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!

King Arthur’s Gold – An example of a massively overlooked title

I only wish this had more players
I only wish this had more players

When I come to reviewing a game, one of the most fiddly part is getting screenshots. Often, I’ll be having a lot of fun and have to really bring myself to press F12 during the heat of the moment, to capture something amazing, when really I’ll want to be stuck in. King Arthur’s Gold took this a step further, and as a result, my collection of screenshots for this is slim.

But unfortunately, when I went on to get more today, I couldn’t. Why? Well, it’s pretty much midday and everyone’s doing working life stuff, but ignoring that, this game is unfortunately rarely populated. At any one time, I estimate there are a maximum of 80 people online worldwide. This is disappointing, as it’s a primarily multiplayer game and fun as hell.

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Defend the sea wall!

This might sound hard to believe, but I actually came up with the idea of King Arthur’s Gold when I was sat in a GCSE English class about seven years ago. I said to my friend, “You know what would be cool? A game where you could build castles and fight over them. A 2D sidescroller, with soldiers and builders, so you could build up big castles or tunnel under them, and have huge battles at the gates.” Only, at the time, I thought it would be a two player game played as a turn based strategy. I never thought about it again for years until I saw this game, and I had to have it. They’d perfected the idea I had privately come up with years ago, only they made it a real time game, and everybody controlled one of the men on the field… Okay so, I had the base concept and nothing else, sue me.

This is a simple, arcade game in every way. The general controls are movement, attacking, picking items up, and blocking (if you’re a knight, anyway). The only slightly more complex parts are building and item construction.

The reds suspect nothing!
The reds suspect nothing!

The game is primarily multiplayer and focuses around three key gamemodes: Capture the Flag, Take The Halls, and Team Deathmatch. I won’t discuss team deathmatch, as it’s nothing more than knights and archers trying to kill each other, but the other two gamemodes have something fantastic: Construction!

At the start of the game, you will start with a basic spawnpoint and either a hall or a flag, gamemode dependent, obviously. In Take The Halls, your objective is to control all the Halls on the map. Think strategic points in other games. In Capture The Flag, you, well, need to capture the flag. Get across the map, grab the other team’s flag and get it back to yours, twice.

However, the initial map really is nothing but what is said above, then open land, water, and maybe some wild animals. You get, at the start of the game, five minutes to build up defences. This means your entire team (should) switch to the builder class, cut down trees, dig up stone, and build a huge fortification, ready for the enemy onslaught.

Defences can be great or, in this case, pretty heavily damaged.
Defences can be great or, in this case, pretty heavily damaged from all the war.

It makes for a really great game. I love the mining and building at the start of the round, preparing new and awesome defences for when the enemy arrive. Special blocks you can place, like trap blocks that only the enemy can pass through, or doors that only your team can pass through, make for interesting designs. Platforms allow one way movement, so they’re often used to make archer platforms where they can fire out but nobody can fire in.

After the construction time is over, gameplay changes slightly. Whilst builders need to maintain the defences, they could also move to the frontline to make an outpost, helping your team hold the ground they’ve advanced to. Or they could start tunneling under the enemy fortifications, so your knights can pop up from behind and slaughter everything.

Meanwhile, knights and archers will be pushing the frontline, trying to break through enemy fortifications, and generally keeping the pressure on. Knights get access to bombs and gunpowder kegs, which can help blasting through enemy defences, using their shield to block arrows, swords, and explosions alike. Meanwhile, archers have access to bomb arrows and fire arrows, which can punch holes in key areas or set entire wooden forts on fire. Additionally, archers get a grapple hook to pull themselves up to high areas, or move quickly. They also get the ability to play dead, and to hide in trees.

Survey the field, my friends. Keep watch for the enemy!
Survey the field, my friends. Keep watch for the enemy!

But quite often, it is the humble builder that sways the tide of battle. Their forward defences can keep the enemy locked in their castle, and they themselves can simply dig through the front doors to enemy castles, or even underneath them!

But when builders don’t work, KAG has one more solution up it’s sleeve. Siege weapons.

