Category Archives: Early Access Reviews

Forgive Me Father Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Forgive Me Father is a fantastic first-person shooter that pays homage to classics like Doom and Quake. Combining Lovecraft life mythos and a dark graphic novel visual style makes Forgive Me Father feel like a great shooter. It is currently in early access with only 12 levels, one of two characters, and a lot of gore. It’s launching with 12 out of 25 levels, with the remainder being released throughout its road mapped early access. It’s set to get more weapons, skills, bosses, and a second playable character along the way. It currently has lots to do and will continue to improve itself as it progresses.

In Forgive Me Father, you currently control a priest fighting against the forces of evil. The narrative is currently jumbled up and not a forefront for the gameplay. But what more of a story do you need when you are a priest who beats down the damned. As soon as you press start, you are dropped right in a world filled with pieces of info that are related to the narrative. For gameplay, it is structured like a 90’s classic shooter like Quake or Doom. Each level tasks you with finding keys and killing different types of hordes to progress through several doors and make it to the end. Depending on which difficulty you pick, you will have to do everything you can to survive like finding level secrets for boost in ammunition and health, or by carefully using explosive barrels for crowd control and resource hoarding.

The shooting in Forgive Me Father is simple point and click. Once you get used to the action and each enemy, you begin to grasp ways to clear foes out faster. In the beginning you’re mostly fighting zombies that are melee enemies who are easily dispatched with Headshots. Headshots do more damage, and will insta-kill most enemies unless it’s holding a second head, at which point it replaces the destroyed head on its neck and continues the assault. Killing enemies can be oddly satisfying as you clear rooms of bodies and begin to paint the walls and halls with their blood. As you are painting, you have to be careful of your surroundings as you can easily be ambushed and put into a death corner even by the simplest of enemies like Zombies.

Once you have gotten adjusted to the few variants of Zombies, Forgive Me Father starts throwing projectile-based enemies at you. These enemies take more than just headshots to kill and can drain you of resources and health with ease. Especially in a hoard situation, you must learn to strafe and clear hoards by utilizing accuracy and barrels to clear them out. I learned as I played the different difficulties, the Forgive Me Father can be brutal. The easy difficulty is still harder than most similar games on normal. To counter the difficulty scale, you are able to gain experience and use it to upgrade skills. Killing enemies is how you gain experience, more if you go for their weakness like a zombie’s head. Once you level up you get a skill point that can be used on any number of skills. For example, skills can change a weapon into a better one with different attributes or alter some other ability, such as the amount of ammo you can carry.

Forgive Me Father is one of the toughest first person shooters to be seen in a while. You can only save at the beginning of levels or at save points located in the middle of each level. You start with your trusty knife and pistol in the beginning, and as you progress through the game you find weapons like the shotgun and the machine gun. Although you find more weapons, you learn that you must balance between each one as ammo can be scarce and make the hoards harder to mow down if you only have the knife. The waves of enemies can be extremely difficult to handle. I played on the hardest difficulty and had to play through certain sections several times before I could finally claim victory. Even with all of the frustration and difficulty, I enjoyed every moment of it.

The visuals in Forgive Me Father are beautiful. The enemies are all 2D with great detail. The only issue I had with this is that enemies like to hide behind objects, making it easy to lose health if you are not paying attention or haven’t learned the layout. Enemies also like to wait in shadowy areas, which makes it extremely hard to see them. There’s a mechanic called “madness” that increases your attack and defense for every kill you rack up, allowing you to enjoy the dark, eerie world around you. Overall, I say Forgive Me Father is worth it in Early Access. Giving tribute to the FPS genre of the 90’s with a hint of Lovecraft making it worthwhile with plenty of content still to come and a short roadmap to the final product.

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Mosaic Chronicles Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Twenty years ago I reviewed Jigsaws Galore 4 on the PC, a fantastic little puzzle game that let you turn any of your own images or photos into these awesome jigsaw puzzles.  That was the last time I ever assembled a puzzle on a computer until now.  Mosaic Chronicles is currently out on Steam Early Access and I was immediately curious, not just because I enjoy solving puzzles but because of the unique nature of the puzzles being offered.  Originally, jigsaw puzzles were painted on wood then broken up into small pieces.  Now imagine those same pictures being painted on glass then somebody dropping the glass turning it into dozens of randomly shaped slivers of glass.

Mosaic Chronicles plans to offer up more than 50 such puzzles, all beautifully crafted with charming art and vibrant, colorful imagery, and all telling part of an overarching story; two stories actually.  With each puzzle taking anywhere from 30-60 minutes (based on skill and your choice of three difficulty settings) there is plenty of meditative gameplay waiting for you in this fantasy-inspired puzzle game.  This is perhaps one of the hardest reviews to write because this really is just a puzzle game and you either like puzzles or not.  Mosaic Chronicles does offer some interesting features that might mix things up a bit.

