Category Archives: Game Previews

Card Shark Preview – PC

When I was young, my first introduction to poker was in the minigames in New Super Mario Bros.  Of course, I was like eight at the time and didn’t really understand it very well, and it was a bit simplified, with no suits and only six symbols. But it was pretty much poker all the same. You played for coins against the green-clad plumber across from you, as various mushroom-headed guys roam around in the background with trays of drinks and such.

Playing Card Shark is somewhat similar to that, but instead of playing as the unseen player, or Famous Video Game Character Luigi, you play as one of the toads, in particular one who’s helping someone cheat the game hard, scamming people for all they’re worth. Also, it’s 18th century France, and you are a mute who definitely is not part mushroom, but otherwise it’s the same thing honestly. You can pet the dog at least!

The player controls an unnamed and voiceless protagonist who travels alongside a Romani caravan in the company of a gentleman referred to as Comte de Saint-Germain, a brilliant con artist. He is here to relieve fools from their money and donate a large sum of it to the caravan, who in turn donates it to worthy causes such as orphanages and whatnot. You are pulled into his schemes with promises of a way to make some quick and easy money, and then things escalate.

You see! It turns out that fools with loads of money, despite being fools, are not oblivious, and are also quite fond of their money. Should some such potential marks decide that you and your partner in crime happen to be a bit too lucky, well. They may decide to take their money back over your dead bodies. Which is less than ideal.

The gameplay starts off fairly simple. You are taught a series of tricks and maneuvers that I am fairly certain could be used to actually cheat at cards in real life, executing them via a series of carefully timed button presses and joystick wiggles. Of course, pressing buttons and wiggling your joystick will make others suspicious, but early on stages will end before that becomes an issue.

However, as things progress, you will learn more varieties of tricks that require different skills. While you start off gently pouring wine to peek at cards and rigging Three Card Monty, as you progress you will learn much more complex and difficult ways to cheat, such as stacking a deck with extra cards (which works great as long as you remember what cards you added so you can remove them before people see the extras).

The gameplay takes a bit to get going, but when it does it feels pretty darn great to execute. It helps that the story is intriguing, and the art is drop dead gorgeous. The choice to have a literally mute protagonist is novel as well! Most games choose to have silent protagonists to better immerse the player, but I have never seen a game host a character who is literally unable to speak on the same level as the rest of the cast. Dialog trees are presented in the form of a picture of a facial expression or gesture, in addition with a short descriptor of what it’s supposed to mean or how it’s supposed to come across. It’s a nice system, and the representation is good as well.

However, the game does have a few flaws that I found a bit difficult to ignore. The first one is relatively minor, but as such will hopefully be fixed in the release version: As you are learning the trick with the bottle, you are instructed to wipe the table in specific patterns in order to indicate certain suits. However, when you pause and look at the quick reference guide, two of the inputs (the ones for vertical and horizontal wiping) are switched, and as such will give an improper response if you go relying on the guide. This is mitigated by the fact that the game does tell you what symbol it says you’re indicating before you submit it, but still somewhat annoying.

The other two are a bit more of a hindrance: there is no cutscene skip. This is not much of a problem if you can perform flawlessly and win each level the first time you go through it. However, the final level in the demo has very high stakes and comes with some lengthy cutscenes before you actually get to the playing part. If you fail the level, you will die. And dying in this game is not as simple as picking “retry” on a menu.

When you die, you go to the underworld and must play a game with Death herself. If you win, you get resurrected and can continue from the start of the mission (with a cutscene of the characters talking about how spooked you look). However, if you fail, you must either pay with all of your money to be resurrected (which means you need to spend some time running a Three Card Monty game to earn money back with), or let your soul be eaten. This deletes your save file.

If you do come out with your save intact from an encounter with Death, she will allow you to resurrect for free in future attempts of that stage. However, you still need to sit through the cutscenes, as well as the scene of her telling you that you need not play with her again for now.

In itself, this wouldn’t be a huge issue either, perhaps even with the unskippable cutscenes. However, there is a mechanic that is never fully explained (and downright necessary for the final stage), wherein if you fail part of a task in an inconspicuous manner and it results in your sidekick losing the hand, it reduces an opponent’s suspicion. However, doing so will lose you money for obvious reasons, and not having enough money to continue playing counts as a loss. The buy-in cost of hands increases over time, and isn’t something you always have control over, so this can be a bit frustrating.

