Category Archives: Early Access Reviews

Turbo Golf Racing 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.

As I was approaching hour ten of my marathon session of Turbo Golf Racing, I started to write this review in my head and even jot down some notes; the entire time desperately trying to find a way to finish my review without ever mentioning the words “Rocket League”.  It just isn’t possible.  Everything from the core gameplay design to the look of the cars and even the imagery used for thumbnails on steam and the in-game splash screens all owe their existence to a little soccer game that released in July of 2015.

Much of Rocket League’s initial success was due to Sony giving the game away for free, which instantly created a thriving community that persisted, as the car-soccer game eventually released on other systems, bringing cross-platform play and expanding the online community even further.  Rocket League became my go-to game when seeking some fast and casual gaming, and I quickly logged over 1,200 hours across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.  Eventually, Epic would make the game exclusive to their store, and Rocket League got infused with so much monetization, battle pass, and blueprint nonsense that I uninstalled the game several years ago and have never gone back.

Sure, Turbo Golf Racing brings back fond memories of playing sports in cars.  After all, Rocket League offered basketball and hockey variations to its line-up.  Golf was the inevitable next step since bumping a ball into a giant “net” isn’t that different from knocking a ball into a giant hole after bumping it down a fairway 20-30 times.  But there are still plenty of distinctive elements to make Turbo Golf Racing just as addicting and challenging to play as Rocket League was back in its prime…before it turned into a money-pit.  But enough about Rocket League.

Turbo Golf Racing is very simple, especially in this state of Early Access with 30 courses available for solo play.  These are divided into three sets of ten holes, which you must complete within a set time limit.  There are three time goals for each hole, each rewarding a star for finishing under that time, and your access to additional holes is unlocked by earning stars in previous holes.  At the time of this review, I have two stars on every hole, which is basically required to access/complete all 30 holes.  Going back and earning that third star is a challenge I look forward to in my future spare time.

But all of this solo play is mere practice for the online golf game that awaits once you have learned how to play golf with a fancy sports car or truck.  Vehicle choice is limited for now, but you do unlock new vehicles through normal level-up progression. Regardless of your finishing position you will still earn XP and Gears during each match; the former increasing your level and earning you a prize at each tier, while the latter is used as currency for the in-game store where you can buy visual upgrades for your car, ball, and other flashy effects.  While not as vast as the parts selection in Rocket League, at least in Turbo Golf Racing you are actually earning “real stuff” and not silly blueprints that only unlock the privilege of buying later with real money.

Nearly all of the upgrades are visual in nature; a new paint job, a flashy spoiler, or a dangerous looking plow for the front of the vehicle to knock the ball around.  Some upgrades (Cores) do offer limited performance boosts, but these are nicely balanced with their own negative effects; like increasing your boost speed at the cost of slowing down how fast the meter refills.  Basically, the entire game is about the skill of the player and not the capabilities of the car, but it is still fun to mix and match up to two Cores per vehicle and see how it affects your game.

You’ll definitely need to prepare your ego before playing Turbo Golf Racing because unlike Rocket League you probably aren’t going to win…at least as often.  In Rocket League you had teammates and Lady Luck to help keep that win-loss ratio in check, but here you are in an 8-player scramble to get that ball from tee to hole in the fastest time.  Other players’ balls and cars are ghost images, only there for visual reference with one exception…rockets and shields.  So far, this is the only interaction you can have with other players.  By driving through power-up icons on the course you can collect lock-on rockets to fire at opponents to slow them down.  You can also collect shields to trigger when somebody shoots a rocket at you.  This element of the game either needs to be expanded with more weapons and defensive gadgets or just dropped entirely and keep the game all about the golf.

Controls are pretty excellent, at least when playing with a gamepad, and Turbo Golf Racing “feels” exactly like Rocket League with the same turbo, e-brake, drift, and jump mechanics.  There are fun “secrets” to figure out like getting a boost off the starting line or flipping your car to create a momentary shield to protect from a rocket attack.  The game does require more precision than Rocket League.  In that game you just hit the ball in the general direction of the net and there was a chance it would go in.  Here, you are going to need to hit the ball 20-30 times or more just to get it to the hole, so each shot needs to be accurate otherwise you end up chasing the ball around.

For me, the camera was a big part of improving my scores.  For the first 2-3 hours there was something just “off” about the game.  I couldn’t hit the ball straight to save my life, and I was constantly zigzagging back and forth across the half-pipe style fairways.  Then I realized the camera defaults to ball-lock; a mode available in Rocket League but one I never mastered.  In this view the car and ball are always in view, which means your angle of attack is always coming from the side.  Switching to normal view you are able to line-up and hit the ball more accurately, and I was able to shave tens of seconds off my time.

