Late to the Party #4 – Bioshock 1

So, it’s been a while since I last posted anything related to the Late to the Party series. The main reason for that is the fact that I’ve been busy playing games that aren’t that old On-Stream while not playing as many games Off-Stream.

Either way, in March, I started playing Bioshock 1 (Remastered) for the very first time during a 24-hour-stream (the kind that I don’t do anymore) and I really enjoyed playing it for about six hours. After that, we didn’t touch it again for quite a while since I soft-locked myself. It’s a rough time when your save file is soft-locked, no matter which save-file you’re trying to load. But more on that later.

So, what is Bioshock? Why did I want to play it? Why haven’t I played it yet?

Bioshock 1 is an Atmospheric Horror-Action-FPS game by 2K Boston in which you’re playing a man named Jack in the 1960s that is exploring the world of Rapture, an underground city, trying to find out what conspired there. You have a wide range of weapons available to you but you’re also forced to modify your DNA to become an even deadlier weapon, slinging fireballs and summoning bees and doing that kind of stuff.

But first things first, after a plane crash, we get to swim to safety to an island with a light tower where a capsule of sorts leads us deep into the sea. Once we arrive in the destroyed city of Rapture, we get to meet our first Slicers, enemies that are going crazy to receive more Adam (which is the stuff you pump into yourself to get stronger) and they attack anything and anyone. While you make your way through the world of Rapture you find out about Andrew Ryan, a businessman and objectivist, that wanted to create a utopia for society’s elite to exist outside of the government’s control and limits. Through several audio clips and tapes found in the world, we learn more about the world, while acquiring more powers (through Adam) and trying to progress further and further into the game, intending to eliminate the mastermind behind all of this!

What I really liked about the game in the first six hours of my playtime was that you were able to see that something obviously wasn’t going great with Ryan’s plan. This place called Rapture was supposed to be a utopia but ended up in ruins with flooded and destroyed areas as well as corruption, elitism, and a lot of danger. We find out more about the source of Adam, the science and research behind it, the world and what happened, as well as how the few sane people in the world are managing to come by. We go on errands, completing missions, and we can do so however we want.

I loved it.

We were able to be stealthy or more like Rambo. We can shoot our way through the game or play a spell slinger of sorts. The game gives you a lot of freedom which eventually transitions into the choices as well. Jack is trying to find a way to escape Rapture and obviously, needs to get his hands on more Adam. To do so, we need to defeat the iconic Big Daddies (that even I knew about) and either harvest or rescue the Little Sisters. Harvesting gives you more but it will kill the Little Sisters. Saving the Little Sisters grants them a life free of Adam and risks but you’ll end up with less Adam, though you may get some other rewards. This whole thing is completely optional most of the time and the morality behind it influences the ending.

But then I got stuck and didn’t play it again until October the 7th and October the 8th where I played through the game during a Spooktober stream.

The whole dark and gritty aesthetic that Rapture presents to you is just lovely and scary. I got goosebumps from some of the score’s tracks alone, while the enemies are beautifully gruesome, scary and just creative. The Big Daddies, for instance, are bio-engineered humans in diver suits while Spider Slicers jump and crawl away, shooting you from the ceiling. Overall, enemies like that seemed super fun to me and I really enjoyed battling them in most of the scenarios while using these 60s weapons, magical powers, and using a water puzzle of sorts to hack turrets, vending machines and other objects.

Now, the issue I had with Bioshock was that there’s a postal office of sorts with a hotel and stuff where I was supposed to photograph one of the Spider Slicers… but that Slicer was stuck in the ceiling, so I didn’t have the chance to take a snap from it. Alas, I needed to restart the last save file – a file from over an hour ago.

And then I didn’t play it again until the beginning of October… but when I reloaded and made sure that I’d take a few snapshots of the enemies that I needed, I actually was able to progress smoothly with only one crash or two in total. The story progresses quite nicely and while a lot of the “missions” felt like errands, I did actually enjoy the game a fair bit.

Ammunition and EVE (your mana) are limited, so you cannot always just fight everyone and everything. This made the game rather fun, especially as I was able to customize perks and skills to fit my needs!

Honestly, I wish I had played Bioshock earlier. I’m looking forward to playing the second game eventually! Bioshock is a great game and 2K really outdid themselves with it!

What has your experience been with the Bioshock franchise and the first game? Did you play the games/this game? Did you like it? Can you recommend the franchise as a whole or maybe just certain titles? Let me know!

Cheers!

Indietail – Submerged

I enjoy exploration-based games a lot. That’s a statement that I made in the past when I reviewed Outer Wilds, a game all about exploration. Similarly, I really enjoy other games like Subnautica or Breathedge where you end up challenging the oxygen limit that has been placed onto you or where you try to survive at all costs and still explore the world. Today’s Indietail is about Uppercut Games’ “Submerged”, an exploration-based Adventure game playing in a post-apocalyptic world.

Developer: Uppercut Games
Publisher: Uppercut Games
Genres: Exploration, Adventure, Third-Person, Single-Player, Parkour
Release Date: August 4th, 2015
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, PS4, XB1, IOS, Switch
Copy was purchased.

Our younger brother is sick, the world is flooded and the resources are scarce. Playing as Miku our main goal is to explore the world in search of rations, medicine and other items to help cure our brother. Other humans? We can’t seem to find any as nature seemingly won its fight against civilisation and as the city is in ruins. What has happened? What is this sickness? Is there a way to cure it? Questions among questions enter my head but luckily, the little drawings and journal pieces seem to help me out to understand the situation better.

What’s that place over there?

Since our brother lies sick in the little base we built, we need to find these rations. To do so, we map out the city, search for shiny objects on rooftops and other places and we set out on our fishing boat to take care of our brother. The premise is straightforward but it seems to work quite well. 

As we map out areas and look through our telescope, we find entrances to the ruined areas. While the movement on the ship is very horizontal and limited to the waterways, we get to climb these high places and ruins of hotels, libraries and hospitals. The game picks up pace as we climb higher and higher, explore different paths to find collectables, and eventually reach these red chests with the rations we need. The sudden verticalness of the game was much to my liking as you suddenly gain access to points that allow you to spy farther. Once you’re up at some of the high areas, you’re able to search for more rations and collectables. It works quite well together.

Gotta climb up this place!

These collectables range from drawings (lore) to boat-upgrades that increase the duration of your boost. As you go on, you get to see landmarks and fauna, eventually filling out your journal, which gives you a nice sense of accomplishment. The exploration aspects of the game seem more than satisfactory, which was surprising since I felt a bit overwhelmed with those sixty lore-entries and the landmarks, creatures and other collectables. Eventually, I noticed that it’s actually quite doable. 

In the beginning, I felt more than overwhelmed with how the game did things. I was just thrown into it and had to figure out stuff on my own. Luckily, the game’s premise and the gameplay that doesn’t rely on combat at all is rather simple and straight-forward: You start at one point and try to explore the world and when your eye catches something of interest, you go there and see if you can dock somewhere and enter the building’s ruins. Then you climb up and find stuff to progress the story. 

Very lovely landmark!

Personally, I feel like this game does that quite well. Thatgamecompany’s “Journey” also had this premise of exploring the world and just going to points of interest, also known as “eyecatchers”. In Submerged, you see a Ferris wheel for instance or the outlines of a bridge or a very high building at the horizon, so you’re naturally drawn to those and see the entry point where you dock your boat and explore the building. By climbing up ledges, ivies, boards and other structures, you end up finding what you need before seeing another cutscene. Exploration feels rewarding which is really important in games like these that rely so heavily on it. 

Meanwhile, we find and see the wildlife of this world over time. Whales, dolphins and birds accompany our boat as we travel alongside them. Are there no humans left, though? What happened to everyone? 

Oooh, pretty and foggy!

Again, these questions pop up and as you progress through the story, you get ominous clues as to what happened or what is happening. You slowly piece it together as the language is obscure and as you only get drawings for the lore pieces. 

While this game is already five years old, I’d like to mention that it’s beautiful. There is a day-night cycle in the game with its own weather and all of that but even when it’s raining, the game manages to look spectacular. Being a rather vertical game, the perspective tends to get switched up now and then, showing you climb up a ladder or balance yourself to the other side of a building from a different point of view, which really showcases the beautiful scenery. Despite being somewhat old, Submerged is a pretty game. Sure, you have some graphical glitches here and there and the graphics settings are somewhat limited but overall, I feel like it certainly aged well.

Slowly… Slowly…

But despite all of that praise, I’ll have to say that the game is not too accessible. While you’re able to remap keys on both the keyboard and the controller, I would have liked to see other options supported in the game, like audio subtitles for waves, animal sounds or other options for people that don’t hear that well. On top of that, the game is way too loud in the beginning and it’s really hard to adjust to a “normal” volume level without nearly turning off the beautiful music directed by Jeff van Dyck. 