Otherwise though, Card Shark is a truly unique and intriguing game with beautiful art and a compelling story. The way all of the tricks you use to rig games are fairly realistic and require no complex setup helps really set the mood, and the game’s atmosphere is fantastic, despite a few frustrating details. I recommend giving this one a look.

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McPixel 3 Preview – PC

Have you ever played a mobile game that had a lot of ads?

Have you ever played a mobile game and gotten an ad for Gardenscapes that blatantly lies about what the game is about? Particularly one where you are presented with three problems such as a weedy flower patch, a broken fountain, and fresh soil that needs dug up, as well as three solutions such as a shovel, a spray bottle of weed killer, and extra concrete? By chance did you then have no choice but to watch as a mysterious hand chose to herbicide the plot of good soil, use the concrete to completely kill both the flowers and weeds, and then take the shovel to use as a blunt instrument to utterly destroy the fountain, leaving the entire scene a chaotic mess?

Well, I can’t think of any real person who would respond to a situation like that, but there is at least one video game character: the star of McPixel 3, the titular McPixel.

A somewhat crude parody of MacGyver (and, by extension, MacGruber), McPixel 3 is, ostensibly, a game about saving the day in multitudes of self-contained scenes that are all mere seconds away from disaster. While the previous game in the series, McPixel (not McPixel 2; such a game does not exist) had the pixelated protagonist struggling to defuse a bomb in each level, this game raises the stakes with multiple kinds of disasters to avert. While the demo contains a handful of explosive hazards, it also contains asteroids, a train derailing, and a plane crash as possible disasters to thwart.

However, I do use the phrase thwart liberally. You see, McPixel is… not very sensible. Or polite. Or really capable of interacting with a person in any way that isn’t comedic levels of violence, usually a kick to the groin. If you click on an item or person, it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s going to do with it. All you can really do is direct him and watch the chaos unfold. Attempt to climb a ladder with a pair of scissors? He cuts it, rendering it unusable. Click a sausage on a grill? He just kind of drops it into his pants. That sort of thing.

The solution(s) to these levels are almost never expected but finding the Proper Ending for each scene is only part of the game’s appeal. Instead, every little thing and combination of things you can click on generally has a comedic ending to the scene that results in your untimely demise. Since that’s part of the game’s draw, I’ll avoid going too much into the details, but there were definitely a few gags that got a good laugh out of me. There’s even a few minigames that taking certain actions can trigger that mix up the gameplay somewhat.

However, there were a few things that, while not really actively bad, I found annoying. The most significant hurdle I feel is the fact that it can be difficult to find interactions you have missed. This is for a few reasons: Firstly, each scene plays out consecutively, one after the other, until you either solve (or 100% complete) one of them, at which point it is removed from the queue and you move on. This means seeing the same cutscenes and having to take some of the same actions over and over again if you want to see everything, failed a minigame (some of which were a bit frustrating at times) or just couldn’t find the “right” way to finish an area.

The game does try to rectify this; If you play a scene enough times, a tooltip comes up that tells you that pressing a certain button will reveal all clickable areas on the screen, and that right clicking will skip a cutscene if you’ve already seen it. Both of these things are helpful! However, there’s a few things it will not skip. For example, a few scenes have multiple areas in them, or hidden additional areas. If you fail one of those scenes and want to go back, you need to spend several seconds doing the steps necessary to get those scenes prepared. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up. Not to mention potentially having to redo a minigame a few times if you can’t get it in short order, or if it has multiple endings.

Additionally, the breakneck speed of the game can make it hard to remember what you’ve tried and what you haven’t. It doesn’t help that some actions will immediately end the scene in a failure (or success) and it’s not clear whether clicking someone will, say, have McPixel kick them in the groin or smash them into an object for the remainder of the scene, ending it in a fail and shunting you off to the next wacky situation that requires you to shove everything you were just thinking about to one side and frantically try to remember which thing you haven’t used on that one thing yet.

