Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora

You’re the Private Investigator on a string of grisly murders, scouring for clues in a 3D side-scrolling world. Grab your fedora and revolver - in Hot Tin Roof you’re on the case! Dive into a noir mystery and become Emma Jones, the only PI partnered to a cat named Franky.
You’re the Private Investigator on a string of grisly murders, scouring for clues in a 3D side-scrolling world. Grab your fedora and revolver – in Hot Tin Roof you’re on the case! Dive into a noir mystery and become Emma Jones, the only PI partnered to a cat named Franky.

Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora (For reasons of length imma just call it Hot Tin Roof) Is a 3D side-scrolling metroidvania meets LA Noire. It’s so far my game of the year as its simply utterly compelling to play, captivating in charm and engaging in story. The graphics are simple: block types of creatures from Cats to Pigeons dominate a city which is colorful enough yet gritty to assist with the investigatory style. The music is one of the strongest points, with that 1920’s jazzy feel, building suspense with double bass plucks and it really makes you feel like putting on your coat, flicking up the collar and lighting a cigarette; but that would break the overall style the game has of itself. This game is very aware that it is a game and in that sense doesn’t take itself seriously and my god I love it even more for that.

One investigator and her cat.
One investigator and her cat.

So starting the game you’ll be cast into your office with the phone ringing. Answering it will provide you with a case that a nearby fancy lady has had her will stolen. You’ll grab your most useful tool, your revolver and head out. The way you transition between levels is by moving along a 3D plain, so you can go left and right but to go into alleys or into a room you’ll move forward onto another lane, kinda like what Little Big Planet does. But I’m getting ahead of myself, you’ll also speak to your trusty side-kick: Franky the cat. Franky is the best sidekick I’ve had in a game; albeit he’s utterly useless at jump puzzles his wit and addition to the game more than make up for it. He’ll act as your guide: explaining different types of ammo for your revolver (more on that later), giving insight into clues that you might find and having his own dark secret that deepens the connection you have with him. Franky, along with all the characters you meet and interact with form this great world to explore and play with.

Talking to most of the characters brings up dialogue options that can advance the case or are just plain silly.
Talking to most of the characters brings up dialogue options that can advance the case or are just plain silly.

So with the case, your revolver and your sidekick at your side, you step out into the overworld. You go onto speak to the lady who is missing the will that her father left. This is where the game starts properly. The main thing you deal with in this game is jump puzzles, hidden obstacles and quest solving. Hidden obstacles, like switches and platforms can be discovered using bubble ammo. This is where the puzzle solving comes into its element: your revolver can hold 4 bullets (Im not sure if that can be upgraded later in the game) but this means for the more elaborate puzzles you’ll have to load standard ammo, bubble ammo and a whole other variety to overcome the challenges. Its a stellar way to do platforming in my opinion. Oh and also Franky jumps and pops the bubbles which I laughed at when I first fired them.

So as you begin to explore the city, you’ll become wrapped into a series of cases along side the one you started with. This keeps you occupied and keeps the original case from getting dried up. There’s also a real sense of community in this game: the posh people inside the Ossified Egg work the Rats like slaves. The rats therefore exert a kind of resentment to the Eggs (as they’re called) whenever you mention them or talk to them about the missing will. Its factioning at its basic but it creates a diverse world that doesn’t get stale. Hopping around the world with the plucks on the double bass to accompany you, you begin to get lost in the world, I did and realized I’d played for almost an hour and a half in my first sitting. The Dump level was a real testament to platformers of the past; Various levels to explore, different techniques needed and a confusing labyrinth of doors and ways to go. I got lost a lot in that level and, whilst getting a little frustrated; managed to vent my frustration by shooting some bubbles for Franky to hop out infront of me and pop. I smiled, adjusted my fedora and pressed on.

The more you explore a case, the more clues you'll get. Its very LA Noire style of investigation and is used so well.
The more you explore a case, the more clues you’ll get. Its very LA Noire style of investigation and is used so well.

I really don’t want to say more about the story for fear of spoiling it, so I’ll wrap up this review. Before I do end it though, I want to say something about the sheer brilliance the writing has on the game. When you first go into the toilet to save (They act as save points), Franky will explain that its how you save. But he’ll do it using puns such as “Had to LOG MY PROGRESS, if you know what I mean” etc. It is simply brilliant and adds to the comedy of the game as he does it with most new things such as new bullets, characters, clues and more. A great feature to pull a gamer into the game is with humor and one that is executed as well as in Hot Tin Roof is a real bonus to an already great game. My only issues are that there doesn’t seem to be a map and dialogue options take you away from the main topic, so you’ll have to talk to the person again to ask them another question. But these are minimal, now, where did I place that fedora?