Prior to solving each puzzle you are given a small image of what the completed picture will look like, and at any time while solving you can Preview a full-screen image of the completed puzzle.  As often as I used this function I would have liked a single-click icon much like the Hint and Tidy buttons.  Pieces are presented in a scrolling vertical strip along the left edge, so you don’t have an overall view of available pieces.  You can rearrange and manually sort the pieces by color and such as well as bringing pieces into the actual puzzle and grouping them together, and if things get too cluttered you can click a button to tidy things up.  You also have a hint button that will indicate piece placement if you get stuck, but there is a lengthy cooldown timer for this function so you can’t abuse it.

You’ll use similar strategies to solving real-world puzzles in Mosaic Chronicles such as starting with the edge pieces, which aren’t always as obvious as you might think since the border of these puzzles are actually designed to fit inside a window frame with slanted sides and a curved top edge.  Also adding to the difficulty are the unconventional puzzle pieces that do not have the standard tabs and slots we’ve come to expect from real-world puzzles.  These are truly images recreated from simulated shattered glass with very odd shapes and no obvious connection.  You can’t even rely on colors crossing over as most of the time there are extreme color-shifts on neighboring pieces.  Thankfully, pieces do snap/lock into the puzzle when properly placed, even when not touching another piece, and I’ve had several unintentional “snaps” just moving a piece across the screen.

The controls and interface are simple and functional; the entire game can be played with a mouse where you select pieces with a left click and rotate them with a right.  There is a gallery where you can view completed mosaics, but in this stage of development there is very little incentive to replay the game or individual puzzles.  Perhaps completion timers and a leaderboard for fastest solvers would add a competitive element to the game.

Visually, the game is quite stunning to the point where I wanted to see my completed mosaics come to life in some sort of animated storytelling experience rather than just reading the paragraphs of text that bookend each puzzle.  There are only a few tracks of music at this point; hopefully there will be more as these tracks will loop and recycle numerous times per puzzle.  Thankfully the music is pleasant and even a bit soothing, but you’ll likely turn it down or off long before you complete all the mosaics.  You can always play your own music – I found the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit soundtracks fit nicely.   And lastly, the game has low system requirements so nearly anyone with a functioning PC or laptop can play this game and have a great time.

I had a blast with Mosaic Chronicles.  The colorful fantasy art and complex nature of the puzzle pieces really make this stand out in the world of puzzle games.  The story is a bit disposable if not downright unnecessary, because people are coming here to solve artsy puzzles and storytelling has never been part of that genre, but some might find it endearing so enjoy this added flavor.  The Early Access version offers 14 mosaics with a total of 51 images planned for final release sometime in the next year.  The devs seem to be interacting with users in the forums to tweak the interface and game options based on feedback, so Mosaic Chronicles should only be getting better as it nears final release.  Until then, for only $7 you can get an early taste of a clever and original puzzle game that is shaping up to become something really special in 2022.

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God of Riffs Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Just when you thought music games were gone forever the genre has seen a sudden and unexpected rebirth in VR.  Last month is was Ragnarock, a Viking drum simulator, and now we have God of Riffs; nothing to do with Vikings but just as rooted in its heavy metal and medieval nostalgia.  Available on Steam Early Access, the game in its current state is nothing more than a demo with only four songs and four worlds.  Three of those worlds I have only seen in screenshots as the only background available to me was a forest world with a giant “Groot” in the background with a city on his shoulders.

So I played these four songs multiple times on both the Rift S and the Vive and found the experiences nearly identical.  The Touch controllers felt a bit more secure when doing the sweeping overhanded swinging motions required to play but the Vive wands felt like I was gripping actual axe handles – just wear those wrist straps.  In God of Riffs you are wielding twin guitars that look like battleaxes; the kind of guitars you’d find lying around backstage after an Iron Maiden or KISS concert back in the 80’s.  One is red and one is blue, as are the streams of monsters coming at you in various patterns that you must hit to the rhythm of the music while matching colors between axe and monster.

At this time there are only two monsters; skeleton warriors and flying winged skulls basically offering you low and high targets to aim for; other monsters to be added later.  The overall visuals are fairly bland with boring backgrounds and crude creature designs that are more comical than heavy metal.  The four songs were okay; all sound very similar and nothing really rocked my world.  God of Riffs will definitely need a track editor that allows you to import your own tracks if it ever hopes to succeed.  Due to the erratic beat structure in heavy metal, and especially these four songs, it is really hard to find your groove with the game leaving you disconnected.  I was more focused on visually hitting enemies rather than trying to sync my actions with the beats of the track.  The music was merely background ambience rather than key to the gameplay – not good for a music game.

My biggest issue with God of Riffs is the actual gameplay and the lack of any visual cues on when you are supposed to hit the monsters.  Most of these games let you hit early, late, and perfect and indicate that visually.  Here, you just have creatures running/flying toward you, and you just swing and hit about the time they step/fly over your progress meter.  There is a smacking sound you get when you hit a creature, but it’s not always consistent, leading you to believe you missed even when the skeleton crumbles at your feet.  In fact, the only way to know you really missed is when your combo counter resets.   You can also hit golden enemies that will power-up your axes allowing you to raise your arm, squeeze the trigger, and send out a shockwave of energy that doesn’t seem to do anything.  No monsters fall as expected, just a cool visual effect.

