Sunday, August 31, 2014

Indie Impressions - Power-Up


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Psychotic Psoftware 

In the midst of a great war, humankind now hangs on the edge of extinction. All but one pilot representing the human race is left with nothing to lose, and a thirst for revenge. The story in Power-Up is simple sci-fi fare but is effective through its usage of snazzy dialogue and slick visuals that all give a nostalgic retro flare.

As the first stage starts the massive human vessel deteriorates in the background as I find myself dodging the pieces of its firey debris. The situation is intense and the narrative well thought out, pulling you into the role of this lone human pilot very well. When games were still all about the challenge, shoot-em-ups reigned supreme and Power-Up follows in that classic form. The game follows a horizontally side-scrolling view in the same vein as classics Gradius or R-type but with a visual style of its own personality.

Power-Up gives you a versatile set of weapons displayed on a Gradius style weapon bar and include all of the classic variations you'd expect in usual shmup arsenal. You've got your standard straight shooting pea-shooter, a spread shot cannon, side-shooters, a back-firing laser, and a powerful but short range plasma cannon.

Most importantly is your ability to 'power-up' each weapon individually allowing you to strategically distribute your pickups between desired weapons for specific situations. Personally, I mostly stuck with a high leveled pea-shooter and the spreadshot, but there were still plenty of moments were the game throws situations that require the other guns at you forcing you to think quick and on your feet.

Using a fully leveled weapon is where the intensity begins and the action really starts to shine. The feeling of shredding through a crowd of enemies with a high-powered barrage of bullets is an exciting one, and even more so when you face each of the huge and beautifully detailed bosses and their tricky attack patterns.

The retro atmosphere provided by the stylish visuals, detailed backgrounds, and heavy music are all the work of one man and obviously with a lot of love making this an even more impressive endeavor, as well as a seriously solid entry into any shmup afficianados library in its own right.


Power-Up retains everything we love and remember from the classics while giving it a unique makeover, and is something I would deem a modern classic in a dying genre. For the incredibly low asking price this is an easy buy that provides more than just a retro throwback but a completely new experience.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Early Access Preview - Tinertia


Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Candescent Games

Surrounded by the metal wastelands of the planet Tinertia you assume the role of a small and scrappy little robot alone and stranded at the Core, armed with nothing but your trusty self-propelling rocket launcher. Only the watchful eye of the rogue A.I. known as A.R.C and his recycled minions stand between you and your freedom.

Tinertia features a simple, effective and intuitive Rocketjump oriented platforming mechanic utilizing only twin-stick controls and no jump button. The game itself however is anything but simple pitting you against a harsh dystopic landscape of the most treacherous of hazards and its maze-like passages each protected by deranged titan-like bosses.

Tinertia is exceedingly easy to pick up and play yet manages to be deceptively difficult to master, keeping the most refined platformer fans retrying stages for hours before things really click and gravity-defying skills are fully employed. Remember the excitement of discovering rocketjumping in Quake or the aerial excitement of concussion maps from Team Fortress Classic?  If you've ever wanted to see those concepts applied to another genre as badly as I did, this is the game for you.

The gameplay itself features a concrete combination of the fiendishly difficult and precise platforming of Super Meat Boy with the over-the-top acrobatics and visually stimulating polish of Trials: Evolution, but most importantly retains the strongest element of both; speed-running and record setting.

The levels are short and sweet and the physics add a lot of variation to the challenge, making it perfect for pushing yourself to learn the workings of each one inside-and-out in order to shoot for a speedrun of an entire stage. The more you fail the more you learn, and the better you become with an end result of blasting through complex stages with style in record time and feeling great.

Although your ammo is infinite and you're free to blast around the stages as you please, getting a good score depends on keeping under the Par number of rocket boosts allowed. This means that to play competitively you'll need to learn to use each rocket to its full effect and place your shots as accurately as possible. These factors lead to a very high skill-ceiling and some ridiculous amounts of replayability, in the same way that Trials would keep you repeating the same track over and over in order to smash that last best time.

