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?”

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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.

The Best Rash I’ve Ever Had

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When I was a kid, my friend would come over with a copy of Road Rash for Sega Genesis.  We’d race for hours while beating each other over the head with any number of clubbed and bladed implements.  Ah, the joys of youth!  It has been many years since and I hadn’t even heard the name of this spoken, and I had begun to wonder if it was ever real at all.  I played Twisted Metal on the Playstation and any number of other games that tried to emulate it, but none that tried to recreate the balls-to-the-wall motorcycle racing gauntlet that was Road Rash.  Then yesterday, it happened.  I heard of a projecton Kickstarter that was to emulate this game, and it had already reached its funding goal.  Its name was Road Redemption.

In this title, you will be playing a Katana-clad member of a mid-western America motorcycle gang.  You have to move your way up in the ranks and take control of drug trading routes.  It’s a visceral title that will actually hit harder than its spiritual predecessor.  Thing is, it won’t be made by the same people that made Road Rash.  In fact, a lot of these developers grew up playing games on the same systems I did, so they remember the good old days of games that make you earn their respect rather than the spoon-fed titles of today.

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

This looks like a title that will take esports to an awesome new level and bring people away from their Xboxes and Call of Duty.  You’ll earn money by racing, sure, but if I can wield a shotgun on a motorcycle, why would I just want to race all the time?  Luckily there will also be assassinations, robberies and other challenges.  Getting the goods will allow you to level your character, buy better hardware and upgrade your bike so you can really take on the tough guys.

The storyline is a sort of made-in-America Mad Max routine.  You are part of stated motorcycle gang in post-apocalyptic mid-west America, and the country is run by a ruthless dictator.  You gang-leader decides that it would be a great idea to ride into the capital with the intent of killing the dictator.  I guess it doesn’t go too well, since the game description implies heavily that shit hits the fan for you and everyone you know.  You then have to track this guy down and, pending his judgment at the gang’s hands, decide what to do about the whole dictator situation.

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Flying blurry men never did know how to ride bikes well…

One of the more vague features of this game comes with the life-system.  There will be no extra lives, but the experience, gear and upgrades you earn should stick with you.  What does this mean? Fuck if I know, but I guess you have a lot of family members who are willing to step up and take over your cause.  You’re probably from one of those massive Irish-Catholic families you see all over television.  What’s more is that multi-player mode will be all about you building your gang and then taking to the internet where you will join up with or against your friends.  Hey, competition is just as much fun as working together, sometimes.  Personally, I cannot wait to throw someone under a bus.. fucking literally!

The best part about all of this?  Road Redemption comes out tomorrow on Steam as Early Access.  So get those bike helmets ready.  We’re info for one hell of a ride.  Get ready for the best rash you’ve ever seen!

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!

Nuclear Throne, SHMUP Both Exciting and Frustrating

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Vlambeer is a Dutch game developer, and their stylish little Shoot-em-up, Nuclear Throne, is on my list today.  Better known for their works published through Devolver Digital, I am curious to see what their independently published projects look like.  While this title needs a little time to grow on you, it still has a certain charm and will definitely appeal to lovers of SNES and NES shooter titles like Smash TV and Contra.  Be warned though, this game is hard as fuck.

When you start up Nuclear Throne, you’ll be greeted by a badass theme that sounds like a fusion of western-style acoustics with post-apocalyptic metal influences.  It stopped me more than once at the above screen, and almost seems too awesome for this game, but it blends with the style perfectly and given what the game goes for, it is definitely perfect.  It’ll fill your ears and get you pumped up as you choose a character in the select screen, which portrays them all sitting around a campfire while one plays the guitar.

Each of the characters has its own benefit and special move, which is activated by right-clicking, but be careful since some characters have cons.  I will list them in order. Fish is a fishman who gets more ammo than the others and can dodge roll. Dodge roll is really useful in situations where you need ammo and have to traverse a field of fire to get to it.  Crystal is a sentient crystal that has extra HP and can morph into a giant crystal for increased defense.  Later, crystal can get a teleport ability with this. Eyes is a blue alien-looking creature that can see in the dark and pulls pick-ups toward him with telekinesis.  Melting is.. uh.. a sort of amorphous creature. He has shit HP, but gains XP faster than the others.  After death he can also use explosive revenge, but I found that thoroughly fucking useless since there are no extra lives.  Plant is a plant that moves faster and can grow snares to slow enemies. Y.V. is a one-eyed triangle reminiscent of illuminati symbolism that gets a higher rate of fire and can use an ability called Pop pop.  I tried using it, but I couldn’t figure out what it does.  Steroids is a muscle-bound character who starts loaded in each new level is less accurate, but can dual wield similar weapons.  Robot is a robot and he gets better tech drops and eats guns.  Eating guns is one of my favorite abilities by far.  Chicken is a samurai-chicken that starts with a katana, is hard to kill and makes everything go into slow motion upon right-click.  Once chicken gets to 0 HP, his head flies off and his body can keep shooting until it dies, too.  Gruesome, but kind of funny.  I also managed to unlock rebel, who has extra defense and can call allies into battle in exchange for HP.  There is one other character I was unable to unlock.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

