Thursday, September 3, 2015

PC Review #125: STASIS

Title: Stasis
Developer: The Brotherhood
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $24.99
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The last twelve months have been a wonderful time for sci-fi horror fans. Alien: Isolation last October; Solarix, Duskers, and Quadrant this year; SOMA later this month. And of course, now Stasis. The sci-fi horror adventure game has been in development for five years, highly anticipated due to its isometric art and gory gritty style.

Having finished Stasis a few days ago, I think it's safe to say the game absolutely succeeds, delivering the kind of industrial atmosphere and gruesome visuals that would make Ridley Scott and David Cronenberg proud.
To put it simply: this is one disturbing and violent horror game. Stasis earns its M rating, in terms of both narrative and content. You are John Maracheck, who awakes from stasis on the mysterious vessel The Groomlake. Your family is missing, and the pools of blood and body parts are a clear indication that something very bad has happened on the ship. Drifting in deep space around Neptune, far from earth, no help is coming.

As you search the massive Groomlake for your family, you'll discover the truth behind the research and experiments conducted there, through the PDA logs of scientists and crew members. Those short vignettes flesh out the world, provide insight into the horrific secrets of the Groomlake, and give the setting a real sense of place. It's not just a drifting haunted house; people lived and worked here.

Due to the focus on the narrative, the less known about the plot, the better, but I'll say it's mature, engrossing, and realistic. You're just a normal man, looking for his family, on a research vessel-turned-living nightmare.
Being an adventure game, Stasis is all about puzzles. For the most part, the puzzles and goals were pretty logical, adhering to the rules and tone of the setting. Let's just you have more uses for viscera here than you do in other adventure games. You might need to figure out how to falsify a secret alert to open a locked door, how to bypass a bio-metric scanner, or clear toxic gas from a room. One of the engaging aspects about Stasis' puzzles is that many of the clues and hints are found in the game's logs, facts and statements that you could use to solve puzzles or learn how to fix a problem.

However, the game also had several more obtuse puzzles, with confusing combination and uses of items that left me stumped for a while.
You might be wondering how an isometric adventure game can be scary. There's no combat in the game (although you might need to use the environment to neutralize some dangers). But make no mistake, Stasis is a scary game, focusing on constant unease, fantastic sound design, and some incredibly disturbing visuals and situations. The grimy and blood-soaked industrial corridors of the Groomlake feel claustrophobic and eerie; the echoing screams and other ambient noises only add to the atmosphere.

You aren't safe either; there are many gruesome ways to die on the Groomlake, from being melted to more...exotic deaths. The stakes are high, and the things John has to do to survive and find his loved ones are easily on par with gaming's most uneasy and disturbing moments. If you thought Heavy Rain's Lizard Trial or Dead Space 2's eye surgery were nauseating, Stasis finds a way to top those moments. This is horror on an intimate level, rather than shadows and monster closets and jump spaces (although there are some of those too).
But Stasis isn't perfect. The ending of the game felt rushed and abrupt, and the narrative conclusion unsatisfying and cliched. And, as mentioned before, the occasional obtuse and confusing puzzles can bring the pacing to a frustrating halt.

Despite those gripes, Stasis was one of the most engaging game I've played this year. It's a tightly focused game, about a solid 8 or 9 hours of puzzles and exploration. The unnerving soundscape, the disturbing and mature atmosphere, the wonderfully detailed isometric art style all coalesce into a sci-fi horror game absolutely worth experiencing

You can purchase Stasis on Steam and GOG.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SitRep: Subnautica

Title: Subnautica
Platforms: PC, Mac
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I had last wrote about Subnautica in June, stating how its alien ocean environment fostered an atmosphere of wonder and discovery. Since then, the game has only gotten bigger and even expanded to a new platform,
Subnautica came to Mac over the summer, and with that new platform also came a plethora of new content. The underworld world has grown to include two new biomes: the Underwater Islands and Sparse Reef. The former consists of massive chunks of rock and soil supported on the backs of buoyant growths; be careful navigating the waterfall of sands as sharks and other predators lurk around these islands. The latter is an emptier place of rolling dunes and new flora to discover.
Your tech arsenal has expanded as well. Along with the Repulsion Cannon, you can now build larger more complex habitats. Bases can include structures such as a Seamouth dry dock, an observatory to enjoy the underwater vistas safely, new storage compartments, and bulkhead doors. 
An upcoming update will allow players to customize the Seamouth submersible with different colors and upgrades like sensor torpedoes.

