Game Playing Review: Animal Gods

Animal Gods (Steam version)

Synopsis:

Animal Gods

The Animal Gods have fallen. Once sacred, they are now husks—haunted beasts lost to toxic fumes from a great bronze industry. Play as Thistle, a small & agile warrior hellbent on destroying the curse that plagues these creatures. Wield a 17th century BC Bronze Sword… and set the Gods free..

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 2.8 unfortunate hours of gameplay via Steam review code)

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This was the most agonizing three hours of gameplay in recent memory.

Not every game is born equal, and as such my expectations of any one game are generally quite open and reasonable. But when your opening line and description on Kickstarter is that:

“Animal Gods is a stylized top-down action / adventure game set in Bronze Age Europe, 15th century BC. The game pairs the tight and polished action of The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds  with a cast of characters and touching story moments that might remind you of classic 90’s JRPGS

I am almost offended! This game is neither action/adventure or RPG in the slightest, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

A more accurate description of Animal Gods is that it is a Little Red Riding Hood simulator where you wander through a ghost town, using your incredibly underwhelming (and situational) powers for the sole purpose of reading a teenage girl’s diary entries. As ridiculous as this sounds, I hope you never actually play to find out that I am 100% right.

In quantifiable gaming terms, Animal Gods is more like a platformer/puzzle type game than anything else. As the main character Thistle, you must navigate three different dungeons using the themed power of that dungeon to liberate the trapped god inside, conveniently finding bits of scattered lore throughout the in-game world.

While the game does have its moments of fun, one of the main flaws of Animal Gods is that it doesn’t give its audience any reason to feel emotionally attached.

Give me a reason to feel!

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The cast of memorable characters and touching moments talked about in the Kickstarter description are rather curious, because they don’t exist. It is a stretch to claim that there is a cast of characters when the three other characters are only mentioned in the diary entries, never once appearing in the game (save one dead one if you want to get technical). Interacting with the gods is also a shallow experience, lasting at the most 30 seconds with no real questions answered.

I would imagine that the main purpose of Animal Gods is for Thistle to restore the gods and find out the tragic backstory of this civilization–but who exactly are we doing this for? There is not a single living person in the game aside from Thistle, and we know nothing about her. Where is she from, and why does she care about any of this? There are no answers to any of these questions.

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Also, there is no conflict. Whoever caused this abomination to happen is nowhere to be found. Restoring these ‘haunted beasts’ to their former god status is as easy as completing a few puzzles (the boss fights literally ARE puzzles instead of fights), and nobody is trying to stop you. An argument can be made for the one solitary cube enemy type that serve to provide some sort of resistance as they MUST be killed to progress, but they have such little personality that they may as well not be there. Instead of tension which is good in an action game, there is only annoyance.

In short, someone flipped on all the lights in an abandoned house, and it is your job to simply flip them off.

Not very compelling, is it.

An exploration in frustrating game mechanics

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Although connecting emotionally with this game was impossible, I was at least hoping it would be fun to play.

Unfortunately, I knew right away once I had control of my character that this was going to be a bad experience. Due to Thistle’s crippling walking speed, the ‘over the top’ camera view and size of my character in comparison to the relative environment was a curious choice that quickly wore out its welcome. If you think her ‘agile’ movement is laughable now, wait until you see the leg cramps she gets when stairs are present.

In the above picture, it took my character nearly 15 seconds to walk from one end of that gigantic uninspired stage backdrop to the other. There are multiple instances of this happening, with the most frustrating walk lasting 30 mind-numbing seconds until I reached my deserved reward, which was, you guessed it, reading yet another poorly written diary entry–which brings me to my next point.

Animal Gods 23The second clue I had that this game would be substandard was when I didn’t have control over the text speed within the dialogue box. It was far too slow. If you pair that with the slow walking speed, and the fact that most of the exploration in Animal Gods leads the player to find more of these diary entries…it truly feels like the game is holding you hostage.

These seem like nitpicky details to judge a game from right off the bat, but these simple quality of life considerations should be absolute no-brainers when putting a game together. If these pedestrian details were overlooked, you can only imagine the lack of polish on some of the more important mechanics.