Early Access games have blurred the lines of demo and pre-release games, and God of Riffs clearly falls into a demo category.  Admittedly it’s a demo that will secure you a copy of the final game sometime in the future, but in its current state the game is pretty rough and even at $5 seems a bit overpriced, especially when there are so many other VR music games already available.  We’ll continue to follow God of Riffs throughout development and update our coverage if and when things improve.  Stay tuned and keep rocking…

The Protagonist: EX-1 Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

I’ve thoroughly enjoy the science fiction genre over the years no matter the medium. While books led the way for many of my favorite Sci-Fi movies and games, there is always something about getting right into the action that makes games a lot more enjoyable at times. One such sci-fi adventure puts you in a conflict with alien invaders in an all new early access turned based strategy game called The Protagonist: EX-1 for PC.

I got the chance to check out the first few levels of this tactical adventure featuring an elite strike team aboard a giant alien station. The story starts after a brief introduction detailing the disastrous first encounter between the Terrans and a hostile synthetic race. You assume the lead role of Angel, an amnesiac special agent highly skilled in martial arts, after waking up in an infirmary aboard the station. At of its current release you will gain access to 3 other playable characters that will work alongside Angel to neutralize the threat to your world.

I’ll admit that despite having played quite a few strategy RPGs over the years, I was intrigued by the use of marital arts as a primary means of combat in a science fiction game. It’s not often you get the chance to punch an alien race in its…optics so I didn’t know what to expect. From the start The Protagonist: EX-1 starts out in pretty standard fare with its directive, complete with an optional guidance line, as you explore and search for the rest of your team. With little but your skills and the guidance of Pilot you set out to complete your mission.

Sooner than later you with engage in your first battle which reveals several cool mechanics. As mentioned before, Angel is diverse and deadly with her advanced martial arts. What sets the combat here apart from other tactical RPGs is that after you typically move your character you can choose from various abilities to execute in a deeper way than I’m used to. Upon selecting Angel’s martial abilities you then get to select what attacks you string together based upon how many Action Points (AP) you have at the time.

Each attack in the form of punch, elbow, knee and kick uses up a bit of AP. But in an interesting design choice you don’t simply click the action to add it to the attack chain. You actually have to drag it into an attack line above the available attacks to slot it. Personally while this method is completely achievable with a mouse I can’t help but feel that they designed this system with the future thought of making it mobile friendly with touch controls as well. Once you slot those attacks though you get to hopefully watch your character deliver some beatdowns on your enemies. OF course there is always that chance you will whiff completely but we don’t speak of these things. As you attack though with marital skills you will slowly fill a special attack gauge that is as fun to watch as it is to trigger when you need it badly.

Angel however is not only just quite gifted in martial arts but leadership and hacking the latter of which is quite useful in combat. Along with giving the synthetics plenty of bruises you can even hack enemies turning them on their allies or infecting them dealing out damage over turns. As I quickly found out hacking them and controlling them to fight each other is a small life saver at times especially early on when you’re pretty outnumbered. Your leadership skills with prove useful as you gain more allies yourself allowing to assign roles to basic units besides the interesting main cast including Radical and Taka that you with find as you play. Each brings a set role to table like Radical’s melee abilities and his love of knives. You also can lay down some heavy fire with Taka when ranged combat is more advantageous.

Much like one of my favorite sci-fi franchises, you’ll be tasked with various choices both in and out of combat. While combat is a means of survival you’ll still have to make narrative choices with The Protagonist’s dynamic dialogue system. Your choices can and will have consequences for better or worse including the opening of side missions and effects on the story itself.

Like any good tactical RPG, you’ll also get to customize your characters abilities as you earn skill points. You’ll need these skills to solve many of the game’s puzzles along the way as you explore your surrounds. Exploration itself not only serves as means to progress the story but also for the collection of data (collectibles) and more importantly scrap. Scrap is used in the crafting system which is vital if you want to get very far in this game. You also need to have the desired blueprint available to craft things like armor and weapons. I also enjoyed that you can even upgrade crafted items if your skill is high enough to do so.

With any good sci-fi game you have to have the right atmospheric style, sound and level design to pull players in. I have to say that The Protagonist: EX-1 does a pretty good job of this so far with its use of futuristic machines, neon lighting effects and holograms throughout the levels I had access to. The other thing that I really love is how fluid the inputs and camera controls are as this title is presented in an isometric view. It makes a big difference when you’re exploring and watching out for hidden interaction points or enemy battles just around the corner.

The characters models are pretty good and more importantly their attacks animations were really smooth even with the martial arts. I was pleasantly surprised that there is some pretty decent voice acting present from the likes of Tony Todd and Temuera Morrison among its roster. Musically The Protagonist: EX-1 has a nice soundtrack that fits each level well while still giving players that nice otherworldly sci-fi vibe. If you pick up this title in early access via Steam you will also get access to the 4-track soundtrack for free which I really enjoyed.