After selecting a character, you are thrown right into a chaotic arena full of enemies.  At the start you get a simple revolver to suit your slaughter-oriented needs, but that will be quickly replaced by a vast array of weapons from a screwdriver all the way up to a flame shotgun and more.  Grabbing a melee weapon in a “shoot-em-up” might seem like bringing a screwdriver to a gun fight, but that is only because it’s exactly what you’re doing.  In Nuclear Throne, however, it isn’t such a bad idea, really.  I mean, you don’t have to reload melee weapons, so if you are working with a character that has comparably lower ammo, it might not be bad to have up your sleeve.  Your inventory, however, will only accommodate two weapons, so choose wisely.  Luckily, some weapons draw from different ammo types, but given all the ammo drops look the same, there is no telling what you pick-up.  Since there is no weapons inventory screen or anything more complex than weapon 1 and weapon 2, there is no way to tell how much of each type of ammo you have.  It can be a bit frustrating, but it doesn’t fucking care.  The weapon mechanics in this game are intentionally bare-boned so you don’t have anything to distract you from the HORDES of fucking enemies that want to wallow in your blood and render your corpse a charred shell.

Tearing through hordes of enemies is fun, but, as I said, you will want to mix it up.  New weapons do just that, and they come in a healthy variety, packaged in chests throughout the game.  Walk over a chest and it pops open, press ‘E’ to equip a weapon.  Experimentation will help you survive in this, but watch your ammo.  Aside from just chests, there are also EXP canisters.  Originally I thought they were giving me ammo, but they leave a bunch of green shell-looking objects.  Everyone drops these, but noticing they did nothing for my ammo supply I wondered what the fuck they were for.  Eventually, I leveled up after collecting the green bits, so that solved that fucking mystery quicker than a bunch of stoners with a microbus and a mutated, talking great dane.

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Between levels of play you will level you character by choosing a new benefit.  Sometimes these give you more ammo, help you heal, make you faster etc.  The best ones, however, enhance your special ability.  Personally, I like guns for breakfast, so I choose Robot fairly often.  Taking the appropriate skill will allow you to gain more nutrition from guns, healing you more and, I think, providing more ammo.  Each of the skills follow, too, but figuring out the related image is, at times, a matter of artistic interpretation.  The spinning black and purple vortex you see isn’t the door to Narnia, by the way.  Once all your enemies lie beaten and broken, a sucking hole pops up and whisks you off to the next level.  This can be frustrating, so I advise exploring the level as much as possible before killing everybody since this can prevent you from finding all the pickups in the level.  Missing XP canisters can seriously debilitate you for future levels, and dodging bullets becomes half the focus of the game.

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

This game is hard as hell and I couldn’t find a variable difficulty level.  Your choice of character will dictate the level of the challenge, but the massive number of unrelenting enemies make this game truly challenging.  Factor in the drop-off of everything you might accidentally miss after killing the last enemy, and you can see how I only made it up to level 6 after hours of play.  A lot of restarts, yes, but the game makes it easy to restart with the same character, so this is not one you are meant to beat in one sitting.  After drilling away at it, you will find combinations that work for your style of play and get you further and further.  The most aggravating element of this game is the fact that there is no fucking save!  Initially I was mad and wondering why the fuck you would damn your player to infinite restarts, but then I remembered that Dungeons of Dredmor originally had you play through the entire game before you could reload from a death.  Granted, you could at least save after you exit, but when you died your saves were all deleted.  Nuclear Throne doesn’t even possess that decency, and feels like a really well put-together flash game, which makes it a little more disappointing that it appears on Steam.  It is fun, though.  Overall, a good game, just a little too aggravating and definitely a title made for those who got through any of the original Contra games solo and without cheats.  It also has a unique charm that cannot be denied.  Its graphics are fun and don’t lend themselves to over analysis.  They harken back to the old age of 8-bit gaming where it was difficult to even tell what you were seeing at times, but it doesn’t detract from gameplay.  Gameplay is smooth and fast-paced, if missing any form of gaming respite.  Since it is early-access, I can definitely say that this is a game worth buying at its 12.99$ asking price,  even if just to see where they end up going with it.

