Category Archives: PC Reviews

Flashing Lights – Early Access Review

Flashing Lights is an open-world emergency services simulator from solo Latvian developer Nils Jakrins. With the ambitious goal of offering not just one, but three fully fleshed-out simulators in one neat inter-connected multiplayer package can Flashing Lights provide an experience a cut above its competitors in the genre, or is the almost £12 asking price highway robbery?

Jack of all trades:


One of the most compelling draws of Flashing Lights is its versatility. As the game’s subtitle indicates: “Police, Firefighting, Emergency Services Simulator”, Flashing Lights isn’t just a police simulator. Rather, it offers players the opportunity to dip into the roles of a police officer, firefighter or medic and experience a whole new set of scenarios whilst trying to master a whole new set of skills.

The open world design helps make switching roles a breeze. You start the game with the option to start in the service of your wish, but from then on changing jobs is as simple as walking into the relevant building and hitting a convenient button. The online aspect of the game has different services interacting with one another, and this in conjunction with the plethora of mission scenarios that are selected at random and presented as calls for you to respond to, which helps keep things refreshingly different each time you play.

Crime and punishments:


Playing as a police officer in Flashing Lights is functionally what you would likely expect going in to any typical police simulation. Once you have created your character and chosen a your preferred vehicle, each with subtly different functions and aesthetics, you’re thrust into an open world town.

You can patrol by foot or car, looking out for erratic drivers to stop or waiting to respond to calls. Each call is entirely optional, handy as they are frequently repeated, and cover a wide variety of scenarios. From pursuing a speeding driver to a tense shootout with armed robbers Flashing Lights lets you simulate a wide range of plausible scenarios. You can approach the scenarios in any way you see fit, and have quite a few tools at your disposal.

Whether you want to professionally and calmly resolve a violent situation in a non-lethal manner by tazing and arresting wrongdoers or, in what some would argue is a more accurate depiction of the American police force, just simply mow down everything that moves with a shotgun – your specific play style is catered to.

It is worth noting however that good conduct is rewarded with reputation points which serve to fill a reputation meter in the top left of the screen. Conversely, bad behaviour causes points to be deducted. Whilst I haven’t suffered any repercussions for letting my reputation drop too low, it provides a nice incentive for those of us who like a score challenge.

Fire and rescue:


The game-play for the fire route is very similar, also centred around free-roaming and responding to calls. Of course, the equipment on offer for someone playing as a firefighter is very different from that of a police officer and the scenarios you tackle are based around extinguishing fires rather than catching criminals. In addition to tackling various types of building fire, you’re faced with vehicles collisions and of course rescuing house cats from trees.

The firefighter game-play is the most vehicle focused of the three, requiring mastery of various types of unwieldy fire-engine. Unfortunately, these vehicles are often a little too hard to control to be enjoyable. Whilst the engine’s various features, like ladders or hoses, are fairly intuitive, actually driving to a call-out is an absolute nightmare with plenty of winding rural roads and steep hills to get stuck on.

You are given the option to drive a small fire car but, unless you’re in a game with other players driving the large vehicles for you, it is woefully under-equipped. Although they may be annoying to drive, the fire vehicles stand out as particularly well modelled; displaying many small moving parts and little delightful details.

The doctor will see you now:


The medical simulation was a very pleasant surprise. Although it still has a foundation in the same call-based core game-play, a lot of effort has clearly gone into the individual scenarios which house the titles’ most dramatic and challenging game-play shift.

With a wide variety of medical equipment at your disposal, it’s your job to successfully diagnose and offer first response treatment to patients. Examining limbs, applying a neck brace or bandage while frantically running between your car and your patient for equipment is an awful lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the medical route is more linear by nature, with one correct “solution” for each scenario which causes it to suffer a lot in the replayability department. With little in the way of progression or an unlocking system present in the game yet, it’s quite hard to justify continuing to play as a medic once you have seen every situation the path has to offers.