Utterly brilliant writing.
Utterly brilliant writing.

Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedore is developed by Glass Bottom Games. You can find it on Steam for £10.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by TD. Special mention to the developer for giving me a code for the game!
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Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora

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

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

Godus – From the creator of Fable, Black & White, Populous: The Beginning, and Dungeon Keeper comes… This. Ugh.

What a lovely little village!
What a lovely little village!

Godus. What a total disappointment. There are so many design flaws, from such a fantastic designer. Heck, even the marketing of this game has been horrifically wrong. It’s actually difficult to find where to start.

I bought Godus a few months back for around £2.50, and I still reckon that was too much. This is the essence of Early Alpha. This is horrific. This is the sort of game which makes me say, again, “Well, that’s the last Early Alpha I ever buy.” Then two weeks later I’ve picked up another one.

It’s truly challenging to find where to start with this game.

The different colours make not only for a pretty game, but for certain gameplay mechanics.
The different colours make not only for a pretty game, but for certain gameplay mechanics.

Godus is a game heavily inspired by Peter Molyneux’s previous work, Populous. In short, you terraform the world to allow your people to expand, building more homes and such. You are, in essence, a God. You are able to call down mighty meteors from the sky to crush your foes and create large craters in the terrain. You can… Well, actually, that’s probably the most impressive power you have, unless you really like individually squishing little animated characters.

There is no real “goal” to Godus beyond expanding and creating more and more homes and thus increasing your population. The only real goal to achieve is the recently added “Ark” construction which, when completed, allows you to sail to a different land to do the exact same thing all over again. Enticing, I’m sure.

To make space for your peoples’ homes, you need to flatten out the remarkably rough terrain by clicking and dragging it enough so that a plot can be automatically created in the gap. This plot, when worked by villagers, will turn into a house, producing more villagers, who can then go out and work more plots. Makes sense.

This is the Astari tribe. On fire.
This is the Astari tribe. On fire.

There is also a native tribe called the “Astari”, who harass your followers but otherwise cause you no real harm. You’re locking in a constant pseudo battle with them, whereby every now and then, the happier settlement gains followers from the less happy settlement. Right now, they don’t seem to actually do much, and killing them off so they can’t possibly be happier seems the best thing to do.

Additionally, you’re able to reform your buildings into clustered “settlements”, which have a dense population and provide benefits to the surrounding area, such as producing farms for food (required to make larger houses) or mines (which seem positively useless).

Expansion is vast, and somewhat tedious.
Expansion is vast, and somewhat tedious.

I won’t lie, at first I was engaged with this game. But I quickly came across flaw number one.

The tapping. Oh God, the tapping. Let me get this straight. Nobody wants to sit at their high-value gaming computer and simply click on things. They want to actually be doing something.

Somewhere along the lines, the developers missed this. You see, there is some back story to Godus. Created by Peter Molyneux’s new studio 22cans, Godus was the followup to a previous project, “Curiosity”, a mobile game where (brace yourselves) you tapped a cube. That’s it. Nothing more to it. It took months upon months of lots of people tapping round to world to reveal that the final tap on the cube would make the person a God of the Godus realm. Moving to the present day, Godus was created in mind of Peter Molyneux’s view on gaming, that it was becoming more accessible to the casual gamer, and so Godus needed to accomodate two audiences: The hardcore gamers (aka, anybody with a PC, in this case), and casual gamers. More importantly, this translated to Godus needing a PC version, and a mobile version.

History has shown multiple console releases on consoles of vastly different powers does not work. I cite any game with a dual release on the Nintendo Gameboy and the Sony Playstation. Same title, totally different game. Apparently, 22cans decided to keep the game as similar as possible, and since you can only make a multiplatform game as demanding the weakest console can handle, PC gamers got exactly what that predicts: A mobile game.

Want to tap all those pink bubbles? Well tough, you have to, that's the game.
Want to tap all those pink bubbles? Well tough, you have to, that’s the game.

So, Godus’ number one inherent flaw is the tapping. You have to tap everything, from people to get them to do stuff, to individual houses and workplaces to collect resources. It’s really dull.