Lantern Forge, Dr Sandbox and Mr Hack ‘n’ Slash!

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I swear to fucking god, if I play another goddamn sandbox again it will be all my fault, because I like sandboxes way too much.  Granted, last week was the unofficial “week of sandboxes” for me, so I am getting some time in with something more violent after this.  For now, this was a game that persisted in surprising the fuck out of me.  Seriously.  Every time I thought I had gotten to the furthest extent of content in this game, I got hit with more.  It isn’t listed as a pre-release title on Steam, but the devs are still adding content, Terraria-style, so it must be an Early Release.  Either way, this game could have fucking fooled me, because it has more flesh than my own personal ass post-Thanksgiving.

When you load it up, you are in the middle of tabula rasa, a clean slate just waiting for creativity.  One of the first things I noticed was how pretty the UI is.  I mean LOOK at it!  It has everything necessary for an RPG and a sandbox while having some high-speed options for quick-paced combat, and it plays well, too.  It focal feature is a little mode-toggle that is wedged between the hotbar and mana bar like my brother’s face in a dancer’s boobies at a strip joint.  Hit that baby and you go from fun-times-with-Mr-Rodgers sandbox to fuck-me-in-the face Hack ‘n’ Slash.  No joke.  Everything is pretty colorful, beautifully detailed world and a skillful procedural generation that somehow hides itself at first, but that button flips half your menu into blood-stained weapon of death!

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, mother fucker.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, mother fucker.

Take a gander around and you will notice that my house, the log building, and the workshop, the stone building with castle walls, have no floors.  One of the perks of a (sort of) pre-release.  That is ok, though.  And here is why.  Above you can see a fraction of what is possible in ths game, attained in about a full day of gaming.  You can build houses that are basically walls, windows and doors.  Your bed is the binding point where you respawn after death, and incidentally a time-warping machine of the future.  When you sleep, night turns into day, but it looks like you just walk over and look at the bed as time changes.  Given another efficiency feature of the game, you can do this through walls.  This feature is one of the elements of the sandbox.

Next to the blue toggle are four buttons.  The first makes visible your character’s range of influence, which is how far away you can touch things.  Educated guess puts this distance at about 10 fucking feet.  This guy rivals Garrett in the “characters with the longest arms” category, but again, this makes things like harvesting a grove of trees easy, so you can avoid being at dick-distance from each tree to cut it.  At first I thought I found a glitch, but then I stared to look over the buttons, and it all made sense.  The next two buttons say they rotate objects before you place them, but don’t be deceived by this low-down, dirty deceiver; it actually morphs the physical form of items being placed.  For instance, a log fence could become a single section, a corner of fence or  just a goddamn post.  Test this out with various items as the results are titillating.  Last is the sub-subterranean article induction rectifying selector or the STAIRS button because the only fucking thing you place between levels are the stairs!  I mean, if you want to get down to the shrieking charnelhouse of nightmares that is the underground, you’ll need to take the stairs.  Press the mode-toggle before you go, though, as you can’t fight in placement mode.

Blizzard called, they want their orc barracks back.

Blizzard called, they want their mercenary camp back

Granted, before you venture in the dark abyss that lies beneath, you’ll want good gear.  You can craft a wide range of items from the beginning, but the items you may craft are limited to what you can pick up off the ground.  And by “pick up off the ground” I really mean “beat into submission with your bare hands” as the animation seems to display.  Still, you can get loose stones, sticks (which are in fucking everything), logs and food on the surface, and the list goes on.  You can feasibly get a few levels before needing to venture downward, especially since it feels like there is an entire game up top.  Eventually you will want to make stairs down.  Now if you start near stairs, DON’T FUCKING GO DOWN THERE!  I did and I got my ass torn open by goblins.  Luckily the animation just has you pulse into nothing in a flash of light, presumably as Scotty beams you back to the Enterpr.. I MEAN.. your bed.  Building your own staircase is likely to lead down to a single claustrophobic space where you claw your way through the walls for air.. or you could just craft a stone pick and dig your way out, fucking lunatic.  Down here on the first level you can find copper, albeit sparsely populated, which will get you the necessary components for some workbenches.  Materials increase in availability the deeper you go, too, but so does difficulty.  Eventually you need to go down, but be prepared when you do and craft yourself some solid gear on a workbench.

