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 out for “Automaton”

Another interesting title that caught my eye during the Steam Game Festival (Summer Edition) was Cicle Interactive’s “Automaton”, which is planned to be released on August 3rd 2020! It’s a Puzzle-Adventure set in a post-apocalyptic desert world where a small little robot ventures out in search for fuel. You explore abandoned bunkers, stations and other facilities, solving puzzles, in a quest to find out what that thing was that fell from the sky. 

When I started this game up, I saw a lot of potential in it!

Similar to NieR: Automata, Automaton features mixed third-person mechanics and 2D perspectives on top of vast open areas, which I find rather cool. You go from one landmark to another, only limited by the fuel reserves that shut you down when you run empty. There is little to no introduction into the game and little to no hand-holding. The game leaves you be, similar to thatgamecompany’s Journey where you also only orient yourself through different eyecatchers and landmarks that you see in the distance. 

The world is really pretty, the protagonist is insanely adorable (a common theme at this point) and the soundtrack is just astonishing so far! 

The only issues I have with the game are the fuel-mechanic itself. While limiting your access to the World with that mechanic is rather interesting and quite innovative, I find it a bit harsh on the player and flat-out frustrating to have the player die and start anew. A checkpoint here or there would have been really appreciated – but maybe that’s something that’s a thing in the full release. 

Automaton will come out on August 3rd, 2020. Check it out yourself or wishlist/follow it on Steam if you’re intrigued by this little piece. 🙂

Cheers!

Indietail – Train Valley 2

Do you like trains? Do you like simulations? Do you like resource-management-puzzles? If this introduction reminds you of yesterday’s post, then you’ll probably realise quickly that we’re reviewing Train Valley 2 today and that I’m still as uncreative as yesterday!

Developer: Flazm
Publisher: Flazm
Genre: Trains, Strategy, Simulation, Puzzle, Casual
Release Date: April 15, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy was purchased.

Train Valley 2 is a puzzle-train-sim developed by Flazm, the developer of the prequel, Train Valley 1. Alas, the premise is still relatively the same. You’ve got different stations that need to be connected using railroads. Building tracks, bridges and tunnels as well as destroying houses and other objects costs money that you earn by successfully guiding trains from one station to the other stations.

The main difference is probably the fact that you don’t have the semi-random tunnels, bridges and stations popping up everywhere.

Instead, you’ve got the task of constructing those yourself. Apart from that, you now have to deliver resources from one station to the next, to get processed resources that then need to end up at different towns. You transport workers from trains to the fields to work on grains. You then deliver the grains and more workers to the farms to get cows. At last, you bring the cows back to the towns to complete the production goals.

But the game’s not limited to only workers, grains and cows but also features a plethora of other resources and processed items that need a lot more steps to get produced!

In the first game, trains started driving off into the distance, causing chaos and destruction, if you took too long. Meanwhile here you have full control, alas having to send them off on your own in a slower-paced fashion, which is rather relaxing and quite a bit of an improvement. The game doesn’t get easier, though, as it’s more about the decisions you make. You need to manage your funds and decide on which station to build from and to, first, before taking action. Alas, Train Valley 2 can create a relaxing and less frustrating experience while still featuring logic puzzles that are as satisfying and difficult as the ones featured in the predecessor!

Overall, it seems as if the developer, Flazm, stocked up on the quality of life improvements while also adding a lot of features that make the game more entertaining. Challenging yourself in the levels and collecting stars now enables you to unlock different train designs, for instance. Things like these make the challenges worth it, while also providing completionists with some better rewards!

In contrast to the first game’s more realistic art style, Train Valley 2 features a rather vibrant colour palette as well as a less detailed poly-based art style.

When delivering materials to the different towns, these towns get upgraded, just like in the predecessor, but it seems to be overall more rewarding. Levels aren’t tied to themes, eras and locations anymore but, instead, feature a more general approach, named by some landmark, like “lighthouse” or “Eiffeltower”. Despite that, the cities and towns still develop in different styles that aren’t necessarily “European” or “Asian”, which I personally really dug.