Luckily, the games’ frequent updates are adding more and more scenarios and game-play features which should help to the great number of different mission required to rectify this in future.

A long way to go:


“In future” is really the core takeaway from Flashing Lights in its current early access state. The game manages to only just justify its current asking price by the sheer variety of simulation it offers and as a result has a surprisingly active community – with servers that are frequently packed – but things still feel very bare-bones. From the floaty vehicle handling to the visuals that can be described as “choppy” at bests, there’s a lot to improve.

Pleasingly, the developer is doing an admirable job keeping the game up to date, offering frequent Steam blog posts and even a content road-map. If you’re a die-hard emergency simulator fan, there’s a lot of to like in Flashing Lights and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it even in its current state. For the average player however, it might be best just to hold off a little longer and wait until the game has a few of its creases ironed out.

Want to pick up your own copy of Flashing Lights? You can click the link below to reach the store page.


Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of  Flashing Lights was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games.

We Need To Go Deeper – Review

We Need to Go Deeper, a procedurally generated undersea adventure, promises to test even the strongest friendships with its chaotic four player co-op. With an intriguing premise and undeniably eye-catching visuals, does We Need To Go Deeper pack enough punch in the gameplay department to keep itself from going belly-up?

Extraordinary voyages:


Inspired by the world of Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires We Need to Go Deeper‘s setting, ‘The Living Infinite’, is an unexplored abyss at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean full of tantalising treasures and terrifying creatures.

An intrepid undersea explorer, the player is tasked with diving into these endless depths to seek out fame and fortune. Of course, this impossible task could never be accomplished alone and as such you are offered the option to bring three budding crewmates along for the ride. If you, for whatever reason, are unable to convince your friends to accompany you to certain doom, you can either try (and fail) tp do it solo or (more realistically) bring along three bots for the ride. The solid character creator helps you customise your sailor to your liking, with more clothing options available for unlock as you play.

The majority of this gameplay takes place in your submarine, which players have to work together to pilot. The cramped interior of your vessel houses panels which control the various aspects of the ship. There’s a big captain’s wheel which lets you steer, a torpedo bay and gunner’s seat – careful management of which is essential for utilising your ship’s cannons – and a whole room dedicated to controlling the allocation of your ship’s precious power.

It’s a great system, which requires a surprising amount of skill to master. It’s also quite a lot of fun not to be anything but the master. Desperately scurrying around your ship screaming at your crewmates to turn off the lights so you can power up your engines for a mad escape from an impending octopus is an awful lot of fun.

Dark corners of the sea:


Giant octopi are not your only undersea adversaries of course. With a roster of abominations a little more Lovecraft than Verne, I and my terrified crew had to battle singing sirens, multiple-mouthed monstrosities and even, at one point, a towering cyborg!

Every so often you are given the option to leave your ship and explore various dungeons in the form of ancient ruins. These take the form of brief side-scrolling sequences usually packed with an abundance of enemies and a veritable treasure trove of coins. You can spend these coins in shops located in explorable civilisations. These civilisations also offer the opportunity to recruit unique companions and even pets to accompany you on your journey.

The type of civilisation, which ranges from mer-people inhabiting sunken pantheons to ancient Egyptians living in an ancient undersea dome, is dependent on the biome. There are currently ten biomes in We Need To Go Deeper, each with its own distinct environments, enemies and lore. Seeing the charming hand-drawn style take on a variety of looks as your progress is very refreshing and the new enemy types that come with each biome have you always anticipating what you might encounter next.

A sinking ship:


Unfortunately, the superb in game visuals don’t extend to the game’s title screen, which I found unnecessarily clunky with multiple menus that often overlap. The screen transition between pressing the play button and the start of the game is uncomfortably laggy, for seemingly no reason, and the in-game graphics options can be described as sparse at best.

