Friday, December 19, 2014

Retro Revisits - Strife: Veteran Edition

Strife: Veteran Edition

Now Available on Steam 

Published by Night Dive Studios

Back in the 90's when First Person Shooters were gaining the most momentum there was an abundance of ingenious and ambitious usages of the legendary Doom engine, and while titles like Quake and Duke Nukem were the most talked about at the time there was one debut title from the great Rogue Entertainment whose mechanics influenced an emergence of now familiar and relied on mechanics. Strife finally marks its comeback in a more modern and accessible package for both fans old and new.

Most importantly, this is an incredibly solid port that is consistent with the quality you'd expect from Night Dive and then some. All modern resolutions are included here as well as graphical improvements in the form of dynamic lighting, bloom, and customizable motion blur. Controls have been tweaked to fit the playstyle of modern shooters, and objectives now glow with a circle on the minimap creating a much smoother and seamless quest hunt. Night Dive Studios has given Strife all of the needed customization to allow players of any background enjoy the game however they please, be it in its original intended form or with all the new bells and whistles.

An extraterrestrial meteorite strikes your planet, unleashing a mysterious virus ravaging the brains of those it infects. Society has been split into two, the infected who have become cruel and barbaric rulers over the uninfected and powerless civilians. You are one of the uninfected who have banded together to create their own rebel community and fight this infected authority that reigns over your lives known only as The Order.

Strife features a large and detailed town hub unlike any FPS before it due to its population of many colorful, grizzled citizens and their connected questlines with fully voiced dialogue trees, the exploration within this community feeling fluid and engaging even after all these years. Here you've got all the staple establishments used throughout the RPG medium. The tavern provides you with side quests to perform for cash as well as tidbits of valuable info that comes at a price, the hospital sells valuable potions to heal during combat, and the weapon and armor shop sell the valuable equipment needed to advance through the harder levels found throughout the world.

Once you've met up with your underground resistance group of rebels the game opens up, as you take quests and carry out important mission from the various NPCs you'll find scattered around the sprawling town. Different strongholds and hidden corridors throughout the outskirts of the town play host to these missions following classic FPS action, and will reward you with scavenged loot and money in the form of quest rewards to purchase new equipment or much needed medical kits before delving into newer, harder territory.

While it certainly isn't the first FPS/RPG hybrid to ever be created, I feel it was the best original attempt to really get it right with a user friendly combination of addictive role playing progression within a fast and furious world of Doom-like violence. Fans of the engine and of the era in general will be drawn to the reminiscent visuals and their application to a unique fantasy world, an extremely pleasant departure from the usual bleak and gray environments we're used to from shooters of that period. The nostalgic Roland powered music is especially delightful here, and takes an extremely adventurous turn in composition.

If you've never played Strife there is no better time to discover and enjoy a legend, and if you're an old fan of Strife this is the perfect excuse to go back and experience it again in its most polished form to date.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Indie Impressions - Metrocide


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Flat Earth Games

The streets are brutal and lives seem disposable in a bleak metropolis of the future, and the only ticket out of this town is a high commodity with an even higher price. Armed at first with only a slow blaster only slightly more useful than a toaster and your wits, you'll seek out each contracted kill amongst the likes of paranoid vigilantes, loose cannon gangsters, and the buzzing drones of a totalitarian police state from above.

Metrocide is a gritty top-down trip into the dystopic streets of an open cyberpunk world of stylish minimal visuals with pulp noir flair, the city around you living and breathing with its own unique population. All of the residents of this drab environment have their own personality, their owns faults, and their own routines they carry out and you never know which of these unsuspecting people will be your next paid hit.

Contractors can be found throughout the open map each offering different hits on personalities of the city in exchange for cash, with armed and timed targets earning you more money. Money earned can then either be saved for your ticket into the next area or used on arsenal and tools that will make or break your attempted assassinations. Weapons come in a variety of shotguns, SMGs, and pistols with tools ranging from lures to distract pedestrians, jammers to disrupt police drones, and explosives to remotely cause havoc.

