Thursday, February 11, 2016

IOS Review #111: Decromancer

Title: Decromancer
Developer: Unit9
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: Free
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It can be easy for mobile games to slip under the radar. Given the sheer amount of releases each week, decent games can come and go without ever catching many eyes. Decromancer first released in 2013, afterwards making its way to Android and Steam, I only discovered the game last week and completely surprised by its tactical card combat and wealth of content.
Decromancer's story is simple: explore a enemy-filled map, help a stranded diplomat to get home. But story isn't the focus here; it's the game's tactical combat and in that aspect, Decromancer shines quite brightly.

Encounters takes place on a four-by-five grip, with enemies controlling the top two rows and you controlling the bottom two. Each turn, you can draw three cards from your deck. So far, kind of standard. But while the mechanics are akin to the wealth of other card battlers, the actual combat is strategic and all about positions and abilities. Each unit has a specific range of effect and special skills: spearman can hit two tiles in one blow, archers can randomly target three tiles, healers assist all adjacent tiles, and so on.
This allows an incredible amount of tactics. Protecting your front row with siege shields while peppering an enemy's front with protected spears. Place powerful snipers in your back row, while reinforcing your front line with healers and swordsman. As you gather more powerful cards and upgrade cards already in your deck, the strategies only grow more complex, allowing you to stack status effects, attack ranges, and buffs to annihilate your foes. An arsenal of spells further expand your tactics, letting your unleash a horde of rats, call down meteors upon your enemies, increase your ranks' defense for several turns, and more.
Of course being a card game and free, Decromancer is likely to cause some to be hesitant, but it's surprisingly fair. There aren't any card packs to buy, and while you can purchase gold or shards to heal your cards, the game rewards you with both frequently. By the time you're facing stronger factions, you'll earn thousands of gold and dozens of experience points per battle, letting you continuously upgrade your cards and gather new ones from merchants. And while the early game can be pretty grindy, the constant dripfeed of new cards and unlocks and the satisfaction of decimating lower-level foes with your superior tactics and powerful cards provides a good push to keep playing.

Decromancer is available for free. You can also find the game on Android and Steam.

Monday, February 8, 2016

PC Review #139: Firewatch

Title: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $19.99
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There's something almost magical about the woods. Leave home, turn off the highway, stop in the lot of some larger park or in a roadside clearing for a trail, venture onto a path, and the civilization that was so close suddenly seems so distant. It's just you and the woodlands, and there's a sense of mystery and awe around every bend, over every hill, atop each peak and outlook. Even if you've walked the same trail before, it can feel new and just as compelling. I've played a lot of open world games, traversed a lot of digital forests, and none have captured that atmosphere as well as Firewatch. The engaging intimate story almost feels like a wonderful extra, wrapped up in the game's gorgeous setting and feeling of discovery and exploration.
In Firewatch, you fill the shoes of Henry, a man devastated by a crumbled relationship, escaping to a lookout tower watching out over Wyoming's Shoshone National Forest. It's a lonely solitary job of putting out smoldering campfires and dealing with reckless teenagers, or it would be if not for the friendly voice from your walkie-talkie. Delilah is another lookout in the tower on an adjacent peak in the hazy distance, and your only companion. She's there to guide you through your early fire-watching days, to help point out slivers of smoke in your region of the forest, to chat about life and family and other well-acted dIscussions. Much like Telltale's games and other narrative adventure, you can choose dialogue choices to develop your relationship with Delilah, and saying nothing is almost always an option.

From your tower, you grab your pack and your radio, and venture into the park. The environment isn't the largest open world in gaming, but it's sprawling enough that you need to use a trail map and compass to orient yourself, use landmarks and marked supply caches to find your way to locations. Later on, you gain new tools and items that let you explore previously inaccessible areas, such as climbing rope to rappel down steep slopes.
Days pass, sometimes weeks, and gradually Firewatch becomes something more than a game of hiking through a national forest and chatting with Delilah. A mystery emerges, and an ever-present atmosphere of tension settles over the vibrant wilderness. As with any of these story-heavy games, the less you know about the twists and turns of the story, the better the experience, but I will say that Firewatch is suspenseful. That atmosphere certainly contributes to the feeling of exploration, discovery, and isolation that Firewatch nails so well. Familiar trails once traveled might not feel so inviting later in the game. Plot developments can frame certain actions and areas in new lights.

My stint as a lookout lasted around five hours, each one compelling and interesting. The hard cuts between days and weeks lets the game present its moments of calm, of mystery, of downtime and conversation at a measured meticulous pace and keep the story moving along without filler.
Firewatch offers both natural beauty to explore and engaging banter to enjoy, a mystery to unravel and a mature story. Between Oxenfree last month and now Campo Santo's debut title, 2016 has been already proved to be a wonderful year for narrative adventures. You can find Firewatch on Steam and PS4.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 2/6

Title: Youji
Developer: luxjuve
A Wuxia story based in the wartime of late Ming dynasty, with an aesthetic stylized after Chinese ink paintings
Title: Zero Dark Gravity
Developer: Skyway Interactive
Zero gravity open world survival
Title: Elk
Developer: Wee Door
A 2.5D stealth puzzle platformer about an elk lost and alone in a strange land
Title: Last Fight
Developer: PiranaKing
Last Fight is a 3D fighting / platform game with an arcade style. Packed with humour, skill and fun for up to 4 players, Last Fight introduces a roster of 10 different characters.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Watchlist: Scorn

Title: Scorn
Developer: Ebb Software
Platforms: PC
Releasing 2017
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An atmospheric first person horror adventure
No doubt that HR Giger's unsettling blend of organic and mechanical is one of the most fascinating aesthetic in science fiction. Many games have been inspired by it, and besides Alien: Isolation, the upcoming Scorn looks it's capturing those influences with great and grotesque sucess.