On top of that, I was a bit bothered by the fact that there is no jump or sprint button. A game with this much platforming and freedom seems a bit limited by not being able to choose freely where you go. I would have liked it a bit more if I was able to go and climb wherever I want to, maybe with a stamina bar as a limiter or some gadgets or whatever. You certainly are free… and yet you’re quite bound to ledges that are rather conveniently placed on the buildings.

There is a photo-mode for your postcard-needs!

And while I get that the red chests are your main goal, I would have liked it if you were prompted something along the lines of “return to base?” instead of just getting teleported home. It’s just a small thing that annoyed me as I’d have to climb all the way up again and remember the other paths if I wanted to explore more.

Regardless of that, however, I enjoyed this game. The world is beautiful, the exploration is highly enjoyable, and while the story seems melancholic, it is also very lovely, despite not using a single word. I hence recommend this experience to all fans of combat-free and chill exploration-based games. 

A ship part!

You can find the game on Steam over here – but if you want to support me (and the Trevor Project), you may want to use this affiliate link of mine to grab the game over at the Humble Store where it’s currently 92% off for the next week or so. You can also use my link to make other purchases and I’ll get some revenue as well unless of course, you use the honey-browser extension as that one overrides affiliate-links.  

Oooh, Birds!

Either way, I hope you enjoyed this post. I had a lot of fun playing Submerged and was happy to cross off another game of my big plan-to-play list on Steam! I haven’t posted reviews in a while since the university has been keeping me busy but if you want to get notified immediately whenever I post something on this blog, consider joining my discord server and grabbing the Scholars role over there! 

Cheers!

Indietail – Summerland

Are you a good person? I guess most people would answer that with an immediate “yes”. After all, you wouldn’t want others to think otherwise, usually. But if you had a chance to relieve your past, take a look at cases where you weren’t at your best and see how you exactly acted in those moments, would you still stick to your answer? Would you still think that you’re a good person?

In today’s review, we’re taking a look at FYRE Games’ Summerland. This short narrative experience explores the question of morality and the afterlife. What comes after you die? Where do you go? Are you a good person? Summerland is aiming to make you think about these questions, and more.

Developer: FYRE Games
Publisher: FYRE Games
Genres: Adventure, First-Person, Narrative Experience
Release Date: December 2nd, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Key was provided by the developer.

But first things first: In Summerland, we take the role of the widower and single-dad, Mathew, who’s hardly scraping by with his detective job alone and is hence desperately in need for money to be able to raise his son properly and afford the pills he needs to treat his own sickness.

And apparently, we died. At least we’re in some sort of waiting area with a corridor and several doors. In the room that we wake up in, we can only find a rotary phone on the table that suddenly starts ringing. On the other side of the phone line is a man who’s telling us to go through several trials to relieve our recent past. This is important as that man needs to judge us to determine where we have to go.

It’s all rather mysterious and ominous at the beginning but eventually, it gets cleared up.

The trials that we have to go through basically are cases from our job or days at home or side jobs. We need to find certain clues or items, bring them somewhere else or get other tasks done. Most of the time, you’ll see a counter up at the top left count upwards but more often than not, you’ll miss that and be confused. I spend a rather long time in the first level until I noticed that I needed to click on a specific item on the ground, which was a pain in the butt. Once I had the eight clues needed for the first trial, I was back at the room and ready to go into the next trial.

As you go on and complete these trials, you’ll always find yourself back in the waiting room or purgatory or whatever you wanna call it. Yes, the room with the rotary phone. The phone rings, we get it, talk to the guy on the other side, and then we answer a philosophical question.

At one point, we’re being asked about our stance on the trolley problem. Do we kill one person to let five people live or do we do nothing to not become a murderer and let those five people die? Do we follow Kant’s philosophy or rather Bentham’s utilitarianism? It’s an interesting concept to add questions like these and as someone who does study philosophy, it was interesting to see that in this game… but I think it felt somewhat pretentious. The question didn’t add anything to the thought process behind the story. The question may help some people understand the meaning of the game or whatever… but it really is unnecessary in a way, especially as I’m not sure if it actually does influence the story in any way. Similarly, we are asked a few other questions, and I just personally don’t think that it adds to the experience at all.

The story, on the other hand, starts off a bit slow but eventually picks up, only to deliver a somewhat interesting plot. Sadly, we don’t get any choices or anything to influence the game. The puzzle-like trials break the story up too much. The characters don’t really have any development to them. It’s a bit of a tragedy. The choices that we take don’t end up reflecting in later trials. There is also just one ending, it seems. Make of it whatever you want to.

But if we let that slide since it’s a free and short game, we can still talk about the alright soundtrack and the graphics that are being powered by Unity and feel quite stunning. I found them quite pretty at first… although I had to turn off bloom and a lot of other settings since the game was making me feel sick, which is something that has never happened to me before.

And speaking of things that I didn’t like: There are a lot of things like that.

For instance, I found it incredibly hard to get into the mood to play the game after I saw that I wasn’t able to change the settings IN the game. Whenever I started the game and wanted to change something to feel less dizzy but still enjoy the graphics, I’d have to go to the main menu, change the settings, head into the game and “continue”… but since the game only saves AFTER the trials, I’d have to listen to that monologue at the beginning again… and again… and again… until I found the right settings. It was annoying. On top of that, there were a lot of settings amiss like accessibility settings, keymapping and different sound/graphics settings that I would have liked to see. It’s 2020 after all – and this is a new game, so I don’t know why I can’t customize the sound settings more, etc.

In the game, the “puzzles” felt interesting but slow. They were refreshing at the beginning but as time went on, I just didn’t really want to bother with them anymore. They slowed down the story unnecessarily and ended up ruining my experience for me, a little bit. I’d rather have a walking simulator than a narrative experience that is also trying to be smart and philosophical on top of being a game with “choices” without choices – that also has puzzles for whatever reason.

The game is coming out on the 2nd of December, 2020. It’s going to be a free-to-play game. While I’d imagine that it’s an interesting title for people that want to think about morality without getting too deep into philosophy, I’m not sure if I’d recommend it. I just didn’t enjoy it too much, personally speaking, and am hence not sure if it’s worth the time spent. Especialyl when you consider that its main selling point was the questions about morality and afterlife, with the latter falling somewhat short.

I think, I would have liked it more if you had actual meaningful choices. It would have been great if there was a dialogue in the waiting area with the man on the other line. It would have been great if I had had the opportunity to think more about these aforementioned questions but at one point they just fell short. The plot was already in progress and while the story is telling you that it’s not a clear black and white thing, I just think that when it comes to morality it really is just that. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so maybe you should check it out yourself if you want to. I just personally feel didn’t like a lot of the things in the game and hence am not recommending it.

Cheers!

Indietail – Behind Every Great One

Behind every great man, stands a great woman – but who stands behind that woman? 

From the makers of The Red Strings Club and Gods Will Be Watching comes a game that explores the life of Gabriel and Victorine, a couple in their 30s that live a comfortable life. Gabriel’s a famous artist who’s currently working on his next grand piece. Victorine, his loving wife and muse, is supporting him in every way possible but as time goes on, it all becomes a burden for Vic and we start to run out of space.

Developer: Deconstructeam
Publisher: Deconstructeam
Genre: Interactive Fiction, Adventure, 2D, Drama
Release Date: August 23rd, 2018 (updated: February 18th, 2019)
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC (itch.io)
Copy is available for free.

Originally made for the Ludum Dare 42 with the concept of “running out of space” in mind, Behind Every Great One explores serious topics like gaslighting, guilt-tripping and toxic relationships by putting you into the role of one of those great women. Time passes slowly and you only have so much time to get done with your chores. 

Clean the house, water the plants, do the laundry, wash the dishes, prepare dinner,… there is way too much to do for just two people, especially when Gabriel is obsessed with his magnum opus and hence doesn’t bother helping at all. Slowly, the small rooms of the flat feel bigger and bigger. I felt so small when I tried to get done with my tasks. 

And there’s more to it. The conversations we have with our husband change over time. From him putting us on a pedestal at the beginning to eventually him blaming us indirectly for his problems.

Stuff happens and eventually, Gaby’s parents stop by and stay for a few days. Needing a place to sleep in, they take up the small library, which results in us losing our refuge and one of our hobbies. When we’re feeling down, we don’t have anyone to turn to. Gabriel’s mother is a viper and his father is often not the most tactful person. 

It’s hard to breathe air when these people quite literally take space away from you. When you feel like crying, you need to find a place to be alone. With more people joining, that’s not quite possible. Eventually, it all is too much to handle for us and only time will tell what we’ll do about it.

Though relatively short, Deconstructeam managed to create an interesting and deep experience that really captures the feel of toxic relationships well. Abusive relationships don’t need domestic violence. It can be a few simple words, sentences, and demands to ruin someone’s day, week or life. 