Animal Gods 22One such mechanic was adequately defining map boundaries. As pictured above, the left side of the picture gives an example of an edge your character would die upon crossing, but the right side of the picture shows a similar edge you had to cross to continue progress of that map.

If you’re going to introduce a game mechanic, it has to remain consistent through the entire game (unless directly addressed with a logical reason as to why it changed). Otherwise it looks like a sloppy oversight, and can be especially frustrating for a puzzle type game.

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However, the most frustrating mechanic of all, by far, is the fact that your character is ability gated throughout the game for no reason at all. Thistle has the ability to dash, use a sword, and shoot an arrow, but she is only able to do so in specified areas of the game. This only serves to cripple an already limiting game even further. If the dash ability was unlocked for the entire game, I am sure I could have finished the game in under 2 hours instead of the 3 that it took.

To be completely fair, some of the puzzle sections in Animal Gods were enjoyable. Thistle’s movement is much more fluid during the puzzle sequences, and the dashing mechanic was fun to some extent even if it was at times a bit unwieldy. Despite these positives, there are simply too many things holding this game back for them to make a difference.

Kickstarter curiosities

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The information on Kickstarter regarding Animal Gods is a little misleading.

Currently, the Steam client says that Animal Gods was released October 12, 2015, and has a price of $9.99, yet the Kickstarter campaign says the game is slated for a fourth quarter 2016 release.

However, if you look at their campaign updates (and scroll down a little), in May they announced the game coming out ahead of schedule. While this is well and good, the screenshots in their campaign almost look like they are from a completely different game. The graphics are updated, a world map exists, there are more enemies, weapons have new abilities, and damage points are now displayed whenever a weapon connects with a monster.

I understand that games often look different and have different features added/removed during development, but the final product of Animal Gods looks like a stripped down car resting on cinder blocks. What gives?

There is absolutely zero reason for a paid version of Animal Gods to exist as a final product in the Steam store when it is very clearly unfinished. If the developers ran out of money or encountered issues, they should have delayed release of the game, priced it accordingly, or at least offered some sort of goodwill on the Steam page that they would continue adding features to the game post-release. At the end of the day, people are still spending their hard earned dollars on this game.

Closing Thoughts

TriangleIt pains me to say that this picture of a triangle is more like any Zelda game than Animal Gods will ever be.

The fact that the game is so wildly different than advertised leads me to objectively say that I do not recommend this game, even if went on sale.

Animal Gods may look like an action/adventure game, but blow in its general direction and that cardboard illusion falls flat on its back. It is a shame considering the game is visually intriguing at times, but it is merely a husk of what it aspired to be–if it aspired at all.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Undertale

Undertale (Steam version)

    • Genre: RPG
    • Release Date: Sep 15 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: tobyfox
    • Platform: Windows PC, Mac OS, Steam, Wii U (November)
    • Official Site: http://undertale.com/

Synopsis:

“In this RPG, you don’t have to kill anyone. Each enemy can be “defeated” nonviolently. Dance with a slime. Pet a dog. Whisper your favorite secret to a knight. Or, ignore this choice and rain destruction upon your foes.”

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 11 hours of gameplay)

Undertale 1I have completed many RPGs during my time as a video game reviewer, but I can’t say I’ve felt such a vast mixture of emotions and attachment to any one game in such a short period of time.

The best way to describe Undertale (and stay with me here) would be that it is a cheeseburger at first sight, something that many people are quite familiar with. But once you taste it, it also surprises you with an ice cream flavor you were craving, a kombucha tea flavor that you would have never tried but are now glad you did, and the unexpected kick of a bratty little kid that surprised you but didn’t hurt too much.

If you like surprising cheeseburgers (and RPGs), you will love Undertale and everything it offers.

(Editor’s note: The following review will not contain direct spoilers, because the game is much more impactful the less you know about it)

Action in pacifism

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Initially, this game has the classic fantasy RPG framework. There is an age old war between humans and monsters, and you as the main character somehow wind up right in the middle of monster territory. You will navigate towns and dungeons, find cool items, and engage in random battles while making your way back home– but right away the game encourages the player to “strike up a friendly conversation” instead of fighting when facing conflict. You might be thinking, “OK, so instead of mindlessly pushing X to attack, I push X to talk and win battles”, but it isn’t quite so simple.

