Clockwork Empires, Wondrous Melange of Steampunk Insanity and Bugs

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It should come as no surprise, since this game is currently in Early Access, that Gaslamp Games’ latest title is buggy, broken and incomplete as fuck.  That being said, it is the most fun that I have ever had with a game this broken, and at some points I am having a hard time telling what is broken and what is actually supposed to be happening.  Overall, if you have been waiting for a good game that well-represents steampunk, but you were wholly disgusted with Bioshock: Infinite, then this game is one you should consider after a long debate about whether Early-Access gaming is a worthy direction for the industry.

Clockwork Empires is a game with personality and a lot of bizarre quirks.  You are a group of colonists starting a small colony of the Great Clockwork Empire – at least I think you are since this is never really specified, just referred to as “The Empire.”  But fear not! This is nothing like sitting in a Jane Austin novel set on a frontier!  You have to help your people to survive in a world of horrors! HORRORS!

So when you start, you’ll want to start assigning work crews by clicking the work crew button and deciding which people will do which jobs.  Trust me, division of labor is a pretty important concept in this game, since it will dictate which jobs get done fastest.  My opinion is that breaking things down like this bears some of the best results.  2 crews for farming and foraging.  This is most important.  Foraging is how you will get the initial glut of goods to sustain your people in the beginning and you’ll have some food from the Empire, but airdrops are too infrequent, sometimes inaccurate, to rely on.  You have to get farming or starvation will set in briefly before cannibalism starts.  These little bastards don’t even think about it either, they’re just like “What ho!  I’m rather peckish and Nancy just died.  Guess we’d best start rationing her out, hey chaps?”

Clockwork Empires 2014-10-14 10-47-07-71

Listen up, Steelwalker. You and your chaps will start looking for the best way back to the Empire, cause this place sucks!

After food income is determined, the next most important economy is the space economy.  This is handled mostly by one or two crews that are set to forestry, mining and hunting.  Forestry is a task that will have them chopping wood, removing terrain obstacles and other sundry natural objects.  Hunting will make them a useful source of occasional food.  The tasks I always break out are construction and workshop jobs.  Now, in the outset you can easily group these two together since there will be no workshops in the beginning, you’ll have to build them.  But if you keep your workshop crews constantly divided between construction and their workshops, goods production will go WAAAAAY too slowly.  Eventually construction will become its own job and given that there are so few people for all the jobs, and the more people you get the more likely you are to starve, it is something that will have to be done in spurts.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions are always important.  In the very beginning, farms should be among your first things you create, but farms alone aren’t great for producing food.  You’ll need workshops, and the two most used are the kitchen and the carpentry shop.  The tutorial actually recommends you make the carpentry shop first, and they are right.  The carpentry shop is where you will create planks that are necessary to build nearly everything else in the game.  After the carpentry shop, get on that kitchen.  Chances are that you chose wheat as your first couple farms.  Great choice, but without a kitchen you can’t use the wheat you’ve harvested to make bread.  Your people will die staring at sacks of flour.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our ubiquitous hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our glowering hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Construction in this game is definitely unique and undeniably irritating.  First, you have to build on the grid, but the grid doesn’t run everywhere.  Some areas are just not to be built upon.  No real explanation, but I assume there is a ditch or unstable terrain there or something.  Once you’ve cleared a spot to build upon, you now draw the outline for the building.  It doesn’t always have to make sense and it is the most impressive feature of the game.  You can make a thousand of the same building and each can be vastly different from the others.  Once you’ve got your blue outline, you then place your modules.  These are the things that give the buildings purpose and character.  Some are required, in the above case a door and a worktable, some are optional and the rest are decorative.  I like putting the massive bay doors on my carpentry shops.  Just gives the impression of industry.  And make sure you put one or two decorations.  It might just be a game, but it’s the little things that give a sense of immersion.  The most irritating things about the construction system is that you can’t add a few things in at the start and then finish up later.  You are building everything that is going to be in that workshop for the rest of the game.  That is irritating as fuck because gameplay develops as the player interacts with the game.  It is just restricting and never shows any growth or development.

So you’ve got the makings of a colony, and things are moving along.  You’ve got your basic workshops, goods are moving and you’ve finally gotten a few bunkhouses up for the lower class and the middle class.  You are going to start having issues.  Most namely among these issues are the foes: cultists, fishpeople and all manner of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors.  The best part is that the fishpeople will walk in at random intervals and menace your people.  Sure, you can forage their eggs as exotic caviar, effectively eating their children as a delicacy; but cogs only know why the beasts so hostile, amirite?

