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BPM: Bullets Per Minute – The Verdict

BPM: Bullets Per Minute – The Verdict

BPM: Bullets Per Minute is described as a rhythm-action FPS rogue-like. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at first either so let me explain.

If you’ve played any rogue-likes before you will be familiar with the randomness of each attempt to get to the final boss. Each try contains a different dungeon layout. Within that random layout each room contains a random assortment of enemies, shops, chests, stat and ability and health pickups, level modifiers and secrets, of which there are quite a few. On top of that is the rhythm-action mechanics meaning you can only shoot in time with the music and Awe Interactive have provided a great rock soundtrack which brings the whole game together quite nicely.

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Filament – The Verdict

Filament – The Verdict

Here I was alone on my spaceship. Minding my own business. Basking in the bliss of eternal solitude, when all of a sudden I noticed a distress signal coming from a nearby ship ‘The Alabaster’. I took one look down at my control panel and decided “not today my friend”. I turned off incoming transmissions and slowly continued on, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. Free from responsibility and game mechanics…

…of course the game had other ideas.

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Noita Early Access – First Impressions

Noita Early Access – First Impressions

Noita (the Finnish word for witch) is an early access rogue-lite with an emphasis on every pixel being simulated. That’s right, every single pixel in the game has physical properties and can be affected by the player in one way or another. Explosions gouge chunks out of caves and yourself, fire burns down anything organic including any wood you’re standing on and yourself, water fills up all the little crevices and drowns you if you’re not careful and many enemies have the same abilities. Indeed traversing your way through Noita can be as precarious and treacherous as fighting the enemies that dwell in it’s caves.

Combat and exploration come with a magical flavour, as you move around the underground landscape with what is essentially the power of a recharging jet pack. The game also adopts the no hands held approach which works well in generating a sense of exploration and a reasonable learning curve although I admit I did take a peek at the wiki a few times.

Weapons come in the form of wands and throwable flasks, each with their own properties and statistics. In the case of wands, the statistics of any given wand are permanent but they also come with spell slots and interchangeable spells attatched to them. Wands are plentiful at the start of Noita and this makes for some interesting experimentation as you try different combinations and find out a combat style that suits you. Flasks are equally as interesting and can teleport, polymorph, increase damage, burn, slow and many more things.

As you progress through Noita you find yourself passing through many different biomes, at the end of these biomes you are offered the chance to rest as you pass through a gateway chamber of sorts. You are able to replenish all spells, heal and are offered a choice of three upgrades of which you can only choose one. There are over fifty different types of upgrades currently in Noita and combining this with the different types of biomes and enemies gives the game a nice amount of replayability.

Noita may currently be in Early Access but even taking a quick look at the wiki shows the amount of content it has already is impressive. Developers Nolla Games reckon that Noita will be in development for a year before it’s full release. I’m looking forward to see how the game evolves during this time.

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

It was great fun. That’s it, no introduction needed. I’m going straight for the jugular on this one! Despite previously being somewhat of a skeptic on anything VR related, I also believe in a lot of cases it’s hard to have a stong opinion on something without first having an experience with that something. And so I had my first experience of virtual reality with my Oculus headset awkwardly strapped to my face and my touch controllers waving around clumsily as I entered the VR world of SUPERHOT.

I loved the original SUPERHOT on PC and soon became accustomed to the feel of my two motion controllers and headset within the game itself. I did almost lose my balance a couple of times early on but familiarized myself with the movements the game demanded of me with my previous experience with the PC version. With a game like SUPERHOT VR there certainly is a lot of movement involved. Every level is essentially a combination of dodging bullets, disarming enemies, shooting at unusual angles, picking up throwables from the ground, shelves and desks, punching enemies, dodging their attacks and so on. It definitely qualifies as light exercice and while I loved my time in the with the game, this is not the experience I look for in every day gaming.