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This is not one-hug-fits-all, and you can’t just ‘nice’ someone to death. Each monster has a unique personality, with likes and dislikes that may not be obvious at first glance. In addition, some monster’s behaviors change completely when paired up with other monsters, resulting in old dialogue choices no longer pacifying the monsters in these new situations.

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Even if you come in peace, monsters will still attack you because, well, they’re monsters! This will result in an interactive ‘bullet-hell‘ type phase where the player (represented by a heart) will have to dodge the monster’s attacks. Each monster has a unique set of attacks which can range from legitimately dangerous to downright bizarre. Once you have proven yourself peaceful to the monster, you will be able to end the battle and continue forward. For a game which promotes pacifism, the player is always actively involved.

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This is the timed attack system where the player must push the action button right as the vertical line passes through the center of the screen (indicated by the neon green area).

What kind of person are you when nobody is looking?

While the choice to attack or remain a pacifist is completely up to the player, the consequences to these choices are very real. The world at large is directly impacted, and can quickly turn into a very scary place if you decide to kill everyone. Generally, video games are a judgement free zone allowing players to do whatever they’d like, but make no mistake about it–Undertale is judging you. This game keeps track of the monsters you’ve killed, the times you’ve died, and even the times you have reloaded the game!

Did you accidentally kill an important character, and reload your save file to let them live instead? Not only does the game know, but it will even confront you about it. This apparent sentience is quite unsettling, and leads into creating one of the most terrifying final boss encounters I have ever faced in any game.

Undertale may look cute and simple in appearance, but the fact that you never really know what it’s judging or thinking leaves you with a slightly creepy feeling at times.

It’s all about the details

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The game has witty design, but not in the way that you might think. In fact, I would say some of the game design is rather rudimentary. The map layout isn’t the most innovative, and reaching previously cleared areas could be a little more convenient. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult or groundbreaking, and it’s no secret that the graphics are dated. Even the attack system is fairly old-hat, minus the details of the ‘bullet-hell’ scenarios.

So why is this game good?

In the modern gaming world where superior looks and flashy gameplay allow a game to have unimaginative stories and uninspiring character motivations, Undertale places all of it’s efforts into creating highly relatable moments that are funny, but dark and real at the same time. The main goal of Undertale is connecting the player with the world, providing breaks from this emotional connection with action sequences, rather than vice versa.

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This results in interacting with a world that has every detail completely thought out, and boy does this world have charm. The jokes may be as small as funny area descriptions ‘You can’t go through the fire exit, because you’re not made of fire’, to completely defying traditional RPG mechanics such as a vendor rejecting buying your ‘old branches and used bandages’ for fear of going out of business. The game always tries to keep you on your toes, and the effect is two-fold for any RPG veteran (or pun enthusiast).

The world also has very personable characters, my favorite being the robot TV-personality who is programmed to have an obsession with killing you. He may be a maniac, but his aspirations of killing you are almost as strong as entertaining the monsters of Undertale, making sure he only attempts to kill you while on national television. Since the monsters of Undertale mostly have a bleak future, he takes it upon himself to make sure that future has some distraction and entertainment, which is oddly admirable.

Closing Thoughts

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Undertale is a must play for RPG lovers, as well as people who are looking for an experience outside of the usual. Even though this game only came out last month, I can already tell it will have a cult following. There are currently many forums dedicated to figuring out all of the possible endings of the game, as well as deciphering every obscure clue which may lead to the next possible secret being unveiled.

While Undertale doesn’t even operate on half the bits that most modern games do, I would say the feelings it evoked were twice as powerful. I don’t want to speak in absolutes and say that current games on the market don’t make me feel things, because they do! However, the feelings are generally short-lived and relevant to only that particular gaming session. Undertale on the otherhand, almost insidiously latches itself onto your heart, making you genuinely care for both the inhabitants of this imaginary world, and feeling completely responsible for the choices you have made well past the ending credits.

Knowing that more people will discover and talk about this game…it fills me with determination.

(Come on, I had to use the phrase at least once).