The game utilizes a minimalistic style and bright colours to show us the world we live in. It doesn’t matter who these people are or what they look like. They could be anyone and everyone. The bright colours contrast the dark feelings quite well and the changes in camera-movements and perspectives really add a lot to the experience.

A rather atmospheric soundtrack accompanies the experience that is fitting. For a game made in a day, I’m impressed at how well this all fits together.

Sadly, I’m not able to talk about anything else really since the risk of spoiling something is rather high with a game like this. It’s a short experience that still has a lot of surprises to offer that I haven’t touched upon in this review.

Personally, I really enjoyed the experience, although I hated the oppressive feeling that goes with it. I hated more toxic relationships that I had in the past and this game really reminded me all too well about those. It’s saddening that Victorine’s experience is so relatable. 

Hence, I’d recommend this title. It’s a really well-made narrative experience by Deconstructeam. You can find Behind Every Great One over here on itch.io.

Cheers!

Looking forward to Lamentum

Lamentum is a pixel-art survival horror game set in New England in the mid-nineteenth century. I played the demo of it and honestly, I really liked the vibes that I got from it. Here’s why I enjoyed it so much!

Developer: Obscure Tales
Publisher: Another Indie
Release Date: 2021
Genres: 2D, Indie, Survival, Horror, Action Adventure, Lovecraftian

After no conventional method was able to cure Alissa’s deadly disease, the young aristocrat Victor Hartwell turns to unconventional methods and Grau Hill Mansion’s Earl, Edmond Steinrot, to find a treatment for his beloved wife. In Lamentum, we guide Hartwell in his desperate journey but nobody could have fathomed what unimaginable horrors were waiting for us over there. This is a story of love, sacrifice, and sacred otherworldy entities.

Lamentum takes inspiration from classic survival horror games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill along with cosmic horror masterpieces, like the Cthulhu mythos and other works by Lovecraft.

Obscure Tales is very much able to capture what makes the Lovecraftian horror stories so great: The fear of the unknown and the fear of the things that mankind shouldn’t have known. 

Terrible, terrifying creatures are lurking in the shadows while the Mansion has changed over one night. The paintings and statues have transformed into a terrible and grotesque state… and worst of all, there is just no trace left of Alissa!

That’s where the story really picks up. A note in the room that we wake up in reveals that Alissa made her way into the Earl’s office but the door’s locked from the inside and we don’t have any other way in. Hence, we have to go deeper and search other rooms for clues and useful items. In one room, we find a small box. In another, we find some mysterious runes. Alas, there’s a room with a sword but there is something off about it as well. It all feels like one big puzzle where you have to figure out how different pieces fit together and how you’re able to combine different items or use certain items.

The controls feel quite good, although I prefer the controller over the keyboard controls. When I found a gun, I had to get used to the aiming and the fact that you need to reload after every single shot, despite enemies moving towards you, which makes sense since mid-nineteenth century weapons weren’t automated or anything like that. Combat usually consists of figuring out the enemy patterns and kiting them while landing a hit or two in between their attack phases. With only one enemy or two, in the beginning, this can be rather easily done but over time, more and more enemies show up, so you really have to wage whether or not it’s worth it to risk damage or if you want to move past them. Generally, I’ve been trying to sneak past enemies as healing items and ink (to save the game) are rare in the game and as I wanted to try a more cautious approach, but if you’re good at kiting enemies, then you certainly can go for a more action-heavy approach!

The game allows you to assign three items to slots so that you can use them at any given time with just one button-press. Otherwise, you’ll have to move into the inventory and equip items manually, which can be a bit annoying at first as you’re still figuring out what you exactly need, but you’ll get used to it eventually. Generally, I kept my weapons in those slots as well as the lamp that I found somewhere but you can use them however you like. The inventory is limited to nine spaces but there are storage crates that share their inventory where you can put in a lot more items. Alas, you’ll have to manage your inventory space and be careful as to what you can bring with you and what you cannot. If you come across an item that you want to take but your inventory is full, you’ll obviously have to go back to a storage trunk and remove some of your items and go back to said room, if you can find it. I found that mechanic quite intriguing as a lot of the games I played tend to give you tons of inventory space or even inventory upgrades at the beginning, making the game a bit easier. 

Taking multiple trips back and forth is something that I tried to avoid as much as possible but due to the inventory situation, I sometimes had to do exactly that. The mansion is huge and despite having a map, it is actually quite easy to get lost in it, especially with all the doors that aren’t all accessible. And with enemies spawning in some rooms as you travel through them, multiple trips bear a lot of risks. This added a bit of difficulty to the game as I needed certain items for puzzles, such as keys and shards, but also didn’t know if I’ll need the runes and teeth in upcoming rooms. 

When you figure stuff out, you get that short moment of satisfaction that I really enjoyed in this game. When you’re stuck, however, it can be a bit frustrating but the game never really leaves you clueless. Certain doors are closed, so you have to search for something to do in the accessible rooms and hallways.

At last, I’d like to say that the art style is wonderfully dark and detailed. The Top-Down-ish view highlights the art style as you get to see a lot of the big rooms and small details that they feature. The animations are fluid and unique for all of the different enemy types and I love to see the different cut scenes in the game that depicted the horrors of the nightmare that we’ve found ourselves in. The dark and gory beauty of the game gets complimented by the beautiful and ominous music that switches from enigmatic and sad sounds to darker and creepier tunes. 

The full game will feature an array of 19th Century Melee and Ranged weaponry that isn’t just limited to the pistol, the knive and the sword found in the demo. Apart from that it will also include branching paths and multiple endings on top of “a terrifying plot for a mature audience”.

If you’re looking for a Horror Game to play, then I’d definitely recommend checking out Lamentum’s Demo over here. The game fully releases in 2021 but I really enjoyed the demo that is actually rather long for a demo. In case you want to get notified when it launches or in case you want to support Obscure Tales already, you should definitely wishlist the game on Steam. Personally, I’m really excited about this title, despite being more of a scaredy-cat. 

Either way, that’s it for the post. I meant to write this post for a long time already but ended up not really being able to do so, due to university stuff, exams, paperwork, family stuff, and all of the things that stop you from doing what you really want. When I got to write it, I really enjoyed the process. The beginning part of this post was a bit hard to work out without spoiling anything but I think I did a pretty good job at it (feedback appreciated!).

This post wasn’t meant to be a review, especially as this is a demo but in the end, it offered a lot of entertainment, so the post turned out a lot longer than originally planned. Generally, I try to just go with my first impressions and thoughts on games and their systems in these types of posts and since I didn’t play the full game just yet, there’s obviously no telling what the endgame looks like or future bosses or how the story unravels, and I can’t quite judge the whole of the game solely based on the beginning. Alas, take this post with a grain of salt until I’m able to write an actual review on the game. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the demo and I hope that you’re checking out the game yourself.

Again, I highly recommend it!

Cheers!

Indietail – Drake Hollow

After my post about Drake Hollow and why I’m so excited and after the interview we did with TMF’s Forrest Dowling,… It finally is time for my review on Drake Hollow. Welcome to yet another Indietail! And I’m excited about this one!

Developer: The Molasses Flood
Publisher: The Molasses Flood
Genre: Colony Sim, Base Building, Exploration, Co-Op, Open World
Release Date: October 1st, 2020
Reviewed on: PC (solo)
Available on: PC, Xbox One
Copy was purchased.

Drake Hollow is an action village-building game that you can play solo or with your friends. After a breakup, the protagonist is seen dwelling on a rock before a speaking crow approaches them and invites them into a new world where they are needed. Welcome to the Hollow where the Drakes are threatened by various creatures and where familiars roam the lands searching for people like you that can help the Drakes. The Drakes are small little creatures that need food, water and entertainment. They can literally die of boredom as the game emphasizes on multiple occasions. You build your small little village, go out on explorations and defend against the various enemies found in the game.

This gameplay loop of exploring, building and looting is the main aspect of the game. It keeps the game fresh and prevents it from becoming stale. As you find loot, you’re able to craft items, build defence and utility structures, take care of the Drakes and eventually, you’ll get a ten-minute countdown to the next raid that is coming in and needs defending. The Drakes help the player by being absolutely adorable and bringing in some life into the world… and they also gift you items and provide you with various buffs that help you survive, improve your combat capabilities, or influence your efficiency in various regards.

Speaking of combat, it is all relatively simple. You have a melee and a ranged attack on the mouse buttons. You’re able to find weapons and ammunition by looting old buildings and other islands. The fun thing is that anything can and will be a weapon: From a coat rack to a tennis bat to a rake or a weed whacker. I enjoyed finding fun and interesting weapons that could be categorized into heavy and light weapons. The aiming with the ranged weapons felt quite nice and while melee combat isn’t the most complicated, I noticed that you can cancel some of the animations and get more DPS in than usual if you put in some practice. Overall, I enjoyed the combat experience a ton! Especially stuff like jump attacks, combos and the right dodge timing can be more than satisfying – and then different enemy types feature different move sets and counters of sorts.

