Tag: Game reviews

Beyond Blue Review

Developer: E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Music: Curated Playlist
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, Linux and Mac
Released: 17th April 2020
Genre: Adventure, Educational, Simulation, Indie Game

“Beyond Blue takes players into the near future, where they will have the opportunity to explore the mysteries of our ocean through the eyes of Mirai, a deep-sea explorer and scientist. She and her newly-formed research team will use ground-breaking technologies to see, hear, and interact with the ocean in a more meaningful way than has ever been attempted. The game features an evocative narrative and exploration of an untouched world.” – E-Line Media Game Description

Beyond Blue is evocative and heartfelt in its design. E-Line Media have a statement that says, “Inspiring Players to Understand and Shape the World.” And that is exactly how I felt about Beyond Blue. This wonderful ocean research game was inspired by Blue Planet II and you really do feel the passion and love for the ocean throughout its narrative and educational aspects.

You as the player Mirai love whales and spend time with a family of sperm whales with their new born calf Andrea. You follow Mirai on her personal journey above the water as well as her professional life underwater where she hosts live streams called OceanX Streams, collecting samples from the ocean floor, tracking marine life and of course discovering the mysteries of the ocean. All this to help educate the wider world about the “blue heart” of the planet.

There are in total 8 dives each one lasting anywhere between 15 minutes and upwards of 45mins depending on how much you like to explore. Mirai has her home base which is a futuristic submarine that she returns to examine findings and complete reports. It’s also where Mirai contacts her sister back on land where she is trying to help support her sister in taking care of their grandmother. This ties closely to the research Mirai is conducting on a family of sperm whales, the pod has a new mother and daughter duo whose family also consists of a grandmother.

Beyond Blue is so educational that while I was playing, I learnt that sperm whales live in family units and that the females will stay together forever while males will leave until they are of breeding age. Sperm whale females build strong and lifelong bonds with each other and those bonds will transcend generations. Grandmothers will pass on valuable knowledge to their younger family members. Mirai intends on studying the baby sperm whale well into adulthood and throughout her life to understand more about the species.

The voice acting is fantastic, all the characters really come alive with the phenomenal voice work of Anna Akana (Ant-Man), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Pirates of the Caribbean III), Ally Maki (10 Things I Hate About You), and Mira Furlan (Babylon 5). These talented actors really help bring the educational elements of Beyond Blue to life.

In between dives quotes from researchers, marine biologists, oceanographer and underwater explorers also known as aquanauts appear throughout the game. There is also this incredible video feature that you unlock throughout the game that is called ‘Ocean Insights’ which are a series of short videos from the real world based around real scientists sharing their love for the ocean, it’s secrets and most importantly sharing their discoveries about our natural water world.

The great thing about these Ocean Insights is that the videos you unlock usually relate to something you have discovered on a recent dive. Honestly unlocking these little mini educational videos was my biggest driving factor for completing a dive. I wanted to hear more from people like Dr. Sylvia Earle the founder of Mission Blue and resident explorer for National Geographic not to mention a bunch of other awesome National Geographic residents you get to hear from.

When exploring in game I found the mechanics to be surprisingly intuitive and the UI Hud to be so smooth an effective. Beyond Blue is considered to be an indie development however the player movement and visual design would suggest a much bigger production. It might not be high graphics but it certainly doesn’t need to be with such a smooth interface and wonderfully designed player movement.

I did have a minor issue with loading a saved game however, when I first logged back in after taking a break the game froze when I selected ‘continue’ so I did unfortunately have to get task manager involved to close the game and start up again this time opting to load a previously saved game instead. I’m not sure if this is an issue isolated to windows versions of the game or my PC just sucks but keep that in mind if you stumble across the same problem.

The music gives off ethereal ocean vibes while diving, creating this really paced atmospheric energy peacefully guiding and encouraging you explore further into the depths. When you are onboard the sub however you get this exceptionally curated playlist of ocean inspired music from a variety of different artists as well as the ability to unlock more tracks throughout game play.