Another new change: You don’t go through a century per level but instead work yourself through different ages from the steam age to the electrical era to, finally, the age of space. You can find a total of 50 levels in Train Valley 2, and you have access to infinite more levels due to the Steam Workshop and the player-created levels.

The music, however, is still not my favourite part of the game…or even the franchise.

In the beginning, the soundtrack seems to fit the game, but over time you can’t listen to it anymore. The tracks (pun intended) are all way too relaxed and calm. At some point, I got so tired of the soundtrack that I ended up turning it off and listening to some other music that fits the game just as much but is a lot less monotone. The problem with the soundtrack is probably the fact that it all sounds similar if not even the same. If someone played the Train Valley soundtrack, I wouldn’t be able to recognize it at all, which, in my opinion, is what makes a great soundtrack great. It either fits the game atmospherically or it adds more value to your experience. Train Valley 2’s soundtrack seems to fit but gets annoying over time and alas, in my opinion, is not good.

On top of that, there are some issues with the bridge/tunnel-construction.
It’s a tad difficult to see the terrain differences and where you can lay down tracks. In some places, you need to create bridges and tunnels although it may look like you’re able to just place tracks up the slope. When you want to construct bridges or tunnels, it can also become rather fiddly, to the point that it almost becomes frustrating.

That being said, I don’t think that this is a major flaw and while it can be a bit annoying in the beginning, you’ll get used to the controls over time and eventually learn how to use it just fine. My overall experience with the game was really satisfying and I did enjoy my time a lot, especially since I noticed the improvements from the first game.

Both Train Valley and Train Valley 2 are great games that you can get for around ten bucks. Train Valley 2 brings a lot of value to the table on top of the workshop content, which is just fabulous for games like this. If you like puzzle games and/or trains, I’d say go for it.

Cheers!

Indietail – Train Valley

Trains are quite cool, aren’t they? They look cool and they’re fast and it’s a disaster when they crash into each other and I lost my train of thought, so I’ll just say that today we’re taking a look at Train Valley, a casual train-sim-puzzle by Flazm!

Developer: Flazm
Publisher: Flazm
Release Date: September 16, 2015
Genres: Puzzle, Trains, Simulation, Casual, Strategy
Reviewed on: PC
Available on:  PC, iOS
Copy was purchased. 

The overall premise of the game is rather simple.
The player has to build railways in order to connect different stations within a plethora of cities and times. They then have to manage the increasing traffic by creating crossroads and switches and by destroying old or building new tracks… and while the player is doing all of that, they also have to try to not go bankrupt while fulfilling different goals such as “no train crashes” or a certain amount of money that needs to be earned or others.

The 2015-title features four different chapters with six levels each, letting you construct train-tracks in a total of 26 different levels and in four different eras and areas:
Europe (1830 – 1980), the United States (1840 – 1960), the USSR (1880 – 1980) and Japan (1900 – 2020). You also are able to get Germany (1880 – 2020) as a DLC for a total of 30 levels.

The different areas are insanely adorably designed feature a lot of details like different build styles and landmarks that the areas are known for. On top of that, the buildings also change their shape and style the longer the level goes on, indicating the progressing time, which is an interesting detail.

And well,… you control trains. It’s quite cool.

By sending trains to their destinations you earn money while you lose money yearly or when the trains arrive late. By sending out trains to different areas, you also seem to develop those areas, resulting in villages turning into towns and towns turning into cities, which is quite neat. I really enjoyed this part of the game as I was able to see big skyscrapers rise when we just had small houses a while ago.

And while the premise is rather simple… the game can be quite tough actually.

There are some levels that are hard to crack as your funds are limited and as you have to watch so many different things. Destroying buildings costs you a ton, so you have to be careful or you end up bankrupt again, which is essentially your biggest enemy in the game.

If you’re not that much into puzzling but you still very much enjoy train games, fear not, this game has got you covered!

