Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Crying Suns

Developer: Alt Shift
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Genre: Strategy, Roguelite
Platforms: PC
Rating: N/A
Price: $24.99

Based in Montpellier, France, developer Alt Shift began in 2012 with developing small-scale web design and mobile games. By June 2018, they had decided to try their hand at their most ambitious project of all, launching a Kickstarter campaign for a space-based sci-fi roguelite that would exceed its modest goal of ~$30,000 by $50,000. In other words, demand was high for the game that would become Crying Suns. I became aware of its existence as it approached its launch date while drawing comparisons to Foundation and FTL: Faster Than Light. As a huge fan of the latter, I looked forward to determining if the comparison is meritorious.

Content Guide

Remember when humanity thought heaven was above the clouds?

Crying Suns conveys all of our standard content categories—violence, spirituality, sexuality, language, drug and alcohol use—primarily through narrative exposition like a genuine sci-fi novel. As the galactic empire has fallen into decay, billions die from starvation, war, suicide, or chemical dependency. There are some exceedingly rare images of cryogenically frozen bodies, skeletal remains, and disrobed bodies (though due to the pixel art, I cannot discern any naughty bits).

Of special note is a specific faction called the Church of Singularity. Originally founded for the purpose of worshiping machines as gods, when the machines died, the Church shifted from worshiping “living” gods to worshiping “dead” ones. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to a rich man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Practitioners of this religion likewise believe that they should relinquish all possessions to achieve salvation, but this is how the Church perpetuates its wealth to the detriment of the faithful. It is a fictional religion, though it nevertheless illustrates the power of ideology. 

Review

Kaliban hatches the Admiral Idaho clone.

Crying Suns opens with a scene reminiscent of the Matrix when Morpheus informs Neo of the machines using humans as batteries. The camera descends in a laboratory full of bodies in stasis chambers, and then further downward into a basement-like room housing a single chamber. A multi-tentacled robot unseals it, and out plops a man who props himself on all fours on the floor. The robot introduces himself as Kaliban, an Omni Mechanical Neo-N Intelligence (OMNI). It informs the player-character that he is as a clone of Admiral Ellys Idaho, produced on a secret base named Gehenna, located in the farthest corner of the galaxy.

Kaliban’s purpose is to care for the clones of Idaho and his crew, awakening them should a catastrophic event take place in the Galactic Empire. Indeed, the OMNIs which humanity depended upon for their survival have shut down. Idaho’s mission, then, is to find out what shut down the OMNIs, and reactivate them. 

In terms of design, Crying Suns borrows generously from many sources in the world of sci-fi. The core of its gameplay centers around Alt Shift’s fandom of Subset Games’  FTL: Faster Than Light. Rather than dedicating full paragraphs explaining the how, I will instead utilize screenshots. 

I am certain there is some technical term for the greenish tint throughout Crying Suns’ art direction. Whatever it is, it works for outer space. It reminds me of a similar filter for MGS on PSX.

As with FTL, in Crying Suns players will naturally need to select their ship; only the NS-Odysseus is unlocked in the beginning. Fortunately, instead of triggering random events and fulfilling the requirements of rare events (missions), one only needs to progress through the game naturally to unlock all six ships. Of course, each ship is balanced with different default attributes to encourage variable playstyles and multiple playthroughs.

Players must choose two officers on the next screen. Rather than needing to remember the traits of different races, one can see plainly the characteristics of each randomized option. Crying Suns is not limited to the specializations illustrated above. My favorite, Tactical Deployment, is missing here; it expands the zone in which squadrons are deployed during battle, but more on that in the combat section.

Out of the officers actually shown, I would take the two who have three instead of two skills, as these are critical for executing marine missions after planetfall. The list of unique officers appears on the bottom of the screen once they are unlocked. Finding these officers is difficult, because I only managed to find two in twenty hours of gameplay. Like in FTL, if officers (and weapons and units) are not granted through random events or rewards for battles, they can be purchased from shops.