On the flip side, it’s clear that the development team spent all the time they could have spent polishing the menus perfecting the far more important gameplay but it’s a nevertheless a little disappointing that my first impression of a game did not at all reflect its overall high quality.

Luckily, this is a relatively simple issue to fix. With the gameplay perfected and the admirable frequency of high-quality content updates the game has been receiving in the months since its release, I am sure a sparkly new menu will be in the works some point down the line and this minor nag will no longer be an issue.

On that note, this is definitely a game you find yourself revisiting – a lot. There are very few recent co-op games of this quality around anymore, and the inclusion of a level-based progression system was an excellent choice, with enticing unlocks to keep you thirsting for more. The procedural nature of the game’s map and the capacity for random events also helps make repeating the early biomes after an unlucky death a little less frustrating than some other games in the genre.

Deep dive:


We Need To Go Deeper is overall represents a very strong point in the roguelike genre. Its highly unique visual style is a great way of drawing you in to what is a finely tuned and deceptively deep co-op adventure that will have you and your friends coming back to for a reliably great experience time and time again.

If you fancy a go at undersea exploration yourself, feel free to check out We Need To Go Deeper on Steam using the link below!


Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of  We Need to Go Deeper was provided free of charge by Deli interactive.

Donut County – Review

Donut County is a unique indie puzzler, featuring an adorable racoon intent on stealing trash and a town full of animal residents just waiting to be stolen from. Released over a year ago, does this award-winning indie adventure still hold up, or does age expose some previously unseen holes?

A hole lot of fun:


The player is dropped intoin the life of BK, a young racoon who has recently landed a new job at a start-up company that collects trash by the careful manoeuvring of portable remote control holes. Each level begins with the player clicking somewhere to summon a hole which, although initially tiny, gradually grows and grows in size with the more objects (and even unlucky Hole County residents!) that end up sucked into it.

Larger holes reward your progress by allowing you to swallow even larger objects which in turn help to increase the size of your hole, creating a supremely satisfying gameplay loop. This satisfaction is further amplified by the fact that your hole-size is reset in-between each of the self-contained sandbox levels. Working your way up from a tiny rabbit-hole that struggles to suck up even a few blades of grass to a colossal sink-hole that effortlessly absorbs entire skyscrapers just doesn’t get old no matter how many times it is repeated.

As the game progresses, you gradually unlock new abilities for your hole – such as a catapult which allows the player to hurl certain objects back into the air. These are used to facilitate the majority of the puzzles found throughout the game. Whilst these puzzles are not particularly difficult, even I who considers myself extremely puzzle-inept never had to resort to an online guide, they are spread-out enough and provide just the right level of mental stimulation to keep what would otherwise be a fairly simplistic game engaging throughout.

Heart and design:


A soothing yet upbeat soundtrack compliments Donut County‘s pleasing pastel aesthetic which is just soft enough to evoke feelings of calm and warmth yet still vibrant and quirky. It’s a perfect fit, and one that makes playing a highly relaxing experience. Although minimalist in design, levels each have their own unique and memorable look – usually matching the personality or appearance of their associated characters. Moving from a rural countryside farm to the likes of a desert to a city street helps provide a much needed pallet swap every now and then.

This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.

This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.

Not without its holes:


I found these cut scenes often overstayed their welcome – an issue amplified by the lack of voice acting. Reading dialogue boxes accompanied by randomised babble, à la Animal Crossing, simply isn’t engaging enough to carry a game that tries to focus so heavily on story. Sometimes the humour was a little jarring too. In comedy it’s natural that for every laugh, there are a couple of jokes that fall flat. In most circumstances is not an issue but when the vast majority of dialogue is comprised of jokes, it starts to feel like every other line is yet another wearisome punchline.

There are also long “texting” scenes in which you sit and watch your character receive SMS messages, stirring occasionally to either send a duck emoji (which does nothing) or clicking a single on-screen prompt to reply. Without the colourful aesthetic of the over world or the animated bouncing of characters to keep your mind occupied, these scenes are quite frankly monotonous. They also seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. Implementing an option to choose which reply you send would be a great way to add a small element of replayability to the game.