There is an interface that keeps track of what gags you’ve seen, but it only pops up when it’s checking some things off, and I couldn’t find a way to show it aside from that. It would be nice to have some kind of visual indicator to show if something’s been done before, maybe also showing that doing such and such crazy thing will end the scene before you try it somehow. Or perhaps even a Henry Stickmin-esque flowchart/scene selector interface to skip some of the waiting

In closing, McPixel 3 is, in its current state, a fun, slightly unhinged time. While going for 100% completion or looking for solutions can be somewhat frustrating at times, if you’re ok with a bit of waiting it can be worth it to hunt for a few more japes and jokes amongst the confusion.

Explore ELDEN RING With New Narrated Preview Video Along With Pre-order Offers and Special Edition Announcements

Experience a first-look at narrated ELDEN RING gameplay giving players a deep-dive into the following areas of the game:

  • Vast world design – the meticulously designed ”Lands Between” brings unprecedented immersion to FromSoftware’s largest game to date. Secrets hide around every corner of this immense world encouraging exploration for those who dare venture off the beaten path.
  • Legacy Dungeons – Large multi-level dungeons evoking classic FromSoftware level design are integrated into the overworld.
  • Traversal – Ride like the wind across The Lands Between on your Spectral Steed, and even engage in combat while on horseback.
  • Combat – Players can engage with a variety of basic or advanced combat options across a number of weapon types and magical disciplines.
  • Multiplayer – Team up with friends and help other Tarnished take down powerful foes with co-op multiplayer.

Adventure and danger await any Tarnished daring enough to enter The Lands Between and attempt to claim themselves The Elden Lord starting on February 25, 2022, for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, or PC via STEAM.

Pre-order ELDEN RING today to gain access to following items:

  • Digital Adventure Guide, containing useful information to help players as they enter The Lands Between.
  • Bonus Gesture – Receive a gesture at the start of the game. Gesture can also be obtained in-game.

The following versions of ELDEN RING have also been announced today:

Digital Deluxe Edition (Available on PlayStation, Xbox, and STEAM digital storefronts for $79.99 MSRP.)

  • ELDEN RING game
  • Digital Artbook and Original Soundtrack

Collector’s Edition (Available at participating retailers for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Xbox One for US$189.99 MSRP, while supplies last)

  • Physical ELDEN RING game disc
  • 9-inch statue of Malenia – Blade of Miquella
  • Exclusive SteelBook™ featuring the Elden Ring
  • 40-page hardcover art book
  • Digital Soundtrack

Premium Collector’s Edition (Exclusively available on the BANDAI NAMCO Store for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Xbox One for fans in the US and Canada for US$259.99 MSRP. Pre-orders coming very soon.)

  • Physical ELDEN RING game disc
  • 9-inch statue of Malenia – Blade of Miquella
  • Official Malenia helmet replica 1:1 scale
  • Exclusive SteelBook™ featuring the Elden Ring
  • 40-page hardcover art book
  • Digital Soundtrack

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows Demo – Video Preview

Tandem : A Tale of Shadows redefines the puzzle platformer genre with a unique gameplay and exceptional aesthetics. Help Emma and the teddy bear Fenton solve the mystery of the disappearance of the famous magician Thomas Kane.

Join us as we play the public demo and offer up our own thoughts on game design and visuals.

We’ll be back to review the full game when it releases on October 21, 2021.  Meanwhile you can play the demo for yourself and add this game to your Steam Wishlist if you like what you saw.

Triversal Beta – First Look Preview

Triversal is one of those brilliant concepts that you wonder why somebody hadn’t thought of it until now.  After spending a few hours with the pre-release beta and only putting a small dent in the 160 puzzles it contains I have to say this is one game I will be revisiting often, especially after its full release on July 13th.  Phantom Compass has created something special when it comes to puzzle games; one that not only requires logic and tactics but also throws in a bit of risk and reward.

The rules of Triversal are pretty basic; you have a gold medallion, light orb, sun, whatever you want to call it, and you need to reposition it so that it lands on the black hole.  You move this orb by attaching elastic tethers to it and any of the available anchor points scattered about the level.  Attaching one tether will attract the orb to that anchor then attaching the next will split the difference of attraction, and finally the third will triangulate the orb based on three opposing forces.  This means that on any given puzzle there are only three anchor points that need activating to position the orb over the black hole, but Triversal is more about the journey than the destination.