There is a sandbox mode for this game. Alas, you can create tracks and send out levels without any pressure on every level of the game, resulting in a rather pleasant experience. You can’t create your own levels, from what I’ve seen, but it’s still rather relaxing and enjoyable.

The experience is further enhanced by a total of fifteen different types of trains from steam-powered locomotives to modern-day high-speed-trains… and there are also eighteen different types of cars as well as a lot of other details hidden in the game, resulting in an overall rather pleasant experience.

Despite the initial praise, however, I’ve got to say that there are some issues here and there.

The music, for instance, is rather annoying once you played for a while. Each area has a different soundtrack and while it is quite neat in the beginning, I had enough of it after only two hours, resulting in me muting the game…

And then there are some levels that seem a tad too frustrating… I would have liked a “hint”-button of sorts and I would have enjoyed it if you could access the next level even without playing the level before that. Sure, the next level is harder than the previous one… but I really hate that one Tokyo level, so I don’t want to play it anymore and just go for the next one. Sadly, I can’t do that, which I personally find annoying.

Apart from that, there aren’t any other flaws, in my opinion. I played the game for a total of ten hours and really enjoyed my time, despite it being so simple. For ten bucks you get a bunch of value out of it. It’s quite relaxing and adorable, the presentation is nice, the puzzle-parts can be tricky and despite my rather long playtime for such a short game, I’m still not done with it!

Therefore, I can really recommend this game to everyone who likes trains. It’s a fun puzzle game with very relaxing train-sim-aspects to it as well as a super adorable presentation, only flawed by the music that I personally didn’t really like.

I hope you enjoyed this review. It’s a tad shorter but in the end, that’s alright, isn’t it? Have a nice day!

Cheers!

Indietail – ClusterFobia

There are all kinds of games out there with all kinds of presentations and premises. A lot of games in the Indie scene feature unique premises that may have not been explored all that much, just yet, and often also present us unique and interesting design choices that you either hate or love.

Today we’re talking about ClusterFobia, a puzzle-shooter by Ganin, that features exactly that: Interesting and unique design choices that are really hit or miss.

Developer: Kirill Azernyi (Ganin)
Publisher: Kirill Azernyi (Ganin)
Genres: Puzzle, Bullet Hell, Shooter
Release Date: December 10, 2019
Available for: PC
Reviewed on: PC
Copy is available for free.

In ClusterFobia you are some sort of creature that seemingly was drawn in paint and you shoot out bullets that travel from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen. Your bullets hurt you. So do enemies… and walls. Hence you need to find a way to destroy walls and enemies with your bullets while dodging everything and surviving a bullet hell that you created yourself.

And that’s essentially all I can say about this game without getting into too much of a rant… which is ironic since there is more to this post than just that part, but uh… I tried to be friendly or just informational but I feel that I should rather be honest and give my honest review, listing the short-comings of a game that is… like this. The premise is interesting, I guess, but it’s really unripe and I’m still not entirely sure if the dev, who e-mailed me with a request to review his game, is serious about this.

But what’s the problem with the game?

Well, mostly it just feels like one big troll of sorts. You dodging enemies and your own bullets seems like an interesting idea. Hell, the concept is nice! It kind of reminded me of Gutwhale where you have to manage the space between your enemies, you and your bullets. While you have to recollect your bullets in Gutwhale, you’ve got to dodge your own bullets in ClusterFobia… but sadly, the execution is just a mess. It feels painful to play something where everything seems to work and not work as intended.

Not being able to aim all that well, results in you connecting events to the wrong cause like it did for me. I thought I killed an enemy with my bullets but it actually didn’t get killed by that but by the wall. It just touched the wall and the bullet at the same time. That’s frustrating. Some walls kill you upon touching while others require you to touch them to actually go away. It’s super weird and just annoying. I finished the first level. The second one is just annoying bullet hell… without the fun part of being a bullet hell. The third one? Didn’t bother with anything past the second level…

And I did boot it up multiple times. I really did. I did try to give it a second chance… and a third chance… and a fourth chance… and even a fifth chance, although I had to mute the game on the fifth attempt while blasting other music through my headphones to make the game at least a tad enjoyable. But no matter how many times I tried to play the game, I always ended up with the feeling of regret: Regret that I really did try to give this game a chance.