Charles, gather the basket.  I must defend the crown!

Charles, gather the victuals. I must defend the crown!

I haven’t really gotten very far with this game simply because it is so fucking broken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this game, but the level of incompletion and inoperability make this game absolutely frustrating to deal with.  My biggest gripe is that saves don’t really seem to work.  I have saved games and come back to them with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes they work, other times reloading a save causes the game to utterly crash.  If this were the only issue I would be less annoyed with the game, but sometimes it just crashes mid-game.  All of my plays invariably end with a crash of some sort and then me sighing about everything that I didn’t save.  Then I remember that the saves rarely even work and go play something else.  Sure, you might be saying “But Crotchety, this is an early-release you ass-burglar!  Of COURSE it’s buggy, they are still working on it!”  Let me say this to you little shits, never judge anything by what it could be some day.  That is how Hitler managed to convince people into the Holocaust.  One day we’ll eliminate all the weaker genes in the human race and the world will be full of happy, healthy blonde-haired blue-eyed babies.  Sure sounds nice until you remember you had to kill millions of people to get there.  Also, the price of the game on Steam is 29.99$ AS IT IS!  That is 30$ that would probably be better spent on a portion of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Malfeasant clawbulb.  Fucking.. what?!

Malfeasant clawbulb. Fucking.. what?!

Despite the issues, there are still a number of reasons to be excited about this game.  There are some surprises like random crops growing in your farms, enemies and content updates.  The art is nice and the music is fun.  Every so often you will get drops and immigrants from the empire that will help your colony thrive, but there are so many bugs.  I read about this game back in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer and getting ridiculously excited about what I was reading.  Finally, a steampunk game full of cogs, gears and fishpeople and its an RTS!!!!  The unfortunate fact is that this is a game whose release I am still waiting for.  The best way to play these Early-Access games, in my opinion, is to buy it, play it a little bit to get the impression then let it sit for some months and let it get updates.  Sure this suggestion might make developers nervous, but if you can’t release a full game, it is going to suck and hurt to play.  Just like every time I have to be punished for not saving and, saving, have to be punished for buying the game early when my saves don’t load but, instead, crash the game.  Well, at least the game is fun and quirky.  Even the crash messages say “What ho! The game has crashed!” or some such irritating nonsense.  If your game crashes, it shouldn’t be cracking jokes.  This is where your skirt has blown up.  Fucking apologize for your broken game.

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Natsumi, Hentai Girls are Afraid of the Dark

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Don’t let my title mislead you, this game is not an erotic horror or anything.  As far as I’ve gotten in the game, the main character it features is a scantily-clad anime character and the title’s namesake: Natsumi.  I was unable to get very far in this game, so my perception may be a little skewed.  I also got over anime and hentai girls in high school… neither are really my bag.  I have a hard time identifying with this type of animation since I grew up with a totally different form of cartoon.  Anime is an acquired taste, which I never gave time enough to acquire.

All that aside, this is a pretty spooky game.  Don’t play this shit in the dark, either, or you will shit the bed.  Literally.  I was playing the game in a well-lit room, granted it was well after sunset, but the room was well-lit.  It still gave me a start every time I failed in the first sequence.  This is as far as I got, too.  This game is difficult, sure, but to me it felt unfair.  See, in the game it is dark and your little hentai girl has a head lamp.  For unexplained reasons (it’s horror.. enigma = uncertainty and uncertainty leads to fear) you character has to walk around in the dark finding notes.  Every note you find looks like a pair of eyes with blood dribbling down the cheeks.

They look just like the unifying element between a lot of these pictures...

They look just like the unifying element between a lot of these pictures…

Now, the ambiance is great.  It’s dark, it’s raining, they employed the standardized film grain… my biggest issue is with the controls and the lack of explanation.  You have to find these notes, sure, but the camera seems to want to stay in a location so that you can only see just in front of you, forcing poor Natsumi to get close enough to dry-hump whatever she is looking.  Finding the notes is frustrating enough, but finding them in time is even more irritating.  At the start the game says “find the 5 notes to survive,” but what they don’t tell you is that there is some spooky eye-less stalker out looking for you; the worst part is the intermittent nature of this guy’s appearance.  I’ve played this numerous times, each time this guy found me before I found all the notes.  I know exactly where 4 of them are, but getting between them is aggravatingly impossible.  This guy doesn’t show up at the same time every time, either.  Some times he takes longer, sometimes he jumps on you out of the gate, but he always shows up.  I was getting tired of jump scares, so I had to put it down.

