Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beware of the blob... - Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal

This is a game that somewhat defies description. On paper Creepr World 3 a tower defense game, except your towers can readily move. It would be realtime strategy, except the mechanics are nothing like a typical RTS. If I had to call it something I'd Say it a Tower Defense/RTS hybrid but even that might not be quite right. Whatever it is, we're clearly dealing with a unique game.

Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal actually has a fairly complex story about humanity's fight against an invading force called the creeper which is which takes the form of this strange blue slime that spreads to cover entire worlds. What exactly the stuff is and what it's doing are a major part of the story, and there's more here than I would of expected. As always I can't give much in the way of details because of spoilers, but I will say the game takes place a very log time after the first two games, and covers a lot of what happened since then. There are some references to the first two games, but you don't need to have played them to make since of what's going on here.
From this map, you can choose what mission to take on next.
Gameplay in Creeper World 3 is fairly simple, from your main base, you build weapons to fight back the creeper, and to power them you need to build collectors, which generate energy and help build a network which you need to transmit all that energy through. your main objective on most maps is to clear a path to the emitters the creeper is coming from, allowing you to build nullifiers to destroy them. and to do that the game gives you a lot of options. on top of simple lasers you can use mortars to blow small holes in the creeper, or use aerial units to get at distant areas. you can even build ore mines to produce anti-creeper, which can hurt creeper but won't damage your buildings. The whole time you have to carefully manage your power. try to build too much at once or don't have enough collectors making power and you'll have brownouts, slowing everything down as your base struggles to meet the demand.

The creeper itself is an unusual enemy, like I said before it's basically slime and it does act like a liquid: quickly running down hill or pooling in ditches or valleys to create deep pools of the stuff. The terrain makes a huge difference as trying to clean out a pool of Creeper is very different from trying to fight uphill against it. In fact terrain is a big part of the game, unlike other strategy games, the creeper doesn't make units or plan attacks, it just spreads. How it spreads depends entirely on the maps layout and how you choose to fight it.
Terran has a huge effect on how the creeper acts
The game comes with several game modes, on top of the main campaign there's two additional areas called tormented space and the prospector zone. These areas contain extra missions, complete with their own campaign map that slowly unlocks new missions as you beat previous ones. There's also the Dial Map Device which acts as a random map generator, the generator allows you to tweak several properties to effect how maps are generated, and you can even save and name generated maps to share them online with other players, or readily play other maps that players have saved. There's even a map editor for making your own maps, as well an in game browser for easily downloading and playing user maps. Put simply, there's a lot of content to this game.

In fact, the amount of content this game has is worth mentioning. Between the campaign, tormented space, and prospector zone, there's easily hundreds of missions here. Add the map generator and user maps, and you've got virtually unlimited missions, this would be overwhelming except the game handles it in a simple but rather clever way: The bulk of the content is optional. The main story campaign is actually quite short, it's only about 16-17 missions and can be beaten in only a few hours. meaning if you just want to beat the game and see the ending, it's not all that much of a slog. If you want more, there's all the content you could need, and you can readily take or ignore almost all of it.
This is a map of the prospector zone, each one of those stars can contain several missions.
The game has a nice soundtrack, it goes for more of a sweeping, orchestral score and while there's only a few tracks, they're all nice to listen to and fit the game's overall theme of fighting against impossible odds quite nicely. Sound is somewhat minimal but effective. It's mostly the sound of weapons fire, backed with the occasional whoosh of things flying up or down from orbit, backed up by the occasional beep or siren to warn you of something important, there's no ambient sound or anything like that, but that's fine as when missions heat up the sound of weapons fire becomes almost constant. Everything works and there's nothing to distract you.

The games' graphics seem to somewhat favor form over function. Unit designs are somewhat simple with a nice, clean UI that's easy to read. The layouts of some levels can be interesting but for the most part this game seems to be designed more around being readily readable than pretty, and it succeeds at that. Units are brightly colored to stick out from the terrain and it's easy to see what's going on at a glance.
Small maps are difficult in this game, as the creeper can quickly overwhelm you.
Surprisingly I haven't encountered any major flaws with this game. The only real bug I encountered is some lag when changing menus but other than that I didn't encounter any major technical issues. The worst I can say is that in playing the game, I found some of the units to be mostly useless to me, and I tend to focus on the same small handful out of what's available, though how much of that is due to my play style vs, how the game was designed I couldn't tell.

overall I'd say Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal is a game worth having. It has a really unique take on tower defense, and with almost limitless content, the game can readily last as long as you want it to.