The game contains 8 variously themed stages (of which 3 are currently available) all taking place throughout the recycled metal planet, starting you off in the heat of the magma-filled core. These are some of the more simple and enjoyable courses that mostly get you into the motion of placing your rocketjumps accurately and avoiding the burning hot edges of hot obstacles. Ending the first stage is a massive chainsaw-fingered boss, the first of many, pushing from left to right with its threatening arm of blades forcing you to escape at incredible speeds.

The stages are pretty damn difficult at this point, and had me attempting several times before a successful run and never under par time at first. As you delve into the second area, the mines, you're faced with strips of timed lasers which force you to shred through the stages at a consistent speed. This is where things start to take a lot of practice and patience as you learn to cope with the split-second hazards denying you your right to take a moment and breathe.

Tinertia looks and sounds great, with some of sharpest visuals around for a platfomer that are even more eye-popping in combination with the fluid and destructive physics filling your screen with bits of particles after each blast. The electronic and ambient soundtrack is also catchy and fits the scrapped metal planet and its aesthetics more than perfectly. Overall what you have is not only the most explosive and fast-paced action around for a speed-runner, but a complete package with all the audio and visual sugar-coating needed for an awesome experience.

Even with Tinertia in Early Access it's a feature complete game that already includes all of the mechanics and solid gameplay that you can expect on release, with lots of new stages, levels, features and bosses you can look forward to being added during its early period. With an incredibly novel concept and lasting playability this is a game I'll continue to come back to over and over

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Early Access Preview - From The Depths

From The Depths

Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Brilliant Skies Ltd.

Most of us recognize the block-by-block building style to be a relaxing and more casual concept from previously popular titles, but for many who grew out of that phase finding the next step to a more advanced style of crafting and building has been on our minds for awhile. Something more complicated that takes into account real-world physics and engineering has always been a dream on the horizon but never quite executed properly or with lasting appeal, not until From the Depths.

Starting out in From the Depths can be a discouraging experience, the amount there is to learn may seem overwhelming but is met with some of the most rewarding results I've come across in the vehicle crafting sandbox genre. This is a game that requires patience to be put in but gives back in copious amounts, learning the usage of every tool is key to creating the most enjoyable experience as you'll have plenty to use at your disposal.

First and foremost, every player from the curious new builders to the most seasoned of engineers will want to delve into the playable tutorials and building guides supplied by the game as you'll quickly find the learning curve is no joke. Although it may seem tedious at first the more patient of players will begin to slowly learn important hotkeys and shortcut tools such as copying and reusing large sections of previously created vehicles that will make your building endeavors quick, seamless, and enjoyable.

Creating vehicles is way more than just their visual appearance and basic form, you'll have to get into the guts of each machine and engineer their inner-workings putting you in full control of everything from connecting series of logic up to thrusters, distributing equal amounts of power evenly across your ship, to creating your own missiles and ammunition as well as defining their behavior. The limits in From the Depths are determined solely by your own creative capacity.

Aside from the vehicle creation and building mode, there are some ambitious features to battle it out in including a progressive campaign that expands with each update and quick skirmishes you can set up for testing your new creations in the heat of battle. Terrain in the game varies from sea, to land, to air/space giving you lots of types of traversable landscape to consider when creating your specific dream vehicle.

The campaign itself is impressively large and involving for those well versed in the mechanics of the game throwing you into the world with a starting base to gather resources from and expand off of as you fight for survival and bountiful territories. This campaign mode is already very addictive and continues to grow rapidly with each update, promising the addition of more enemies, factions and objectives to spice up your survival in this free-form sandbox adventure.

Currently in development is the story based mission mode but it already features a couple of the basic starting missions which I found to be some of my most exhilarating moments with the game. The few story missions we have already do a great job of setting you up with some pre-determined scenarios, getting you into a pre-made vehicle and dropping you into the midst of a full scale battle. These missions are a really excellent way to get a glimpse at what all out war looks like in From the Depths.

