient and a cool feature!

Have you got any tips for the players in general? Any tactics they might not have utilised?
Well, you probably noticed that timing is key in the game. However you can ‘cheat’ by checking out the boombox. The little volume sliders fills up during the hitlag of a player. The moment that meter is full is the same moment the ball releases from the player. A pro-tip which is not explained in the game itself is the parry. The parry is very useful when other players are trying to hijack your ball directly after you hit it. While you’re in the hitlag you can press B (the bunt button) to use your meter to parry and slightly stun incoming opponents.

The most recent addition to the League is Dice, but do you have any plans to release more characters? Or even any more arenas, or game modes?
We don’t have more content planned right now, but there is stuff in the works. That’s all I can say really.

And finally: My personal favourite is Switch, I can’t help but constantly ride the ceiling to drop for a down smash, but who is your go-to character?
I can’t choose a favorite, but lately I’ve been picking Raptor a lot. Mostly because I like his movement and jump speeds.

I'll stick with my amazing skateboarding robot.
I’ll stick with my amazing skateboarding robot.

Additionally, Team Reptile were kind enough to provide us with one more gift to you: A free copy of Lethal League to give away! So now is your chance to win yourself a totally free copy, courtesy of a fantastic game developer!

All you have to do is comment on this article with a link to your Steam profile, and join the Spirit of the Robot Steam group, which will let us keep you up to date when all our new articles are released! The point of this system is to stop people gaming the giveaway, keeping it fair for everyone.

The winner will be drawn on the 22nd of March and will receive a copy of Lethal League.

Make sure to tell your friends and we hope you enjoy reading all our articles! Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

An Interview With Team Reptile, Creators of Lethal League, PLUS, A CHANCE TO WIN YOURSELF A COPY!

Nosgoth – Vampires versus humans? That could be pretty awesome.

Competitive gaming style title screen. Says a lot immediately.
Competitive gaming style title screen. Says a lot immediately.

I should really give credit to TD for this one. He found it, we played it, and I decided to review it. This was probably a wise idea on his half, since it’s taken me a long time to get round to a point where I feel I can take the plunge and actually give an opinion on this game.

So, Nosgoth pits vampires against humans in sets of two, five man teams going head to head in shooter style combat. Only, both sides seem to be taking part in an alternative Victorian steampunk style world. Humans are armed with crossbows, guns, are various types of launchers, whilst vampires are armed with the gifts the bad lord gave them, including climbing walls, spewing goo, and mauling you to death.

Despite being bow-based, the action is still very fast paced.
Despite being bow-based, the action is still very fast paced, with your typical life being very short.

Vampires might be a strong word to use here. Recently, we’ve had so many different types. The traditional Dracula style, blood sucking, cape wearing, castle residing person is not present in this game. Nor is Twilight’s poncy self-hating angsty teenager vampire. Not even Underworld’s alternate Gothic, leather spangled vampires make an appearance. In fact, what we end up with is positively not what I would consider a vampire to be in any light.

Rather, Square Enix went down the path of creating a few beasts, not seeming to find a better name for them and using “vampire”, since they can regenerate health by feasting upon corpses. But honestly, there is nothing here I’d consider a “classic” vampire. You have guys that leap for miles, engaging hit and run tactics. You have big muscle men that can charge through and act as your tank. You even get deadly, lightning fast winged beasts which can swoop down and pick up a lone human to drop him from a great height. These are not what I consider vampires, but alas, Nosgoth does.

Some pointy teeth and a lovely flowing cape would suit you nicely, sir.
Some pointy teeth and a lovely flowing cape would suit you nicely, sir.

But let’s take a step back and assess the gameplay. Rounds consist of one team of five humans going head to head against one team of five vampires in a straightforward team deathmatch; that is to say, their only goal is to kill each other. At the end of the round, they swap sides and the humans become vampires and vice versa. At the end, the kill count is tallied up and the side with the higher overall score wins. Good system, easy enough.

I have to admit immediately that gamemodes are a bit thin on the ground at the moment. It does feel like it lacks variety, and I sure wouldn’t mind seeing a Capture the Flag, or King of the Hill. But this is probably all round due to one incredible factor about this game. It is balanced.

Trust me, a balanced game with asymmetric sides is rare.
Trust me, a balanced game with asymmetric sides is rare.