Imagine there are half a thousand artistically detailed workbenches in this game, each with their own function and an impressive array of craftable items and you’ll be imagining… uh.. this game.  I even found a workbench that uses workbenches as crafting components.  It gets intense, but as you need to go deeper, so too do you need to get crafty.  My first workbench helped me combat my hunger bar through agriculture.  The gardening workbench lets you use fruits and flowers to make seeds and potted plants.  Now many things in Lantern Forge also have numerous uses: food-bearing plants can be turned into seeds, sticks are in fucking everything and stones are always useful.  It pays to never throw anything away, so it is a good thing there are as many types of chests as there are types of crafting materials.  Granted, eventually you will have more stuff than you know what to do with, so one really cool mechanic among the pile of awesome elements in this game is the Town Center.  The Town Center is that giant ominous lantern over a bottomless pit in the first screenshot.  This uses workbenches to craft shops that are associated to the functions of those workbenches.  Over-simplified example: a gardening workbench lets you build the farming supply shop.  This can then be placed to buy food, tools, seeds and plants for farming.  The best part is the shopkeepers rotate their stock, so the items in there always change as you play.  Honestly, I am not sure what Hearthfire Studios is trying to pull, but my brain almost exploded with all the shit there is to do in this game.

What Seuss-Lovecraftian nightmare did I just acid trip into?!

What Seuss-Lovecraftian nightmare did I just acid trip into?!

Just when you think you have seen it all, they come up with this shit.  A giant haunted dollhouse in the middle of a pink and purple field spewing out knitted doll-beasts that chase you into the next fucking biome.  Great.  Combat is pretty tough at first, but as you get higher in level and secure a handle on it, it becomes manageable.  You have three combat trees to pour skill points into: hunter for ranged, knight for melee and mage for magic.  They also threw in an adventurer tree and filled it with a variety of passive abilities that make exploration, sandboxing and everything in the fucking game better in general.  On the surface, you are less likely to run into enemies, unless you are a stupid screenshotting asshole that runs into the weirdest shit possible and takes pictures while evil dolls poke him with giant needles.  Yea, that’s me.  At night, however, the forest becomes populated with all sorts of enemies.  That’s why gear can really be important.  While you can only make stone tools at first, eventually you will get to iron and mithril.  These items are, in turn, used to get even more items which can open up new varieties of craftable items, both practical and cosmetic.

Everything about this game is fun.  The art and music work symbiotically to generate the ambiance of this game: colorful and bright at first glance, but as night falls, things get dark and ominous.  And at first, it feels like a winsome frolic in an idyllic land, but as you get deeper and deeper, you will realize there is really more to it.  To give you an idea, I was playing this game for nearly a full 24 hours and still only got to the second tier of technology, crafting in copper.  Granted, I like to really explore things, so I was going all out and getting loot, farming, cooking, crafting and making a town.  This game is gradual sandbox gameplay combined with challenging combat, which spikes in difficulty to keep you on your toes.  Overall, this game is worth every cent of the 9.99$ asking price on Steam and is a lot of fun for those with this taste.  It splices two genres into a coherent and instant-switch whole that holds its own on either mode.  I am not even a fan of anime, but this game’s subtle JRPG tones really bring out the lively feelings of this game and give it a unique flair that really entertains.  Even considering everything I have said about this game, there is still so much to explore and experience about it.  Play it yourself to see.  Thumbs up to the developers on this one; Lantern Forge deserves an adoring fanbase of its own.

The Forest, Sandboxing With Naked Cannibals

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  When in The Forest, you run like a Kenyan or die like a dog.  In fact, I am pretty sure most dogs have better deaths, but I am not here to debate that shit with you.  The Forest is fucking brutal, and you feel it every bleeding second.  It starts with your character pulling himself from a plane crash covered in blood and it ends… well.. I haven’t seen it end happily yet.  But the title screen shows two heads tied up on a stake with intestines that connect through the mouths and wraps around the necks.  And they are upside down.  Yea, shit gets nasty.  This game is also in pre-release, so remember that there is a lot that is still missing.

At the start you are on a plane ride from a presumably civilized location to god knows where when the plane is ripped in half rather suddenly.  It’s not exactly like there is a fucking smidgen of turbulence, just a loud bang like something hits the plane.  I am going to venture a guess here and say that someone threw a homing spear and it tore the plane in half.  With all the bodies and everything that seem to litter the forest, the locals have some kind of vastly successful marketing campaign that lures in hapless morons so they don’t go hungry.  Cause cannibals can’t eat each other!  That’s how they get diseases!  On the plane with you is a little kid.  He is cuddling your arm until the plane breaks apart, then he is white-knuckling the arm rests.  When you come to, you are laying in the aisle and this mostly-naked wildman is standing over the kid.  No worries, he picks up the kid’s bloodied body and carries him off into the untamed wilderness.  It’s ok, though.  Plenty of happy-endings start that way, right?  I am sure he ends up in a Disney-Pixar plot line where his father’s death in the plane crash is the tear-jerking opening.  And the fucked up reality is that I am really fighting cannibals and mutants in the woods for years to come.  Magical.