Considering the complexity of what you can do and the scope of freedom you have doing it, From the Depths is a game I feel deserves way more attention and hype from sandbox and crafting enthusiasts. For me it's certainly the next biggest sandbox game on the market and one I've already put more time into than KSP or Space Engineers, and the prospects shown from constant updates and a very close relationship between the developer and the community make it even more important to get involved early to watch something already engrossing turn into something huge.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Indie Impressions - Rex Rocket

Rex Rocket

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Castle Pixel

Rex Rocket is the story of a lone space captain awakening from cryo-sleep in the ruins of what was once a thriving and bustling space vessel transporting scores of important and renown scientists. What happened here to turn technology against its human creators? It's up to you to blast, explore and platform your way through the now overrun S.S. Montana in a fun and humorous throwback to the greatest period in gaming history with more than a few twists of its own.

Another excellent retro love-letter for those riding the wave of nostalgia currently hitting the indie scene via the likes of Shovel Knight; Rex Rocket takes the metroidvania formula we all know and love and layers it with an old-school charm that is impossible to resist.

Robot humor.

The combat in Rex Rocket is much flashier and faster paced than the classics we remember as you rush into different sectors of your doomed ship each more deadlier than the last, with guns blazing. The speed of your shots as well as the attacks of your oncoming foes is lightning-quick, and you'll take advantage of the fluid controls and employ ninja-like techniques including wall-jumping or even propelling yourself over gaps using your gun as a jetpack. The possibilities are limitless to how each player will handle any given situation.

The game is fiendishly difficult and a serious challenge despite the pleasing visuals, just enough to keep you focused and alert throughout. I was already dying miserably to the first boss but only due to my own lack of agility, as soon as I learned the patterns and was dodging every attack I had it down and was given a level of determination not felt since the 8-bit era.

You'll need to find every power-up item, utilize every weapon and technique, and apply the highest level of hand-eye coordination in order to surpass these very difficult battles. This is extremely reminiscent to how the bosses of the golden-era of gaming would beat you just hard enough to keep you coming back to that frustrating section for another try with new-found strategies.

Level designs here in general are nothing short of brilliant, the obstacles and enemies are all perfectly placed and their attacks expertly choreographed keeping you constantly on edge. The level design and platforming elements are really where the game shines, and definitely have received a huge makeover since the late 80's/early 90's titles that it draws inspiration from giving controls and combat that are much smoother and more precise. Rex Rocket is less stiff feeling and way more action packed than similar legends of the past, making it something much bigger than just a simple homage.

Still, so many of the best ideas are drawn from the original Megaman series and they work just as well as ever. These are mechanics that have withstood the test of time and remain solid after all these years.

You'll encounter the electronic 'Appearing Blocks' (also known as 'Buzzing Blocks') that fade in and out one after another from the iconic Magnetman stage of Megaman 3, the hovering shield bots patrolling back and forth that you can only hit from behind, the classic pixel gates on either side of a boss fight bringing us back to those fateful moments in Wily's Castle so many years ago.

Exploration and progression in Rex Rocket is probably the most enjoyable in the metroidvania genre of games I've felt since probably the GBA or DS Castlevanias, with a huge array of rooms to get sidetracked on during your trek to the current objective leading to increasingly helpful tools or shortcuts.

Taking detours into the more diabolical of rooms along your way is encouraged and extremely rewarding as well as satisfying as you'll come across plenty of game-changing items that add to your health, lives, overall ammo, and plenty of story tidbits in the form of 'Info Nodes' to find which fill you in on the rich and humorous sci-fi lore behind the game. Defeating each of the challenging bosses earns you crucial upgrades and new weapons, leading you back through areas you previously thought impossible to traverse providing immensely satisfying exploration of the gigantic map.

