Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Watchlist: Sharp Flint

Title: Sharp Flint
Developer: EATMEAT Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One
In development
A survival/hunting game where you can chase and hunt mammoths, wolves, and other titans of the ice age
Sharp Flint takes the popular explore/survival/crafting genre and strips out the zombies, the post-apocalyptic settings, the alien worlds, the isolated islands or voxel landscapes in favor of a low-poly experience set in the prehistoric era.

Across sprawling forests and plains, your goal in Sharp Flint is simple: survive and hunt. Inspired by games like Monster Hunter, you'll carefully traverse expansive maps filled with dynamic herds, prey and predators, and both random and scripted events.
Hunting in Sharp Flint will be more complex than simply throwing a spear at a mammoth. Wind and scent will play a role in tracking and stalking herds, and you'll need to use the environment to your advantage to craft new clothing and weapons. Hazards like quicksand and rock slides can hurt you or be used against fierce predators.

But be careful, because your life is not the only one at stake. You need to gather food and resources to support your family and clan. While the game isn't a roguelike, it will feature a lives system based on the number of children you have. Upon death, you'll take control of your oldest child and inherit your father's equipment; when you run out of characters, you'll need to start a new game. This lives/family management adds a persistent element to Sharp Flint's ice age hunting and gathering.
Sharp Flint is still in development, and is aiming for release on PC, Mac, and consoles. You can sign up for a newsletter on the game's site, and follow its progress on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

PC Review #128: Jotun

Title: Jotun
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $14.99
From Titan Quest to Kratos' gory ramapages in God of War, Greek mythology has been well-represented in gaming. In recent years, a wave of games revolving around Norse tales have released or are in development, from The Banner Saga and Eitr to Trial By Viking and Niffelheim. Jotun brings the lands and deities of Norse myth to gorgeous life through hand-drawn animations and vivid art designs.
You play as Thora, a fearless Viking warrior, felled not on the battlefield but by the raging sea. But Thora has been given a second chance to impress the gods and earn entry into Valhalla. Thora must travel through purgatory and slay five massive Jotun, giant elemental beings that can go toe-to-toe with a god. What chance does a human warrior have against these towering foes?

Armed with only your battle axe and your agility, you search for runes in a set of levels to unlock the boss level. Each stage revolves around a unique puzzle element or situation. From creating constellations among the clouds around Yggdrasil's canopy to navigating the lava-encrusted crater of Muspelheim or braving the frozen wind-lashed Nine Rivers, Jotun is consistently introducing new elements or new scenery.
While you might face some dwarves or thorny vines in stages, Jotun shines most brightest when you're facing one of the titular giants. Beautifully animated and absolutely massive, these battles bring to mind the scale of the classic Shadow of the Colossus. Encounters revolve around evading telegraphed attacks as the bosses evolve across different forms.

Each battle is a spectacle of bombastic music, intricate animated Jotun, and carefully timed dodges and attacks. Isa unleashes breaths of blizzard-force winds and snow. Fé summons an army of dwarves and shakes the earth with each slam of her shield. Kaunan lunges at you with his massive flaming blade.

If axe and evasion aren't enough to fell bosses, Thora can utilize blessings from the Norse blessings, ranging from a speed boost to an ethereal hammer smash imbued with the power of Thor. These blessings are limited, so using them at the right time to augment your speed or attacks are key to surviving your battles against the Jotun.
Jotun is a gorgeously presented game, with narration spoken in the native Icelandic language, atmospheric environments to explore, and an epic soundtrack. While it's not the longest experience, Jotun is certainly a compelling and thrilling one. Each region feels unique, and each Jotun battle is a visual spectacle.

You can purchase Jotun on Steam.

Monday, September 28, 2015

No Money, No Problem: Red Amazon

Title: Red Amazon
Developer: Tom van den Boogaart
Platforms: PC
Red Amazon is a short narrative game, only lasting a few minutes, but it's still an experience fraught with tension.
You find yourself in an isolated cabin, under a grey foreboding sky. The fireplace roars, birds chirp. The minimal art style and sounds of natural create a calming atmospheric tone, but then...that all changes.