The action of Metrocide is steady paced and calculated, requiring a keen eye and a bit of patience. You'll watch your target carefully, following stealthily and strike at only the most opportune moments, and when you take your shot you have to take it quick. The frantic action and split-second tactical decision making here is often compared to Hotline Miami, but I feel this is done in a much more deliberately drawn out and subtle manner of stalking your prey from the undetected shadows of city alleys.

Death comes swiftly and without warning, and once you're gone you're gone for good being forced to restart as a broke hitman yet again. Jumpy vigilantes and gangsters won't hesitate to blow you away at the first sign of aggression and civilians will be quick to report you to deadly authorities who'll quickly have you on the run. This is not an easy game whatsoever, the eyes of the city constantly have the upper hand on you and through a rigorous routine of learning the streets as well as the arsenal available to you will you survive long enough to earn your blood money.

My first hit/victim in this cruel retro/future dystopia is a 30 year old male, a smoker by the name of Dudley Rossman. He's unarmed and tracked making this what should be an easy to find and kill target. I'm not sure why I'm ordered to hunt this civilian but it's a job and anyone living in the harsh reality of this underworld knows money comes before morals, so I take it. Armed with only my slow loading starter pistol I sneak out into the streets attempting to blend in with the crowds as police drones pass overhead. I locate my target and follow from the other side of the street at a slow and steady pace, there are far too many civilians here and merely whipping my gun out would spell my doom via a bullet in the head.

Our silent and hip trenchcoat sporting protagonist calmly takes a puff of his cigarette as I wait for our assassination target, Dudley, to pass by the opening of an alley I've ducked into. As he passes I take aim with my starting blaster and fire, my target is hit and I can almost feel the cash in my hand. Just as I'm stuffing my targets body into a sewage drain to avoid detection, a passerby spots my actions and takes off to notify authorities. Within seconds I'm surrounded, and my fleeting victory is quickly vanquished via the bullet of a cop drone.

After what feels like hours of repeated deaths and failed hits on my well prepared targets I've finally survived a run long enough to scrounge up the cash to get myself a ticket out of the Downtown area. Before even meeting my first quota and leaving this first area I had earned 10 achievements, all of them related to myself dying in some horrific and unique way.

It's an extremely tough and failure ridden road getting there with loads of patience required, but in the end an incredibly satisfying feeling and an experience you'll take new skills away from for your future endeavors on the mean streets of MetroCity. Metrocide is top-down stealth action at its hardest and finest.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Early Access Preview - The Deer God

The Deer God

Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Crescent Moon Games

The Deer God is a relaxing and sometimes puzzling survival platformer with an emphasis on exploring bountiful natural landscapes presented in a most beautiful and crisp pixel style, a combination reminiscent of beloved indie gems like Fez or Sword and Sworcery. Guiding you through each of the different seasons and themed areas is the warm synth, moody piano and nostalgic blips of their respective soundscapes shifting and evolving with each subtle change of the environment around you.

It's an already a gorgeous game by the time the title screen appears, the serene and peaceful imagery eases your vision yet the ominous teetering of the strange hymn that plays tells you not everything is as peaceful as it seems. It is a story of the hunter and the hunted of natural order and balance of life, but who is there to put mankind in our place when we attempt to throw that balance off and cause unnecessary death?

The game starts you off assuming the role of a small and feeble baby deer in a lush world of natural wonder and danger, your health and attack power in this infantile state are minimum so you begin your survival by scouring the land ahead for food and nourishment while avoiding the dangers of the wild.

On top of the elements of survival and growing your deer through the gathering of resources, the game plays like a roguelite. This means the level layout is randomized with each playthrough and when you die, you die for good. Fortunately in a continued effort to emulate life in the wild you can mate with does to produce offspring, which act as very crucial checkpoints becoming the new host for your soul if you perish.