Some puzzles are obvious and could be solved in three clicks, especially if you are replaying and already know which anchors to use, but you do have an incentive to explore a bit.  Scattered about the play area are green icons (coins) that you can collect by having your orb pass through them as it gets snapped around.  Collect them all for a special bonus, but also know there is a certain number of moves (par) you’ll want to complete the puzzle in to earn that 3-star rank at the end of the puzzle group.  This leads to that whole risk vs. reward I mentioned where you have to figure out if you should go for those final few coins or just finish the puzzle without going over par.  It’s possible to 100% every puzzle but it may take a few attempts to learn the proper sequence of anchors.

Things get even more challenging when the game mixes things up with new obstacles and anchor points that are already attached to elastic tethers of their own that offer variable resistance.  It’s a nice progression of difficulty that slowly increases the deeper you go into the puzzle packs.  As mentioned, the beta only had 160 puzzles but thanks to upcoming Puzzle Packs you can expect thousands along with Daily Puzzle challenges, an Endurance mode where every move costs a coin and a Sandbox mode where you can customize the game as you play endless puzzles with endless coins.  For streamers there is even a Streamer Assist mode that puts numeric labels on the anchor points so viewers in the chat can offer their own suggestions on your next move.

The presentation is very nice for a game that basically plays out in 2D with a bunch of geometric shapes; it even reminded me of a simplistic Geometry Wars game without any shooting.  You have multiple visual options to mix up the overall design of the game with currently five options like techno, gems and plastiq noir and it looks like more may be coming judging from the empty spaces in the menu.  The music is also quite soothing, lending to that whole Zen-like state of mind you achieve playing Triversal.  No timers…no pressure…just relax and figure each puzzle out.  The system requirements are basic, so almost any PC gamer should be able to play this using a controller, keyboard, or mouse.

Triversal looks, plays, and feels like a game more suited for an iPad or other touchscreen device.  It even has coins and star ratings which always smacks of a game designed for mobile devices, and while I didn’t find this game listed on any apps stores I did notice Steam has it listed for Remote Play on phones and tablets using the Steam Link app.  I’ll explore this feature more in my official review in July, but I can easily see how this game would be even more accessible and enjoyable on a mobile device with touch inputs.

I had a blast with the Triversal beta.  It’s one of those games you can jump in for a few puzzles between other games or maybe while doing a large download/install, but it is also deceptively addicting in that once you start you fall into this thoughtful trance of colors and music with point-n-click gameplay that is simple to play and equally difficult to master.

Look for our full review of the final release in July but for now all puzzle-lovers should definitely get Triversal added to their Steam Wishlist.

The Falconeer First-Look Preview – PC

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure to be playing an early build of Tomas Sala’s upcoming game, The Falconeer, and I have to say I am very impressed.  I really had no idea what to expect going into this; perhaps a twisted version of actual falconry where handlers were weaponizing their birds?  I had no idea the falcons in this game were of mythical scale, the size of the fabled Roc from Middle-Eastern culture.  Marco Polo even wrote about these mammoth creatures, and yes, in The Falconeer your bird is large enough to saddle and support a passenger.

I’ll get this out of the way at the start.  This game could have just as easily been designed with dragons, dragon riders, breath weapons, and all the medieval trappings, so I want to applaud the designer on creating something truly unique and special here.  Let’s take off…

My preview copy had a prologue and the first few chapters of the game which offered a surprising amount of content.  There are already cutscenes, narration, and hours of professionally recorded voiceovers for a variety of characters including your spunky wingman – more on him in a bit.  The prologue sets up the story of you engaging in a performance test to prove you are worthy to be in the service of the Empress; a slick way to hide the tutorial that will teach you just about everything you need to know to play the game.

You control your falcon with the left stick and pan the camera with the right.  Buttons and triggers handle dashing, evasive rolls, and firing your electrical weapon.  It’s pretty basic stuff but nicely designed so you are instantly comfortable flying and fighting, plus the way the missions are designed you are eased into the more difficult aspects of gameplay the more you play.  You’ll learn to dive and rebuild stamina so you can pull off dash and roll moves and you’ll learn how to fly through electrical storms to recharge the batteries on your back that power the electric lance.  Oddly enough, they never did teach me about diving down to catch red and blue fish to eat them and replenish my health and stamina; had to figure that out myself and it’s super-useful.  You’ll earn money after each mission that can be spent on upgrades needed for future assignments.

