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ROBOTIC GAMING MONTHLY – No Skipping On The Battlefield

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Well, time for some game reviews! To start things off, however, I should mention that I have received a copy of Transformers: Devastation to review…unfortunately, all I could get was the PC version, and I’ve been having some trouble getting things to run smoothly on my laptop (hell, it froze up during the tutorial). But I’ll have it working shortly, so hopefully I can regale you with my tales of Grimlock-related adventures next month. For now, though, we do have two major episodic adventure games and a trip with a murderous chipmunk to go through, among other things, so let’s get going already…

Skyshine’s Bedlam

Given the ever-increasing number of games out there set in post-apocalyptic environment, how exactly does one stand out among the crowd? Skyshine’s Bedlam (officially named as such to avoid confusion with at least two other indie games called Bedlam) decides to tackle that by mixing things up, building a roguelike simulator that has you hauling hundreds of survivors in a huge, city-like caravan across a gigantic wasteland. The end result is a game that does indeed stand out for it’s simulation and survival elements…and also for being as hard as a cement block.

As mentioned earlier, your main goal is to help a large amount of passengers cross the wasteland of Bedlam to the supposed utopia known as Aztec City. To do so, you need to pick your routes carefully from a map, explore side areas for potential resources, and pray to god that you travel in the right direction. Every move you make uses up food for the passengers and fuel for the caravan. Run out, and it’s game over. So you also need to manage your supplies, to invest power cells to reduce your overall resource consumption, but doing so also means fewer cells you can use in battle. And you need battles to gain more supplies, so you’ll find yourself having to manage a variety of fights as well. Plus there’s the occasional bartering and random encounter that you have to deal with, which also helps the game build it’s world quite well. Comparisons to The Oregon Trail have been noted, and Bedlam’s survival bits help it live up to that legacy.

However, the travel simulation is but one half of Bedlam; the isometric turn-based battles make up the rest. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly a major highlight. It’s all very basic, as you send four troops from four different classes into battle, and you only have two actions per turn. Not exactly some particularly deep strategy, but still an okay amount of fun…at least until the game cranks up the difficulty. The longer you play, the more enemies become capable of outnumbering and one-hit killing your troops, so suddenly everything turns into a game of attrition as even your victories tend to involve at least one dead crew member each time. Even the unlockable bosses who eventually join you go down easier. And yeesh, don’t even get me started on the main villain of the series. If you actually beat him on your first encounter, then you are lying indeed…

Despite the game stomping all over me, I still enjoyed Bedlam quite a bit, from its crisp artwork prominently displayed at every turn, to the unique little stops and choices you make along the way during your road trip. Not quite Fury Road, but definitely a solid entry in the books of post-apocalyptic entertainment.

Concrete Jungle

When it was first announced last year, I immediately saw Concrete Jungle as the quirky little alternative needed to provide a fresh spin on city-building games, especially after the SimCity debacle the year prior. What we have here is a terrific little hidden gem, a fun puzzle game that does its skyscraper-filled predecessors proud.

And yes, I said puzzle game. I suppose I should clarify that Concrete Jungle is actually a deck-building game with a strong emphasis on city-building elements. You are the new city planner in Caribou City, and your goal is to build the best damn metropolis that you can. Or the best damn suburbia, or the best damn farming town, because it’s all up to the cards you choose. The gameplay is a member of the classic “Easy to learn, hard to master” group, as each new piece of land you place down on your isometric grid affects its surroundings in various ways, adding or subtracting points. The goal is to earn enough points in each row in order to finish it and keep advancing; If you don’t wind up with enough points in a row, you lose a life. And each part you build brings your one step closer to either being able to add more cards or increasing the point goals needed, so you have to try and keep a careful eye on that. Simply put, it’s very fun and challenging stuff to deal with.

The single-player campaign is really enjoyable indeed, thanks to a showcase of terrific, colorful graphics, chill music, charming characters and a quirky sense of humor (bonus points for the Community homages). However, the second Versus mode is introduced, the difficulty spikes quite notably. Mind you, Versus mode is still a blast and makes you ponder your every move even more than usual, now that you have to harm your opponents a well, but you’re still kind of thrown into the lion’s den. There’s also an Endless mode where can just keep going and essentially build your dream city, which is also fun if not as challenging.

