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.

The Station Review

The Station Review [PS4] – A Simple And Surprising Space Adventure

Exploring the depths of space is an adventure all on its own, so developers really need to dig deep when adding to the flare that is galactic gaming. The Station (not this one!) is a short but sweet tale that follows the relentless curiosities our species seems to have on the vast void of stars, undiscovered planets and distant galaxies.

With attentive puzzle solving and as about as gripping as any story can get in the span of an hour or so, the indie team behind the first-person space station explorer has created an impressively stout adventure that underlines the mysteries of space.

You’re sent to investigate a three-man team of scientists who have gone missing during a top-secret space mission involving interplanetary studies. Upon discovering another race of sentient beings, the team is determined to study the unknown planet caught in a civil war.

Rather than getting directly involved in the unknown alien species’ conflict, the team thought it vital to observe from a distance as the war rages on. That is until the crew turns up silent over the transmitters which is precisely where you come in, a space station recon specialist.

The Station Review
Welcome to The Station – a hidden space station created to study the nearby alien planet caught in the middle of a civil war.

Discover The Truth Behind The Warring Alien Planet

The Station takes players throughout a story that’s told through audio logs recently left behind from the crew, as well as a series of tasks and objectives that will ever so gradually push you towards the truth behind the foreign species.

In its short amount of completion time, however, players will find themselves amidst an intriguing plot line that is never as straightforward as it seems. While collecting pieces of dialogue content like emails and messages, informative audio logs and crucial pieces of equipment, you will continue to progress further into the station uncovering its many secrets.

The game is an honest balance of healthy discourse and thought-inducing puzzle-solving. Tasks lists frequently pop up to remind players of what they should be working on, but most everything else is left to the imagination of the player.

Repairing a maintenance robot by finding and replacing its components, or unlocking the team’s personal lockers by tracing their specific password, are just a few of the random tasks that will allow you to travel further into the station. The simple objective lists may seem easy enough at first, but nothing is ever as it seems when dealing with a failing space station.

The Station Review
Throughout your missions, you will find objective and task lists that help you explore further into the station.

Throughout your linear quest into the lonely space station, the overall mission never changes once. While the length of the game depends entirely on your ability to solve the tedious puzzles of fixing up everything around you or breaking into personal rooms/storage devices, players shouldn’t expect much out of the brisk space adventure.

The story leaves many interesting perspectives on the table with a truly exhilarating ending, but after one time through, nothing else changes and players can easily blast through in less time than an episode of Star Trek.

The Station Review
Uncover truths about the station through recent messages and audio logs left by the three-man team of scientists.

Worth The Trip?

All in all, The Station – as minimal as it is – serves its purpose as a mysterious and involved sci-fi puzzle adventure. The characters thrown into the plotline are interesting enough to keep players intrigued across their short journey, while the puzzles fit nicely into the setting of the lonely and seemingly abandoned space station.

With no outside threats or method of combat, players of all skill ranges can sit back and enjoy the curious and subtle thrills of solving the many mysteries of The Station.


Closers Review [PC] – A Fulfilling Free-To-Play Hack ‘n’ Slash

Closers is an action-packed hack ‘n’ slash title that takes the repetitive excitement of side-scrolling action games and sprinkles in a few RPG elements to add to the flavour. As a free-to-play title on Steam, Closers is a perfect start-up for any newbie gamer, but also has enough depth and action-oriented skill sets to draw in the most dedicated of gaming enthusiasts. With the striking anime-style visuals, simple controls paired exceptionally well with the addictive beat ’em up gameplay, Closers is only held back by its somewhat unreliable game servers.

In the not-too-distant future, a powerful alien race known as Dimensionals have taken over in a worldwide invasion. City by city the globe began to suffer, but not everything in it was destroyed. Upon the Dimensionals pouring through the gates leading to another dimension, a psychic type of power known as Phase began to emerge. Affecting a small number of humans, they soon harnessed the power of the Phase energy, acting as the only means to deal with the invading species.

