SHELTER

It was in the rapids that I lost my first cub.

There was no warning, just the sudden sense of shock as a vast wave swept through our pack, submerging us all in a rolling tide of water. Darting to the shore, I immediately counted my remaining children, silently noting a missing face. Waiting for a few moments, I clung to the hope that it had perhaps gotten itself stuck on some kind of branch or stone and would soon appear, so we could continue on as a family… However, there was no choice but to continue trekking through the wilderness – if not for progression’s sake, but for the hungry four that trailed, squealing at my feet.

Shelter is not in any form a conventional game release. Developed by independent studio, Might and Delight – best known for 2012’s Pid – it is, essentially, a badger life simulator. With no emphasis on controls or direction, the game places you into the role of a mother badger (or, sow), who must care for her five, individually patterned cubs that dance playfully around their earthy sett. Digging roots and catching smaller prey, you must keep your family fed as you travel the land, fending off danger and always keeping a close eye on the safety of your pack.

The true aspect that instantly attracted me to Shelter was its beautifully simple art style. Rendered in a very basic, I-hate-to-say-retro ruggedness, the game relies heavily on its immersive world and bright, organic patterns that certainly draw you into an atmosphere of pure, untouched nature. It becomes very clear how much Might and Delight opted to focus on character and personality throughout this experience, creating a game that feels almost as if you are playing through an intricate landscape painting – whereas, say, a studio that had tried to emulate realism in its graphics would have fallen far short of the mark, leaving us with a cold, artificial copy.

Shelter is a world that drinks deeply from your sense of concern and nurturing, quickly cementing a strong bond to your pack, without the need for introduction or additional information that most modern games rely so heavily upon. An atmospheric, acoustic soundtrack drips and fades along your journey, complimenting each subtle note of season, whilst also inspiring fear and dread with every passing danger. It is these small, immersive details that all combine so perfectly into an experience that can become heavily entwined in emotion throughout play. The huge sigh of relief as you finally manage to pounce on that elusive fox you’d been stalking, giving your cubs that little, extra boost; the careful, measured steps through the undergrowth, terrified of the hawk that circles above – the little moments and spikes of sentimentality that shape every minute along the way.

This is not by any means a long game – I counted roughly four or five stages in total – however, it certainly warrants the time spent exploring and indulging in its rich, lively environments. The gameplay itself could perhaps be compared to one giant escort mission, but it is important to note that the cubs are by no means a burden upon you, rather travelling companions that you honestly feel indebted to protect. In full circle, I began this review detailing the death of one of my own, and it was a hard blow of loss that far surpassed any other title I have played of similar ilk.

Beside being a great new addition and real victory for Steam’s Greenlight, Shelter inspires an appreciation of the hardships within nature and, ultimately, motherhood itself – a must play for any who wish to escape the decaying, urban shadow that haunts so much of our lives, for a small glimpse into the untouched circle of the animal kingdom.

Buy it on steam here or from the website here

Visit Might and Delight’s website here

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GUNS OF ICARUS ONLINE

In today’s online titles, ‘Cooperative’ does not necessarily indicate ‘Teamwork’ – a fact that should leave most gamers dropping their heads in shame.

Perhaps it was that time Coolguy94 slammed you off the map with a grenade launcher in Left 4 Dead, or maybe even the session where that frankly hilarious teammate of yours decided your vehicle was the most convenient way to carry some extra C4? In any case, the multiplayer scene in the majority of current games do not benefit the conscious companion.

Enter Guns of Icarus Online, the in-progress successor of Muse Games’ 2010 airship-based turret defence title.

Sailing past its interesting, albeit shaky, origins, this newly Kickstarted incarnation of Steampunk-themed dogfighting allows for players to finally test their mettle against one another in a variety of classic gamemodes, including deathmatch and king of the hill. With a choice of 7 unique ships and 3 classes, it is up to each vessel’s team of 4 to pilot, repair and fire each gun, working closely together to secure sky domination.