Wait! Kissing bikini babes!?! When did I miss.... I mean, I am so over this hentai stuff... *zip*

Wait! Kissing bikini babes!?! When did I miss…. I mean, I am so over this hentai stuff… *zip*

I am sure this game has a lot to offer, but I was really unable to get past the very beginning.  There are also three buttons in this game for camera controls: one that puts you in the standard short-sighted view, one that drifts in front of Natsumi thematically and another that seems to also look at Natsumi from behind.. but these closer modes are just for experiencing the fear.  At least that is what I could tell.  Henry Sorren hasn’t let me down yet, but this title mostly confused the fuck out of me.  Somebody please play it and explain it to me…  You can get this game off of the app store for only 0.99$, just like all the other Pulp Horror Games.  Here is their tumblr. They also have a facebook.  They have a lot of great games, but I just didn’t get into this one.  It scared the poop out of me, but I couldn’t really get into it.

Hollow Dissent, Stealth Simplified

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This game, by Dark Space Games, is definitely a first game.  Developers’ debut titles may carry certain elements that come through into the game itself: uncertainty, ambition, fear and paranoia.  Hollow Dissent certainly gave the devs a chance to release some of that my shouting into a microphone.  While it may have been therapeutic for them, it made my headphones buzz and my ears ring a little.  Of course, the fact that this game almost feels like a default game that came with Windows 98 kind of makes the game feel a little silly.  Let me explain.

When you start up the campaign, you aren’t given a story as much as you are given what you need to know.  Bunch of people on a base are starting to succumb to radiation poisoning and they are losing their minds because of it.  Kill them all.  Now, I’m no doctor but I am pretty sure that a lead enema isn’t the only treatment for radiation poisoning.  This seems suspicious.  Alongside the ominous music, this all seems like some kind of plot that I am being thrown into the middle of in hopes that someone can solve a really big fuck up.  You play as the wetwork ninja that will move in, eliminate all witnesses and resolve the issue.  Ah, mysterious paramilitary organizations, when will you learn?

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Turning enemies into anonymous clouds of red mist…

The controls are pretty simple and easy to master: spacebar shoots your rifle, arrow keys move, shift lets you interact with things.  Typically you will get through a level after eliminating all foes and get to a door to go to the next level.  It is never really specified whether you go up or down, but I always assume down.  Then there is the gun.  Remember when I mentioned this being a stealth game?  Well the main way you kill enemies is by walking over them like a fucking power up.  They’ll turn into red mist and give out a groan.  I don’t even want to know what this guy has that makes the corpse explode into red mist and even more terrifying is the fact that he never gets covered in enemy residue.  If you fire your gun, however, all the enemies in the level hear it and come running.

Who are the enemies in this game?  Initially you face the personnel of this facility.  The most interesting thing that this game does is make you feel bad for the guards.  Let me explain.  The two main enemies in this game are the guards and the scientists.  The guards are either stationed or patrolling and are ridiculously easy to take out.  In a game like this you would have a stationed guard switch his gaze back and forth between different corridors.  Not in this game.  These guys are practically mechanical meat-puppets that look only where their gun is pointing since that is how shooting works, right?

The other primary enemy you’ll face are the scientists… fucking little scientists.  These guys, unlike every other scientist in gaming, have decided to self-arm and start shooting anyone they don’t recognize.  This is a bitch.  Combined with the fact that they move erratically, they are a serious pain in the ass to take out.  On top of that, these guys spend the whole time whimpering and whining about “him” and “they’re gonna find us.”  This, combined with the totally forced voice acting for the guards makes the whole game start to slide apart.  I mean, the guards literally say things like “target acquired” and “moving to target” like they are a bunch of overweight local policemen playing paintball on a weekend getaway.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  I am sure even those weekend paintballers manage to sound more convincing.

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever...

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever…

Why do I feel bad for the guards?  They are useless.  Seriously.  They are doing their jobs, walking back and forth or standing there doing nothing; in some cases they are even facing a wall.  This would make sense if there was some kind of viewing window, but walking right up to them on the opposite side of the wall from where they are stationed results in staying hidden.  These guys are doing their jobs and continue to do so despite the fact that the scientists, who are supposed to be far more intelligent, start losing their shit and packing heat.  The guards even come running if they hear a gun shot like it might not just be one of the damn scientists giving into their insanity and killing themselves.  What with all their whimpering and bitching, I would have just ordered the R & D team be euthanized.  I wouldn’t even resist the main character, I would be helping him.