Nosgoth has to compete with itself to maintain a balance. Humans are stuck on the ground, with frequently defensive abilities. They heal by using designated healing points, which can only be used once in a while, forcing them to rotate round the map to stay alive. Meanwhile, vampires regain health by eating corpses, forcing them to be aggressive. Their abilities lie in devastation and disorientation, and have access to almost everywhere on the map. Can you imagine the difficulty in balancing a team that could choose to entirely consist of people who swoop from above to drop you from the heavens against a load of guys armed with crossbows and gunpowder pistols?

That said, Nosgoth does a fantastic job. Whilst playing, TD and I couldn’t really decide who had the upper hand overall, though we did think it was vampires by a very, very fine line. However, this was less for the individual units than the fact that it’s easier for an individual vampire to do more damage than for an individual human. Meanwhile, humans do require a lot more teamwork. With that in mind, we often found that we lost when playing with a team that refused to stick together, and won with a team that stayed focused as humans, and attacked all at once as vampires.

This old brute prepares to feast on a corpse. Nice.
This old brute prepares to feast on a corpse. Nice.

The balance is definitely a huge help, but the main draw to this game will be how active it is. These are not slow games, and I’m tempted to liken them to Smite in terms of activity. Whilst you have a powerful base attack, the true gameplay is revealed in each unit’s customizable abilities: Placing lines of fire, spewing poison, spawning minions, disabling and snaring units. Given that each individual person has a set of skills to help their team, it’s as much about having the right units to respond to the current enemy team as it is about using them at the right time. My favourite vampire unit had a great ability to reduce incoming damage by 80%, but the flipside is he couldn’t attack during that time and it had a half minute cooldown. So, I purely used it to run away without dying. This worked for my team as, before that, I’d charge in and begin the assault, taking most of the damage in that time.

So I expect we’ll see Nosgoth becoming a competitive game in the future. The opportunities for teams to develop tactics and train up, learning the intricacies of why that 0.4 second increase on that particular ability makes it no longer worthwhile, is too damn high. That said, for now, the random public matchmaking works well for finding a game, and there is a party system so you can play with your friends. Which, honestly, you’re going to want to do because matchmaking can put you with anybody of any skill (though, they do counter this by allowing low levels to purely match make within low levels).

The human healing and resupply point.
The human healing and resupply point.

There is one more gameplay fact to mention. This is a freemium game and it’s going for a League of Legends model. That means, there is an entire meta-game to help boost your ingame play (or improve your character appearance). You can buy new abilities, classes, skins, and boosters to help you progress. As a result, you can expect some people to be better than you, because they’ll be able to get the best of these items. In some respects, it’s a shame, since it unbalances a very balanced game. Of course nobody is going to take the 5% speed increase when there’s a 10% damage buff on offer, but if that 5% speed increase is free an 10% damage buff costs you $4.99, you might decide to stay free. But that’s always a risk with this marketing model. That said, and in Nosgoth’s defence, they do give out a daily taster on a random ability item each day, and I just made up those two items above. So, maybe they are more balanced. But my point still stands, there will always be some items more tasty than others.

The armory is where the meta-game mostly goes down.
The armory is where the meta-game mostly goes down.

All in all, for a freemium game, Nosgoth is damn fun. It’s been produced to a very high quality, which was surprising at first but explained by the fact that the team behind it are Square Enix. The graphics and sounds are excellent, especially given the freemium status, and the gameplay feels balanced and enjoyable. That said, at it’s current stage, I do feel like it has work to be done in getting more variety into the game. However, we are looking at Early Access and, so, there are many things that may yet change. It’s definitely worth a try but, unless you’re a fan of the growing area of ability-based gaming, you probably won’t stick on it.

And I still think “vampires” is a big stretch of that word.

Nosgoth is developed by Square Enix. You can find it on Steam for freemium. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Nosgoth – Vampires versus humans? That could be pretty awesome.

Stranded Deep – Survival games now fall under the law of Darwinian evolution

Eerie.
Eerie.

I’ve been putting off writing this review for about a week because I just don’t know where to begin. It’s not like it’s a large game in any way; in fact, it’s only just gone into alpha, but has already received considerable attention for its quality and potential.

So what is this game? Well, it’s a survival game. Another one, you say? Yes, another one. Like all survival games, it has its “catch”. Just as DayZ has zombies, and The Forest has natives, Stranded Deep has… Islands. Yep, just islands. No immediate threat from some savage beast, you’re generally safe, and your biggest threat is the elements.