While there is still more to be released including new characters, environments and narrative levels, I found The Protagonist: EX-1 to pretty enjoyable so far. The menu system in combat particularly at first threw me a bit but after a little practice I got the hang of it pretty well. While I was playing this on PC I can definitely see some potential for touch based controls but that’s still to be seen. I did encounter at least one bug when saving but if you’re like me I like to make use of multiple saves for just such an occasion. The martial arts combat is what really sets this title apart from your usual tactical RPG. So if you enjoy tactical RPGs and sci-fi settings then you should definitely check out The Protagonist: EX-1, available now on PC for Early Access via Steam.

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ScourgeBringer Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

I love when a game isn’t afraid to show you what it is right from the start, and ScourgeBringer is a great example of this. A few days prior to playing Flying Oak’s roguelike title I had no idea that the game existed, but mere moments after starting the game I was fully invested in the fluid movement and snappy combat. Set in the post-apocalypse, ScourgeBringer puts players in the role of Kyhra as she attempts to uncover the secrets of the Scourge and bring redemption to humanity.

If you’ve played a game in the roguelike genre before then you’ll likely have some idea of what to expect from ScourgeBringer, and that is perhaps the game’s biggest weakness: there isn’t much here that hasn’t been seen before. You’ll battle through any number of generated rooms and dungeons, defeating enemies, taking on bosses and sub-bosses and earning both temporary and permanent character upgrades. Of course, you’ll also die a lot, but each time you die you’ll learn a little bit more, whether it be more about Kyhra and her abilities, more about the enemies that you’re fighting, or more about the intricacies of the world that you’re currently struggling through. There’s a near-constant sense of progression to ScourgeBringer, and this means that you rarely feel like a run is wasted, no matter the length.

This sense of progression helps ScourgeBringer feel like it works on multiple levels. I played in both long sessions and smaller chunks, and each time I enjoyed myself, whether I managed to see anything new or not. While this is partly because of the way progress is set up in the game, it’s more because of the fact that at the core ScourgeBringer is a lot of fun to play. There’s a similar sensation to the game that I felt while playing Dead Cells, and though the environments in ScourgeBringer are typically more enclosed than Motion Twin’s title, this actually works in ScourgeBringer’s favor because of the way that combat works in this game. There’s an emphasis on airborne juggling and movement in ScourgeBringer’s combat that encourages fluid movement and split-second decision making, and it feels like you’re constantly identifying threats and moving to remove those threats before they can cause you harm.

Because the majority of ScourgeBringer’s battles are close-knit affairs, your best hope of success is to always be on the move by wall-running, dashing between enemies and using the environment as cover. There are close to eighty enemies in total within the game, with attacks varying between ranged and melee, and so you’ll often need to be on your toes to make sure that you’re able to clear a room in optimal fashion. Each world that you visit contains a new selection of enemies to defeat and when combined with the difference in visual style and world requirements, there’s a solid learning curve within ScourgeBringer that requires you to quickly become comfortable with what Kyhra can do. Thankfully, there’s frequent opportunity to improve her skills and abilities by spending Judge Blood, which can be earned by defeating bosses.

Each time Kyhra dies, she returns to the Chiming Tree, which is where she can gain new skills and unlock passive upgrades to her abilities. Some of these start off relatively simply, such as an increased health bar or stronger attacks, but you’re also able to unlock a combo system and the ability to fast travel within worlds. As well as these permanent changes, each run offers the opportunity to earn more temporary changes to Kyhra’s arsenal, and it is here where ScourgeBringer goes some way to making each run feel different and unique. These perks are sometimes dropped by regular enemies and always dropped by bosses, and it’s also possible to find extra bonuses by thoroughly exploring each world. Because of the way these upgrades can affect a run, it’s easy to feel as though perhaps the next run will work out differently and so ScourgeBringer encourages the player to try just once more, in an effort to get to the next room or to defeat the boss that was presenting a problem previously.

While ScourgeBringer could be accused of not really bringing much new to the table, it has to be said that what it does do is done to a high standard and presents a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Combat feels responsive, frenetic and fluid, and while there is a hint of chaos you never truly feel out of control regardless of how many enemies are on the screen at one time. It also has to be mentioned that ScourgeBringer contains a number of accessibility options for players, including being able to control the speed of enemy projectiles and the frequency of health drops. While it doesn’t contain difficulty levels, these options go some way to allowing the player to tailor the experience to their own preferences and are certainly a welcome and noteworthy inclusion.

Though ScourgeBringer doesn’t yet present a fully complete experience, there is a sizeable amount of content here, and more than enough to gain a good impression of what the final game will look like. It’s not revolutionary and there isn’t much here that stands out from other games of a similar ilk, but it has to be said that ScourgeBringer knows what it is and does a great job of showing itself off. I played with a smile on my face for the majority of my time with the game and would happily return time and again for a run or two when the mood strikes. ScourgeBringer is well worth a look, and I’m excited to see how the game looks when fully finished.

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Big Farm Story Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Anyone remember a little game called FarmVille back in 2009?  That was the year I got my first iPhone; the year I joined Facebook, and the year I got addicted to not only cultivating my own farm but engaging with all the farms of my friends.  A lot has happened in 11 years.  I still have an iPhone, newer and bigger than my 3GS; I stopped using Facebook, and I gave up my virtual career in mobile farming.  Big Farm Story is trying to tempt be back to those greener pastures with their casual approach to farming, or more precisely extreme gardening…at least for as much as I’ve played.

