Posts Tagged ‘Early Access’

Premature Evaluation: The Magic Circle

By Marsh Davies on May 18th, 2015.

One of the things I like most about The Magic Circle is its name. It captures the illusory nature of these conjured worlds, their potential for wonder and the artistry that informs them. Celebrated sentient beard and author Alan Moore has, in his mischievous way, declared himself a magician and all art a kind of magic. Defining art as the act of creating illusions to work an effect on the mind of the audience, he claims this is as close to a shamanistic understanding of magic as we have in this century.

Each week Marsh Davies plays unfinished and broken games on Early Access and usually tries to come up with an introductory sentence which says exactly this while using imagery appropriate to the idiom of the given week’s game. But the idiom of this week’s game is being an unfinished and broken game! So, job done. It’s The Magic Circle [Steam page], a game set within a game, in which the player edits the properties of the world around him while exploring the strata of the game’s many abandoned developmental stages, unravelling the story of its creators in the process.

I have tamed Jim Rossignol’s bumhole. I’ve also made Jim Rossignol’s bumhole fireproof, which is just as well, since Jim Rossignol’s bumhole spews gouts of flame when angered. Jim Rossignol’s bumhole has a lightning rod jammed in it, too, which deactivates forcefields. With my latest effort, Jim Rossignol’s bumhole has sprouted a little propeller, allowing Jim Rossignol’s bumhole to fly about. John Walker’s angry red Weeto has many of the same properties, and it should surprise no one that Alec Meer’s huge husky third leg is shaped like a ginormous mushroom.

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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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Jagged Alliance With Skellingtons: Battle Brothers

By Adam Smith on May 6th, 2015.

Mercenaries are great. I’ve never met one in real life, mind, and don’t think I’d want to, but they’re invariably great when they pop up in games. Perhaps part of the appeal is that their apparent amorality lets us play soldiers without considering politics or aftermath – whatever the reasons may be, I’m usually glad to see a band of guns/swords-for-hire. Whether they’re a shortcut to short-term success in a strategy game or the delightful bastards of Jagged Alliance, the mercenaries of gaming are alright with me.

Now we can add Battle Brothers [official site] to the list of Good Mercenary Games. Currently in Early Access, it’s a very lovely thing indeed.

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Premature Evaluation: Exanima

By Marsh Davies on May 4th, 2015.

Exanima has an unusual relationship to the body. Its physical simulation of every limb creates a greater sense of your avatar as a real tangible object. And yet, at the same time, the fact that you can’t control it with the same instancy as you can your own body actually distances you from the avatar, perhaps to a greater degree than a less nuanced control-scheme might. I feel like comprehensive physics simulation could go through the same sticky patch as motion control did on consoles, where it proved a less efficient conduit between player intent and avatar expression than just pressing a button.

Each week Marsh Davies lurches drunkenly through the dank cloisters of Early Access and brings back any stories he can find and/or spasms like a misfiring physics object caught in a doorway. This week he wobbles and flails in the low-fantasy RPG Exanima, a smaller standalone “prelude” to the Kickstarted open world game Sui Generis.

Exanima isn’t like other RPGs, the Steam store page tells you with some insistence. It’s true for several reasons, but the most obvious is its fully physics-modelled combat which renders close quarters engagements as tense, tactical affairs conducted between two or more appallingly drunk people. Every collision has a physical effect, as subtle or extreme as the speed with which it occurs, and so combat is about caution and timing, dodging incoming swings and finding the time to wind up, directing your weapon in a sweep to connect with your opponent’s most vital areas with the most momentum possible. At least, it’s about these things inasmuch as these things are even possible while piloting someone with a near-lethal blood-alcohol level.

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Premature Evaluation: Trine 3

By Marsh Davies on April 27th, 2015.

While thinking of puns for the slug of this article, it occurred to me to wonder about the origins of “triumph”. It’s hard to see how its modern meaning might derive from - what I assumed to be - an association with the number three. This did not turn out to have a simple answer. Indeed, H. S. Versnel dedicates a considerable number of pages to the topic in his 411 page book “TRIUMPHUS: An Inquiry Into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph”, and quotes heavily from scholars arguing about ancient Greek while talking in German and French.