Don't worry, kid.  It's more aero-dynamic without the front!  We'll just get there faster!

Don’t worry, kid. It’s more aero-dynamic without the front! We’ll just get there faster!

Once you are able to get up, you need to look around you.  This is likely the last solid chance you get to search the wreck.  All about you there is soda, booze, some food and a cellphone.  This cellphone is very important because it sets a keynote for what useless, shitty inventory items look like.  It doesn’t really do anything except tell you the weather, the temperature and how far you’ve walked.  Let me repeat that: In a game where you spend your time OUTSIDE IN THE FUCKING WILDERNESS you are given a goddamn cellphone – a separately programmed mechanic – that tells you if you are cold and what the weather is like.  Of course, that step-counting feature is the major point, I think.  It lets you know just how many steps you take to get between the forest line where you cut trees, spot natives and run for your fucking life.  Naturally, useless.

Now, I died numerous fucking times right out of the gate.  The game tells you to page through a survival guide and see how it might help you, and it does at first, but it fails to mention there are cannibals creeping up behind you preparing to gnaw your ears off.  Like chewy little snacks…  I started right next to a cannibal village the first few times, and walked right in just like “Hey guys, nice grass huts!”  They tore me apart.  The second time I kept my distance, and they overwhelmed me before I had the chance to build a fire.  Strangely, fire is what keep these loonies at bay.  They see it and back off like, “SHIT! He has gypsy magic!!”  Before getting the fire together, though, the guide has you build a little stick shelter to sleep in.  This is how you save your game, so it’s important, but don’t sleep right away.  You’ll wake up at night with cannibals gnawing on those delicious ears again.  The last tutorial shows you two plants: a blueberry bush and a bush with black-colored berries on it.  I specify because the first is edible, the second will fucking kill you.  Important.  And these are not the only edible plants in the game, just two of them.  The rest you have to figure out by trial-and-error!  And I mean, most survival books are specific to a section of the world or a continent and give you a wide variety of things to eat in those places.  Whoever wrote this book just kind of implies that there are other things out there you can and cannot eat: either madly sadistic or profoundly lazy.  Not to mention, you can eat certain animals in this game but not others.  Why can I eat rabbits and lizards but not the fucking frogs and birds?  And why not the shark that washed up on the beach?  I know I would be using that for days.  Just cook it up really really well and add some salt from distilled seawater.  Maybe some seaweed for flavor.

Each year hundreds of people survive in the wilderness, except you.  You're fucked.

Each year hundreds of people survive in the wilderness – except you.  You’re fucked.

This is one of those places that the game is still vastly unfinished.  I am sure that there will be more added to this book given time, but right now it is pretty useless for finding food.  Your best bet is killing animals for food anyway, clearly not a game made by vegans.  Although there is a vegan mode where the cannibals won’t eat you.  Makes it a little easier.  The primary role of the book is to help you build things.  Those ghost-walls you see up there are what happens when you place something.  It creates an image of what you are building and you bring materials over to it, building into the image.  Really neat, overall.  Of course, you need to be careful where you place things.  A ghost-image cannot be removed right now, not that I could find anyway.  Then there is the matter of cancelling an object.  Say, you want to build a fire.  In your panic to avoid slipping into the stomachs of cannibals, you accidentally select the head-on-a-stake effigy.  You’ll have to go back into the book and then exit or select something else to cancel the head.  Now I was panicked, and that is the story of how I got a head-on-a-stake next to my cooking pit.  It’s a little unsettling, but it’s a great conversational piece that adds seasoning to my skinned rabbits and lizards.  The most frustrating element of building is you have to look back into the book every time you want to plan out a section of wall or build a fire.  This makes sense the first time, but it gets old after the thousandth fucking time.  I would have memorized the best method for building a fire after having to read the book a bazillion times.  Early on all your construction should be fueled by soda and candy bars you got from the crash and luggage around it.  This gives you food and energy enough to get a good bit of a citadel plannedand built before the cannibals become too much of a problem.