The game’s presentation is a mess as well. Objects that seem to act the don’t look the same. They change the colours on random, to the point that you might think that there should have been an epilepsy warning at the beginning. Nothing is polished. Everything seems to have been directly extracted from Paint. It’s hurting in your eyes.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is so loud and noisy that your ears might as well bleed while playing the game. Shooting out bullets causes more noise on top of the noise while the whole presentation is just sad to look at. If you want to turn music off, you’ll have to use the audio mixer after all, your game closes when you hit Escape and the actual settings don’t provide you with anything to change.

Sometimes games fuck with you. Sometimes they really do. Sometimes games are made for you to figure them out and eventually get over the obstacles that are blocking your way. In “Jump Knight” you need to reach the top by jumping through a rather difficult parkour part starring some unforgiving jumps that set you back a bunch! In “Getting Over It” you also need to make use of a pickaxe to reach space and beat the game while risking to lose footing during all of those jumps, only to eventually get set back while the narrator makes fun of you in one way or the other.

The “Dark Souls” franchise or even the whole SoulsBorne genre is known for difficult and challenging but also frustrating gameplay that tests your patience and skill, and, well, it’s successful.

And I only just started to play the third game and died nine times at the tutorial-boss, the Iudex Gundyr, who taught me important lessons about the game that I probably will need in future boss fights! But I’ll post on that, too, so expect more Dark Souls in the future.

Meanwhile, ClusterFobia is just frustrating. You may consider it “challenging” as well but I’m not sure if there is a way to beat that level. I’m not sure if you can actually get past the first level and even if you do… there are apparently more levels to it and I’m not sure if anyone really wants to play through all of those as well.

Other games can be frustrating or challenging, too, but at least you see how you’re supposed to do it. At least you get to figure it out. At least it always seems “this close!!” so you try again… in ClusterFobia you just get tired of trying. You end up losing your nerves as you try more and more; as you try to not quit this game. I quit the game multiple times but always thought that I’d have to try again and get more info on the game for the sake of a review. “After all, the dev seems to be really proud of his piece here, so I should do my best!”

I’m quoting the dev here:
“ClusterPhobia is maybe all about figuring out where to shoot and how the objects relate to each other (…) and also about knowing exactly when and how to shoot so that you don’t get killed by your own bullets and don’t destroy something critical for solving a level. If ClusterPhobia had a philosophy, that would be: [The] player is not supposed to know much about how [the] game works beforehand, but rather understand it out of his or her own experience – and yes, at first it might be annoying, but once the connection between objects is understood, and all actions are smoothly performed, it might get satisfying.”

But here’s where the problem lies:
It’s not healthy for a game if you can destroy a level by shooting at something critical to the solution of said level. It’s not healthy for a game to have no correlation between different events in the game. If you shoot a wall or an enemy and it gets destroyed, you’ll think that all walls or enemies of that type would get destroyed… but if the game doesn’t stick to that, the game becomes stale, frustrating and painful to play.
If there is no pull for the player to keep on playing, they’ll stop playing. If you don’t give a damn about explaining mechanics and sticking to your own rules, then the player won’t play the game. “Trial and error” is not fun. It’s frustrating. Learning patterns of sorts while some game is shitting into the player’s ears is just bad game design.

In the end, I’d have to say that this is poor game design. When a game is so frustrating and painful to watch and play that you’d rather kill puppies than play more of it, then it’s a bad game. Hence I can’t recommend the experience, despite it being a free game…

Cheers.

(Note: The dev calls the game ClusterPhobia but the actual game is called ClusterFobia in the installer and in the URL to the gamejolt side, so I’m not sure whether or not it actually is spelled like this or that.)