Although the visuals follow a generally retro-flavor the pixel art on the sprites have a detail and complexity to them that far surpasses their past counterparts. The backgrounds in Rex Rocket are immensely engaging and detailed featuring a great level of depth with twisting pipes, rotating gears and pulse-emitting motherboards reaching back for multiple layers. The rhythmic movements of the setting around you is complimented perfectly by the outstanding soundtrack provided by chiptune musician Saskrotch which, just like the game, further enforces that Megaman style all too well specifically of the 1-3 era.

Rex Rocket isn't just a love-letter to the golden-era of games, it's a solid addition to any modern action gamers' library. If you're looking for that next retro-flavored hit of precise and fluid platforming action and metroidvania exploration, Rex Rocket is an undeniably perfect combination of the best mechanics from the old and the new.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Indie Impressions - Hangeki


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Pentavera 

Arcade aficionados and score-chasing 1cc'ers rejoice, Hangeki is the counter-attack of leaderboard-driven score-breaking, retro action you've been waiting for.

Those of us old enough to remember the warm glow and the busy sounds of a bustling arcade remember a time when games were more of a social and competitive interaction where we wouldn't just play to simply say we finished but to perfect it and surpass the scores of those who came before you. Games like Galaga, 1943, or Toaplans' Batsugun were never a matter of simply 'beating the game'.

These old classics were all about the points, maximizing your runs and learning every little detail about the game to get that perfect playthrough. Hangeki captures this arcade spirit all too well with it's bite-sized levels full of adrenaline and replayability as it pushes you to come back to each stage to try and try again with new weapons and gained skills or techniques.

On the surface Hangeki shows a similar concept to the row-reducing gameplay of Space Invaders with enemy variation akin to Galaga and it's many spinoffs. The similarities stop here, however, as the combat itself takes a much more modern bullet-hell approach to the chaos involved in dodging and timing your Hangeki 'counter-attack' which acts as a finishing bomb and is how you will advance each wave.

Fans of the more recent Galaga Legions DX will instantly fall in love with the combination of old-school enemy formations with the frenetic satisfaction of modern visuals and pacing. Unfortunately that game never saw a PC release, but I'm happy to say Hangeki fills the void just fine.

The game is as flashy as it is punishing requiring full engagement of your audio/visual sensory and can almost be a bit overwhelming with how much is going on, but that's exactly how us shmup enthusiasts like it. Your eyes will be busy and a lot of your practicing will be focused on where you train your center of vision.

You'll learn to strike a balance between watching enemy ship patterns at the top to anticipate which bullet-types are incoming and keeping track your power-up meter in order to time and aim your special weapons perfectly. One misplaced shot and you'll be back to dodging and waiting for your next weapon or 'Hangeki' to power-up, costing you valuable time and points.

Victory in the game is also handled in a very unique manner when it comes to the classic shmup formula, as you aren't simply trying to shoot down each enemy to score. Your score, instead of being based on a mundane points-by-kill basis, is reflected by the quickness and diligence in which each wave is dealt with and how fast you're able to trigger your 'Hangeki' through sustained chains and repeated successful shots.

This creates a much more competitive and skill-based atmosphere on the very important, addictive and well designed leaderboards. If you love leaderboards you'll love Hangeki.

 Hangeki boasts an impressive arsenal of unique weaponry counting in at 51 pieces of unlockable equipment, and they all pack a serious punch in their own right. These range anywhere from a piercing cannon that's capable of incapacitating an entire vertical row, seconds long shielding for that sudden moment of invincibility in the roughest of times, and huge rolling waves of flame that can take out large lines of enemies.

These are only a fraction of the beginning weapons, and as you play you'll continue to unlock better, more insane weaponry that will push you to revisit past levels and reattempt your score with new-found strategies.

