Posts Tagged ‘alpha review’

Premature Evaluation: Ronin

By Marsh Davies on June 1st, 2015.

It’s doubly tricky to avoid setting off alarms in Ronin because the levels occasionally repopulate with extra enemies who stumble upon your trail of corpses - corpses which you have no means of hiding. This is a terrible shame because furtively stacking corpses in closets is my number one favourite thing to do in stealth games, and probably also number one in the list of macabre game mechanics that you should not admit to enjoying loudly in public.

Each week Marsh Davies slices open Early Access like the soft belly of a hapless Yakuza goon and roots around inside for any stories he can find. This week he’s playing Ronin – a game about infiltrating 2D-cutaway buildings and dicing their occupants up via a sharp-as-hell turnbased combat system.

“Tip: this is not Gunpoint,” says a little message on the screen. It’s not wrong. While playing Gunpoint, for example, I never punched my monitor so hard that it flickered to a blank white for several seconds, during which I fearfully grovelled in apology to the gods. Ronin is heavily inspired by Gunpoint, however – a fact which, to forestall the needlessly defensive cries of “Clone!”, seems to delight Gunpoint’s creator, my good chum Tom Francis. And regardless of its origins, Ronin now plays really quite differently (not least because of the tantrum-inducing lack of a manual save system). You can still leap across moonlit rooftops in elegant parabolas, scuttle up the sides of skyscrapers and sling yourself through their plate glass windows, but, once inside, the player’s purpose is less about open-ended stealth puzzling than it is strategic slaughter.

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Premature Evaluation: Black Mesa

By Marsh Davies on May 11th, 2015.

Alt-text is having a week off to recover from the election. Soz.

Each week Marsh Davies latches onto Early Access like a brain-eating alien parisitoid and slurps up any stories he can find. This week we’re back in Black Mesa [official site] – the classy fan remake of Half-Life 1 in a hybrid version of the Source engine which was used for its sequels. An incomplete release of the project was made available on Steam for free last year, but the Early Access incarnation is a more polished, ongoing, funded development, with additional chapters planned, multiplayer, workshop integration and modding tools.

If the past is another country, then it’s one under constant mnemonic invasion from the present. This is doubly true of moments from a distant childhood, a time when experience was already enlarged so dramatically by the imagination, when the emotional significance of toys, or books, or games far exceeded their actual sophistication – and it is these responses which then endure in memory, rewriting the reality. 22 years of brain death has sneakily uprezzed my recollection of the original Syndicate, for example, transforming it into a glorious cyberpunk cityscape that its crude, mud-paletted pixels have never really deserved. So when I say Black Mesa is every bit as good as the Half-Life I remember playing 17 years ago, you’ll understand that I’m praising something much greater than an act of recreation.

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Premature Evaluation: 3d Bridges

By Marsh Davies on March 30th, 2015.

As will no doubt be evident from this article, I really know approximately fuck all about bridge construction. This despite living close to several historic bridges: the Clifton Suspension bridge, for instance, or Bath’s Pulteney Bridge - one of only four in the world with shops running the full length down either side! Wow! But living in Bath, where the city traffic is perpetually stricken by the paucity of crossings over its multiple waterways, I do have an appreciation for one particular function of bridges: they make excellent chokepoints. There are not a shortage of examples of this throughout military history, but if I were to pick a favourite, then the Battle of Stamford Bridge certainly has a lot going for it: it’s not only one of the most pivotal moments in British history, and has phenomenal military feats on both sides, but it’s preceded by one of the all-time most awesome threats ever to have been uttered.

Each week Marsh Davies scuttles nervously over the creaking, makeshift architecture of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or plunges to his doom amid a shower of twisting metal. This week, he dons his hardhat and unfolds the blueprint for 3d Bridges, a physics-based construction puzzler in which you construct – yes! – bridges and then run a truck over them to test both their mettle and their metal. It also turns out to be standalone level pack otherwise included in the more sandboxy 3D Bridge Engineer toolkit – which is also on Early Access. They are not entirely as terrible as they might first look. Not entirely.

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Premature Evaluation: Medieval Engineers

By Marsh Davies on March 2nd, 2015.