Beyond Blue is touching, awe inspiring, educational, and also a challenge for us to rise to the occasion and protect this vulnerable underwater world. There is so many wonderful things to appreciate about our little blue planet and its vast seascapes and Beyond Blue has done an exceptional job of bringing the ocean closer to us so that we may learn and engage more with our ocean environment. If you are lover of the planet, get Beyond Blue you will almost certainly learn something and experience the vastness of our oceans.

Green Hell Review

Developer: Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Publisher:
Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Music:
Adam Skorupa & Krzysztof Wierzynkeiwicz
Platforms: 
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released: 
29 August 2018
Genre:
Survival, Adventure, Simulation, Indie, Action

It has been three years since Jake and Mia first visited the Yabahuaca people. Originally Jake & Mia visited the Amazon Rainforest to study and learn about the tribe. After returning from the jungle Jake published a book called “The Spirits of Amazonia” discussing all the cultural elements of the tribe and its customs. However, the book wasn’t received well by its readers and criticized Jake for using the Yabahuaca tribe for his own personal gain. This time Jake has returned to the forest undergrowth in hopes of learning more about the jungle’s flora and fauna while Mia (his wife) ventures off to visit the Yabahuaca tribe to hopefully gain their leaders trust, be initiated into the tribe and ultimately share their secrets with the wider world.

Dialog over walkie talkie:
MIA: “I need you here. Jake. Please, please answer me!

JAKE: “Mia, what happened? Mia, speak to me… Mia!”

As you might’ve guessed things don’t go so well for Mia and it’s up to you (Jake) to find her and bring her to safety. Of course, this is a survival game which means things are not going to be so easy. If anything, they are going to be extremely difficult. Well with all the dangerous wildlife, angry Yabahuaca, rainforest dwelling drug cartel and of course Omolu Corp searching for the cure for cancer what could go wrong? Narratively speaking Green Hell is a game with branching narratives and multiple endings making for an interesting and long journey that can end happily or in tragedy. So, watch where you step my friend.

There are 4 difficulty levels in Green Hell. There’s: A Walk in The Park, Welcome to The Jungle, King of The Jungle, and of course Green Hell being the hardest. The big thing with these difficulty settings is that you can have the option to turn tribe hostility on or off, predators on or off as well as Jake’s sanity, making for a truly terrifying experience should you be chased by a big angry cat through the jungle, at night, in the rain, whilst not being too sure that you hallucinated the whole thing. But don’t worry the tutorial eases you in. First by showing you how to check your backpack, inspect your body should you become injured, how to set up a camp, build shelters and so on. The controls and interactions are pretty intuitive and easy to follow making the learning curve a breeze to get through.

Similar to ARK: Survival Evolved, Green Hell is spectacular in its environmental design taking you through creeks and undergrowth with brilliant visual clarity. The Amazon truly comes alive if you can turn those graphics settings right up and even on a low-resolution the environment still looks pretty darn real. You can tell by how well the water animations have been done that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Making the terror that much more real.

There’s a bit to juggle in the first few hours of gameplay with learning a map, navigating a notebook with all the details of “How to do things” as well as finding the right time to rest, eat, and maintain sanity. You have a smart watch gifted to you from Mia that aids you with managing your player needs. As someone who gets spooked a lot this game is probably best played with friends. Green Hell gives you the option to play cooperatively both with survival mode and story mode. I find myself being more confident with decisions in survival games with friends by my side, but by all means if your more of a lone wolf kind of player than good luck to you.

What really gets my heart racing is the music, with low tribal drums, maracas, bamboo pan flutes and suspenseful themes Adam & Krysztof have done and insane job of elevating the experiences of Green Hell to not just increase your fear but also showcase the native South American musical instruments. Touching on classical Latin guitar, whilst still keeping true to the native sound of the Amazonas, I am definitely impressed. Of course, most of the music is designed to keep you on your toes so be prepared for that.