Indietail – Lightmatter

When I was younger I discovered a game called “Portal” and I just fell in love with it. It was one of the first “better looking” games that I played. The puzzles were interesting, the aesthetics were great, I loved the music, the humour was really dope and made me chuckle a lot, and I ended up just falling in love with the game overall. Portal 2 was great as well as it added new mechanics to the game and as it really added a lot to the overall story. There have been just so many new layers to it and GLaDOS was just great in that one. Oh, and Co-Op. I loved the Co-Op campaign and playing through it. I still need to take a look at the Timemachine fan-made content and play through that eventually, so I’ll look forward to that.

But in today’s review, we’re not talking about the Portal-franchise but rather about a small Indie Game called Lightmatter by Danish Studio, Tunnel Vision Games! Lightmatter is essentially a homage to all kinds of first-person puzzlers, including Portal. It even plays in the same universe (which was made possible due to a contact with Valve that the Publisher, Aspyr, had!) before the first game and overall feels like a love-letter to the whole genre with its shifting and mind-bending mechanics involving… Light… matter.

Developer: Tunnel Vision Games
Publisher: Aspyr
Genres: First-Person, Puzzle, Indie, 3D, Adventure
Release Date: January 15th, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on:  PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Copy was purchased. (Full Game Upgrade)

Lightmatter can be described as “The Floor Is Lava!” but with Light and Shadows. Essentially, you’re in a scientific company, called Lightmatter, that tried to create a CORE which would be providing sustainable and renewable energy to millions, using a crystal that is able to materialize Light! Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well… something went wrong during the launch and us, the protagonist, ended up not getting evacuated with the remaining guests that were part of the tour. So, the facility is falling apart and we have to get out of there: Though be careful: Just like Light, shadows also materialized and thus, you’re not allowed to touch any of them since they will absorb you and suck out any life you have in your brittle body!

Hence, Virgil, one of the CEOs of Lightmatter (voiced by David Bateson), is accompanying us throughout the facility in order to guide us into freedom and help us get out of here. Virgil is more of a sinister character. He’s unfriendly and very rude in the beginning but begins to open up over time as we solve puzzles after puzzles to reach the goal, in the end. He tells us about the project and his plans. He tells us about his achievements and what went wrong and over time he develops as a character, revealing his hatred towards journalists and his arguments with his former partner. He even compares himself to Cave Johnson, who was alive at the time before eventually dying to moonstone-poisoning, and he’s even putting himself over Cave.

Virgil’s first appearance!

David Bateson is able to breathe so much life into this wonderful character that Virgil is. He’s an overall fan-favourite in the community and is able to fill the gaps and pauses in between and during puzzles just wonderfully. When you take too long to open a door or move on, he’ll mock you in a cynic and rude way that just makes you chuckle. He’s like GLaDOS but male and less robotic (and less potato-y). He’s very charming and charismatic in a way and he really tried his best to provide the world with a… brighter future, even though all his efforts were for nought in the end, as the project ultimately failed.

Gameplay-wise the game is working with a ton of different elements. Since shadows are dangerous, you need to illuminate your pathway to the next exit using lamps. These lamps, however, are rather heavy, resulting in you not being able to jump with them, ultimately making the game a lot harder than it would be if you could. You have to rethink your approach to a level quite often – and while earlier levels are rather easy to solve with just a button press needed, later levels get rather difficult.

James and Lux!

But while difficult, you never really get set back too much and it never really feels too punishing. And while every lamp provides only limited light to a cone in front of it, you never had to fiddle your way to the end. It was more about utilizing the tools and mechanics you learned and then bending the rules to fit your goal. The game also works with other mechanics like shifting platforms, buttons that are activated via light, and other cool mechanics that I don’t want to spoil here.

Even falling into the shadows just resets the level a little bit (your last lamp-movement mostly) and brings you back to the last checkpoint. The shadows are like an obstacle, not a punishment. And that’s something I really appreciate about Lightmatter. Dying doesn’t feel frustrating and the puzzles were challenging enough for me to have fun and yet not just rush through the levels.