This leads to flaw number two. The resources. Now, this isn’t your typical RTS. You don’t reel in resources and pump them back out. Oh no, you reel them in then sit back and reel more in, repeat some fifty times, then maybe you’ll have enough to do something.

The entire game runs on “belief”. Your followers produce it in their little houses, you tap to get it, and it allows you to terraform the land or build additional structures. Due to MGS (Mobile game syndrome), that means you need an awful lot of belief to do anything. On a mobile, in this modern day and age, you’d fully expect to buy some kind of premium item with your real world money to allow you to progress quicker.

This is also true of Godus, but only on mobile devices. On the PC, this aspect of quick progression was changed, so that you sacrifice followers (which you then have to wait significant time to respawn) to collect gems, to allow you to buy more belief or certain special objects. Unsurprisingly, sacrificing followers involves copious levels of tapping.

Burn, my little idiots!
Burn, my little idiots!

And finally, we reach the third key flaw. It’s not getting better.

Godus is early alpha, I accept that. Additionally, it is changing a lot. In fact, our current alpha version is known as “Godus 2.0”, since it is so different from the original alpha release. It is still met with near universal criticism. The changes to this game are so slow, they’re near not noticeable. But the real kicker with the whole of the game is, it’s fundamentally boring. PC gamers don’t want to tap away at a screen, we want to be engaged in the game. Calling this “inspired by Populous” is like saying that TV was inspired by a newspaper; after all, both give you the news. What Godus gives you is terraforming, and otherwise it is a totally different game.

In Godus’ defence, my recent play to aid this review revealed some striking changes. They’ve added military and there is a poorly implemented multiplayer mode. You can now get technology to allow you to mine for gems. Resources now regenerate significantly faster (literally seconds, rather than literally days). Heck, you can finally rotate the camera, a direly required thing in a 3D world where you terraform potentially behind a giant cliff! But this isn’t solving anything. The core gameplay is just bad.

Oh, also, look at this unlocks. You need stickers to unlock them, which you find in the world or, more frequently get with the premium currency, gems.
Oh, also, look at these unlocks. You need stickers to unlock them, which you find in the world or, more frequently get with the premium currency, gems. I see you there, sticker pack.

I doubt Godus will get better, it’s fundamentally wrong. Nobody wants to just tap. People only play tap games on their phones because it burns time. Gamers don’t want that, they want an engaging experience, and the real reason tap games kicked off is because anybody can be “good” at them, and they didn’t require much processing power, something mobile devices are getting exponentially better at.

There’s so many things I haven’t touched on regarding Godus, but there’s just so much to rant about. The pathetic “Astari” tribe, the (now apparently rightfully removed) “voyages” mission system, the poor menu interface. But, I’m forced to recall, this is Early Alpha. Only, it is definitely the worst Early Alpha I have ever played and, should you be even slightly tempted to buy it, don’t. Just don’t.

Godus is developed by 22cans. You can find it on Steam Early Alpha for £14.99 (really? for a smart phone game?), or for freemium on your mobile device. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Godus – From the creator of Fable, Black & White, Populous: The Beginning, and Dungeon Keeper comes… This. Ugh.

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

The Escapists – An indepth look at modern prison lifestyle

"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." And here I am hoping for a good game.
“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
And here I am hoping for a good game.

OK, the title is a lie, but if you want to recreate The Shawshank Redemption in 8-bit glory, this game might be for you.

The Escapists is the grand return of Team 17, most notable for their thirty billion different iterations of their IP, Worms, the delightful little game that sees worms trying to blow each other up in a turn based artillery strategy. The Escapists, however, is as far from that as you could possibly be, the only similarity being the 2D art (and let’s not forget Worms 3D… Ugh).

So, about the game. You have to escape from prison. That’s it. No catchy hard-coded objectives like “Knock out the guard to steal his keys, then make a break for it.” There’s plenty of ways for you to escape, it’s just up to you to decide how. Otherwise, this is an entirely sandbox world.

You get to rename all your inmate pals and prisoners. As you can see, TD was in this prison. Probably for something nefarious.
You get to rename all your inmate pals and prisoners. As you can see, TD was in this prison. Probably for something nefarious. Like not writing enough articles.

Once you’ve chosen a prison, a character, renamed your inmates and guards and got into the game, you’ll find yourself waking up in a cell. Then, your first day will play out and, although you can choose to play it how you want, I almost guarantee you’ll do the exact same thing I did when I was learning to play: Follow the daily routine provided to you by the guards to the books, maybe complete some easy favours for your fellow inmates, have a good wander round and then go to bed for the night.