Then, about 4 levels down (or up, I am not really sure which) you run into a new foe.  These are some kind of groaning, grumbling comet-ghost creatures that can pass through walls, but they only move when you fire your weapon.  You can walk right up to them and they just stare right through you.  Shooting at them is totally useless, so you have to just get past them to finish the level.  The devs seem to favor putting these fuckers near the exits, forcing you to fire your weapon to get them to come after you… away from the door.  These ghosts don’t seem to affect the guards in the least bit but, entertainingly enough, the scientists splatter upon contact with these things.

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit...

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit…

Don’t get me wrong.  This game isn’t terrible, but there is much that could have been done to improve it.  Ambiance is held together by the grace of a solid soundtrack and decent graphics.  Your character looks like someone took a silhouette of a swat cop, put blue arm bands on him and said “fuck details.”  Guards are all the same little guy holding a pistol with a red dot and the scientists are the erratic little guys with the orange fishbowls on their heads.  This all kind of adds to the ghosts being a little more creepy when you run into them.  Everything already has an ambiguous look to it, but now you have these ghosts that are just all kinds of fucked up.

Level graphics are painfully simple and cookie cutter-styled.  Walls all look exactly the same, and every couple of levels the floor changes design; this would be ok if there were some explanation or pattern, but it goes from stone to riveted metal to castle flagstones so fast that after a while it is just as annoying as the scientists.  Story is delivered in the form of computer consoles that are placed randomly throughout the game.  Through the computers your character communicates with his employers, but this is very very vague and cryptic at every turn.  We have to guess at what is even being discussed at times since there is no internal monologue about anything.  If I saw a comet ghost when I thought I would be stabbing blood-puppets for the next three hours, I would stop to consider my circumstances for a moment.  I am pretty sure I passed by a terminal at some point, too, but it seems that you can go up the next level before finding the consoles, so those aren’t even entirely necessary.

Where's a proton pack when you need one?

Where’s a proton pack when you need one?

If you are jonsing for a good stealth game that challenges you in your stealthiness, you could do a lot worse than this.  Hollow Dissent still accomplishes what it sets out to do in that regard, but it wouldn’t be my first resort.  I am also not going to say that the 5.99$ asking price on the Darkspace Games website is entirely worthwhile, but here are some suggestions on how to make this game worth a little more than that:

Add in a few gadgets and, perhaps, a silencer.  Something more than just a gun and walk-over stealth kills.  The walk-over stealth kills would be alright if the guards looked around a little bit.  Add in some darkness and give guards and scientists flashlights.  This will act to show you where they are looking and add more spooky ambiance to the game.  Don’t make the ghosts glow, but perhaps add in a radar that pings gently as their groans draw closer in the darkness.  That is something the last Alien game did well, even if the only thing.  Put a little more variation in the walls.  Please.  Maybe little windows that stationed guards can look through.  It will add another obstacle and way to get detected.  These levels feel less like any kind of facility and more like mini-mazes to house a few meat sacks.  A little decoration could go a long way.  I don’t rate things, but that would take what is currently 40% of a decent game and punch it right up to 75% maybe even 80%.  I could pay 10$ for that comfortably.  And, please, get a better voice actor.  I could do it for you, I was in the army for two years.  I know what convincing “report” language sounds like.

Efec and Death, Weird Like This is Tough to Find

Henry Sorren, I am finding, is a guy that created a lot of weird things.  This game is one of them.  There is much in this game that didn’t make sense to me, and I got the feeling that is the way it was meant to be.  Each of the Pulp Horror Games has a feel and tone of its own, and this one is just bizarre.  It is very creepy, and I feel like with headphones on in the dark, I would only have completed this game in pieces.  As it stands, I haven’t completed this one, but it has a haunting spookiness.

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Awful lot of birds…

Efec is you character and he is a vampire.  He has, apparently, been asleep for a very long time, so long that he wakes up and there is a pool on top of him.  Whatever, he doesn’t make any mention of it, Efec seems more focused on this hooded figure.  What does the figure want?  Well, this guy tells Efec that death has been hard on the town, and that Efec is their only hope.  He has to go find and kill death.  Efec responds, sure!  Right after I get something to eat!  Makes sense.  If I was locked in some ancient enchantment for years on end, I would likely want something to eat upon waking.

So Efec wanders out into town to find: absolutely fucking nobody.  Seriously, he says “nobody is in town.”  For half a minute I thought there would be a guy sitting there like “my name’s nobody,” but yea, I guess they all just fucking died.  The really eerie thing about this world isn’t the distinctly heavy side of the building to people ratio, but the ambiance of the world.  It has the same film grain that other Pulp Horror titles seem to possess, but this one has Ave Maria playing the entire time.  And it plays like it is coming out of some dusty old victrola in a haunted attic.