You're not alone out there in the woods.

Red Amazon is described as a thriller, and it certainly succeeds in that aspect in its short playtime. It's best to experience it without much knowledge. You can download the game here.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 9/26

Title: The Nullpoint
Developer: Schell Games
A real-time tactical survival horror roguelike
Nullpoint is a sci-fi horror game where you control a small team of survivors stranded inside a mysterious alien structure: Decipher what the Nullpoint is, and find a way to escape it– if you can.
Title: Off Grid
Developer: Semaeopus Ltd
Off Grid is an adventure, satire and stealth game about a mishap antihero. You play an everyman pencil pusher, who is oblivious to the city's prying and spying, corporate-sponsored government until a series of dark events unfold. 
The contemporary storyline follows real-world events surrounding data privacy, and gameplay utilises unique mechanics that allow you to manipulate the world and people around you with the data they unwittingly leave behind.
Title: Kill To Collect
Developer: Pieces Interactive
You are a Bounty Hunter. Without any remorse or judgement, you take on jobs, eliminate targets and collect Credits. Your mission objectives hide in the deeper levels, usually protected by their vile friends. You can take your chances alone, but bounty hunting is best done with friends! So choose your powers, gather your friends and go hunting in a Cyberpunk-inspired city world filled with danger, mystery and treasures.
Title: Speak of the Clouds
Developer: Mechanic Moon
A classical point-and-click adventure where you have to help Fenix to escape from a UFO's invasion

Friday, September 25, 2015

PC Review #127: SOMA

Title: SOMA
Developer: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
Price: $29.99
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is considered by many to be one of the scariest experiences the medium has to offer. The supernatural game forced the player to flee and hide from monstrosities whose mere visages tore at your character's sanity.

SOMA sheds that game's Lovecraftian trappings for a research station on the ocean floor, but the horror and the oppressive atmosphere remains, anchored by a compelling and thought-provoking story influenced by the works of Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick.
Soma puts you in the frightened and confused shoes of Simon, a man trapped in the sprawling underwater facility known as Pathos-II. Horrific things roam the dank dilapidated corridors, monstrous fusions of flesh and machine, and like Amnesia, hiding from and sneaking around these creatures is your only course of action.
Saying anything more specific about SOMA's engrossing narrative would do a disservice to its carefully-paced reveals. But rest assured, it's a journey filled with haunting moments, interesting sci-fi concepts, and compelling questions about humanity.

"Haunting" is probably the most apt way to describe SOMA's atmosphere. While there are enemies in the game, encounters are sparing, which, in turn, makes each one more memorable and unpredictable. The horror in SOMA comes less from its terrifying creatures and more from the atmosphere, the themes, the sound design and setting. Every moment is fraught with tension, enhanced by the music and the groaning of metal being crushed by the immense ocean pressure. The game is a slow-burn experience, letting the unnerving uneasy implications of grotesque sights and of your actions stew in your mind.
SOMA's sci-fi horror is spread across 8 to 10 hours of thought-provoking narrative, cautious exploration, puzzles, and desperate stealth around bio-mechanical monsters. If you're looking for a horror game that's focused on dread and vice-like tension and story rather than jump scares, or are interested in high-concept science fiction stories, SOMA is a must-play.

You can purchase SOMA on Steam, GOG, and PS4.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

IOS Review #103: SPL-T

Title: SPL-T
Developer: Simogo
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $2.99
If you follow mobile games, no doubt you're familiar with Simogo. Their games - from the haunting adventure game Year Walk to the enigmatic text-twisting Device 6 - are defined by how they use the touch interface and slick polished presentations to deliver unique and compelling narrative experiences. So at first glance, SPL-T doesn't appear to be a Simogo title. But as you learn its rules and master its intricacies, SPL-T reveals that it's as unique as any of their other games.
Your first attempt at SPL-T is likely to be confusing. Its gameplay seems as simple as its minimal appearance. The core concept is that you need to gather points by splitting the screen into blocks. Splits alternate between horizontal and vertical divisions; by dividing an area into four or more equally-sized blocks, those blocks convert into "point blocks" marked with a number. That number indicates how many splits are required to remove those blocks from the screen.
Once you realize that those blocks disappear from the screen, SPL-T's hidden depth becomes apparent. When those blocks disappear, above blocks as well as new blocks fall down to fill in the gaps, allowing for new splits to be made. Adding to the mechanic is that point blocks that fall into an empty space have their split number halved, letting you remove them more quickly.

