Tag Archives: Indie

Axiom Verge receives PS Vita release date

After a year from its original PlayStation 4 launch, Axiom Verge has finally received its PS Vita release date.

Axiom Verge will be hitting the Vita later this month on April 19. The game will be cross-buy which means if you already purchased the game for PS4 you get the Vita counterpart absolutely free.

The man solely behind the indie title took to the PlayStation Blog to give a little context on why the port took so long, here's what he had to say:

I’d like to give a little bit of context on what took so long. When I started development of Axiom Verge, I was using a development framework called XNA. Support for XNA was abandoned, so the community created an open source version of XNA called MonoGame. Sony told me they were working to get MonoGame supported on both PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. I knew that Axiom Verge would be great on a handheld, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Tom Spilman from Sickhead Games was in charge of the porting process. Porting an engine to a new platform is an incredibly complicated task, yet he was able to pull it off easily for PlayStation 4. After the PlayStation 4 version was done, however, porting it to Vita turned out to be a lot more challenging. Optimizing an engine is slow and painstaking work. As the months ticked by, Tom was feeling a great deal of pressure to get MonoGame working.

In addition to the Vita port, players can also expect a Xbox One and Wii U version in the months to come. No details on a release date or release window were revealed.

Axiom Verge released last year leaving its mark on the gaming community, for those who have yet to try the game, check out our review right here.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review (PC)

Earlier this year, our own Mike Splechta took a look at OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood when it hit Vita and PS4 in March. He called it “practically the 2D version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2,” citing the addition of manuals for longer combos and the ludicrous amount of content. The game is now available on Steam, and you can breathe easy knowing it’s just as brilliant as the earlier releases.

 

Like the first title, OlliOlli 2 has you skating from left to right across winding 2D parks littered with grind rails and other gimmicks. The emphasis this time is on chaining long combos, a possibility afforded by the aforementioned manual. Land a manual, and you can keep your chain going even on regular ground. Do this perfectly and you can even make your combo last the duration of an entire level, sending your score skyrocketing into the millions.

 

 

In addition to chasing high scores, you can also go after challenges. There are five of these on each level, and they encompass everything from hitting grind markers to performing certain tricks. These add a lot of replay value, especially when you factor in the insane amount of content to unlock: beat the five challenges in an Amateur stage and you’ll unlock the corresponding Pro stage, which comes with five more challenges of its own and a slew of new obstacles to avoid. Beat the five Pro challenges, and you’ll earn the ability to play the stage on RAD Mode, which is — as you might expect — unbelievably brutal.

 

As great as all that sounds, even beating some of the Amateur levels can be a trying task; the five unique worlds take place on “Olliwood” movie sets, completely upping the ante on the ridiculousness factor. There are a ton of obstacles in your way this time, particularly in the Pro levels, and you’re going to crash and burn more than a few times before you get the hang of each one.

 

 

Even with this added difficulty, the pitch-perfect controls and buttery-smooth gameplay ensure failure is the fault of the player, and the experience never devolves into frustration. As before, it’s worth praising just how much mileage the game gets out of its simple control scheme. If you’re playing with a gamepad (this reviewer used his trusty Xbox One controller), you can pull off tricks with a mere flick of the analog stick. It’s about as intuitive as it gets, and it feels fantastic. Your keyboard can still get the job done, but the effect is not nearly as potent.

 

There are a couple extra modes if you’re feeling competitive. Spots challenge you to take a single combo as far as you can go; your high score will be added to a leaderboard, both for the individual stage and a cumulative “ultimate” score that includes all the levels. Combo Rush is the game’s only true multiplayer option, a local-only split-screen tournament mode that allows a lot of flexibility in its options. It’s great pick-up-and-play fun, even if it stuffs you into a tiny corner of the screen.

 

 

OlliOlli 2 looks and sounds excellent. The colors are bright and soft, the animations are fluid, and the level of detail in the background is astounding. The game ditches the pixel art style of its predecessor in favor of a cleaner, more contemporary look, and this reviewer personally found it a welcome change. The soundtrack is top-notch, too, serving up chill, upbeat tunes that provide the perfect backdrop to your skating activities.

 

If you don’t already have access to OlliOlli 2 on a PS4 or Vita, this version is a perfect way to get your skate on. It controls like a dream, it’s chock-full of unlockables, and it looks and sounds absolutely brilliant. For high score chasers, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Bottom Line

OlliOlli 2 is absolutely overflowing with content. It's challenging, addictive, and gorgeous — an absolute must-have for high score chasers and skate junkies.