This is a game crafted with a serious devotion to the arcade culture, and a detailed love for the shmup genre. It's a classic shooter with modern flair that I can wholeheartedly recommend to the most old-school of arcade veterans to the most hardcore and modern of Cave or Touhou-styled bullet-hell fanatics.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Indie Impressions - Mini Metro

Mini Metro

Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club

Mini Metro is a zen-like strategy experience with pleasingly minimal visuals that utilizes the real-world simulation of public transit and the growing system of subways that every corner of the world has come to know. The simple metro-line style of the game is not only a minimal aesthetic, but a symbol of civilization that is powerful to those who have relied on it for a better portion of our lives.

Mini Metro does its part well in capturing the machine driven lifestyles of the modern world and infusing it with a tactical and addictive interactive twist that anyone from casual strategy fans to serious transit geeks can get excited about.

Although simple in appearance Mini Metro is nothing short of a complex affair with lots of little mechanics to learn as you delve deeper. The game is easy enough for players of any level to hop into but offers layers upon layers of choice and consequence that you will need to learn and master through hours of your own planning of expansive transit systems.

You begin by connecting differently shaped metro stations to other stations with similarly shaped passengers, which gets complicated as you notice your limit on metro lines you're able to make and the amount of trains you're able to have carrying passengers. Without an even balance between how much load each of your lines have you'll quickly have a station overcrowd leading to a Game Over.

Overcrowding can be avoided through careful planning as well as the help of upgrades you get to choose between at the end of each week. These can be very hard decisions as you'll be deciding between the ability to build another carriage to hold more of your overflowing passengers, extra bridges to allow you more tactical planning under rivers and other tracks, or a new line giving you a new color-coordinated track to work with on the constantly expanding map. Only one of these upgrades can be chosen and not using the chance efficiently will end your reign as a metro tycoon much quicker.

The game is currently undergoing some extremely ambitious and promising sound work, including a soundtrack being composed by the legendary Disasterpeace. Sound is a feature I am greatly anticipating, because while the silence serves the minimalistic approach to the aesthetics of the game it could really use a bit more atmosphere. Until this awesome addition I can easily throw on any appropriate Brian Eno or similarly ambient records and bliss-out to the creation of my own 'Music for Metros'.

There's already a wealth of maps allowing you to construct and plan anywhere from London to Hong Kong, as well as more than enough features like Leaderboards and alternative Nightmodes to play around with. Its state in Early Access is merely a sign of great things to come for an already blissful strategy game.

I'm extremely excited for what's in store and can't wait for the upcoming procedural soundtrack, additional features, and very hopefully some new maps. Two cities I'd personally love to see are Tokyo or Prague and with enough support Mini Metro is sure to deliver on lots of fresh content for an already hard to put down strategy gem.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Indie Impressions - NeonXSZ


Available Now, Coming Soon to Steam Early Access

Developed by Intravenous Software 


There have been quite a few attempts at recreating the 6DoF formula as of late, and none of them really do it for me with their attempts to over-complicate the core elements and make things "modern". NeonXSZ is the first game of its kind in a long time to really hook me in with its potpourri of elements that we know are fun and solid, and have withstood the test of time.

It combines the freedom of movement and perspective of Descent and the edge-of-your-seat twitch action of Quake or Unreal Tournament with the addictive leveling and persistent loot of increasing rarity of an ARPG like Diablo, all combining for what is absolutely the most addictive and replayable shooter of any kind in years.

The game places you into a vast and complex computer mainframe with a very open and free-form approach to exploration. There's a great in-depth tutorial to read at your own pace getting you into the motions, but you are more-or-less thrown into this world blind with no hand-holding involved and a great deal of content to discover on your own accord.

While there is no hand-holding the game does not ever feel tedious or hard to get into even for the newest of players, as you are always being guided the right way thanks to the Appropriate Hostile function which will highlight on your map the best spot to hit next for your newest dose of weapons and upgrades. This makes exploration of the almost overwhelmingly large Station quick and accessible, as you are still lost but pointed in the right direction.

The objective of NeonXSZ is discovery and total domination, as you vie for control and power over the various hubs spread throughout the world in all-out territorial war. Despite the open-ended form of gameplay, NeonXSZ is ridiculously easy to get into for players of any skill level thanks to an approachable and flexible learning curve. This is gained through giving the player full control over which enemies and hubs they tackle on, giving the ability to scan hostiles for their level before deciding to engage or flee.