Creeper World 3 was developed and published by Knuckle Cracker. It is available on Steam, Gamersgate and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchase option is available here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not Half Baaaad - Escape Goat

Escape Goat has a little history to it, it started life as an X-Box live indie game, and from what little I've heard it was a decent success there, enough at least to see a PC release, and later a sequel. While the game was well praised it seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat. as of this writing no curators recommend the original, and the sequel only has 2, one of which is the game's publisher. sounds like good material for here.

Escape goat sees you as a magical purple goat - yes, really - trying to escape a prison with the help of a small mouse, rescuing sheep around the way. to do that, you'll have to travel through about 50 some odd levels. each one a puzzle that takes up a single screen. The game is actually somewhat non linear here, levels are grouped into different areas, and you can tackle these areas in any order, with more areas unlocking as previous ones are cleared.
your ultimate goal is the rescue sheep, like this one here.
Another interesting thing about the levels is they consist of a lot of moving parts. puzzles mainly revolve around hitting switches or holding down pressure plates to rearrange various parts of the game world. Part of what stands out about this is that things don't just move, there's gears and pulleys and other things to show how and where things move, it can get very complicated and it's pretty neat to see large sections of a level move a shift about as you try to solve them.

Alongside the goat you control, you have a mouse. The, which you can summon and un-summon at any time can climbs up walls and across ceilings, as well as fit through tiny spaces and activate most buttons and plates. There's even a powerup in some levels that give you the ability to swap places with him. The little guy actually allows for a lot of possibility in lever design and the game makes full use of him without making things overly complicated.
swapping places also destroys whatever is between you and the mouse
The game also has a surprisingly good difficulty curve. While the game might seem like it's insanely hard and rage inducing, that's actually not the case. The game starts out fairly simple, saving the crazier stuff for late game when you have a better idea of what you should be doing, and most levels don' rush you much, given you all the time you need to look things over and think about how to tackle them problem. The exception to this are the post game levels, which is where the devs pull all the stops out in favor of some utterly brutal challenges, but since they're fully optional, there's no need to really worry about them. They're there if you want that extra challenge, but easily ignored if you don't

The game also has a custom level editor which allows you to make your own campaigns, I'll admit I didn't tinker with this very much so I can't really comment on useability, and unfortunately the game doesn't have any sort of built in level sharing. I was however, able to find a forum here where people can share levels, and while there's not a lot on it, there's enough to help extend the game a bit.
Levels also contain various traps, such as the one I've fallen into here
Graphically, the game goes for a simple but effective 8-bit aesthetic. Graphics are nice and colorful and everything is readily recognizable, and there's a decent amount of detail to the artwork. Overall I might have seen better pixel graphics elsewhere, but what's here is pretty decent and at worst is perfectly serviceable without being ugly.

The music however, is incredible. The game has an incredible chiptune soundtrack. While the soundtrack only contains a handful of songs, each one is well done and very catchy to listen to. It's easily one of the games biggest strengths and I highly recommend at least giving it a listen at the Bandcamp link below
Explosive crates and barrels can take out enemies for you, or yourself if your not careful
As good as the game is however, it does have one major flaw: it's short, VERY short. I beat the game, doing all levels except the bonus levels, in just under 2 hours. You could likely beat this game in a single sitting if you wanted. it's unfortunate, and it would of been nice if there was another set or two of levels in the main game to play through. Though what's there is VERY good. Also, as of this writing the game is only $4.99, which is a perfectly fair price for a game this length.

Overall, Escape Goat is a perfectly solid puzzle platformer with a difficulty curve that keeps the challenge just right. While I'm told the sequel is even better (and I may yet play and review that somewhere down the road EDIT: I finally reviewed it here), I'd say the first is still worth a playthrough. At the very least? The soundtrack alone makes it worth getting.

Escape Goat was developed and published by MagicalTimeBean. It is available on Steam, GoG and Desura. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchase option is available here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Some Crap Curator

So, readers might be away of steams curator program, which lets people start groups to recommend games that show up in a curator section of user's home pages?

Well, after a little talking amongst friends, I've decided to throw my hat in, you can find my page here.

I'll be using the steam curator both to recommend games I cover here, as well as other games I can't or haven't gotten around to yet that I think deserve a mention. Much like the blog, my curator recommendations will be leaning a bit towards older and more obscure titles, So if you like what I'm doing here and you're interested in finding some good hidden gems? feel free to go follow it on Steam.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This game kicks ASCII - SanctuaryRPG

NOTICE: This review is based on the free version of Sanctuary RPG, and does not account for content added in the Black Edition, which was not available at the time this review was written.