Her Story Review

I've always been a lover of indie games. In particular, I enjoy indie games that use unique concepts I've never seen before. Her Story was one of those needle in the haystack types. While it isn't a household name, it is definitely still worthy of positive attention.

I don't want to give away too much of the story since figuring it out yourself is the best part. I can tell you however, that Her Story features recorded police interviews with a woman revolving around her missing husband. The actress in these videos, Viva Seifert, brings a compelling performance to the game. In addition, the story that the game tells features enough plot twists to keep even the most doubtful soul involved.

Her Story walks a fine line between video game, and something else entirely. It's a sort of interactive video library in which you use search terms to discover even more videos to watch. This is an objective that you essentially have to teach yourself. The game starts with its dated desktop computer view, with a database open. A search term (MURDER) waits patiently in the database for you to click enter. Once you do, it brings up five video clips for you to watch. As you view these clips (some as short as three seconds), a story begins to unfold. This story, "her story," is what really hooked me into the game. All of the typical climax moments that you would find in a linear tale were much more gratifying in Her Story. There was a fantastic sense of accomplishment in having found it yourself. Nothing is revealed to you in a planned way, you could find defining moments faster than someone else, or they might not learn something you did in the beginning of your playthrough. The lack of firm explanation at the beginning of Her Story might lead to a learning curve for some, but it's worth it if you give it your all, and plow through the original uncertainty.

Listening, and furthermore retaining, are the most crucial skills one has to master to succeed at Her Story. When watching the video clips in the game it's important to listen to what you're hearing, and retain key words that you can use to search in the database. It is only with these key words that the game can continue. Personally, I kept a growing list of search terms in a different program as I watched the videos. Then I referenced that list whenever it was time to make a new search in Her Story.

Once you get to an acceptable amount of videos watched, a messenger will pop up asking you if you are finished. I replied "no" since I wanted to discover more within the database first. A database checker on the in-game desktop shows how many videos you've unearthed. When I ran out of ideas for search terms, I then responded to the mysterious messenger with "yes." That concluded my playthrough of Her Story quite contentedly. Now that I have finished the game, I've made it a personal mission to find every single one of the available videos. This is obviously not necessary to finish the game, but Her Story brought out my inner completionist.

While Her Story isn't your typical video game, it features an incredibly unique form of gameplay. It can take some getting used to, but the way it rewards you for listening is very fulfilling. I finished the game without finding every single video, and still felt that I had a firm grasp on the tale that Her Story had to tell. You can always go back after completing the game to find more videos, so this was certainly not a negative point. And with a price tag of $5.99, you really can't go wrong with Her Story.

Bottom Line

Her Story is a distinctive indie game with revolutionary gameplay. While it does have a bit of a learning curve at the start, it's incredibly rewarding in how the unpredictable story reveals.

Cosmonautica Review

Some genres of games have a higher barrier of entry than others. Due to the complexity of strategy and simulation games, many players stay away from these types of titles. That doesn't have to be the case, though, as developer Chasing Carrots have shown with their latest release, Cosmonautica. The Germany-based indie studio has crafted an accessible space simulation game that can make new fans of a genre that many find daunting.

Players in Cosmonautica take the role as an upstart space captain. It is their role to manage a ship full of crew members, and run a financially successful operation. Despite throwing a lot of responsibility at players, it manages to introduce concepts in a simple way at a slow pace. Thanks to an excellent humor filled tutorial, players will be flying their ship between planets, and hiring employees in no time.

While there is a story to be found in Cosmonautica's campaign, most of the game will find the player accepting self-contained missions. These missions will come from people in peril, planets in need of resources, and even hopeless romantics who just want to meet a special someone in a distant land. Completing these tasks will gain the player money, that can then be used to reinvest in the player's spaceship.

There is a lot to purchase for your ship, but you won't be able to install the most complex areas first. Players will have to hire a scientist to research how to add more functionality, such as larger cargo bays, to their ships. Science can be your best friend in Cosmonautica, as some of these ship upgrades can change how the game plays considerably.

Each individual planet in Cosmonautica's vast solar system has its own economy. Players will want to pay attention to which planets are low on certain resources, so they can then sell these materials to them for a higher cost. Buying low and selling high is key to making a profit in Cosmonautica, not unlike the stock market itself.