The way I like to think of my enjoyment of this particular VR game is that it reminds me of going to the arcades as a kid. The enjoyment of having lots of small experiences that are super fun for short bursts before you move onto the next thing. And so I found myself after twenty or so minutes of SUPERHOT VR wanting to move onto something else. I ended up playing four or five different games in total but returned to SUPERHOT once more before I ended my session because I enjoyed it the most.

The immersion factor was much higher as is expected for the VR version of the game. It gave me a new appreciation of just how to take out each enemy and in what order, although aiming felt very different. Those moments you get in SUPERHOT PC where you pull of a really cool move felt even better in VR and things like flicking bullets out the air with your weapon, catching enemy knives and guns and swordplay were the highlight of my playtime. I would definitely be up for experiencing more SUPERHOT VR and VR in general in the future but I am yet to be convinced that this would ever replace my normal gaming set up.

The PC Store Wars – What Next?

The PC Store Wars – What Next?

Earlier this week, I took at look at the current state of play with regards to The PC Store Wars. We’ve gone from a situation where, despite repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, Valve have had little, to no, real competition in the online PC store space. Then, all of a sudden, Epic turned up with their own store. What happens now?

The Fortnite Effect

Epic made no bones about it when they launched their new store front. Their ability to launch it with such a developer friendly revenue split was thanks to the runaway success of Fortnite: Battle Royale. In 2018, the free-to-play title that was spun away from the premium (for now) Save the World variant, made upwards of $2.4 billion for Epic.

That’s right, analysts have calculated that one simple free-to-play game has made Epic more in one year than the GDP of several countries. Fortnite has had a drastic effect on the landscape of popular culture, let alone the game industry. It has been so successful, that Epic don’t even advertise it on their store. They just know people will have it, if they want it.

The phenomenal success means that Epic have a war chest, which means they can readily afford to take a hit on their revenue splits compared to the industry standard, thus enabling them to score exclusives like The Division 2 and Metro: Exodus.

What if the bubble pops? 

While the success of Fortnite so far can’t be denied, it isn’t the only free-to-play game making mega-bucks, let alone the only battle-royale title that is pulling in the money. DOTA2 is Valve’s own baby, while PUBG might be considered a has-been compared to Epic’s hit, but still pulls in over 800,000 users on an average weekday.

Looking at the Steam stats, there is one venerable oldie still standing tall. That, of course, is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Still going strong, this won’t trouble Fortnite in the revenue stakes, but shows that there is a healthy appetite among gamers for non-Fortnite games.

But might the bubble pop? EA and Respawn only released Apex Legends back on the 5th February, but has already knocked up over 25 million users. How many will stick around for the long haul, and turn into money makers for EA, we can only wait and see.

Those players though must be coming from somewhere. Yes, Fortnite has gang-buster player numbers, but something like Apex Legends would fit right in the wheelhouse of some of those users. It might not be a mass exodus, but if the Fortnite userbase crashes, or more importantly, those who are spending money on the game move on to something else, where will that leave Epic?

If there is a drastic drop in revenue from Fortnite, it won’t happen overnight. I fully expect Epic to have contingency plans already in hand, and will be playing the long-game, knowing they can build a loyal audience on their store moving forward.

Valve’s Resilience

 Valve might have made some self-inflicted wounds when it comes to Steam, but they’ve been at this game for a long time. They survived EA departing their store, and have stood firm in the face of Fortnite. Epic launching their own store is unlikely to scare Valve too much, indeed, it might force them to sit up and pay attention to events taking place beyond the end of their nose.

They will likely make more blunders, but with a strong user base (just look at the numbers playing DOTA2, CS:GO and PUBG), why should anyone expect a rival store to suddenly destroy the rolling monster.

Indie game developers might be unhappy with their revenue splits, but are they more likely to make strong sales figures on a platform not solely dominated by one hit? On a platform where they won’t run the potential risks of seeing their game given away, with an unknown reward at the end?