Using Phase Energy At Your Disposal

You take control of the Phase-power-inducing, alien-eliminating teenage group simply known as Closers. Each one of the elaborate characters comes prepared with their own set of skills, equipment and personality. While the story of Closers stays the same with each character, how it unfolds depends on which character you choose to play with. Slashing and phasing your way through hordes of menacing Dimensionals through the deep combat and character customization gameplay, players will discover a truly captivating experience with the heart of an ass-kicking anime.

Each of the teenage Closers team members have their own set of unique skills and abilities using the powerful Phase energy.

Closers is more than a mere solo hack ‘n’ slash title, as it’s held up by a solid MMO foundation with a thrilling co-op experience. Missions are given out in the central hub of the game, allowing players to team up, or go it alone across the constantly evolving story. Closers must always be connected to the online servers when playing, making it a simple task for players to easily hop into co-op missions, but losing connection happened occasionally – causing the entire game to crash out. This takes away from the immersive experience making it difficult to continue forth in the alien exterminating endeavour.

While my time with Closers found a few unreliable spots in the online servers, I was still able to thoroughly enjoy the episodic MMO inspired action RPG. In its semi 2D form, the side-scrolling view made the game feel as approachable as any other button mashing title. Though, the combat tactics dabble a bit further past your traditional beat ’em up strategy, as numerous skills and combos help push the battle further into a well-rounded combat experience. Each character has a set of three unique skills, finishers and a focus mode which adds to the damage dealt. Combining skills and turning them into combos works as the backbone to the battle system in Closers, pushing players to level up their characters and discover the vast amount of abilities, weapons and equipment hidden throughout the campaign.

Laying out combos is important to wipe out the many hordes of Dimensionals invading the New Seoul.

A Rewarding And Expansive Inventory System

As you make your way through Closers, the depth of the inventory system makes itself much more apparent. The many different pieces of stat-buffing equipment, weapons – both melee and ranged – and unique Phase abilities are vital in enhancing if you plan on tackling those hard to beat Dimensionals. Aside from co-oping online or brawling it out with the hostile aliens solo, players are also able to raise a pet within their inventory. Like beloved digital Tamagotchi pets, players will raise these creatures from an egg, into newborn through their adult life. When grown, they will aid you in battle but players must be sure to feed and maintain a healthy environment during their growing stages.

The Dimensionals come in many different forms, growing much stronger as the story progresses.

The 2.5D stylings of the side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash MMORPG, Closers, is a gratifying experience too readily available to pass up. The free-to-play access and simple combat structure is as easily attainable as any fierce RPG infused beat ’em up can come, and doesn’t seem to be greatly hindered by extra costs and microtransaction packages. The episodic timeline shines in the realm of anime-inspired video games, fueled by the adrenaline-inducing action brought forth by cut-throat battles and an expansive character development system.

Swaps and Traps

Swaps And Traps Review [PC] – A New Twist On Platforming

The skewed action in Swaps and Traps brings a delightful new approach to creating something modern and original to the typical standards we see in today’s platforming releases. While the same deadly obstacles and long jumps that help construct some of the best aspects from platformers today still exist in TeamTrap‘s debut release, a new kind of trap lies atop the head of the evil Divider’s head. His magical hat is capable of completely disorienting the screen, giving our hero Mike quite the methodical platforming adventure.

The blonde haired, muscle-bound protagonist is as carefree as they come, but when Mike hears of the theft of the enchanted hat by none other than his nemesis, ‘Divider’, things become a little more personal for our hero. You see, this mystical hat has the powers to change perception right before your eyes, and it’s up to Mike to retrieve the special keys, in turn, capturing the Divider – and his vile, disorienting ways. The story may be completely bonkers and provide very little depth of intrigue yes, but the gameplay does its job to keep you entertained.