After having come back more than a few times to keep building Caribou City into a potential paradise, I can confidently say that Concrete Jungle is one of the year’s best puzzle games, and yes, still a damn fine little city-building game as well. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it.

Laserlife

Laserlife is a rhythm game where the goal is to help a bunch of aliens reconstruct the memories of a long-dead astronaut floating in space by traversing surreal settings and collecting and harmonizing molecules into three-dimensional imagery to form abstract parts of a man’s life story.

Why yes, this is an indie game! How did you know?

Coming from Choice Provisions, the makers of the Bit.Trip games, Laserlife has a bit of a legacy to live up to as a quality rhythm game. The setup is a bit tricky to describe, but each stage involves four different areas as you travel down a tunnel-like area, collecting molecules by grabbing them and pressing buttons at the right times, harmonizing molecules by lining yourself up in the right areas, traveling out by avoiding barriers, then putting things together by twirling the analog sticks. It’s a rhythm game based on dual-stick gameplay, and while it is quite fun, there are a few moments (mainly in the collection phase) where they can get a bit awkward.

Unsurprisingly, though, a rhythm game lives and dies by its music. Laserlife has some damn fine music indeed, each track perfectly suiting the game’s otherworldly feel. That said, I do wish the collection phase in each level didn’t use the same music and visuals, because seeing them four times in a row gets a bit stale. But speaking of the visuals, they are quite impressive, again perfectly matching the trippy vibe of everything, all nice and colorful. The story could use more fleshing out, though, since the concept of reconstructing memories isn’t used to its full potential, unique as it is.

Laserlife only lasts for about an hour, but thankfully it’s set up so that you can replay stages for the high score, adding a bit of replayability. Even though it’s a short and flawed experience, it’s one I still recommend taking a look at, so give it a go. And if you’re not convinced, then you can always check out my Let’s Play of Laserlife, because why not?

Life is Strange

WARNING: The above trailer contains potential spoilers for Episodes 1 through 4 of Life is Strange. Thou hast been warned. Now that we’re done with that, it’s time to wrap up Max’s bizarre adventure. Earlier this year, I gave my first impressions on the debut episode of Life is Strange, finding myself impressed with the initial setup and closing by saying that I was looking forward to where Max’s journey takes her. In the end, that journey took her and the player on an incredible ride that served as one emotional roller coaster…that sort of derailed when it got to the ending. But still, an incredible ride nonetheless.

For those of you who need the Cliffs notes version to catch up, high school student Max Caulfield wakes up in class one day to suddenly discover that she can rewind time, which comes in handy when it comes to saving her childhood friend Chloe from getting shot. After that little incident, the two friends reconcile and set out to solve the mystery of what happened to Rachel, a missing student and another of Chloe’s friends, all while their hometown of Arcadia Bay is bombarded by bizarre phenomena. Not much has changed since the first episode in terms of aesthetics and general gameplay – they’re both still very good (and the indie soundtrack is now even better). So let’s just skip straight to the heart of everything here: The story.

Hoo-boy, I did not expect the story to head to some dark places. I mean, one of the episodes is straight-up titled “Dark Room,” but I still didn’t see what was coming. Heck, things pretty much spill into full-on horror territory by the end (albeit with one slightly tedious section), and it is some eerie stuff indeed, to say the least. But at its core, Life is Strange is a story with a lot of heart, with the focus prominently on the relationship between Max and Chloe. Watching them interact after so many years is a treat indeed, and their scenes are just a heartwarming joy to behold (and also heartbreaking, as you’ll see once you get past the halfway episode). But really, the whole cast deserves a standing ovation, as more and more characters begin to reveal hidden depths as you talk to them (looking at you, Victoria), and flesh out the town of Arcadia Bay even further.