It will require all but two seconds for FTL veterans to recognize the star chart navigational method: one jump requires one unit of fuel, and running out could prove deadly with an enemy fleet in pursuit. Yet unlike FTL, every star hosts an RNG-based fuel replenishment station and a cluster of points of interest (planets) to visit, ranging from two to five. Each chapter in Crying Suns comprises of three star maps (sectors) in total before facing a boss. The most stops I have been able to manage before the bad guys catch up with me is twenty-two in one sector; triple this across five chapters, and that adds up to a ton of stops! Effectively, a single campaign in Crying Suns is twice as long as FTL.

The more stops one can make, the more opportunities there will be for events, which means more opportunities for scrap, which means more cash for ship purchases. The greatest potential for scrap lies with ground signals, where players will send an officer to lead a squad of ten marines down to a planet to auto-explore randomly-generated landmarks. Here is where officer skill diversity matters most, because skill redundancies increase the chance of mission failure. The consequence for failure is the loss of marines, which require scrap to hire. Officers can also be injured, though I am unsure how that impacts their performance.

As I mentioned earlier, the best officers are (the unique ones) with three skills. Here, my officer rocks maximum benefits.
Alternatively, a poorly-selected officer can be disastrous. I end up failing this excursion, losing 8 marines (80 scrap worth), and ruining my chances for future bonuses. Yes, think of these as “bonus chances.”

Naturally, players will want the NS-Odysseus to be fully-loaded before reaching sector bosses. I believe the best route for this is outfitting it with a variety of combat units. Crying Suns implements RTS-style rock-paper-scissors counters for units: drones counter frigates, frigates counter fighters, fighters counter drones, and everything is strong against cruisers when at point-blank range, though it becomes a force to be reckoned with at a distance as it wields the highest DPS in the game. 

Stock animated .gif from the Steam store page, because the flow of combat is difficult to describe.

Despite the hexed battlefield, combat takes place in real-time (with a pause button). The objective is to occupy the northeast quadrant of the map and attack the enemy battleship’s subsystems. When the weapon or squadron subsystems sustain enough heat from damage, it will be disabled, extending recovery times. This is critical, because when a weapon is discharged or a ship unit is destroyed, they enter a cooldown period that extends from overheating, providing additional windows for assault. After enough damage, a ship loses a unit of hull; when hull units become zero, the ship is destroyed. This goes both ways, for the player and the AI.

The difference though, is that on occasion the AI gets periodic reinforcements for a difficulty bump. After all, a human should be able to handle the added challenge. In order to keep pace, players will have to micromanage, alternating between units by docking them in and out of the battleship as one does with strike craft in Homeworld to give them a chance to heal. Besides the cooldown when ships are destroyed, they only heal up to half-health. Maintaining a weak fleet is risky business in a roguelite, but I find Crying Suns generous in its difficulty, especially for those familiar with the unforgiving nature of FTL. My two defeats during my review playthrough came by way of failing to understand the game’s mechanics, as well as ignoring the fleet composition hints provided during early sector encounters. 

Some fights can be intense!

The highlight of Crying Suns, and what really distinguishes it from FTL, is its story. While there are instances in the later sectors when some of the events become repetitive (a recent patch promises more variance for events; I have seen some new ones, but also some repeats), and enemies critical to the plot muster a few perfunctory lines, I kept pressing on because I wanted to know the fate of the Galactic Empire and the reason why the OMNIs shut down. As I did so, I learned about the real Admiral Idaho’s past, and the lives of the facsimile and the original began to converge. 

Mother is only the first of many characters oozing with lore.

As I navigated across the known universe, I enjoyed sci-fi bliss, as Crying Suns pulls from so many inspirations that even Alt Shift seemingly subconsciously channeled mass effect relays within this game’s version of interstellar travel with the fold system. Astonishingly, Crying Suns fuses these various elements together to make for a harmonious experience. If Alt Shift was aiming for FTL 2.0, they have hit the mark.

Review copy generously provided by Humble Bundle.