Where the game really shines though is the exploration part. A purple-ish mist known as the Aether envelops the world of Drake Hollow that damages the player. The world consists of mostly islands that aren’t connected at all. Hence, you’ll have to use craftable crystals to make yourself immune to the mist for a bit to get to the next islands. 

As time goes on, you’ll need other means of travelling where my highlight comes in: Waypoints. You place them down and connect them to supply trucks (with resources that you cannot access in any other way). Once two or more are linked up, you have a rail system of sorts where you grind your way rather speedily from one island to the next. I really enjoyed this part as I always wanted to explore more but then got disrupted by incoming raids, full inventories or dying drakes. 

Drakes tend to “die” of a lot of things. As you progress, you’ll have to take care of the various needs and pay attention to how much water, food and entertainment you produce. Resources around you deplete eventually, so you need to move on to the next set of islands, which is similar to The Flame In The Flood where you move your base/boat from one island to the next with a point-of-no-return mechanic. 

As you move on to the next set of islands, you get to explore and loot more without having to fear about your old buildings getting lost. The Drakes just pack up your base and take it with you to the next set of islands. The next set of islands plays in a different season with different mechanics. In summer, your water production may suffer a lot due to droughts. In Winter you have to build radiators and other buildings to thaw out your Drakes and production facilities. I found these mechanics quite neat but mostly, I loved how the islands change. The usually lush trees turn pink and red and white and lose leaves and the world is covered in a layer of snow when you encounter winter. The way you have to change your playstyle based on the seasons is a very interesting mechanic and I really enjoyed that.

Stronger enemies mean more damage and more danger. What happens when you die? Do you lose any progress when you die? No, not at all. You can revive at your camp and lose some weapon durability but you do not lose any progress. Your drakes don’t really “die”. You can revive them on the neighbouring island, although you will have to nurture them again. You can spirit walk to your dead body and resurrect it there as well. 

It comes to no surprise that I’m loving the overall presentation. I was the most hyped about the Drakes and was not disappointed at all when I saw their animations and behaviours. Follow the Drakes as they roam your small village, eat food, dance on the disco floor, go to sleep or burrow themselves when they get stuck somewhere. The world itself feels lively and features this vibrant style that changes with the seasons and is always stunning to look at. The Drakes have some great interactions with enemies and the player. The soundtrack is at times enigmatic and mysterious, at times adventurous! Overall, I’m loving the presentation, the soundtrack and the art style and I was quite satisfied with how the game turned out in the end.

And yes, of course, there are some issues here and there. When I started playing, the end-game was somewhat frustrating with resources running out, Drakes dying and enemies getting stronger while you felt a bit too weak… but that was mostly my fault as I moved on too fast or as I didn’t level my camp and didn’t unlock enough new facilities or I didn’t manage my camp properly. There are certain issues in the late game that can feel a bit overwhelming in solo, but I’m sure that you’ll do just fine if you play with up to four friends – with someone exploring and people defending and someone tending to the Drakes. For people that didn’t want to end their journey, the “The Molasses Flood” team added an endless mode (Sandbox) without a story but with a raised max camp level, new cosmetics and higher camp levels. The game will get more updates. They just added in filters for the depot to allow to view items by type as well as some other QOL changes.

In the end, the only thing that could be criticised would be the end-game that feels a tad frustrating or rather overwhelming as a solo player. The gameplay loop is satisfying, the combat feels nice, the Drakes are absolutely adorable, and overall, I’m loving this game so far and can’t wait to meddle with sandbox mode and to play it with friends eventually!

You can currently get the game on Xbox Game Pass and Steam. Cross-Saving between Win10 and XboxOne is available and there is Cross-Play available for the Windows Store, the Xbox One and the Game Pass versions of the game… but it doesn’t work for the Steam version as there is no native support for invites or hosting across these networks. The game keeps getting updated and I can highly recommend it! Check it out over here or on Game Pass, the Windows Store or wherever! 

As a side note:
You’re able to grab Drake Hollow on Steam with a 10% launch discount until the 8th of October! If you already own TMF’s “The Flame In The Flood” you also get an additional 15% off, resulting in a 25% discount on the game!

Cheers!

Indietail – Outer Wilds

Exploration is one of those key features used by a lot of video games these days. Usually, you end up exploring an area for secrets, collectables and shortcuts, which – when done right – can be very satisfying and essentially encourage you to do it more. In today’s review, we’re talking about a game that is all about exploration and that doesn’t rely on any of those features but rather makes the player piece together all the different clues and information in order create a bigger picture of sorts. Today, we’re taking a look at Outer Wilds.

Developer: Mobius Digital
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release Date: Jun 18th, 2020
Genre: Space, Exploration, Puzzle, Mystery, Adventure
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, XBOX 1, PS4
Copy was purchased.

In a distant Solar System, we are tasked with finding out clues about an ancient civilisation only to find ourselves in a time loop similar to Majora’s Mask and Minit. After 21 real-time minutes, the sun is bound to explode, leaving us with the mission of finding out why this is happening.

Why does this universe end?
What do the ancient Nomai have to do with this?
How can we stop it?

To do this, we set out to different planets, solve a variety of puzzles, translate scrolls and ancient scriptures, so that we can get closer to the truth, one step at a time.

The Reveal Trailer is probably one of my all-time favourite trailers!

This is where the game shines. You retain all of your information whenever you die or whenever you reset. Hence, at the start of every loop, you get to lift off from the launch pad on Timberhearth, after having seemingly just dozed off at the campfire.

By scanning and translating different scriptures on walls and ancient ruins, you find out more about this ancient civilisation of the Nomai, who at first seem quite noble and distant but later become rather relatable and “normal”. You end up learning more about different tribes of Nomai that all worked together for Science and that all lived on different planets after they crashlanded in this universe.

While the leads and clues may, at first, seem daunting and overwhelming, your ship log usually tends to help you out by telling you if there’s more to explore in certain areas. It also displays the clues, all linked together, hence giving you some sort of lead to explore, if you ever find yourself in trouble.

There are two “modes” of movement in this game. You either travel from planet to planet and manoeuvre around the planets’ surfaces with your small little ship. Or you explore by foot, relying on your jetpack to reach high places if the gravity allows, and scanning things using your transcriptor. When you have a rough landing, you have to repair certain parts of your ship, like its oxygen tanks, electrical systems, the landing gear and other ones that are essential for safe travels. When you travel on foot, on the other hand, you have to watch your health and oxygen but also be sure to not get stuck somewhere without fuel. This makes for some interesting mechanics as different planets come with different hazards and gravity levels. On top of that, you, at times, have to reach certain places before your oxygen supplies run out, hence adding a little bit of pressure to you.

The different planets all shine in their own way. While Brittle Hollow has a black hole at its centre and while Dark Bramble is an enigma of its own, Giantsdeep features high gravity and a very harsh climate that allows vortexes on its surface to lift your ship and even islands into the air. I could assure you that every single planet and planetary body features a unique experience and that every journey to different sites and locations feels unprecedented and adventurous! At least, that’s something I fancied in my playthrough. Since there is no set starting point for every planet, though, you have to figure every planet out yourself and understand its systems, although you should have plenty of times for that – being trapped in a time-loop gives you a lot of time to think, eh?

Making use of a time-loop mechanic gives every 21-minute long adventure a unique vibe, that I really dig. At first, I felt a certain rush to find out as much as possible in every single loop, but then I noticed that it’s alright to take a breather at times and to enjoy the views. After all, Outer Wilds is a charming and gorgeous game, featuring a great score, some lovely dialogues, and a lot of clues, secrets and easter eggs to find in the ruins of the “old world”.

The soundtrack, composed by Andrew Prahlow, gives this title a certain adventure-vibe that helped me enjoy the ride a lot better. Different places feature different tracks while some other tracks get played when you’re getting close to your inevitable death, creating a rather fluid and non-linear experience every time you venture out into the Outer Wilds.

I love the soundtrack. I love the graphics. I love the gameplay. I love the story.

In summary, I love Outer Wilds.

Outer Wilds created a novel experience for myself, even when it has some shortcomings here and there:

Your experience at the beginning can be somewhat slow, for instance, as you try to figure out how certain planets work, where you have to go, what you’re supposed to do. I enjoyed that, myself, but I’d be able to see how this would influence other people’s experiences and how it could bother others.

You don’t have a lot of directions given to you, although there are other astronauts on every planet that you can visit to ask them for “interesting places”. Based on where you land on a planet, you get to see different places to find out other clues. At times, this can mislead you into thinking that you found out everything about a planet, resulting in you seemingly “getting stuck”. At other times, you may just be wondering how an end-game location like the Hourglass Twins tie into the whole story and what you’re supposed to do with these “timed locations”.

