Atom RPG Review

Atom RPG Review [PC] – Welcome To The Soviet Wastelands

Welcome to the Wastelands. No, no. We aren’t talking about Las Vegas or West Virginia. Welcome to the post-nuclear fallout badlands of Russia.

Set in 2005, Atom RPG places you directly in the boots of a Soviet special forces cadet tasked with assisting in the restoration of the Soviet Union after the Cold War ends in mutual nuclear destruction in 1986.

Made by indie developer AtomTeam in the style of Wasteland and Fallout 1 and 2, Atom RPG promises the best of classic RPGs, but is this adventure worth the time?

Much of the game operates similar to your standard classic RPG, and this is not a knock. Though nothing groundbreaking, everything from combat to character creation and the subsequent effect on the gameplay is well-designed.

Combat is grid-based with movement and attacks dictated by how many action points you possess. You will have two forms of attack costing more or less AP depending on which you choose. This can either be bare hand and feet attacks, long or short range weapons, or some combo of either. Thankfully, you will generally have more attack points to begin with than your early opponents.

Unfortunately, as I will explain shortly, you will discover rather quickly just how ill-equipped you are for the realities of the wastes almost immediately.

The best-laid plans of mutants and men often go awry in the wastelands. The skills and stats you choose during character creation will heavily affect your game, especially in the early stages. You can choose from the usual range of stats such as strength, endurance, and intelligence.

Your skill sets include weapons specialties such as Martial Arts for bare-handed knuckle-busting, long and short range weapons, gambling, survival, and lock picking. You also have the option to choose a “Distinction” which will auto-allocate your skill and stats points to create a very specified type of character for you.

These can be both a blessing and a curse. In fact, the downsides that come along with the “perks” of these distinctions might be worth avoiding altogether unless you already have a set strategy for the game.

For instance, you can choose to be a “Savage Hunter” which will drastically increase your damage to animals. However, no one will like you (you lose Personality points) and you will have trouble carrying all those animal skins with a significantly reduced carry weight. Some Distinctions like “Diplomat” which heavily focus on Speechcraft might not be a bad choice, but you have to make certain you deal with the fact your weapons skills will suffer significantly.

I chose to bypass the “Distinctions” and ended up making three separate characters throughout my time with Atom RPG. My third character was lower in Speechcraft and personality than the two previous, and I noticed how helpful being able to smooth talk my way through the world was from the get-go.

People easily volunteered additional information, and in one instance I was allowed through without proper papers. My other two characters were given a much harder time of things. Lockpicking came into handy right off the bat as well. It is amazing just how many locked containers I came across early on. But, I suppose that makes sense in a savage post-apocalyptic landscape.

Intelligence and mechanical skills will also come in handy during the first hour or so.

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Though I prefer a character more heavily skilled in the gift of gab, I gave my final character a heavy focus on Strength and Martial Arts. This is because of how high the difficulty can be during random encounters.

When you leave a specific area such as a town or a bunker, you will appear on the world map. Using map scrolling with WASD you will locate a destination and then click on it, sending your character on their way.

During your journey, you will encounter events that range from meeting a friendly caravan to running into bandits. Even as prepared as you are regarding attack power and resistance to enemy attacks, running into four bandits, two of which are armed, within the first 30 minutes of the game almost guarantees your death. At one point, I admittedly only made it to a nearby bunker on luck. Instead of running into armed bandits that could kill me in a few shots, I ran into some giant ants instead. Giant ants are much more easily dealt with, largely because they cannot carry guns.

The game seems to be designed to push the player to heavily allocate points to only a couple of skills and stats, slowing down later progress in others.

For example, though you get a few guns early on, unless you heavily allocate skill points to their use from the beginning, they won’t do you much good. On my first run, I gave my character high personality and Speechcraft skills, allocating an average or below average amount of points to most of the other skills and stats save for intelligence. Lockpicking, and technology. All was going fairly well until the one time I could not talk my way out of a bandit encounter and then I was dead.

In fact, even with my reasonably high Speechcraft, I didn’t succeed in talking my way out of very many bandit encounters early on, thus leading me to a frustrating familiarity with the death screen.

The storyline might be your standard post-apocalyptic RPG fair, but being in another country is an exciting change. I found the writing to be enjoyable. Though you will have many standard interactions with NPCs in towns and cities and other areas, you will also run into some interesting characters.

I appreciated that the creators did attempt to create unique personalities for the people that populate the world, and you will see that come through, sometimes in fairly amusing ways.

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Aside from the high difficulty, particularly in the beginning where it seems nigh on unfair, Atom RPG is very well designed. Though punishing, it feels satisfying to know your character design choices do make a significant impact on your progress and that playing the game again with different stats and skill selections will significantly change your gameplay experience, even if it does not have a huge impact on the overall story.

Atom RPG demonstrates well precisely why classic RPGs maintain a healthy audience even to this day.

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Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

Life Is Strange Season 2, Episode 2: “Rules” – Review [PS4]

With the last episode that came out in September, Life is Strange 2 is now back with episode 2, titled “Rules”. I’m happy to return to the brothers Daniel and Sean who, after a tragic incident, got separated from their wolf father and their haven.

However, nobody said life would be easy for the two young wolf cubs. Because even though they are wolves, there are still hunters out there that mean them harm. In their hope to find peace, there are prices to be paid.

Finding themselves in the state of Oregon, the boys have found a temporary safe space in the form of a cottage, where they can practice Daniel’s newfound telekinesis abilities. It’s still winter, and they have not been sheltered much from the cold.

