Friday, September 19, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Steampunk - Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig started life as a downloadable title on 3DS, and was later ported to Wii U, Playstation 4/Vita and PC, given upgraded HD graphics and some platform appropriate features along the way. As a game it's a little hard to describe as it takes some ideas from a somewhat random set of games, though the results are undeniably unique.

Steamworld dig is a Metroidvania style platform game, mixed with bits of dig dug and Minecraft or Terraria. Gameplay is based around digging downwards through a semi-randomly generated world in search of ore, which you can use to get upgrades that allow you to explored deeper underground leading to more upgrades for more digging for more upgrades and so on. All of this is accompanied with a simple story, that starts with your robot hero taking over a mine in a old western ghost town out in the desert.
The town is pretty empty when you first arrive
when you're not digging, the game also has a lot of side caves you need to visit to progress in the game, along with a few side areas you can visit for extra resources. These caves focus more or platforming than digging and as a platformer the game is decent. while it's not as good as a straightforward platformer, the game was able to provide a few interesting puzzles and challenges in the caves and there wasn't anything broken or frustrating about the mechanics, though it's clear the game is more focused on digging than traditional platforming.

You'd expect a game about digging downwards to be fairly boring, But Steamworld Dig manages to avoid this. There's plenty of traps and enemies hiding underground. At first it's nothing but the occasional set of spikes in the ground or small critter wandering about but as you get deeper, the game gets steadily more complex as you end up running across things like acid, or explosive barrels. right until the end of the game, you'll be constantly coming across new things to deal with in your quest for more money, so things never get old.
There's all sort of creatures hiding underground.
Of course, all the cash you earn by selling ore in game has to go towards something. and while most of your major upgrades are found in the caves underground, there's also plenty of upgrades to buy in stores on the surface. the upgrades are mostly straightforward things like more health and better pickaxes, or enhancements to things you found in the caves. They are however useful to have and there's also a lot of them, enough that by the time I beat the game there was still some things left to buy. The game also includes some consumables, things like ladders or dynamite that can help with your efforts underground. I didn't use them very much but they were a major help the few times I did.

Graphically, the game is very nice looking, graphics were improved from the original 3DS release and looks perfectly fine on PC. They even did a surprising job of making areas in the game look unique and interesting despite the majority of the game being spent basically looking at dirt.
There are plenty of upgrades to buy with the cash earned in game.
The music in the game is somewhat sparse but does it's job nicely, the title theme to the game fits the game's western setting. The rest of the music is atmospheric, and fits the lonely, almost desolate feeling of mining at an old ghost town nicely. There is a soundtrack available on steam, and while the music fits well with the game, I'm not sure it's the kind of music you can readily listen to on it's own outside the game.

What the game really does well however, is it's sound. this is a game about steam powered robots and everything clangs, whirs and hisses exactly like you'd expect it too. Underground you'll hear dirt crumbling as it's dug away or the rumbling of boulders as they fall into place. Everything is crystal clear and sounds exactly like it's supposed to. This is a very nice sounding game.
The game starts with a nice animated intro
 Everything in the game works properly and I didn't encounter any major bugs. The game does however have one major problem: It's short, very short. I beat the game in just over 4 hours. The game does manage to make the most of this time however, as it felt like there was plenty to do in game, and it quite the trip to reach the end, but it would of been nice if it could of done just a little bit more.

Still, despite it's short length I'd say the game is worth a playthrough. It's a very unique title with it's mix of digging, upgrading and platforming and while it only took a couple of hours, it managed to readily keep my interest the whole time. if you get a chance and want to try something a little different, definitely consider giving it a try.

Steamworld Dig was developed and published by Image and Form. It is available on GoG, and Steam. It's soundtrack is available on Steam. it's homepage can be found here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

To boldly blow up where no man has blown up before - Terminal Velocity

A straightforward arcade space combat sim. Terminal Velocity sees you in the pilot's seat of a powerful space fighter craft with the mission of blowing up everything in sight. There's a story presented in some splash screens and mission briefings in game, but it's honestly nothing important and like in a lot of older action games just serves as a cheap excuse to make things explode.