Currently in Steam Early Access, Big Farm Story is more story than farming with a super-casual approach to what is more of a massive activity set than a proper game.  From my best judgement I’d say the target audience is pre-teens and senior citizens; perhaps kids can play with their grandparents.  Those expecting something as sophisticated as Farming Simulator (insert year here) can hop on their tractor and keep on driving.

Big Farm Story kicks off with an actual story where you, as a little girl or boy (you choose) are learning how to farm with your grandpa.  Jump ahead many years later and you get a mysterious letter from grandpa basically giving you the farm.  In the early access version of the game the letter was blank so I have no idea why I’m really going back to the farm.  Hopefully text will get added to that page in a future update.  Anyway, I return to the farm just after a big storm to find grandpa is missing and the place is a shambles; time to clean-up and fix up the old place and make it my own.  Thankfully, a fellow from a neighboring farm offers up some tutorial advice on fixing the well, planting crops, and getting started with my new life.

Big Farm Story is a totally addicting cocktail of progression and evolving quests, collectibles, side-stories, and endless exploration.  Your farm is just the central location in a substantial map of areas you will explore and re-explore through repetitive backtracking that somehow never feels repetitive thanks to new discoverable items that repopulate the scenery every time you pass through.  Farming quickly takes a backseat to the entire game flow, but I somehow managed to always keep my crops in rotation so something was always growing while I was out exploring the countryside.

In addition to the farmland you also inherited the old house which you get to fix up and decorate as you like with all sorts of furniture, plants, paintings, wallpaper, etc.  Later on you can even add-on and remodel the house with new rooms that can hold even more furniture and decorations.  Everything you do in the game earns you XP and as you level up you get to choose from three rewards (stickers) that will help you as you progress deeper into the game.  Many of these items unlock side activities that offer their own rewards.  You can dig up piles of dirt once you have a shovel.  You can chop logs into lumber with an axe and use lumber to make repairs or add onto your house.  You can mine rocks with a pickaxe.  You can fish with a pole, although you need special licenses to fish at night or at the nearby lake.  You even need a special book of mycology to safely hunt mushrooms.

There are markets and produce stands where you can buy seeds to plant and grow into produce that you can sell back to the merchant.  You can also shop for all those home decorations to customize your place.  Later on you will discover market contracts that require you to find a certain amount of certain items that will earn you greater rewards and special items.  The market resets daily (real time) and the more contracts you complete the more your market will level-up and increase its rewards.  As you can see, there is an endless cycle of regenerative content that continually repopulates the world around you.  There are always flowers to pick, fish to catch, stones to collect, lumber to chop, stones to mine, and many of these activities have simple yet fun reflex mini-games to add some interactivity, so you just aren’t clicking on stuff.

And all the while you’ll need to tend your expanding garden.  At first you can grow wild flowers, carrots, potatoes, etc., and as you level-up your crops can expand to more advanced items like garlic and strawberries.  At first you only get one plot of land that hosts four plants but one of your level stickers is the option to add more 2×2 plots to grow more at once.  Farming is relatively simple; you till the soil, pick and plant the seed and water it then wait the designated real-time for it to mature.  It does get repetitive as your farm expands and I would have enjoyed the ability to plant an entire 2×2 grid all at once just to speed things up.

A quest log helps you keep track of what needs to be done, and even though your primary quest is to find your missing grandpa there is plenty to do while you search, and the way these objectives string you along is crazy.  In one mission I had to find a missing boy who had fallen and injured himself.  After finding him I then had to find some plants for a home remedy which didn’t work so we needed to call the doctor but the bridge to town was washed out so I had to get an axe and chop enough lumber to fix the bridge.  After saving the day the family rewarded me with a baby chick but my own barn was still destroyed from the storm so that set into motion a whole new string of events just to make a home for a single baby chick, although I expect more animals soon.

A lot of the content and activities is heavily gated by your level and the stickers you have chosen when you level-up.  There are lots of social encounters with the neighbors and folks in town and you always seem to have 2-3 responses to any situation ranging from overly cheery and optimistic to bored and indifferent.  Somebody might ask you to fix something and you can respond with, “I’d love to help!” or “Gee…seems like everything is broken around here.”  I’ve never had the heart to respond in anything less than the most cheerful option, so I’m not sure if your attitude can affect the game.

As mentioned earlier, the map is large with your farm surrounded by the woods full of lumber and mushrooms, a nearby homestead, a neighboring farm, and a rather nice town with roads leading to currently blocked locations like Chestnut Meadow, the train station, and the Rusty Hook.  I’m not sure if those area are part of the story progression or to be added in during the early access period.  Seems like seasons and crafting are also coming in future content patches, but for now there is a nice time of day sequence that starts with a rooster crowing at dawn and adorable fireflies that come out at night.  The game doesn’t require you to sleep, so you can explore 24/7 but some activities like night fishing require a special sticker.