This is your spawn, after the tutorial. In a life raft with a paddle, and your watch.
This is your spawn, after the tutorial. In a life raft with a paddle, and your watch.

The goal is the same as any other game of this genre: Survive. From my experience so far in this game, it’s not been too hard. After getting on an island, its a trivial matter of making some crude tools, a fire, killing some crabs, collecting some coconuts (for their juicy, juicy milk) and sitting around until there’s nothing left to eat or drink. Then you paddle over to the next island and repeat until you get bored.

But that’s really playing the game at the basic stage it’s at, and I can only assume that a significantly large amount more content will be added. There is plenty more to do, even now. You can build rafts, simple houses, fire pits (which are permanent features, useful for signifying places you’ve already been), beds, and hunting spears (useful for fishing and hunting sharks).

Cutting down trees is an enjoyable experience. You cut the base and you can watch them tumble over. You can then cut them up into logs and sticks to build with.
Cutting down trees is an enjoyable experience. You cut the base and watch them tumble over. You can then cut them up into logs and sticks to build with.

Oh, did I forget to mention the sharks? Well, this is a game technically about hopping between scarcely resourced islands to survive, so putting something inbetween to make that slightly more difficult makes sense. At this stage of the game, they don’t do much at all (I’m not even certain if they can attack you), but you can hunt them for meat and it’s every so slightly scary to see one when you’re half way to another island circling your little rubber raft.

However, there’s also fish in the sea. And you can hunt them to eat them. To be honest, you’d have to be a fool to die of starvation in this game, since these seas and islands are chock full of tasty creatures to eat. It reduces the challenge, definitely, but this game is very early alpha and we could see a huge change in the future, potentially making the creatures less numerous, or spawn less often.

Your watch, aside from displaying the time, temperature, and days survived, can also show your health, hunger, and thirst.
Your watch, aside from displaying the time, temperature, and days survived, can also show your health, hunger, and thirst. The state of your arm also indicate any status effects. For instance, a bleeding wound will require a bandage.

Crafting in this game is unique, as far as I can tell. Unlike other games, where it generally involves using a recipe and crafting in your inventory, Stranded Deep requires you to drop all the items into a pile on the floor. This will then present a menu which will display all the things you can make with what is currently in the pile.

There are things I like and dislike about this system. On one hand, it makes crafting a lot easier and give you a slightly more realistic inventory. No longer does the game need to give you the ability to carry fifty tonnes of material to craft, so your inventory space is more realistic (note, more, not perfectly realistic). However, it does mean that things you might not have expected to work together might present you the ability to build, much to your surprise. For people who hate discovering crafting recipes, this is slightly helpful (though you have the internet anyway), and it makes crafting a lot faster. However, it’s a wonder that any person could one day throw a pile of items down and suddenly think “You know what? I could make a sword out of this.”

I truly have a love-hate relationship with this crafting system, but it's slightly more love.
I truly have a love-hate relationship with this crafting system, but it’s slightly more love.

I’m very glad it’s done away with the minecraft way of making things, or simple combination recipes. I just don’t know if it is quite perfect, yet.

There is one other major feature to Stranded Deep I haven’t yet mentioned which, to me, is a defining feature. Exploring ship wrecks.

All around the shores and seas of stranded deep are ship wrecks. One can only assume that this area is effectively the Bermuda Triangle. There tends to be at least one ship wreck per island, with more in places and at sea. Then it’s a matter of getting into the wreck. For ones on shore, this might be as easy as walking over to it and finding a chest to open. For deep ocean ones, you’ll be diving down amongst the sharks, rifling through cupboards, grabbing what you can and returning to the surface to gasp for air.

I found a bottle of water. I really hope that seal is tight...
I found a bottle of water. I really hope that seal is tight…

Ship wrecks contain items you simply cannot craft. Lighters, good quality tools, torches, lanterns, bandages, buckets (for collecting rain), even motor parts so you can craft a powered raft to traverse the seas more quickly. As a result, you’ll spend a good amount of time exploring these wrecks.

My only problem with this at the moment, and I’m sure it’s something that will be fixed, is the game gives you no indication of how direly you need to breath. You can be thinking “just a few more seconds, just a few more seconds” and then find your character blacks out to “You have died”. Disappointing, but again, this is an alpha game.

Now, let’s just touch on one thing that really annoys me.

You spot an island out of the corner of your eye. “Wow, that isn’t too far! Let’s head that way.” As you slowly turn your head, the island gets further, and further, and further away. And suddenly you realise, for whatever reason, you have binoculars on the side of your head.