Catapults, ballistae, war ships, long boats, all of which have huge destructive ability. Ballistae and war ships act as mobile spawn points, with the ballista able to use huge bolts to shoot down enemy defences, and the war ship with the ability to ram through enemy sea defences alongside a top-mounted heavy bow to shoot enemies. The catapult can fire stone to knock down enemy walls bit by bit, or loaded with boulders or kegs to really do some damage. Heck, you can even load yourself to be flung over the enemy walls completely! Finally, the long boat can move quickly and very quickly bring down large enemy fortifications, simply by ramming into them… Of course, that requires a good few members on your team to all row the boat in the same direction.

And everything I’ve said makes for a hugely active, frantic battlefield. Games can go on for minutes, or over an hour, depending on how well the defenses are maintained and the tactics used. Games sometimes even end in stalemates, quite frequently due to the ground between enemy bases having been turned into nothing more than a gigantic crater due to the amount of explosions and damage. I mean, there’s nothing stopping you trying to make a bridge but there’s nothing necessarily stopping the enemy from using it, or setting it on fire…

And finally, as one last note, KAG has dynamic physics. That means, if a structure isn’t supported, it will fall, and kill anything immediately below it. So if that huge frontline wall is not only stopping your advance, but also protecting the entire enemy army behind it… Well, perhaps you could solve two birds with one stone and plant a gunpowder keg at the bottom, bring the wall crashing down on top of them… And probably you. But the rest of your team can then charge!

All in all, I absolutely love this game. Whilst it can get tiresome quite quickly, especially when a battle reaches a stalemate, the creative aspect and the simple but frantic combat makes for an awesome experience. My only real gripe comes from the fact that not enough people play it. Whilst you can happily hop on any evening and find a game, most people only play Capture The Flag, potentially only filling two servers to 75% of their 24 player capacity. Finding a game of Take The Halls, my personal favourite gamemode, is even harder. If there were more people playing this game, it would be constant, amazing fun. However, the game really has fallen on hard times and you can really only play what is available. The flip side of this is, there’s a very tight knit community, and even a few clans floating around that take part in matches. If you have a few pounds to spare, this is a great game to get and mess around on, even more so if you have a group of people you can play with. Highly recommended.

King Arthur’s Gold is developed by Transhuman. You can find it on Steam for £6.99, or you can get a four-pack for £22.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

King Arthur’s Gold – An example of a massively overlooked title

Omegalodon – Giant Monster Destroying A City? SOLD!

Wake up, sleepy head!
Wake up, sleepy head!

There is a small group of modern games, often made by indie developers, which are created on a specific idea and are particularly innovative. They tend to allow you to easily get into a game with basic mechanics, allowing anyone to play on a whim. RUNNING WITH RIFLES is a good example of this. Omegalodon is another.

The premise is simple. A giant, mutant being has been roused due to the environmental damage caused by a city. A guiding force, in response, wants him to destroy the city by blowing up the nuclear power plant right in the centre. Meanwhile, the citizens aren’t too happy and will be doing everything they can to stop the beast.

Immediately, knowledge of other games will make you think “OK, so you play as a soldier or something and have to stop a big ol’ creature from destroying your city? Fun enough.” You would be mostly correct. In fact, you can also play as Godzill- Uhh, Omegalodon.

CRUSH ALL THE THINGS!
CRUSH ALL THE THINGS!

Let me give you a better insight to the game. Someone gets to play as the monster, rampaging through the city to find and destroy the nuclear plant, whilst other players either try to help or hinder its progress. The aggressive groups are police and soldiers, both armed to combat Omegalodon, whilst the friendly group is the Enviros, a group of healing-gun wielding hippies who do their beast to help the creature.