Each chapter offers a home base with multiple NPC’s offering up a variety of missions and challenges as well as an item vendor where you can purchase assorted upgrades for your bird like weapons, armor, and mutagens that will boost your attributes like speed and agility.  There is a nice selection of mission types like patrol, combat, delivery, salvage, bounty, escort, and minesweeping, and sometimes these will combo like one mission where you had to salvage an item then deliver it to another island.  Every chapter has a primary list of missions along with challenges and even races.  The longer missions will often have you traveling with a wingman that you can command with a button press to attack your target.  He’s surprisingly useful and not just a distraction.

Speaking of islands, The Great Ursee is basically one massive body of water with all sorts of islands scattered about; some big enough to build a city and others too small to land.  Opening up the world map was a jaw-dropping experience just seeing the sheer scale of the world and the endless potential for adventures.  A smaller window to this map can be found in the mini-map which also shows your flight path and nearby wind currents.  Tailwinds will boost your speed while waterspouts will send you high into the clouds.  Electrical storms are also shown on the map and useful if you need to recharge during a mission, but don’t overcharge or you will explode.  There are over 60 discoverable locations and activities scattered about the world map, so there is no shortage of things to do between missions, and you are always free to simply take off and explore.

The look and feel of the game is surreal; almost like a 70’s album cover came to life.  The Falconeer isn’t going for photorealism, so the water may look simplified and the polygon count for the rocky islands might be average but that doesn’t matter in this hybrid world of Steampunk pirates and quasi-Vikings all trapped in some ancient mythical universe.  What truly stands out is the color and lighting and how they interact with the clouds and water.  I’d stack these clouds up against Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator game.  There is a day/night cycle with gorgeous shifts in color and light including some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises and when the stars come out at night it’s magical.  The game is loaded with subtle details including some fantastic bird and other creature models, interesting Steampunk airships, and boats, and some unique city designs integrated into what almost looks like procedurally generated landmasses.  Even the air currents are visually represented so you can aim toward them or avoid as needed.  I appreciated the minimal HUD as well as the ability to remove or add back just parts of the interface such as the compass and mini-map.  There is even a Photo Mode if you want to capture and share a moment.

Sadly, my biggest complaint with the game, at least in this current preview build is that it is just too difficult and combat is simplistic and boring.  I was immediately reminded of playing Ace Combat or just about any other flight combat game only in this game you don’t have rockets and sidewinders.  This is pretty much dogfighting, which was always the weakest part of those games and certainly is here too.  You’re constantly trying to aim for the erratic circle lead indicator and if it ever stops long enough for you to get off some shots it also means you are in their sights as well.  At least there is a generous aim assist in place, but even after 30+ missions I never scored higher than a 23% hit percentage. Combat is an endless cycle of circling each other, braking to let them fly through your crosshair, and spiraling away before they shoot back.  Thankfully there is a target camera lock that you can press to keep your enemy in view during these twisty combat maneuvers. You can also target lock ground/water targets, which makes it much easier to fly over and drop bombs or make cool strafing runs.  I’m really hoping they somehow tighten up the combat system or at least expand upon it in some meaningful way.  The Falconeer is so conceptually brilliant in every other facet I hate to see it ruined by tedious and repetitive aerial combat.

Picking the right bird for the job can help with combat and so can equipping the right cocktail of mutagens to boost those stats.  Obviously HP and the ability to regenerate HP are going to be important.  I’m not sure if the difficulty is going to get balanced better.  As it stands in the current build I had to lower the difficulty to Easy to get past the missions in the first chapter.  There also needs to be mid-mission checkpoints, as some missions are extremely long (20+ minutes) and if you die you start completely over.  The mystical death narration and having to click through missions briefings again is also annoying.

One thing that would be cool is a falcon vision mode that would highlight important objects like schools of fish or the numerous bits of salvage you are supposed to pick up.  I spent nearly ten minutes looking for a bit of salvage I had already located because it was the same color as the water and it was bobbing up and down beneath the surface.  At least let me lock onto the object like an enemy so I have a target to aim for.  Thankfully, the floating mines have flashing lights on them, which is great for me but wouldn’t that defeat their purpose; easy to spot and avoid.