Irritating. Not least since it takes a long time to paddle between these islands. It actually makes exploring kind of boring, because you’re just sat there holding left mouse wishing you could accelerate time.

But for all this bad side, there are some incredible cool features. As I’ve said, cutting down trees feels fantastic and immersive. But another feature, which took me a long time to figure out, was dynamic water levels.

I picked up a bucket in a ship wreck. Obviously, it was full of sea water. I couldn’t figure out how to empty the sea water without drinking it. So eventually, I just put it on the ground. After dropping it, there was a splashing animation surrounding the bucket, and I just thought it was an effect to symbolise how it was full of water. However, in picking up the bucket and trying to rotate it, I noticed that if the bucket stood up, it didn’t make the animation. And I then noticed, there was actually a liquid in the bucket model. Holy shit, that wasn’t a buggy animation, the water was actually pouring out of the bucket! I played around with this, and realised I could actually watch the water level in the bucket go down. Sure, the water itself isn’t dynamic, but the fact you can see a water level in the bucket itself that rises and falls blew me away! I can’t express how amazing it is that they actually created a dynamic model that displays how much liquid is in the bucket, that reacts to it’s position. It’s something I’ve never seen in a game before.

My camp is small and simple, but it sure is cosy.
My camp is small and simple, but it sure is cosy.

All in all, Stranded Deep is looking to be a survival game that stands out. Nowadays, with the huge host of survival games about, they all need something to stand out, and Stranded Deep manages it by presenting that necessity to explore in a beautiful, procedurally generated environment. I have high hopes for this game in the future and can only sit here eagerly anticipating future updates. It isn’t too expensive to buy right now, but I’d personally wait until a little more content is added before splashing cash on this.

Stranded Deep is developed by Beam Team Games and is in Early Access. You can find it on Steam for £10.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Stranded Deep – Survival games now fall under the law of Darwinian evolution

Besiege

Besiege is a physics based building game in which you construct medieval siege engines and lay waste to immense fortresses and peaceful hamlets. Build a machine which can crush windmills, wipe out battalions of brave soldiers and transport valuable resources, defending your creation against cannons, archers and whatever else the desperate enemies have at their disposal. Create a trundling behemoth, or take clumsily to the skies, and cause carnage in fully destructible environments. Ultimately, you must conquer every Kingdom by crippling their castles and killing their men and livestock, in as creative or clinical a manner as possible.
Besiege is a physics based building game in which you construct medieval siege engines and lay waste to immense fortresses and peaceful hamlets. Build a machine which can crush windmills, wipe out battalions of brave soldiers and transport valuable resources, defending your creation against cannons, archers and whatever else the desperate enemies have at their disposal. Create a trundling behemoth, or take clumsily to the skies, and cause carnage in fully destructible environments. Ultimately, you must conquer every Kingdom by crippling their castles and killing their men and livestock, in as creative or clinical a manner as possible.

Besiege is a 3-D Medieval construction game developed by Spiderling Studios, and my god is it simply amazing. The aim of the game is that you are presented with a castle to destroy, men to kill or resources to grab. The best part? You can design your very own war machine to do it. So whatever you think might be able to blow up a castle and murder knights in a glorious jam explosion, you can build. The graphics are simply stunning in a minimalist way, the textures for all the construction pieces are beautiful and detailed. Its so hard to believe this is VERSION 0.01 of an Alpha.

This is the only world at the time of writing. I should point out, the menus are gorgeous.
This is the only world at the time of writing, but the levels are entertaining and there is a sandbox mode to mess around with. I should point out, the menus are gorgeous.

When you first load up Besiege, you’ll be greeted with a simple menu screen, as presented in the first screenshot, and you’ll jump into Ipsilon, the only world at the time of writing. You’ll then be thrown into the game with very little instruction on how to build, the game quickly adopts the “Here are the tools, do it your way” of playing. And within height restrictions, you can! The building mechanic is simple and effective to use, parts snap on to each other and can be deleted and flipped to your hearts content. There is only wood as the base of your projects at this time of writing, but it serves as a general starting point. Then, you’ll look at the tabs in the bottom right and notice, that along with your “Basic” blocks, you get other ones. Powered block are mechanical gizmos, such as spinning blocks and decouplers, Weapons are (Unsurprisingly) an arsenal of medieval weapons to destroy both castle and knight alike. The weapons go from spike balls to cannons and combining them onto your machine with the use of the Powered Blocks offers endless amounts of fun. There are also Flight Blocks, such as propellers and wings, which CAN make your abomination of a ballista fly if you’re some kind of engineering god, which Static is not; given his first ballista was an abomination of wood and string.