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Planet of the Eyes

Planet of the Eyes (Steam version, version 1.1)

    • Genre: Platformer, Puzzler
    • Release Date: Aug 24 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: Cococumber
    • Platform: PC (via Steam), Xbox One
    • Official Site: planetoftheeyes.com

Synopsis:

“You’ve crash-landed on the Planet of the Eyes in an escape pod. Discover what lies beneath through puzzle solving, exploration, and audiologs from another survivor. Turn down the lights, put on your headphones and grab your controller to experience the atmospheric journey of a lone robot in a dangerous world.”

Personal Thoughts:

(based on the current Steam version, after 1.1 patch, played 95 minutes of gameplay)

Planet of the Eyes feels like other things, more than its purpose as a game. That is a good thing.

This being part of a wonderful trend in modern gaming now, of these cheaply priced puzzle platformers. Great other examples include Braid, Limbo, Night Sky, Outland, Never Alone. Such games are where simple functions in a character do more than platform its way to a happy end. By doing more, there is less. No power ups, no crazy combos, no such increase in abilities, no points or pointless objectives. All you have in your protagonist, is your wits and mobility. There are sudden ways to die (often horrible and with hilarity) but the puzzles involved in figuring out the environment is where the real challenge is at.

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With Planet of the Eyes, the puzzles feel a bit easy for my gaming hands, as I have played through many puzzle platformers since Abe’s Odyssey on the PlayStation 1. Nearly every obstacle faced in Planet of the Eyes, I have seen before in other forms and knew how to handle. I beat this game with little death, almost continuous in about 90 minutes time. Yet, I regret nothing of my spent time as I have much love for this game.

I say this because, sometimes games ask too much of me outside of the visual experience. I am often weary of drawn out tutorials, unnecessary lengthy text, constant need to upgrade and customize. I sometimes crave simple, more so in my cheaper games of recent times. In Planet of the Eyes, I need only survive and move on to unravel some mystery. I am a lone walking robot of simple design, following the path of a mysterious (human?) survivor leaving clues to his possible fate. Combined with the linear gameplay, the story feels like a short science fiction novelette. Except here, the protagonist can die horribly on any page, and that would be the end.

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Along the way, you will see gorgeous and surreal visuals. The vibrant colors, digital gradients give life to the surrounding, where I feel somewhat privileged to explore and possibly die. Nearly every panel feels suitable for framing. And within and throughout, there are fantastic creatures of many shapes and sizes exhibiting deadly behavior when disturbed. Also, are remnants of a lost civilization, and surreal architecture. Much of the game is continuous walking between challenges, which are wonderful sequences as one could gaze and admire the situation.

The music is beautiful, with some original ambient electronic tunes. The soundtrack mixes well with stylish sound effects and the voice acting of the journal logs picked up. I highly recommend some good headphones for Planet of the Eyes, to fully immerse yourself in the gameplay and its awesome soundtrack.

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Overall, this is a fantastic game for being more of a great work of interactive art and story. It’s still a game worth playing, but lacking in challenge for hardcore platform gamers. Yet, it is fitting for casual players and a new generation of gamers. Also, it is low cost and complete with no in-game purchases. With all that, there is enough reason to enjoy Planet of the Eyes.

– Orion T

Game Playing Review: The Executive

The Executive (iOS version version 1.0.1)

    • Genre: Fighting, Action
    • Release Date: July 2 2015, Price: $4.99
    • Development: Riverman Media LLC
    • Platform: iOS (Apple mobile)
    • Official Site: www.rivermanmedia.com

Synopsis:

“Flame kick werewolves, perform thrilling acrobatic stunts, and run a trillion dollar mining company in Riverman Media’s combat-action masterpiece!”.

Personal Thoughts (based on the current iOS version, and a week of gameplay):

The Executive kicks ass!

That, for multiple reasons if you enjoy a good quick fight here and there, with a look and feel all to its own. A uniqueness in style, look, and story elements. Yet, simple in all three. It’s also something you can play on the go.

There is a challenge that can go well beyond what one would pay for a game less than $5.00. By that, I mean entertaining for the long run. The gameplay is simple..punch and kick with the occasional super power-ups and timing. In between fights, run and do some crazy “stunts.” Rewards involve a fake monetary cash system, of which you can upgrade your skills and hire “employees” to mine for more fake cash. The enemies become tougher, quicker, and trickier as you progress. The Executive must adapt and become better though 120+ levels to win. Yes, plenty for the price.