THE CORE! IT’S SO BRIGHT!

Rushing through the levels would have been bad, after all, since most of them are riddled with small secrets and collectables. You can find out more about the backstory by finding tape-recorders with Elle’s voice. You can also try to search for Lux, the security manager James’ cat! Here and there you also find other little easter eggs like a bath duck in a corner or the Gravity Falls journal, so levels are really fun to explore.

And then there is the presentation. The graphics really play with the Lights and the shadows, and hence with a lot of contrasts. I feel like the levels were designed quite well and ended up providing a lot of detail in rooms that were mostly riddled with shadows or filled with light. It never was just one thing or the other. When there is light, there are also shadows, which also reflects the question behind the whole game: At what cost can you ensure a brighter future? What risks would you take to save millions? What’s one life when waged against many, or rather a few hundred against the rest of humanity?

Dev Commentary: Lasse and Ulrik talking about one leve of the game here.

The music is quite ominous quite often and really got into my head. While Virgil is talking about his arguments and his struggles to complete this plan, there is this ominous and enigmatic sound lingering in the background that is just quiet enough for it not to be overwhelming but also loud enough for you to notice it.
The game even provides you, when turned on, with the devs’ commentary if you want to play through the levels for another time and hear something about the development and different stages of the game.

But flaw-wise… there isn’t really much to talk about here. I think that Lightmatter really is a very well-crafted game that is able to create a wonderful experience when you play it through the first time or when you even play it for a second time to unlock a different ending. Here and there I felt like there are times where a small “hint”-button would have been quite neat as there are two levels that are a bit tricky to solve, especially when you don’t know about moving sideways, which is something that even the devs noted themselves. It’s something that FPS-players will find normal while other people might not find that understandable and which would take them a while. But overall it didn’t really bother me too much. Apart from that, having a few other ways to engage and interact with your environment and objects would have been quite neat. There’s a vending machine at one point that can be used but apart from that there is not much to click and push in the levels.

Coming to a conclusion, I’d say that Lightmatter really is a love-letter to First-Person-Puzzlers that manages to not only create a beautiful atmosphere in challenging puzzle-levels but also create its own identity, so that it doesn’t seem like “just another puzzle game”. It really is creative in how it unfolds the story and how it makes you utilize different aspects of the game and you can essentially taste the blood, sweat and tears that the devs put into this lovely game. I’m chuffed to bits.

Beating the game takes about six hours, I’d say, or more if you explore more or need to take more time for certain puzzles. It took me about two hours to get through the first half of the game and about three or four hours to beat the second half.. and to unlock other endings you can also just hop into single levels later on, so there is no backtracking needed. The Dev-Commentary also adds a whole new level to it with voice notes that are four to nine minutes long and tell you more about the process of the level-design and different changes in the game, as well as funny things like running-gags (a cat called Lux) becoming a real thing and getting put into the actual game. It’s well worth a listen if you’re into that kind of thing!

The first hour of the game can be played for free on steam while the rest of the game can be purchased with a single upgrade, which I find quite fair. It’s worth the full price, I’d say but of course, you can also wait for sales or just playtest the demo first. Definitely a recommendation from me!

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this review. Until the next time, have a nice day! 🙂

I wonder if they have Dr Pepper in there…

Cheers!

Indietail – Pool Panic

I’ve never been a fan of games that had anything to do with sports. There’re football games, soccer games, golf games, and… well, pool games. Speaking of pool games, today’s review is about Pool Panic! 

Developer: Rekim Games
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Genres: Sports, Indie, Puzzle, Adventure, Action
Release Date: July 19, 2018
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch
Copy was purchased

Pool Panic takes the classic approach of pool or billiards games and flips it the bird. There are 100+ levels in a ton of different settings and areas that all feature different mechanics that make this game feel like more of a puzzle game than an actual sports game. 

“It’s the least realistic pool simulator!”