Scorn drops you into a nightmarish world of twisted gnarled fleshy structures. The world will be spread across interconnected regions, each with its own stories and secrets to uncover, unique puzzles to solve, and characters to meet.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Scorn is that you aren't defenseless. Monstrous beings roam the regions, and you'll be able to fight back with a selection of weird and powerful weapons. But Scorn is no action game. Combat is influenced by old-school horror games like Resident Evil; supplies will be scare and ammo limited, focusing on carefully choosing battles if you want to survive enemy encounters.
Scorn is expected to release on PC in early 2017; you can follow its development on TIGSource and Twitter.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 1/30

Title: Scorn
Developer: Ebb Software
Scorn is an atmospheric first person horror adventure game set in a nightmarish universe of odd forms and somber tapestry. Isolated and lost inside this dream-like world you will explore different interconnected regions in a non-linear fashion. Every location contains its own story, puzzles and characters that are integral in creating cohesive lived in world. Throughout the game you will open up new areas of the game, acquire different skill sets, weapons, various items and try to comprehend the sights presented to you.
Title: The Black Death
Developer: Siren Studios
Experience a bustling medieval land under the threat of a devastating plague. Survival is becoming increasingly unlikely, but day to day life must continue. With a variety of classes to choose from, each with their own unique play styles and approaches to survival. How long can you survive before you succumb?
Title: The Last Leviathan
Developer: Super Punk Games
An evocative voyage of creativity, discovery and terror...
Title: Inventory
Developer: Black Tower Basement
A Hack'n'slash RPG about beautiful loot and greedy heroes
Title: Mad Devils
Developer: Itzy Interactive
Mad Devils blends the popular WWII genre with supernatural/fantasy elements in a one of a kind, co-operative shooter experience. Follow a group of devil GI’s who continue to fight WWII in an afterlife that darkly mirrors war torn Europe. Choose to play as one of the six remaining members of the Mad Devils squad, leveling up each with their own unique powers and weapons. Fight to close the portals being used to reinforce Nazi forces on Earth with devil troops.

Friday, January 29, 2016

IOS Review #110: Knotmania

Title: Knotmania
Developer: 2 Think Games
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $2.99
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If you've played Zen Bound or Shadowmatic, you're already familiar with the feel of Knotmania's gameplay. A relaxing atmosphere and tactile mechanics make Knotmania an enjoyable game, but the sentient alien entities that you untangle make it unique.
Knotmania revolves around the simple premise of untangling knots. Multi-touch controls lets you pull apart strings and twist, drag, and rotate with ease. But those fibers aren't static; instead they're living creatures, worm-like beings that flex and coil and react to your touch.

It may seem like a small change, but the notion of manipulating living creatures gives Knotmania its weird quirky charm. Each level begins with a twisted knot to tackle - sometimes a single worm, sometimes many entangled with each other - a calm relaxed mass indifferent to your presence. Begin tugging and dragging and, as expected, they resist and twist away, moving in slow graceful movements as if through water or in zero gravity. Maybe one worm will try to wrap around and wrestle with another. It adds an engaging vibe akin to an unearthly nature documentary to what's a relatively simple format.
Knotmania includes 76 levels, each one featuring a colorful pairing of room and strings. The oddly textured environments enhances the alien atmosphere, and seeing the shadows of the twisting, flowing worms against the backgrounds helps cement the sense that these are living physical things in the environment.

While the core gameplay is quite relaxing, there is an element of challenge in completing the levels under a time limit, as well as the optional goal of using the fewest amount of touches. An upcoming update will add a Zen mode that removes the timer.
Knotmania is available for $2.99.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Watchlist: Anew: The Distant Light

Title: Anew: The Distant Light
Developer: Resonator, LLC
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
In development
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An open-world, dual-stick action game which showcases a beautifully painted, storybook world
From Limbo to the upcoming Orphan, there's something compelling about a child enduring a harsh and dangerous world. Anew: The Distant Light follows a child on a distant moon, light-years from home and on a critical mission.

Set on a sprawling world, extending from rocky barren surface to subterranean lakes, you'll shoot and leap your way through dangerous beings and deadly hazards. A high-tech suit enhances your mobility, granting you the skills to gracefully dive beneath the water or use jet boosters for augmented jumps.
As you explore farther, new technology will expand your options, letting you solve puzzles and speed across the moon in alien vehicles. But agility alone isn't enough to survive this ruthless landscape, and an arsenal of powerful energy guns, grenades, and more lets you hold your own against hordes of alien creatures, lurking predators. and heavily-armed inhabitants. 

Anew brings this alien moon to life with a vibrant art style and smooth animations. Snow coats the dimly lit surface around your landing site, water sloshes and splashes as you fight under the surface, and lasers fly across the screen in furious neon streaks.
Anew: The Distant Light is still early in development, and is slated to release on PC and consoles. You can learn more about the game and find more screenshots here.