This lack of replayability is probably the biggest issue with Donut County. Clocking in at slightly over two hours, this short length is simply not enough content for the over £10 PC price-tag and the total lack of replayability and reliance on a linear story makes this a title harder to recommend than it otherwise would be.

The hole picture:


Despite its flaws, Donut County is nevertheless a charming and memorable adventure. In spite of the fact it may struggle a little to wholly justify its hefty price-tag at its rustiest points, frequent half-price sales since launch make this title just a little too tempting to pass up, even for those who don’t feel wholly convinced. As a little bonus, the low seasonal sale prices make Donut County a great option as a Christmas gift for your Steam friends.

Speaking of sales, as if by magic, Donut County is on a half-price discount for a few days! You can check it out by clicking on the link below.

SuperEpic: The Entertainment War – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  SuperEpic: The Entertainment War was provided free of charge by Numskull Games


SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, an indie-developed sidescroller, successfully delivers a best-in-class Metroidvania adventure that confidently mocks the slew of AAA games it has managed to supersede.

In the world of SuperEpic, greedy corporate pigs (literal pigs might I add) have bought out every game developer and are now pumping out mass-produced highly-addictive mobile titles that have entranced the populace and are draining their wallets at about the same rate as a Steam Christmas Sale. The adorable raccoon protagonist Tan Tan and his facially deformed llama steed, Ola, must whack, slap and thwack their way through swathes of RegnantCorps’ evil employees to put an end to their vile videogames for good.

Conveyed through cutscenes of pleasing animated slides and walls of text, the plot is certainly not one of subtlety. Although it does little to reinvent the wheel in terms of its retro presentation and simplistic writing, the plot of SuperEpic provides a decent number of chuckles and more importantly creates a perfect unobtrusive skeleton upon which the game’s excellent gameplay can be hung.

A classic Metroidvania, SuperEpic boasts large hand-crafted levels that can be explored in a non-linear fashion. The handy minimap is an excellent addition, and one that would have greatly benefitted other games in the genre. Being able to avoid confusion makes exploring levels and finding the plethora of hilarious hidden secrets dotted throughout levels even more rewarding.

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Exploration is littered with enemy encounters and gripping boss fights. Revolving around three attacks – a quick attack, guard break, and uppercut – the combo-oriented combat is deceptively simple. Whilst button mashing may get you through most levels, far more rewarding is the intricate mastery of each induvidual move and learning of unique button combinations.

The combat is also extremely satisfying, largely due to the brilliantly meaty sound effects and neon hit indicators. Furthermore, the impressive variety of unlockable weaponry – raning from household cleaning tools to comedic hammers allows the combat to retain a fresh feeling throughout the game and leaves you thirsting for more by the time the credits roll.

Handily, SuperEpic also includes an unlockable “roguelite mode”, a procedually generated challenge which gives you an even greater opportunity to amass huge quantities of the coins dropped by every enemy.  These coins can be used to further upgrade your weaponry and armour and add an additional satifsying dimension of progression.

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SuperEpic is also jam-packed with minigames. Scanning QR codes scattered throughout levels opens webpages containing short flash games on your mobile phone. Tongue in cheek parodies of popular mobile titles like Flappy Bird, these minigames are presented in-universe and provide an awful lot of world building. The use of QR codes also ahad me surpsingly immersed in the games’ universe, although I can’t help but feel such technology would be of greater service to a more plot-oriented title. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend going out of your way to try and exploring thouroughly in order to experience all of these optional extras.

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In addition to your mobile phone, for PC players I would also recommend bringing a controller to your play session. Whilst the developers have done an adequate job of mapping the 4-button control scheme to your keyboard, a controller really helps recapture some of the button-mashing nostalgia of your childhood.