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Being on the run for so long, one learns to appreciate the small things in life.

Daniel has been sick for a while, and he seems to only get worse by the day. They’ve learned the hard way that nature can be as cruel as people – but they have no other option but to move on. Not only do they not have medicine to cure his illness, but they are also running out of supplies. They have reached the bottom line: they cannot stay in the safe confines of the cabin anymore.

The boys decide to visit their grandparents: a decision they would gladly avoid if they could. Not just because they hesitate to ask for help considering their runaway-status, but also because these grandparents are the parents of their lost mother, who left them when they were young – leaving a void in the young boys’ hearts.

As they arrive in Beaver Creek, Oregon, they find their grandparents’ lovely-looking house. If you’ve played The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, you will recognise this place: because they are, in fact, the neighbours of Chris Eriksen’s family. Captain Spirit himself. Finally, this is where the two stories intertwine. They approach the grandparents’ door with scepticism, thinking about how this scenario can go in different directions: they can accept us, or they can banish us from the grounds. Luckily, the former seems to be the case.

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Making new friends.

However, Daniel really wants to get to know his mother, who she was and where she might be now. But we cannot hide the fact that this is a very sensitive subject for the two grandparents. They don’t want to talk about it, and they do not want the boys to sneak around in the house and find any information about her, either. More specifically, they are not allowed to enter her room. So what do two young, curious boys do? The exact opposite of what the grown-ups tell them to, of course!

The grandparents worry about their neighbours, the Eriksen’s, and we are told to keep an eye on them. Therefore, since Christmas is just around the corner, the boys decide to join Chris and his father to attend a Christmas market. The boys do what they can to make each other happy, and it often lies in those little moments where they can pause and just enjoy being boys.

As always with the Life Is Strange universe, this episode is an emotional rollercoaster. With a masterful soundtrack composition, they combine the soundtrack with the songs from Captain Spirit, which really brought back all the emotions I felt then.

Finally, a series of unfortunate events forces the two wolf brothers to leave Beaver Creek altogether. As I said; it’s not easy being these two young cubs. The episode ends as they are forced out into the great unknown. This episode contained so much emotion, and I’m excited to see where this adventure is headed!

The Walking Dead: The Final Season "Broken Toys" Review PS4

The Walking Dead: The Final Season “Broken Toys” Review [PS4] – An Emotional Comeback

Wow. Who would’ve thought in September that we would be back here now?

The shot heard around the world was that Telltale Games had shut down. For good. In the process, we lost a fantastic game company, and games like The Wolf Among Us disappeared with the tide. Perhaps it was a good thing that, at the time, they had already started The Walking Dead: The Final Season. If not, chances are I wouldn’t be here now, writing this review.

Thanks to the creator of The Walking Dead universe himself, Robert Kirkman’s game studio decided to pick up where they left off, bringing people from Telltale in to help give the series the end it deserves. Since it’s been a while, let’s briefly summarise the previous episode, shall we? Reader warning: this review might contain some spoilers. However, I can say that the episode is good, and that you should play it. 

We met a character we haven’t seen since season 1; Lilly. If you don’t remember her, she’s the mean one whom you may or may not have left on the side of the road. She was a bad person then, and she is a bad person now. The difference is that she now has a group of raiders supporting her, treating her as their leader. Things got heated when Clementine, AJ, and their group of rebellious teenagers had to defend the school from Lilly’s invasion. Sacrifices were made, and hope seemed lost.

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We managed to capture Abel, Lilly’s right-hand man. As always, Clem has to do the dirty work and interrogate Abel to find out where the raiders have taken the other kids. We will find out where they are, no matter the cost. Even in a post-apocalyptic world where one would think humans have to work together to survive, they still choose to find reasons to hunt and murder each other.

There is a small war going on, and Lilly’s group of raiders are kidnapping people to fight for them. This ultimately means that their hidden lair is where we need to go to save our friends. Queue “Eye of the Tiger”. In the meantime, figuring out how to infiltrate their base might take some time; and they are going to need help. Who better to turn to than James, our only other friend outside the school? He has a different philosophy towards Walkers than most people, seeing them as innocent people rather than mere monsters; believing their soul still exists inside what deceivingly looks like an empty, broken vessel.

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The night before everything is supposed to go down, Clementine has a dream. A dream which threw all the feels upon The Walking Dead fans who have been following this series since the very beginning. Flashback to the train-scene from Season One – and in comes our sweet, sweet Lee. Clementine’s substitute parent. This scene was one of the most touching since the first season for several reasons: 

  1. The fact that whenever Clementine needs a safe space, it is with Lee, on the train where he taught her everything she needed to know to keep her safe.
  2. Whenever Clementine needs help and feels insecure, Lee is the one to give her advice.
  3. The scene makes an incredibly touching transformation between child Clementine and adolescent Clementine.
  4. This scene is everything.

When I managed to recuperate from this very emotional scene, I took a step back to look at the gameplay. Like I mentioned in the previous review, the combat system is still very unforgiving. One mistake, and you’re dead. But I guess that makes sense when you’re living in a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world.

Since it was the first episode given out by Skybound Games, players were warned that the episode might contain some bugs. They were already aware of the problem and suggested to players what they could do to fix it. When playing it myself, I didn’t encounter any major bugs, just some audio disruptions, and some bad transitions between scenes. Nothing that ruined the experience, which I’m pleased with.