Playing as a soldier or policeman is identical for the most part, as you’ll spend most of your time as either of these classes jumping into vehicles, which perform the same regardless of class, trying to kill the gigantic invader. The vehicles range from simple, unarmed civilian cars, through tanks and humvees with lasers, to military jets and helicopters armed with bombs and missiles. So, playing as one of these two classes boils down to jumping in a vehicle and using it to try to kill the Omegalodon. However, there are two differences between the classes. Firstly, the spawn location, which is no big deal besides what vehicles you have immediate access to, and secondly, the weapon the actual person you play wields. Yes, if you choose not to use a vehicle, you can still attack that oversized newt. For the soldier, it’s a simple matter of firing a rocket launcher from the shoulder, whilst the policeman places toxic mines which explode when Omegalodon gets too close.

Honestly, the variety of vehicles you can control is astounding, even if the unarmed ones have no real use.
Honestly, the variety of vehicles you can control is astounding, even if the unarmed ones have no real use.

Meanwhile, playing as the Omegalodon is equally straightforward. You follow a path highlighted for you to weave through the city’s defences, avoiding the attackers and doing your best to survive and reach the central nuclear power plant which, when destroyed, will blow up the entire city and signal victory! You can destroy buildings to replenish health, which you will have to do frequently since you will take obscene amounts of damage from the attackers. This actually becomes quite a tactical game, since any building destroyed will heal Omegalodon, even if the military destroys it; hiding in a clump of buildings and letting the military arbitrarily bomb an entire suburb is a feasible tactic to replenishing health. Equally, there are regions on your path where there are no buildings, so you need to stack up health before you try crossing them.

Fighting as King Kong’s amphibian cousin is incredibly straightforward. Left click to light punch, right click to heavy punch, middle click to unleash a devastating area of effect burst attack. From my experience, the only attack worth using is the special burst, however, as the hit registration and range of the attacks is absolutely pathetic. You will never hit that guy in a helicopter with your punch, but your burst attack might just manage it.

Assault the beast!
Assault the beast!

For completions sake, I’ll mention the Enviros too. Armed with healing guns, they can keep Omegalodon’s health topped up without the need to destroy buildings, though that is a significantly faster way to regain it. They can also man vehicles, which may be used to attack soldiers and police to keep them from damaging Omegalodon.

This all comes together in a dynamic way. Again, it’s worth emphasising that Omegalodon is a very indie title, and although it creates a game scenario you can pretty much do as you please. You can play the game as it’s meant to be played, or just drive around shooting down buildings and trying out every vehicle on the map. Sure, your team might not appreciate what you’re doing, but there’s nothing else stopping you. Heck, you could go soldier and try defending the Omegalodon, team damage is most certainly on. This game allows you to play it as you wish.

The Omegalodon follows a set out path, which spirals to the city centre.
The Omegalodon follows a set out path, which spirals to the city centre.

Unfortunately, I reckon the most boring part of the game is actually playing as the Omegalodon. He’s incredibly slow, his attacks are mostly useless, he has to follow a set path and it takes a long time to reach the nuclear plant. If you ever even reach the power plant, good on your for being so diligent and not quitting out of boredom! I’ve only ever managed it once in all my years owning this game, because it’s just not that fun.

Other problems involve the tiny online community for this game. To make it clear, this is online only, and yet going online at any time you’ll only find between six to fifteen people online, over three or four servers. As a result, games are very small, disappointing when you know that the servers can handle sixteen people each.

It’s worth noting though that, I love the graphics. Very simple (yet surprisingly detailed) models give a really rich environment to the game. It’s not quite cell shaded, I’m not certain how you’d describe it, but it’s very pretty and isn’t a graphical style I’ve ever seen used elsewhere.

The sound, meanwhile, is relatively boring. There is some small amount of background music that plays at key points, such as the beginning of the match or reaching certain checkpoints, but it’s nothing to shout about. The effects sounds are equally dull, though are rich and high quality in themselves, more than I can say about some games.