Overall, I wouldn’t deem this too much of an issue though. By revisiting places and by making use of your ship log, you should be able to get “unstuck” in no time and figure out new leads whenever you try out a different location or find out a new piece of the puzzle.

Another issue that I found with the game is the fact that there are some issues in the PC version of it. Your ship can seemingly take way too much damage when bumping into certain objects and at other times, you may just die from a fall that you usually would make, which I found a bit frustrating at times. Bugs are, however, very few and very rare, so usually, this just left me in confusion and didn’t make me suffer too much.

Alas, my verdict is that Outer Wilds is an exceptional game that is worth checking out if you’re interested in a “true” exploration experience with a non-linear time-loop-based story. The presentation is just magnificent and charming, the story and the end of it are just more than grand, and I’m really glad about having played through it after 24.4 hours. That whole day that I spend in there was 100% worth it!

Cheers!

Looking forward to “Grounded”

If you’ve seen “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, “The Ant Bully”, or “Antz”, you might like the following title. In Obsidian Entertainment’s “Grounded” you’re playing as one of four kids, shrunk to the size of insects and other small critters. You get to roam a lawn, exploring vast grass-steam forests while scavenging and foraging for resources to survive the dangers that come with not being normal-sized.

The world is beautiful if you look close enough – and well, with your size, you can get close to everything. Ants are as big as you while stink beetles and ladybugs are terrifyingly big! Of course, there are also small critters like mites that you can hunt down for food and… well… as the game tells you in the title screen, there are also spiders. But fear not, fellow arachnophobes, for there is an arachnophobia mode in this game that lets you turn those horrific and vile creatures into weird bobbly balls floating in the air. This also affects their creepy sounds, resulting in a pleasant experience even when you encounter them.

I constantly caught myself staring into the beautiful areas around you – I mean, when if not now do we get to see the world from this perspective?

Houses and benches are huge! We even get to explore “landmarks” such as some weird shrinking machine and soda cans. Resources seem to be rather lush and alas, we gather pebbles and sprigs, mushrooms and clover, so that we can get started with some simple tools for the beginning.

While you chop down trees in other games, you’ve got to chop down the grass, using an actual axe. Quite bizarre in a way but it does make sense. And well, despite stink beetles, spiders and mites wanting to kill you, there are also a bunch of friendly fellows around like ladybugs and ants.

I love ants. The ants in this game look incredibly cute, constantly scavenging for food, just like us, or carrying around sticks and pebbles. “In theory”, I thought… “In theory, I could attack them. I’ve got the spear and all of that already, after all!” – But I didn’t dare to attack such cute little fellows, mostly since I’m afraid that they might gang up on me after sending out their threat pheromones.

There seems to be a full-fledged story available to the game once it comes out but inside of the demo I was able to play for more than half an hour – and the story-part reached until we fixed the (presumably) shrink-reversal-machine that Spoilers blew up on us shortly after we “fixed” it.

Materials can be analyzed for recipes inside of the analyzer that is set near our research globe. Food can be cooked at a roasting spit and, in theory, we can even build a base of sorts with walls, doors and floors!

Honestly, I’m really excited about this game, especially since it does tickle that one itch that I have for base-building survival games! Especially as it also features unconventional aspects to survival. You’ve got to find water drops on grass stems to not dehydrate, for instance, which is a nice touch!

Multiplayer is also something that is going to be included in the full game, so this might get really cool really soon. Grounded gets released in Early Access on July 28th, 2020. It’s by Obsidian Entertainment, so it’s bound to be good, and well, the game so far has been looking great already, especially as this is only a demo!

The only thing that I’d wish for would be an option to turn the spiders into some cute beetles or something, as even the bobbly heads are a little bit triggering to me. I’d also love it if you could turn their sounds into something else that is less creepy. But maybe that’s just my arachnophobia speaking…

Cheers!

Indietail – Stories: The Path of Destinies

Not too long ago, we’ve taken a look at Omensight, a game made by Spearhead. Omensight combined a beautiful world and a lot of different characters with some cool mystery-solving mechanics and some insanely fun combat! This time around, we’re taking a look at its spiritual predecessor, Stories: The Path of Destinies! Strap on for another Indietail!

Developer: Spearhead Games
Publisher: Spearhead Games
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Genres: Adventure, Action, RPG, Indie, Mystery
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Copy was purchased.

What is Stories: The Path of Destinies about?

In a world with anthropomorphic animal characters and floating islands, we’re taking control of the fox Reynardo, who retired from his brave adventures when his mother took her last breath. One day, the Empire is attacking our hometown in search of a book in our possession. We, the sole survivor of the royal assault, are escaping on our airship, we join the Rebellion and try to take on Isengrim III, the vicious toad emperor who is trying to use forgotten magic, ancient artefacts, and the elder gods who once destroyed the world to rise to power! And, well, it’s our duty to stop that from happening!

In its core, Stories is an isometric action-RPG with mystery elements. We have to solve different loose ends of the game’s story to find out how to stop Isengrim’s plan, who to trust and what exactly is going on. Just like Omensightm, Stories is based on replayability. As Reynardo reads the magical book, he finds out that it allows him to travel back to the same day upon death. With newly attained knowledge, we get to chose different options and make other choices to influence the outcome of the story.

But not always do different choices lead to different outcomes. Often, we need to find out information beforehand to actually influence the outcome of a different route, and alas we have a total of 24 different endings to discover, a whole bunch of levelling and fighting to do, and a whole bunch of characters to investigate.

Do we save our old friend Lapino, a goofy and sly rabbit who is currently being held hostage by the Empire, or do we ditch him in order to find the old artefacts that are capable of potentially sealing away the banished evil gods and defeat the emperor? The choice is yours!

A lot of the times, the story branches into different paths, resulting in a bunch of new areas to discover, information on lore as well as new dialogue options!

And not everything is as it seems. Who can we trust? Who is a traitor? Are the leaders of the Rebellion as trustworthy as we think they are? What about our old love, Zenobia, the Emperor’s daughter? Is there a way to reach out to her? And is Lapino really who we think he is? The story allows us to form our own fate and managed to surprise me over and over again with complex characters that actually change their minds or show their true colours when we go the right way.

There are about four choices in each path to make, all featuring two or three options that split the path into different branches. The branches usually end with either the world getting destroyed or you getting captured or killed, which then results in the book bringing you back in time where you can start all over again. There are four branches that reveal four truths, required to reach the final ending and the end of the game. These four truths are linked to Isengrim, Zenobia, Lapino and the ancient evil gods. When travelling back in time, your book leaves you with guidance, telling you how the choices are reflecting themselves in your future… though no future is set in stone yet as you get to play them yourselves and make a different choice at any point.

As far as combat goes, it is best describes as a simpler version of Omensight’s combat. You get to slash enemies with your sword, using a vast variety of swings and attacks, as well as abilities that you unlock through skills, counters and blocks. Using different materials, you get to upgrade your sword, adding bonus effects to it like fire damage or more attack speed. On top of that, you get to customize your character with different gems that grant you resistances or other passive effects. Overall, I felt like the combat is rather solid and a lot of fun to play. Spearhead Games learned a lot from Stories: The Path of Destinies and implemented it into Omensight which turned out to be a bit more difficult but also a lot more fun. So, I was quite satisfied with both games’ combat systems.

And then there is the world and the soundtrack: It’s beautiful… but that’s no surprise as Spearhead Games have proven themselves as a lovely studio that is very talented in world-building and game-making. The narration really adds more to the game, too! You could say that I’m a huge fan of Spearhead Games, especially as I just adore Omensight’s world and soundtrack. So it should be no surprise that I enjoyed Stories, though I’ve got to say that there is a weak point to Stories as well…

And that’s its cast of enemies:

Over time, as you go back and re-visit old areas, you’re presented with the same enemies over and over again. Of course, you find new enemy types over the course of the game and you get to fight stronger versions when you get stronger, but I never truly felt as if the game was challenging me a lot… as time went on, I struggled a bit more, but it usually was rather doable and never truly hard, so that was a bit of a downer. The combat is a lot of fun but I would have loved to see more variety in the cast of enemies that you’re facing.

But other than that, I couldn’t really find any issues with the game. It runs smoothly, the game’s plot, characters and the soundtrack are awesome, the combat is fun (though it could have been more challenging) and the exploration is quite neat as well. I highly recommend this game to any fan of well-made action-RPG games and for players who are interested in solving a mystery that involves the end of the world!

I hope you enjoyed this review! It’s been a while and I thought I’d publish it today, especially as this game is really good on top of being different from the other titles that I’ve reviewed so far.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day over there!

Cheers!