Each week Marsh Davies swings gamely into the haunted temple of Early Access and brings back any stories he can find and/or tumbles indecorously onto a bed of wooden stakes. This week: third time’s the charm (maybe) for the triply protagonist’d physics-platforming sequel, Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power.

Frozenbyte have really tripled-down on the rule of three: three games, three protagonists and, now, three whole dimensions. Preceding games in the series have reserved the x-axis for set-dressing, sumptuously parallaxing behind the co-op-enabled chaos unfolding in a fixed plane, left-to-right. Now they’ve added depth, at least in a literal sense, and they want fan feedback on how well this works. To whit, a roughly hewn slab of game is now available on Early Access, reuniting the game’s three interchangeable but asymmetrically-talented heroes for a little over two hours. It’s unabashedly buggy and part-implemented – the proposition phrased as though it were a tentative proof of concept or a wild experiment. This is a reasonable use of Early Access, I think, although not an especially cheap one for eager beta-testers, and, given the quantity of the existing game and the predicted late-2015 launch date, it doesn’t look like an experiment from which Frozenbyte could now easily back away (along the y-axis, one assumes).

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Premature Evaluation: Survarium

By Marsh Davies on April 20th, 2015.

Survarium may be one of several games claiming to be a spiritual successor to STALKER, but it offers one substantial twist: the apocalypse that has swept the earth is not one instigated by nuclear catastrophe; instead, the Earth’s very own flora has rebelled, wreaking ecological revenge upon humanity for its many crimes against the natural world. It’s the latest intriguing shift in the deployment of Soviet-era sci-fi motifs that have come to parallel the resonances that Godzilla has in Japan. Both are emblematic of the nuclear catastrophes that each culture has suffered and the overweening pride that impels humankind to create such forces of devastation, believing it can control them.

Each week, Marsh Davies stalks through the reality-warping anomaly of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or gets turned inside out by a pocket of non-euclidean space. This week’s precious artifact is free-to-play online shooter Survarium, in which the remnants of humanity tussle over abandoned radar stations and chemical plants, long reclaimed by nature (and other, less natural phenomena).

It’s to Survarium’s credit that I want to play a lot more of it. Alas, after a handful of hours, the game data corrupts and subsequent attempts at reinstallation are consistently halted by a recursive nightmare of error messages which can only be broken by pouring a half-pint of lamb’s blood onto my keyboard and calling forth the hissing spirit of Task Manager to devour the process in question. Survarium is not a finished game, then. But, being supported by a somewhat unalluring muddle of microtransactable trousers and gasmasks, neither has it cost me a penny. All the same, after this brief encounter, I am left wondering: how much less unfinished is this since Jim looked at it a year ago?

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Premature Evaluation: Eastside Hockey Manager

By Emily Gera on April 13th, 2015.

As a citizen of Canada, it’s safe to say Paul Newman’s Slap Shot is the single greatest hockey movie of all time.

This is a film so mired in obscurity it’s not even possible to illegally torrent like its thematic cousin The Mighty Ducks, so allow me lay the scene for you instead. Slap Shot is perhaps Newman’s finest work: a comedy from the ’70s about a crappy mill-town hockey team who, after years of crumby results, decides to let their latest acquisitions, three brothers – depicted with glorious thug-moron precision – finally play. The brothers’ savage style of hockey reinvigorates their fanbase and the team is retooled using violence to draw in big crowds.

It’s a wonderful lesson for everyone: Embrace your talents, however impractical, illegal or violent they may be. This is the kind of meat-and-potatoes advice that helped turn Slap Shot into an honourary Canadian sports film and a favourite among the demographic of retirees who like anything vaguely nationalistic, all despite being filmed in Pennsylvania and havinng no Canadian actors.

But it’s a lesson you should follow to a T when playing Sports Interactive’s recently revived Eastside Hockey Manager.