The graphics are gorgeous with a Nintendo Animal Crossing vibe.  You can zoom in to appreciate some nice details and animations including your pet pig that follows you around like a puppy digging up turnips.  There are rich and vibrant colors, cool lighting effects for various times of day, but still no rain or bad weather.  I’m guessing that comes with the Seasons update.  The UI is perfect with intuitive screens and menus and fun pop-up icons to interact with the environment. The background music is soothing for long durations and while there is no voice acting the characters do those simple audible emotes like The Sims.

Even at this stage of early access I can’t recommend Big Farm Story highly enough.  The game recently got a patch that made it even better and more complete, and for me the game has run flawlessly for nearly 5-6 hours of play.  The only way I would even know it was still in early access is when certain functions are locked out.  They may have even fixed grandpa’s blank letter by now.  I would love to have this game on my iPad because I could lie in bed and play this for a lot longer than I should.  Normally when I sit down at my computer to play a game I’m going for something more substantial than this, but there is something about Big Farm Story that inexplicably grabs you and suspends time.  The way they dangle that next quest/objective out there like a carrot on a stick is so insidious I find it impossible to stop playing, and if you love soothing casual adventures I think you’re going to love this game regardless of how green your thumb may be.

Keep checking back for updates on Big Farm Story as we will continue to update our coverage leading up to final release.

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GolfTopia Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

On the seventh day God created golf and with GolfTopia every day is Sunday.

I have a love-hate relationship with construction sims dating all the way back to the original Sim City.  Games like RollerCoaster Tycoon, Theme Park Simulator, and Jurassic World Evolution have fueled my addiction to the genre over the years but nothing has come close to testing my ability to stop playing a game like GolfTopia.  My first experience with the game lasted a solid eight hours and I fear it will only get worse the more this game evolves throughout its Early Access period.

I don’t know what it is about these games with all their interlocking systems and rules.  I have never had any aspirations of becoming a manager of my own golf course yet here I am stressing out over refilling my vending machines, cleaning my bathrooms, and oh yeah…Mike just hit his ball into the water on hole six, freaked out, and is now assaulting other golfers on the practice green.  And don’t even get me started on the weed infestation that is invading the properties adjacent to mine forcing me to build a laser-shooting droid army on scale with the Phantom Menace.

GolfTopia is pure genius and practically perfect even in this early stage of development.  During the week I had this game installed before I played it I noticed there were three updates, and after taking a look at the Steam discussions I can see why; the developer is super-active in the forums addressing player concerns and releasing updates and patches in near-real-time.  I’ve never seen anyone this engaged with his audience since Early Access began, and I can only imagine how great this game is going to be when it’s officially released.

So what is GolfTopia?  You basically start with a randomly generated piece of land, divided into plots.  You’ll start with one plot with which to build your clubhouse and your first three holes and expand your golf empire over the course of time and money.  You’ll be able to purchase connecting plots of land, and as your reputation grows you can upgrade your clubhouse; each upgrade allowing you to build more holes.

As crowds of golfers stream through your clubhouse doors each day you will need to keep them happy.  This means building challenging yet fun holes.  Laying out your dream course is surprisingly intuitive.  You place your tee and then the hole, reasonably spaced apart for par 3-6 scores then create all the trimmings that go with it.  Using terrain tools you can “paint” your fairway, sand traps, rough, etc.  With a swipe of the mouse you can shape your greens, curve your fairway through trees and using landscaping tools to raise and lower the terrain to create ponds, lakes, hills and mountains.  Once you have the basic layout you can enhance the holes with flowers, trees, rocks, and other decorative features to keep your golfers happy.  I was amazed at just how stunning the results could be with minimal effort, and the more you play and learn the nuances of what goes into a great course design the better the game gets.

As your layout grows in size and complexity you’ll need to address other needs of your golfers like food and beverages and a bathroom for after they consume them.  You’ll need to build paths to guide your golfers from the last green to the next tee and maybe toss in a few benches so they can sit and relax.  A bench at every tee box is a good way to avoid golfer fatigue and frustration on a congested hole.  Your golfers aren’t shy when it comes to letting you know their feelings.  Every golfer on the course is represented by a color-coded dot at the bottom of the screen and if those dots start to go from green and yellow to orange and red you have problems.  You can click on any dot to be instantly taken to that golfer where you can view an array of emotions.  Sometimes a golfer is just angry about a bad shot and there’s not much to do unless a lot of golfers are angry in that same location then you might have a design issue.  I had one fairway peninsula where balls were constantly rolling into the water, so I lined the edges with sand traps to stop the balls and things got better.

I built concession stands about every three holes to keep people happy, and when things got congested at the clubhouse on the first tee I built a practice green and a driving range to keep the crowd entertained.  Your country club is open 24-hours so you’ll also want to strategically place lights around the course.  Balls glow in the dark and recharge when under the light so you don’t need to overlap coverage; just make sure your tee boxes and greens are nicely lit as well as your concession areas.