 

 

 

Categories
Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Switch

Review: Forager

Developer: HopFrog

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Genre: Open World, Survival, Adventure

Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4

Rating: E for Everyone 10+

Price: $19.99

In today’s gaming world, Minecraft is a household name. More knowledgeable players may be aware of Terraria or even the Rune Factory series. Terraria in particular was a perfect fit for me, until an update made the game’s UI nearly unplayable on the PS4 port. Now, years later, I had come to miss some crafting excellence. Upon first glance, Forager immediately reminded me of characteristics of these separate game franchises, among others. How well does it hold up on it’s own, let alone against these gaming giants? With that question in mind, let’s jump into our review of Forager on the Nintendo Switch!

Content Guide

Blood+Violence: Enemies will attack the player on sight, and defeating said enemies will result in a small, pixelated squirt of blood.

Fantasy Violence: There are several magical staves that cast spells against opponents.

Mild Humor: A certain quest requires the collection of fecal matter for a NPC obsessed with the stuff. Attacking certain characters result in jocularly horrified commentary.

Demons/Undead: Forager contains Demonic and Undead opponents. One certain item raises Skeletons for the player, A Necronomicon can also be obtained. 

 

Review

Forager has a variety of unlockable bonus materials outside the game, like this cute little comic.
Wilson? WIIIILSON!!!

Starting Forager‘s application, I was treated to a cute little Humble Bundle intro with creator commentary. The top menu screen came up, offering a chance to look at several options, including extra content and future plans for the game. Seeing as not much could be done with the other options yet, I had little choice but to start playing the game.                                                                                     

Once finally in the game, I found myself stranded on an island with naught but naught but a pickaxe, backpack, and some resources to hack at. Almost reflexively, I started digging. While I did so, small button commands and flashing notification signs began to pop up, directing my attention to different aspects the game presented. Taking a page from games in the past, there were little-to-no tutorials at all. From crafting my first furnace to making money, most everything was self taught, which was a nice change of pace from the hand-holding many modern games are guilty of.

Mine, Mine, MINE!

After crafting my first few items, I was quickly able to make money (literally) and buy my first piece of land. I was excited. Already I was so hooked into crafting my items that a new piece of land, with more resources, was thrilling. Imagine my disappointment, then, when the piece of land turned out to be just that: a tiny piece of land a third of the size of my tutorial island. This was the first time I was disappointed in the game, but I kept right on going. My Empire must have its industry!

Look at me. Look at me in my little. top. hat. I’m adorable.

Over the course of the game, lands progressively became more difficult to acquire, and stayed consistent in it’s random generation of size. Regardless of these challenges, however, it quickly became my goal to acquire all pieces of land in the game, and within each new piece was a new challenge to overcome and new loot to acquire. Since there is no story in Forager, leveling up and land possession became the scales in which I measured my progress.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go…

With the purchase of each new piece of land, there’s a chance to come across two main types of buildings; a Temple, or a Puzzle.

Each dungeon segment has it’s own boss.
This was the boss of the ice segment.

Reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda series, Temples are dungeon-esque levels which contain a mix of puzzles and enemies, a new weapon, and a boss battle. Being a lifetime Zelda fan, I really enjoyed these segments, but found them far, far too short.

Puzzles are scattered throughout the 49 segments of land in the game, but the most difficult (and my favorite) take place within towers. The fire-themed Puzzle tower has been the greatest puzzle challenge I’ve had in quite some time, and was intensely time-consuming for me to solve. My favorite tower, however, didn’t have a puzzle, but rather a series of riddles whose solutions required me to find certain items. For example, a riddle about water required me to find water and put it on the corresponding riddle. I love good riddles that I have to solve myself; they are an underrated puzzle mechanic that needs to be in more games.

However short they are, these obstacles are an excellent change of pace from the from the regular grind of crafting and leveling in regular gameplay, and are definitely a shining factor within Forager‘s experience. 

…And the People You’ll Meet!

One of Forager‘s largest sources of charm comes from its NPCs. With each offering their own “advice” and commentary, it was always a nice little nugget to find a new one when I bought a piece of land. Granted, they usually wanted something from me that I almost never had yet, but at least most of them were friendly about it.

