Category Archives: Switch Reviews

The Survivalists – Review

The Survivalists, the spiritual successor to developer and publisher Team 17’s ‘The Escapists’ franchise, moves the series’ action away from methodical prison breaking escapades and instead offers a more non-linear experience situated on the (almost literal) sandbox of a deserted desert island. Despite a change in locale, can The Survivalists offer the same enjoyable experience which made The Escapists a runaway hit, or is this one game you will just simply want to cast away?

Desert island danger


As the name would suggest, The Survivalists is a sandbox game all about survival and stranded on a procedurally generated island, either alone or with up to three friends, that is exactly what the player must do. It is up to you and your companions to gather resources, fight off enemies, construct a safe base of operations and eventually find a way to escape from your new home.

Greeted with a slew of tutorial text boxes, the player is quickly introduced to the game’s crafting and survival mechanics. Unlike other titles in the genre which offer a number of complex character needs to manage, The Survivalists refreshingly only has players maintaining a single basic food meter which will lead to death if depleted. Luckily, your food level can be easily topped up by hoovering up any of the number of food items found strewn throughout the island.

Players can also find varying amounts wood or stone washed up with their wrecked ship which can be used to construct makeshift tools. These first makeshift tools are in turn used to acquire more resources and to build more tools, a development which comprises the large majority of The Survivalists’ early gameplay. Whilst initially you are only able to create a couple base items, your crafting capability soon expands as you create specialised crafting stations, unlock new blueprints and discover new materials.

Exploration of the island is always rewarded, through the random placement of treasure chests and the discovery of mysterious jungle temples and labyrinths. Exploration is not risk free however, with a slew of hostile enemies present on the island with you and particularly throughout in dungeons. These include dangerous wild animals like bats and bears, roaming orc-like natives and even a small army of undead pirates. The game’s day-night cycle also adds an additional threat to contend with, with enemy spawns being greatly increased at night.

Saving can only be accomplished by sleeping in beds and, although death is not permanent, it does still lead to the loss of all your currently held inventory items making each foray into the unknown feel suitably tense. Luckily, combat is possible, with a few weapons like axes and clubs available to craft, but quickly declining item durability and your tiny stamina meter, which is depleted with every attack, makes becoming overwhelmed incredibly easy.

Monkey business


The game’s labyrinths are the epitome of this constant risk vs reward mechanic. Distributed randomly throughout the island, labyrinths are where the rarest and most useful loot can be found. Populated by some very powerful enemies, its always important to make sure that you tackle each labyrinth with several health items and weapons on hand. Destroying enemies and busting open chests rewards money, which can eventually be spent on items at a mysterious travelling trader who appears periodically on your island.

Even without survival-hungry friends to fill slots in the online Co-Op, you still do not have to tackle any of The Survivalists alone. Monkeys can be found in cages in dungeons or in the wild and once tamed or rescued these primate pals can perform a wide variety of tasks for you, ranging from construction to combat. You are able to recruit up to twenty monkeys which can easily be managed from the command window which quickly allows the play to assign monkeys to jobs. These are all actions which would otherwise have to be performed by the player, significantly speeding up construction and forming an invaluable addition to combat.

Castaway


Sadly, even the addition of monkey helpers cannot save what is an incredibly clunky and quite honestly impressively mundane crafting system. Either in your inventory or at a crafting table, an item’s blueprint has to be manually selected first which then allows the player to insert the required resources (one at a time of course) and then select the correct tool in your inventory and hold a lengthy button prompt to finally finish the craft.

Annoyingly, the game’s inventory is very small, only holding a handful of items. This means that a lot of crafting time is spent simply moving back and forth between a chest or items left on the floor because you don’t often have enough free slot inventory space to craft the item in one go. On top of this, the tools required to craft items themselves have durability and constantly break, making players stop what they are doing halfway through just to craft another tool. Tools cannot stack in your inventory either, exasperating the issue by meaning that you only really have space to carry one at a time.