...yea seriously, cause I need blood.  Can I directions to the nearest blood bank?

…yea seriously, cause I need blood. Can I get directions to the nearest blood bank?

After wandering through the town like a groggy anemic, you come to a forest.  In this forest is a well, a house – which gives Efec a ‘bad feeling – and a giant, shrieking spider.  Approaching the spider reveals that someone stole its keys and that its kids are in danger.  Whatever, man, just shut the fuck up.  I will help you get free if you’ll only shut the fuck up!!!  Wandering around, you eventually find the keys.  This is a big relief since you have, like, zero visibility out there.  Of course, you get to repeat the process as you wander through the spider caves.  It feels like there is more distance to cover, all of it in pitch darkness.  At times I found myself using walls to guide myself only to realize that I was walking into walls after a while.  There are a number of doors with hidden keys to find and it is hard as shit; so, with the profound lack of visibility, I was unable to get past the spider caves.  This game is creepy as hell, and fits October perfectly.  Play it through at some point, I promise it will give you the jitters.  This title is another artistic piece by the Pulp Horror Games crew, and it costs only 0.99$ on itunes.  Check it out at risk of your own sanity!

Lights Off, Good Old-Fashioned Horror

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d bring out some horror games I’ve been meaning to review for some time now.  When you think of an iOS game, you don’t tend to think of horror, though.  Hell, most games you download through the app store have something to do with angry, flappy birds, smashing candy or playing with your jewels, but it seems that some people are opening up their minds a little.  Some developers are trying out something new with these media and seeing just how well they can excel.  In the case of Lights Off, they’ve created horror and made it even more personal.

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Some of the main things that stand out with this game.  When you start there is a rudimentary story presented, enough to get you into the game but little enough that you feel less than secure about what’s happening.  In Lights Off the main character says he got into a fight with his father, took his keys then left the house.  He then needs to remember where he left his tent since he needs to get out of town for a while.  Maybe it’s just me, but it really does seem like he’s implying the argument got really bad.  Perhaps he’s murdered his father?  I mean, I have had plenty of arguments with my mom, my dad my brothers occasionally my wife, but I have never had to leave town to sleep in a tent, which I keep in an alleyway, to spend the night in a “place where no one could find me.”  Yep.  Maybe it’s not just me.

While you are sleeping in the woods, you are awakened in the night by glowing red eyes.  This makes you wander around at night with a dying flashlight, trying to find a house that some disembodied voice mentioned in passing.  After stumbling around in the dark for what feels like ages, you find your way to the back of a house.  Inside you meet this big, black spooky being that reveals some things about you.  Like, for instance, you are a man.  No really, I had only a few indications to this, but up until I saw a photograph of the character, I was undecided about his sex.  The problem is that in the beginning sequence, when you search for the tent, the sound of the shoes on the ground sounds, to me, a lot like high heels.

LO_town

Later, when you are in the house, your character breathes so heavy, I thought he might need an inhaler.. or he might have just turned into a zombie.  Either one is a viable response.  But his breathing has a bass resonance that seems to sound like a man.  Originally, I was so confident that the main character was a woman that I was getting ready to talk about how I was glad to have a female protagonist.  Considering the implication of murdering the father, women usually have way more twisted motivations for killing their fathers than men do.

LO_parcel

Another issue I had with the game is actually just a double-edged sword.  This game has a fantastic ambiance, and it even suggests you play this in the dark with headphones on.  I wouldn’t recommend it since that might have scared the piss out of me during my playthrough.  One of the ways the game achieves its ambiance is through the liberal use of film grain.  It grants the game a gritty and chaotic feeling that you just don’t get with clean graphics.  It works great, until it becomes so prolific that you feel like you are wearing really really dirty glasses.  At a couple points the film grain got so bad that I had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and I even missed a couple of little scares because of it.  It was like “man I can’t see shit! O, that was supposed to scare me! Ahh ahh….. dammit..”  In earlier levels, the game also has a small area of vision within your screen due to the fact you are using a flashlight, which is really effective and creepy.  This worked out well.