Presentation is top-quality with simple menus, fun car designs with clever animations that almost makes them seem to dance to the fun songs that make up the soundtrack, and visually distinct parts for your shopping pleasure.  The same D-pad chat system found in Rocket League has been adapted for this game but uses adorable emoticons rather than text phrases.  Matchmaking is fast, averaging 30 seconds to assemble eight players of which 2-3 almost always “disconnect” before it’s over.  There are three holes per match, each taking one or two minutes to finish based on length and complexity.  You’re awarded points based on your finishing position, and the sum of all three holes determines the winner.

Course design is excellent with various themed environments and fairways that curve and twist their way to the hole with natural hazards like tall grass, rocks, and sand mixed with game-altering boosts like speed pads for your car and boost rings for your ball.  Mastering these time-saving devices are crucial in locking down those winning times.  Many courses are suspended above a void, and it is all too easy to hit the ball completely off the narrow course for an OB time penalty before the game resets your car and ball.

Playing online is really no different than the solo challenges.  There is still that feeling of playing alone 95% of the time, with other players merely becoming a visual distraction until they fire a rocket at you.  Hopefully new modes will get introduced to flesh out the multiplayer offerings.  I’d like to see some co-op and team modes perhaps.  How cool would it be for a two-player team to work together to get the ball down the fairway and into the hole by taking alternating shots on the same ball? Split-screen local play please or how about removing the timer and having a mode that counts your “strokes”.  I’ve got so many ideas I want to join the dev team before the game leaves Early Access.  Just please keep the game free after purchase and don’t get greedy and ruin the game like Rocket League did.

Will Turbo Golf Racing overtake Rocket League in popularity?  Probably not, but who knows…in five years this could be the new e-sports phenomenon.  Only time will tell, but I can guarantee I’ll still be playing this for years to come.  I’ve always enjoyed golf more than soccer, basketball, and hockey combined, so Turbo Golf Racing is an easy recommendation for me, and I look forward to following up when the game officially launches.

Dune: Spice Wars 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.

Dune: Spice Wars, is the latest title from Shiro Games, the team behind RTS sweetheart, Northgard. A mix of RTS and 4X elements bring Dune into the 2020s. Players coming in may see the words “early access” and assume they’re in for an unbalanced, unfinished mess, a valid concern in any situation. While some aspects still need work, Shiro comes out of the gate with a strong showing and a promising glimpse of the things to come.

At first glance, Dune: Spice Wars, looks like Northgard with a desert reskin and the addition of sandworms. The player’s territory is hex-based and can be scouted with Ornithopters that can’t be targeted and can be set to auto-scout. This expedites scouting, alleviating players from having to babysit their scouting units, a normal annoyance in RTS. Players will expand across Arrakis either by combat or annex. Unlike Northgard, combat doesn’t feel good at the moment. Winning a settlement in a combat scenario feels more like a numbers game in most situations and less about the units you are pitting against the enemy. Units across the factions all have a distinct look but all feel the same when it comes to combat. Players can build cannons and use abilities, called Operations, to buff their units and nerf enemy units. These can help shift battles, but again it just feels like a numbers game and less like winning a battle due to skill.

The four playable factions all come with unique abilities. The standout for me being the Fremen’s ability to ride the sandworms. This is honestly just to make up for the fact that they don’t have access to the airfields, which serve as the fast travel for the other three factions, but it’s fun to see the creative way the developer worked around the differences. Other differences include different levels of access to the council and information across the game. For example, the Harkonnen always know the influence flows of all factions, whereas the other factions would need to use agents to gather that information).

On Arrakis, resource management is key. One wrong choice and a deficit can leave you trying to play catch up the rest of the game. Resources are mainly gained by building structures in settlements. The most important resource of all, Spice, will drive your expansion as you work to pay your rising Imperial Spice Tax. Adding additional control, players can decide how much Spice they’ll stockpile for taxes and how much they’ll sell in the markets to build up some cash (Solari). This is a great addition that I wish was available for other resources, but at least players can trade resources with other teams, who all put different values on each resource.

There are enough diplomatic systems in Spice Wars to shake a stick at. When selecting one of the four factions, players will also choose two councilors that give additional buffs for their build. It’s fun to mix-and-match these and try to find the perfect blend. A personal favorite of mine was the ability to impose any treaty on any faction for just fifty influence; a great ability if things are getting a little hot and you need an short term ally.