This was, all in all, a solid comeback for the series, and a worthy continuation of what Telltale started. I was impressed with how the episode was basically an emotional rollercoaster, and I’m excited to see what the final episode of The Final Season will bring. If everything goes according to plan, the last episode will be released on March 26, titled “Take Us Back”. I don’t think I ever will be ready to say goodbye. But all good adventures must eventually come to an end.

Still. Not. Bitten.

Omega Strike Review [Switch] – Bringing Back The ’90s

Jack Boyles reviews Omega Strike…

The ’90s were the golden age of action in popular culture. You had such great action movies, movies like Die Hard 2, T2 or Cliffhanger; movies that made you sit down and thrilled you with its set pieces. But these films know pacing — they knew not to shove you with stuff every two seconds.

Then there were ’90s video games. The arcades, light gun games, beat em ups; games like Final Fight, Metal Slug. You also had the console market boom with Nintendo vs Sega. Titles like Metroid, Earthworm Jim or Robocop vs Terminator; the action was everywhere, and it served one purpose, to entertain.

Nowadays, action movies and video games take themselves seriously, albeit ridiculous in nature. I feel that creators miss an important part of what made the action entertainment from this era great… Charm.

However, the team at Woblyware have reminded us of a simpler time of gaming with their title, Omega Strike.

Omega Strike has you play as three freedom fighters whose mission is to stop Doctor Omega and his mutant army from dominating the world. Playing as three of the freedom fighters, you must explore the world to find treasure and abilities in this Metroidvania game.

As previously stated, you play as three characters, the main character being Sarge, a Rambo inspired rifleman who has slick hair, the bulking muscle man Bear equipped with his grenade launcher and Dex the agility character with a shotgun. Each character has their abilities that help you access previously inaccessible areas.

The very start of the game has you with all three playable characters. Upon your first meeting of Doctor Omega, he captures Dex and Bear in a classic ‘removal of power’ move that is a staple of the Metroidvania genre. From here you must find Bear and Dex as well as the remaining power-ups scattered across the open world design. Exploring the map, you’ll come across treasure that gives you chunks of money. Destroying barrels and enemies also drops coins that can be used to buy weapon upgrades.

Though, exploration is a big part of the game. So is blasting down enemies. Bear’s grenades bounce and dip making it suitable for hitting enemies below you, Dex’s shotgun is powerful but has a small range, and Sarge’s rifle has the best range but medium power. Flicking through the players on the fly makes this an easy task.

It’s how solid the game feels that is one of the joyous parts of Omega Strike. The way the game plays is extremely polished and responsive. Jumping from platform to platform and dispatching enemies is generally satisfying; you easily slip into the game flow. At times, it doesn’t even feel like a Metroidvania title and would be more suited too a run and gun game from the ’90s.

Omega Strike is a love letter to ’90s video games on the SNES and Megadrive. The 2D pixel art graphics just spark nostalgia from that era of gaming, opting for a cartoon/simpler look than gritty details.

Furthermore, the soundtrack sounds like many of the instrumentals from a SNES cartridge. The tunes also are very hummable which is something lost from video games today; again, harking back to that ’90s generation of gaming.

Though, as polished as this game is, this becomes one of its issues; it never excels in any department.

The game offers no mini map, a staple in Metroidvania titles since Super Metroid. Unlocking the powers does no more than opening previously inaccessible areas and doesn’t change the way you play or think about the game.

As fun as shooting enemies is, it’s annoying not being able to shoot diagonally; meaning you must jump and shoot whenever an enemy is above or bounce Bear’s grenades off the walls in an attempt to hit an enemy below you.

Moreover, you can only switch the player in a preset way. So, if you want Sarge and you are Bear, you’ll have to scan through Dex to get to Sarge. I feel the ability to switch back and forth would add more depth.

Despite these issues, Omega Strike is a fun and polished game which makes these hiccups just bizarre. Though I cannot deny that is a good game and is enjoyable from start to finish. It may not execute everything correctly but what it does, it does it well enough to make the whole experience cohesively entertaining and engaging.

Both modern and retro gamers will find something in this indie title, though I feel people from the ’90s will get more out of this game.

So, grab your bucket hat and popper trousers.

My Big Sister Review [PC] – A Dark Comedy About The Love Between Siblings

Alisa Hail reviews My Big Sister…

Dealing with your siblings is a chore sometimes. More so for some than others. But, what if your sibling was turned into an undead ghoul with a ravenous appetite for raw flesh? Would you still be willing to help them out? More importantly, perhaps, are you still going to argue about those annoying sounds they make when they eat? My Big Sister is a story that explores the more mundane aspects of sibling love and rivalry, juxtaposed against an unsettling atmosphere of death, curses, and the invisible things we suspect late at night stalk us unseen in the dark.

Luzia is not your average little girl. Her jaded personality seems a bit beyond her age. Her regular annoyance with her older sister, Sombria, however, is easily relatable. Following an unplanned and ill-fated trip to a bathhouse, Sombria falls victim to a curse. Her form overly stretched and her skin too pale, she is clearly no longer human. Sombria’s salvation, if possible, lands on the young shoulders of Luzia. Thankfully, Luzia is perfectly suited to the task.

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It is not often I have described a game with plenty of blood, and gore, and a few alarming instances as delightful, but that is the most accurate description I can give My Big Sister. Luzia’s childlike embrace of the strange world around her feels akin to Alice trapped in Wonderland. It is almost as if the dangers always at her heels can never quite touch her due to her innocence. For instance, early on Luzia runs across a demon in need of a face. The demon, surprised by Luzia’s unexpected desire to help, takes a liking to her, even giving her a candy bar as a reward after she delivers. But, therein also lies the persistent feeling of dread. When will her curiosity press her too far and the darkness finally closes in?