The real beauty of Guns of Icarus Online, however, lies deep within its community. With a dedicated force of helpers, guides and active forums, you are never far from receiving the odd push from those of experience. Captains and crewmen alike are happy to advise on ways in which to maximise efficiency on a ship, as well as an included, if basic, tutorial that covers the core aspects of gameplay.

In terms of customisation, each airship can be decked out with a variety of guns, allowing much room for strategy and preferred ways of assault. For example, placing a heavy gun, such as a Carronade, on the front of the Goldfish will allow for powerful, piercing strikes to quickly breach an opponent’s balloon from behind. For the classes themselves, which range between Pilot, Engineer and Gunner, there are player-defined loadouts on which tools or unique ammo types you’d like to bring to a specific match. Players are given a wide choice of vanity costumes and headgear, which can be won through claiming certain achievements, however all are available for minimal fees through Muse’s own inbuilt store. These costume pieces, despite also being nicely designed and fitting for Icarus‘ style, can most certainly be considered donations toward the game’s ever-evolving progression – the most notable being its highly anticipated Adventure Mode, which is marked to release in 2014.

Guns of Icarus Online has proven itself to be a highly entertaining – if not sometimes frustrating – title that certainly appeals to the tacticians and teamplayers of the gaming sphere. Allowing for up to 6 airships in combat at one time, it is hard to find any other game that can compare to its class, bearing in mind that it is still firmly a work in progress. Although lacking the much-wanted mechanics for boarding an enemy craft, Muse Games are rightly defiant in their decision, as pulling any form of singleplayer combat into the title would have serious effects on its current dynamic, as well as remove from the cooperative emphasis on maintaining your ship as a whole.

Overall, I highly recommend this game for its refreshing backpedal into team-based combat, where each player is absolutely vital to the success of their ship. With its ever-growing community and update additions, Guns of Icarus Online has quickly risen to become one of my most played games since its release, and I can only predict improvement in its future.

Buy Guns of Icarus Online from Steam here

Visit the website here

Guns of Icarus Online is also destined to be released on the PS4

10,000,000

‘Action’, ‘RPG’ and ‘Indie’ are three genres you have probably seen banded about a little too much recently – and there is no exception in the case of EightyEight Games’ debut PC port, 10,000,000, which washed upon our digital shores earlier this year.

Taking note of its iOS origins, I plunged into 10,000,000 with grave expectations of disappointment. “Just another failed crossover”, I began to tell myself as I flicked between screenshot after screenshot of crudely pixelated dungeons and monsters, “There is no way I am about to earn my money’s worth of enjoyment”. Well, uh, it would seem I was wrong. 8 hours overall playtime wrong, in fact.

A very simple game with little need for instruction, 10,000,000 actually does manage to work on a number of levels above its classification. On one hand you have the blatant RPG elements of grinding for experience and upgrades, the other a basic three-in-a-row matching puzzle, which earns the resource for the former. So, where does all this elusive ‘Action’ fit in, I hear you cry? Running atop it all is your tiny, fedora-equipped self, forming what is essentially a progress bar rife with chests to plunder and a variety of monsters to swing at. Whenever an obstacle is in your path, the correct tiles must be matched in order to continue, i.e. swords and staffs will deal damage, whilst keys unlock. Bearing in mind that your enemies are as eager for you to fail as you are to succeed, gameplay quickly becomes fast-paced and intense as that back wall – your only form of death – edges ever nearer.

Of course, there are a number of items to collect along your journey (food, for instance, gives you a little bump forward, allowing for last minute recuperation), however the main goal lies in the game’s title: 10,000,000 points must be achieved in order to gain your freedom. The developers’ original intentions aside, this is where we begin to break the fourth wall a little, and it certainly wasn’t hard to see links between our protagonist’s endless struggle and my own in playing this title. With every attempt I grew both stronger and more confident, all the while pushing for a higher score; that one step closer to victory.