The builder is simple to access and get around, easily laid out and suited to building a massive war machine.
The builder is simple to access and get around, easily laid out and suited to building a massive war machine.

So with your attempt at a trebuchet built, you’ll start the mission and probably break it as soon as you move forward. At least, thats what I did, but I was so smitten by getting a working siege engine working that I worked for a whole 2 HOURS to get my ballista up to scratch and workable, and my god the feeling of accomplishment I got made my little face smile as I launched a bomb towards an enemy castle. Its the old “Easy to learn, hard to master” situation. Sure I could have simply made a wrecking ball, destroy my engine but still win the level, but I wanted that sense that this machine that just crushed 3 archers with a swinging spiked ball was all mine. The enemies, of which there are Knights, Archers, Cannons and a weird Monolith thing that fires lazers at you, all present their own problems; Archers will pelt your exposed wooden areas with arrows, eventually breaking them off, Cannons will pelt them with cannonballs that will tear right through the wood and the Knights will… Well they’ll just charge at you and die really, they’re the only useless thing about in this game. If by some chance you manage to set yourself on fire, the particle effects of your machine crumbling are bitter sweet; A joy to look at, a pain to have to tweak the design. I’ve stated before that I can’t believe this is an Early Alpha, and I really can’t. The gameplay is very solid at this stage, albeit sometimes programmed keys to extend pistons might forget themselves, your machine might collapse inwards when spinning too much but this is the level of complaints I have; they’re too minimal to even pick up on.

"Men... I think this might  be the end..."
“Men… I think this might be the end…”

I can’t recommend this game enough. For the price its in and the quality of the Alpha its in, Spiderling Studios have a seriously good future ahead of themselves. The things missing, such as more construction components, more levels a scenario editor and possibly even community levels (Kinda like what Little Big Planet does) will all come in time. So, whilst I wait, I’m going to build a 50ft siege tower with cannons on every row.

It was a massacre. A jam filled, sword swinging, bomb launching massacre.
It was a massacre. A jam filled, sword swinging, bomb launching massacre.

Besiege is developed by Spiderling Studios. You can find it on Steam for £4.99. Seriously: £4.99 for a medieval Kerbal Space Program. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by TD.

Besiege

Lethal League – The love child of Pong and Street Fighter

With a host of characters like that, you know this is going to be some crazy fun.

When I come to write a review, I generally hope to have logged a few hours on the game. This allows me to get an understanding of the story, a better feel for the gameplay, and generally write a more informed article than I would be able to on a “first impressions” basis. Having played the game, I then tend to sleep on it and write the article the next day, letting my overall feelings for the game sink in.

I have not done this for Lethal League. I purchased this game perhaps three hours ago, and have logged over an hour of play on it already, well and truly thrashing TD in some head-to-head matches. Whilst, yes, he did win a few, one thing rang true through every match: It was seriously fun.

Vivid colours and a distinctive art style are immediate hallmarks of Lethal League
Vivid colours and a distinctive art style are immediate hallmarks of Lethal League

Lethal League is unique, as far as I’m aware. It is, at heart, a fighting game that got confused somewhere along the line and wondered what it would be like if it was Pong. There are a set of characters, each with a unique move set, and their sole method of attack is manipulating a ball so that it hits their opponent. Every hit of the ball makes it faster and, thus, harder to avoid or hit back. Each player has a set of lives, one of which is lost each time they are knocked out by the ball. Once your life counter hits zero, you’re out, until only one player (or team) remains.

I can’t express how much fun this game is, and a blog doesn’t do it justice. The absolutely frantic gameplay will have you shouting at the screen. I don’t say that lightly, in my matches with my fellow blogger, we were literally shouting down our microphones at each other. It’s just one of those games that gets you really riled up, but in a good way.

You don't understand how difficult it was to get these screenshots. This game moves quickly!
You don’t understand how difficult it was to get these screenshots. This game moves quickly!