Forgettable Plot With Memorable Gameplay

While the plot line isn’t anything to rave about, and the extremely awkward voice-overs strip any sort of justice away from the otherwise slick visuals, the concept behind Swaps and Traps is a doozy. Each stage consists of numerous platforms and treacherous obstacles that the player must evade to reach our dreadful villain, Divider. However, before Divider can be reached – which promptly clears the level allowing access to the next area – players must collect the cursed key(s) in each stage.

Swaps and Traps
Finding yourself upside down completely changes the way you need to approach each obstacle.

Starting off the game with only one key per stage, Mike leaps and dodges his way around the small screen-sized obstacle course to grab the golden key. Once the key is grabbed, however, is when the levels begin to get interesting. Snatching the key may be the means for clearing the stage, but it also is the “key” element in completely rearranging portions of the screen. Just when you think Swaps and Traps will be your everyday modern platformer, things take a twisted turn and the game really starts to shine.

Taking one portion of the screen and swapping it with a portion on the other side can cause some very confusing, but highly entertaining reactions throughout the game. As you progress, the portions become smaller and more keys begin to appear in the stage, which adds more disorientation to the already bewildering stages. Collecting multiple keys in one stage can add an extra portion to be swapped, or even more puzzle inducing mayhem by rotating an already swapped portion. It’s common to find yourself re-configuring the controls mid-stage to adapt to an upside down platformer.

Swaps and Traps
Different themes take you through the story – from wild jungles to dark and eerie castles.

A Disorienting Adventure

As you begin making your way through the stages things become not only more difficult from a platformer standpoint, but upon collecting numerous keys in one stage the utter confusion will begin to set in. Luckily, the developers realize how swapping out sections of the stage, as well as flipping them 180 degrees, can turn a rather straightforward level into an altered mess. Players thus have the option to reference back to the original layout in still photo form. With the press of the button, players can view an image of a particular stage’s original layout, even after sections have been swapped and flipped. As players begin to experiment they will soon discover that blindly leaping into a swapped section can often lead to death.

What really makes Swaps and Traps unique is that the entire stages aren’t completely flipped, but merely particular sections. While most of the stage might stay put after collecting a cursed key, the difficulty lies in the swapped sections that completely skew the player’s perception. Flipping and swapping out sections slows down the game as players try to figure out just how to land in a desired area, but that’s exactly what makes Swaps and Traps so approachable. Like most difficult platformers, our protagonist perishes after only one hit, giving a huge emphasis on trial and error, but the quick retry accessibility makes things much more attainable. The stages are extremely short, sometimes only taking a few seconds to complete, but it may take a few dozen tries to overcome some of the more challenging obstacles.

Swaps and Traps
Gathering keys will continue to disorient the player’s perception of each stage, making for a wildly puzzling platformer.

Tons Of Swapping Fun To Be Had

With up to 30 stages in each of the three chapters and a handful of off-the-wall bonus stages, Swaps and Traps never seems to come short of throwing thought-provoking challenges at the player. The platforming itself is a joy to control making for easy-to-learn gameplay, but the swapped portions of stages add just enough to keep the game thoroughly absorbing. While the story itself is forgettable, and the atrocious voice-over work does more damage than good, Swaps and Traps totally makes up for it with original and over-the-top platforming action.

Arelite Core Review [PC] – A World Only A Blacksmith Can Save

Arelite Core invests players into a journey in which a master blacksmith embarks on an adventure to witness the secrets of other master blacksmiths based around the world. Played in traditional RPG fashion with gorgeously rendered sprites, established turn-based combat, unforgettable characters and a timeless musical score wrap it all tightly together.

In Arelite Core, a master blacksmith – Karden – from the small village of Arreal undertakes a journey to travel around the world to learn the secrets of his trade. From village to village the legendary blacksmith will meet and greet with other master craftsmen, accompanied by his savvy and egotistical battle buddy, Baeme. Picking up other companions throughout your journey and uncovering truths about the dangerous ancient Arelite stones, players will swiftly grasp the mechanics of this familiar looking RPG.