It is important to note here that 10,000,000 carries the high addiction rate of most successful mobile titles and, already being a big fan of similar puzzle classic, Bejeweled, it certainly captivated my attention for the time that it lasted. This is a game that is very comfortable within its genre and will by no means make any move on trying to change that. All in all, a fun, challenging title that is extremely humble in both its motives and its pricing – worth checking out for any lover of its ilk.

Visit EightyEight’s website here

Buy it on Steam here

Buy it for iOS here

MISTS OF PANDARIA

Last tuesday, Blizzard released World of Warcraft’s latest expansion: Mists of Pandaria. Featuring a new race (Pandaren), a level 90 cap, new dungeons, raids and battleground, this new expansion had me hooked ever since it was announced.

I’ll try to keep this as (major) spoiler free as possible, but read at your own discretion. Also, keep in mind that this is a lot of content to go through, so it’ll take me a while before I finish  the other parts of this review. Make sure to check back every day to see the new updates. Beware, really long review incoming.

New Race: Pandaren:

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Let me just start off by saying that the new starting zone is amazing. Set on the Wandering Isle, which is literally an enormous tortoise, the player is tasked with finding out what’s wrong, since the Isle has been moving erratically lately, causing some problems for the inhabitants. Pandaren players have seven classes to choose from: Monk, Warrior, Hunter, Rogue, Priest, Shaman and Mage. It’s too bad they can’t be Death Knight, but I guess it would be against canon if they could. They start out as a Neutral race, and don’t get to choose a faction until they’re level 11. What is most important is that it’s not a dull zone. The lore of the place keeps you interested for the time you’re there, as well as the beautiful environments surrounding you. Although it’s certainly a fun starting zone, it’s definitely not the best, but it’s up there.

New Zones and Quests:

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I still remember my first couple of days playing WoW, some years back. When I created my first character, a Night Elf hunter, I was immediately blown away by my surroundings. The vibrant colors astonished and enticed me. Blizzard has managed to recreate this feeling. As soon as I stepped into Pandaria, I was amazed by the style of the place. And to top it off, the game’s soundtrack fits perfectly into the theme. So if you’re going to play, crank up the volume and listen carefully, it’s well worth it.

What really surprised me was the amount of in-engine cutscenes included in this expansion. Wrath had a couple, Wrathgate and Fall of the Lich King for example, but Mists has tons of them. About a third of the quest chains end in a Cinematic, and so far, I have counted at least 10 different ones. And let’s be honest, Wrath Gate didn’t look all that good, but these ones blew my mind and gave me shivers.

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Blizzard has introduced a new type of quests that I loved. They’re basically flashback quests, telling you the story of something that’s happened within the story whilst you weren’t there (instead of one character missing and only a couple of text lines to explain what happened). You are given control of a different character, and the person in question usually narrates what happens while you’re playing it. It’s pretty fun and innovative.

Overall, Blizzard has stepped up their quests. Back in the old days of WoW, 40 out 50 quests would be “Kill X of Y” or “Collect X of Y by killing Z” but now there are many different types of quests. Sure, you still get some of those quests, but there are many quests with fun objectives such as: Help a pandaren farm, kick some critters (literally), the aforementioned flashback quests, and much more. Levelling doesn’t feel like much of a grind now.

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Another neat touch on Blizzard’s part is that when you have a quest that asks you to kill a semi-boss enemy, it doesn’t matter if there is someone else already fighting it, you can still jump in mid-fight and get the recognition of killing it. This way, you don’t have to wait for the other player to kill it for respawns, and you can work in a team without being in a party. For instance, I was once tasked with killing an evil witch, so I ran up to her and saw a fellow Druid already fighting her, and he was obviously struggling. So I joined the fight, healed him and suddenly two Hordes come up, and they start helping us out too. Of course, once we killed the witch we started fighting between us, but still, the brief alliance was a fun thing to watch.