One notable character is the Giant Beet. The Giant Beet is so sweet and it always compliments you and tells you something positive, which I probably took much more seriously than I should have (honestly though, how many games nowadays have such innocent positivity). Imagine my shock, then, when I accidentally attacked one of it’s neighboring beets, prompting the comment “I Still Love You!!” Aww.

Too bad one of the game’s achievements require you to kill it.

Aww… This beet is the sweetest beet.
Talking to him is a treat.
My Favorite Things

My favorite thing to do in Forager was to find the many easter eggs and pop culture references hidden throughout the game. From completing NPC quests to unlocking achievements, there are several skins and quotes from pop and gaming culture that were an absolute delight to find and understand.

I am the Knight…
Here to bring the art of Shovelry to my Empire!

For most of the game, I ended up using the Hollow Knight skin, which made my jaw drop upon first sight. Beyond that, there are also references to Overwatch, Shovel Knight, Terraria, The Legend of Zelda, and even Super Meat Boy.

I Hardly Even Touched Him!

Combat in Forager is incredibly easy. Since there are only a handful of different enemy types, none of which with any particularly difficult mechanics, combat interactions are always pretty short, regardless of weapon type. This made me wonder why there would be any need for weapon upgrades and variety, and combat actions. No enemy is moving fast enough to require dodge rolling, and though new swords kill enemies faster, they couldn’t hit me if I always moving. Since I made food such as cooked fish, it was even easier, as downing a few fish will restore any health lost as long as I wasn’t full. Over the course of the game I was given many opportunities to expand my health, but really never needed to.

I would love to have more enemies and difficult combat experiences in the future, should any of the teased installments be added to the game.

Just…Just Let Me See the Map. Please
Here you see a direct consequence of the funky map scrolling.
I could barely make out what the sign said!

As I had said before, a horrible UI update ruined my PS4 Terraria experience in the past. Like a nightmarish flashback, Forager gave me a similar experience at times as well. However, unlike the Terraria update, this is not too late to change!

There are two very egregious examples of gameplay irritation I am thinking of. The first is the lack of a good overworld map. Throughout the game I was always on the move, between gathering resources, to crafting, to making money. Because of this, I was often on the opposite side of my Empire than the next piece of land I was buying, or item I was crafting. The only option to see a decent map was to go to a menu section labeled “Buy Land” and check. However! Even when using this tab, the map window often would stop panning, depending on where I was located. For example, If I wanted to buy a Northern piece of land, but was in a Southern map piece, I could only see the pieces of land in the grid row underneath the the Northern piece of land, requiring me to move North a bit so my map could expand further. This drove me crazy, and was horribly inconvenient, especially when in a timed scenario.

The second red flag I experienced was with ranged weapon controls. When using, say, a bow, the button prompt requires the regular “action” input and uses the right stick to aim. Regular stuff. However, while the aim cursor is pointing left, if I let go of the aiming stick, the bow would fire right, while the aim cursor remained to my left. Due to the aforementioned ease of combat within Forager, this wasn’t too inconvenient, but it did render several weapons almost worthless for quick use in gameplay.

See where the aim marker is?
The arrow clearly did not get the memo.
The Best Forager Has To Offer

If I were to take all the game experiences that Forager gave me, bad and good, and boiled out the single strongest feature that puts it above the competition, the RPG elements would be it. The skill tree is Forager‘s best and most unique feature. From passive effects, like earning 20% more gold selling items, to active effects, such as earning more crafting materials, I was always excited to find out what my next levels could unlock. The system isn’t perfect for me, but that’s also a part of the system’s ingenuity: not everyone has my playstyle.

Mmm…It’s Missing Something
There are six additions teased for Forager‘s future. However, only two of them are named so far.