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The control scheme is simple, as there is only one-finger swiping involved. In fighting challenges, you tap where to hit..high or low, or use different kind of swipes for different moves and abilities. The rest of the pushing involves icons, menus, and timed arrows for the “stunts.” Easy to do on a small phone, and fantastic for the iPad (I played on my iPad mini).

The story itself is a bit strange. From what I gather, you are the Executive..in which you help run a silver mining company. Suddenly, enemies appear as werewolves and other werecreatures (probably looking to sabotage this silver business). The fight is on for the Executive to battle these werebeasts with his awesome abilities and skill.

Part of the story is the sweet art and visual design. The art is all within a sharply animated side-scroller rail. The character designs are of various beasts with fluid movements and attacks. The looks on each is impressive up close, the result of hand drawn creations..not 3-D modeling or pixel art. The background is cartoonish, yet fitting; perfect for this absurd premise.

The music is also great, with multiple tracks fitting for different backdrops and situations. It’s well composed and not overly repetitive (unlike many other games of this price). Evidence of this and the art shows hard work happened to make the game entertaining and fulfilling.

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(above: my current status)

Overall, the game is for the causal player wanting a better challenge than fruit slicing and bird flinging. There is a call to classic nostalgia with the side-scrolling fighting styles and tapping, but not as complex as your Street Fighters out there. And, the originality does eventually fall flat as progression in gameplay reveals new enemies, which are often re-skins and updates of the older enemies. The challenge also falls a bit with successful mining, where with the right choices leads to easy payments for upgrades before needed. Eventually, the upgrading can tire out and you feel kept up with whatever challengers are close ahead. I feel in time, I will master this game.

Still, The Executice is fun and worthwhile for its price. But, there is an end I foresee; probably with the last level difficulty, and the beating of the last monster listed in the “Bestiary.” But that’s okay, as I do not expect the world in a game for $4.99 or less. But the Riverman Media developers have done well with this adventure, and I will keep a close eye on any future developments from the same.

– Orion T

SW Games Rec: The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable (2013 remake version)

    • Genre: Interactive fiction, 1st person
    • Release Date: October 17, 2013 (remake by Galactic Cafe)
    • Development: Davey Wreden, Galactic Cafe
    • Platform: Windows PC, MAC OS, Steam
    • Official Site: www.thestanleyparable.com 
    • Notes:  The original release date was July 27, 2011 by original creator Davey Wreden , an earlier version of the game with some changes in visuals and gameplay.

Synopsis:

“The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, you will not follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The game will end, the game will never end.”.

Personal Recommendation (based on Steam Version on Windows):

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This is a story….

The Stanley Parable is a game of narratives, not so much the challenge of gameplay. The demands are little, other than seeing a story to its end. However, finding the right path that suits you (or Stanley, or the narrator, or an audience perhaps) is really where the fun sets in.

The brilliant starts begins with the mundane, familiar setting.  We have something familiar to the working white-collar 1st world worker; living death for some, a satisfying simple life to others. Suddenly, people are gone and that puzzle which begins the mystery. The first idea is to unlock the mystery, and find the bigger picture of it all. A voice guides you to its logical or illogical conclusion. The choice along the way varies..

For full enjoyment, play The Stanley Parable for repetitive times till the game feels like that classic Groundhog Day movie. Because you as the player, deal with decisions led by your narrator on suggested processes. To go through with them, you must choose and challenge your surroundings. Often, that will mean whether or not to listen to the narrator. I suggest rebellion.

So that is the joy of The Stanley Parable, which leads into the aesthetic look and feel of the game. There is emptiness, perhaps an unease on the loneliness of it all. The narrator provides a little company, with wit at times. An almost bonding happens, which for the sake of the stories saves Stanley from suffering of an existential nightmare. Some endings there is a sense of company..which may not be better. For the best ending, Stanley should be truly happy and free..which can be questioned by the player.

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The layout is genius, where at first may seem to have little purpose but to provide environment. There is some wicked humor and jabs at the everyday mundane life of the cubicle worker. Prepare for the sound of constant locked doors and beeps that do nothing, should you decide to freely explore the game looking for..something else.