Indietail – Before I Forget

In today’s Indietail, we’re talking about „Before I Forget“ by 3-Fold Games, a one-hour-long narrative experience, that shows us the story of Suni and Dylan Appleby.

Developer: 3-Fold Games
Publisher: 3-Fold Games
Release Date: July 16th, 2020
Genres: Indie, Exploration, Walking Simulator, Narrative, Adventure
Reviewed on: PC
Available for: PC
Copy received from Humble Choice.

In the beginning, we’re just thrown into this apartment, blurry sighted and left with little to no instructions. The only thing we know: We need to find Dylan. Who is Dylan? Where is he? Why is he so important to us? All these questions were going through my head while some beautiful piano music was luring me from one room into the other.

From the get-go, I was astonished by the vibrant colours and the art style that slowly pieced itself together. We can’t go anywhere. There are locked doors and other pieces that are missing, so we need to explore. Find postcards, letters and other objects to trigger certain memories and piece the story together, slowly completing the world like a puzzle of sorts.

You don’t see the bigger picture until you’re fully immersed in the game.

And being immersed isn’t too hard in this case. The story is wonderful and lovely at the beginning but slowly changes pace as the small world we live in gets completed and as more options unlock themselves before us. We can’t proceed through some hallways and cannot open some other doors. I quite literally got lost in the world and the apartment or did I? Did I move through this door already? Why is this one closed again? I could swear that I was here before? I’m confused.

Time and space seem to be mere concepts, rather abstract ones at that. The protagonist’s movement resembles that quite well. Throughout the game, the mouse and player controls feel sluggish or slow down at least, which resembles our confusion quite well. Then everything seems fine again and everything is back to normal…

We forget ourselves. We end up questioning who we are and what we have done. We know nothing about the character that we’re playing… and apparently, the protagonist doesn’t know much more either… at least yet.

The experience reminded me a lot of Answer Knot, where a relationship gets established through notes, photographs and different memories that we remember.

It’s a neat concept that is well executed.

Throughout the game, we’re accompanied by a very interesting soundtrack (by Dave Tucker) and some interesting design choices. Partly, we’re left in the silent, only hearing our footsteps while slowly moving around… partly, we’re accompanied by some nice little piano tunes that become more frequent as the game goes on… and partly, we hear this ominous humming that seems to threaten us while a black hole of sorts stops us from proceeding further into the apartment.

As time goes on, we remember more. Time doesn’t stand still. We find out about the couple and their wishes and careers. Snippets of different conversations. We read about Dylan’s tour and Suni’s research. Here and there we travel back in time to where Suni’s aunt is showing her the stars and explaining the stories and meanings of the different stars and constellations, not all of them were happy but overall it was beautiful.

And well, I’m not sure how to tackle everything else about the game. Being an immersive experience, I can’t talk about the plot too much. I’m afraid that I might have already taken a lot away from the game by only talking about less than the first half.

I guess what I could say is that I loved it. The end was beautiful, the soundtrack was superb, the art style and the shift from the vibrant colours to a darker palette was fluid and just lovely. I loved how the „world“ (aka the apartment) slowly completed itself. And speaking of the apartment, I loved how the two cultures that collided in this relationship are resembled in the flat itself, with British/Western objects and furniture on top of Indian (I think? Correct me if I’m wrong!) paintings and influences scattered throughout the flat. I loved exploring all the rooms and I loved how turning the lights on and off, changed so much about the atmosphere! I also loved how objects and furniture shifted and changed as we remembered more. Oh, and don’t get me started on the voice acting! Just lovely!

Near the end of the game, I had goosebumps from all the metaphors and symbols found in the last sections of the game (can’t talk about that as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone) – and when it was over… I was in awe.

It’s a great game. I highly recommend it.

The only thing that I could criticize would be that I would have loved to put different pieces together by myself. I would have loved it if certain things wouldn’t have been explicitly mentioned by the game. I feel like making the player think is a much stronger way of telling a story instead of actually spelling it out. It didn’t bother me too much. This way of storytelling is obviously more direct and allows more players to reach the same experience, so I guess it’s not bad… I just would have liked to find secrets or maybe even create theories about the characters, by myself, instead of finding everything out in the end… and despite most of the game being rather direct, the ending still leaves a lot of things open. If you enjoy theory-crafting, the ending is going to be lovely for you.

The game’s coming out soon, so you may want to wishlist it on Steam.

So, that’s it for the review. I guess I somehow managed to create a spoiler-free review of this short but beautiful experience. I hope that you will enjoy this experience as much as I did.

Cheers!

Looking out for “Critters for Sale”

Critters for Sale is… interesting. It’s a weird and mesmerizing experience. I don’t exactly know what drew me to it when I saw it on the demo page but without really knowing anything about it, I installed it and started it up only to find myself in some surreal ride full of events that I’m not sure I really comprehend.

“Experience death from the comfort of your seat”, the Store description says. Sonoshee, the dev behind Critters for Sale, is also known for Rym 9000 but apart from the equally mesmerizing soundtrack and some weird symbols here and there, I couldn’t really draw a connection between the two games at all.

Critters for Sale is a text-based Noir Adventure… I think?

It features Gore and Violence on top of a lot of different symbols and metaphors as well as a story that I’m not quite following at this point in time. The demo lasts about 13 minutes as you play until a certain point of time of the first chapter, “Snake”. You play as Sergei, a taxi-driver, who gets messaged by… Michael Jackson? You’re supposed to come to the Limelight Club that is nearby.

Do you get out of the comfort of your bed or do you stay asleep? Do you take the bait or do you stay paranoid? Do you believe the man who’s looking like Michael Jackson? Do you listen to his crazy story of the future and your connection… or do you doubt it all and throw it all away? And what do you make of the weird sculptures and the people in the club?

It’s honestly a wild ride from start to end.

The sounds, the music, the aesthetic… it’s just insanely mysterious, mesmerizing and weirdly alluring. The different parts of the screen feel satisfying to click on. There are different parts and different ways to go through the story. You may leave the club early? You may find some interesting new detail? Who knows?

It’s sinister and grainy. It’s weird and grotesque. It’s unhinged and… I’m not sure but I think free describes it quite well? It doesn’t try to be overly scary or funny or dark or sad. It just does its thing. It’s not too sad, it’s not too funny. The game’s doing it right without trying too hard.

Critters for Sale looked “interesting” but caught me off-guard as I expected nothing and was flat-out overwhelmed.

I’m not sure what to say about it all. I love it. I’m excited. I’m hyped. I wanna play more. I wanna see where this goes. I want it now… but it’s getting released in 2021, so I guess we’ll have to wait for that…

If you don’t mind a little gore and a little violence… check this title out. Wishlist it on steam. Follow the game’s development. Check it out on itch.io as well! Definitely recommended!

I’m excited about “Drake Hollow” by The Molasses Flood

It’s sadly not part of the Steam Game Festival but Drake Hollow is definitely something to look out for. I’m really excited about the game – and not only due it being made by the dev behind The Flame In The Flood! The Molasses Flood’s second game can best be described as a Base-Building Action-Survival-Game. 

What is Drake Hollow about?

Well, in the blighted world of The Hollow, you’ve got to defend the small vegetable folk known as the Drake from the deadly feral beasts that are threatening to attack them! The Drake can’t really take care of themselves, so you’ve got to provide them with gardens, wells, and entertainment as well as defences against the previously mentioned terrors. The Drake can literally die of boredom, so they need your attention and help in order to survive – in return, they provide you with buffs that are helpful in your quest of Survival!

Take back The Hollow as you strive for the perfect village! Build solar panels and other important machines to progress! Play with friends and hold your ground together against the imminent danger, craft weapons and gear, pack your things and migrate from place to place, from season to season. Do what it takes to live on!

I really have been excited about this game for ages now. We’ve reviewed The Flame In The Flood about a year ago, so everyone should know what The Molasses Flood is capable of (the studio, not the event). 

What do I expect from this game?

  • First up, the soundtrack is probably going to be amazing.
    The Flame In The Flood featured a lovely, adventurous soundtrack made by Chuck Ragan, and I can’t imagine what they are going to come up with for the soundtrack of this game. I’d expect maybe some more mysterious and enigmatic tunes, similar to the Dungeon of the Endless soundtrack, as well as some road trip vibes with other tracks for when you’re exploring, similar to Amarante Music. 
  • Secondly, the peaceful aspects are going to be super wholesome.
    Taking care of these little fellows is going to be great. Just imagine all the cute little noises and dances they might make. I’m in love with Dufflur, the Drake that can be seen in the Steam Store Page. It’s just adorable, featuring a very lovely colour and some insanely pretty eyes!
  • Thirdly, Co-Op is going to be great when I find the right people to play this with – and I already have some in mind!
    I’d imagine that the resource gathering and base-building get infinite times better with friends, probably, just like it’s so much better to play games like Satisfactory or Ark with friends. 
  • Fourth, the combat is going to be intense and exciting!
    A change of pace is always good, so the resource scavenging, base building, and Drake-caretaking are going to be rather relaxed and fun to play around while combatting the “raids” will result in your heart rate spiking, in a good way of course. I wanna feel that thrill and excitement when facing off against these eldritch-looking monsters!
  • And at last, exploration:
    There are going to be a lot of different regions and seasons with each region being over a square mile big! From what I’ve gathered, there are landmarks to explore and, well, with every passing season there is going to be dynamically generated and populated areas, so you’ll always have places to go and spaces to loot, I’d imagine. 