Base building is accomplished in a very similar fashion, with a choppy blueprint selection process creating a blank space where the necessary materials must be inserted and combined by holding yet another button prompt. It is incredibly mundane and only becomes more annoying as you unlock increasingly complex items. Because of the amount of crafting you must do to get a base up and running, the game starts off incredibly boring and repetitive, only really becoming entertaining when the dungeon crawling elements come into play.

Although the pixelated visuals themselves are lovely, the user-interface is impressively dense and overly crowded without displaying much useful information. Fiddly controls also make and a very slight, but still very noticeable, lag on interface elements make this already confusing user interface an absolute nightmare to navigate and only makes the already agonising crafting mechanics feel even worse.

Finally, there is a significant issue with the title’s lack of content. Despite receiving several updates since launch, there are still a surprisingly small number of items to unlock in the game and even fewer ways to use them. Your starting island is quite small and although you can construct a raft to travel to other nearby landmasses, they are all aesthetically identical and, beyond exploring for the sake of it, there’s very little reason to bother.

Whilst the labyrinth dungeon-crawling segments are a lot of fun, the sheer mundanity of every other gameplay element left me feeling disappointed to find that a game with a £21.99 on both Steam and Nintendo Switch had so few genuinely enjoyable activities to do.

Verdict:


The Survivalists’ cute pixelated graphics may be pleasing and the prospect of a procedurally generated island to explore is undeniably tantalising; but the sheer number of incredibly frustrating issues present in this title, especially when coupled with the hefty asking price, ironically make The Survivalists one game you could certainly survive without.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Going Under – Review

Walking around city centres these days it’s easy to see that we’re living in the era of tech start-ups. Almost every corner you see is now populated by cliquey cafes crammed with checked-shirt wearing, latte-drinking hipsters out for a break from their pot-planted desks where they sit on bouncy beanbags, not chairs. What happens, however, to all the fledgling companies which don’t make it, the ones which never get the shiny office buildings or gain bean-bag chairs? Going Under is a game which attempts, in a very light-hearted manner, to answer this question; taking you on a journey through the dark underbelly of Neo-Cascadia – the city where tech start-ups come to die.

Magnificent melee


A rogue-like, the title ‘Going Under‘ refers not only to the failing companies, who’s sprawling underground offices form the majority of the game’s setting, but also the physical act of descending into these dungeons at the start of each new run. Inside of these arenas, combat is third-person and melee oriented, with a particular focus on improvisation. Like Dead Rising, players can pick up and make weapons of the objects in the world around them – although the brutally bloody chainsaws and gold clubs of that game are replaces with more light-hearted cardboard boxes or staple-guns. There’s also a weapon durability system, which some will find particularly reminiscent of Breath of the Wild, whereby the objects you collect to use as armaments smash into pieces after only a few attacks.

There’s something undeniably enjoyable about your trusty wet-floor sign suddenly smashing mid-fight, sending you frantically flailing toward the nearest weapon in the room regardless of level or type. This unpredictable pandemonium is almost encouraged by the fact that your only dodge move, a basic dodge roll, automatically equips the nearest weapon if you don’t have one in your hand. This lead to many hilarious (and intense!) encounters where my high-level battle-axe unexpectedly exploded leaving me to fend off a room full of enemies with only a mop.

The inclusion of a weapon durability system is an excellent way to encourage the player to experiment with new weapons and try everything the game has to offer in a genre where, traditionally, gameplay involves working out the best combination of items in the game and sticking to them almost religiously. If there are no items nearby, the player character can always engage in combat bare-handed, which is very helpful in a cinch but with large enemy health bars is far too ineffective an endeavour to ever be considered a viable playstyle.

Luckily, it’s quite hard to find yourself without weapons as when you first enter a dungeon there is always a small selection of basic items to pick up before entering the first room. Rooms act almost as compact stand-alone combat arenas which, once entered, cannot be exited until a number of enemies have been defeated. The rooms themselves are randomly laid out but often include a number of items to discover like weapons and health pickups. Many enemies also drop the weapons that they carry which can be picked up.