But, Luzia never loses her sense of humour despite everything. In fact, it is both Luzia and Sombria’s casual wit juxtaposed against the sinister reality of their plight that makes for most of the humour in the game. For example, Sombria loses herself to her new raging hunger and ends up devouring a deer. When Luzia arrives to find the gruesome scene she makes a Bambi joke. It is this type of banter that kept a smile on my face the whole time.

Gameplay is simple. Exclamation marks appear whenever there is an area that can be explored or an item that can be examined. Inventory requires you to scroll from left to right to look at and select items, but since you are never carrying more than four or five items at a time, this works very well. The developers have added save points throughout, but unfortunately you only have one save file. However, since there is no real combat in the game, so the possibility of death is rare.

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The world of My Big Sister is so well crafted, particularly because the relationship between Sombria and Luzia feels so natural and heartfelt, that it is easy to feel comfortable in the world yourself.

Run across a noodle house for the spirits nestled in the woods? Of course. Why wouldn’t that be there? It is at once absurd, and terrifying, and yet familiar. In some ways, the childlike whimsy mixed with the darkness and danger makes me think of a classic Studio Ghibli film. It is a reminder of the curiosity of the childhood, the fear of the dark, and the relationships that make life worth the journey.

Solar Flux Review [Switch] – Simple, Beautiful, And Addictive

Jordan Zolan reviews Solar Flux on Nintendo Switch.

Playing Solar Flux from Firebrand Games on my Switch, I was reminded of an old quote from French novelist George Sand. He (she) said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”

With increasingly more powerful systems launching alongside intricate and massive games, it’s hard not to think the age of simplicity is a thing of the past. I love playing through experiences such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Dishonored, Red Dead, and all the rest, but sometimes I crave simplicity at its finest. Solar Flux offers just that, in the form of a beautiful puzzler with soothing notes and serene visuals. It’s a game that doesn’t pack a lot of punch but will keep you engaged and pleased for hours on end.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Stars are on the brink of burning out, and it’s your job to reignite them before they’re gone.  The object of the game is simple; collect balls of plasma and launch them into a star, with each sun on screen denoting how many balls of plasma it needs in order to accomplish the mission. Sounds simple enough, but the strategy needed to collect and launch plasma safely is a whole different story.

The controls are exceptionally simple. Each level starts with the player needing to launch the ship by aiming towards the desired location. Once launched, the only other options are to fire plasma or use your engines, all accomplished with a touch of the screen. To launch the plasma, simply tap on the star you want to fire at, and to operate the engines, touch the screen behind the ship in the opposite direction you want it to go.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Even though you have engines, the point of the game is to complete the mission without using them. Every time plasma is launched into a star, a 360-degree shockwave is emitted from the centre of the sun. Time the shockwave just right, and your ship will be nudged in another direction. By riding these waves, you can traverse each level, collect all the necessary plasma, and complete the mission without ever using any fuel. Finishing each level in this manner will yield the player three out of three stars. I personally make it a goal to always get a perfect score on puzzle games such as this, so I found myself replaying levels over and over to achieve perfection.

It wouldn’t be a great puzzler if there weren’t hazards stopping you from completing each mission. Scattered over the maps, you’ll find asteroids, black-holes and comets that frequently lead to your ship’s destruction. Even the stars themselves can ultimately come between you and victory. Space is a stunningly beautiful place but deadly through and through.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

As I played through the scores of levels, 80 in total, Solar Flux began to remind me of the game Zuma and of the classic arcade staple Asteroids. The relationship between physics and geometry during play is of the utmost importance. Not only do you have to launch your ship with precision aim, but you need to know the correct second to shoot plasma, in order to ride the shockwave to the next destination. Shoot too early and you’re flung off in the wrong direction or into the dead of space. Time the shot too late, and your ship could be sent hurtling into an asteroid belt. As the levels go on, I found the increase in difficulty to be both masochistically satisfying and at times wildly frustrating; just how a great puzzler should be.

The sound design is simple and yet hauntingly beautiful. The subtle notes of the underlying score have an empty feeling, giving the sense of being in a cold and vacuous place. Everything from the sound of collecting and shooting plasma, to the shockwave, and even the low hum of your engines, seem to denote an odd calmness. It’s all painfully simple but manages to pull me into the atmosphere the game is trying to create.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

I’ve always had a love for challenging puzzle games. They don’t need to be overly sophisticated in order to be good at what they’re supposed to accomplish. Games such as these force me to think in ways most big blockbuster titles don’t. I’m not exploring ancient cities or long-lost ruins, and I am not gunning down thousands of baddies with a myriad of weapons. Solar Flux simply asks you to collect and discard, but to do so perfectly will take a keen eye and a brilliant sense of timing.

Uncanny Valley Review [Switch] – Running Away Leads To More Trouble

Sometimes you just need a fresh start – a switch in lifestyles. To pack your things and go. Sometimes you just need to take the risk for your own sanity or to better yourself. A new start, wiping your history, forward thinking is human nature – we run. But no matter how far you run, the past will catch up and come to terms with; for your own sanity… or to better yourself. Jack Boyles reviews Uncanny Valley…

Uncanny Valley has you playing as Tom who is starting a new job as a nightshift security guard in an isolated, abandoned facility. At the start of the game, Tom is a man who appears to be running from something in his past, evidence from the decision to work for this employer and the nightmares that inhabit his dreams.