Throw bombs on it, throw bombs on it...
Throw bombs on it, throw bombs on it…

All in all, Omegalodon is a good attempt at a very different style of game, one that is bespokely made to an idea by a small team. I’m not sure I’d recommend it at its full price of £6.99, but perhaps £4 or less would be a fair price for a game which you might play for a short while before getting bored. It might be made better with friends due to the freedom of doing things, but I honestly doubt it. It lacks those group activities which make gaming with friends fun, spare attacking the Omegalodon. I guess if the main idea of the game engages you, you could have hours and hours of fun on it. But personally, I found that the gameplay quickly got tiresome, especially given the nature of the Omegalodon. Honestly, they might as well have designed a very simple AI for the great blue bugger so that another player could have fun attacking him, rather than just walking forwards tapping middle mouse and hoping to hit someone every now and then.

I wouldn’t recommend this game. It’s not bad, per se, it just doesn’t have anywhere near enough content to hold someone’s attention for more than a small jaunt, and I would struggle to justify it’s asking price.

Omegalodon is developed by North of Earth. You can find it on Steam for £6.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Omegalodon – Giant Monster Destroying A City? SOLD!

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

RUNNING WITH RIFLES – Not new, not finished, but one of the best indie games available today

Comes with interactive title screen!
Comes with interactive title screen!

A few years ago, I discovered Desura. I loved this huge abundance of mixed indie titles, but really didn’t like Desura. As much as I hate to say it, Steam has a (rightfully earned) monopoly on the digital distribution world, and Desura just couldn’t stand up to it. Despite this, I still ended up buying two games on Desura, one of which was this, RUNNING WITH RIFLES (capslock intended).

I didn’t play much back then but when I learnt I could activate my copy again on Steam, I jumped on that like peppercorn on a steak. Now in the last stages of Beta, RWR is painfully close to being released and, honestly, it might be one of the best games around at the moment.

Pew pew!
Pew pew!

RWR is a simple game. It is a top-down shooter, where you play as one individual soldier in a large battle, consisting of hundreds of other soldiers at once, some of which might be players if you’re online. The general objective is to take over the map by killing off enemies and holding areas. Once you’ve won one map, it usually rolls straight over to the next map, where the aim is the do exactly the same. And so, RWR could be seen as a casual game, but it’s your choice to take it casually or seriously.

To add to the fun, most of the time there are three factions on any one map. Green, brown, and grey. Each has their own set of unique equipment and are vying for control of the map. This makes for some interesting gameplay, especially when all three factions meet at one point for some seriously intense warfare. Throw in the availability of APCs, jeeps, tanks, call-in artillery and deployable MGs, mortars and sandbags, you have the makings of a very intense combat game.

Also boats.
Also boats.

Controlling your soldier is easy. It’s WASD to move around on screen and your mouse to point and shoot. The game is 3D, with the ability to climb buildings, hide behind objects and move safely out of sight behind hills, so the game figures you’re aiming where you point the mouse and creates a line of sight. If you can see the area your mouse is at, the icon turns green, but if you can’t, it’s red and a grey line of sight appears showing you where you can’t see. Very intuitive, and very nice.

Throwing grenades, crouching, proning, knifing, calling it airstrikes and commanding your squad all add to tactics in the game. If you’re pinned down behind a car, you could chuck some grenades over to try and force the enemy away, or perhaps even call in for a paradrop of marines nearby. If you’re on a ridge and under heavy MG fire, going prone might just drop you out of sight.

Armouries around the map allow you to change your kit or access to special weapons, like C4.
Armouries around the map allow you to change your kit or access special weapons, like C4 or body armour.

Being at the frontline in this game is an awful lot of fun. Grabbing an assault rifle or LMG whilst gunning down enemies all around you is excellent fun. But this game has an additional side which many players take a while to discover: It has stealth.

You can opt to take a silenced MP5 and stick to knifing and silently killing enemies, potentially sneaking round the frontline to place C4 on the enemy radio tower, disabling their ability to call in airstrikes, or potentially stealing their newly spawned tank. Either way, the sneaky side of gameplay allows for some excellent options, by enabling you to kill enemies without raising alarm. The fact you can do this in a top-down game says a lot, and proves they’ve thought this through.

Different weapons have different abilities. LMGs can spew out bullets, but sniper rifles allow you to pan the camera further than normal.
Different weapons have different abilities. LMGs can spew out bullets, but sniper rifles allow you to pan the camera further than normal.