There is also no time pressure to enter the next room once the one you are in is clear, giving you ample time to explore and pick up any items you missed. Some rooms also give you the opportunity to complete challenges in order to gain a drone-delivered crate containing more powerful gear. If you’re particularly lucky and find a room with a lot of decent gear, you don’t have to leave any behind with the player’s pockets being able to carry up to three weapons which can be quickly swapped at the tap of a button.

Each time combat ends you have breathing time where you are free to explore the room and collect any items you may have missed before you move on. Hovering over any item in the world shows you its name, a brief (and often amusing) description in addition to a quick indicator which shows if the item is better, worse than or the same as what you currently have equipped. This is a fantastic little quality of life addition which makes good gear much easier to identify than in games with more traditional numeric stat systems.

Nice to meet brew


There is also the chance for a shop to spawn on the map, styled like a hipster coffee shop, in which you can spend the money you pick up from defeated enemies on a variety of trendy soya-based health items. In addition to health buffs you can also buy ‘skills’ which grant powerful abilities like elemental attacks or increased damage. If you’re particularly short on money, floors can also contain a room where a skill which can be obtained for free. There is also a chance for a room with a charming curse to salesman to appear who will exchange up to three skills or items for a debilitating de-buff. These include things like enemies exploding on death or all of your weapons breaking after one hit and create an enjoyable risk vs reward dynamic.

In Going Under‘s small hub world, styled after a lively office building and serves as the place from which player can enter the game’s three dungeons, a number of NPC’s can be interacted with to gain “tasks”. These function like quests and present the opportunity to unlock characters as “mentors”. Your selected mentor provides a unique bonus to your run which gradually levels up through use. When accepting a task, you are shown one of the game’s charming cutscene, which feature some excellently drawn 2D sprites.

Dialogue is represented through playful smart-phone style text messages which pop-up on the screen as the scene plays out – accompanied by cute notification sound effects. Outside of cutscenes, the game’s visuals still remain one of its strongest suits. The low-poly pastel aesthetic is not only memorable and distinctive but looks absolutely adorably. Going Under‘s quirky bright colours, light-hearted dialogue and enjoyable slow-paced music creates a very calming effect and, as a result, playing the game feels almost therapeutic in the absolute best of ways.

Going under


Unfortunately, some fans of the genre might be put off by the game’s difficulty, which is a little on the easy side – particularly for a rogue-like. A lot of this easy difficulty is due to the game’s combat, which is certainly more on the casual side. The simple formula of frantic button-mashing and occasional dodging is very approachable, it has the downside of making enemy encounters, and even boss fights, trivially easy after only an hour or so of play. Although there is an option to decrease difficulty (by turning on ‘assist’), it would have certainly been nice to have some ways of making the game harder too.

I also found that whilst the use of lifeless text-to-speech in some cutscenes is certainly fitting, considering the setting of a tech company, it detracted somewhat from the game’s otherwise high degree of polish. On the subject of lifeless, the game’s hub world is very small with little to do other than wander around and occasionally interact with objects.

Lastly, the game’s humour is constantly enjoyable but feels a little bit tame. The tongue-in cheek parody of workplace culture and the modern tech industry certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel and might feel somewhat generic if you’re used to that kind of comedy. Regardless of the fact that I personally found the game very funny, this particular brand of almost nihilistic millennial comedy might not be to everyone’s taste, and its constant presence in almost every facet of the game might go so far as to be incredibly annoying to some.

Verdict:


Going Under is a quirky and confident rogue-like. What it lacks in difficulty it certainly compensates for in style with its adorable visuals, fun (albeit somewhat basic) combat and relaxing music. It might be unpaid, but your adventures in the dungeon will certainly be an internship to remember!


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Panzer Paladin – Review

Whether you’re a long time player who’s chasing the thrill of childhood nostalgia or a more recent arrival to the gaming world who is simply trying to live the highlights of an era gone-by, there’s nothing quite like a great retro-styled platformer. After a few hours with the recently released game from the platforming gurus over at Tribute Games, I can report that Panzer Paladin is exactly that – a great retro-styled platformer that will certainly scratch your itch for all things 8-bit.