The toothy, undulating stonework battlements is often called crenelation, crenels being the gaps (from which we get the word 'cranny') and the protrusions being called, variously, cops or merlons. It's not entirely clear where the word 'merlon' comes from - conflicting attributions give it a Latin origin meaning pitchfork and, oddly, blackbird. One suggestion is that the word for blackbird is used in this way because it suggests things perched along a wall. Bit of a stretch, I think.

Each week Marsh Davies punches a hole through the vertiginous walls of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or watches with grotesque, wet-lipped arousal as the entire structure disassembles in a shower of hot, hot physics. This week, he makes, then mounts, the battlements in Medieval Engineers, a castle construction sandbox. And then he unmakes them, too.

Once you’ve built a castle in Medieval Engineers, you can look at it, hit CTRL-C, then CTRL-V and paste a brick-for-brick duplicate of your entire complex anywhere else in the level. Including the sky – though they are not wont to stay there for very long. Castles, despite a plethora of idiomatic song titles suggesting otherwise, are very much a ground based medium, and when placed in the sky, they attempt to revert to form, with glorious physics-enabled results.

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Premature Evaluation: Eden Star

By Marsh Davies on February 23rd, 2015.

A drop of fairy liquid and some hot water should sort these fellows out.

Each week, Marsh Davies crashlands into the hostile alien landscape that is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or an acute appreciation of how precious are the few fleeting moments of life allotted to us on this Earth and whether it really constitutes a full life, a good life, to spend the ever-diminishing number of hours and minutes clicking on virtual trees to turn them into virtual logs. Nevertheless, this week, he survives yet another survival game – this one called Eden Star, in which resource scrabbling is appended with tower-defence-style fortification on a distant planet.

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Premature Evaluation: Monstrum

By Marsh Davies on February 16th, 2015.

Given how utterly terrifying, unknown and lethal the sea has been to humans throughout recorded history, maritime horror is a remarkably underused setting in games. Perhaps it's a British thing, being an island nation obsessed with naval superiority, that stories of ghost ships and sea monsters are so particularly resonant: the largest percentage of our idioms are nautical references. By and large, if you can’t fathom what a phrase means, it probably comes from sailing. In fact, “by and large” and “fathom” are nautical terms. The same goes for: cut and run, toe the line, know the ropes, touch and go. You can build entire statements out of them alone: “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but anyone who is three sheets to the wind is a bit of a loose cannon and should be given a wide berth, even if, normally, you like the cut of their jib.” Nautical terms pop up in unusual places. Slush fund, for example, comes from the practice of hoarding the rancid fat from boiled meat so that it might be sold on at port. Yummy.

Each week Marsh Davies skittishly edges into the gloomy bowels of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or simply hides in a locker and tries not to cry too loudly. This week he dons his brownest trousers and hopes never to face his fears in Monstrum, a firstperson horror game set on a boat that procedurally reconfigures its layout every time you get eaten.

My, hasn’t the Find Some Things While Being Chased By A Thing genre come a long way? Only two and half years ago it was largely consigned to the realms of shonky boo-scare creepypasta homage. Now we have dozens upon dozens of iteratively-improved indie imitators, and even the lustrously-rendered likes of Alien: Isolation, which took Slender’s sandbox-scare principles to the triple-A firmament. You’d think, after all the shrieky reaction-cams, exhaustively explored lockers and soiled pants, that a new entrant of this genre would have to try ever so hard to be as effective – and, to its credit, Monstrum does give an earnest shake to the basics, inasmuch as the procedurally arranged cabins and corridors give its replays a Roguish unpredictability. But, largely, this is a retreat from the fulsome narrative structures of Alien or Outlast to something more simple and, ahem, slender: a gloomy environment and stuff to find in it, before something finds you and permadeaths you through the brain.

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Premature Evaluation: Besiege

By Marsh Davies on February 9th, 2015.