Traversing through dungeons may lead to hidden paths containing helpful items, as well as more monsters.
A Colorful World

As the simple story progresses about the dedicated craftsman and his cocky companion, the lurking dangers of Arelite – an ancient resource used to make absurdly powerful weapons – is now falling into threatening hands. Knowing the power of Arelite, increasing your knowledge and skills as a blacksmith is now crucial in stopping the evil forces and bringing peace back to the world.

The aesthetics of Arelite Core brings back the early years of the adventuring/RPG genre, with colourful and unique sprites, text-based narrative and an enthralling musical backdrop. Exploring, developing your characters/parties and easy-to-learn turn-based combat all provide for a thrilling ride atop the compelling story following the master blacksmith and his faithful and colourful companions.

The open areas and dungeons to roam are familiar in almost every sense of the word when compared to the 16-bit fantasy titles the gaming community remembers so fondly. Unraveling bits of lore and dialogue by talking to the wandering villagers, or bartering with charismatic business proprietors for useful items, armour and weapons are still the standard when entering new areas. Though the game doesn’t offer much difference when it comes to the traditional RPG mechanics, Arelite Core still manages to produce an immersive story full of role-playing tactics and a plethora of evil monsters.

Traditional turn-based combat mechanics bring common tactics found in a heap of other RPGs.
Classic Combat Mechanics With A Few Quirks

The turn-based combat tactics involve all of the strategic – both defensive and offensive – manoeuvres, including physical strikes, magic, healing and special moves known as Blitz. Battles break out once the player (or the enemy) has made contact, spinning players into a bout filled with a number of powerful monsters. Standard strike attacks deal damage using whichever weapon is equipped by each character. By gaining levels and upgrading your characters, new skill points and weapons will increase the strength of these strike attacks.

Other tactics like parrying and the ultra-powerful Blitz moves offer unique abilities to raise defence, recover health or deal massive blows to tough opponents. Parrying acts as a form of defence to prepare the given player a stance against any incoming attacks, but also adds a touch of health to the character as well. With every landed blow or damage taken, each characters’ blitz bar begins to fill. Every time the blitz meter fills, a point is acquired and may be used to initiate a special blitz skill. Powerful elemental attacks, magic abilities like summoning monster allies, or healing/buffing your companions in battle are only a few of the unique tactics available through the blitz system.

The world is in turmoil against a devious threat using the powerful resource, Arelite.
Strengthening Your Stance

Strengthening your party comes in a variety of useful skill and blitz upgrades. Adding skill points earned through multiple levels, three different categories known as Stances – one for each of the three combat moves – are available to increase in a manner of different ways. Increasing the Strike, Parry and Blitz skills provide a number of buffs, percentage increases in strength or defence, more effective blitz encounters or the ability to stun enemies more frequently. These skill categories act as the main form of character development giving each character a unique twist in combat and strategy.

Blitz, strike and parry moves are all vital stances in overcoming the odds, but having a strong weapon equipped can be just as important. Finding weapons happens, but more often players will find more success in forging their own weapons from resources and metals found throughout their journey. Taking gems and metals to blacksmiths will allow players to forge new weapons and armour for each character, also increasing your Smithing level in the process. The higher the Smithing level, the greater the weapons that can be forged at blacksmith shops.

Tons of foul monsters loom in the vast world of Arelite Core.
Arelite Core Review

While traditional RPGs come a dime a dozen nowadays, it’s refreshing to embark on a journey from a different perspective. Playing as the blacksmith with unyielding determination to become the best at his craft is inspiring and charming. Dragon Slumber creates a riveting tale with intuitive perks, skills and useful upgrades. Tons of vile monsters and a cast glowing with interesting dialogue and deep character traits all fit neatly inside this tightly wound RPG. An experience rivalled by so many, yes, but it still brings its own identity to the saturated genre.