SPL-T evolves from a puzzler with seemingly little strategy into a game of careful planning. To earn a high score, you must be mindful of how the screen will affected several splits in the future and be careful not to create a scenario where mo more splits are possible. It's a tricky and surprisingly addictive challenge.
And not surprisingly, just like its simple puzzle mechanics blossomed with hidden depth, SPL-T is not as basic as it first appears. A plethora of secrets are waiting to be found within the game itself. To say more would spoil the mysterious nature of Simogo's puzzler, but rest assured that SPL-T might be more than just a block-splitting game.

With SPL-T, Simogo once again showcases its mastery of mobile puzzlers, delivering an engaging game hiding a strategic challenge behind its simple aesthetic.

You can purchase SPL-T for $2.99.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Watchlist: Hello, Neighbor

Title: Hello, Neighbor
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
In development
A first-person tactical thriller puzzler with a tricky self-studying A.I. as an opponent
I remember the first time I encountered the concept of an adapting AI in games. It was playing the freeware shmup Warning Forever; that game pit you against a single boss that adapted to your tactics, eventually growing into a screen-filling monstrosity bristling with lasers and armor. It's a fascinating concept, which is why the upcoming Hello, Neighbor caught my attention.

Reminiscent of movies like Hitchcock's Rear Window and Disturbia, Hello, Neighbor puts you in the shoes of an man living across from a suspicious neighbor. And like those movies, your goal is to figure out your neighbor's secret and eventually make your way into his home. What could he be hiding in the basement?
But there's one significant obstacle in your way, and that's the fact your neighbor is no ordinary scripted NPC. He's powered by AI that will learn from and adapt to your attempts and tactics, fortifying his house, setting traps and preparing in ways that counter your methods. The developers state that the longer you play, the more dangerous and intelligent the neighbor becomes. You might enter his home to find the floor littered with bear traps...

The prototype footage showcases the game's interesting stealth-based gameplay, as you lure the neighbor outside by throwing a tomato at his window and turn the TV on as a distraction while you hide in a closet. Once seen, a desperate chance ensues, as the neighbor smashes through a window to cut off your escape. Fleeing back into the house, you find the back door barred shut; trying to pry off the wooden boards with a hammer, you're captured and awaken to your doomed fate.
Hello, Neighbor's concept of stealth-puzzle tactics against an adaptive AI looks very promising. A Kickstarter is slated for October; you can learn more about the game here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 9/19

Title: Hello, Neighbor
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Hello, Neighbor! is a first-person tactical thriller puzzler with a tricky self-studying A.I. as an opponent The Neighbor gathers all the information about the player's actions, decisions, movements etc. Having analyzed it, he comes up with counter-actions, traps and a unique tactics against the player. The more one plays, the more experienced the Neighbor becomes.
Title: Rising Islands
Developer: Mindblown Studios
Switch between dimensions and use an extensive moveset to traverse beautiful environments and use your powers to rid the world from an ancient evil. 
Rising Islands is an adventure game set in a beautiful world which has been torn apart by mystical forces and split into two dimensions. You take the role of Hairo, an adventurer who gains the power to jump between these dimensions, and it is up to you to set things right.
Title: Shadows of Adam
Developer: Something Classic
Shadows of Adam is a 16-bit era, character-driven JRPG with an indie soul. Players will journey through a vivid and mysterious world and take on a cast of comical and brutal foes in fast-paced battles. Take control of our hero Kellan and navigate your way through a multitude of treacherous dungeons such as the ominous Tangle, dizzying Wind Tower, or foreboding Haunted Swamp.
Title: PaperBlade
Developer: Galdelico
A side-scrolling hack and slash, packed with ninja action and yokai monsters!