Besiege’s depiction of war is largely that of the middle ages, with a few fanciful additions - flight and the self-powering of your engine being the most obvious. Flamethrowers, though, actually date back quite a lot further: Thucydides attests to something of the sort being used by the Boeotians in the Battle of Delium in 424 BC. It consisted of a large cauldron of pitch suspended at a jaunty angle below a tube through which air was pumped using bellows. The tube curled back into the cauldron’s mouth, farting air into the burning tar and causing huge jets of flame to shriek out, engulfing the wooden defences and anyone foolish enough to be standing on them. Apparently, combined with the erosive infusion of piss and vinegar, the flames would crack stone, too. (The phrase “full of piss and vinegar”, however, seems unrelated, first appearing in John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle some 2360 years later.)

Each week Marsh Davies hurls himself at the colossal walls of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or soaks the earth with the blood of his fallen foes. This week he is catapulted into Besiege, a beautiful, physics-based, build-your-own-ballista game.

Dr Blam is a killing machine. He does not have a medical licence. What he does have is a trio of metal braziers mounted at one end of a large wooden frame, each cupping an oversized explosive ball. The braziers are also attached to springs, stretched taut and fixed to armatures at the other end of the frame. Press a button and the braziers explosively decouple from their moorings while a set of three pistons gives them a little bit of extra lift, the springs contract, and the braziers twang upwards and forwards, slinging their contents in a long arc. Most of the time they even go in the right direction. Dr Blam is not really interested in surgical precision, but if the patient under his tender administration is a castle or a flock of sheep, then a messy lesson in anatomy is guaranteed.

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Premature Evaluation: Tiny Trek

By Marsh Davies on February 2nd, 2015.

RPS Season 8: A diplomatic mission turns into a disaster when Jim kisses the wrong kind of eel. Alice finds Pip hibernating in her favourite pillowcase.

Each week Marsh Davies boldly goes where only a small cadre of erratic and often unintelligible Steam reviewers have gone before – Early Access – and comes back with any stories he can find. This week he sucks in his beer-gut, stretches on his gold spandex top and prepares to beam down into Tiny Trek, a procedurally generated lo-fi space-faring sim.

Back when I lived alone in a graveyard, in a forest, in isolation, and had a lot of time on my hands, I would occasionally entertain myself by trying to impersonate Jean-Luc Picard’s replicator request for “Early Grey! Hot! Black!”, sometimes for hours on end. How we used to laugh, my imaginary friends and I, as I’d command Ensign Woodlouse to take us to warp, or open diplomatic communications with the mould patch in my bathroom that had begun to resemble a screaming face. I can’t have that sort of fun these days because my housemate is liable to walk in and tell me to put my trousers back on. But, suffice to say, I am WELL UP for a digital Star Trek fantasy that offers just the right amount of engagement for my labrador-like attention span.

Unfortunately, Tiny Trek is not it. Not yet.
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Premature Evaluation: Armello

By Marsh Davies on January 26th, 2015.

“This is what the future of George Monbiot’s re-wilding policy looks like,” he typed, realising he would not be able to come up with a less obscure joke by his copy deadline.

Each week Marsh Davies sidles into the shadowy world of intrigue that is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or a knife in the back. This week, he plugs in his bunny tail and assassinates anthropomorphised animals with an umbrella in Armello, a digital boardgame of machiavellian power plays.

It would take an Australian developer, apparently not content with harbouring the most deadly creatures on the planet, to advocate giving swords to wolves. Real nice, Australia. Real nice. Why not put stilettos into the tiny claws of rats, while you’re at it? How about making bears into deadly wizards? Go on, give rabbits concealed blades disguised as parasols, why don’t you?

Then make them fight. Oh, you did? Oh.

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Premature Evaluation: Vagante

By Marsh Davies on January 19th, 2015.

Vagante is Italian, if you’re wondering. Or rather, if you’re wandering. It means “wandering”, is what I’m saying. So, that’d be a hard “g” with an audible trailing “e”.

Each week Marsh Davies shuffles apprehensively into the dank catacombs of Early Access and returns with any stories he can find and/or a faceful of cycloptic bat guano. This week he quaffs an unidentified cyan potion and throws himself onto a bed of spikes, repeatedly, in procedural permadeath platformer Vagante, a particularly Roguish Spelunkalike.

Did you play Spelunky and think, “What this really needs is to be a lot darker, with several additional layers of complication and a much less parseable tileset”? Somebody out there did, and judging by the wholly positive Steam reviews, at least 68 other folk did as well.