But oof, did that ending kind of botch the landing. Life is Strange has been really good at providing the player with difficult choices (one instance of doing the “right” thing will cruelly come back to horrify you later on), but the final choice at the end…well, obviously I won’t spoil anything, but I ended up choosing what was presented as the “bad” ending compared to the “good” ending, considering how much effort went into the latter. I say “presented” because the only reason the “bad” ending is bad is because there’s no ending. No elaboration on what happens afterward, nothing. Both endings could have been given equal weight and made for some interesting debates about what the “right” choice was, but thing sort of got fumbled there.

But I digress, as in spite of the ending, Life is Strange is still an absolutely fantastic adventure game and one of the year’s best. It’s an odd high school story with a strong emotional core that you absolutely need to experience. Also, the kids at this school have the best taste in movies (for the most part).

The Park

Just in time for Halloween, Funcom have released their own little horror game that serves as the first spin-off from their successful MMORPG, The Secret World. So The Park is at least a neat effort in spreading that game’s universe to a larger audience, even if it doesn’t exactly make for the scariest trip.

The Park is a first-person adventure game that the developers have deliberately compared to Dear Esther and the like; it’s a non-violent romp that just happens to take place after dark in an amusement park where all those sexy teens were murdered when one of the mascots went crazy. You play as Lorraine, whose son Callum has wandered into the park in search of his lost teddy bear. Lorraine heads in after him, and what happens is a journey through psychological horror as secrets are revealed about the tortured relationship between the two. Quite honestly, a lot of the game’s scares are quite predictable, as a plot like that suggests. Not bad, mind you, it’s just that there’s not a whole lot of originality going on here. It’s horror done well, just not horror done uniquely (which the possible exception of a P.T. homage near the end, with bonus points for an ode to obscure Sega Genesis games in that section).

The horror parts are also kind of undermined by two bits of the game that come off as silly. For one, Lorraine can never seem to stop with the purple prose as she enters a new area or gets on a ride. She sounds more like an angsty blogger than a concerned parent. The second bit is that in order to highlight interactive areas, one of the actions you can actually perform is a yell to Callum that pinpoints documents and the like (and also causes Callum to respond with blatantly creepy dialogue over and over). Aside from just coming off as silly – how does yelling for her son tell her where a switch is? – it also means that I can’t stop thinking about how this game actually has a “Press X to Jason” button. In fairness, the interactive bits and documents you find do a good job at world-building, and do offer some neat creepy stuff.

In the end, The Park is a short ride (about an hour, more if you hunt for all of the documents and the like), but it can still be a fun one, even at the tricky $15 price. Much like your average haunted house at a carnival, the scares aren’t exactly big, but there’s still kind of a charm to it all, so you might want to take a look if you’re really intrigued.

Pulse

Okay, when one of the achievements for a video game rewards you for completing the game in thirty minutes or less, that kind of sets off a red flag. Mind you, a short game isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the experience – both gameplay and narrative-wise – is still amazing (hell, I just reviewed two short games that were alright), but if the game is just encouraging you to plow through everything, one tends to worry a bit. And while Pulse is certainly no disaster and holds a lot of potential, the overall journey did leave a bit to be desired.

Pulse is the tale of Eva, a young girl who lost her sight at an early age. However, she has developed the ability to “see” the world through echolocation, which kind of comes in handy when she sets out from her village to uncover the mysteries of her world. Despite being a game with a heavy focus on narrative, I honestly wasn’t too interested in the story, especially when a lot of it is told through a sort of spirit guide that tends to speechify at every turn (although the end of the story involves one astonishing bit, I must say). Really, the star of Pulse is it’s echolocation mechanic, which provides an outline of the world around you with every step and noise, highlighting everything in colorful graphics and vivid fantasy environments It makes for a unique experience with some amazing graphics and sounds (again, especially during the very end).

In terms of gameplay, it might be easy to dismiss Pulse with the “walking simulator” label due it being first-person, narrative-driven, and short, but it thankfully has a decent variety of puzzles and environments to deal with. The meat of the game’s puzzles involve the Mokos, little forest spirits who guide the way and that you can pick up and throw around to expand your map a little. There’s even one inspired bit, even if it does go on for a little too long, where you need to fling one onto a frozen lake so that you can navigate across the ice. But really, the problem is that because of the game’s short length (taking about just an hour to complete), none of the various puzzles and mechanics introduced have time to develop. There’s one section where you have to sneak around enemies that emit noise, but direct enemies are never seen again after that. In more than a few ways, the whole thing reminds me of Toren in that everything included feels more like the prototype for a much bigger and better game.

