Posts Tagged ‘alpha review’

Premature Evaluation: Angels Fall First

One of the emerging themes of these alt-texts appears to be how useless humans are at anticipating anything outside of their immediate experience - whether that’s preparing for a fringe weather event like a flash flood or appreciating the essential inhumanity of a non-biological super intelligence. It’s particularly true in science fiction, where we frequently find implausible projections of earth-bound 20th century life. I think I’ve quoted Solyaris’s drunken scientist before, as he complains how inward-looking humanity is in its pursuit of the stars: “We just want to extend the earth up to the cosmos's borders. We don't want any more worlds. Only a mirror to see our own in.” There’s nothing more emblematic of this than our inability to imagine space combat in anything other than direct analogies to 20th century naval and aerial warfare.

Each week Marsh Davies screeches out the airlock as part of a frontline assault upon the forces of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or makes no appreciable difference to the war effort whatsoever. This week he’s fodder for the 64-man battles of Angels Fall First, a promising indie alternative to the likes of Battlefront, with space combat to boot.

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Premature Evaluation: The Flame In The Flood

Considering how large floods figure in the early myths of nearly every culture on the planet, they have been a surprisingly unpopular trope in Western apocalyptic fiction during the course of the last century. Despite terrible floods ravaging parts of the third world during my life-time - I particularly recall the news footage from Bangladesh in the 80s and 90s - it has really taken the advent of personal documentation with mobile phones and YouTube, as was proliferate in the flooding of New Orleans and the Japanese tsunami, to really bring home the incredible human horror of such events. So much so that even Hollywood was able to look piteously upon the reefs of corpses revealed by the receding floodwaters of Thailand’s 2004 tsunami, and ask, “Gosh, but what if it had happened to white people?” - as in The Impossible, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. Maybe such films do good, in a cynical, roundabout and kinda racist way; maybe that “what if” is really the only way to engage a complacent Western audience in sympathy with people of another skin colour. But I’m not convinced. I tend to think films like The Impossible permit a kind of callow self-pity, allowing a privileged audience to dip into the suffering of another people and come out unscathed, while at the same time reinforcing the notion that the outside world is a place full of chaos and death.

Each week Marsh Davies paddles through the polluted torrent which is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find, or otherwise tumbles overboard and lets himself sink beneath the surging water. This week he’s been fighting against the tide in The Flame In The Flood [official site], a survival game set in a drowned world, in which a girl and her dog paddle between islands looking for resources – then eventually fail to find them and die.

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Premature Evaluation: Hardland

Put on a mask in Hardland and you can pass undetected among the creatures it represents. Since this is clearly not a disguise that should really fool anybody, there’s something simultaneously slapstick and sinister about it, standing silently amid a herd of pigs with your own pig-hat, with its snub nose and inscrutable glassy eyes. Masks are creepy and weird - as pop-culture appears to be rediscovering with the likes of Hotline Miami, horse memes and True Detective. I feel they’re even weirder if you think about their gestation as a cultural artifact. Drawing or painting what we observe in the world, including faces, seems a too natural behaviour to evolve - but to go from that to creating a face that you can put over your own face is to take a big step into an entirely different realm of symbolism: a desire not only to represent the other but to transform yourself into it. Indeed, a large number of mask rituals across cultures hold the tradition that this is literally what occurs: that the wearers of masks aren’t merely performing a role, but have momentarily become the entity the mask represents.

Each week Marsh Davies gambols through the lush pastures of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or feeds some ham to a decapitated skeleton while dressed as a chicken. This week he’s been playing Hardland, an unusually gorgeous and imaginative ARPG set in a part-procedural bucolia of rolling hills and haunted forests.

Having no head, much less a stomach, it’s not wholly clear how the skeleton intends to eat the ham he’s begged me to fetch. But there he is, standing by the river in his oversized pauldrons, optimistically holding a saucepan, issuing dying wishes to passing chicken-headed men. As undying wishes go, though, to taste ham one last time is relatively benign and, the difficulties of his digestion aside, my part in this quest is trivial to fulfill. When I give him some ham, after several minutes of pelting round, waving my sword at pigs, the skeleton rewards me with a mask. A pig mask, in fact, which, much like the chicken mask I am currently wearing, successfully disguises me as the animal in question, allowing me to charm and, supposedly, command them, possibly in great numbers.

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Premature Evaluation: Ronin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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