I can’t claim to be one of these strange, troglodytic creatures, but then I also must confess that it took me many concerted attempts before I finally fell beneath Spelunky’s subterranean charm. Maybe it’ll happen with Vagante. It hasn’t quite yet – although some several dozen misadventures later, I am warming to it. It manages that rare trick, as Spelunky did, of making failure the most entertaining part. It’s certainly the most plentiful. My sorties into the underworld have ended in the digestive cavities of man-eating plants, as demon-dog dinners, beneath boulders, in spike-pits and in pieces, thanks to the Bandit King’s axe. But throughout, my most dangerous enemy has been myself – my incaution, my stupidity, my insatiable desire to immediately glug every pungent, bubbling concoction I find in the bottom of a barrel. If I discover a helmet made out of jelly, I’m wearing it. And then, when I realise it’s cursed, I’m going to drink my unidentified inventory dry, set myself on fire, and teleport into a pool of piranhas.

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Premature Evaluation: Distance

By Marsh Davies on January 12th, 2015.

I’d like to see a series of Top Gear in which “the lads” are injected into an imploding cyber-horror unreality. Come on, Clarkson, say something off-colour about this giant buzz-saw you’re about to plough into.

Each week Marsh Davies revs his engines and tears off into the nightmarish neon digiscape of Early Access and returns with any stories he can find and/or skid marks. This week he speeds into the distance in, er, Distance – a hallucinatory “Survival Racing” game.

“Survival Racing” say the developers. It’s an ominous appellation that suggests players might have to rumble along the verges on wooden wheels, shunting rubber trees until they’ve shaken enough ingredients loose to build some tyres. Fear not – Distance isn’t that sort of survival game. It is, in fact, a time-attack obstacle course apparently set inside the cheese-dream of a Tron lightcycle. You play as some sort of car AI in some sort of collapsing simulation – the “story” of the story mode is just as deep as it needs to be – and you must speed through these pulsating landscapes of monolithic black shards and streaking neon, all while avoiding inexplicable laser hazards and performing rad stunts. Naturally, there is a throbbing electro soundtrack, too.

It’s already terrifically entertaining. Merely weaving through the stacks and overpasses of this world to the pulse of the music offers a baseline level of aesthetic scintillation, but the game builds and builds upon its core driving model until you are flipping between perpendicular roadways, flying, boosting, jumping with split-second precision as the rhythm pounds and the environment itself contorts and explodes. Cool.

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Life is Feudal Alpha: Is It Worth Playing Yet?

By Angus Morrison on October 10th, 2014.

They don’t teach Terraforming like they used to.

Life is Feudal wants to be a “realistic-fictional Medieval hardcore sandbox MMORPG”, give or take an adjective.

A warning before we fish for the meaning in that sea of descriptors: Life is Feudal is Early Access, a point the devs take pains to communicate, but this isn’t ARMA III Early Access. It’s not even DayZ Early Access, which was held together by duct tape and rags on release. Life is Feudal is sketch-on-the-back-of-a-napkin Early Access, and you’ll have to squint to see what the picture is.

Swear fealty at this stage and you’re buying a vertiginous £25 worth of idea. But there it is, staking a claim on the Steam bestseller list. I struck out to found my fiefdom and see how its promises are being put into play.

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The Lighthouse Customer – Lichdom: Battlemage

By Christopher Livingston on June 23rd, 2014.

I came here to cast spells and chew gum and I have plenty of both.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, first-person spellcasting and spellcrafting with Lichdom: Battlemage.

As a battlemage, I am imbued with arcane might: deadly firestorms, freezing ice blasts, and crackling electrical bolts. I hold my magic-infused hands up in front of me in an awkward, unnatural fashion at all times, as if I’m a giant praying mantis or a Microsoft marketing executive presenting at E3. And, I wrestle with the same ancient dilemma all great sorcerers have faced, from Merlin to Dumbledore: do I want to use a Charging Smart Trap AOE Pattern with +17% chance of critical damage or stick with the Charging Targeted Pattern of Persistence with +14% status effect duration? As Gandalf said: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS NOW THAT I’VE GOT +28% BURN DAMAGE ON KILL FOR 9 SECONDS!”

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