Friday, September 18, 2015

PC Review #126: Vagante

Title: Vagante
Developer: Nuke Nine
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99
What games belong under the roguelike umbrella is a common discussion when the term comes up, but one can't deny the appeal of roguelike (or roguelite) platformers. Spelunky is easily the poster child of the subgenre, but it's an thriving genre, from Catacomb Kids and Rogue Legacy to Cavern Kings and 20XX. Vagante is another game to add to that list, with its RPG focus and challenging gameplay.
The premise of Vagante is simple. Choose a class, venture into the waiting mouth of a dark hazard-filled cave, and survive. Treasure, traps, monsters, and loot can be found within, if you have the skill to endure the challenges of the procedurally-generated levels.

While Catacomb Kids stands out with its interlocking systems and Rogue Legacy with its generational progress and hectic gameplay, Vagante excels at blending elements of the action RPG and the roguelite platformer. Each of the three classes - Knight, Mage, and Rogue - have their own unique skills as well as stats to upgrade, and each upgrade expands your moveset with new abilities and powers. The bow-wielding Rogue can cloak himself in shadows, the Mage unlocks new spells, the Knight can unlock falling stabs, and so on.
Loot found throughout the level or bought from shops allow you to equip new gear, some imbued with special passive abilites. From helms that make your strikes freeze enemies and heavy gauntlets that knock foes backwards to scrolls and potions that provide one-use magic attacks or stat buffs, Vagante provides many ways to fight enemies.

The action is fast-paced and challenging, as you jump over projectiles and time your strikes against bats, rats, ghouls, imposing dragons, and other beasts and bosses that await. Using traps like spike pits or arrow turrets to your advantage is a valid tactic too; sometimes fleeing to gather some health, swap out weapons, or use a scroll is the best option. If the dungeon prove too challenging for a lone adventurer, you can always fight alongside three other friends in 4-player local co-op.
Vagante is currently on Steam Early Acess, and the developers are working on implementing online multiplayer. You can purchase Vagante on Steam and Humble, and follow the game's development here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

No Money, No Problem: Late Night Shop

Title: Late Night Shop
Developer: Total Monkery
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Horror games love to mess with the concept of sight in games. In Amnesia, you must avert your gaze from the roaming monstrosities to maintain your sanity. In the Five Nights At Freddy series, keeping watch on the dangerous animatronics is the key to surviving the night. The upcoming Perception puts you in the shoes of a blind woman. And in Late Night Shop, watching the beings that want to kill you is the only way to stay alive.
You're an employee investigating an alarm in the mall...but you soon discover that the danger is far worse than a thief. The mannequins stationed throughout the levels have gained murderous life, and are stalking you through the corridors and rooms. However, like Doctor Who's infamous Weeping Angels. these mannequins only move when you can't see them. So don't look away.

Late Night Shop is a wonderfully challenging and creepy horror game. Keeping a mannequin in sight may be easy at first, but then more join in, forcing you to carefully inch through the mall. They move fast when unseen, so every glance for an exit or around a room is fraught with tension.
The version to download is merely a pre-alpha build; the developers plan to expand Late Night Shop with more levels and a multiplayer component where one player controls the mannequins.

You can find the build and more information on the game here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 9/12