In reality, it sounds boring, but it’s good. You subconsciously pick up the guard routines, where people go at certain times, all information which will be vital for your escape. But beyond what you’ve learnt here, you still don’t know much about what you can do.

Excercise is good for you! Well, not if you're playing this game, since you're just kind of sat there...
Excercise is good for you! Well, not if you’re playing this game, since you’re just kind of sat there…

Following that, in future days I looked to do more favours, earning more money and the friendship of fellow inmates, allowing them to follow me and do my bidding, if I so wished. I never successfully fought a guard, both because I was took weak and they too well equipped. I started buying items from fellow inmates to make sure I had a good supply of items to work with. It was all going so well.

I quickly figured out that things with red names were contraband, and worked not to get caught with them. For me, this meant hiding things in my desk. Although, sometimes the guards search your cell, so I was on the eye out for a better spot. Remarkably, I actually found one: I noticed the guards never, ever checked solitary confinement, so I left all my contraband there when I didn’t need it, and the guards never found it.

Not contraband, and not that lethal either.
Not contraband, and not that lethal either.

But I still didn’t really know what to do. And so, my Shawshank instincts kicked in. I started looking for spoons to dig my way out and, lo-and-behold, I found a tray full of plastic cutlery in the kitchen. Having grabbed them, I made my way back to my cell, hid a handful of spoons in my drawer, and waited until night to start digging.

Progress was incredibly slow. I found I couldn’t dig through walls, I had to dig the floor. Well, fair enough. It was all going so smoothly until a guard came along and stopped me, taking all my contraband too. But, wait, wasn’t my contraband in solitary? Yes, well, apparently all contraband on the map disappears when you’re detained. A bit of a disappointment.

And for the life of me, I could not figure out how to safely dig. I couldn’t leave my cell at night, since they’d start a lockdown and detain me if I wasn’t in my cell. But I couldn’t hide a hole in my cell, else I’d be detained. There seemed no way around this.

Start digging and you might have a teaspoon of dirt before they find you!
Start digging and you might have a teaspoon of dirt before they find you!

It wouldn’t be until a while after I found the first, glaring flaw with this game. It doesn’t tell you enough. Yes, it’s a sandbox game and you’re meant to learn the routines of the guards, discover ways to escape, and so forth, but some of it fundamentally feels hidden. I actually discovered I could pick up and move my drawers around so as to, say, hide a hole I’d dug in my cell. I only even discovered this since I accidentally right-click my drawers at some point and was dumbfounded as to why it was suddenly over my character’s head.

Other things hidden in the game include the ability to stand on tables and certain other objects, allowing you to see vents above you that are normally hidden from view. Further, it doesn’t tell you what any item does, just that you have it or can craft it. As such, I had no idea that you could use spoons to dig floors, but use forks to “chip” through walls. I mean, why so specific?

And I briefly touched on a major gripe of mine there that is, unfortunately, a major mechanic in this game: crafting. I’m sick of crafting. I’ve had enough of it, and it just now looks like everyone jumping on the survival bandwagon in a poor, poor way. Much like such classics as Minecraft, The Escapists doesn’t tell you what you can craft. You either have to figure it out, or discover it from Crafting Notes gained from other inmates.

You can do favours for your inmate pals to earn some money, to buy things from other inmates.
You can do favours for your inmate pals to earn some money, to buy things from other inmates.

Everything above, I hate. I hate not knowing the rules of a game, sandbox or not. Grand Theft Auto is a sandbox game, but you know shooting people calls the cops, that’s made clear. There is nothing unclear in that game. But there is so much you don’t know in The Escapists, it’s painful. For instance, I had to do a google to discover that I could make a “bed dummy” by combining two pillows and a duvet, which would allow me to be outside my cell at night without worrying about a lockdown.

And that would be fine, except for one thing: The crafting notes. Minecraft doesn’t give you any recipes, it’s well accepted that you learn the recipes through the wikis. But The Escapists does give you recipes ingame, through crafting notes. It even adds them to a journal, which persists between your different games. Afterall, once you’ve learnt a recipe in real life, you’ll be using it again ingame.

And that’s the problem. I don’t want to “cheat” when I play a game, so if I know I can gain knowledge ingame, I don’t want to look elsewhere. So by providing crafting notes, I feel I have to literally grind my way through to discovering all the recipes ingame. And I have a huge problem with that when I know I could easily overlook a part of the game by looking online.