There’s a lot to this game, but you can just as easily hop in and feel like you’re useful. Killing enemies is as simple as point and click, and it rarely takes more than a few seconds to respawn and run back to the frontline. I often just jump on, spend ten minutes running round getting kills, then log back off. When I’m feeling more serious, I can go on, help really make a difference by targeting enemy radio towers and weapon caches, and lead my squad on missions deep into enemy territory, calling down artillery and paratroopers on enemy positions.

The gameplay, coupled with the lovely cell shaded graphics, make for a light-hearted game with some surprisingly serious moments that you can choose to embrace or completely ignore. The funny thing is, I actually recognise I’m missing out a lot of the gameplay mechanics, because there’s just too much to talk about. It’s all part of learning and enjoying the game.

The tactical map allows for a grand overview of the situation.
The tactical map allows for a grand overview of the situation.

I love this game. In an era of gritty, sepia filtered war games, this stands out by being simple, fun, and yet embracing for tactics. You will be punished with death for charging into 10 enemies, and the tides of war will see the frontline swaying both ways constantly. Given the excellent AI in game, you won’t feel like a lone super-soldier either, as the AI is as accurate as you are and will also run for cover when under fire.

If you want a light-hearted war game, this is definitely for you. It stands uncontested in the top-down war shooter category, the only similar titles I can think of all being zombie survival games with more complex survival and crafting mechanics. All you will be doing in RWR is killing, dying, and repeating. It is a simple, beautiful game.

RUNNING WITH RIFLES is developed by Modulaatio Games. You can find it on Steam Early Access for £10.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

RUNNING WITH RIFLES – Not new, not finished, but one of the best indie games available today

Viking: Battle for Asgard, when Midgard is attacked by the awful PC Port

Press Start is a bad first impression, and the hallmark of a PC Port
Press Start is a bad first impression, and the hallmark of a PC Port

Viking: Battle for Asgard isn’t a new game by any means. Originally released in 2008, a PC port was released in 2012, developed by an additional studio. However, given its recent appearance on the Humble Bundle and the fact I have nothing better to play, I decided to give it a shot.

Viking: Battle for Asgard (which I will now just call Viking) is a free roaming hack-and-slash where you play as Skarin, a viking who apparently will not die and cannot enter Valhalla. You are guided by Freya, a Norse goddess, who sets you on a journey to lead your fellow vikings against the evil Legion which has appeared and taken over Midgard. You need to find and save your viking chums from the evil clutches of the Legion and build an army to push them out once and for all.

It’s at this point I should say, I believe what I just said is right. Upon first entering the game, the dialogue moved so slowly I simply could not be bothered to listen to it all, so I never quite figured out what was going on.

It is a somewhat pretty, Fable-esque game.
It is a somewhat pretty, Fable-esque game.

In fact, the game throws you in without too much direction. You start in a viking village to people being astonished you’re alive, having seen you die in a battle. You’re quickly given some tasks and sent on your way. I assume at this point, you get given background, but I cannot stand slow speaking in video games and skipped it. Just tell me what I need to know, don’t take loooonnnggg draaaaawwwn out speeeeeeeeeeeecccchhhheeeeeessssss for dramatic effect, it doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work when all these vikings apparently speak English with an American accent.

Using the map, I quickly figured out that I had to go to various locations around the world and, in short, free my viking friends. So, off I trot, out of the gates and into the wilderness.

The first thing that happened was the game got very dark. I didn’t appreciate why then, but later realised that enemy controlled areas appear dark and foggy. Once liberated, by freeing vikings in the area, they become bright and colourful.

I quickly stumbled across some enemies looting the dead corpses of vikings and got to work chopping them down. Fighting turned out to be as simple as hitting your left mouse button to swing, and holding right mouse to block. If you miss an attack, due to not being in range, your character will stumble slightly and be vulnerable to attack.

After slicing one enemy a few times, a big E appeared over his head. Well, OK then, I guess I’ll tap E.