Aside from a few minor nitpicks The Falconeer is shaping up to be one of the more original and challenging games coming out this November.  If you love flight combat games, especially those with an emphasis on dogfighting, then this game definitely has that Red Baron feel to it only now you are flying a giant bird fighting off crazy pirates as you try to rebuild your kingdom in some insanely hostile conditions.  The sheer scale of the world along with the variety of mission designs, activities, and collectibles should keep you flying high until next year.

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The Vale: Shadow of the Crown Preview – PC

Usually, when a game is being reviewed or discussed, one of the first things that it is judged by is the graphics. Some might argue that there are exceptions to this, such as with retro-style games where the graphics are less of a focus. I would argue that in games like that, the intentional choice of using a retro style is just as much of a design choice as hyper-realism. But what about a game that is designed, essentially from the ground up, as an audio-only game? The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is a game that is not only designed around the core concept of being a blind-accessible game, but where the main character herself is blind. The gameplay is focused entirely around audio cues and sound design to create the sensation of moving through a world that you cannot see.

From the moment you boot up The Vale, it is apparent that it was designed to be able to be played by someone who is visually impaired. While there is a graphical menu, each option is also voiced when you highlight it, allowing you to navigate the entire game without using your eyes.

Once you start a game, your screen will be mostly black with only some slowly shifting motes of light, almost like dust particles. These are the only “graphics” of the entire game. They will sometimes change color (blue during a night-time scene, for example) or move (early on, your character slides down a river embankment and the motes shift up to convey the sensation of falling), but otherwise, the entire experience is through sound. Also, these visual cues are so unimportant that you can easily play the game without being able to see the screen and have the same experience. In fact, there were times while playing that I found myself closing my eyes in order to truly immerse myself in the game as it was meant to be experienced.

The interface of the game is entirely through the keyboard or by using a controller. The controls are fairly simple. You can turn your character left and right, move forward and back, and then you can attack in front, to your left, or to your right. Power attacks become available as you progress, as well. You also have the ability to block attacks, use a bow, and use magic once you gain favor with the fae.

So, since there is no way to judge the game on its visual merit, it comes down to judging it on its other qualities. At the time of this report, while the game is still being completed for its official release, I would have to say that the voice acting and audio quality is superb. Since it is ultimately imperative that you be able to detect where others are using only visual cues, the binaural design is essential to the success and playability of the game. I felt that there was never an issue for me to be able to determine the direction or source of a sound while I was playing the game. Also, the acting is very well done, conveying character and emotion from each unique character. Using sound queues like the crunch of earth, or the shifting of leather or metal, you are able to figure out what the people around you are doing, whether they are a threat to you or not, etc.

Not often do games come along that give you the opportunity to experience a world in a truly unique way. The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is a unique experience and one that I am very excited to experience in full once it is complete and released.

Add to your Steam wishlist today.

Everspace 2 (Prototype Build) – First Impressions

Everspace 2 is currently in a prototype phase on Steam and I was fortunate enough to get a very early sneak peek into the game and take it for a test spin.  The original Everspace came out in 2017 and met with very positive reviews. It was a unique approach to the roguelike genre of games, providing the player with a first- or third-person perspective to explore a highly detailed and intense star system.

This second installment in the series looks to be shaping up to take all the things that were great about the first and improve upon them for an even better, more intense, and more enjoyable experience than the first.  The controls of your ship are fluid and immersive, allowing you to fly in all six degrees of space, giving you plenty of tactical choices when going up against the ever-increasing amount of enemy ships that you will face in your quest.

As you progress, you will be awarded experience points and credits which you can use to improve your ship through new weapons, equipment, and abilities. There are many different types of weapons that are available in the game, which will have different types of damage output to shields and armor. Some weapons will do a lot of damage to shields while doing very little damage to armor and others are the opposite. Finding the right balance to put into the weapon slots on your ship is quite a fun part of the game. There are also secondary weapons like homing missiles and mines, as well as various components that you can upgrade, like your boosters or your armor plating, which will help you survive encounters more easily.