O, yea, effigies?  That shit is fucked up.  One way to keep cannibals at bay aside from filling your camp with campfires is to set up little effigies.  Effigy is a nice term though.  Really, you are creating survivalist outsider art with the limbs of your fallen foes.  Fucked up and brutal.  The best part is, they only keep the fuckers back as long as they are on fire, which they stay lit for like, an half hour at most?  Then there was this problem I had where it was raining almost constantly.  So, apparently I am in a sub-tropical rainforest.  Those aren’t fucking common, but they exist.  This might help me pin point where The Forest takes place.  There seem to be no tropical plants that I can determine, and there is a shore.  The natives like taking body parts and wearing them like feathers plucked from a peacock.  The animals tend to be small and there are a lot of lizards.  At first I would think Russia, but there aren’t any wolves and it can’t be Africa since no one is black.  That would be racist.  Then again, nobody looks asian, but some pacific islanders look white, right?  Best guess, this takes place in Oceania, not too far from New Zealand.  What likely happened is all the hipsters and vegans banished the meat-eating people to an island and there they went fucking crazy and started eating people.  Of course, that was years ago, so they’ve all but forgotten about them except in stories and tales.  This is why you find hikers and campsites out here where no one in their right fucking mind could ever consider camping.  I assume they are hikers because they are miles from any roads and there aren’t any off-roading jeeps or anything.  Then again, they could have come in by plane, given there is a lake nearby and the seashore is accessible.

There is also an interesting crafting system that reminds me of the Zork games where you combine different things to create something else, like a bottle of booze and a rag makes a molotov cocktail.  Of course, there aren’t a lot of recipes to figure out at the moment.  The survival book naturally doesn’t tell you how to build any of these things, either.  I remember reading the military Field Manual on wilderness survival, and that shit is comprehensive.  I would have bought a better manual if I were this guy.

Welcome to my home, you can have a seat over by the head-on-a-spike.  His name is Wilson.

Welcome to my home, you can have a seat over by the flaming head-on-a-spike. His name is Wilson.

Of course the cannibals in this game are the early enemies and the source of a lot of fun.  Before the mutants come and ruin your life, the cannibals are just funny as shit.  First off, they run around shrieking and generally acting like they think they’re zombies.  They’re all naked, including the women, so seeing some boobies every once in a while is nice, even if they are weird and dirty.  Remember all the booze from earlier?  Use a few of those bottles to make molotov cocktails, and let it rip.  These things take out cannibals like nobody’s business.  You’ll need the rest of the booze to make bombs for use against the mutants.  When you die, you also go to this fucking cave full of terrifying shit, but I don’t want to talk about that again.  The least the bastards could do is just let you die.  It really does say a lot about a game, too, when you can take one guy’s arm and smack his friends to death with it.  There is a little problem with killing enemies with fire, though.  The enemies will die and their corpses remain standing.. and breathing.  You can smash them apart with your axe, and the legs even stay there.  Then there are the women.  Sometimes you will kill them with fire and they will change from a hairless weirdo to a woman with hair.  Then you smash them apart like a blood balloon and their body parts turn into male body parts.  It is just a little weird.  All the mechanics are there, but the models and art have to catch up.  Generally this game screwed up where Minecraft excelled.  The Forest chose some spectacular graphics not realizing that all that detail leaves HUGE fucking holes.  There are so many graphics bugs in the game that going into them at length is its own fucking essay.  Minecraft had crappy graphics that were ridiculous by comparison to other games at the time.  But it worked and did its job so well that it is a gaming sensation.  The graphics were simple and clean.  This allowed the developers to move on to other, more important things, thus Minecraft had more to start with than The Forest.  Right now, this is a great game, and 14.99$ on Steam is pretty reasonable for where it is in development.  I would wait a bit on this game, though, if you expect a good and complete game.  Should you choose to invest right now (and I would advise waiting until it goes on sale again), don’t wander too deep into The Forest and it’s still pretty fun.

 

 

Black Ice, Warning: Incoming Game!

BI_logo

 

Remember those days when we imagined all the different ways that life would be different inside a computer?  Any male product of the 1990’s would remember Reboot: a show whose name is invoked, intentionally or not, when an old series gets updated and made dark and gritty.  It was about the denizens of a cyberworld inside a computer where things were fine and happy until some jerk decided to play a game.  If that were the case, my computer’s inside city is a post-apocalyptic nightmare ruled over by the churning wheels of a citizen-rending machine known only as Steam.  But before all that happy-go-lucky bullshit there was a guy who envisioned a world destroyed by cybernetics and supercomputers.  Where the ultra-wealthy elite do as they please with the world, ruling from corporate arcologies where they look down and see an infinite sea of light reflecting the scintillating beauty of the stars above.  This vision of the future, as seen in Bladerunner and Shadowrun, is called cyberpunk.  Black Ice takes place in the minds of those called hackers, and it is a love letter to that vision of a future age.  Garrett, the developer behind this game, shared some of his own thoughts on the inspiration driving this title.