Gundam style


The game opens with a quick tutorial level, which introduces the core mechanics of Panzer Paladin‘s gameplay. In short, you play as the pilot of a powerful mech suit – the titular paladin – and must utilise this suit to navigate sprawling levels populated by evil demons which have escaped from the underworld. These demons appear in a number of forms including horrible insects, evil knights and even knife-throwing goblins. Each enemy poses a unique challenge, with distinctive attack patterns with must be learned to ensure success in combat.

Players can employ the mech’s in-built defences, a somewhat weak fire-ball attack, or take advantage of the plethora of oversized medieval melee weapons dropped by enemies. Paladins are able to carry a large number of these dropped weapons, each of which carries its own attack range, damage stat and durability meter. These values, which can be viewed in the game’s pause-menu work about how you would expect. Weapons like spears have large ranges and high durability but comparatively low damage when put against the likes of swords or clubs. Having your items frequently break may sound like a chore on paper, but in practice it ensures you experience the wide range of weapons on offer and incentivises you to pursue higher-level, and therefore more durable, weapons.

You can manually break your weapons by holding a button. This destroys you currently selected item but unleashes a unique-power attack, the strength of which depends predominantly on the power of the weapon you are sacrificing. It’s an enjoyable and effective way of disposing of any lower-level items you might pick up and can come in extremely handy in a fight. Weapons can also be tossed a high speeds and throwing a spear at an out of reach enemy is an awful lot of fun. You still have to be careful though, because tossing away all your weapons willy-nilly can leave you highly vulnerable until they are retrieved.

In addition to combat the game also features some light platforming elements which have you avoiding trapdoor platforms, exploding mines and spike pits galore. These sections are made easier by leaving ejecting from your power-armour which renders you more smaller and more mobile at the cost of lower health and the inability to pick up and use weapons. There are also some small puzzle-like optional elements in levels centred around breaking parts of the environment or ejecting from your suit at specific points to enter small gaps. Completing these is often rewarded with a bonus health regeneration station or unique weapon.

A world at your fingertips:


One of the first thing’s you’ll notice about the game is it’s striking art-style, a faithful recreation of colourful 8-bit graphics. Each of the thirteen levels is based upon a real-world country, selected from a world map-style level select screen, and carries its own distinctive art style. The portrayals of each country may be a little on the stereotypical side but they provide a great variety. One minute you’re taking in the spooky gothic atmosphere of an ancient Scottish castle and the next you’re navigating the bustling streets of New York. I was also pleased to notice that the game’s bosses, which are situated at the end of each level, were all loosely based upon mythological creatures native to each country’s lore. The stages themselves are accompanied by their own fantastic theme songs, featuring an exciting blend of typical 8-bit beeps and more sophisticated elements clearly inspired by each nation’s traditional instruments. Each boss fight also comes with its own, more generic, combat theme.

From the map-screen, players can also access the “laboratory” in which they can use their “spirit points” – gained by completing levels – to upgrade their weapons. An upgrade system is a nice feature to have, but it is made pretty redundant by the fact that you still have to find the weapons each level to use them with the large number of available weapons making it quite tricky to actually encounter the specific one you have just poured all of your points into. Luckily, although these upgrades do undeniably improve weapons they are certainly not necessary to complete the game and in my playthrough the availability of powerful weapons in levels meant I never really felt held back by a lack of upgrades.

The game also features an in-depth weapon creator which allows users to create their own pixel-sprites and stat sheets. Your creation uploaded directly to the Steam Workshop on PC and automatically integrated into everyone’s games. Players can find community created weapons dropped randomly by higher level enemies and the potential of finding all-new weapons contributes greatly to the replayability of the game. If for some reason though you want to stick to only the developer-made weapons, the community content can be disabled at any time via the settings menu.

In addition to encountering all new weapons, replays are encouraged by the remix mode and speedrun mode. As the name would suggest, remix mode alters the levels of the campaign mode by altering enemy placements to create a more challenging experience whilst speedrun mode challenges players to beat “ghost” versions of either their previous playthroughs or those of the top global players.