So, in essence, I’m hyped. I’ve been hyped for ages but with the game coming out on July 17th, 2020, I’m getting excited again. I probably won’t be able to play it until after the 22nd, though, as I’ve got some exams on that day, but regardless of that, this is going to be great.

So, yeah, this is my post on Drake Hollow. We’re going to write a review on this game after the release so that you can see if my hype was justified, and we soon will publish an interview with one of the lead devs on the game, so stay tuned for that!

Be sure to wishlist and follow it on Steam, if you’re interested! You may also be interested in checking out the website! Cheers!

Indietail – HARTS ISLAND

You’re instantly there… on Hart’s Island. Home to millions of corpses. Corpses of the unknown, the unidentified, the poor and the sick, dead bodies found somewhere or people too poor to get a private funeral. Among them, an actor called Luck Miller.

Developer: ben lunato
Publisher: ben lunato
Genres: Walking Simulator, Adventure, Narration
Release Date: June 1st, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy was provided by the dev(s).

In today’s Indietail, we’re taking a look at HARTS ISLAND by ben lunato, a one-hour long narrative experience bringing us to this small island where millions are buried.

The narrator on some tape explains to us what kind of people are resting here. We march forward and walk along in the black and white area only to stumble across the next eye-catcher and a next narrating tape. I feel like I’ve entered some kind of exhibition. Some experimental play where artists are showing off their art and where you walk around from place to place while some weird music with only a few tunes here and there is playing in the background. You hear these tapes in different places but you won’t understand anything until the end of the exhibition… if at all. You have to think with the story and make it work until you at last get to puzzle it together… again, if at all.

During the short experience, we get to find out about this actor and his work. We get to hear several tapes from different auditions (I guess?) and we listen to these tapes inside of differently shaped buildings at different places and possibly different times.

I feel like I could talk and talk about this game but it would probably ruin the experience. This game has its strong points and its flaws. There is little to no direction as to where to go. There are areas that you can explore on your own until the tape is over. There are plot points that get revealed over time but if I speak too much of it, I’d end up spoiling it all, I guess.

So, I guess I’ll just cut to the chase?

Harts Island features a minimalistic approach to story-telling as it gives you little to nothing to orientate yourself within this black and white world: You’ve got sounds and eye-catchers, which I personally found rather interesting and quite cool in a way.

The game gives you little to no direction. There is no hand-holding, no tutorial. HARTS ISLAND just shows you where to go in the same way art exhibitions lure people in. You get to see these art pieces or experiences in different rooms and you walk around from room to room and later on come to a conclusion about the whole exhibition. You hardly know anything until you get to see it… You don’t walk somewhere because there was some big pointy arrow or some narrator that told you to do exactly that. You just go where you think is the right direction or you come back to a point at a later point in time.

And then there’s obviously the unique art style, featuring black and white as the only “colours” in a sketch-like presentation. It’s not too special. It may resemble some streams of impressionism in a way or maybe you could just consider it “minimalistic” but overall, it’s really just sketchy. Apart from that, there’s the soundtrack that either features a soft melody or that encases us in a very ominous and threatening manner with dark and monotone tunes. Obviously, the soundtrack may be the best part about the whole presentation as well as the way the story is presented but the game still has a bunch of flaws.

You have no menu and get thrown into the game, just like that, upon start. When you hit “E” or “Escape”, you get to the pause-menu, featuring “resume”, “settings” and “quit”. I would have loved to stop while playing the game and starting it up at a later point in time. I would have loved to have more options regarding saves or even other settings. I can’t turn subtitles on or off. I can’t change the language. I cannot turn the volume up or down. If you are not hearing that well, you’re gonna love this game with its own settings that you cannot change at all.

And then there are some issues with the game design.

To progress you either have to reach certain points or turn around or listen to a tape for a fixed amount of time… but it never is consistent. Sometimes I would have loved to explore more. I would have loved to see how much love got put into this world and how much more there is to the map. I would have wanted to return to the tape and pressed a button to continue.

In other places, you wait and wait for the tape to end since it earlier helped you out, but there is nothing to do here. You are wasting time. The game doesn’t do anything. Then you leave the building and get teleported away in an instance. Hell, sometimes you can even miss the point of interest completely and just walk around the move without progressing at all. I would have loved if the way the game does things would be consistent with just one way of progress. A tape that you listen to to get to the next area or to get through the “chapter”. Something like that.

And then there are some issues with the world and certain ledges and objects. The game is meant to be a walking simulator of sorts and yet there are a bunch of areas that you can’t access due to invisible walls while you can get stuck in other areas that have nothing to offer but do not feature invisible walls at all. I know that I said that I hate invisible walls but personally I really would have loved to not get stuck in some hole somewhere among floating rocks and inside of some draw bridge under the water’s surface. I would have loved to see more of the game but inconsistencies like that are a bit bothering for the whole experience. Getting stuck somewhere and having to restart the whole game and reply everything up to that point is annoying at most. It’s not “intentional game-design”.

And last but not least, the story. While it’s interesting at the beginning as you wanna see what happens… it… uh… I didn’t like it. No spoilers here. I might turn this into its own post later on with spoilers and everything.

So, to sum it all up: Would I recommend HARTS ISLAND?

In short, no. I wouldn’t.

It’s an interesting experience that is playing with concepts like a sketch-ish art style and structures in the world that could resemble something deep and meaningful… but every interpretation that I could deliver on it would be just a stretch and meaningless. In the end, I’d end up speculating more than I’d actually be able to analyse the game, the story, the art and the sound.

The gameplay is interesting at first but gets frustrating once you get stuck once or twice. There are quite a few spots where you can get stuck, so that’s a big bummer, and even when you get past that and end up playing through it the game doesn’t actually provide all that much value either, resulting in a bit of a letdown at last. The story is not that rewarding and alas, I just can’t recommend it.

I hope you enjoyed this review! Thanks a lot to ben lunato for providing me with a few keys for this game.

Cheers!

Indietail – Ayre

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could fly on a majestic creature like a dragon? Have you ever wanted to surge through the skies and explore vast areas? Have you ever dreamed of true freedom with no boundaries whatsoever? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions or if you’re just wondering what I’m on about, then you might like this following review of Ayre!

Developer: Gordon Little aka Gord Games
Publisher: Gordon Little
Genres: Casual, Adventure, Indie, Dragons, Flying, Simulation, Third Person
Release Date: May 27, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy received from the Devs

Ayre is a new dragon flight simulation that is coming out on Steam soon. Mount your bonded dragon, Red, and explore vast areas while testing your flight skills in sky races hidden across the lands and discover the history of an ancient civilisation with their own customs and traditions as well as a story that is quite interesting. And then there’s the Crystal Comet, an organism of sorts that has been scattered across the lands and asks you to unify it again. 

Yeah, true freedom. It’s great. You’ve got an open world with gigantic, snow-covered mountains, vast plains, beautiful valleys and sparkling rivers that is completely accessible to you and your scaley companion. Across the world, you find collectable crystals and Monoliths telling you the story of a civilisation of the past. 

It’s an interesting experience to be able to go anywhere you want with little to no guidance and no boundaries set by abilities that you need. The controls may take a while to get used to if you – like me – don’t play too many flight-simulation-games but once you get the hang of it, it is rather fun. If you want to challenge yourself, there are plenty of ring-races that require you to reach a goal as fast as possible. If you then still want to step up your game, then I recommend checking out the advanced flight options that are less simplified and need you to watch the speed your flying at and control your dragon more precisely. 

Red looks like such a happy boiii in this one. Like some cute doggo but better!

The music and the colourful, simplified presentation make the game shine in a new light as well as you get to enjoy the world without having to fear any threats or dangers. If you fall off a cliff, your dragon is there for you and rescues you in time, too!

And the different biomes are rather intriguing. During the time I played, I found some ruins here and there as well as forests and a wasteland of sorts. There are different structures hidden in all kinds of places, from a temple in the mountains to a small port in a river. You may swim across some Deltas and travel by foot, too. If you get too far from your dragon, you just whistle and Red comes to pick you up. It’s just enjoyable. 

Crystal in a temple fits quite well!