To summaries my experience with Green Hell I have to say that as much as I spent my time working up the courage to venture further into the rainforest, there is so much going for it aside from the fear aspects. There are many moments of appreciating the natural world, spinning out with Ayahuasca, and learning about the wonder of the Amazon. The story is compelling and is a fantastic driving force when you are unsure about what to do. The music is heart thumping and beautiful and I’m looking forward to playing more of the Green Hell universe as the developers continue to expand on Jake & Mia’s story. Hopefully when you play, you both come out alive.

Factorio Review

Developer: Wube Software
Publisher: Wube Software
Music: Daniel James Taylor
Platforms: PC only – Windows, macOS, Linux
Released: 14th August 2020
Genre: Simulation / RTS / Building / Management / Tower defence

Factorio in my house has a reputation, for my wife knows I will be lost for two days, rave of mathematical ratios and alien biters, and somehow gain the focus of a cramming uni student abusing caffeine and amphetamines.

But what is this, my game of 2020 and drug of choice?

Factorio was successfully crowdfunded in 2013 and released into early access on steam in early 2016. I first played Factorio later that year after binge watching youtubers creating vast belted megafactories. Visually, it is a top down, 2.1D isometric game like RTS games circa 1999, while also having a dreary diesel punk aesthetic. Despite this the world is rich with biomes, natural fauna, and easily identifiable resources to feed the factory.

Game play wise it is a beast of real-time strategy, automation, resource management and base defence.

The basic premise of Factorio is that you have crash landed on a planet and need to survive. This is really only present in the tutorial and when you set off your first rocket, the endgame trigger. The rest of the game is the dieselpunk version of Man Vs Wild while you set your mind to the machinations of the machine, engineering an extravaganza of a mega-base while protecting yourself from the natural life forms attracted by your pollution and hell bent on destroying your creations.

To create your first factory you mine, belt, chop, hand craft and build before progressing to automating with belts, inserters, and trains. The final step, if you are brave enough, the birth of true automation with flying robots, wires and storage all controlled through logistics and programming.

Your factory is now vast and consuming, both in resources and time. You stare bleary eyed at not only how long you have been staring at the screen, but how many hours you have now accumulated in your steam profile. Calculations and spread sheets strewn across your desktop as you have calculated the exact ratios of ore to final products.

This game captivates the engineer in me. The organisation to compact and replicate, modularise and expand. But I’ll be honest, I play on peaceful. For without this, those biters, worms and spitters come in ever increasing waves. They expand and search for weaknesses, and one day you look up from your hard work and hear the alarm and they’re chomping at your power station and everything goes dark.

Speaking of sound, the atmospheric sounds are inconspicuous. I don’t mean that in a bad way, rather everything sounds right for the situation. Footsteps on grass, sand, concrete and metal all sound right for the situation. The intervals between the musical interludes are filled with the wind in the wilds, or if you are in your factory the hum of machinery and belts, the crackle of arching electrics or the soft bells of sonar from the radar tower.

The musical composition of Daniel Hames Taylor highlights the desolation and feeling of isolation while still remaining calming and optimistic, it is also memorable and repeated enough so that years after playing, reopening the game and listening to the game’s music brings back instant nostalgia to the hours of gameplay you previously invested. However, should the music grate on your psyche, as in most things in this game, there’s a slider for that.

Overall while I’m sure you can tell I enjoy the game there are some teething issues for new players. The controls and key board shortcuts are extensive and while the tutorial shows a good selection of the basics, the huge selection of inbuilt shortcuts can be overwhelming to learn. There’s also little after the tutorial to tell you what or how to do things. You are left to your own devices, a research tree, and your own brain to guide you. This tends to lead new players to restart their first map a few times before getting into their stride. And when you set up your map everything has a slider, from the progression of the biters to how rich ore patches are, how many natural cliffs, water fronts and trees you need to cut down, destroy or pave over to expand your ever growing factropolis.