Lost the plot


I found the only real major issue with the game to be the result of questionable PC optimisation. The default keyboard control scheme can be described as ‘unintuitive’ at best and makes a game with an old-school approach to difficulty borderline impossible at times – even on easiest settings. Thankfully, this is easily remedied through either picking up a cheap PC compatible controller or purchasing the Nintendo Switch edition of the game; it is worth noting that this edition doesn’t include the Steam Workshop features, however, for obvious reasons.

The game’s plot, which is presented through some admittedly superbly drawn retro pixel-art cutscenes, is pretty straightforward and I found that, despite their prettiness, being bombarded with walls of text at the end of an otherwise exciting level made me pretty eager to skip them; particularly in some of the longer story segments. It would also be nice to have the option to change the in-game font as, although the blocky text is undeniably authentic, I found it a bit hard to read at times. These criticisms may seem to be a little nit-picky, but there’s really very little wrong with the game besides these minor niggles.

Verdict:


When it comes to retro-styled platformers, this is certainly one of the best we’ve seen yet. It may not entirely reinvent the wheel conceptually but Panzer Paladin still has a host of fantastic features and a great art direction. Any fans of the genre will certainly appreciate a particularly well crafted set of maps, some killer music and gameplay which has undeniably been tweaked to perfection.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise – Review

Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been taking my time to get to know Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. Its predecessor, an obscure Xbox 360 survival horror title, was jam-packed with idiosyncrasies and hidden features which took months, even years, for its fans to uncover and whilst the first entry in the series appears at first glance to be a borderline non-functional mess, underneath its rough surface of iffy controls, weird glitches and general strangeness, lies some of the most unapologetically brilliant storytelling and character building I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Thus, I wanted to make sure I was offering a complete evaluation of the sequel, taking into account everything it has to offer, rather than just basing this article upon any potentially deceiving first impressions.

Past and present


Beginning in the modern day, the prologue of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise lets players experience see for the first time the profound effect the events of the first game have had on the now series’ protagonist, Francis York Morgan. Despite his retirement, the now elderly York begrudgingly finds himself at the centre of a new FBI investigation headed by two fresh faces, the no-nonsense Agent Davis and her comedic pizza-loving sidekick Agent Jones. Despite appearing initially uncooperative, York becomes intrigued when he learns about the appearance of a mysterious red tree in New Orleans and the sudden discovery of a young girl’s dismembered body frozen in a block of ice.

It soon becomes clear that Davis’ current investigation is deeply intertwined with a case worked by York almost fifteen years prior. This takes the plot back into the past, where players meet a refreshingly young Agent York who has, by pure coincidence, stumbled across the news of a brutal murder in the town of Le Carré at the heart of the deep south. Intrigued, York swiftly travels to Le Carré and assumes control of the case. Conducting his own investigation, aided by the Le Carré sheriff and his young daughter Patricia, York is soon thrust into a bizarre world of brutal killings, strange drugs and paranormal entities.

Whilst the almost surrealist writing makes the game’s atmosphere particularly hard to engage with at first, players who persevere are rewarded with an engaging and smartly-written three-part mystery filled with unpredictable twists, a lovable cast of characters and a jaw-dropping finale. It’s also worth noting that a knowledge of the previous game in the series, now marketed as Deadly Premonition Origins, is required to fully appreciate the plot. Whilst first-time players will probably still have some vague idea of what is going on at any given time, much of the nuance will be lost.

Please, just call me York


Much like the plot, gameplay is decidedly split between both the past and the present. In the present day, the player controls Agent Davis as she interrogates York and listens to his story. As Davis in the modern day, players are confined to a fixed position from which they can select from a number of items in the environment to initiate conversations with York. These sections are short, and found at the beginning of each segment, with the rest of the episode leaving players free to explore the open-world of Le Carré at Agent York in 2005.

Much like the original Deadly Premonition, life in Le Carré operates on a week-long schedule with named NPCs having detailed daily routines. You often catch characters driving around the map to go to work or completing various chores around town. Interacting with characters during certain parts of their routines or in specific episodes gives the player access to the game’s side quests. Although these side quests are often just a generic fetch-quest, they each provide a unique insight into the life of their associated character. In addition to solving side quests, players can entertain themselves with a variety of minigames; including bowling and stone-skipping. Both the mastery of minigames and the competition of side quests provide unique rewards like special suits to wear or unlocking new fast-travel locations.