Though Tom is not completely alone, he has the company day shift security guard, Buck who is rather a lazy man and Eve, a woman who keeps the facility clean and is reminded of someone in her past when she sees Tom. And that my gorgeous reader, is all you are going to know about the story because the less you know, the better the experience.

Uncanny Valley is a narrative-driven survival horror game that states in the opening:

‘Every action you take within the game will lead to different outcomes. To fully experience Uncanny Valley, multiple playthroughs are recommended’.

There is much to uncover in Uncanny Valley. However, do not be put off by the multiple playthroughs, as a playthrough can last anywhere from 20 minutes to roughly 3 hours maximum. It’s this short length that makes Uncanny Valley compelling to play multiple times.

Moreover, the story-driven game will make you play it several times since, in my opinion, this is one of the better horror narratives out there. It may not have the symbolism and subtext of Silent Hill or the Hollywood budget of Resident Evil. What Uncanny Valley offers is a more grounded and thought-provoking horror experience.

You routinely (well you don’t have to if you don’t want to) go to work, this repeated mundanity gives you time to explore the facility. Picking breadcrumbs of information scattered across the facility, finding out what happened there. If you are like me, you may figure out what’s happening before the reveal. But when I saw the reveal for the first time, it didn’t stop it from being impactful; it was more impactful. It’s kind of Hitchcockian in that way; let the audience know to build the tension and it’s that slow build of tension that makes Uncanny Valley’s narrative compelling.

Furthermore, your actions really alter the game, with many of my playthroughs having different events, scenarios and endings. It’s in your second playthrough you start to realize how these actions really do affect these outcomes. As one new small change can alter your previous conception of coming events. A small detail you may have forgotten about in the first playthrough may have a much bigger impact.

The developer Cowardly Creations, not only make you think about the decisions you can make but how your knowledge of coming events may still influence your current playthrough.

Additionally, it’s not only narrative consequences you must think of when playing Uncanny Valley. The gameplay can be affected by the consequence system as Tom can get injured in various parts of the body stopping him doing certain actions. A knee injury will stop Tom from crawling in vents or an injured arm will affect him using a weapon.

Marketed as a 2D pixel art story-driven survival horror game, I feel the game takes its cues from adventure games. Gameplay is more about solving puzzles using lateral thinking to progress the story or get you out of situations.

Also, there is a slight stealth mechanic, requiring you to hide more than fight due to the enemies withstanding bullets. Hiding spots such as vents are advisable due to Tom’s lack of stamina – making him easy prey if spotted.

Credit is due to the sound designer for making the enemies terrifying. Hearing the loud bang of the enemy’s movements will instantly set a sense of dread within you as you know if they see you… Tom’s physique is no match. The loud grunted speech when they spot you will jolt you with fear, making you panic.

Added with the raw pixel art aesthetic, it tonally hits its mark. The pixel art, with its limited fidelity mirrors that of the narrative, uncertainty; enough detail for you to know what’s happening but with the finer details missing.

The game isn’t for everyone though. Many players may dislike having to start again and not loading saves at various points to change story outcomes. Another issue I could see some players having is that Tom struggles to defend himself even with a handgun — not being able to run for long period of time; as the result in death can see you starting from the beginning of the game.

I did encounter a glitch where Buck went home from his shift for him to reappear at the end of my shift. It was nothing game breaking and didn’t affect anything storyline wise; though hopefully, nothing like that will come at important times within the game.

Uncanny Valley is a narrative based survival horror game that rivals other indie horror titles and some AAA horror titles. The story twists and turns like a great thriller novel.

Added with the sense of foreboding atmosphere and some terrifying moments executed by its tension building techniques. For me, it’s a great horror experience, throwing away the generic jump scare an opting for an unsettling experience.

As the game is relatively short, it goes hand in hand with the Switch’s pick up and play design. There always feels like there is more to uncover and you will want to keep starting afresh to find what else Uncanny Valley has up its sleeve.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review [Switch] – A Welcome Visit

Alisa Hail reviews Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek on Nintendo Switch.

The premise of Dynamic Pixels’ original Hello Neighbor played on our curiosity. Who hasn’t, at least in passing, considered how tempting it would be to sneak into your creepy neighbor’s house and find out what sort of sinister deeds he’s been hiding behind his walls?

Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek serves as a prequel to the original story, explaining how our neighbor, Mr Theodore Peterson, came to be the way he is. It is also an improvement on its predecessor, even though it fails to escape a few shortcomings of its own.

The story opens on a pleasant, sunny morning with Mr Peterson’s son and daughter playing a friendly game of hide-and-seek. You take over the role of the little girl, trying to outwit her brother. Through the lens of her imagination, the familiar home transforms into an Alice in Wonderland-like domain. Furniture stretches to preposterous proportions. The ceiling and walls now absurdly high above and the ground now taking on the look of a wild grassland. Each level has a unique look, adding a childlike whimsy to the already surreal art style of the game.

Each stage comes with a set of objectives that need to be fulfilled before moving on to the next. For example, the first level requires you to retrieve several stuffed animals scattered about by your brother and delivering them to a certain location. Achieving these objectives requires solving environmental puzzles or using items you will find scattered around the stage. All the while, your brother is roaming about and if he catches you, he sends you back to the start of the level.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Hello Neighbor suffered from two major flaws: a glitchy gameplay experience and puzzles that were so out-of-the-box as to defy reason. Dynamic Pixels, clearly having learned from criticisms of their original title, did a worthy job of avoiding both of these shortcomings in Hide and Seek. The game played smoothly enough and I did not notice or come across any particular glitches during my play. There is also a handy feature that allows you to warp back to the starting point if you get stuck somewhere, like say perhaps within a giant bucket you hopped in without any clear plans as to how to get back out.