For a time, Forager presents plenty to do. Throughout my playthrough I made three personal goals: first, to buy all available properties; second, to see all that the skill tree had to offer; and lastly, to craft every item I could. Over time I found that the third goal became more and more out of reach, as the time sink became too heavy and resources too numerous. With 5 tiers of item crafting, the time, resources, and energy to make new items literally increased exponentially. Eventually I drew a line when a new item, the “obliterator,” wanted 100 of 3 different types of very difficult and rare materials.

Using those three goals, I believe I have been able to experience all that Forager has to offer me, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. However, there’s just something…missing. For example, there was a very limited  variety of weapon upgrades, and all of the perks are the same no matter the playthrough. Crafting items moved from very manageable to nearly impossible almost instantly, and there is next-to-no incentive for game completion besides the completion itself.

To put it flatly, I feel that the late-game experience strongly builds up to the upcoming update and patch releases, but until then, is missing a crucial step in gameplay. Seeing as Forager just officially came out in the middle of this year, I continue to have strong hopes for it’s expansion and potential.

There you have it, after 29 hours of playtime, I have little large complaint…
But have also done basically everything I cared to do.

Review copy generously provided by Humble Bundle

Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Void Bastards

Developer: Blue Manchu
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Genre: Action, Adventure
Platforms: PC
Price:
$29.99
Rating:
M for Mature

 

Jonathan Chey is a man who is familiar with transitions. After Blue Sky Productions (not to be confused with Disney’s Blue Sky Studios) transitioned into Looking Glass Studios, Ken Levine, Jonathan Chey, and Robert Fermier were names dwarfed under the weight of Warren Spector, producer of System Shock. In 1997, the latter three formed Irrational Games, finishing System Shock 2, and laying the foundation for what would become Bioshock. In the years to follow, Take-Two would acquire Irrational Games as an asset, and Chey would reinvent himself yet again by founding another company, Blue Manchu Games. Already having tried his hand—pun intended—with the F2P digital tabletop game Card Hunter, Chey returns to his roots with a System Shock hybrid, Void Bastards.

Content Guide

When I say the language is crude (but funny), I mean it!

The first order of business should be addressing this game’s titular namesake, specifically, the word that my internet profanity filter censors. As both an English scholar and man who as a child, frequently fielded the question, “Why do you and your brother have different last names?” I am well-acquainted with the term, not because anyone ever called me one, but because swears are often naturally the first words a curious child researches when armed with a dictionary for the first time. 

Some of our readers may blush at the word “bastard,” for in some households, it is a “third-tier” swear,  along with “hell” and “pissed (off).” Their discomfort is understandable considering the term’s etymology, derived from various European languages during the High Middle Ages, with meanings attached such as “illegitimate child,” “marriage,” “lust” and “kinship.” Therefore, the first definition is often a child born out of wedlock, and is thus “illegitimate” in terms of inheritance. In modern times, we use terminology such as “single parent,” displacing the blame for the offspring’s existence away from him or her, and onto the (ir)responsible parties. In ye olden days, a bastard might have been competition for the (Game of) throne(s), or the shame of a mother; the theology we practice in the 21st century however, remembers Psalm 127: 3-5, that “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.”

Modern usages of “bastard” are arguably more vulgar, as its usage can range from a euphemism for “a**hole” to an inferior product, or one who deserves sympathy. In the context of Void Bastards, the application is the latter—poor, expendable souls. 

There is arguably one image in the game that could be considered provocative.

This game also features some of the “first-tier” swears. One enemy, the Scribe, floats around muttering four-letter obscenities to himself. I may have heard a few other enemies cuss, too.

Despite the profanity, I think that Void Bastards could pass as a T-rated game for older teens. It is completely devoid of sex or spiritual taboos, and the violence is comical. Enemies pop in a cartoonish explosion upon death, and the “blood” splattering everywhere is the same hue as the enemies themselves like a balloon sleeve, even if a dismembered head remains on the ground momentarily. Much of the humor is analogous to Futurama or Family Guy in terms of appropriateness; if Void Bastards reminded me more of Duckman or Archer, I would certainly recommend this game for adults. 

Review

Void Bastards is LIT!