Like other simplistic fighting games (the one springing to mind is Street Fighter), a basic move set is all you get, but it’s your movement, timing, and use of that small ability roster that really makes the gameplay interesting. As such, all the characters have unique movement mechanics to enhance how they play. For instance, Sonata can double jump, allowing her to make sudden changes in direction even mid-air. Switch can ride his skateboard up walls and along the ceiling, completely changing the predictability of where he will strike. Latch can climb walls and strike the ball whilst holding onto them. All these things, though minor by themselves, can be used to great effect when a player gets to grips with the dynamics of the game.

But let’s talk about the characters for a movement, since I feel I’ve been far too nonchalant about them. There’s Raptor, a rookie to the league who brings his trusty metal baseball bat. Fair enough. There’s also Dice, a skilled ping pong player, bringing his deadly hand bat. Okay, I can go with that. There’s also Candyman, a mutant human with a gigantic candy head. Uhmm, okay. What about Switch, a working-class skateboarding robot? No, seriously, that’s his description. Then there’s Sonata, the boombox-hammer wielding girl, and Latch, a mechanically enhanced crocodile.

There's more to the characters than just a crazy biography, though.
There’s more to the characters than just a crazy biography, though.

That’s fun in itself, and I love the additional bit of entertainment it brings to the game; it allows you to bond with each character. But, like any old school fighting game, it also gives each character a special move which it can perform if they simply hit the ball four times. These moves are where the truly tactical side of Lethal League shines through.

In my matches with TD, by far the dirtiest tactic I would use to win was with Candyman. You see, Candyman’s special ability is that he changes the ball so that, rather than bouncing off a wall, it teleports through to the opposite wall of the stage. And so, all I would do is sit in a corner, repeatedly hitting the ball against the wall before all of a sudden popping my special and teleporting it across the other side of the map, behind TD’s back, causing a bucketload of fury over the microphone at me. And it was fun.

Dice's special arcs the ball, rather than sending it in a straight line, which can totally throw off an opponent.
Dice’s special arcs the ball, rather than sending it in a straight line, which can totally throw off an opponent… Not here, though, since he hit it in the wrong direction.

Further, like any old school fighting game, there are little quirks to the game which overcome certain gameplay issues. For instance, a character never instantly hits the ball. Instead, there is “hit lag”, which basically means that upon hitting the ball there is a short span of time where the character is suspended before the ball is actually propelled away. During this time, an enterprising opponent can interrupt the attack by “bunting” it, which will lob it in the air to be hit again.

Additionally, this ball can move really quite fast. As a result, it would be unfortunate if your own strike came back to knock you out. So, when you hit the ball, it will changes to your colour and become harmless to you, remaining that way until it is either hit by another player, or “bunted”, which will temporarily slow it down and neutralise it so that it’s harmless to any player. Whilst this setting can be turned off, leaving it on makes for it’s own challenge by increasing the difficulty of timing.

By far my favourite character, riding on the ceiling is an excellent way to confuse your opponent.
By far my favourite character, riding on the ceiling is an excellent way to confuse your opponent.

Each game is short, lasing perhaps five minutes for the longest of games. Individual rounds in each game rarely last more than twenty seconds, though serious intense matches can last a few seconds more than that. As a result, it’s the ideal game for just picking up and playing on a whim with some friends.

Speaking of which, and once again, Lethal League shines. It is perhaps one of the few PC games to be released in the past few years that you can play with your friends in the same room on a single PC, all at once. How many games can say that now? You can hook up console controllers to have lots of people playing hot seat. Now, if you were to hook up your PC to a big TV and have a four player free-for-all, I’m not saying it would be fun, but… Oh, heck, it would be amazing!

Smash inbound!
Smash inbound!

One more thing to mention: The music in this game is great. Truly iconic. Each stage has its own sound track, and they are all tunes that really reflect the insane nature of the game. If you heard any of the tracks outside of the game, you would instantly know it’s from Lethal League.

All in all, Lethal League is by far one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. It definitely excels when you play with friends, but you can play against the CPU. The unique gameplay mechanics really make it shine, especially given how easy it is for anyone to pick up. This is definitely a Street Fighter, rather than a Tekken, when it comes to move sets, so there’s no learning intricate button combos. The only issue I really had was that my fingers were getting a bit confused in the heat of the moment, and I often found myself tapping jump rather than strike. Whilst I’m certain a console controller would help here, you are able to rebind the keys and, like any game, there is an aspect of simply getting used to the controls.

If you’re looking for a game to mess about on with a few friends, look no further. This is definitely a little known gem that really deserves more attention.

Lethal League is developed by Team Reptile. You can find it on Steam for £9.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Lethal League – The love child of Pong and Street Fighter