In the end, Pulse is an innovative game that can definitely be fun and provides a neat experience at times, but its brevity and lack of variety makes justifying its $15 price tag a bit tricky. Combined with the disappointment that was Beyond Eyes, it looks like we’re still going to have to wait a while for a truly good game where you play a blind girl, and wow, was that an odd statement.

Read Only Memories

Geez, it is it already time for yet another retro cyberpunk graphic adventure game? It seems like just yesterday that I was making my way through Technobabylon. But yes, Read Only Memories has come along to help keep filling our niche for such games, and definitely succeeds in providing a throwback to the days of games like Snatcher. And if you know anything about Snatcher, that should probably be your cue to pick up ROM immediately. For the rest of you, it’s still an amazing little nod to old-school adventures that comes highly recommended.

Read Only Memories starts off with you playing the role of a broke-ass journalist just scraping by, finding himself having to do freelance reviews in order to make money (I get the feeling that I can relate to this). One night, he finds a sapient robot known as Turing in his apartment. Turing was built by an old friend of yours, and now he’s seeking your help to track said missing friend down. Along the way, you come across several colorful individuals, several shocking revelations, and several, several, several cyberpunk tropes. But again, like Technobabylon, this is a game that uses those tropes as the blueprint for something greater. In fact, writing is clearly one of ROM’s strong points, with an impressive knack for strong, well-built characters (Turing is particularly charming as your sidekick), a tendency to delve into the history of the Neo-San Francisco setting, and impressive sections discussing artificial intelligence.

The game’s cartoonish art style is incredible, working perfectly with the 8-bit graphics to create some memorable sights, scenery, and especially character expressions (again, love ya, Turing). And the music is great, as well. But again, it really all comes back to the story when discussing the best parts of Read Only Memories. Despite it’s NES-era style, the heart of a modern-day adventure game still lies within here, so most puzzles are solved with wits and dialogue rather than full-on puzzles. There are a few segments that do go into full brainteaser territory, such as having to reroute traffic or decode glyphs to hack into a computer. But then there’s also the occasional embarrassing bit, such as a password to a computer being displayed on a huge screen right in front of you. Still, best to tackle every puzzle and bit of dialogue wisely, as ROM features six different endings to try for, ensuring you’ll probably be back for more. Finally, while the point-and-click first-person gameplay works fine most of the time, I did encounter a few finicky difficulties when it came to selecting dialogue and the like, but nothing really harmful.

Read Only Memories is a terrific cyberpunk adventure that is not to be missed. One last note, I want to mention the the game’s developers, MidBoss, are a company with a focus on LGBT lifestyles (they also head up the GaymerX convention), and one of their goals with this game was to try and introduce more LGBT characters into the mainstream. And in that area, ROM is an amazing success! The themes of diversity are actually presented subtly, and instead of putting their views front and center, nothing is ever blatant. The game highlights LGBT characters not by putting them on a platform and pointing them out with spotlights and alarms, but simply by crafting strong, unique LGBT characters so that they wind up being completely memorable. The way it should be. Bravo, MidBoss!

Runbow

Damn, the reasons for me to keep turning on my Wii U keep getting rarer and rarer. But having played it at E3 earlier this year, I was indeed hoping that Runbow would be the one to break the dry spell, a (literally) colorful indie game based around a unique concept of color-changing that looked like a hell of a lot of fun. And while it didn’t keep me running back as much as I’d hoped, it’s still a fun little blast of energy indeed.

I was honestly worried that Runbow would only have a multiplayer focus, but thankfully there’s a good chunk devoted to a large set of single-player challenges where you have to take down the monochrome villainess known as Satura. The core gameplay involves a background whose color changes at regular intervals, causing certain platforms, enemies, and the like to disappear when certain hues are in play. The one-player bits are pretty basic as you either run to the end of a level or defeat all of the enemies, but it all controls very well and it’s all still so very fast-paced and challenging enough to make everything fun, accompanied by the game’s signature minimalist visual style that makes everything pop, along with a gleefully jazzy soundtrack.