Though I have provided all of this reading material thus far, Void Bastards is a game that, for many, came out of nowhere. Word-of-mouth (and of course, a promo from Humble Bundle, who generously provided this review code) alerted me to this game. With promotional material boldly proclaiming that this game draws inspiration from Bioshock and System Shock, I had to give it the smell test. 

What I remember most about the Bioshock franchise are its Atlus-shattering plot twists, especially in Infinite. Would you kindly take note that Void Bastards is devoid of any profound story element? In fact, the story is intentionally generic for comic effect, naming each player-character the Client. Underscoring the game’s clever self-realization, Blue Manchu bestows upon it a comic book aesthetic, an effective art style given the game’s ever-present humor. For what Void Bastards lacks in purpose, it provides instead, chuckles. 

Like in System Shock (or its cousin, Prey), one will explore derelict vessels, but without a circumscribing narrative explaining why, the game provides a banal reason to do so: collect them all! Yes, underneath the veneer of Void Bastards is an elaborate collectathon. The Client must acquire this, that, and the other to advance the game’s “plot,” only to discover that more McGuffins are necessary for progress. 

By the time everything is all said and done, this entire screen should be full of items that  crafted from collectables.

The process of collecting-them-all, though, is not a humdrum process.  In fact, this is where the signature emergent gameplay of System Shock and Prey shine through the combination of random number and procedural generation. While late-game Void Bastards encroach upon redundancy when Lux Cruisers all have suites and dining halls, and all Otori craft have mechanical pet rooms, the combination of ship layouts, environmental hazards, enemy placement, item locations, and player loadouts is what makes this game magical.  

Just about every ship has a helm, an atmosphere room, security room, FTL drive, generator, habitat (HAB), and others also include a warp room, garbage disposal, tubes, gene therapy machine, or surgery theater. To translate these rooms for my readers, vessels include a room that maps where all the good loot is located on ship, an oxygen tank, the security override, fuel for your own ship, the power plant, the sterilizer, warp drive activation, a recycle bin for crafting, torpedoes, the machine that giveth and taketh away quirks, and a heal bot. 

A ship without a helm (map). Well, time to look in every nook and cranny!

Deterring exploration, are the citizens found onboard. They are given these names with tongue-in-cheek, for they are as civil as demons in DOOM. In fact, many of the enemies in Void Bastards parallel hellish minions. The game introduces first the Janitor (Imp) and the Screw (hell knight), cautioning Clients to pay attention to their echoing footsteps and lumbering stomps. The unattentive will be chased from room to room, shot into oblivion. Later levels introduce additional citizens such as the tourist, or wandering blobs that function like Bob-ombs if Clients get too close, dealing massive damage to anything living. Spooks ghost around, disappearing and reappearing behind Clients to strike hard. Patents remind me of Lost Souls, except that they are clusters of the same thing. As Clients find enough specific dodads to Build the Thing, the game will require exploration into deeper space, where higher level versions of citizens await. 

Fret not! Pink bubbles = friendly!

Ships themselves can be dangerous weapons, too. The smell of garbage dumps will disorient clients, rendering accurate aiming impossible for a time. Toxic waste dumps cause radiation poisoning, resulting in Clients taking DOT. Fires and electrical hazards can rapidly issue critical quantities of damage without proper protective gear. And then—yes, there is more—static defenses such as automated turrets and the seek-and-destroy Secbots can absolutely ruin a Client’s day.

Any or all of these dangers may await Clients on any given ship, providing good reason to lock all doors manually…if a ship’s unique properties allow for it. Ah yes, on some ships, everything is dark, and Clients will have to activate the generator before doing anything else. Other ships are high in security or hazards like radiation or low oxygen. On rare occasion, Clients may find vessels with no enemies on them, or the security working in his or her favor. What keeps this collectathon interesting even if visually repetitive, is that no two ships are precisely identical. Placements are the same. I have had to turn right back around once, when a security bot spawned in the first room!