Influence also works its way into council votes, with recurring resolutions that all teams vote on. The more influence you hold, the more votes you get, the easier it is for you to sway the vote on certain resolutions. These give players opportunities to nerf enemies for a short amount of time or gain an advantage in resources or combat.

For more long-term upgrades, there are four skill trees, known as developments. Each tree is catered to a specific faction, but players can mix and match the upgrades they want, which can also be sped up by collecting knowledge. This adds to the variety already presented by your choice of councilors. You can focus on powering up your already buffed stats and just be a powerhouse. You can also go the other way and try to even out your weaknesses. There will be optimized builds (they’re already on the internet, I’m sure) , but I never felt like diving down one skill tree left me at a disadvantage.

Adding more layers is the espionage system and the ability to hire agents (read spies) to infiltrate the different factions and organizations. Each agent comes with their own special ability, which can help determine the best place for them. With infiltration, players gain intel which can be used to complete operations and gain other resources. Infiltrating an enemy faction will give you all the information you need to know about an opposing team. What are their combat capabilities? Are they around another faction? Are they running a surplus or deficit? The answers to these will help you decide the best course of action when it comes to planning out your best route to victory. Just like Northgard, there are multiple paths to victory. These add to the already established variety.

In this early build of the game, only single player campaigns are available, with plans to add a story campaign, multiplayer, and rebalance factions sometime in the future. Love or hate roadmaps, Shiro has proved their games have legs down the road, Northgard just received its latest update back in October, over five years after release.

Early access leaves a bad taste in some players’ mouths. There are plenty of horror stories to be had. In its current state, Dune: Spice Wars is not one of those stories. Players coming in looking for a combat heavy experience or wanting to play with friends may be disappointed. Those looking for something a little closer to a 4X experience will find much more to like here. It might be a while until Shiro reaches 1.0, but this early access feels just like the tip of the iceberg for what Spice Wars could offer.


Pinball FX 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.

I’ve been a big fan of pinball since the early 80’s and my days spent donating quarters to the various arcades around town.  When I got my first Atari 800 I spent countless days and nights creating my own pinball tables in EA’s Pinball Construction Set.  Jump ahead two decades and I was falling in love with pinball all over again with the original Pinball FX on Xbox Live Arcade – anyone remember that service?  Since then I have reviewed every pinball game Zen Studios has released including:

  • Pinball FX & Pinball FX2 on Xbox 360
  • Zen Pinball and Zen Pinball 2 on PS3
  • Planet Minigolf with and without the Move on PS3
  • Zen Pinball 2 on PlayStation Vita
  • Zen Pinball 3D on NDS
  • Flipper Critters on NDS
  • Marvel Pinball on PS3 and Marvel Pinball 3D on NDS
  • Pinball FX 2 & 3 on PC & PS4/PS5
  • Star Wars Pinball VR on Quest 2
  • Pinball FX2 VR on Oculus Rift S

Since January, 2016 I have posted over 100 reviews and news articles for the various games and table releases from Zen Studios and posted over a dozen gameplay videos.  So why am I telling you all this?  So you know how much I love these games.  I have all 100 tables for the PS4 including the recently released Indiana Jones.  I have 30 DLC tables on Steam for the PC version of FX3 along with all the tables for the Oculus VR version.  Thankfully, Zen Studios provided me with codes for most of these, and I’ve only had to pay for nine tables out of pocket back during the migration from FX2 to FX3 on the PlayStation.  So when I start talking about financial stuff in a minute I might not seem as financially invested as some other gamers out there, but I am very much emotionally invested in this franchise.

When the new Pinball FX was announced back in January of 2021 I was beyond excited, then after more than a year of waiting I honestly forgot all about it.  I was content, playing my VR versions of the game, but was happy to check out the new Indiana Jones table that released a few weeks ago on PS4/PS5.  Then, out of the blue here comes the announcement that an all new next-gen Pinball FX was up on the Epic Game Store and ready to go with 38 tables updated for 4K, raytracing, and updated physics.  Sign me up.