Players also have to maintain various aspects of York’s wellbeing. Skateboarding around town in the sweltering Louisiana sun is quite a sweaty task, and the player needs to make sure showers or changes his clothes daily. There is also a hunger bar, with low hunger depleting stamina and health, which can be filled by dining at local restaurants or picking up snacks from the plethora of vending machines that are littered around town. You can also pick up temporary debuffs from catching a cold, drinking too much or even staying in the sun long enough to become sunburnt! Although many of these features seem pretty mundane on paper, they make the world of Deadly Premonition 2 far more immersive than most and kept me eager to explore the open world even into the late-game.

The main story quests also offer a fantastic variety of gameplay. With access to profiling mode which involves examining reconstructed crime scenes, gathering evidence at crimes scenes and the routine solving of riddle-like clues provided by a skeletal oracle; this is certainly an investigation like no other. York also frequently enters the distorted ‘otherworld’ throughout the course of the investigation by entering portals known as ‘singularities’. The otherworld sections comprise of fighting off waves of creepy monsters in addition to some very light puzzle solving. They always close with a memorable boss-fight and shocking plot revelations.

This barely scratches the surface of many of the game’s features, but if this large number of mechanics already seems a little overwhelming; fear not! Players can always access a handy bank of tutorial guides via the pause menu at any point in the game.

A blessing in disguise


Despite all of its charm, Deadly Premonition 2 does still have its fair share of issues. The most apparent problem is the game’s absolutely abysmal framerate which often dips below ten frames-per-second seemingly randomly. Whilst closing and reopening the game frequently does seem to alleviate this problem somewhat performance is still inexcusably poor. On top of this, certain cutscenes often result in soft-locks and black screens. Although the game does have an autosave feature, I would still recommend saving frequently just to be safe.

I also found certain animations, particularly the shooting animations and even some parts of cutscenes, seem stiff an oddly unnatural. There are also a number of eerily stationary, almost dead-looking nameless NPCs spattered around Le Carré, presumably for decoration, which I felt were a completely unnecessary addition and just detracted from the otherwise good-looking locale. The game also has its fair share of general glitches, with falling through the floor, floating NPCs and enemies stuck in walls not a particularly uncommon occurrence.

Once you get past the initial teething phase, it’s still alarmingly easy to become enthralled by the incredibly gripping storyline. Perhaps the biggest compliment that I can give to Deadly Premonition 2 is that, in spite of all its glaring issues, I never wanted to put the game down. if you’re still put-off by the poor performance though, the developers have thankfully already confirmed the fact that there is a complete patch in the works – although no release date has been given.

Verdict:


It may a be a little rough around the edges but the game provides series fans with exactly what they would want from a sequel whilst still, almost incredibly, wholly subverting expectations. It supersedes the original in some respects whilst simultaneously significantly lacking in others but nevertheless provides a suitable vessel for Agent Francis York Morgan, one of the most brilliantly written characters in videogame history, to make a triumphant return. I’ve never known a game to have a more fitting tagline than Deadly Premonition 2 which, on the whole, can rightfully be described as nothing short of “a blessing in disguise”.

The Otterman Empire – Review

There doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate recently but that certainly doesn’t stop us from being in the mood for a good party game. The Otterman Empire from indie developers Tri-Heart Interactive is one such game. A bright and colourful co-op shooter in which you play as adorable otters, might just be the you need to keep you and your friends cheerful when times are tough.

A l(otter) heart


Set on an intergalactic space colony, The Otterman Empire places players in the shoes of a customisable aquatic warrior who is tasked with defending the planet against the evil mad scientist Dr Tiko by destroying his seemingly endless army of malevolent machines. Players can face this challenge with up to three friends in local co-op play or opt to face it alone in single-player. There are eight selectable characters to choose from, each with a unique design and diverse selection of unlockable cosmetic items to discover.