The wilderness around you is shrouded in mystery, the deeper you travel into this meditative setting of seasonal meadows and swamps the stranger the entities you'll come across; An old hermit greets me in an isolated hut giving a small task. Groups of brutish hunters hang around cabins awaiting their prize shot and threatening the surrounding wildlife.

Various wise and elder deer appear before me periodically throughout the journey to bestow knowledge and sometimes new powers to help clear the path ahead as well as hidden paths that were previously untraversable in an almost metroidvania-like fashion. Ancient statues appear after tasks have been completed and task you with a block puzzle. Fitting the relics to their correct places grants you with the story advancing skills you need.

Players must use the scavenged items of your surroundings wisely in order to help the various struggling souls of the wild and repay their debt to mother nature. In the end traveling far and wide becomes more than rewarding when you're dashing through the deepest of caves crushing rocks with your hooves and hurling balls of fire from your antlers.

A whole lot of heart and soul have clearly been put into The Deer God, it's a game for people who love and respect the animal kingdom and even if you don't it could be the game that makes you care. It's a story about honoring all life around you, and seeking to mend the hardship-filled lives of other creatures we share the planet with.

This is an experience of many sights, sounds, and colorful characters and one I feel should be experienced by all, even if just for the message. With fantastically detailed pixel art and a challenging permadeath adventure of heavy natural exploration, The Deer God is one of those rare breeds in the indie scene that stands not only a work of art but a really damn fun and addictive game.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Indie Impressions - Magnetic by Nature

Magnetic by Nature

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Team Tripleslash



A lone robot in a dead and unmoving future world, you find yourself amidst the rusted ruins of your robotic peers with only the power of magnetic energy to help you revive these elders to their former glory. Magnetic by Nature is a sidescrolling platformer with a magnetic driven twist, facing the player against complex chains of positive and negative reactions they must properly attract to and repel against in order to reach the end of each thoughtfully crafted stage.

Each of the large robot idols you must revive and unlock play host to a series of refreshingly difficult levels of their own colorful and entrancing environment. Guided by the shimmering melodies echoing with cave-like and natural qualities, droplets of water heard lightly dripping from hanging stalactites in the background. The game has beautiful and engaging surroundings that seem to live and breathe around you, with the glistening surfaces of twisting rock formations with occasional flocks of birds flying by all drawing you into the wonderfully relaxing mood of each differently themed setting.

Mere movement in Magnetic by Nature requires the sharpest wit and the quickest reactions, propelling yourself across wide cavernous gaps and attempting to quickly reverse polarity to catch yourself on another magnet and swing even further. As you learn the ropes of using your magnetic charge to slingshot yourself around each stage with ease, the momentum speeds up and swinging yourself across stages becomes an exhilarating trapeze act.

Often times the game moves far beyond mere platforming and into ingenious and accessible puzzle mechanics, having you push and pull magnetic orbs into proper slots or even through complicated stone mazes. Throughout the entirety of the game I was surprised with how fresh and engaging the new mechanics brought by each level were, never feeling same-y or overstaying its welcome.

The game quickly becomes intensely difficult, but in the best ways possible that offer an accessible challenge which always feels within your grasp.  What starts out as quick and clever manipulations of magnetic force in order to reach a nearby platform soon turns into long and complicated series of chained magnets strung above dangerous obstacles and deadly contraptions.

The retries will come swiftly, as you practice on perfecting the aim and arc of your propelled movements from each magnet to the next, timing your swings between them just right. It doesn't take long to figure out how to wield this unique mechanic, and completing the most puzzling labyrinth of magnets is always an incredibly rewarding feeling.

Magnetic by Nature is a game that deserves to discovered and played by a much wider audience. I'm ashamed I hadn't played it earlier myself, as it has proved to be one of the most pleasantly original platformers of the year. The consistently challenging and unusual mechanic of harnessing magnetic power to slingshot yourself to victory combined with an earthly atmosphere unsurpassed in its natural charm make this absolutely worth the admission.