The game did carry over two issues that Dynamic Pixels has left untouched. Jumping frequently feels too airy and imprecise. Though the jump controls are certainly workable, I had hoped the developer would have tightened the controls as it does require platforming quite often. I also wish stackable objects clicked together when stacked to avoid the issue of objects falling over if you land on them incorrectly or accidentally get too close.

The puzzles in this prequel do a much better job of walking the line between creative reasoning and tying together clearly logically connected elements. Part of the original’s success was the community element needed to solve many of the puzzles without either dumb luck or spending more time than most people have or want to use in order to find the solution.

The puzzles in Hide and Seek are challenging and leave the player with a sense of satisfaction for having solved them without the frustration of trying to figure out something that was clearly not built to be discovered through reasoning alone.

You will need to collect multiple items during each stage and carry them with you in order to solve some of the puzzles. However, you can only hold four items at a time. If you find a new item while travelling around and your stash is full, you have no way to house the new item or switch it out with the one you are already carrying — without simply throwing another item down and hoping you can find it later. While doable, this certainly isn’t the most efficient way to handle item storage and becomes an unnecessary hindrance to progress.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Though the puzzle solving is fun, there is a downside to the central concept of Hide and Seek. While hiding from your neighbor in the original added an element to the game that gave it a sense of danger necessary for a stealth title, the heavy emphasis on puzzle solving and seek and find in the prequel can make having to stop what you are doing and run feel like more of a nuisance than anything else. It doesn’t help that your brother can see you from quite a distance.

Many times I thought I was in the clear and had lost myself in testing out a puzzle-solving hypothesis when I hear the telltale sound alerting me I am being pursued. I’d have to drop what I was doing and run to the nearest rock or something I can climb. This will often cause the brother’s AI to reset, forgetting where you are and you can watch him wander off into the distance before heading back to where you were. While the hide and seek component does sometimes add to the difficulty, it too often felt unnecessary given the more interesting puzzle element.

Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek is much tighter than the original in both gameplay and puzzle design. It is clear that Dynamic Pixels has learned from past experience and implemented that into their newest title. I found myself having much more fun with this newest iteration. The puzzle-solving is the most rewarding part of Hide and Seek and in a way, I wish the hide and seek element had been left out entirely. But, when it works well, it at least adds some tension.

It is not, perhaps, the best we will see from Dynamic Pixels, but it is fun and it gives me hope the quirky developer has more up their sleeves than we know.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season PS4 Review

The Walking Dead: The Final Season “Suffer The Children” Review [PS4] – Abandon Hope?

For the first time in a very long time, I don’t know how to start a review. Do I continue as usual? Do I start with explaining what happened? I guess pretty much everyone knows by now.

Telltale Games went bankrupt. I don’t think you could’ve missed it. Some grabbed the opportunity to yell out “I told you so!”, some responded with anger for them not being able to finish one project before jumping onto another, and some responded with sadness and apathy.

I didn’t really realise just how much these news upset me when I first read about it. But the fact is, I am truly upset about it. To me, Telltale Games wasn’t just a game company. It’s someone I have followed from the beginning, someone who inspired me to pursue my passion for games. And to see them basically vaporise like that was…. bizarre, to say the least. But it’s not a new phenomenon.

Fear not, my friends. Ask, and ye shall receive. The creator of The Walking Dead universe Robert Kirkman’s game company Skybound announced that they will be picking up the pieces left by the ruins of Telltale, to see The Final Season through to the end. Even though this is beyond great news, I’ll personally believe the series will have an end when I see it in front of me on my TV-screen.

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Like these two, I’ll be waiting.

If you look away from the business and economic aspect of the video game industry, Suffer The Children is all-in-all a very good episode. I will, like the review of the last episode, try and create a spoiler-free review as much as possible.

Episode 2 takes us back to the school and the group of teens we met in the previous episode. There can never be enough drama in one episode, so needless to say there are some things Clementine and AJ have to take responsibility for. As a consequence, they are thrown out of their safe haven.

Unfortunately, they don’t get very far before a group of raiders catch them. This is where we meet a familiar character whose face we haven’t seen since season one. However, this face wasn’t friendly then, and is sure isn’t friendly now, either. This person has become the leader of this horrific group, and they don’t hesitate to threaten Clementine as they give a clear message of what they want; the children at the school.

We learn that there is a small war going on; there is a feud between two groups of people, and the group that catches Clementine and AJ is kidnapping (or as they call it, “recruiting”) children to make them fight for them. Yep, that’s messed up.

However, hope is never lost; with the help of a kind stranger, we manage to make our great escape. If the series would go on, I’m sure we would form an even stronger friendship with this character at some point. The kindness of this stranger teaches us about strengthening the right bonds, and we learn that most people react a certain way for a certain reason, and by learning that reason we understand what makes them tick. 

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It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Technically speaking, I noticed that the loading screens could, at times, be incredibly long. In addition, the controls felt a little off sometimes. The combat system was very unforgiving, and the game’s own tutorials kept feeding me the wrong controls. Yet, an analysis of the controls in this episode feels like missing the bigger picture.

All things considered, the ending of this approximately 2 ½ hours long episode feels like the biggest cliffhanger ever. When I finished the episode the news of Skybound taking over hadn’t come out yet, and I felt betrayed. Now, there might be hope. Some light at the end of the tunnel. We are in the middle of a story, and the threads are starting to unfold.