As fun as the game’s single-player is, though, multiplayer is where the true meat of Runbow lies. Having to take on up to eight other players as you duke it out with each other while sprinting towards a trophy or just trying to survive is an exhilarating, chaotic experience indeed…albeit one more suited to for a local multiplayer party than an online game. Not only is there an entire mode only available locally, but matchmaking is a bit tedious. I actually waited at least seven minutes for any King of the Hill matches available, and nothing showed up.

So Runbow isn’t the Wii U’s full-on indie savior, but it’s still a damn fun game indeed. If you’re a Wii U owner looking for something fresh – or anything in general – pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.

SOMA

Me and horror games have a bit of a rocky relationship…I’m highly interested in them, but I am absolutely lousy at playing them. Sure, something shorter like The Park from earlier, I can handle, but throw me in a game completely defenseless and surrounded by an uncaring environment with monsters that could kill you in a snap, and I will fail miserably. And while playing SOMA, I kept wishing that the monsters I encountered would all just stop threatening me…albeit for different reasons than you might think.

SOMA follows the story of Simon Jarrett, an average man who suddenly finds himself awakening in an underwater facility where horrible things clearly went down, and now needs to find a way to escape. I wish I could tell you more, but anything beyond that ventures into spoiler territory. Hell, in the e-mail containing my review copy, Frictional Games didn’t even want me to spoil the game’s opening sequence. Still, I can tell you that the story is quite an intriguing one indeed, full of more than a few twists and turns and eventually leading to harsh lessons concerning humanity, ethics, artificial intelligence, and more. It is indeed a journey worth taking, especially as you get the crap scared out of you along the way. Biomechanical structures and organisms are laid out along the path in meshes of flesh and steel, the ocean provides several natural creaks, groans, and a feeling of isolation at every turn, and various documents and audio logs detail a potential massacre at the hands of the monstrosity that you saw out of the corner of your eye earlier. The visuals and sound are not only terrific, but highly enhance the overall experience tenfold.

But at its core, SOMA still has the same classic Amnesia gameplay, where you sneak around monsters while trying not to look at them for too long while still making sure they don’t catch you, using anything you can get your hands on as a distraction…and this is where things slip up slightly. Oh, the gameplay is still solid, sure, and even has some clever puzzles thrown in as well to spice things up. The problem is that, as other critics such as Yahtzee have noticed, the monster-dodging gameplay and the story are kind of at odds with each other. The story is absolutely captivating and each new area provides a new way to be creeped out, but this means that the actual horror elements that can harm you just seem more like a roadblock in between the more interesting stuff. After successfully turning me into a nervous wreck with the atmosphere and the darker elements of the plot, actually encountering a monster just makes me go “Cripes, not this again” instead of fully scaring me.

In the end, I can’t help but wonder if SOMA would have worked better as a first-person adventure game as opposed to a survival horror game. As an adventure game, it would have been epic; As is, it’s just a really damn good horror game. Eh, what are you gonna do.

Tales from the Borderlands

To get things out of the way, I just want to tell Telltale Games that I am really, really sorry over the the horrible tragedy and realization I had while playing Tales from the Borderlands…namely, the fact that The Walking Dead may no longer be the best game you’ve ever made. Sad but true. And I came to this realization during the final episode of TftB, during an absolutely, gloriously nerdy bit that filled me with sheer glee and that I will not spoil at all. Tales from the Borderlands is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

But let’s start from the beginning. Taking place after Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands is the story of two individuals: Rhys the Hyperion employee looking to do anything to get ahead in such a monstrous corporation, and Fiona the Pandoran con artist willing to take advantage of people like Rhys in order to make a living. After a ten million dollar deal involving a potential Vault Key goes south, the two and their friends Vaughn and Sasha have to team up and travel across Pandora in search of a new Vault that…actually, no. I’m not going to spoil everything beyond that. Doing so would lessen the impact of every character reveal, every plot twist, every snappy bit of dialogue. And thankfully, TftB avoids any major spoilers for previous Borderlands games as well (except for one prominently displayed in all of the advertising, go figure), so knowledge of previous titles is not needed to enjoy this adventure.