The controls are one thing that I really have to applaud because you never see them.  The left side of the screen lets you walk by sliding your finger around and the other side lets you change what you are looking at by sliding your thumb around.  It is like having two joysticks you can see through to the game itself.  Well-orchestrated and it really did help me get even more into the game.  All this alongside the fact that the graphics were pretty good for an iPad app, and I would say that this is totally worth your time to check out.  Not to mention, this game is free on the app store.  Henry Sorren and Pulp Horror Games have a lot of other games up there, too.  Definitely a good team and you should check out their work

Henry Sorren has also been a sort of sponsor of The Crotchety Old Gamer, providing keys that I was able to distribute to winners in The Crotchety Old Giveaway.  Unfortunately, the giveaway ran for a good length and by the end some of the keys expired, which was a bummer.  Steam keys never go bad, but the app store acts like you are giving away fresh strawberries without any kind of refrigerated storage.  Bastards…

Haunt the House: Terrortown, Murderous Spiritual Mayhem!

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Not since Haunting starring Polterguy has there been a game this indirect about its approach.  In Haunting, you play a ghost who was recently rendered spectral by a careless family of fucktards that killed you while skateboarding, so you make it the purpose of your afterlife to rectify a vendetta against them.  Terrortown’s ghost is more of a motiveless malignancy that likes to kill people and scare the ever-loving piss out of them.  At least Polterguy had a purpose, granted his manifestations were exceedingly more graphic.  But he never killed anybody!  This adorable little ghost has a bloody, murderous core.  No wonder it can’t move on.

Everything in Terrortown starts in the clocktower in the middle of town, where the ghost lives.  After a brief tutorial on possessing and manipulating objects in the environment, you are set loose on the town like an apple-cheeked Mongol set on destroying families and lives.  A couple things of note in the clocktower, though.  During the tutorial, what they teach you possession with is a bell, of which there are nine, plus the one you possess.  There is also a large, out-of-focus painting that looks like it was painted in a JRPG with the bloom turned down.  More on these later.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

Calling this game a puzzler is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, since the only puzzle you are solving is how you will drive terror into the hearts of the town’s citizens.  I would call this more of a strategy game, considering you are tasked with manipulating circumstances and individuals to reach a specific outcome indirectly.  The ghost in this uses possession to its advantage.  By possessing the various elements of the environment, you are able to manifest the fears of people in the things around them.  Now the things you can make people see depend on the level of fear in the atmosphere.  At the base level – relaxed – everyone is milling about in “thumbs-up-asses” mode.  Starting from relaxed, you will only be able to move furniture or swing chandeliers, rattle bars, etc., but once you start to creep people out, the fear level rises.  Increase it to perform higher profile scares and soon you will have people leaping out of windows to escape the house.

Once you have the fear levels up to fever-pitch, people are twitchy if not outright terrified.  You are performing bizarre and ostentatious scares, people are running around terrified and the general populous is jumping out of window to escape.  Revisiting the bells in the clocktower, each level has a few haunts that get bloody.  Several people in the game are asking for it, seemingly pretending nothing is going on, and the scares you perform near these guys get them fucking killed.  This is where the ghost gets murderous: it’s already sucked the happiness and fun out of a room faster than Carl Sagan at a confirmation party, now you’re going in for the kill.  Each person you assassinate gets the esteemed position of haunting the fucking belltower with you, circling a bell themed after their purpose in life to haunt them forever.  How wonderfully sadistic.

That's right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

That’s right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

The goal of this game is to get everyone out of the public places.  Once this goal is accomplished, you win!  Seriously, though that is it.  There are 4 locations to haunt and you are done.  This is a little frustrating, but I get the feeling there is more to come.  At least there better be.  Even though the game is 4.99$ on Steam, I have played other, cheaper games that are, in fact, full and finished.  Don’t get me wrong, this game is great, especially since I was such a big fan of haunting on Sega Genesis, but it literally feels like you finish the first level and it’s over.  I have had farts that lasted longer than this fucking game, regardless of how awesome and adorable it is.  The only thing that takes a long time to finish with this title is figuring out who the last fucking person in the goddamn museum.  I had to look up a walkthrough to figure that shit out.  Overall, it is a fun game and worth some money, but until they add ore content to the title, it will always feel short and incomplete.  And if they charge for DLC, I will pitch a bitch fit.

Shadow Warrior, Better the Second Time

SW_Logo

 

As with movies, games that were remade from an older title fall into two categories: epic or fail.  Shadow Warrior takes the material from the unrepentantly indecent original and sculpts it into an experience that adds to and surpasses the original.  And the way they did it is what makes this so awesome; Shadow Warrior uses the same corny sense of humor, but tempers it with a snarky, demonic sidekick. Devolver Digital has recreating an old washed-up title down to a process as simple as “give it to Flying Wild Hog.”