You can purchase Subnautica and follows its development here.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 8/29

Title: Dujanah
Developer: J. King-Spooner
A game about an Islamic woman called Dujanah.
Developer: Soverance Studios
Ethereal Legends is a modern turn-based RPG, built in Unreal Engine 4
You play the role of Absolut, an aging wizard who must solve puzzles, defeat monsters, and explore dungeons in his quest to find meaning in his life, before it ends.
Title: Dying Ember
Developer: Pirate Beats Ninja
Dying Ember is an isometric Dark Souls like game featuring painted 2D backgrounds and 3D characters.
The game will follow a similar gameplay and story style to Dark Souls, featuring brutally difficult gameplay, epic bosses, and rich lore with minimal exposition.
Title: Kôna
Developer: KonaGame devs
An episodic game about investigation, exploration, survival and the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of W. Hamilton and the neighboring inhabitants.
Title: The Last World
Developer: Chris Rosenthal
An RPG with arrow/stealth mechanics and voxel art.

Friday, August 28, 2015

No Money, No Problem: The Sacrfice

Title: The Sacrifice
Developer: foxboard
Platforms: PC, Mac
Free
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I've played quite a few Ludum Dare 33 entries so far, but The Sacrifice has been my favorite. It forgoes the "play as a creature/killer/etc." interpretation of the game jam's theme, for a more insidious take.
The Sacrifice is a relatively simple game. You guide the five noble families of the Village, choosing their focus each season. By foraging, building, and evangelizing, the nobles must keep the Village\well-fed and happy,, keep its people sheltered against the elements, and, most importantly...maintain the secrecy of the Sacrifice.

Each season, someone must be sacrificed to please Chernobog, to keep the Village and its people in the god's favor. But each sacrifice will impact the Village stats and the families themselves. Choose wisely. It must be done to keep your people safe.

The sickly green aesthetic adds to the game's uneasy atmosphere too.
You can download The Sacrifice here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

PC Review #124: Super Mutant Alien Assault

Title: Super Mutant Alien Assault
Developer: Cybernate
Platforms: PC
Price: $9.99
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On a freighter in deep space, danger lurks. Grotesque mutants emerge from within the walls, altered by radiation. And the only thing between them and your death is a lot of big guns and agile platforming. That's Super Mutant Alien Assault in a nutshell, a randomly-generated 2D shooter inspired by Super Crate Box.
Mutant Alien Assault was already a fun and addictive experience as a flash game, and this expanded version is bigger and better in every way. The core gameplay remains the same: armed with guns and other equipment, you must fend off relentless waves of aliens across random stages. Some stages are pure timed survival, while others have you transporting energy canisters or powering down overheated fuel rods. There's no story or narrative to consider here, just frenetic and colorful action.

Similar to Super Crate Box, you'll pick up randomized weapons, adapting your strategy on the fly depending on what guns you have. From the simple handgun to devastating sniper rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, rail guns, and more high-tech armaments, the arsenal at your disposal is vast and varied, with new guns added to the pool as you progress.
But your toolset is far more expansive than just guns. Your character can equip a whole suite of randomized gadgets, with slots for explosives, sidearms, defense moves, special abilities, and perks. This extensive loadout means there's your playstyle is always evolving, as you unlock new items for each category, including double-jumping, dashing and doge rolls, temporary shields, area-of-effect energy blasts, hacking, shockwaves, extra health and ammo, blades and explosive boomerangs, and much more.

You'll need every special ability and powerful gun because Super Mutant Alien Assault is a difficult  experience. Playthroughs start out relatively easy, but soon you're facing flying and charging foes and bosses. To add to the challenge, these enemies can evolve into more powerful versions if you don't kill them fast enough.
If the alien threat proves too overwhelming to handle on your own, you can team with a friend in local co-op, doubling the on-screen chaos. Super Mutant Alien Assault's pixel art action looks wonderful in motion, with fierce explosions and colorful stages and satisfying weapon effects that makes each new gun and skills a joy to try out.

Super Mutant Alien Assault is currently on Steam Early Access, and the developer promises more stages, enemies, bosses, new items and weapons. You can purchase the game on Steam and Humble.

IOS Review #102: Lara Croft GO

Title: Lara Croft GO
Developer: Square Enix Montreal
Platforms: IOS Universal, Android
Price: $4.99
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I'll start with a confession: when I first saw the screenshots and footage of Hitman GO, my impressions weren't exactly positive. I'm a big fan of the stealth franchise and it seemed like such a weird direction to take. But then I played the game and realized it was a brilliant distillation of Hitman's stealth-puzzle DNA into an experience built from the ground up for mobile. So to say my hype and expectations for the Tomb Raider-themed follow-up were high would be an understatement.