As I've said before, one of the reasons I started this blog was to steer people towards interesting games that have flown under the radar, and when it comes to being both interesting and under the radar. a retro text based rpg that's not on steam would be a hard thing to top.

SanctuaryRPG is very much a weird game, a text based RPG that plays with a keyboard only. You'd think it was a VERY old game from the early 80s or even the late 70s, but it was actually made in 2010. It's not quite a roguelike thought it takes some inspiration from them. The closest comparison I can think of is old BBS door games if you've ever played any of those: text only, turn based, and based mostly around menus.
I wasn't kidding about the text. This is the entire title screen
As an RPG, the game gives you a surprising amount of options upon starting a new game. On top of choosing a race or class, of which there's plenty of both, you also get to choose what kind of game to play. You can choose if you want permadeath or not, or to play a survival mode which has you keep fighting battles until you die. Your choice has some minor effect on the game outside of difficulty. playing without permadeath gives you a slight penalty to item drops, and you can't unlock augments, which are small bonuses you can pick on starting a new character.

The gameplay is based heavily around navigating menus. You're given a list of the actions you can take at any point, and go from there. Want to visit the blacksmith? Chose the blacksmith option to bring up the menu for it. Crafting? You've got an option for that. Need to check your stats? Character menu. Since the game is purely keyboard based, it helps keep the controls nice and simple. There's not really any commands to remember, just look at the menu, tell the game what you want, and off you go.
you'll be seeing a lot of menus like this in game.
Combat in the game is also menu based, and it's surprisingly good. Combat is based off chains of attacks and focuses on managing resources. Many attacks cost mana, so you need to avoid running out, though you can readily recharge it by choosing to reposition instead of attacking, at the same time, you might need to reposition to break an opponent's guard or use a turn to break free of a bind. There's also special options like focus or grapple that can show up under certain circumstances. This keeps combat interesting; you have to consider your options fairly carefully, as if you just spam attacks you could get penalized for missing a grapple opportunity, or find yourself unable to reposition when an enemy is charging you.

The game also has some other options outside of normal combat, you can run a tavern to gain gold and experience, there's an area that occasionally creates random dungeons, basically a string of harder than normal fights in return for a prize, and there's a crafting system. As you play, you'll gain various materials you can use in a crafting minigame, the result of which decide how powerful the resulting item is, though the item is unfortunately still somewhat random. You can choose the base type, like a weapon or armor, but not exactly what kind of stats it'll have. you even have a crafting skill that levels up independently of your main level, there's more than enough here to do outside of the usual fighting.
The crafting minigame lets you make new items, though the results are somewhat random
Graphically... well, technically the game has no graphics as it's all text based. That said the game uses a lot of ASCII art and colored text and despite how primitive it is, it's very nice looking. The game manages to throw in some little animated sequences for some things, and many screens have some sort of art to accompany them. Even when the screen is mostly a menu, the game includes various boarders and windows to organize things so it's not just a wall of text to read. The end result is a game that's not half bad looking despite how primitive the graphics are.

The game also has a pretty nice soundtrack, it's all chiptune music that goes along with the retro text aesthetic nicely. The music makes heavy uses of square waves and is just a little scratchy so it sounds like it's from an older game. The battle themes, which you'll likely be hearing most often, are all very catchy and fun to listen to. The Game's sound is very minimal, but is a lot like the music, most of it is small jingles that play for certain events, but what few sounds are actually there are somewhat scratchy and low quality, overall the game really nails the look and feel of older games.
Enemies can have random modifiers, that change how they fight.
The game also fortunately runs very well. I didn't encounter any real bugs and since the game is text based, there's virtually no system requirements. The main problem I have with the game is there's no inventory for equipment, when you find new equipment, you have to equip or salvage it for crafting materials right then and there. Also there's no mouse support. I realize that's likely going against the game's retro ideology, and to be honest the game works just fine keyboard only. It doesn't NEED mouse support, but as the game is all menus it'd be nice if I could simply click through them. Call me lazy I guess.

In recommending this game, I have to admit that it leans somewhat on it's gimmick. This is a game that sells itself on using ASCII art and chiptunes in an age of 3D graphics. To it's credit however, it's not purely reliant on it. Underneath all that text and keyboard-only interface is a surprisingly good RPG that manages to accomplish quite a bit within the limitations the Devs put forward. Plus, as of this writing the game can be downloaded free off their homepage and is pretty cheap everywhere else so by all means, give this thing a spin and if you like it? Go buy it, it only costs a dollar or two.

Sanctuary RPG was developed and published by Black Shell Games. It is available on Desura and directly from the developer. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. it's homepage is available here.