I can see Valve improving their revenue splits, and Ts and Cs for those selling on the platform, but I don’t envisage an immediate emptying of the store from regular big hitters like Sports Interactive, SCS Software or Paradox Interactive.

Indeed, Valve haven’t even turned their back on game development like many people cry out. No, we are unlikely to ever see Half-Life rise from the grave, but DOTA2 and CS:GO are still very much supported, while something like Artefact is sure to undergo changes to push it to rival the Hearthstone’s of the world. That isn’t to forget In the Valley of the Gods.

Closing Thoughts

Competition is ultimately good for business, and good for consumers. Maybe not in every instance, as the splits between Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney’s upcoming venture are sure to show. But rival stores like Steam, Epic, Origin and Uplay should only drive companies to offer better user experiences, with better deals for the developers who sell through them.

Steam won’t be going anywhere soon, and Epic have the might of Fortnite to keep them going. The nature of some games becoming exclusives to Epic is frustrating for some, but what harm is there in buying Metro from another store (or even somewhere like Game or Amazon), while The Division will route its online component through Uplay.

People aren’t losing out at the moment with this shakeup to the PC landscape, and I think in the long-run, we will see benefits to these changes.

The PC Store Wars – The Story so Far

The PC Store Wars – The Story so Far

The PC Store Wars have been in a Cold War, pretty much ever since Valve launched Half-Life 2 with the requirement that users ran it through Steam. The Humble Bundle, GoG and more recently, Discord offer their own alternatives with distinct twists. Meanwhile EA, Ubisoft and Blizzard have stores primarily to promote their first party games.

They have all been efforts to break the monopoly of Steam, though without any obvious impact on Valve’s money-making machine. Most of Valve’s problems around their storefront have been self-inflicted PR gaffes.

The present…

I talked about their regular problems around Steam back in June, though my prophecy for what the future would hold was, with the benefit of hindsight, not quite how things have played out:

I don’t know what the best way forward is for Valve, but I feel that the European Commission investigation will go a long way to determining how they manage Steam in Europe in the future. 

I also pondered about whether Valve would be wise to consider splitting the storefront away from their product development business. While this hasn’t happened yet, in December they made some changes to how they split revenues with developers selling on their platform.

Rather than making an across the board change to their splits, they introduced a tiered system. While allowing developers with over $10million of revenue on the platform the opportunity moving forward to retain a greater share of their sales, is undeniably good for the big boys, it left indie developers less than enthused.

It was another example of Valve shooting themselves in the foot. Their efforts to try and ensure large developers, especially a company like Ubisoft who already have their own store, selling through Steam were perhaps a bit desperate. But to not offer indies the same benefits was yet another of those PR blunders.

…the future?

What happened just a few days after Valve made their announcement shows it in a darker light. Epic, you know, those guys behind that little Fortnite game, came along and announced their own store, taking aim square at Valve.

A flat, across the board revenue split of 88/12 shows how meagre Valve’s offerings are. The make no bones that the great financial success of Fortnite has allowed them to be so bold with their decision. It’s already one that is having far reaching implications with Ubisoft planning to release The Division 2 on Uplay and the new Epic store, while Metro Exodus will be available exclusively from Epic.

What had been a cold war that was starting to slowly warm up has suddenly exploded into life. What comes next? We’ll take a look soon.

Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

It’s 1924 and alcoholic ex-serviceman turned private investigator Edward Pierce is sitting in his quiet office, drink in hand, wondering where the next job is going to come from. All of a sudden there’s a knock at the door and before he knows it, he finds himself whisked off to a remote island to investigate the death of the Hawkins family in a fire that consumed their home.

The intro to Call of Cthulhu may seem a little cliche but that’s probably because because it’s the beginnings of a tale of Lovecraftian horror, a genre of horror that until now I thought I had no experience with. Truth be told H.P. Lovecraft has huge prestige in the genre and whether you directly choose to read one of his books or not, the chances are that if you enjoy horror in any of it’s mediums you will most likely have come across his influence. It’s at this point that I feel Cyanide Studio have set themselves a hard task, to convey their twist on a story told many times before while making it fresh and interesting.