Title: Empire Apart
Developer: DESTINYbit
Empires Apart is an old-school Real Time Strategy game set in medieval times. It aims to recapture the excitement and wonder of collecting resources, building an army and raising to victory. With focus on competitive online play, Empires Apart brings the classic real time strategy gameplay to the modern age.
The Great Whale Road is a medieval RPG with turn-based tactics, longships and axes.
Travel the early medieval seas with your crew of chosen men and women. You will build up your crew by recruiting champions and characters from different cultures and kingdoms along the North Sea including Anglo-Saxons, Picts, Franks and Danes.
Title: Outreach
Developer: Pixel Spill Games
Outreach is a first person, narrative-driven adventure game. You are a lone Cosmonaut sent to investigate a Soviet military station, which has mysteriously cut all communication with Ground Control. As you explore, you piece together an account of what transpired aboard Outreach Station.
Title: The Storm Guard
Developer: Bitmen Studios
The Storm Guard is a turn-based tactical game in a fantasy setting. Wildings, undead and even greater horrors from the north have crossed the borders and are now invading the realm of men causing death and destruction. You assume the role of the Lord Commander and have to manage this conflict.
Title: Tungsten: Armored Outlaw
Developer: TungstenAO devs
A side-scrolling armored fighter/mech game in the spirit of an SNES game called Metal Warriors. Your home planet is bombed to bits and you now survive as a mercenary-for-hire flying missions for pay. You start each mission in one mech but you can jump out and grab another as you find them. Between missions there's a hub area where you pick your loadout and negotiate to figure out what missions you'll do next.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Watchlist: Cobalt

Title: Cobalt
Developer: Oxeye Game Studio
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Releasing October 2015
Play as a cute cyborg with a passion for 2d multiplayer battles involving extreme slow-mo and combat rolls
Even if you only have passing knowledge of video games, then the name Mojang probably brings a very specific game to mind. And while Minecraft is undoubtedly the company's magnus opus, it's not their own only game. There was the unfortunately cancelled Scrolls, as well as their foray into publishing with Oxeye's Cobalt. Thankfully the latter is slated for release next month, because it's shaping up to be a skillful and fun 2D action game.
Cobalt is a 2D shooter with an emphasis on acrobatic gunplay and deft evasion. The most useful manevuer in your moveset is the combat roll, which not only lets you chain together moves like punch-jumps and slides but also deflect bullets. Combined with the vast array of weapons and gear, combat in Cobalt proves to be hectic, fast-paced, and have a high skill ceiling, with a surprising amount of hidden depth to its seemingly limited moveset.

But while Cobalt has a large multiplayer focus, with co-op survival modes as well as competitive modes such as deathmatch and capture the plug, I was surprised to learn it has an equally extensive single player component. Aside from an expansive Adventure mode that takes your titular robot Cobalt on a journey from abandoned facilities to snow-capped mountain bases. the game has myriad challenge maps, divided between combat, speed, and puzzle scenarios.
I've been playing the challenge maps present in the current alpha, and Cobalt has really impressed me with its very satisfying gameplay and tactical depth. Your loadout is extremely customizable, including an large selection of guns, melee weapons, throwables, skills, upgrades, and equipment. To name some of the gear in the game: a cloaking stealth suit, time-slowing grenades, rocket boots, a scoped rail gun, a riot shield, a passive reflecting shield, hack grenades that let you control enemies, flash-bangs, silencers, and much more.

Take the plan-and-pounce pacing and hectic eruption of chaos seen in games like Hotline Miami or The Swindle and the acrobatic gunplay of a John Woo film, and that would be Cobalt's gameplay in a nutshell. A typical action beat sees you sliding down an embankment, punching a rocket back at a turret, turning mid-slide to shoot a sniper behind you, rolling to deflect bullets, and shooting while rolling to take out enemies above you. Or, given the extensive armory, maybe you'll distract enemies with a decoy, blind them with a flash-bang, then hack a powerful Predator foe to wipe out the stunned robots.
Enemies are quite varied as well, ranging from organic beasts and spear-wielding natives to robotic combat squads. Some might carry shields, forcing you to attack from behind or above, or wield devastating sniper rifles, among other challenging permutations. The deep moveset, extensive array of weapons and gear, and diverse foes gives the gameplay, especially the challenge maps, that one-more-go appeal where you want clear areas in the smoothest slickest way possible.

Cobalt is expected to release in October. You can purchase the game and download the free alpha demo from the developer's website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Watchlist: Sky Break

Title: Sky Break
Developer: Farsky Interactive
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Late 2015
Explore, gather resources, re-construct your station, enhance your armor and fight in a procedural open world
Underwater survival game Far Sky dropped the player into a dark unforgiving ocean. In the developer's next title, Sky Break, the danger doesn't come below, but from above, as you survive on a world ravaged by deadly weather and other hazards.