Finances are not the only important thing the player will have to keep an eye on. Each crew member has individual stats that can affect their personality, how they interact with other ship staff, and how happy they are at work. Keeping your employees happy is key to running a swift business, so players will need to watch their happiness ratings closely. Sometimes people just don't mesh, however, and you'll have to give one of the crew members their walking papers.

When your crew isn't fighting itself, you'll also occasionally (or frequently, depending on how you choose to play) run into space battles. Like the rest of the game, there are several ways players can tackle combat scenarios. Pacifist players, or those at a disadvantage, can bribe rival space captains to let them go, but it is also possible to flee or battle. There are also space bounties to be collected on different planets, so combat can be frequent if you wish to go down that route to earn money.

Besides the campaign mode, Cosmonautica also allows you to play in a sandbox mode. Thanks to the random nature of the game's missions and scenarios, no two adventures through space will ever be the same. This means that Cosmonautica has plenty of replayability, but some missions start to feel repetitive over time. There are only so many ways to say that a planet is short on resources, so it may feel monotonous after completing the mission for the umpteenth time.

One of the main differences between Cosmonautica and its genre contemporaries is its usage of humor. Strategy games are often serious affairs, but Cosmonautica keeps the universe feeling light. The game's mission briefings are often joke-filled and referential in nature. Plenty of pop culture callbacks can be found throughout Cosmonautica, but the humor never gets grating.

Graphically, Cosmonautica features a very clean presentation with a solid 3D art style. There are several different races of crew members, and seeing all the alien species that the developer came up with is enjoyable. Chasing Carrots has crafted a very polished game, and it shows in every aspect.

The music found in Cosmonautica is fun and up-beat. It is nice to find yourself tapping your feet to the beat of a song while entrenched in graphs. The game's soundtrack is included with the game on Steam, so you'll be able to enjoy the music outside of the game if you want.

Cosmonautica is a light-hearted, fun space simulation that is perfect for anyone who wants to get into the genre. While it is beginner friendly, there is still enough depth that strategy veterans will still find a healthy challenge waiting for them. Chasing Carrots have created a game that manages to cater to all audiences, in a genre that is notoriously complex.

Bottom Line

Cosmonautica takes hardcore simulation gameplay, but puts it in an accessible, humor-filled wrapper.

The Flock Review

What can one say about The Flock? It's certainly dark. It's also certainly another take on capture the flag. Or the flashlight. Well, really it's an artifact. One that attracts the flock of massive, one would assume undead, beasts that want to have the artifact for themselves. The flock uses brute force to kill the carrier after using stealth to approach them. The carrier of the artifact, on the other hand, need only to be aware of their surroundings while shining their artifacts beam at any moving flock. When one of the flock kills the carrier, a sort of small, evolved being, then its their turn to hold the artifact. As the player holds the artifact, their score goes up. Whoever has the most points wins.

The game is set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic environment full of crumbling buildings and petrified flock that were no doubt frozen in place by the carrier wielding the artifact. There are three areas, which have their differences, but really none worth noting as they gameplay really didn't seem to be affected by the environment. It's a dark, foggy, skyless area with no sound other than your own running or screeching. It's three against one lonely carrier. The carrier is slower than the flock, and clearly is the underdog. There's also no advancement to the game. Theres no leveling system, abilities to pick up, or anything else. You are a member of the flock or the carrier with an artifact. The carrier can shine a beam of light. The flock can screech to see where the other members of the flock are on the map and grant them a power and speed buff. They can also place a decoy of themselves to trick the carrier and take the by surprise. The matches last between 5-15 minutes and ends when a player reaches 100 points. There are also strange blue orbs that give the carrier a point boost and something called an objective point. It wasn't clear how the objective points change anything other than the rate that points are earned. That pretty much sums up The Flock.

However, there is one intriguing aspect of The Flock, which seems like a double-edged sword. The game employs a death counter. When that counter reaches 0, a special event occurs. When that special event ends, the game is no longer playable. Sounds interesting enough, except the game isn't free. So you're basically paying for a limited experience.

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Actual Sunlight Review

Just five minutes into Actual Sunlight, I found myself repulsed.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. The game is described as an “interactive story about love, depression and the corporation” on its official website. But what depression. What soul-crushing, terrifying, hopeless depression.