The controls are fairly simple. You have full mobility with no forced direction. You can touch things and duck (which for some reason, I have yet to find a reason to).

To my knowledge there are eighteen endings to this game, as I have yet only found six. To progress and find them all, is perhaps the true ending for me to complete the game 100%. This becomes an experiment in thinking. The game gets into my head, and I must get into the head of the developers. Resist conformity, linear traps, and good endings to dig deeper into the weirdness of the game. There is a fantastic joy in repetitive exploration, to look for those missing variables, and unlock something new and perhaps grand.

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The art is also playful, ranging from almost minimalist to complex and complicated. The numbers on the door, the wall art, the colors of things and surfaces…everything has a narrative purpose. Also playful is your scale and dimensions, where the game can start small in your cubic prison to the opposite in dimensions. The question becomes on just how big a picture did you get, and who must you go against to get that.

The Stanley Parable is clever and wonderful. Stanley would play it, and so should you.

– Orion T

Game Review: Out There : Ω Edition

Out There : Ω Edition

  • Genre: strategy point/click RPG
  • Creators: Mi-Clos Studio
  • Platform: Steam
  • Price: $9.95
  • Official site: outtheregame.com
  • Notes: Expanded edition of the regular game, still available on IOS, Android systems.

Synopsis:

Out There is a strategy game based on point and click decisions, set in a space-travel survival scenario. As the player, you are an astronaut set astray after cryogenic sleep gone wrong. Now you must survive and find your way back home, with very limited means. You eventually mine resources, communicate with alien cultures, balance your necessities, upgrade (and eventually change) your ship, and make decisions that may reward to end your life. Eventually, the story will change. There is more at stake than your own survival as you find yourself taking part in a larger cosmic game.

The game was previously released as an app for iOS and Android mobile devices. This Out There : Ω Edition game is an expanded edition for the Steam console. The Ω Edition has new alien breeds, new spaceships, expanded stories and text, new ending, and more difficult decisions. The game also has a new animated opening, and extended musical score by Siddhartha Barnhoorn (Antichamber, The Stanley Parable). There is also much added environment and planet details, more colorful and deeper detailed map chart, and more visual details added; using a new graphic engine

Personal Thoughts:

Out There is not the game for those seeking satisfaction through engagement of a world made convenient and easy. There is no easy mode option, nor is there any forgiveness should their character of control die within 20 minutes of gameplay. There are no second chances or extra lives. If your story ends, you can not go back. You simply start over, and learn from experience; which does not guarantee any longer or extended experience. You may start with something, and end with nothing. This is not a game for anyone who believes the universe is fair and made for them.

Out There is a game base on 20% luck, and 80% of working to figure out how to manipulate your chances of luck, for good fortune or recovery from a bad turn. This is a game of survival, and discovery. The reward is living an extra day, turning one more page of your own cosmic drama. This game is for anyone, who enjoys more reality put into their pretend situation of misplacement on its grandest scale. To be often be dealt a bad hand, and still win. And perhaps, even alter the ending to an unforeseen destiny.

For me, I am a big fan of the earlier iOS version, which I played to its fullest. I have a little advantage in what to expect, and the many ways I can die; thus can make decisions on how to avoid some of that. Still, the game is hard and challenging.

This game is also compared too much to FTL, a space ship game with similar visuals. There is little besides the visuals and placement of ship components, that deserves such a comparison. Out There feels closer to Oregon Trail, in the ideas of surrealism and dealing with misfortunes. The reward is building upon your story, and seeing it through.

The constant narrative is wonderful in its initial simplicity. You identify with the character, as someone who does not ask to be alone, but works to make the best of it. Being observant, and seeing the bad situation as a sort of challenge. Your destinations have beauty, and there is cheer in finding the right elements at the right time. To reach a “garden planet” before losing your last moment of oxygen, or to find a an abandoned ship when all else seems hopeless; if your adrenaline rush that while the universe if unfair, there is something “out there” on your side.

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That’s where the constant modification, installing and upgrading of your ship to foresee and unlock rewards and avoid danger. Much like in the picture above, where the “Inframeter” allows me to see what a solar system may have for me, before spending my valuable resources on travel. To get these valuable resources, is also a game of hope and good educated guesses. And your sizes of ships vary; often with very limited space to what’s available for equipment and extra element resources. You must choose wisely on what to use and drop.