The world of Sky Break is an unforgiving, inhabitable place; lightning storms and meteor showers ravage the surface, and a toxic atmosphere requires you to watch your oxygen during each excursion across its procedurally generated biomes.
Your main goal is to reconstruct your space station in orbit around the planet. A spaceship hangar, a greenhouse, and other modules allow you to reach new areas, from shrouded canyons to dense forests and alien mountains. However, the weather isn't the only danger awaiting in Sky Break. Roaming combat drones are just as fatal as the raging storms; you battle these mechanical foes with third-person melee combat and abilities, collecting resources and crafting gear to unlock new skills.
Sky Break is currently in development, slated for a late 2015 release. You can learn more about the game here.

Sky Break has already been Greenlit.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Watchlist: Outer Wilds

Title: Outer Wilds
Developer: Mobius Digital
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
In development
A first-person space exploration game where you uncover the mysteries of a solar system stuck in an endless time loop
Outer Wilds was one of the first games I wrote about, way back in August 2013. Even then, Outer Wilds was a wonderful experience, capturing the mystery of space exploration like few other games. Now the game is the first campaign of the new crowdfunding platform FIG and is being expanded into a prettier, grander experience.
The premise of Outer Wilds is simple: you're an alien traveler, exploring the solar system, following the signs and artifacts of an ancient civilization. From deep canyons to black holes, storm-swept ocean spheres and lava-encrusted moons, the cosmos is a unknown place full of weird planets and secrets. However..after twenty minutes, the Sun goes supernova and your galaxy is wiped from existence.

And then time resets. Outer Wilds is an experience spread across multiple playthroughs, as you explore new places and maybe even find the way to save the universe, using the knowledge gathered across multiple time loops.
I've been playing the recent IGF build and Outer Wilds is as engrossing as ever. A museum on your home planet teaches you about the galaxy; a child's drone lets you practice flight and landings. Suiting up, activating your thrusters, and leaving the atmosphere as the planet shrinks to a ball of swirling clouds against the backdrop of darkness and the fiery Sun never gets old. Witnessing an eclipse on the dark side of a moon, sending out your probe to scan an unknown world, passing through a black hole into the unknown....nothing captures interstellar exploration like Outer Wilds
This new and improved Outer Wilds will be expanded with a new art style, new locations, new mysteries, lore, and artifacts to discover. You can learn more about Outer Wilds and support it on FIG here. A new alpha build is available to check out as well.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 9/5

Title: Cyberzone
Developer: InterMassive Studio
Super FAST shooter with time control system. Crowd of enemies, difficult and long multi-levels, connected by a single storyline. Control the time, use the environment as a weapon and KILL. ALL. F18KING. ENEMIES.
Title: The Final Station
Developer: Do My Best Games
Travel by train through the dying world, watch after your passengers, keep your train operational (refuel and setup devices) to continue your journey to the next station.
Make your way through the swarms of zombies at the infected stations. Explore mysterious and abandoned stations looking for supplies and survivors. Visit living stations for trade and the new quests.
Title: I Can't Escape: Darkness
Developer: Fancy Fish Games
I Can't Escape: Darkness is a quicksand trap for the senses - the more you listen and look for clues, the deeper you fall into a damp, living dungeon. Plunge into the depths and scrape together whatever tools you can find, then try to escape one of the most diabolical puzzles of all time!
Title: Starbreak
Developer: Crunchy Games
A web-based Roguelike MMO action-platformer with MetroidVania-esque gameplay

Thursday, September 3, 2015

PC Review #125: STASIS

Title: Stasis
Developer: The Brotherhood
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $24.99
The last twelve months have been a wonderful time for sci-fi horror fans. Alien: Isolation last October; Solarix, Duskers, and Quadrant this year; SOMA later this month. And of course, now Stasis. The sci-fi horror adventure game has been in development for five years, highly anticipated due to its isometric art and gory gritty style.