And suddenly, the game got a lot more fun. My character rushed forwards, his axe out one way, his sword the other, and then slashed right through the Legion soldier with both at once, cutting his torso from his legs and a glorious fountain of blood. I think his head also fell off somewhere along the way.

Absolutely brutal. The finishing moves in this game are incredible.
Absolutely brutal. The finishing moves in this game are incredible.

That was me hooked. On my way to freeing the vikings, I took great pleasure in using my finishing moves on enemies. Chopping both arms off and watching him collapse, swiftly decapitating an enemy missing an arm, running my sword through an enemy’s chest and kicking them off with my foot. It was glorious.

I also made a collosal mistake. In all my glory of killing, I didn’t appreciate I’d run right into the enemy camp, into some 10 to 15 Legion soldiers. One by one, I was chopping them down, but it was gruelling. Every attack, I’d have to block some three incoming attacks. It took ages to cut them down. It was slow, boring, and the finishing moves didn’t bring that fun back.

As it would turn out, I was actually meant to sneak round these men, freeing the vikings who could then help me fight them. Apparently I’d taken a far more direct route. Silly me.

I don't know why he unties these vikings when he could just chop the rope with his axe.
I don’t know why he unties these vikings when he could just chop the rope with his axe.

As it turned out, the majority of the game would consist of this pattern. Find an enemy camp, either sneak in or fight my way in, free the vikings, move on and repeat. Sometimes these trapped vikings would have additional quests, which involved more fighting or simple courier quests, which I personally found took away from the pace of the game slightly. In fact, the running around in general took away from the game majorly. Going from one camp to the next in a free roam mode is great, when you can get there quickly or with entertainment. For instance, Skyrim does this well: You travel respectable distances and may encounter foes on the way. But Viking has very short distances between camps (it’s a very small world) and you might encounter nothing at all. It’s just running around.

However, having freed a few camps, it was time to assault the enemy stronghold, blocking passage to the main enemy fortress. As a bonus, you didn’t even have to walk there, it was an event you started on your map.

I didn’t appreciate how amazing this would be.

CHAAAAAAAAAARGE!!
CHAAAAAAAAAARGE!!

Dozens of your men spew forth into the enemy gate alongside yourself, chopping down equally dozens of Legion grunts. And the main thing to strike me was, “Holy heck, this game can render and support this many characters?!” There are games today that struggle to get even close to this number, there had to be around one hundred on screen in total at some points. Finding enemies among the sprawling mass of bodies is incredibly fun, and you get really into the atmosphere. And it makes you really want to keep playing, to get another of these gigantic battles. It truly was a redeeming factor for the long walks (though, I would still have appreciated them now being there).

This victory allowed me to cross the river and move on to freeing more vikings. I also, around this time, realised I was meant to be recruiting a dragon for the final attack. A DRAGON! OK, I’m sold, let’s get this battle underway.

There are also mini-bosses.
There are also mini-bosses.

So having freed more of my friends, found the dragon amulet, snuck into the enemy fortress and charged it using their evil portal and wandered to the lair of the dragon, it was time to release our flying friend.

Isn't he beautiful?
Isn’t he beautiful?

Fantastic! Only, it turned out, I couldn’t actually use him that much. Given I completed certain objectives, I’d be able to order the dragon to attack specific targets. This was slightly disappointing, as it meant that, during the final battle, the dragon wouldn’t be of much use. He’d burn down a few enemies, but only once or twice on my orders once certain conditions had been filled.

Oh well. But, one last thing before I progress further. I went by the arena, a place I’d only visited once before.

Suddenly, the game took another turn for the better. I’d begun to get a bit bored with combat, it didn’t seem to be developing at all. And then, suddenly, the arena opened new possiblities. You could buy new attacks for gold, gathered from chests, urns, and bags scattered around the world. As it turned out, I had plenty of gold, and bought every ability I could on the current level. On my way back towards the fortress, I found myself devastating enemies that had once troubled me, causing lesser enemies to explode in a glorious bloom of blood from devastating blows. Once again, the game had become fun where it was beginning to get a bit touch and go.