As you fight higher leveled enemies you start to feel more confident, you'll return to bases with your hard-earned loot and become even stronger leading to newer and more challenging areas. The amount of content you have to explore is massive and already offers a minimum of 30 hours of feature complete gameplay with more to come.

I had already drifted around the computerized world for a few good hours exploring, taking on low leveled hostiles, and playing around with early equipment before I discovered the challenge arenas at the center of the Station in a massive sphere. This is where shit gets serious. Instead of analyzing and picking off single similarly leveled foes like in the main world, I was suddenly thrust into a large and complex series of challenging areas being bombarded by difficult but manageable enemies.

Each lovingly detailed room was blocked off by a shield and every one of these persistent opposing ships had to be exterminated diligently in an intense and explosive battle in order to advance. The loot you get is of game-changing quality (depending on the level of the arena) and in high quantities, and defeating an arena allows you to claim territory on that Station for an allied side of your choosing.

Leveling up your tech level isn't as simple as gaining experience points or grinding mobs of same-y enemies like in other games, in NeonXSZ leveling up is determined by the quality of parts you're discovering and equipping. In order to grow strong enough to take on tougher foes, you'll need to outfit your ship with a select choice of higher leveled upgrades all dependent on the players' own playstyle.

The range of different parts and the effect they have on how the game feels and plays is insane, and allows you to be anything from a slow, hulking tank with tons of shields and firepower to an agile and lightning-quick smaller ship that avoids all damage with ninja-like reflexes in the hands of the sharp-witted.

Weapons are another integral part of NeonXSZ and just like upgrades add a huge layer of player customization and personal technique to how combat is approached. You start with the standard pea-shooter in classic shootemup fashion, but are quickly presented with plenty of choices in how you take on your combatants.

For the nimble and stealthy pilots who like to sneak up and get in close there's the Lightning Gun which packs a serious punch but drains your energy like crazy, and a Flak Cannon which spreads out for a wide shot but shreds anything in its direct path. For the sniper-minded you have the Railgun which requires the the most accuracy but disintegrates enemy ships almost instantaneously.

There's Inferno Guns for taking your foes down in a firey blaze and Laser Cannons that deliver a shocking blast of energy from afar, all weapons I've discovered only in my first 25 hours of gametime and with more to be found. The arsenal in NeonXSZ is remarkable, and will keep the most seasoned action veteran captivated for hours.

The heavy mechanical beats and ambient dronings of the background music do an excellent job of keeping you engaged in the atmosphere of the cybernetic and neon-tinted highways around you. In general the sound design to me is very engrossing with its muffled sound effects and outside explosions giving you the feeling of truly being inside the cockpit.

If you're looking for lightning-quick combat, huge series of interconnected arenas, and ludicrous amounts of customization then look no further, NeonXSZ is your next addiction. It's an already feature complete game with many hours of solid content, loads of replayability, and an amazing amount of polish. The games' state in Early Access is merely a sign of the tremendous amount of additional potential for an already mind-blowing shooter experience.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Indie Impressions - Crawl


Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Powerhoof 


I've never been much of an online multiplayer kind of guy, in my household we couch co-op and that's kind of a tradition of ours. Playing side by side with friends and family, bulky plastic controllers in hand is a lost art and one that deserves a lot more attention. We've seen many titles try and bring back this passion for a more human gaming experience in the living room recently with successful titles like  Nidhogg and TowerFall Ascension reminding us of that feeling of intense person-to-person competition and friendly rivalry we were able to get with console games in the past.

With the rising popularity of online PC gaming where does this close and personal human interaction go, is there still room for the local multiplayer experience?

Crawl thinks so, and it answers the call by pitting man against monster, friend against friend, in the darkest and nethermost caverns of the most replayable player on player dungeon crawler to date. You will die many times by the hands of your most trusted acquaintances but as Bram Stoker once wrote, "We learn from failure, not from success!” 