I felt repulsed because I have been conditioned, after more than fifteen years of playing video games, to feel affection for the protagonists I am controlling. But it is borderline impossible to feel any sort of affection for Evan Winter, a man who does not feel a shred of affection for himself — and tells you this, in a stunning number of different ways, for Actual Sunlight’s entire duration.

Your choices as the player do not matter here. This is not a piece of interactive fiction. It is, as creator Will O’Neill puts it, a “portrait.” An uncompromising freeze-frame on three separate points in Winter’s life, three points past an invisible threshold marked “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” It would be all too easy to look at this as some sort of cop-out; yes, there are few opportunities for interactivity here, and gaming is a medium that puts interactivity at the forefront.

The lack of player choice is deliberate. The narrative lurches to its conclusion after an hour, ending in an outcome that you cannot change. It is inevitable, and it is obvious after the first few moments. Your only option is to watch it happen, and to learn what transpired on the way there.

As the player, your sole input lies in interacting with things around Winter; you can examine everything from the belongings in his apartment to fellow employees at his office. He has a story to tell about each of them, told as simple text against a black screen, and his prose is compelling. It’s also exhausting to read. Derision, hatred and resentment fill most of these tales; the others are occupied by sadness and regret. One particular scene, involving Winter’s relationship with a woman at the office, is heart-wrenching. I’ll admit I had to take a few breaks to avoid getting dragged under.

You may have noticed that I’ve elected to review Actual Sunlight in the first person, an editorial choice not often employed in game criticism. I felt it would be impossible to do the game justice without it. If you have ever felt the nauseating caress of depression, ever stared into the hollow abyss of utter despair, the path walked by Evan Winter will feel chillingly familiar. He is exactly the person that I, and I’m sure many others, have feared becoming.

Ask the average gamer why they play, and the word "fun" is likely to appear in their answer. Evan Winter would answer differently, and along the same line, I cannot recommend Actual Sunlight as I would other games. It is not fun, but it was not created for your entertainment. If you are currently in the throes of depression, I implore you to hold off until you are in a better place. For all others, especially those in recovery, this is a beautiful and uncompromising portrait of despair.

Bottom Line

It's exhausting to read, but Actual Sunlight's narrative is a compelling, heartbreaking portrait of despair. Other games offer escapism; Evan Winter's tale is awash in brutal reality.

Tharsis Review

Surviving in space is hard. Really hard. Tharsis is a dice-based survival game by Choice Provisions in which the player finds themselves controlling four astronauts in a shuttle on its way to Mars. Sounds fun right? Ready for a space adventure full of intrigue, excitement and whimsy?

That’s too bad. Because Tharsis will take those wide eyes and that bushy tail of yours and make you eat it. Literally, they’ll make you eat it, but more on that later. In the introductory cutscene, you are greeted with two hopeful and positive astronauts happily plugging away at their little modules inside the food pantry of the shuttle. Well buckle up cowboy, because your food pantry just blew up, launching one of these helpless little space explorers into the black void and killing the other instantly.

Your ultimate goal is to make it to Mars, by any means necessary. With no interruptions (and those can happen quite often), the shuttle should reach Mars in 10 weeks. The game is divided into turns, which are a week’s worth of time. This may sound short, but worry not… You will have to play many, many times before winning/giving up. On your way to Mars, different events will happen each turn. These events are handled with dice rolls and they have negative consequences attached to them if they are not handled by the end of the turn. One event may cause damage to the ship if not repaired but another event may damage all crew by one health point. The game basically turns into managing what catastrophically bad thing you can accept happening that turn while you handle the other near-death experience trying to tear your ship apart. If it hasn’t been clear up until this point: This game is hard.

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Traverser Review

It’s inevitable that our sun will eventually die and, the selfish git that it is, drag any life in our solar system into an unending age of ice and darkness. But we’ve got all the time in the doomed world before that happens. Your kids’ kids won’t even have to bother with it, so why should you? Unfortunately for the denizens of Traverser, Swedish developer Gatling Goat Studios’ environmental puzzler, their sun decided to check out early. Such is the state of Brimstone, a subterranean city with a penchant for clichés.

Ruled by the tyrannical Raven Corporation and split between a lower and upper ring, Traverser and Brimstone wear their Marxist influence on their shared sleeve. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is as cookie-cutter as conflict comes. There is, at least, a unique reason the bourgeoisie and proletariat came to blows: rather than money, it’s a feud over oxygen, an understandably precious resource in the city’s suffocatingly sulfurous caverns.