Terminal Velocity definably leans more towards arcade than full on simulation. The game doesn't care much, if at all, about the finer points of flight you can even find random powerups and weapon pickups scattered around the levels. this is not a bad thing as the game thrives on being fast paced, with little downtime in missions as you frantically fight off swarms of enemies in a hail of laser fire.
The game will see you fighting over several different planets.
As a flight sim, this is definitely a game that demands a joystick. while there are options to play with a mouse or just a keyboard, the game honestly works best with a joystick and plays wonderfully using one. Unfortunately, since this is an old doss game and I'm using a new joystick, I couldn't figure out how to make the game recognize all of my axes or buttons properly, and the game's config only seems to recognizes  4 buttons and a simple x and y axis. fortunately as the game is a fairly simple arcade game this isn't any real problem, the game ran just fine with what I could do and doesn't need a really advanced joystick, though thous of us who have the extra buttons or axis to spare might be a bit disappointed by this.

The Game's action takes place over the surface of various planets and to it's credit the game has manage to make levels fairly interesting, while there's plenty of open space to fly in, levels will see you flying through canyons, attacking military installations, or fighting off weapons turrets set on raised platforms. it's enough to keep things interesting and not just feel like you're flying through so much empty space. Also helping with this are the Tunnels.
Tunnels provide an interesting change of pace from the normal dog-fighting
A good amount of the game involves flying through tunnels found throughout the stages, shooting down enemies and barriers that block the way or dodging various obstacles. There's actually quite a few different obstacles and the game makes good use of the fact that you can readily control your speed in flight, going so far as to slow to a crawl to wait for an opening if needed. The tunnels can also come in various shapes and sizes, going so far as to allow for large underground rooms to dogfight or face bosses in. It's not as detailed as something like say, Descent, but it's enough to keep things interesting.

The music in game is unfortunately not very interesting. It sounds like the game wants to have a thumping techno or rock soundtrack but doesn't really have the teeth for it. Music tracks consist mainly of a simple beat with little else and audio quality isn't all that great, though that might simply be due to the game's age as it came out in 1995. It's not bad enough to make me rush to shut it off, but overall the music is just sort of... there.
Each planet ends with a large boss fight such as this.
The game's sound is fortunately is a lot better. Everything sounds like it should from weapons fire to explosions. Sound is nice and clean and manages to hold up well when things get frantic, making battles sound nice and chaotic without getting too noisy. Overall it does what it needs to and there's nothing to really complain about.

The games graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. The game boasted cutting edge 3d graphics when it came out and it does show, each planet you'll be flying over has it's own look, enemies have unique designs and there's even CG cutscenes for travel between planets. The problem is since it's an older game it hasn't aged well, everything's now fairly pixelated and particularly the CG cut scenes look really primitive by today's standards. This creates a problem as enemies and objects at a distance are reduced to unrecognizable dots until you get fairly close.
cutscenes like this play between missions as you move from plant to planet.
Outside of what I mentioned above the game surprisingly doesn't have many flaws. I didn't come across any real bugs and the worst thing I did encounter was likely the not very interesting music. The game does exactly what it set out to do and most of my problems with it are more a matter of the game aging rather than something fundamentally wrong with it.

That said, I'll have to note that the game is both simple, and fairly short. there's not a lot to it and the game is only a couple of hours long at best. Though for a game this simple it's probably for the best. This is not a game with a lot of deep features or complex gameplay, it's just you flying your ship around making things explode and it's very good at doing that. Well worth a look if you want something nice and simple you can quickly jump into, but those who want their games more complex should probably look elsewhere.

Terminal Velocity was developed by Terminal Reality and published by 3D Realms. It is available on GoG.