Assassins are a real threat, unless you've learnt the right abilities to deal with them.
Assassins are a real threat, unless you’ve learnt the right abilities to deal with them.

So the final battle began. And if I’d thought my previous attack on the small-yet-still-strong forewards outpost of the Legion was impressive, I was dumbfounded by this. How were there this many men?!

Every single one of those is a genuine entity. Not part of a cutscene. Something that will definitely be fighting.
Every single one of those is a genuine entity. Not part of a cutscene. Something that will definitely be fighting.

Again, cutting through enemies was glorious. This time was slightly different, as I’d been given high value targets to kill, which would, in turn, allow me to call in dragon attacks of enemies that were harder to reach (for instance, hidden behind a large clump of enemies which would surely kill me). This made the dragon use tactical, as it could only be used a few times. It was disappointing that it wasn’t always there, but it was a fun game mechanic.

And then, as soon as the battle began, it was over. I’m sure it actually lasted a good ten or fifteen minutes, but it was so fun it just flew by. It’s rare a game today has such a good feeling, where you genuinely feel part of a larger army. In fact, the last game I felt like this on was the PS2 game, Shadow of Rome, where you might fight alongside friendly soldiers or gladiators.

The final boss, for this world.
The final boss, for this world.

The world ended with a disappointing final boss fight and a cutscene of two gods talking, which honestly wasn’t that interesting for me. The game then skipped on to the next world, and I called it quits. I might go back to play another world, but I fear I’ll be doing the same as before. It’s a fun once over, but I don’t know if I’d like to complete however-many-more worlds which simply revolve around freeing vikings and big, final battles, especially given my miniscule interest in the overarching story.

But for a relatively old game, it is a fun play. There are a few things that quite annoyed me, such as the quick time events. Viking was released around the time when they were a big thing, and every boss fight has a few of them. Further, many environment actions involved tapping F quickly to do something, like untie prisoners, or open a chest, which seemed pointless, especially when no enemies were around to give you the sense of urgency to really quickly tap that key.

Tap F repeatedly to really quickly pull this lever. Nobody's around. But do it quickly anyway.
Tap F repeatedly to really quickly pull this lever. Nobody’s around. But do it quickly anyway.

It was a bit of a joke at some points, such as where he was apparently struggling to open the bolt on a door to open it. But it’s only a minor point, and for the most part you won’t mind it whilst playing.

And the main, glaring flaw with this game, which I’ve really ignored in this review so far, is it’s a terrible PC port. The game was originally made for consoles and was then very poorly brought over to PC. To much hatred, the game is capped at 30FPS, which can make it appear more jittery than other games. This is reflected in the mouse movement, which (due to being a movement port of analogue sticks) makes controlling your character incredibly difficult. There are fixes for this, which I’ve posted on a Steam discussion, but you shouldn’t have to be using third party programs to fix how a game plays. If you can get the fix, get a feel for the slightly clunky controls, and battle against the ridiculous key rebinding system (binding keys to controller buttons which are hard-bound to actions? Really?), you might be able to enjoy what this game has to offer.

A fantastical, but not quite perfect, game that is typical of it's era.
A fantastical, but not quite perfect, game that is typical of it’s era.

Overall, it is an enjoyable experience, but it’s begun to show how old it really is, and the PC port hasn’t helped. It is, now, an effectively 6 year old game. You can have a lot of fun with it – I certainly did – but prepare for the rigors of the age: A poor design of free-roaming, quick-action events, “find the hidden gold”, repetitive quests, and a fantastic if only debateably game-redeeming set of unique features. Getting it on the current Humble Bundle, and using the fix I linked to, would probably making Viking: Battle for Asgard a worthwhile play. But I certainly wouldn’t pay Steam’s full price for it.

Viking: Battle for Asgard was developed by Creative Assembly, and ported by Hardlight Studios. You can find it on Steam for £9.99, or currently on the Humble Bundle. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Viking: Battle for Asgard, when Midgard is attacked by the awful PC Port