Overall, I really enjoyed the game to this point but I noticed that it still needs some polishing and some more updates here and there. I’d be intrigued to see how this game fairs in VR and how people would enjoy it in that context but at the same time, me and my fear of heights don’t want to try that out, haha.

It’s only going to come out and I only got a key for review purposes, so some of the following issues might have been gotten rid of in the future, so I’ll probably revisit this game by then as well… but yeah, there are flaws. 

I love this area so much!

For instance, it feels really slow to travel on foot. Quite often I’d call my dragon and I’d just fly a small distance to get closer to a crystal I wanted to collect, or I’d just ride it on the ground to reach a point. 

There are also some spots here and there where the world feels a bit janky. Your character, for instance, can’t seem to climb up ledges all that much and often seems to struggle with going up the smallest hills. There are also areas where your dragon struggles, like when you run into a hill while attempting to fly up and your dragon just lands again, which can be a bit annoying but you get the hang of the flying and starting rather quickly, so that may be overlooked.

We’re a fast boy! And if we beat this race, we get a speed upgrade for our dragon!

I also noticed that some features seem to not be implemented into my version just yet, like different markers on the map or story-parts on different monoliths. I’d find a monolith in a new area but can’t seem to interact with it at all, so I guess it’s going to get added very soon after or even on release. 

And then there’s an issue that I have with the crystals. Some of them are placed in interesting ways like on the palm of a giant statue or at the top of some ruins but it can be quite hard to get to them due to different polygons of the game and the weird difficulty your character seems to have with them. There also some spaces here and there where you’d seemingly get showered in crystals while other areas are rather scarce of any at all. I would love it if you had to collect less in total and if the crystals would be rarer or if the movement speed of the character got buffed a bit more so that it feels less like a hassle in these areas. 

So fabulous!

For the first story-piece from the Crystal, as an example, you need to collect five crystals while you need fifty crystals for the second fragment of a story. It seems like a bit of a jump and I would rather have enjoyed smaller steps like a new fragment every 25 crystals since the story is the hook that keeps you playing. Without the story and the exploration part, you might get bored eventually after two to three hours of flying around. 

But regardless of that, I would say that it’s a solid premise and, while it needs some polishing, it is definitely worth checking out for anyone who likes the idea of it and enjoys truly open worlds without invisible walls

Yup, a pidgeon on a skateboard.

So, in the end, I’ll have to revisit it in the future once it got updated a bit more or once it hits the release and possibly gets polished more. I can definitely feel the love that got put into this world and the game in general and I really enjoyed my time. While there are flaws, I would say that this game is like a gem that just needs a tad more polishing. I feel like that describes it quite well. 

The game already is available for 12 USD on itch.io, which in my opinion is a fair price for what you get out of it. The steam price will probably be somewhere around that, I guess.
I definitely will come back to this game every now and then as it’s quite relaxing and rather colourful, especially when it gets updated more in the future!

STORY TIME!

I hope you enjoyed this review. Thanks a lot to the dev, Gordon Little, for providing me with a review key for this game. Please check out the steam store page and wishlist this title when it comes out. And please take care, the whole pandemic-business is still not over. 🙂

Cheers!

Indietail – Original Journey

In today’s Indietail review, we’re talking about Original Journey: A hand-drawn, sci-fi action-adventure where we join the Ato as they embark on a mission to a distant planet, known as the Shadow Planet, to find a certain crystal that can save our own species and even our dying planet.

Developer: Bonfire Entertainment
Publisher: Another Indie
Genres: Roguelike, Action, Indie, Adventure, 2D, Sci-Fi
Release Date: Aug 16, 2017
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
The copy was purchased.

After a bit of an epilogue, we get thrown into the world of the Ato whose last hope, their battle-ship, has finally landed upon one of the floating islands of the Shadow Planet. The main character of the vegetable-like species of the Ato oversleeps, of course, and therefore ends up being used by the Commander as a meat shield. After beating the tutorial where we learn about movement, aiming, weapons and turret-placement, the Commander is astonished at how well we survived and did, which is why he lets us take part in actual missions that revolve around exploring the planet and beating enemies to receive resources and crystals, which are needed for new weapons and new suits, each with their own unique characteristics.

Essentially, you can fly out and explore the planet, landing on one level after another, each with randomly placed enemies and special events. On some islands, we get ambushed while on other islands we prepare and ambush the ambushers, one some islands we help out other people while on others we get healed and we receive free loot and ammo. There is a lot of variety between special events and normal islands and a variety of enemies as well, each with different strength levels and different attack/move sets. We can use two weapons at a time and place down two turrets per island, although we need to recycle turrets upon leaving an island to receive some Ammo back. Ammo and resources are limited, which is why you’ve got to either take a risk or frequently go back to base again to restock on Ammo and Health, store your loot and possibly upgrade or unlock new suits and weapons.

Levels get increasingly difficult and the farther you go, the more of the story you’ll be able to unlock.

At some point, you really need to take risks. There is a fast-travel option but it requires a lot of Crystals (the currency farmed from enemies) which is also important for weapons and suits. Therefore every hit has to land on every previous island to not waste too much ammo. Sometimes you need to do base-stops and sometimes you just risk going for another island in hope that you get a supply drop on the next one to refill on ammo. At some point, levels get too difficult with way too much going on, which is why you also need to level up your character and upgrade your stuff to proceed.

The game very much relies on „rinse and repeat“, which is standard for a bunch of games, I’d say, but it also needs to be done well.

While the game seems easy at first, it gets harder and harder over time, especially when you still need to grind certain rather rare materials to get your next weapon. And the worst thing: You don’t know what weapon you get. You can test it out after you’ve unlocked it but there’s no name to it before you unlock, resulting in a bit of a frustrating experience where you get something for the sake of unlocking it and don’t know if you like it. While I enjoyed the Saber, for instance, the other weapons so far have been difficult to use and are absolutely not my playstyle. Thus, I’m only using the grenade launcher and the sword, mainly as the sword doesn’t require ammo and alas can’t run out of ammo, despite having the drawback of having to get close to the enemy.

There are also other annoying elements to the game. For example, your health gets completely refilled when you level up, which can make some levels extremely close and very fun to do… but there are no enemies in some of the boss levels to give you the necessary experience to level up again and save yourself or save a run. When you die, you lose your stuff and need to retrieve it… but in boss levels, that mechanic is missing completely… and I haven’t even touched upon the art style…

The art style is hand-drawn and I’d describe it as either hit or miss. You either really like it or you hate it. In my case, I liked it in the beginning and really enjoyed the interesting mix between a sepia-esque colour-scheme and the green colour as the only thing that is different (apart from the red health bar of course). BUT over time I noticed a few major flaws with the design. Sometimes you have other characters/NPCs in your levels that help you out and look fairly similar to you, making it rather hard to distinguish who your character or who the NPC is… there is a bit of a green dot above your character but it isn’t really helping all that much and can be easily overlooked with a ton of enemies on the screen and all of that.

Another problem with the art style is that I couldn’t really distinguish where damage was coming from in some of the (mainly boss fight type) levels. Sometimes there’d be elements to the level that were in the background and sometimes there’d be elements in the foreground, resulting in the levels being rather messy. You don’t know where you can hide behind, you don’t know where you can stand on. You don’t know what’s destroyable and you don’t know what’s hurting you. Especially when one of the bosses can summon stones and roots that hurt you, it’s unnecessarily hard for you to dodge stuff when you don’t know what’s happening.

A nice and easy fix for that would have been a green (toggle-able?) outline for your character and a red (toggle-able?) outline for enemies, projectiles, traps, falling objects, etc. It would have been that easy but there’s nothing like that and therefore I at some point ragequit after having seen most of the things there are to this game.

It’s frustrating to lose your stuff because of dying in the boss fight without the option of retrieving it. It’s frustrating to die because of not seeing your character or the damage source. And it’s frustrating to not be able to distinguish between your character and NPCs or to not be able to see a trap in the foreground and some item in the background.

The game is quite repetitive and after getting used to the fiddly controls or rather after getting used to the two weapons that I wanted to use instead of the other even more fiddle weapons, I ended up being frustrated for the sole reason of the game being badly designed in a way.
I guess this might be the right game for you if you like an unnecessary challenge game that (according to steam users) can be finished in anything between six and twenty hours, depending on your skill-level and play-style… but I personally can’t recommend a game that has so many flaws and isn’t able to outweigh the flaws with the good sides.

I hope that you liked this post. I was excited to play Original Journey as it has been sitting in my library for nearly two years now but sadly it kind of disappointed me, which is quite a bit of a bummer.

Until the next time, cheers!

This post is part of a challenge called BLAPRIL. The goal is to post as much as possible during the 30 days of April. There are different themes during some of the weeks and a lot of mentors, newbies and participants participating. Feel free to check this hub-post out and check out the other participants!