Black Ice was inspired by many things, but mostly Neuromancer by William Gibson and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I wanted to experience the hacking as described in Neuromancer, but I also wanted to find cool loot and blow stuff up.  I think it’s obvious that I took a lot of inspiration from Diablo 2 and Quake 3, but I also looked at things like the Android: Netrunner card game and older games like the original Rise of the Triad. I want you to feel dread at what’s going to come out of these servers, to risk it all for the potential of awesome loot. I want you to feel great because you found an awesome ability combo and are wrecking servers that used to give you trouble. I want you to feel OP.

– Garrett, Developer, Black Ice

Jacking into the Supermesh can be a bit overwhelming at first, since you start the game at level 0.  The game is far from perfect right now, but it has a good thing going.  Check in options that you have the tutorial activated your first run.  It will give you an idea where to start, level you up and secure you some first-level loot as well.  But after running the tutorial once make sure you don’t have it active anymore, or else it will run every time you play.  Irritating.  Sure, in most versions of a cyberpunk future you are dealing with a massive computer network cybercomplex known as “the matrix”.  Gibson used it, Shadowrun uses it, the Matrix used it: at this point the matrix is an irritating trope, so I am glad someone saw fit to call it something a little different.

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Once inside the supermesh you will see block after block of fluorescently lit data archives.  These are the servers.  Each one is owned by a company or organization and each one holds a dark secret and terrible power, and you can read about them on their little terminals.  But don’t get too distracted; there is a lot to get a hold of.  Each attack you possess costs you RAM.  Think of RAM as stamina in other games: every action you take aside from pressing ‘wasd’ costs RAM.  Sure, your RAM replenishes but how quickly depends on your talents.  You also have a health bar, experience and an actions hot bar.  You can slot actions into your left/right click and numbers 1-5.  You will also be able to slot abilities into spacebar and shift.  While I went with the age-old gaming medium of shift to run, space to jump, you will certainly have options open as you can slot any ability anywhere.  You could have 6 different types of lasers, an icebreaker and a rocket pack and play the whole game that way.  Your arsenal depends on your hacking style.

Each of your attacks and abilities is governed by a talent.  This is like the character sheet for your standard RPG, but this one is a bit more extensive.  There are a lot of things to consider while you are running the supermesh. You have your hacking talents ( hack speed, hack time, hack range) which govern how you attack servers.  Increase your hack speed to speed up your hacks.  Decrease your hack time so there is less time on the clock when you start the hack.  Increase hack range and you get a larger playing field.  Now, when you hack a server, you run up to it and activate your icebreaker.  Why the fuck is it ice?  What is with all the fucking ice?!?!?! Is it cause the ground is light blue like ice or something? No.  Fuck no.  Those playing Shadowrun are aware that each server deploys Intrusion Countermeasures to detain or kill anyone trying to gain unlawful access to the data on the server.  Your icebreaker lets you tunnel into the server and gain access in a matter of seconds.  In the meantime, you have to deal with Black Ice, the ICs designed to kill the operator.  These are what you shoot, nuke and destroy in the game.  You main enemies.

Your next series of talents are what I have dubbed your general talents (Movement speed, Loot Find, RAM, Health) these let you do various things, mostly self-explanatory. You want all of these increased as much as you can get them.  Some items increase your RAM incrementally or by a percentage, each is displayed separately.  Your next round of talents will be your combat talents ( attack speed, accuracy, critical hit chance, weapon damage, weapon range).  Again, all self-explanatory.  The last round of talents are really just secondary combat talents (Damage returned, chance to pierce, drunk projectiles, knockback power, homing, chance to ricochet, damage reduced, chance to colorize, RAM returned).  A lot of your talents cannot be increased by level, so watch what items you slot.  You don’t want to give up an icebreaker that has a nice range if you really need space to move!

When you see this fucker you better run.  It's a shark that fires missiles out of its jagged-toothed mouth.

When you see this fucker you better run.  UFO shark is gonna shoot you with missiles!

Some points to consider while leveling up.  While having an ass-load of RAM is good, some abilities will reduce your RAM by a percentage.  This means the speed you’ll run out of it will not change ever.  So the best stat to level up if you want a good bit of RAM every time you hit that button would be RAM return.  This will increase the rate that your RAM bar refills.  There are a lot of talents in this game, so don’t be afraid to experiment with each of them.