Oxygen is, of course, nothing more than a vehicle to reinforce Marxist duality and classism, but it does lend Traverser a fresher premise and original atmosphere. Air bars, for example, are an interesting application of the oxygen shortage. “Come try all 100 aromas!” read a charming billboard placed alongside another emblazoned with the surprisingly blunt message, “We are watching you.”

This is reinforced by the game’s striking aesthetic, a sort of oblong precursor to Claymation. Coupled with the top-down-ish camera, this makes for an almost dollhouse look. It makes for some wonderful environments but is less effective when applied to characters, leaving them torn between hideously disfigured and artistically stylized, unable to pick a spot in the uncanny valley.

Thanks to Raven, which has inexplicably monopolized what was once the most abundant resource on the planet, air merchants line the upper city’s decadent alleys while lower city residents must fight tooth and nail over a single canister of fresh air, wearing gas masks all the while. You know how it goes: cows go moo, cats go meow and the downtrodden lower class cries “Rebellion!” All would be right with the world were it not for the sudden disappearance of protagonist Valerie Bennett’s father, which is where gameplay moseys in on exposition.

Having recently passed her Traverser exam, the requisite for city guards, Valerie is outfitted with a Gravity Glove, the keystone of the game’s puzzles. You can pick up, throw around and rotate almost everything, though the latter function is about as smooth as bowling with a four-sided ball. Stack boxes to build staircases, swing platforms to build momentum for a jump, arrange pipes to redirect sewage flow—the works. What’s truly impressive is this system’s organic nature.

Traverser absolutely nails what makes environmental puzzlers so captivating: the fog of simplicity. It’s easy to look at a meticulously arranged room in Portal or Project Temporality and think “Oh, I need to get this box to there” or “Clearly this light bridge will be involved.” But in Traverser, the difficulty and satisfaction comes from realizing the solution that’s under your nose using nothing more than common sense and basic physics.

The Gravity Glove is a versatile tool, and the puzzles it’s used to solve are free-form as can be. Logic is king In Traverser. Need to light some TNT? Grab an ember and hold it over the fuse. Need to block those lasers? Well, block them. With a box. Need to sneak an oxygen tank past a pickpocket? Hold it 20 feet in the air. He doesn’t have a Gravity Glove, ha! The game fosters an almost Deus Ex sense of freedom, and I do not say that lightly.

Better still, after a basic tutorial, Traverser offers you absolutely no help. As it shouldn’t: ascending a shambling, haphazard staircase wouldn’t be very fun or creative if you hadn’t made it of your own volition. Which I did, because I couldn’t be asked to fiddle with the rotate mechanic so I just threw everything in a corner until it worked. And in that one instance, it did. And that’s brilliant.  

But much like Brimstone itself, everything about Traverser has two sides. Opposite the exceptional environmental obstacles are contrivedly arranged systems of buttons and levers, frequently calling into question the sanity of the city’s architects. These are yet more plot holes for the pile, and make for a far less engaging experience than the whole box-throwing thing.

The occasional mandatory stealth section, which sees you tip-toe past sleeping guards sporting plague doctor masks, is another LEGO in the slippers. Hiding in a barrel and pausing occasionally while walking right past armed guards is not stealth, though it is funny in a Looney Tunes kind of way. Contrastingly, evading guards by moving more than 20 feet away, thus erasing your existence from their feeble minds, is just sad.

Narrative, too, can be a bit iffy. Now, Valerie is an excellent if mute character, constantly recording the goings on of the game in her journal with a human and distinctly young voice. It’s particularly impressive to see her reference little details about previous environments and characters in a meaningful way. The game’s fully voiced cast of supporting characters is just as entertaining, their amusing and authentic accents owing to Gatling Goat’s EU origins.  

The problem is that the plot works itself out of a job. It’s hard to build suspense when the entire story is laden with an air of conspiracy and secrecy thicker than Saturday afternoon smog in China. Not to give any spoilers, but how do you think a three to four-hour romp through a subterranean city whose rulers erected a black box around information pertaining to the surface world will end? 

Bottom Line

Traverser is a stunning experience that got put in the washer with a woefully average one. As a puzzler, it’s truly top-shelf stuff, replete with player agency. But it’s washed out by a generic frame.