Ameliorating the Building of the Thing, are other Things That Can Be Built, used for offense. I will not waste too many words on pistols, shotguns, machine guns, grenades, health upgrades and hazard resistances—no doubt, they all have clever names, but they function the same way they do in any other FPS. I will focus on my preferred armaments. The spiker shoots poison syringes that deal DOT damage; most importantly, it is silent. The rifter phases enemies out of existence, and can be brought back into reality at the Client’s convenience; preferably, through a window in a locked room. The zapper simply stuns mechanical things practically forever; I say simply, but this weapon that does the least damage in the game may very well be the best in the game.  Lastly, the Kittybot and its upgrades are as adorable as they are effective; unleash this, and citizens will chase them, damaging them until they explode into oblivion. By far, it is my favorite weapon.

Thank goodness for locked doors, because I ain’t got no ammo!

All of these elements combined is what makes Void Bastards an overall blast to play. For example, a vessel with low oxygen where the atmosphere room is across the ship, and there are lots of Janitors walking about, and I bring along a spiker. Well, I may run out of oxygen and asphyxiate before making it to that oxygen room. Or, I leave my zapper behind and encounter more turrets than citizens! Or, I save enough money for vending machines and I can purchase multiple parts for upgrades, saving me trips to more ships!

One of the selling points of Void Bastards is that Clients are expected to die, and each has his or her own perks. For example, I started with a smoker, a negative quirk causing him to cough on occasion, alerting nearby enemies. He did not last long, and I rolled a diminutive Client, who was too short to see squat (cough). He died faster than the first guy! Lastly, I rolled a dude who triggers security cameras faster than average; by then, I had become privy to the game’s mechanics, found a gene therapy machine, and removed the negative quirks and stacked positive quirks such as “does not make noise when running” and “oxygen lasts longer than normal.” After building a heart starter (revive), I never permanently died again, dying only a total of four times during my entire run. In other words, Void Bastards is fun, but too easy for those seasoned in any combination of stealthy, strategic, or FPS games. Imagine my disappointment when among a stellar OST, I never heard my favorite track, “Walk the Plank,” in the game because I always had a certain item that prevented the relevant event from triggering? Also, muffled giggles are in order for a track called “Unnecessary Cavity Search.” I did say that the humor in this game was crude, after all.

Gotta catch, er, collect em all!

I reiterate: despite being a collectathon Void Bastards is a delightful experience. The comic book aesthetic fondly reminds me of Comix Zone, and who could forget the voice actor from The Stanley Parable? The amalgamation of multiple independently great mechanics results in a game that lasts just long enough before I became weary of it, though I will return long enough to at least 100% All the Things to Build. 

Categories
Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: The Occupation (PS4)

Developer: White Paper Games

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Genre: Stealth

Platforms: Playstation 4Xbox OnePC

Rating: Teen

Price: $29.99

In The Occupation, players assume two character roles, who are both trying to get to the bottom of a nefarious terrorist attack and prevent the “Union Act” which stands to threaten civil liberties in the name of security. Also swept up in the events of the game is an innocent man of whom you can try to uncover evidence to prove that he had nothing to do with the attack. So does this stealthy reporter game get the front page, or is it delegated to the classifieds? Read on to find out, citizen.

Content Guide

Drugs and alcohol:

Characters are seen smoking and drinking in-game and during cutscenes. Cigarettes can be purchased from vending machines.

Mature Themes:

Conversations center around a recent tragic event where lives were lost. Some characters call it a terrorist attack. Discussions of freedom versus security also come up.

Review

Played entirely in first person, The Occupation is primarily a stealth game. Yes, you’re trying to stop injustice and lies from being perpetrated by those in power trying to pass the Union Act, but most of your time will be spent sneaking into off-limits areas, locked offices, and air ducts. As you’re snooping about, you’ll be trying to get information via emails, floppy discs, or anything else you can use to leverage the next person you talk to. Having said items opens up new avenues in the conversation tree. If you don’t have any leverage, you’re left to letting them rattle off to their own devices, getting you nowhere.