The visuals are absolutely stunning. Bright glowing engines streak across the sky trailed by blazing bolts of laser beams or streaks of tracers from gatling guns. Explosions are epic and devastating. And it is all set on the backdrop of the stunning system that you have the freedom to explore as you wish. There are massive ringed planets that will take up a majority of your view with breathtaking color palettes and tones. Also, there are massive structures like space stations and asteroid fields that give you plenty of variety in what you can use as cover during battles or just have fun flying through and around as you go. There is also the ability to fly down on planetary surfaces, which adds a whole different feel to exploration of the environments available in the game.

Scale is something that many space games struggle with. It’s hard to convey the size of things in space, apparently. But, one thing that I found while playing the Everspace 2 prototype was that it seemed to do a wonderful job of conveying the varying sizes of things. Big stations and capital ships felt huge compared to my single-seat fighter. Asteroids seemed to be immense, and planets really felt like planets…giant looming things, not just little orbs floating in space.

Everywhere you fly you will come across things to gather up from ore that is deposited in random asteroids to floating chests full of random loot to gather and either use to upgrade or sell for cold hard cash. Also, destroying enemy ships allows you to loot them for their leftovers as well.

I felt that the game, in its current state, was already very well polished and provided a fairly intuitive difficulty curve. It was challenging without feeling overwhelming.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the game is like upon its initial early access release which is slated toward the end of 2020 and can only imagine what it will look like once it’s ready for full release.

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Wasteland 3 (Beta) – First Impressions

I recall when Wasteland 2 came out in 2014, it was surrounded by the hype of being the Fallout sequel that we deserved, but never got. I had never had the pleasure of playing the original Wasteland back in the ‘80’s, but I did mess around with Fallout and Fallout 2 enough to see how adjacent the two franchises had begun. Then Fallout 3 went in the direction of a first person perspective RPG adventure with a stronger emphasis on the shooter genre.

The Wasteland games have maintained the top down strategic gameplay design of the original, while expanding on the concepts of cause and effect and the ripple effects of hard choices. Wasteland 3 is planning on doing that in spades. In the introductory portion of the beta demo that I was given access to, there are so many choices and variables that get introduced, even from the beginning, that it is obvious how much of a branching storyline the game will have. Choices really matter in these games, which is not something you see very often anymore. Even in Fallout 3 and 4 it seemed that choice was merely an illusion, that no matter which path you took, you’d end up in largely the same place.

In Wasteland 3, even seemingly small choices can have major repercussions later in the game and they are often presented in such a way that there is no obvious “right” or “wrong” answer. Many times, you just have to go with your gut and find out later whether or not it was a good decision. Sometimes, you may never know for sure.

Adding to the complexity of these spider-webbing effects that these choices have, Wasteland 3 is being designed to be able to be played with a friend using online co-op. This fact alone is exciting enough, but the plan is not to make this just a game that you play through with a friend, experiencing the same events side-by-side. No. Instead, the design idea is to create an asynchronous experience, allowing both players to experience the game together, but in their own way. Each player leads their own squad of rangers and can choose to accompany each other on the same missions, or divide their resources and take on two separate missions at once. The choices made by one player would then become a part of that world, which would then impact the experience of the other player, as well. I am very excited to see this first hand, as it sounds truly revolutionary to the genre as a whole.

The game itself plays similarly to its predecessor as far as the basic mechanics go. There is an Action Point economy that you use during combat dividing between movement and various attacks. There are many different characters, weapons, skills, perks, etc. that all add up to a very diverse combination of gameplay approaches to various situations, whether they are socially oriented, combat heavy, stealthy, or what have you.

The graphics have seen a decent improvement from Wasteland 2, and the focus of the new setting, Colorado, is on the icy cold wasteland instead of the arid desert of Arizona. The ice and snow effects are quite well done, and definitely convey a sense of bitter hopelessness at times. There are a few details that feel a little light, graphically, such as a noticeable lack of detailed shadows from the characters, but that is perhaps something that will get fine-tuned as the game gets closer to release.

Ultimately, a Ranger never gives up and fights against all odds. After getting to play through the introductory teaser portion of the game, I very much look forward to the full release in May and will probably be going back and playing through Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut again in the meantime.

Screenshot Gallery

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