Keeping your course open and functioning while constantly under construction or remodel can be challenging.  After building six holes I had to make a temporary return path back to the clubhouse but later when holes 7-9 were installed that path and several amenities were no longer needed.  The game does a nice job of alerting you when certain items are no longer being used.  On my first design my ninth hole ended very far from the clubhouse and after a few angry rants from the golfers I had to install my first transport tub.  This transport system, ripped straight from Futurama, instantly moves your golfer across long distances.  I was smart and rather sending them back to the clubhouse I had them dropped off at a nearby concession area so they would spend more money before taking the short walk back to the clubhouse.

As your golfers’ happiness increases so does their membership levels, and clubhouse upgrades will require various levels of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum membership.  Angry golfers will often cancel their memberships while happy, challenged golfers will increase theirs.  Once you have your course built it’s all about the fine balancing act of keeping everyone happy and your course profitable.  Happy golfers equal profits while unhappy golfers like to complain and with each complaint a literal weed sprouts up somewhere on the course, sometimes on land you don’t even own yet.  These weeds will spread like a wildfire and if left unchecked will invade your active course, creating an eyesore that your golfers will complain about thus creating another weed.  At first you, the manager, and your starting pair of drone attendants can control these weeds but eventually you will need to strategically install anti-weed laser turrets to keep circular areas clear and larger canons to artillery strike anywhere on the course.

One cool way to eliminate pesky weeds is to nuke them from orbit.  You have all sorts of cool “orbital strikes” you can invoke from a separate menu granting a skill boost to a group of golfers or boosting happiness levels of another.  Since you get paid based on the happiness of a golfer every time they sink a putt it’s smart to use this boost around the greens.  You can even steal money from golfers’ wallets from orbit if you need some quick cash.

GolfTopia has a wonderful presentation with gorgeous graphics and super-detailed textures and models with quirky animated golfers and fun effects.  There is a beautiful day-night cycles with shifting colors for sunrise and sunset and shadows that slowly move against the sun.  You even have random rainfall which slows business and speeds up the weed growth.  Once you have things operating smoothly you can speed up time to earn that money even faster.  The UI and menus are nicely laid out and non-invasive and there are some great heat map overlays you can toggle to show trouble areas on the course.  The audio is fantastic with pleasing background music and fun sound effects to liven up the simulation.

I only have a few minor issues with the game as it stands.  You can’t really fight weeds on property you don’t own and in my game, by the time I purchased the infested land there were these super weed-hives floating offshore that took nearly a constant hour of building and battling to eliminate.  My other more serious issue was with the AI ignoring my concessions and bathrooms then complaining and cancelling their membership because they were hungry, thirsty, or needed to pee.  I literally tracked dozens of golfers on the green of my hole 8 who all had dangerously high levels for hunger/thirst/bladder then watched them walk by an oasis of refreshments only to rage-quit on hole 9.  I had to place trees and rocks to form a barricade to force them to use my facilities and even then some snuck by.

I’ve been going on now for more than 1,600 words and only touched on the awesomeness of this game.  There is so much content already here and more being added with each new update.  I didn’t even talk about being able to rent hover boards to speed up your golfers and increase traffic or the ability to actually play a round of golf on your own course.  You can also install all sorts of non-reality gimmicks like fire rings, ball bumpers, and windmills to blow the ball greater distances.  You also have area of effect boosters to help with driving, irons, and putting.  I had $20 worth of fun the first night I played this and I can easily see this becoming my new obsession.  If you love golf, management sims, or just want to keep 200 people happy at the same time then GolfTopia is a must-own game that is only getting better the more people play.  What are you waiting for?

Keep checking back for updates on GolfTopia as we will continue to update and livestream gameplay leading up to final release.

Session: Skateboarding Sim Game (Game Preview) Review – Xbox One

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Skateboarding hasn’t really been an activity that I’ve participated in, and most of my videogaming experience with a skateboard has been via the Tony Hawk series. This means that most of my familiarity comes from nailing highscores, hammering controller buttons to execute tricks, and a general lack of understanding of just how complicated riding a board and performing the most basic of tricks can be. Playing Session, which comes from Montreal-based Crea-ture Studios has been an eye-opening experience, and although the game is currently only available in Game Preview on Xbox One, there’s enough on offer to give skateboarding fans hope for a great new title in the genre.

The most interesting aspect of Session is the distinct lack of flashiness that the experience provides. Game Preview titles can often have a minimalist feel as their pre-release focus is on gameplay, but in the case of Session, this feels like a definite choice on the part of the developer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the final product looks somewhat similar. This isn’t the kind of game where you can skate as Spider-Man, or where you’ll be smashing through windows and rocketing around Area 51. Session’s mechanics mean that you have to be paying attention to even pull off an ollie or grind for a short distance.

Controlling your board in Session requires a fair amount of dexterity, as you’re required to use both triggers and analogue sticks in unison to move successfully. The triggers control the board, with turning being controlled by pressing the respective side on the controller, while the analogue sticks control the placement of the rider’s feet and can be used to execute jumps and perform tricks. These controls allow for a greater sense of responsiveness than I’ve experienced before, and while they’re intuitive and easy to understand, they come with a definite learning curve that allows for an excellent sense of achievement once you manage to pull off an especially complex maneuver. You’ll also be spending a lot of time watching your rider ragdoll over the various obstacles in whichever environment you’re in, and while some of these falls had me laughing out loud, they made me realize that you need to come to Session with a good deal of patience and the desire to practice a trick over and over until you get it down.