This translates back to the fact I didn’t know I could stand on tables, or that forks were for walls and spoons for floors. The Escapists doesn’t tell you enough, and tries to fool itself into thinking you want to find it out. No, I don’t! I want to escape a prison! How was I to know a fundamental part of this game world was the ability to stand on tables?!

Stats play an important role, which you grind up through various clicking and waiting, or spamming button based activities which, honestly, isn't that fun. I ended up binding certain keys to a macro to save myself getting RSI.
Stats play an important role, which you grind up through various clicking and waiting, or spamming button based activities which, honestly, isn’t that fun. I ended up binding certain keys to a macro to save myself getting RSI.

There were two more things I wasn’t told, relating to certain items, which, upon discovery, meant I was able to escape in a matter of ingame days. As it turns out, a guard uniform will completely hide you from detection by all guards after lights out, allowing you to do literally anything (even dig through walls) without raising suspicion, whilst “contraband pouches” allow you to carry contraband through metal detectors without causing alarm. On finding this out, I simply dug my way out whilst wearing a guard uniform one night, in plain sight, and walked home free.

Kind of a lacklustre finish.
Kind of a lacklustre finish.

And then I felt no incentive to play again. Yes, there are other ways to escape, by tunneling or grabbing keys from guards or so forth, but it’s all fundamentally the same thing. I found myself getting bored of gaming the guard’s routine to maximise my time digging through walls, or the fact that one minor slip-up would mean the guards discover all my hidden contraband within the walls of the prison. I was annoyed I didn’t know what I could do (though, in the game’s defence, it does provide a manual… But who reads manuals?!) and I had to spend most my time grinding to find out what I could do, without feeling like a cheat. I did actually try another map, this one was themed like a Prison Camp, but the fundamentals were the same and, to be honest, I really couldn’t be bothered following the ridiculously tight regime while I gather items to make my escape. And the only way that was shown, was I stopped playing.

It seems like this game has a lot of potential, and I was really excited for it when I first heard about it. The last game like this I played was The Great Escape on the Playstation 2, which debateably covered the idea of prison escape better than this game has, by providing a scenario more about learning the map, finding ways about, gathering specific objects to use during your escape and a storyline to follow. I’m all for sandbox in games, but only when it’s done right.

This is in Early Alpha, though. There’s a lot which could change. I’d particularly like to see a system whereby you’re given a guided tutorial to teach you what you can do, and removal (or improvement) of a lot of the grinding features, like stat-raising and learning crafting recipes. I just fear now that Team 17 might have lost their edge. Perhaps they’d have done better making Worms: The Escapists?

The Escapists is developed by Team 17. You can find it on Steam Early Alpha for £9.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

The Escapists – An indepth look at modern prison lifestyle

Insurgency

I find writing reviews about generic first person shooter games quite difficult. They are, without a doubt, my most played genre and I can find the differences between them (perhaps not between each renamed clone of Call of Duty, mind you). Thus, reviewing Insurgency isn’t a straightforward process.

It has a spawn area, so I guess it checks that box on the "How to make an FPS game" criteria.
It has a spawn area, so I guess it checks that box on the “How to make an FPS game” criteria.

I can’t admit to have read the background to Insurgency. I also won’t lie and say that I care. Like most FPS games, like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Counter Strike, and Medal of Honor, when it comes to online gameplay you just don’t care for the story. All you care is getting out there, shooting some bad guys (or good guys) and winning the round. As far as I’ve gathered from playing with friends, it’s set in Iran and sees insurgents fighting “security” forces, though I’m fairly certain that’s the American definition of security, since it’s less pistols and batons than M4s and Benellis.

Perhaps the most striking feature for someone jumping straight into a game is how pretty it is. I was astounded to find this game was based on the Source engine, which gave us classics such as Counter Strike: Source, Day of Defeat: Source (see a pattern here?), Garrysmod, and of course, Half Life 2 through Episode 2. It’s definitely capable of being pretty, but they did a good job of making it gritty here… Even if that is quite literal, and for the most part it is rendering sand.

2014-11-15_00001
I still don’t know what weapon is on the back of that truck.

Another key area of this game is the ability to customise your weapons. I hesitate to say I love this feature, because it’s been overdone by other shooters like Call of Duty, but for whatever reason it feels worthwhile here. With a wide range of options, from various scopes through different types of ammo and underbarrel attachments, the kit you put on your gun can be as much an asset as the gun itself. Especially on night maps, where you could gamble that customisation point on getting a holographic sight for ease of use over ironsights, but would stop you being able to afford a flashlight, you feel the need to choose your equipment wisely.