When SW kicks off, you main character is driving down the street listening to The Touch by Stan Bush.  People seem to like those songs from the 80’s, but not everything out of that era is worthy of remembrance.  Shit, not much out of the 80’s and even some of the 90’s is worth remembering, so this guy listening to some shitty 80’s music in a badass car on the way to a deal is a little off-putting.  Honestly, at first I was like, “God, please don’t tell me that’s the main character.”  But this game is filled with demons, so despite my pleas of “don’t make me play this guy”, I was forced to play as Lo Wang. I let out a nervous giggle and soldiered on.  Of course, this was the only thing that I, as a gamer, found distasteful about the game.  Its humor, on the other hand, is another story entirely.  If I were asian, I might be pretty deeply insulted by most parts of this game, but the way the game also makes fun of the original seems an attempt to apologize for it.

SW_powah

Huh, they misspelled “POWAAH!”

 

As with most games, the first level gives you an idea of what to expect, and it is fucking awesome.  It’s about an hour worth of slicing enemies to tiny pieces with a katana as they shriek and gush blood all over the carpet.  Your katana behaves like a magical limb-detaching wand, and at first I was really surprised by how horrible and gory the game is.  That lasted about 10 seconds before I was laughing my ass off at how ridiculous it really was.  2 parts Tarantino, 2 parts Jet Li and all Wang, baby.  It also displays how good at hiding shit in plain sight FWH really is.  At one point there is a statue behind glass in one of the main corridors, and I walked past it wondering why it was the only glowing statue in the whole place.  This statue is one of several types of collectibles that the game hides from you: money statues, bowls of blood, Ki Crystals and fortune cookies.

The statues give you money, but are not the only source of funds.  The other source is an ancient chinese method called “finding that shit lying around.”  As you collect money, the game totals it and lets you use it to buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons.  There are 3 different upgrades per weapon with 6 upgradable weapons: a pistol, machinegun, shotgun, crossbow, flamethrower, rpg.  One of the things I love about this game is a logical conundrum that I call the “Dimensional Sphincter Improbability”.  Essentially, unless you have a magical asshole that also links to an alternate dimension where you store all your weapons, it’s highly fucking improbable that you can carry an arsenal this vast.  Hard Reset, FWH’s inaugural title, solved this issue by making these weapons varying configurations of the same two weapons.  Shadow Warrior just stores these weapons in an off-screen pocket dimension that follows Lo Wang around at all times.  Of course, this game makes no apologies, and why should it?  It is a remake of an old, less-than-classic game.  Fuck logic.  Your first weapon, though, is the best.  The katana is an awesome part of this game, and you start the game dicing people up and flinging shuriken.  There is one problem with all of this.  The money has the square hole, which is distinctly Chinese, but the katana and shuriken were weapons of Japanese origin.  This game is a bizarre cultural amalgamation of two cultures.  Maybe the enemies in the next game will come from Korean lore?

The next big K-pop group, "Puppets of a Delusional Overlord"

Massacring these blood puppets was more fun than my ethics should have been able to tolerate.

Next, you have the bowls of blood.  This part makes me a little uneasy, and I filed it under “shit I won’t think about too much.”  Every once in a while, you will come across a secretly ensconced bowl of blood suspended by demonic power on a spiked shrine built of the corpses of your enemies victims.  So, naturally the first thing you do is drink it.  At least, I assume you do, and I am pretty sure it is never outwardly stated exactly what Wang does with it, but what else is there to do with it?  Rub it all over your body?  Either way, you get these bowls and they grant you Karma, which, in turn, is used to upgrade yourself with all kinds of abilities.  I spent the most of my first karma points on Ki attacks with my sword, which are badass attacks that allow you to cut through demons like lightly-chilled tofu.  These attacks are rewarding as fuck, too.  Get off a good divider of the heavens attack and your enemies basically explode while is great for taking off legs.  Your enemies will crawl off a bit, which makes it easy to deal with their friends then come back for the karma of beheading them, too.

Ki crystals are giant crystals that glow with ki power, something that fuels the demons’ magic.  Luckily, it also allows you to use Ki powers like self-healing or making a defensive bubble.  While not overtly useful, if used properly the powers become as deadly as the attacks.  Each of these collectibles allow you to buy new weapons, powers and abilities that make gameplay deeper and more entertaining.  The best part is that the abilities flow perfectly from gameplay, and the controls are beautifully intuitive.  As soon as I had the abilities mapped to my brain and the controls, I was ripping through enemies.  When I was finished, their army was measured in liters rather than kilograms.

After a battle, every arena tends to look like this.

After a battle, every arena tends to look like this.