The first couple of chapters of Call of Cthulhu feel a little on the slow side to me. Characters are introduced, you go to a couple of new areas but nothing much actually happens. Thankfully at chapter three things start to pick up and I begin to sense there is something not quite right with the island I have found myself on. While investigating various points around the island I get the same feeling as when I watched The Wicker Man, that everyone knows something that I don’t and that something is not good.

As this is my first real experience with a pure Lovecraftian story I find that the mystery behind the island and the deaths of the Hawkins family are one of the strongest points in Call of Cthulhu and they really carry the game forward. The developers have really nailed the setting, game design and atmosphere on the head and this creates a really spooky (but enjoyable) environment in which to explore and find out information from the other islanders.

Another strong point in the game is the stealth. Call of Cthulhu doesn’t afford you many weapons and being able to take out others by yourself is very rare. Instead you slip about the levels causing distractions that let you into areas you otherwise couldn’t reach. While some people may see this as a cheap way of making the game harder, in my eyes it increases the intensity and feeling of unease when trying to reach your goal. You feel a little helpless and less likely to just run about destroying everything and for a horror genre game I’d say that’s no bad thing.

On the whole the voice acting and writing is good although there were some irregularities with the volume of the voice acting from the main player character. Sometimes his voice would be really quiet compared to everything else. However I’m going to put this down to me playing an early release of the game as there really were no other problems with the game or settings what so ever. It ran really smooth and I was able to play through on the highest settings without any problems at all which is impressive considering how old my PC is.

There are slight RPG elements to the game also. You have the classic conversation options but in most cases you need to exhaust all options in order to advance anyway, so there’s not a whole lot of choice aside from a few occasions. The other element is the skill tree, which works much like Focus Home Interactive’s other game The Council in that it allows you to grow your character in the way that you see fit. You can put your skill points into things like being able to better spot clues or being more able to influence people when speaking.

Unlike in The Council I didn’t notice much of a difference when levelling up the skill tree and almost feel like they would have been better not even including skills in a game with only 10-15 hours game time. It almost seemed like an illusion of choice because if you explored each area thoroughly enough and spoke to each person for long enough you generally discovered everything you needed to advance anyway. This leads me to my biggest bug bear with the game that it seems to be very on rails. Yes you can explore areas, yes you can choose conversation topics but for the large part the game seems to pull you to the same point regardless of what you do.

The last few chapters of the game also feel a little disappointing in that they seem far more rushed than anything else. I get that towards the end you want to ramp up the intensity and finish on a bang but there were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in terms of the Lovecraftian lore and the game didn’t explain well enough for a newcomer like myself. Was it possible that the game was rushed to release or did they perhaps overlook the fact that a complete Lovecraft beginner wouldn’t be able to fully understand every aspect with ease?

On a whole I enjoyed the game but would have loved to have seen it fleshed out a little more to include more explanation of the lore and more scary areas to investigate. It would have been great to be able to better understand why I got the ending that I did as I know there was multiples ways for the game to end and again wasn’t entirely sure what I had done to reach the one I did. The gameplay was enjoyable, especially when investigating new areas and reconstructing crimes much in the same way you would in a Batman game and when dealing with the games ‘bosses’. Production was lacking in a few areas but like I said this could be down to having access to the early release version of the game.

The Verdict – On Target

Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

The Colonists – Alpha, First Impressions

The Colonists – Alpha, First Impressions

Codebyfire the developers behind Settlers inspired game The Colonists had been quiet for quite some time. Then out of nowhere came a trailer, a ray of hope for those who had been keeping tabs on the game since it was first announced over a year ago. It seemed that somewhere deep inside the matrix of game development, cogs were beginning to turn and foundations were being laid. I had to find out more about this mysterious game.