This was definitely the right time to choose an 8x magnification scope.
This was definitely the right time to choose an 8x magnification scope.

The other major gameplay point, especially of note to anybody new to this game, is the “dynamic hipfire”. This has an actual name, but I’ll be damned if I remember it. What this effectively means is, as you move your mouse to face another direction, your gun moves to point slightly in that direction. As a result, it is rare your hipfire is ever dead-centre of the screen, but rather slightly in some direction around it. More specifically (and to those Red Orchestra players who think they’ll have an easy time), your mouse movements control where your gun points, and your camera follows it. Whilst this is a fun mechanic which allows them to keep accuracy at hipfire, since it’s based on your ability to actually point the gun which matters, it does take a lot of getting used to and can feel sluggish at times. Being a big Red Orchestra 2 player, I would much rather have had it so that the mouse controls the camera and the gun follows, but perhaps that’s due to my several hundred hours logged on that game…

The landscapes appear vast, but they're not.
The landscapes appear vast, but they’re not.

Battles on Insurgency are generally short and intense. Reinforcement waves are generally limited, encouraging you to protect your own hide more than in other games. Plus, there’s generally no indication beyond what a character is wearing as to whether they’re friendly or not; if you’re an insurgent, it might not be wise to shoot the other guys with shemaghs around their faces. Death is quick, even with some heavy armour on, and you’ll find an equal number of players using automatic or single shot weapons as a result. After all, it’s just one shot that counts. Though, saying that, if you were to spray a load of bullets at them, it’s fairly likely they would become suppressed, which comes with it’s own screen effect to make you less effective.

One particularly cool mechanic is that, whilst security have their M4s and other fancy modern equipment, insurgents use whatever is available which, for them, is soviet era equipment (or in some cases earlier, such as the MP40). You’ll frequently be wondering how you, armed with a heavy modern machine gun, were killed by an M1 carbine.

2014-11-21_00002
Contrary to popular belief, you do not run faster with a knife.

Off the dot, there is a fair selection of maps which see you fighting from forested mountain tops through small dusty towns to densely packed city streets. It makes for nice variety, and makes picking your weapon and attachments all the more meaningful. However, most maps do feel very “samey”, and you might be longing for more very quickly. Even with night versions of most maps, it still feels limited.

One area insurgency does stand out, however, is the sound. The crack of each bullet truly strikes fear into you as you’re running across an open area, and the cries of your person as he becomes suppressed are sharp enough to pass the fear over to you, just that little bit. Given how poncy many games make their weapons sound today, this is truly a nice change.

2014-11-21_00003
The guns are fairly nicely modelled, too.

Finally, there are a nice few gamemodes too. Of course, they all revolve around the idea of killing the enemy whilst capping points, but they do it in a variety of ways. You have your bog standard attack and defend, but there’s also a siege mode that sees one team advancing point by point to earn more reinforcements, and another where your team only spawns the moment you capture a point (which gets truly intense at the last man standing).

Explosions can look nice, too.
Explosions can look nice, too.

Overall, Insurgency is a fun game. I enjoy playing it, but I don’t think it’s something I’d stick on for too long. Messing around with all the different weapons and such is enjoyable, as is sneaking up and knifing people in the back, but it doesn’t seem to have that factor of enjoyment that would see me returning day after day to play. Perhaps it’s the time you spent dead that doesn’t help; I mean, take note of that last gamemode I mentioned, you could be the first to die and spend a good while dead whilst your team fights over a point. There are definitely some games where I’ve spent more time dead than alive. Additionally, it feels like tactics don’t really matter, and it is just a matter of individually running to capture a point and shooting people on the way.

Perhaps it is worth it’s £10.99 Steam price tag, but I won’t deny I’m glad a friend gave it me for free from the current Humble Bundle. In fact, the entire reason they’re on a Humble Bundle, giving away 4 copies with every bundle, suggests they don’t have as many players as they’d like, meaning other people aren’t finding the game as enjoyable to play as one might hope. Whilst my first instincts are to slam Insurgency and say it’s not worth while, the fact I can spend a couple of hours playing it does say something, even if I might not necessarily want to jump back on it any time soon after.

Insurgency is developed by New World Interactive. You can find it on Steam for £10.99, or currently on the Humble Bundle with 3 free copies to give to your friends. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

Insurgency