I thought I was ending this review feeling sad and frustrated. Even though Telltale as a company may be over, the talented people behind the name are still out there. And some of them will most probably be joining Skybound and create a proper ending to the series, completing an important chapter in video game narrative history.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting. Patiently.

GRIP: Combat Racing Review [PS4] – Defying Gravity With A Blast From The Past

Going back to some of our favourite games sometimes yields a nice, cool shot of nostalgia. Other times, it reminds us just how far we have come as an industry over even just the last 20 years.

When Rollcage released in 1999 its unique physics made it stand out from the crowd of other racing titles. Drive fast enough and you can defy the laws of gravity by speeding up walls and upside-down snake-like tunnels. GRIP: Combat Racing is a spiritual successor to Rollcage that attempts to revive that original thrill.

In some ways, GRIP does an excellent job of recreating everything that made Rollcage a standout. In other ways, at least on the PS4 version I played, it reminded me how far we have come in the racing genre and why we rarely look back.

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GRIP: Combat Racing has a good variety of over 20 tracks ranging from futuristic cities to snow-covered wastelands.

GRIP offers a nice array of over 20 tracks covering a wide variety of landscapes ranging from futuristic cities to snow-covered mountains, and desolate wastelands. Tracks spiral and wind as players fly through at break-neck speeds. When executed well, it feels far more like being jettisoned down a warp tunnel as you spiral over and under the terrain and passageways, blasting your opponents with rockets and other weapons along the way.

However, as fun as GRIP can be, it suffers from some rather unintuitive track design. Especially in the beginning before you learn the tracks, you will likely find yourself slipping and sliding into an unexpected barrier or falling off the stage. While there are signs designating directions, some of the stages are just open enough to be confusing, especially when driving at high rates of speed. Multiple times I missed an indicator and found myself travelling down what I thought might be a path only for the game to reset me back on the track, thus costing me several seconds. Sure, this will dissipate with time and familiarization, but it makes getting into the game a bit of a frustration for first-time players. It also instantly kills the otherwise smooth action.

GRIP has only a small array of cars, but each handled fairly well. Controls were smooth and the cars maintained a solid hold on the track along turns for the most part. The only time I had my frustration with the controls is when airborne.

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Blasing your opponents out of your way, particularly when playing with friends, is always glorious.

You will, whether from being blasted by an opponent, slipping off the side of the road, or making an unfortunate collision with a barrier, at some point find yourself helplessly tossed into the air where you will notice you lose any real control over your vehicle. Sure, this might be more realistic, but not being able to adjust your direction means you will either just have to watch while you barely miss the side of the track, or end up back on the track facing the wrong direction.

In a combat racing game where being flung about is a major part of the experience, having no control over your direction when airborne seems like a rather unfortunate oversight. Not to mention GRIP’s difficulty levels fluctuate quite a bit and so while falling off the track might not cost you too much in one race, landing the wrong direction just one time might move you from first to fifth almost instantly in another.

The tracks, though varied, lack the lustre and sheen one might have expected from a 2018 racing title. Textures can often look muddy and aside from the neon signs demarcating turns and barriers, the tracks and surrounding areas feel sparse and surprisingly dreary. That is not to say GRIP needs the cartoonishly bright colours of Mario Kart or the ultra-realism of Forza. But, the game’s visual design often looks too much like a throwback and less like a modern-day homage.

Speaking of Mario Kart, three out of four of GRIP’s race modes operate basically like Nintendo’s top racer with a twist or two, including choosing whether winning means reaching the finish line first, or whoever has the fastest trigger finger. You pick up weapons as you drive that you can use to blast your opponents out of your way, along with using green panels on the ground to increase your speed. There is also an arena battle mode that pits you against your friends or online opponents within a limited area.

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When at its best GRIP offers an invigorating battle for victory that feels more like flying than driving.

Though uneven difficulty and unintuitive track design can cause difficulty for players just getting into the game, part of GRIP’s call-back to it’s older inspiration is a solid focus on the individual player’s ability to compete against themselves. The individual campaign mode is appropriately story-free, leaving you to quickly run through three multi-tiered tournaments. The “Carkour” mode allows players to practice their tricks, turns and other aerial acrobatics.

Of course, online leaderboards for race modes add that extra level of motivation. But, I found whether playing with a friend locally or strangers online, GRIP was just as fun and just as challenging.

Though GRIP isn’t as polished as it might have been, and new players will find themselves faced with a steep learning curve, it’s gravity-defying action is both a nice slice of nostalgia and something a little different than your standard racer. It is also always satisfying to watch the car in front of you explode in a bright and brilliant billow of fire, or hammering your opponent with a wave of tiny rockets.

GRIP: Combat Racing is now available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 1: ‘Roads’ Review [PS4] – We’re Going On An Adventure!

It’s been 3 years since the very first season of Life is Strange came out – and it gave us so much in terms of storytelling, where they explored how to deal with sensitive issues through the eyes of a teenager.

In the meantime, we were served Life is Strange: Before The Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. In my opinion, they’ve only gotten better at it.

If you played the approximately 2 hour long adventures of young Chris Eriksen and his alter ego Captain Spirit (which is 100% worth your time by the way), then the decisions you made there will somehow carry over in Life Is Strange 2. I probably should have made a review on Captain Spirit, because that was truly an unforgettable experience. As usual, my final verdict for the series will be given at the very last episode.

Now, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix are back with Life Is Strange 2 – with brand new characters, location, and storyline. We meet Sean and Daniel Diaz from Seattle in Washington, age 16 and 9 respectively. They are seemingly normal boys – Sean has a crush on a girl which he plans to hit on at an upcoming party, and Daniel is a boy who loves candy and to play with his toys.