Finally, there are these fortune cookies. Each of them gives you 5 health, which is nice, and then slips you a Confucius-style joke that will make you face-palm so many times your head will turn black-and-blue.  Generally, the humor of this game is pretty terrible, and it would even get to a point that is indecent, but the demon in your head makes it a little better.  He is an ancient, which is some kind of immortal asian demon.  The one you befriend is named Hoji, and he was banished from the shadow realm.  His story is one of Romeo and Juliet turned Pygmalion and Galatea, but with a dark twist.  He provides some comedic levity to balance your character’s ego a little.  With Hoji by your side, there is someone to keep Lo Wang from being the same person he was in the first game.  At one point he even says “Sorry, I used to be a prick.”  In the context of the game, he could be referring to his recent personal catharsis, but it also feels like a reference to that previous life.  Given the fact that this game also has more Easter eggs than grocery stores in late March, it’s not too much of a stretch.

Your enemies are also a throwback to that old time, when Nukem was the duke and consoles were for kiddies.  Many times, this game just throws you into fights where you are like “o shit I’m gonna die” and the entire time I was having flashbacks to plays of Descent and Doom.  Your first enemies are humans, but the game is fast to switch them out for an army of demons.  And those old games seemed to have a habit of throwing demons in as a foe for shooters.  I mean, look at Quake.  I had no fucking clue what the fuck I was even fighting, and the recent(ish) Quake 4 changed over to aliens instead of demonic foes.  Honestly, whatever.  Shadow Warrior made it cool to kill demons again and gave me as much of a thrill as Bioshock did.  Then there are these massive bosses that the game throws at you.  I played a little Duke Nukem Forever, and the giant-boss battles were just a little too… Duke.  They seemed so focused on the fact that the boss was massive and it played well enough, but it was just uninteresting.  Just felt like I was firing bullets into a river to dam in an attempt to damn it shut.  I didn’t feel  badass, just felt like damage control.  Boss battles in this game follow a sort of rhythm and you can measure your progress visually.  You also feel badass at the end for taking down this giant enemy.  It doesn’t feel one bit frustrating and is well done.  The battles are the same method as those found in Hard Reset, and I greatly enjoyed them.

Alongside the enemies, the game takes numerous flares from old-style games, like the card-key search.  Back in the days of Doom, it was standard procedure to be sent out after a set of keys to the complex you were running and gunning through.  Lo Wang finds himself running through arenas of foes searching for colored shrines to destroy in order to get past mystical demon seals.  It really brought me home, and I feel like this is an experience that new gamers will enjoy while old gamers can get all nostalgic.  On top of all this, Shadow Warrior had a spin-off game with Viscera Clean-up Detail: Shadow Warrior.  That is another indie gold mine and a lot of fun, so check it out.

Obligatory scenic screenshot

Obligatory scenic screenshot

Every ounce of this game screams with a righteous fire that burns through every expectation that I had.  It is a vein-bursting experience with fun gameplay, amazing music and a storyline that plays an artful, melodramatic chord against the game’s wang-fueled humor.  The game is ridiculous and over-the-top in a way that made old kung-fu movies so popular.  It doesn’t matter that this game is goofy and ridiculous, it is still a lot of fun, and in a lot of ways it is a shrine to the old generations of PC games and a fist-bump to their players.  It almost feels like I just sat down with the developers, had a few beers and talked about the “good old days of PC gaming” and how gamers nowadays wouldn’t understand.  This they would understand.  And it is really something special, even though it is so, so ridiculous.  Not to mention, the game leaves one of its main enemies wide open for a sequel.  Zilla, your former employer and demonically-enhanced lunatic, escapes in a helicopter.  You slice the other guy’s throat, though, so you get that satisfaction.  This game is 39.99$ on Steam, and I whole-heartedly endorse paying this money.  I got the game when it was on sale, so I lucked out, but it is a title you are guaranteed to enjoy.

With all that being said, the thing that boils my blood over this game is its developers.  Seriously!  How dare they make something so good!  This sets fucking standards!  They literally have made 3 fucking games.  FUCKING 3!  A game where you shred through hordes of demonic minions with righteous blazing fury, one where you blow your way through level after level of robotic minions that are spliced with human bodies and … a game starring a pink panda and a yellow lizard.  Ok, so that last one is still in development, but I am totally fucking serious.  These guys should be given some other old-school titles to revive, like SiN or Blake Stone!  I feel like the only fucking guy that even remembers Blake and his battles with Aliens of Gold!  Shit!  Oh well, I am sure all that is just around the corner, Devolver Digital just needs more money for properties acquisition.  I wish I could just give them money.  LoL!  Be so much easier than waiting for games to come out.