From a visual standpoint, The Otterman Empire is a pretty good all-rounder. The colour palette is bright and cartoonish, perfectly complimenting the game’s character’s colourful designs. I found all of the eight included maps to be intriguing, each one covering a distinct visual theme. These range from a futuristic sport themed space arena to the gardens of a mediaeval looking castle. My personal favourite was the game’s first map, a sleek futuristic city environment which was both gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun to explore.

Your progress through the game is mapped, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the maps you unlock through playing. Each one has three alternate game-modes to try with a potential of nine total stars to unlock – three stars being the highest obtainable rating per game-mode. By unlocking a sufficient number of stars, you gain access to the next map. In theory, this ensures the player will spend a sufficiently long amount of time in each map to get really to grips with it. but in reality, this system just becomes a bit of a slog after a while; with players forced to repeatedly go over the same maps in order to get a high enough rating to progress.

In spite of the forced repetition, the different game-modes which are on offer in each map are nevertheless pleasantly varied. My personal favourite was ‘squidditch’ a fast-paced mode which challenges players to use their jetpacks to slam dunk as many bombs into enemy spawning portals as possible. Both jetpack fuel and ammunition is replenished through sliding gaily along waterways which are dotted along maps and additionally serve as a quick method of transportation when you’re in a hurry. The other game-modes on offer are similarly unique and all require a distinct set of skills for players to master.

Not quite a party


It is a huge shame that no matter which map or mode you choose to play there seems to be only two total enemy types found throughout the entire campaign. There are stationary turrets which will blast any player unlucky enough to stumble into their field of view with a laser beam and smaller, laser-firing flying drones, which are often equally as stationary. The strategy for tackling both enemy types is the same, unload as many shots into them as quickly as you can, and this tangible lack of enemy variety causes gameplay to become incredibly stale in only a matter of minutes.

Overall, the campaign mode offers a few interesting modes to try out, but the seeming lack of effort put into enemy design and behaviour leaves the whole ordeal feeling like one big wasted opportunity. It can be tackled in both a single player or as part of a local co-op but why anyone would actually want to play the campaign in co-op, and not the far more interesting versus mode which does away with the boring robot enemies, is beyond me.

Sitting down with the versus mode and having your buddies blast away at each other’s otter avatars is an awful lot of fun! It allows you to return to your favourite maps and revitalises the more interesting game modes from the campaign. PC users also have the option of Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ with which you can invite a friend to play a livestreamed version of your game through an integrated browser window. It is entirely reliant on the other player having both a fast internet connection and USB controller on hand, but does you the chance to play the game with people who are not in the immediate vicinity.

Otterly baffling


I am happy to report that since launch, the game has received numerous patches and small updates – the most significant of which was a fix for the PC version of the title, which launched with a borderline unusable keyboard control scheme. It would be nice to see some further additions to help improve the overall polish of the game.

A notable area for improvement is the audio design. Whilst most of the included original music is good, the audio design of the in-game dialogue definitely needs some work. With no actual sound effects beyond a few frequently repeated, and strangely quiet, soundbites, the character interactions of both the campaign and tutorial feel completely lifeless. Another appreciated addition would be a reworking of the game’s graphics menu, which still doesn’t include basic options like changing the window’s resolution or even just the option of playing the game in windowed mode!

The UI on PC is absolutely huge and there is absolutely no way to resize the text and buttons so that they don’t occupy large areas of the screen. Simply addressing these few basic issues would go a huge way in improving the title’s overall look and feel. It would also be nice if damage taken was more obviously communicated to the player. It’s hard to keep track of your health in the heat of a battle and there were many occasions when I didn’t even know I was taking damage until I had died.

Verdict:


The saddest thing about The Otterman Empire is that the game is almost good. Whilst there has evidently been a lot of love and passion behind the title’s unique art-direction, quirky writing and superb community management over the years; a number of baffling design missteps and a lack of overall polish unfortunately prevents me from being able to wholeheartedly recommend this title. It isn’t an inherently awful option if you’re craving a local co-op fix, but many would-be players will likely find that the game’s current issues are just a little too hard to swallow.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.