– Rekim Games

You’re a walking pool cue ball that’s navigating through the world to uhm… beat all levels. The store page claims that the game plays best with a controller but I personally found the mouse and keyboard controls to be a lot easier to handle. 

Your goal for each level is to toss most to all other pool balls into the pockets before putting in the 8-ball and finally walking down the pocket yourself. Most of the time, though, there’s a twist. On top of the normal goals, there’re also side goals which include “no fouls” (pocketing the cue ball), finishing the level in a set amount of time, finishing it with only so many strokes, and finishing the level with all balls pocketed! You can complete these missions one step at the time or try to achieve them all at once, which leads to a bigger challenge, however, I so far only went for those redos to get them all but never tried to achieve all at once. 

But that seems rather realistic, right? Well, here comes the puzzle-aspect into play:

You need a certain amount of balls in the holes to finish the level, so the game makes it harder for you by throwing in all kinds of random elements at you. In one level, for instance, I had to sacrifice humans to a monster in a cave, then sacrifice their remains to our Lord and Saviour C’thulhu (just kidding, it was just a random altar for probably someone else) to unlock the whole, before eventually pocketing that 8-ball! In another I was running a marathon, there was also a fishing level or an air hockey level, a spider level, and overall there are just way too many different levels in all kinds of different worlds! 

I really liked one level in a medieval area where you’ve got to take part in a jousting tournament but my favourite probably was one of the earlier levels where you’ve got to bait raccoons with meat from the BBQ before then pocketing all those boy scouts and raccoons! 

There’s a huge overworld with a ton of different areas!

The overworld is relatively open with only a few barricades here and there. To proceed into new areas, you’ve got to finish previous levels, resulting in you gaining a way to overcome those barricades. There was a horde of bears stopping me in one place, so naturally, I had to find the bear hunter to scare those bears away!

But then again, you usually can access a lot of areas to some degree without having completed the earlier areas. I definitely would recommend checking out other areas in between if you’re getting frustrated with certain levels.

Speaking of bear hunters, bears and spiders: They’re all presented in the form of legged billiard balls. 

There is a huge variety of billiard balls in all kinds of colours that each have different effects and properties. Some balls are scared when you look at them, some balls that throw you when you get too close to them, and some balls that cause little earthquakes to happen when you annoy them. There are even goalkeeper-balls with arms that stop you from pocketing other balls and dancing balls that dodge your cue ball if you aim at them directly!

Presentation-wise Pool Panic really reminded me of Adult Swim for some reason. It uses vibrant colours and the world is truly unique – and also fun to walk on. The Adult Swim-iness probably was a feeling I had when I looked at some of the balls’ faces that were terrified by me aiming my cue at them and eventually sending them down the rabbit ho– I mean, pocket! Pool Panic uses a vibrant colour palette and some great music by Grandmaster Gareth. The colours, music, and animation are really fitting for a title that is so unique and… droll!

But although Pool Panic is shining when it comes to the world, the presentation and the creativity, I must say that it’s a bit frustrating to control.

I’ve mentioned that I preferred the mouse+keyboard controls before, and I must say that that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s near to unplayable with a gamepad. Even with a mouse however, there may be times where the game acts up, e.g. after locking onto a ball. Sometimes you just try to tune the direction a little bit and your cue just goes crazy! Luckily, after a bit of fine-tuning in the sensitivity department, it becomes playable and a lot less frustrating. I still would call the need for tuning here a flaw, though.

Overall, Pool Panic is indeed the least realistic billiard game I know!

The puzzling-aspects are great, there’s always a new take on levels, the different balls are brilliant in their facial expressions and overall I had a blast playing it. The controls might be a bit frustrating for quite some time but I was able to return to it after a break and play on, so I guess, it’s manageable. On top of that it also has co-op, a versus mode, a ton of achievements, some extra challenges, and the Panic Mode where you’re fighting against the clock! So, there is a lot of value in here! Hence the recommendation. 🙂

Have a nice day!

I’m taking part in this year’s #IntPiPoMo. If you’d like to participate or get to know the other participants, feel free to check this post out!