The visual design of Session helps with the ability to practice your tricks, as the close-in camera focuses on the board instead of the rider, meaning that you can get a good view of where you’re going wrong and work on those incremental gains to get better. It feels like you’re being followed by another skater holding the camera, and this makes the experience seem like all of your tricks are being filmed for one of the skateboarding montages that seem to find their way onto late-night TV. This feeling fits perfectly with the vibe that Session is going for, and the fact that the game includes a video-editing function means that you can create your own series of tricks and share them with your friends, almost as if you’ve produced your own VHS tape and shared physical copies.

One area that I did find the current build of Session to be lacking in was the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a sense of purpose or progression in the game, aside from learning and executing new tricks. As part of the Game Preview program, Session has a number of experimental features including daily and weekly challenges, but I found that when I was struggling with the game, these weren’t enough to give me the necessary drive to persevere and break through the barrier that I was having trouble with. There are a number of other experimental features included, such as the ability to play S.K.A.T.E., and while these are all interesting and hold promise for the full release, I found that there often wasn’t enough within the current package to encourage me to keep returning.

In terms of environments, Session currently presents the option to skate in five different locations, including city streets, underground parking lots and skate parks, and though these areas are reasonably small, there’s enough within them to be able to build a good line through each, and each area feels deep enough to be able to make a run feel like your own. Unlike some of the more casual skateboarding games that I’ve played previously, Session requires you to think about what you’re doing and plan your movements before trying to pull them off, and even small drops or ridges can cause you to come off of your board. This isn’t the kind of game that you can succeed in by flying at the edge of your pants, and it’s the better for it: you need to be aware of what you’re doing and why, and the sense of satisfaction at the end is much greater because of this.

In its current form, Session is an interesting game to try and recommend, as it definitely feels more like a proof of concept than a full experience. What can be said about it, though, is that the skateboarding mechanics feel great, and although it doesn’t hold your hand at all, the controls are intuitive enough that you can feel yourself learning and getting better each time you play. Personally, I would be looking for a little more structure to the experience, with a little more push from the game to tell you what you should be doing next, but I feel like that might be going against the essence of skateboarding culture and probably highlights my lack of imagination more than any fault of the game. If you’re looking for a well-executed and intriguing skateboarding game then Session is well worth checking out, and I’m definitely going to be keeping a close eye on it in the run up to a full release.

My Beautiful Paper Smile Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

My Beautiful Paper Smile might be one of the creepiest games you’ll play this summer. You play as an imprisoned child, one of the Joyous who has been taken by the Authorities under the order of the mad king and forced to wear a mask with a perpetual smile while undergoing daily testing to ensure your smile never fades no matter what hellish “tests” you are forced to endure.

In its current Early Access form only the first two (of four) chapters are available to play giving you roughly 3-4 hours of exploration and stealth-survival. The game is rather simplistic with its WADS movement and mouse interactions with various bits of the environment. There is even a bit of inventory and equipment management via a simple interface. I was disappointed the game didn’t offer any controller support given my non-friendly KB+M gaming situation.

I hate to use the term, “walking simulator” but that sort of sums up My Beautiful Paper Smile, although it does pack in a few scares and plenty of frantic chase sequences, as running is pretty much your only choice when encountering something hostile. The story and gameplay is rather linear although you do get a few choices that will change the course of the narrative but all paths lead to the same ending. There is plenty of standard stealth aspects like avoiding surveillance cameras, sticking to the darker shadowy areas, and knowing when to equip your own personal aura of light.

Perhaps the biggest draw to My Beautiful Paper Smile is the unique and disturbing art design. Presented in a sinister black and white, the game comes off as more of an art project than a video game. I was reminded of the early episodes of South Park and the construction paper designs. Seeing the characters lying in bed, paper flat is just freaky, and when they stand you either get a profile or front or back image. Their feet animate at the same slow speed no matter how fast you run creating an odd dissonance. The environments are just as eerie reminding me of pencil sketches or charcoal drawings. The levels are dark and suitable depressing before you add in the lighting and shadows that really make the world pop.

There is some excellent music and sound effects to help set the mood but no voice acting, which means a lot of reading in this narrative-heavy adventure. Make sure to take the time and absorb all this content rather than hastily clicking through just to get back to gameplay. My Beautiful Paper Smile is all about the overall presentation, which in this case means a bit of reading.

Even at this stage of development My Beautiful Paper Smile is proving to be a fantastic new horror game. Yes, you are only getting half the experience at this time but $15 for what is likely to be an immersive and uncomfortable eight hour ride when it’s completed is a fair asking price, and with clever integrated decisions and plot branching you can enjoy the first two chapters multiple times while we wait for the total package. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long.

You can check out some gameplay from our live video show.

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