Having finished Stasis a few days ago, I think it's safe to say the game absolutely succeeds, delivering the kind of industrial atmosphere and gruesome visuals that would make Ridley Scott and David Cronenberg proud.
To put it simply: this is one disturbing and violent horror game. Stasis earns its M rating, in terms of both narrative and content. You are John Maracheck, who awakes from stasis on the mysterious vessel The Groomlake. Your family is missing, and the pools of blood and body parts are a clear indication that something very bad has happened on the ship. Drifting in deep space around Neptune, far from earth, no help is coming.

As you search the massive Groomlake for your family, you'll discover the truth behind the research and experiments conducted there, through the PDA logs of scientists and crew members. Those short vignettes flesh out the world, provide insight into the horrific secrets of the Groomlake, and give the setting a real sense of place. It's not just a drifting haunted house; people lived and worked here.

Due to the focus on the narrative, the less known about the plot, the better, but I'll say it's mature, engrossing, and realistic. You're just a normal man, looking for his family, on a research vessel-turned-living nightmare.
Being an adventure game, Stasis is all about puzzles. For the most part, the puzzles and goals were pretty logical, adhering to the rules and tone of the setting. Let's just you have more uses for viscera here than you do in other adventure games. You might need to figure out how to falsify a secret alert to open a locked door, how to bypass a bio-metric scanner, or clear toxic gas from a room. One of the engaging aspects about Stasis' puzzles is that many of the clues and hints are found in the game's logs, facts and statements that you could use to solve puzzles or learn how to fix a problem.

However, the game also had several more obtuse puzzles, with confusing combination and uses of items that left me stumped for a while.
You might be wondering how an isometric adventure game can be scary. There's no combat in the game (although you might need to use the environment to neutralize some dangers). But make no mistake, Stasis is a scary game, focusing on constant unease, fantastic sound design, and some incredibly disturbing visuals and situations. The grimy and blood-soaked industrial corridors of the Groomlake feel claustrophobic and eerie; the echoing screams and other ambient noises only add to the atmosphere.

You aren't safe either; there are many gruesome ways to die on the Groomlake, from being melted to more...exotic deaths. The stakes are high, and the things John has to do to survive and find his loved ones are easily on par with gaming's most uneasy and disturbing moments. If you thought Heavy Rain's Lizard Trial or Dead Space 2's eye surgery were nauseating, Stasis finds a way to top those moments. This is horror on an intimate level, rather than shadows and monster closets and jump spaces (although there are some of those too).
But Stasis isn't perfect. The ending of the game felt rushed and abrupt, and the narrative conclusion unsatisfying and cliched. And, as mentioned before, the occasional obtuse and confusing puzzles can bring the pacing to a frustrating halt.

Despite those gripes, Stasis was one of the most engaging game I've played this year. It's a tightly focused game, about a solid 8 or 9 hours of puzzles and exploration. The unnerving soundscape, the disturbing and mature atmosphere, the wonderfully detailed isometric art style all coalesce into a sci-fi horror game absolutely worth experiencing

You can purchase Stasis on Steam and GOG.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SitRep: Subnautica

Title: Subnautica
Platforms: PC, Mac
I had last wrote about Subnautica in June, stating how its alien ocean environment fostered an atmosphere of wonder and discovery. Since then, the game has only gotten bigger and even expanded to a new platform,
Subnautica came to Mac over the summer, and with that new platform also came a plethora of new content. The underworld world has grown to include two new biomes: the Underwater Islands and Sparse Reef. The former consists of massive chunks of rock and soil supported on the backs of buoyant growths; be careful navigating the waterfall of sands as sharks and other predators lurk around these islands. The latter is an emptier place of rolling dunes and new flora to discover.
Your tech arsenal has expanded as well. Along with the Repulsion Cannon, you can now build larger more complex habitats. Bases can include structures such as a Seamouth dry dock, an observatory to enjoy the underwater vistas safely, new storage compartments, and bulkhead doors. 
An upcoming update will allow players to customize the Seamouth submersible with different colors and upgrades like sensor torpedoes.

You can purchase Subnautica and follows its development here.