The Ω Edition adds more complication to the new ship acquisition. Some new ships of promise need repair, as you hopefully have the right elements ready, or figure out some quick access to. I also came across one of the new ships for this edition, filled with dead humans as an actual resource. I could was a bit puzzled on what to do with these bundles of dead humans, and felt it wasn’t morally right to simply drop them into space. This is the odd emotionally involvement that Out There has brought me to.

Compared to the iOS version earlier played, I felt surprised to that one very vital flaw which can still be exploited. That would be a cheat, where one could simply “quit” during a visit to a solar system as an unfortunate mishap that does not end in death. Then go back to the title screen, and “continue.” There is a slight rewind, and you may continue. The cheat seems petty, but I cant help but to repeat this as I feel I should do whatever it takes to survive; even if that means using my Captain Kirk style solution to this Kobayashi Maru of a game.

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Not all challenges depend on luck, or altering that luck. Some challenges are conquered by simply thinking and studying your mistakes. For example, the alien encounters; where mistranslated reactions can lose some great rewards. Look carefully at the words of aliens when you encounter life. Sometimes a few giveaways at some names that reveal friendship, or testing your allegiances to malevolent cosmic forces. In most cases, you need to just know a few words in English, through previous encounters.

The “Omega” element is everything, especially after your survival extends to a point with in the game where suddenly hostile alien forces greatly limit your chance for finding resources. You come across the important Omega element in mastering your encounters with alien life, and in rare story interruptions during space travel. You also find the ability to change life should you gain the technology to develop the”Life Seed” or “Death Seed” ship enhancements. New narratives open, and more mysteries of this game reveal themselves. You may find yourself more involved in the game as your death may come before a satisfactory conclusion, resulting in increased agony.

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For this edition, the added visuals and extended musical track is a fantastic touch. The changes in both as the gameplay extends, adding freshness. Some even adds a lot more attentive detail than expected, enough to almost bring a cinematic element to the game. The added font, text narratives, effects bring Out There closer to reading a comic book, than reading a novel or watching a movie. As a game, this works perfect.

However, this edition should have some updates, or more features.  A day counter could be instantly available at the push of a button. An automatic story log would be awesome, with perhaps even a save feature to archive your greatest adventures; perhaps even publish them to Facebook and social media happenings. I would also more story art to the narratives, as the visual designs (aliens, ships, environments), are fantastic. I love to see more of the artist’s take on some of these chance encounters, like this one..

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Overall, Out There : Ω Edition is a fantastic adventure for hardcore RPG fanatics, and casual gamers wanting more story. It’s also great science fiction storytelling, intelligent written and engaging. This edition brings the much needed depth the mobile versions missed, and a worthwhile use of your money and time.

– Orion T

Game Review: Star Realms (Gambit Expansion, digital version)

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Star Realms

  • Genre: Deck building card game
  • Creators: White Wizard Games, LLC
  • Platform: IOS, Android, PC, Mac
  • Price: Gambit Expansion  – $3.99,  Full Base game – $4.99, Limited version – Free
  • Official site: starrealms.com
  • Notes: Review of the IOS version, played on my iPAd air. Latest update is 2.17 which fixed some bad bugs from the Gambit update (2.12).

Synopsis:

From Starrealms.com:

“Star Realms Gambit Expansion incorporates both the Gambit set and the Year One organized play promo cards from the physical card game. Just $3.99 once unlocks for all four platforms. The game changes in powerful ways with a new type of card — the Gambit. There are nine of them, and each player is given two of them at random to begin the game. When do you use your Gambits? When do you make your move? The war continues, and now the stakes are even higher!”

Gambit Expansion details:

“The new digital Gambit Expansion includes all the Gambit and promotional cards from our Kickstarter physical card set:

  • Nine new Gambit cards that give players special abilities
  • Fifteen new ship and base cards added to the trade deck
  • Two new campaign chapters with a total of 13 new campaign missions
  • Top 1,000 Rankings, lifetime, monthly and weekly leaderboards”

Personal Thoughts:

(after playing the iOS base version since its release, and the Gambit expansion for a few days)

This is a great game made better.