With The Colonists being in it’s alpha stage of development there are currently only pre-set scenarios for me to try out. As it turns out these are a good way to get to grips with the game and what it has to offer. The first couple of scenarios have me exploring the basics of building my town, advancing technologies and managing resources. Scenarios three and four teach me about building boats to explore the seas and combat with other colonies. And each of the scenarios after that include most of the same but at an advanced level.

Resource management is a big thing in this game and keeping tabs on how your resources are used will help you advance much quicker. Thankfully there is a ‘supply and demand’ menu for each resource which shows if you are falling behind or overproducing. In my eyes this is something that a lot of management games could do with having. It helps you make much more informed decisions when choosing what to build next and can explain why overall production rate of your city has stalled.

Overall the gameplay in The Colonists is pleasant and enjoyable. The game goes at a nice pace (you can make time move as you want) the graphics are cute and its quite a relaxing game to play for the most part. Some of the building material needs seem a little anti-progression however. For example; you run out of stone and need to expand your territory to find more deposits. To do this you build a watchtower so you can see further, but building a watchtower requires stone… see where I’m going with this. Thankfully it is slowly auto-generated but without proper management of resources, this can be a very slow process.

If there’s one thing that I would point out at this stage it’s that overall game progress is easily halted by bad resource management. This may be entirely my fault in that my style of gameplay doesn’t suit The Colonists but as a fairly experience management gamer I feel some more balancing needs to be done on the requirement of resources. The game may seem to be cute and relaxing but it’s certainly not casual in this aspect and your game can easily be brought to a slow pace if you’re not careful.

As this is only Alpha there are some bugs to be found, it’s inevitable at this stage of development. On The Colonists Discord channel, people have been busy reporting any problems they find and developers have been working hard to fix them and update the game on a regular basis. I expect many changes and balances to come before the game releases and can’t see anything to worry about at this stage.

In face for a game in Alpha there is a surprising amount of things to do and the game is in a very playable state. Aside from gathering resources and expanding your city, there is also exploration, combat, technology trees and everything is well explained and easy to get the hang of. If city building and management games are your thing, then keep your eyes on The Colonists because it’s looking like a promising little game so far.

Valve’s Steam Troubles – Years in the Making

Valve’s Steam Troubles – Years in the Making

Steam, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the PC gaming market. It might have over 125 million users, with 16 million active right now, but other storefronts are out there. There is Uplay and Origin from the AAA publishers, with itch.io and Humble Bundle targeting the indie markets. Users have lots of choice now for where they buy their games, but we can’t deny Steam stands at the top of the pile. Despite its numerical supremacy, Valve’s little baby isn’t having things so easy anymore, with numerous crises arising over the last 18 months.

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Dead Cells Full Release Due August 2018

Dead Cells Full Release Due August 2018

Dead Cells has been in Early Access since May 2017 and developers Motion Twin have just released update seven, otherwise known as the Baguette update (no seriously) which brought about some mechanics reworkings, feature and UI updates and some cool fan/concept art. One unexpected piece of news from the update was the announcement of the full release date of Dead Cells in August of this year.

An excerpt from the update reads:

Motion Twin is thrilled to announce that Dead Cells will be leaving Steam Early Access in August of 2018. Today’s update brings us one step closer to leaving beta and bringing the complete, polished Dead Cells experience to PC and Console.

With the seventh update rolling out on Early Access, Dead Cells is very close to being content complete, the lore being the last piece of the puzzle we’re working on for launch day. Although version 1.0 definitely won’t be the end, as we’ve already promised one major free DLC to the community that made all of this possible.

In case you’ve missed out thus far Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, action, platformer which the developers have self-labelled in the “Roguevania” genre. Taking after games such as Rogue Legacy and Metroid, Dead Cells aims to teach you about the game through trial and error. Death is a expected part a game with no checkpoints and the only way to advance is through learning about your surroundings and enemies and try, try, try again.

Dead Cells is currently available in Early Access on Steam for £16.99 or regional equivalent and has received rather solid reviews at this stage in its development.