If you haven’t figured it out right now, this is another one of those reviews that’s difficult to write due to the fact that I find myself constantly reduced to gushing over everything. The gameplay? Classic Telltale with some neat twists in the forms of of unique abilities Rhys and Fiona each have (scanning skills and a ton of cash, respectively), and one where the choices pay off quite nicely. The graphics? Some of the best and most colorful cel-shading the series has had so far. The music? Incredible, right down to the tunes in the trademark intros for each episode. The characters? Lovable, memorable, and Rhys may actually be the best video game character of 2015, IMO (just so damn adorkable!). The voice acting? Perfect, and bonus points for getting Patrick Warburton. The writing? Superb, and it plays up the “Space Western” angle of the franchise even greater than before. Hell, without spoiling anything, compared to other Telltale games, TtfB even has the potential for long-lasting, ballsy impacts on the franchise its working with. And I’m not even going to go into the part where you’re in one of the most epic gunfights ever captured in video games.

Tales from the Borderlands is a triumph at every turn. It mixes drama, heart, and humor exquisitely without sacrificing anything! It weaves a captivating in media res dual narrative in fun and creative ways! It takes the Borderlands games to bold new heights! It actually makes Chris Hardwick seem likable! God, I know I’m in hyperbole mode, but seriously, this is hands-down one of 2015’s greatest games right here. Truly, these may be the most superb tales to ever grace Pandora, so don’t miss out on them.

Zombie Vikings

In the e-mail concerning my review copy for Zombie Vikings, I was instructed to not begin playing until a new patch had been downloaded, because while the developers were aware that the game had serious issues, they still wanted to make sure everybody had the best gaming experience possible.

Having played the game after about three patches have been installed, the very first boss I made it to suddenly began walking backwards after I tried fighting him again after dying, kept facing the wrong direction when attacking me, and yet was still hitting me despite no contact.

So yeah, points will not exactly be earned in the technical areas.

The good news is that beneath any tech issues, Zombie Vikings is still a classic arcade brawler that plays quite nicely. Playing as one of four resurrected vikings summoned by Odin to retrieve his stolen eye from Loki, you have to hack and slash your way through waves of enemies. Combat is pretty fun indeed, a basic setup that still requires you to master proper timing and attack detection to know when to counter and swoop in. You can also hunt for loot and perform side quests, even if it mostly only leads to cosmetic weapon upgrades and runes that help you out. It’s still fun, though, and assisted by some absolutely amazing artwork. Like their earlier game Stick It To The Man!, there’s a unique and cartoonish visual flair to everything that makes everything colorful, eye-grabbing, and charming, and the animation is smooth as well. Definitely a sight to behold.

Also like Stick It To The Man!, Zombie Vikings features a prominent focus on humor…but unlike SITTM, it kind of fails in that area. There are still some genuine funny bits now and then, but a lot of the jokes seem to come in only two varieties: Scatalogical humor and anachronistic humor about modern-day life. In the first hour alone there were references to tumblr, Amazon, Instagram, Whole Foods, and Twilight, and the only joke with all of that seems to be “LOL Vikings didn’t have those things, GET IT???” Definitely some cringe-worthy stuff at times.

In the end, Zombie Vikings is a fun but flawed brawler, one to be enjoyed but forgotten about later on. I mean hell, the most interesting part of the game is a hidden alpha for Zoink!’s next game that you can unlock and play. Maybe that one’ll fare better…

…And that’s it for reviews this month! Well, there is Halo 5: Guardians, which I have fully completed and is ready for a review, but we’re going to see if we can’t get a full list devoted to it this week as well, so watch out for that possibility. We also have Broforce, Jotun, and Mushroom 11 to look at next time, along with Rise of the Tomb Raider, and no way will I miss Fallout 4 next month…ugh, will I be actually glad when the Christmas lull gets here. But for now, let’s move on to some game trailers…

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About Author

I'm Kyle LeClair, AKA "SlyDante." I'm a freelance writer for Topless Robot, I love video games, and when I stop being lazy, maybe I'll finish the rest of this profile.