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Playful big brother Sean.

That is, of course, before everything is destined to go down the drain in a fashionable Life is Strange-style. A supernatural occurrence takes place in their home, forcing the two brothers to escape, and wandering on the United States’ roads on their way to Puerto Lobos, a place in Mexico their father once called paradise. The boys live in a community where their background sadly plays a factor – which is evidently why they are on the run. The news reports them missing, and the cops are looking for them.

Based on the small amount of money they carry – it is not going to take long before they run out. This, eventually, leads to them having to beg other people for food.

Gameplay has improved, and the game looks much smoother now than it has before. As always, the soundtrack of the game is an experience in itself. You can always expect the Life Is Strange-series to contain excellent music that adds to the widely immersive world.

A theme that turns out to become an important aspect of the game is racial discrimination. Even though they have, from their father, clear roots in Mexico, they still identify themselves as Americans. However, when they start to feel exiled from the States, they cling to their Mexican roots. One thing is witnessing it on a general basis – another is witnessing it happening to these young boys. Defenceless and innocent, they become the victims of violence, both verbally and physically.

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Brotherly love.

To put it mildly, these incidents are hard to watch. It’s a bold move from the developers, but at the same time, I feel like they are doing the right thing. As a consequence of the tragic event, Sean has to take on a parenting role for Daniel. As a 16-year old, he is still too young to be Daniel’s substitute parent, but it’s what they have.

Taking on this parenting role is of course not fitting for Sean. He has to keep his mask on for Daniel all the way until they finally meet a kind soul who sees them for what they are; kids just trying to survive. This stranger briefly becomes a guardian for the two boys, giving them what they need to keep on going. We, as adults, take on the role of a child in crisis. It’s an unfair and difficult situation, but I think it is an important subject to discuss. A 16-year old is never supposed to be set in that position. Sadly, that is the reality of many.

Life is Strange 2 takes on a more serious note than the other seasons. I’m predicting that this season will be an adventure like no other. We watch them as they grow up, joining them on their ups and downs. Because there will be plenty of them. As usual, Life is Strange creates a moving story about these two boys that I felt an instant connection to. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Life Is Strange 2 is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season PS4 Review

The Walking Dead: The Final Season “Done Running” Review [PS4] – The Beginning Of The End

The Walking Dead is back. And this time, for the very final season. Telltale Games have expanded The Walking Dead’s universe through 4 seasons, in addition to 400 Days and the mini-series Michonne. We have arrived at the end of the road with our dear Clementine, where we will hopefully receive an answer to the question we’ve been waiting for; will she lead the same fate as Lee?

I won’t be giving scores on each episode but will give a final score for the season in total. Therefore, these reviews will be short (but sweet). With that said, I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but as the series goes on, I will eventually be forced to talk about relevant events.

It was with a heavy heart that I sat down with TWD again, with the first episode “Done Running”. I can always appreciate ending a series when it’s good, but at the same time, I’m not at all ready to say goodbye.

Ever since the first season was published, I have spent a lot of my time on these games. I don’t mean just playing the games – that alone truly opened the world of storytelling in games for me. But they also inspired me to write my bachelor’s thesis on TWD Season 1, studying the video game alongside the comics; combining my passion for games with my studies. Even though I will most likely never have a conversation with someone from Telltale Games, I have a lot to thank them for. And I cannot think of a better opportunity to do that than with these final reviews.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season PS4 Review
She’s all grown up!

As always, the choices we make will have consequences as the story progresses. However, it will now also have repercussions for AJ – the little boy we came to know in the previous season, whom Clementine has become a parent-figure for. Our choices will have an impact on what kind of person he will grow up to become, how he is shaped as a human being.

In this episode, Clementine and AJ meet a group of kids at an abandoned school, who have created their own society and are generally living in peace. They get to know some of the kids there, they get their own room, and they are served food. Though I gotta say, accepting the kindness of strangers in this game feels weird and unnatural.

In terms of gameplay, some things have changed from the previous season. Because we now have our own room, you can gather collectables to decorate Clementine and AJ’s room, giving us a nice sense of finally belonging somewhere.

In terms of combat, you can choose to incapacitate the zombies before killing them, making it easier to deal with larger packs. In addition, I really have to praise Telltale Games for their development from season 1 regarding the graphics. It doesn’t just look better, but the shifting between scenes no longer have those small pauses they used to have, now they just smoothly move from one scene to another in one coherent motion. I love it.

But, as we have seen throughout the series, all good things must eventually come to an end. Nothing ever stays peaceful in the world of The Walking Dead, and one thing I’ve learned from these games is to never believe in a first impression. Towards the end of the episode, things start to get dramatic and increasingly intense. It ended with my mouth hanging open, saying: did I do that?

The Walking Dead: The Final Season PS4 Review
Watch this space.

In a way, I feel that as Clementine has grown, so has Telltale Games as a company. As an avid fan, among many others, I feel like I have been following their journey to the top; they went from being one of the smaller ones to becoming one of the most significant game developers when it comes to storytelling in games.

“Done Running” is a great start to the final season, and even though there have already been some surprising turns, I’m guessing that we haven’t seen the half of it, yet. The title is a good description of their momentary sanctuary, and just looking at the other titles for the remaining episodes makes me nervous. All in all, the episode looked amazingly good, it tugged at my emotions right away, and this is only the beginning.

So far, The Final Season is looking very good. One episode down. Three more to go.