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Space Beast Terror Fright Breaches Steam Early Access

By Alice O'Connor on April 8th, 2015.

Wait, no, don’t be put off by that name! Space Beast Terror Fright [official site] is a cracking little roguelikelike first-person shooter, more tense than any space marine game I’ve played since Aliens versus Predator in 1999.

SBTF dumps us into a deserted ship to salvage data from computers, set it to self-destruct, and escape, dodging hordes of aliens that kill us in one hit, and trying to control space by locking doors and activating sentry turrets. It’s pretty difficult. I dug the early demo, and now it’s moved onto Steam Early Access.

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Bientôt: Killing Floor 2 Due In Early Access This Month

By Alice O'Connor on April 8th, 2015.

Hey, it's me!

As luck would have it, I’ll be in Paris right when monstrous hordes are due to overrun the city. Tripwire Interactive have announced plans to release Killing Floor 2 [official site] onto Steam Early Access on April 21st, and I’ll be on the look out for – wait is that a lady with blue cyberhair in that screenshot – for myself?

The original was a barrel of murderfun, and I’m quite keen to return for more first-person face-shooting. Especially as one of the sequel’s big selling points is that faces (and other bodyparts) will explode in a squillion different gory ways.

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Premature Evaluation: Nosgoth

By Marsh Davies on April 6th, 2015.

It’s curious how far back the idea of drinking blood to replenish youth goes, given that we are only just now beginning to understand the benefits of transfusion. Recent research on mice has shown that a transfusion of young blood into an old body can indeed stimulate stem cells and invigorate ailing neurons. But experiments with transferring blood date back centuries, based on the most dubious understandings of science and mostly with disastrous and macabre results.

Each week Marsh Davies sinks his teeth into the hot, pumping artery of Early Access and drains its sweet lifegiving essence, leaving only a ragged skein of flesh when he’s done. This week he’s played (or free-to-played) Nosgoth, a team-based multiplayer game in which heavily-armed non-consenting blood-donors clash with the fanged forces of unlife.

The general mood has been less than charitable towards this project. It’s a multiplayer spin-off of Legacy of Kain, traditionally an action RPG series, a demo of which I think I brushed past on a PC Format coverdisk once, back in the days before games had invented a way to render the male nipple. But, I’m told, it had really good storytelling for the time, and how dare anyone decide to use this important and sophisticated fiction for something so trivial as a thirdperson asymmetric multiplayer game? Yet dare they have. And it seems they’ve made quite a well-considered one, in which deft movement and exact coordination trump headshots and button mashing, and the two teams of which, vampires and humans, offer very different play but surprising parity.

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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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Game On! Eastside Hockey Manager Returns

By Alice O'Connor on March 26th, 2015.

You know, if you’re longing for deeper, stat-heavy, party-managing RPGs, you might not go far wrong with a sports management sim. Beneath the sporting veneer lie all the tactics, behaviours, and numbers you could hope for. Sports games are other games in disguise. I was only taking the piss a little bit with that FIFA demo post calling it real-time tactical action, you know. Football Manager has a fair few fans here at RPS, and now its makers are getting back into ice hockey.

Developers Sports Interactive have revived the long-dormant Eastside Hockey Manager series [official site] with a surprise new game which launched onto Steam Early Access today.

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Twin-Stick Murderpals: Friendship Club On Early Access

By Alice O'Connor on March 25th, 2015.

Friendship, my dear chum Pip will explain with groaning resignation, can be trying. (I don’t think ‘trying’ is the word she’d select.) Take Friendship Club official site too – not a game about chums chatting, dancing, Doting, and dining, but rather a competitive local multiplayer twin-stick shooter.

Up to four players blast away at each other with bouncy bullets which ricochet around procedurally-generated arenas, making for a lot of bullet-dodging sillymurder. It’s fine, it’s fine – you’re all playing the imaginary friends of a child named Timmy Bibble. Following a low-key alpha access run by makers Force of Habit, Friendship Club is now on Steam Early Access.

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