Speaking of floppy discs, there are nods everywhere that the game takes place sometime just before the technological boom; computers take 3.5” “floppy” discs, the reporter character has a pager, and physical tape recorders and answering machines are everywhere. The world-building is great in The Occupation: offices feel inhabited, and notes and memos litter the desks and message boards. People are chided about their passwords or invited to social events, and they seem like notes to real-life persons.

The Occupation started out feeling like a walking simulator, but later added stealth requirements after the introductory mission. The penalty for being caught is minor; your character will end up in the security office getting a scolding, basically only setting you back minutes spent in real time. The reporter can check his watch to see or remind you how much time you have until your next interview or event. However, be careful when you do this. I once was scolded by a NPC I was talking to when I checked my watch, as he felt I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation.

The game does drop hints, such as a sign outside an office indicating when it will be cleaned, to give you an idea of when you might be caught if you are in there. Unfortunately, in this example, the janitor got “stuck” in the doorway and made it so I couldn’t infiltrate said office and get the information I needed to leverage in my next interview. Other NPCs walk around on patrol, giving you small windows to sneak in and out of areas.

Notice on the bulletin board his cleaning schedule. Unfortunately he got stuck in the doorway for about half an hour.

All of your interactions in The Occupation require multiple inputs, such as pressing “square” then moving “left stick.” It makes everything feel very tactile, and does a good job of drawing you in. It can be annoying or frustrating when you’re not sure if it’s working, like when you’re pulling on something heavy, but these moments are rare. Drawers can be opened, blinds can be closed, tea and cigarettes can be bought from vending machines, notes can be read. You can interact with almost any object, no matter how trivial.

The downside is that this isn’t a world I want to occupy for very long—where games like Hitman or Deus Ex reward patient stealth with an easy, rare kill, or less enemies to fight later, The Occupation rewards you with…better interviews? The sit-down interview feels like the least interesting part of the game, as you try to glean more information and present any facts you’ve found to your interviewee. The voice-acting and facial animation is okay, but not great, and the characters gave me a weird vibe since they look realistic, but not quite 100%. Think something between We Happy Few and The Sims. The uncanny valley is real.

Overall, if you’re looking for a chill game without any killing or violence, well, this isn’t it. The real-time crunch keeps you on your toes as you sneak about, trying to find more information. The lack of on-screen violence may appeal to some gamers, but in the end, I found myself a bit bored with The Occupation.

Review code generously provided by Humble Bundle.
Categories
Community Podcast

GUGcast: Episode 159 – GUG in 2019 and Animated Comic Adaptations

Find us on PodbeanApple PodcastsGoogle Play, and Spotify!

We kick things off by sharing or hopes for GUG in 2019. For news we discuss Nintendo games joining the Humble store, the new Batman movie starting development, and the Deadpool show still a possibility. We also answer a question future animated comic adaptations thanks to Into the Spiderverse.

 

 

GAMING

Erik Wolpaw Returns To Valve
https://gamerant.com/erik-wolpaw-valve-return/

Rumored Alien Isolation sequel announced for mobile
https://gamerant.com/alien-blackout-mobile/

 

Humble Store adds Nintendo
https://www.humblebundle.com/store/promo/nintendo/?hmb_source=store_home

 

MOVIES

Batman Starts Development in November
https://screenrant.com/the-batman-warner-bros-november-filming-start/

 

Feige on X-Men Characters
https://screenrant.com/marvel-mcu-obscure-xmen-characters-future/

 

 

TELEVISION

Persona 5 Animation wrapping up
https://screenrant.com/persona-5-anime-special-2019-teaser

 

Deadpool Show Still Possible – Rob Liefeld
https://screenrant.com/deadpool-animated-tv-show-future/

 

Carmen Sandiego Trailer
https://screenrant.com/carmen-sandiego-tv-show-trailer-netflix/

 

 

MORE INFO

Send us your questions!
[email protected]

Represent the Podcast with the official shirt!
www.geeksundergrace.com/shop

For more Geeks Under Grace:
For more Cody Armour:
 For more Joe Morgan:
For more Shelley Waltar:
If you’d like to contact our producer:
[email protected]