The core Pinball FX game is free, so anyone can check it out to some degree, but the entire pinball landscape has been drastically altered.  The game is now a “service”; a shell basically, designed to drain your wallet as fast as you can click on those in-app purchases.  You have a few options on how to approach this new economy.  Unlike the previous game where you simply paid cash for tables, you must now buy Tickets in one of four bundles: 100, 220, 575, and 1200 starting at $10 and going up to $100.  The obvious incentive is that the more you spend the more you save with the small bundle equating to $.10 a ticket and the largest bundle coming in at $.08 a ticket.  This whole system is a big gimmick to lock you into an in-game currency that takes away your purchasing power to buy specific items for specific prices.  The bundles and the prices of the items are designed so you either never have enough tickets or you have tickets left over that you either need to add to or waste.  Anyone remember the dark ages of gaming on the Xbox 360 where you had to buy Microsoft Points?  Same deal here.

So what about all those tables you’ve been acquiring for the past decade or more?  Prepare to buy them all over again; at least the ones that are available.  A few fan favorites like The Walking Dead and Portal aren’t even coming.  There are currently 38 tables available at Early Access launch and there is currently a 33% OFF sale going on, which lets you snatch up 37 of those tables for $120 (220+1200 ticket packs).  Indiana Jones Pinball Adventure cannot be bought with tickets; only real money…$15 of real money.  So if they can do it for Indy why can’t they do it for the rest?

If you want to pick and choose when assembling your new library of old tables you can expect to spend anywhere from 40 to 60 tickets on average for a single table.  There are no more bundles, so every table needs to be bought separately.  I suppose this is good for those who disliked a particular table in a bundle, but perhaps they could offer a discount for those who do want all tables within a certain genre pack.

Of course what Zen Studios really wants you to do is pay for their new Subscription service; $15 a month or $99 a year for their Pinball Pass.  Imagine paying as much as GamePass or more than any of your video streaming services to access a few dozen pinball tables each month.  As mentioned above, you can buy all the tables (currently available) for $120 and be done with it.  Sure, this value proposition will change as more tables are added to the store, but for now paying any subscription fee is ludicrous.  Of course the safest way to play; especially during Early Access, and while Zen Studios is still figuring out some sort of “upgrade plan” for existing table owners is to NOT PAY A DIME!

The free core shell of the game allows you to play a rotating selection of two tables per day, so you still get a good sampling of the library; however, there are limitations when playing for free.  You don’t get the new game modes or custom unlocks or access to online leaderboards.  You’ll need to buy the table or pay the subscription fee if that matters to you.

So enough complaining about the gross monetization of a once beloved franchise; how is the actual update?  Sadly, not that impressive or even good really.  HDR is currently broken.  You have to enable HDR in Windows before you can toggle it on in the game, which unlocks two sliders for the game and the UI brightness.  Both default to 500, which I assume are nits, and both max out at 2000.  The initial setting of 500 casts the entire game into unplayable darkness and moving the slider to 1000 or even 2000 blows out the contrast terribly.  I immediately turned HDR back off.  Toggling on the RTX support did not show any noticeable improvements in visual fidelity, even when zooming down to the closer camera views.  No ray-traced reflections, no shadows, no nothing.  Again, this is all Early Access so things could improve with future updates.  Performance was disappointing, and my RTX3080 was unable to run the game at 4K in any camera view that had any table movement.  Fixed camera views were fine, but I had to drop resolution to 1440p to use moving cameras, and even then there were hitches in the video during the pre-game intro sequences.  At the end of the day I would prefer to just play on my hassle-free version of FX3 on my PS5 with all 100 tables and great controls.

Speaking of controls, I was playing Pinball FX using a wireless Xbox Elite II controller and also a standard Xbox controller that came with my Xbox Series X.  Both have severe lag issues when using the default trigger assignments for flippers.  If you slowly squeeze the trigger you’ll find there is several millimeters of travel before the flipper in the game activates.  This delay was causing me to lose balls right and left, but after tinkering with the control options I was able to get LB/RB for the triggers, and the lifespan of my balls went from 30-45 seconds to 2-3 minutes.

The only other thing worth mentioning is the trophy room where you can display various trinkets, posters, statues, and custom carpets you’ll unlock during gameplay.  They already did this in Star Wars Pinball VR on the Quest 2, and it was cool because it was Star Wars paraphernalia, but the stuff you are getting here is kind of lame.   I’m betting all sorts of junk will get added to the store to help you spend those spare tickets…just wait for it.

I’m sorry if I sound cynical, but it seems that corporate greed is taking over every facet of video gaming.  Everything has to be a live service or have excessive in-app purchases or some crazy monetization scheme.  If Zen Studios had just released the game even without the whole ticket scheme most people would pay the $3-4 per table and move on.  Sure, we’d love to have a free upgrade like FX2 to FX3 offered, but I’m not sure how that’s even possible since all my previous tables are on Steam and this is currently an Epic Game Store exclusive.  That alone is pissing off an entire and significantly large group of players who refuse to have anything to do with Epic.  Hopefully Zen Studios plans to bring this to Steam, as I suspect this is why we aren’t getting the Portal pinball table.