The heavy, ominous chip melody evokes a feeling of terror and haste as the monsters swarm about the mortal player for their own chance at sweet humanity, and must tear it from the cold dead hands of their cohort before losing the chance to turn the tables. The sound direction is incredibly fitting, with voice samples sounding as if straight out of an authentic 80's pinball machine or arcade cabinet. The suspenseful horror aesthetics and doom-impending tone of the music compliment the tension, chaos and madness of the multiplayer struggle for supremacy all too well.

You begin by choosing one of the three Gods of unspeakable horrors, determining which set of ghastly familiars you will be taking control of and leveling up throughout your mad grab for humanity. You gain blood as you spill it from your human target to be exchanged for gold and used at merchants to buy an array of varied equipment and skills, ranging anywhere from double-daggers with fast speed but short reach to floating glyphs that fire lasers on your command. This puts a lot of motivation on the monster players to bleed the human as much as possible, in order to better prepare themselves with loot once stealing back humanity.

Monsters themselves add one of the deepest layers of the game, each with branching sets of evolution trees to play around with and unlock more of. Evolving your monsters is dependent on Vitae which is acquired through enemy humans leveling up, and keeps the playing field between the two more or less balanced. Honestly, though, I don't think anyone is capable of explaining the game as well as the trailer does.

Before even getting a chance to sink my teeth into Crawls' gritty and visceral gameplay I couldn't stop watching that damn trailer, it sent chills down the spine. It's really the most captivating I'd seen in awhile and the narration nails the urgency of your doom-ridden quest. I had to know how such an effective voice actor was acquired.

After questioning the developers on the subject, it turns out that the narration wasn't hired or professional help at all, but the contributions of a close friend they had previously worked with and this fact just fortified in my mind the strong bonds behind the creation of the game and it's origin of a personal and human nature. According to Dave, "The voice actor from the trailer is a friend of ours, Adrian Vaughan. He’s a 3d artist who we met at the first game studio that Barney and I worked at together. He’s one of those guy’s who’s always putting on funny accents and I got him to do some voices for an adventure game I made for a competition (called The Unicated)."

Apparently they weren't expecting the trailer to gain as much attention and praise as it did for the game, as Dave goes on, "We were incredibly pleased with how the trailer went, we had no idea if it would be received well or not while we were working on it. We thought it might be too long, or wordy, and it was difficult getting a balance of the tone and the explanation of the game. We’re so glad we did it that way now though."

Crawl clearly has some heavy retro arcade influences, and upon discussing the game with the developers the sources of inspiration were confirmed. "For Barney, two big inspirations were Bomberman and Gauntlet, and they shine through in the gameplay most of all." and with it's  blend of the dungeon delving hacknslash action of Gauntlet and the rage-inducing competitive party game aspect of Bomberman, I'm inclined to agree that both of these examples shine through.

He continues to explain, "We’ve grabbed inspiration from tonnes of games though really, old RPGs like Legend of Zelda, the gothic tone of the first Diablo, and a bit of Dark Souls’ brutality to name a few." All being perfect representations of where Crawl takes its grim and savage direction.

This is a game that will bring together the most unsuspecting of players, serious-minded people who don't even game will forget themselves and get caught up in the blood-boiling clash for mortality. Not only does it bring friends together but it tests the limits of your friendship, edging you closer to feelings of vengeance on your once trusted peer.

Similar to the feeling of having the excitement of 1st place in Mario Kart swiftly crushed and ripped from you by a friend lucky enough to get that one Blue Shell and take your place of glory, leaving you with nothing but the desire to track them down and kick their ass.

Crawl is a game made by friends, for friends. A multiplayer experience unlike anything seen since the 90's. A game made by two close compatriots who wanted to rediscover and reinvent what gathered them around the tube so many years ago. The kind of entertainment we've lost sight of after so many years of growing into adults, getting jobs and families, and in general forgetting what made us really have fun as kids.