Alternatively, the Nintendo Switch version of the game works like a dream. Speedy loading times and smooth-as-butter performance make curling up in a warm bed with the switch in handheld mode and therapeutically punching pigs to a pulp an absolute treat. The handheld version also helps you to appreciate the sublime 32-bit sprite animation, which is beautifully detailed and clearly the recipient of a great deal of love and care.

It’s not just the animations that have recieved love and care either. Everything from the pause screen in which you can practise your combo attacks to the detailed and varied enemy designs seems meticulously crafted and as such can offer a game that has as much, and often times far more, polish than the majoirty of AAA titles. This sustained superiority helps emphasise the importance of the games’ overriding message.

SuperEpic is in its very execution a commentary on the modern gaming market. In an age of over-inflated budgets and multi-million pound videogames stuffed to the brim with predatory microtransactions and vicious payment models, it’s really heartening to see a good old-fashioned indie title that is able to so severly outclass its competition.

Overall, SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is able to comfortably fulfil its lofty ambition to deliver a satisfying parody of the modern games. Although its writing may be too on-the-nose for some, this is more than made up for in the game’s gameplay which is the absolute pinnacle of indie sidescrolling action.

If you’re interested in playing SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, the game will launch on the Steam Store later this month in addition to the Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store and Playstation Store.

 

Killer Chambers – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  Killer Chambers was provided free of charge by Village Bench


Killer Chambers is in many ways a wholly unique kind of bullet hell plat-former. Ditching the traditional sprawling arenas that have come to define the genre for minuscule micro-chambers, the levels force you to manoeuvre a highly claustrophobic environment, dodging a plethora of deadly traps as a timer excruciatingly ticks down to your release.

From a game-play perspective, Killer Chambers is relatively simple. You have the arrow keys that control your movements in the cardinal directions, including crouching, and a jump button. These help you evade everything from shooting projectiles to laser beams which are fired at regular intervals in patterns and combinations in each room. With practically unlimited lives (and extremely quick deaths!) the fun of Killer Chambers comes from learning the almost musical rhythm behind each set of traps.

Each stage offers three levels of difficulty which range from somewhat infuriating to downright impossible, and are sure to offer even the most hardened bullet-hell fanatic a tough time. There are five worlds to conquer, each with an incredibly difficult boss fight and a unique visual style.

The inclusion of shops in which you can spend your hard earned in-game gold is a nice addition, allowing you to purchase hats that drastically alter game-play to keep your experience fresh and often providing a slightly easier path to completing rooms.

Despite such items, you will still die. A lot. This is by design and the game deliberately punishes you for failure with a meter that increases each time you die. When full, you’re transported to a dark alternate realm with its own set of unique rooms to beat. Although this may sound particularly annoying, I often found this forced change of level very refreshing and kept repeating the same room over and over again from seeming quite so monotonous.

Further breaking up the experience is the story which is presented through delightful little dialogue boxes in-between levels. Entertaining writing with a cast of surprisingly developed characters and a lot of genuine laugh out loud moments make the short segments of story one of Killer Chambers’ best attributes. Seriously, the writing punches well above its weight and often the wish to see the next cut-scene gave me the motivation to keep going through the most difficult parts of the game.

The comic-tone of the dialogue and characters is complimented by the cheerful chip-tune soundtrack, which although somewhat repetitive at times is certainly satisfactory. It is nevertheless impressive that any music at all managed to be crammed into the game’s absolutely microscopic 85MB download size which, combined with its meagre running requirements, is sure to keep it a mainstay on all of your PCs.

With a great deal of replay value, a huge variety of levels and some of the best writing we’ve seen in an indie title, Killer Chambers is a game that despite its gruelling difficulty manages to be accessible, highly rewarding and extremely memorable.

Did we mention that Killer Chambers has a price of admission lower than your average sandwich? At only £3.99 on Steam, Killer Chambers is an essential purchase for anyone who wants a great value title which is sure to keep them coming back for years to come.