Personally, I did a lot of experimenting with ways to play this game.  For example, nothing is more annoying in battle than being unable to find the attack you want right before some cyberweb crawler leaps at you and takes you out.  This is frustrating.  So I arranged my abilities and weapons so my attacks would be easier to access.  In order to activate my icebreaker, I have to hit 5.  Essentially, I cannot hit that button by accident.  Your supermesh cybercity will be arranged so that a level 300 server is just next to the level 80 server I want to hack.  If I am finishing off the target server and accidentally attack the level 300 server just next to it, I might get my bits scrambled before I can exit the hack range.  I have had my bits scrambled a lot, and every time that happens you lose bitcreds, in-game money.  So placing my icebreaker in a tough to hit spot helped me stop doing that shit.

Another fun fact you might notice while playing is that you can crack multiple servers simultaneously.  This helped immensely when I was level 50 – 70 and was getting bored.  Cracking one server at a time is a slow leveling process, and you have a long way to go until you can attack your final server, the aptly named Finality, Inc.  It is the giant silver server guarded by a roving warship of doom, called a S.H.A.R.K. and topped with a spinning cybernetic skull.  Can’t miss it.  Anyway, being able to take several servers at once gave me the ability to level fast as shit.  I got from level 51 – 80 in a matter of hours; each server provided a healthy boost of around 1000 exp.  Activating several servers simultaneously allowed me to create a giant Venn Diagram of death.  Pure magic.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don't like video games.  I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don’t like video games. I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

However, I still wasn’t leveling fast enough.  I got frustrated and went to the store to sell a fuckload of goods.  After cracking a few hundred servers, you inventory gets a little full.  So you go to these giant solid-colored store servers.  I hadn’t bought anything until level 47 and boy was I surprised when I did.  I realized that I could buy some crazy missile attack that allowed me to blow up anything in sight. I also got a secondary, slow-firing shotgun attack that fired missiles instead of pellets.  That shit hurt a lot.  Now I was cracking 2 servers twice my level.  At my best around level 50 I was able to take down a level 110 server and a level 160 server at once.  Anything more than that and it gets really dicey.  These attacks even let me take on the dreaded sharks, and that got me even stronger weaponry, since Finality Inc is a level 500 server.

Now I am pushing level 99 and I am able to take on three level 150 servers at once, but I generally just take a level 175 server and a few smaller ones with it.  An important factor to note in server crashing is that when you attack more than one server at once, each server’s ICE will attack the others.  This means that if you grab a spam server, all the other ICs will be bogged down trying to fight the little guys.  Most other servers will kill off a spam server for you, and you can just watch.  Granted, you would normally get experience per kill.  If ICs kill eachother, you get nothing for it, however, you will still get the exp when the server goes down and the loot inside.  But this means that you can use two or three larger servers against eachother, but be careful!  Each server is killing each server and any IC not engaged in combat will lock into you if close enough, so it is best to keep within the range of enemies you can feasibly take down.  I still shy away from servers at the upper 200 levels.  Utilize these tactics well and you will turn all your enemies into a neat little pile of cybernetic death confetti, just make sure not to get your bits scrambled in the process.

It's like a party for you imminent demise! YaY!

It’s like a party for your imminent demise! YaY!

Black Ice is a great game, but it is in pre-release status, so it is far from perfect.  It has a modern-classic feel to it, though, and will definitely get you back to reading some Neuromancer.  It is available on Steam right now for a cool 9.99$.  Not bad considering it is a good time.  At the moment you’ll be plowing through servers like you’re some kind of bit drinking data vampire after a camping trip in the Australian outback, but it is a lot of fucking fun.  My favorite thing is standing on top of a server, looking out and seeing the ghostly outlines of the numerous servers I’ve crashed.  Sometimes destruction is its own form of creation.  This is another game that includes a photo-sensitive mode designed to aide those suffering from light-sensitive seizures that still want to enjoy it.  For those that care, this one is firmly planted in my favorites on Steam.

I was driven up a wall by one thing in this game, and it wasn’t the web crawlers.  The thing about this game that got me so frustrated is the distinct lack of anything.  It is a lot like being in an actual server: lights, a droning noise some soundtrack but there is no life!  Can we have the game elements of this one already?!  I mean I don’t want to go trade war stories with Mr. Rodgers or anything, but when I am cracking servers just to have someone to associate with, you know there should be a little more variation.  Whatever, maybe I can just go hang out at Finality, Inc.  Live every week like it’s shark week!