So, for now, it’s easy enough to download the free core game and dabble with the daily free offerings.  Just stay strong and avoid spending any money until a few more updates that hopefully include some performance patches and a valid upgrade path for owners of existing tables.  And when are those Marvel tables arriving?

For a quick overview of the new game design, menus, and store, and even a bit of pinball action on a few random tables, check out our first look video.


Session: Skate Sim 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.

I can’t skate. It was never for a lack of trying, but I always suspected that my boards throughout the years conspired with gravity to get me to quit. They were successful. Pushing into my thirties, I am officially retired from ever being “in the scene”, but now Session: Skate Sim, from Crea-ture Studios Inc, is looking to give everyone the full skating experience, minus the scraped elbows and broken bones. Currently in preview, Session has its issues, and learning its mechanics can be just as frustrating as learning to skate in real life. Those willing to stick it out though and dig a little deeper will find a rewarding experience that rivals a real skate session.

When Skate landed on consoles in 2007, players flocked to it, embracing the sim-like mechanics never before seen in the genre. Session takes things further with each foot being controlled by a separate thumbstick (sorry folks, no mouse and keyboard support). To pull off an Ollie, you’d hold down the right stick, and flick the left stick up. A kickflip – right stick back, left stick right. If you’re goofy-footed, take everything I just said and flip it. 

Kicking, stopping, and getting off the board are all tied to face buttons while turning is tied to the left and right triggers. This can all be a bit much just getting started. Thankfully Crea-ture has included an assist mode for new players to help get them acclimated to the mechanics. It still takes some time to learn, but assisted mode will keep you from spending a majority of the time on your ass. Players new to skating will still spend early hours fumbling tricks and missing rails, but the payoff eventually comes when you start landing tricks. Nothing is more satisfying then hitting that kickflip or landing a nosegrind on a long rail. 

Story missions have also been added with the latest patch. Light on an actual story, these missions introduce players to the different tricks in their tool belt and how to pull them off. It’s a bit irritating that learning certain tricks and completing its accompanying mission are tied to certain locations. One mission had me landing manuals on a small platform. This was fine at first, until the manuals eventually got more complicated (I, for the life of me, could still not tell you what defines a switch manual). My time was better spent skating around, ignoring missions, and just discovering things for myself. 

Therein lies one of the highlights of Session. Just skating around looking for spots to pull of tricks. At the time of this review there are nine maps spread across New York and Philadelphia. Players can easily access each map in the menu or travel there via a bus stop menu or your board. Maps vary from parking garages to parks and bridges. Crea-ture highlights some maps as legendary skate spots (such as Black Hubbas and FDR park), but to the untrained skater eye, these can come off as just another set of stairs to ollie and rails to grind. Don’t get me wrong, the maps are great and offer enough variety across them, but at the end of the day I just wanted a set of stairs I could pull off flip tricks on for my camera. 

Session fully embraces the clip aspect of skating. If you’ve ever wanted to create a skate clip, but can’t skate to save your life, Session is your best bet at skateboard clip fame. Players can open film mode from anywhere in the game instantly. The level of customization here will leave you feeling like you a real film crew. One standout is the fisheye lens that gives you an instant nostalgia kick if you’ve ever watched old skater videos. 

On the skater side, there is some customization to be had. Players can change their apparel and customize their board with different decks, trucks and wheels. Some familiar brands are present like Fallen and Grind King (among others), but you can definitely tell there’s room to grow here as the game barrels toward 1.0. 

Players looking for more of a challenge also won’t be disappointed. The game comes with 4 difficulty settings and mechanics can be tweaked as players see fit, with some settings including wheel grip, truck tightness, and even adding pedestrians to get in the way of landing tricks. I was still fairly new to the mechanics when switching into the harder difficulties, but I could instantly tell there was a difference in my skating. I wasn’t landing every flip trick, and actively needed to push down on both thumbsticks to make sure my skater was landing his tricks. 

Session: Skate Sim is a great option for anyone tired of the long wait for the mythical Skate 4. With a focus on realism and a detachment for scoring systems, Session feels like a love letter to skate culture and everything skating. With more time to cook before its 1.0 release this fall, Session is looking like it could set the standard for skate sims to come.

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.


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.


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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