The developers Wube Software continue to actively develop the game, while also developing new toys and squashing bugs. The modding community is also highly active and can add different gameplay loops and complexities to your engineering marvel.

If this has wet your whistle for a play you can find a demo available at factorio.com, or you can buy if from that same website or from steam.

 

Shapez.io Review

Developer: Tobias Springer 
Publisher: Tobias Springer 
Music: Peppsen  
Platforms: PC (Windows, Linux) 
Released: 21st May 2020 
Genre: Simulation, Puzzle, Strategy, Base Building

Do you remember the carefree days of your youth? Those picturesque mornings spent lounging in your loose nappy while trying to push that yellow triangle shape into that yellow triangle hole? The endorphin rush as it slipped through and you clapped your chubby little hands and smiled at how smart you were? Well, Shapez.io feeds you the same shapes from your youth, with the same chase for endorphins. This is a game, nay, and addiction, that caught my attention when described as Factorio Light”, base builder, puzzle & strategy game, where its light simple interface and relaxing music conceals the insanity of the game within.  

The first few hours of Shapez.io has you extracting shapes from nodes of Circles and Squares and belting them to the hub. The shapes ponderous progression ends as they are swallowed and stashed away to be consumed for glorious levels and upgradesThis progress is marked by a Pavlovian bell and splash screen, a new building at your disposal to firstly cut the shapes in half, then turning them, then learning about colouring them, and oh the colours you will create! From the bright base colours of red, blue and green you will create majestic magenta, cynical cyan, ludicrous yellow and gloriously complex white.  

Now, as the hours pass by in a blur, it is a battle for space as you try desperately to feed shapes into the sixteen mouths of the hub, speeding your progress. The denial builds as you realise that soon you will be tearing down all your work to start over once more. Then – on the horizon – rises our saviour shape, a dearest blue teardrop marked with a pure white circle. Her appearance marks the first evolution, Blueprints. Suddenly complex shapes become a breeze as you can copy and paste structuresyour factory size exploding as efficiency and balance become your bedfellows. The only thing hindering this expansion is the speed at which you can create and store these precious blue tears of divinity, as the size of the structure dictates how many of them you will need to move or copy it.  

20 hours later I had gone through spreadsheets of data, many hours of waiting for shapes to be made and stored, two soft restarts, one day of depression and a race to get to level 20.  

In all seriousness, the ingenuity of the game is glorious. With the infinitely generating map the only limitation is your own imagination, and possibly the speed of your computer processor. I did find it occasionally frustrating that the game could not keep up with my impressively expanding and massive factories. My aging i7 stuttered and lagged even on the lowest settings due to the lack of support for multithreading. For as the game slows so does progression, so there you must walk the tight rope between factory size and efficiency. So, you focus on upgrading your factories, so you process shapes faster and more efficiently.

The difficultyscaling of the different shapes is mostly well balanced with player progression. After level 20 you unlock the sub level of wires, logic gates, and others, culminating in free play mode at level 26. I sadly did not get that far, bowing out at the 26-hour mark as I unlocked the new prospect of wires and switches. One day I may gaze into the abyss of never-ending upgrades and an unending random shape generated level system beyond that. 

Through all the highs and lows you are serenaded to by the hypnotic music of Peppsen. This music has a beat that motivates you, a melody to hum to, and is still chill enough to fade into the background and let you focus. Combined with the satisfying clicks and clunks to punctuate the placement of buildings and belts the soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the hours of gameplay you inevitably invest in this game. 

After the long days of playing Shapez.io and being washed in the relaxing sonic waves of Peppsen’s Rectangle, I am left exhausted and spent. A washed-out husk of the man I once was. But, like the addict that I am, I want more of its blessed bright and colourful shapes. I want to compartmentalise, enhance, balance, and simplify. I want to learn the secrets of wires, buttons and logic gates. I also kind of want my life back. But who knows what the future holds? There’s a patch coming on the November 26th 

Reviewed by Tobi @TobiZendemic on 4th of November 2020