Lara Croft GO not only exceeds those expectations, but also refines the turn-based puzzle template introduced in Hitman GO, all in a gorgeous isometric package.
While Hitman GO presented its sneaky puzzles like a board game, Lara Croft GO sheds the tabletop veneer to deliver an action-puzzle adventure. The turn-based movement along paths remains, but it's no longer contained to flat surfaces and figurines. You guide Lara through ancient temples and dense jungle, past deadly traps and subterranean passages. This is an adventure in the full sense of the word, as levels flow together seamlessly and areas seen in the distance might be traversed several stages later.
Yes, traversal. The levels here are multi-tiered environments and Lara is as agile as ever, able to scale walls, shimmy along edges, and even pull off the occasional handstand. The handstand isn't the only callback to the main games; Lara's dual pistols return as well, as you deal with the numerous creatures found throughout GO's levels. Like in Hitman GO, you need to bump enemies from the side or back to kill them, but the combat is far more involved here. You might need to goad a lizard to chase you, or time your movement to avoid the poisonous fangs of a giant spider. Single-use spears let you skewer creatures from afar, and the environment is your greatest weapon, since traps and hazards can kill creatures.
However Lara Croft GO wouldn't be compete without environmental puzzles and all the elements you'd expect are here: pillars to push and pull, switches and pressure pads, platforms to raise. Given the turn-based nature of the gameplay, puzzles rely heavily on timing and figuring out the optimal path through the levels so you can avoid danger while activating switches or getting platforms into position. While the grids are smaller than the ones in Hitman, Lara Croft focuses more on interactive elements and environmental dangers to add challenge and variety to its puzzles.

Lara Croft GO visuals are just as impressive and polished as its gameplay. The board game aesthetic is gone, and in its place is a colorful isometric world filled with detail and life. Foliage sways in the breeze, lizards test the air with forked tongues, waterfalls drain out over cavernous drops. Each chapter, divided between different Mazes on your journey to a mysterious artifact, has a different visual tone, from the cliff-side ruins of the Maze of Snakes to the underground ruins and murky swamps of other levels. That visual polish even extends to the stylish menu and minimalist UI. An atmospheric soundtrack completes the engrossing presentation.
Lara Croft GO truly impressed me in how it adapted the turn-based puzzle gameplay seen in Hitman GO to Tomb Raider's platforming-heavy adventure. Once again, it distills the core aspects of a franchise - the exotic locations and ruins, the dangerous traps and creatures lurking within, environmental puzzles and agile climbing - into a mobile-friendly experience that's simple to control but still challenging and engaging.

If there's one gripe, it's that the game lacks the replay value of Hitman GO, with no collectibles that require extra puzzling to reach, optional challenges, or move pars to beat. There are gems and hidden relics to find, which in turn unlock new outfits, but those are hidden in the background rather than extra gameplay elements. But I imagine those elements would tarnish the atmosphere and adventure vibe, so perhaps the experience is better without those aspects.

Lara Croft GO can be purchased for $4.99 (Also on Android).
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*Okay, so Lara Croft GO is a slight deviation from the usual games I cover, but with a mobile game this good, I really wanted to share my impressions, and honestly I put it in the same category as Grow Home and Valiant Hearts, aka games from larger publishers that are more indie game-esque than their usual work.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No Money, No Problem: Ludum Dare 33 Edition

It's that time of year again, time for a new Ludum Dare and hundreds of new game jam entries. Ludum Dare 33's theme is "You are the Monster", and developers have explored the theme in myriad ways.

It's impossible to play or see every entry, but here are some that caught my eye while browsing the submissions

You can check out more Ludum Dare 33 games here.
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Death of a Lich - PC
The grand lich is immortal and, many years after each death, returns back to the world of the living, thanks to his crown phylactery.
Play as the grand lich and journey down the tower in search of escape.
The Sacrifice - PC, Mac
The Sacrifice is a management game where you, along with the five noble families of the Village, decide on what needs to be done in order to survive the island's harsh seasons.
Alongside these tasks is a dark secret that the Village has upheld for decades, one that is more crucial to its survival than anything else. It requires an iron will to do whatever is necessary to protect the Village, its secrets, and life itself.
The Monster Inside - PC, Mac, Browser
A film noir style audio-visual novella.
A mysterious woman... a string of murders... and a man with a hidden past.
Delicious Cortex - Browser
Play a Lich King (and eat brains)
Mythos - PC, Mac, Linux, Browser
Mythos is a sidescroller platformer based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cuthulhu Mythos.
Me - PC
An intriguing story in a 2D sidescroller.
Bloodworm - PC, Mac
Be Bloodworm, and escape this place they've held you in for too long.
Grave - PC, Mac, Linux
Totem - Browser