An upgraded version of SanctuaryRPG, called SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition, is available on Steam.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Richard Conway, Hat Fancier - Gunpoint

Originally I wasn't going to cover this game, it seemed somewhat popular, got a lot of good press, a number of my friends own it. It seemed to be doing well enough that my poking at it would be redundant. That was until I saw the developers post on Twitter: roughly 0% of Steam owners actually own Gunpoint. Granted, Gunpoint could still be pretty successful, Steam is REALLY big after all, but still at 0%? I figured no harm in poking at it, right?

Gunpoint is a very unique game, it's a 2D stealth/puzzle game, with hacking elements and heavy film noir influences. The game starts with you getting accidentally involved in a murder, and quickly grows from there. The story is actually very well written and certainly kept my interest throughout the game, thought it was maybe a little hard to follow. It doesn't take long for the game to start throwing twists at you and while the results can get kind of confusing, it certainly made for a fun ride.
Every mission starts with a briefing, and you can chose some of Conway's dialogue
The game is at it's core a stealth game in a 2d perspective. You make your way through buildings, avoiding guards to reach an objective, then make your escape. The game manages to keep this interesting through two major mechanics, the first is the Bullfrog trousers. On top of climbing and sneaking around, You're character has the ability to jump several stories high, and can readily smash through glass or tackle guards with a good pounce. It opens up a few options for how to handle problems: can't open the door? maybe you can jump through a window.

The other major feature of the game, is the Crosslink. Easily the game's biggest feature, the Crosslink allows you to remotely rewire things. Need a door open? Wire a light switch to it and flip that to open it. Can't get to a light switch? wire a motion detector to it and wait for the guard to pass through, you can even wire multiple things together so that triggering one object sets off several others. This is where the game get's a lot of it's challenge from as the game is less about sneaking around and more about finding a good way to wire the building up.
In Crosslink mode, you can you can readily rewire objects in the game.
On top of the Crosslink there's also several upgrades you can get, either with upgrade points or money earned by clearing missions. Several of the upgrades are fairly straightforward, such as allowing you to make silent landings or quietly break through glass, others allow for some new abilities though, such as the ability to rewire guards guns or wire electrical sockets to things to electrify them. it opens up some new options later in the game, though I admit I got through it with minimal use of them.

The game also comes with a level editor. I messed around with ti a little bit and out it's surprisingly easy to use, all you need to do is drag and drop things into place to build you level, the game will even wire things up properly for you: put a security panel near a door and it will automatically link the two. It's fairly easy to make a working level though there are a couple shortcomings, namely, everything in the editor comes at a fixed size, with no apparent way to resize things, there's no way I saw to set up things like pre-mission briefings, which would of been nice for making user campaigns. Still, what's there is easy to work with and more than enough to make some good levels, and thanks to the game having steam workshop support there's already plenty of user made levels readily available.
Conway is capable of making some very large jumps
Graphically, The game uses pixel art though it's not trying to be retro, or at least not advertising itself that way. Instead everything is nice and detailed despite how relatively small everything is, and the art style is clean overall. I can readily see what everything is even in the dark, and I saw nothing wrong with the graphics as a whole. At it's worst, this might not be the kind of game to praise for it's graphics, but there's nothing falt out bad about them.

The soundtrack to gunpoint is exactly what you'd expect: a moody, jazzy soundtrack that perfectly fits the Noir setting of the game. Each in-mission track comes with a slightly more electronic version that the game transitions to when you're in crosslink mode. it fits the game perfectly and is pretty nice to listen to on it's own. meanwhile the game's sound is somewhat minimal, mostly just gunshots form guards or the sound of breaking glass, but what little is there is well done.
Several upgrades are available in the in game store.
The game does however, have one major flaw. It's short. VERY short. While there's a ranking system and multiple ways to handle missions to encourage some reply, the main story is only about 3-4 hours long at most, The story manages to make the most of it and doesn't feel rushed, but it feels like there wanted to be more. for example, you do get to make a few choices throught the game that have at least some effect on the story, and it feels almost like the story is going to be fairly non-linear with all sorts of branching mission paths, but it's not. There's one set of missions, and that's it.

Overall, while the game is very short and feels like it wanted to be something bigger, it's still a very good game, the story is entertaining, even if it can be a bit confusing at times, and the crosslink is a very unique mechanic that's fun to mess around with. if you like stealth or puzzle games, consider picking this up.

Gunpoint was developed and published by Suspicious Developments. It is available on Steam. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. it's homepage, including a demo can be found here.