Star Realms, to me at least, so far..the best deck-building game on the digital formats. Now about time, with the Gambit expansion (worth the value), makes game more addictive and challenging.  So, here is why:

The new dimension to the game, are the Gambit cards that are randomly played for you at the beginning of a game (two at a time). There is often some advantage to each game, though not hugely significant as they do not decide the winner. Most Gambits often either quicken the game (usually though quick sacrifice ability for extra draws, damage, resources. Or, something taken away from the enemy), or stay held on for turning the tide later. It feels, the pick of Gambits are not blind luck to what one could hope for; they give some extra thinking for dealing with bad odds, or delivering a bigger blow to the enemy (always fun to go for the highest damage possible).

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The new cards for the stack are different, but not too off the wall for game balance. The regular cards are still often needed for the best devastating combos. Most notable are the new location cards, which give some sweet rewards for adding location. This makes locations more vital to the game, after thinning out Scouts and Vipers. These and rest of the cards, add unpredictability. Also, the AI seems upgraded through the update; as I now lose more in the ‘Hard” mode AI battles involving Gambit cards.

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The campaign mode is meh. Even so, good to get through them for some new bonus Gambit cards for the deck. The storytelling is a bit wordy and bland, and the voice-over is unnecessary. That’s okay, as campaign modes are not essential to a great card game. Playing the game is world-building enough. It would be nice to perhaps save the voice-over talent used in Campaign mode for surprise random sound-bites during the game itself, instead.

The new artwork for the cards are consistent, adding to the Star Realms atmosphere. I however wish there was some variance in the musical score. I love the epic soundtrack, but it does get stale after some time. I think I am getting used to the warping sound effect throughout the game. Still, room for improvement.

Overall, great expansion that adds excitement for the game. Also, a worthy in-app purchase for those who already enjoy the game (rather than having IAP beyond the full game present to enjoy the game, like so many other mobile games out there). Here, is hoping for an eventual Crisis (now out for the physical game), and many more expansions after.

– Orion T

Game Review: Alto’s Adventure

ALTO’S ADVENTURE

  • Genre: Endless runner, physics
  • Creators: Snowman Inc.
  • Platform: IOS, Price: $1.99
  • Notes: No IAP

Synopsis:

“Above the placid ivory snow lies a sleepy mountain village, brimming with the promise of adventure..

Join Alto and his friends as they embark on an endless snowboarding odyssey. Journey across the beautiful alpine hills of their native wilderness, through neighboring villages, ancient woodlands, and long-abandoned ruins.

Along the way you’ll rescue runaway llamas, grind rooftops, leap over terrifying chasms and outwit the mountain elders – all while braving the ever-changing elements and passage of time upon the mountain.”

Personal Thoughts :

Alto’s Adventure is a beautiful and simple game, using a timeless formula in extreme sports game physics. What brings this game here to this site, is the imaginary aspects.  and special overall feel. The endless hill, the minimalist environment, the strange item grabs where one can “hover” and grab llamas. This adventure is quite dreamlike, surreal.

The background music (different from the trailer, very ambient) is also a nice touch, with soft sound effects. The crashing and abrupt ends also have a weird peaceful vibe. It seems like a pleasant a way to go in the virtual world. To keep going for some unreachable goal, than falling down a chasm because one could not do a back-flip jump through the night. The character in the game exists to forever repeat this peaceful cycle of trials and errors. The constant motion and changing patterns of day to nights and back, and other differences; gives the gameplay experience a linear tone.

The gameplay is very addictive. I played a couple of days of this, through about 8 “levels” where one has to accomplish certain feats. As with many endless runners, you make terrible mistakes even after physics are somewhat mastered. The flips and jumps are difficult to master, and the reward is accomplishment after much wipeout. Then, the game last longer and the pleasant surreal experience of the game becomes more constant and enjoyable; as one games the confidence for difficult tasks in this “adventure.”

This game is good for replacing a real life stress for an artificial one.  Do these in short intervals, as the game does not demand much. For the moment, there are no in-app purchases and the “store” has minimal things to spend using your virtual coins. Every aspect of this is good and simple, leaving the core of your thoughts to focus on the challenge.

– Orion T

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