Despite being its best around warm-bodied experiences I can still wholeheartedly recommend the game even for those who might be too busy or too far from friends to partake in the multi-person mayhem. With bots and their adjustable difficulty, I was still kept on the edge of my seat during every attempt to steal the victory from the intelligent computer opponents.

With even more balancing on the horizon as well as constant updates to content, and a serious community involvement from the developers on forums there is pure determination shown in shaping the game how players want and proves that Crawl is already one of the shining examples of Early Access done right.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Indie Impressions - Eidolon


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Ice Water Games

 "He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time."
  -Jack London, The Call of the Wild

Greeted with the slow twanging of an acoustic guitar and the soft playing of a sad sounding fiddle, the misty land ahead of you is devoid of any sign of human life. Only the rolling green hills, groves of forests teeming with wildlife, and icy mountaintops remain all concealing mysteries of the past and the loss of a culture once thriving.

This civilization long lost, leaving behind only traces of what was once its former glory. The world is now empty as you seek to find answers to your past.

Broken images and entities before you, a fox greets you from afar and you give chase only to see it disappear behind a tree seconds later. Are these visions of what once was, or are they simply the ramifications of your lost and wandering mind? This is a truly psychological undertaking.

Using my newly scavenged tinder I pitch a fire by the bend of a flowing creek, the eyes of nearby deer watching me gaze up at the stars and clouds rolling by. Dawn breaks through the treetops and the singing of birds is heard, I've survived another cold night alone in these woods and can continue my exploration. Eidolon is a genuinely natural experience, it is the closest experience to nature you'll find in any form of interactive entertainment.

Despite living in the West Coast most of my life I have never had the pleasure of visiting Washington but did grow up camping in the wilderness of Big Sur and Santa Cruz and the feelings evoked by this game really bring me back to those places. Based on discussions between the developer and play testers the transcribing of the wooded lands are depicted very accurately - accurate enough to have playtesters' journey tracked on a real world map

Massive landscapes reach out endlessly past the horizon providing several hours of exploration in any one direction, and is fleshed out with several more hours of narrative-rich collectables in the form of documents, articles, and lovingly crafted writings of the people who previously called Western Washington their home. Their fate is yours to discover.

The shift from day to night is gradual and realistic, drawing you into your surroundings through bright pink-orange hues of the sunset to the pitch black dead of night lit only by the vibrant and beautiful stars above. The land you travel is authentic in its portrayal, there's an obvious amount of devotion and love put into details.

Nothing repeats and nothing overstays its welcome, you are constantly on the move into new lands to discover new histories. Evolving and changing with the scenery around you is the melancholy and serene soundtrack, utilizing a wide array of wood and stringed instruments that encompass the natural wonder you find yourself in. Before even starting Eidolon I was taken aback by the very subdued sounds being reminded almost of the backdrop to a Jim Jarmusch film, giving me vibes of the improvised soundtrack for the Old West-themed Dead Man with its subterranean guitar twangings.

Upon questioning one of the developers on the origin of Eidolons' incredible, massive, and evolving soundtrack I learned that the masterpiece had been composed by a full-time English instructor at Western Washington University, from which several of the development team had recently graduated from. By some fluke, the man that had apparently taught these developers about game design in the first place ended up making this engrossing soundtrack for their first commercial game, and what a soundtrack it is. This shows that Eidolon comes from very personal and very human roots, and with a background in professionalism and academics.

The first reaction from fans of the explorative genre of games will be quick to compare Eidolon to the likes of Dear Esther or Proteus, but the similarities stop right at the visuals. This is clearly a much grander experience and manages to shed the ill-perceived "walking-simulator" tag by providing much more than simply taking in your surroundings.

This is a living breathing world, your actions have consequences and your survival depends on your alertness, foraging, and hunting capabilities. History and culture is all around you and only needs to be discovered for the bigger picture to become clear.