Some of the zones are more light hearted than others, and some don’t even affect the main story. For example, within Jade Forest most of the story is set, but once you go into Valley of the Four Winds, you have a moment to take your mind off the main conflict. Still, all of the new zones are gorgeous and worthwhile.

What made the original World of Warcraft great was the ever existing threat of war: Horde vs Alliance. Yet in previous expansions, this was lost, because for the most part of them, heroes of the factions were basically banded together for their mutual benefit, for example, killing the Lich King or Deathwing. But in Mists of Pandaria this is completely different. The expansion itself starts with conflict, and the discovery of this new continent is also a consequence of the war. Throughout the whole expansion you’re reminded that not only you’re exploring a new continent, but also fighting a war against the opposing faction.

 

WORLD OF WARCRAFT’S SUCCESS AND ITS KILLER

Legend speaks of a so called “WoW-Killer”, an MMO so good and well built that it drains Blizzard’s subscription number down to a low amount. Games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and RIFT have been called this, wrongly. After a couple of months, they all fall, and Warcraft remains strong.

 Why?

It’s simple: WoW is a game that has years of content within it. Spanning the original and its three expansions, that’s nearly seven years of constant development and work. So when a new player comes in, he/she has a gargantuan amount of quests, arenas, dungeons and raids to go through. Therein lies the problem. Picture this: The Old Republic comes out, and offers players 50 levels plus a mediocre endgame, which BioWare promises to improve later. Gamers go, grind through the 50 levels, defeat all the bosses in raids, get the gear. And all in less than two months. Then what? The developer is having problems fixing the bugs, and isn’t able to release more than a mere dungeon in the next update. The patch releases, and the players chew it and swallow it. Yet they need more, and there isn’t enough in the game to keep them satisfied. That’s why they go back to Warcraft, because in there, they have at least 100+ hours of game time guaranteed.

The new game that BioWare had just released, is basically the same that Blizzard released 7 years ago. But why play that, when you can play an updated and improved version of it: Warcraft?

Also, Warcraft gives both unexperienced players and hardcore gamers an immersive experience. The game is layered, and although it might seem simple, many complex formulas and strategies exist for those who like a challenge. Let me be honest, I’m not a hardcore MMO fan, and sometimes when I start in a new game I’m just overwhelmed by the complex features, even though I’ve played my fair share of them. Yet in Warcraft everything has been simple from the start.

Will Guild Wars 2 kill it? Perhaps. Maybe it will suck 2-4 million users. But remember, Blizzard is cunning. They know what to do in moments like these. Once it launches, thousands will go to play it. And Blizzard will just smile, because a month later, their own fourth expansion releases. Those couple thousand people that went running to play Guild Wars? They’re going to run back around. Sadly, I think that Guild Wars is not a franchise that is popular enough to dethrone Warcraft. To hit it hard, a huge fan base will be needed, and it does not have it. Perhaps the Elder Scrolls will, once it launches its own MMO, or maybe Dungeons and Dragons online, who knows?

Their numbers are strong. Credit goes to MMOData.net

It’s the ugly truth. Unless developers start being innovative, instead of just trying to do what WoW did, their games are all going to fail. We have to hope that one day, a developer’s light bulb will light up and a Killer will be born.

But to be honest, I believe that the real WoW-Killer is none other than Warcraft itself. With a stunning number of 9.1 million (as of August) subscribers, it’s going to be hard to topple it. That’s why I believe that the fall will come from within. Maybe Blizzard will commit a huge mistake with an expansion, causing its own demise. It seems to me that the WoW-Killer is just a myth, after all. Let’s wait and see.

BOTANICULA

If I could only use one word to describe this game, it would simply be ‘beautiful’. Other terms could also be ‘clever’, ‘challenging’, ‘funny’ and ‘personal’ – but, especially ‘unique’. Botanicula, the newest development from Amanita Design (best known for their award winning Machinarium), is truly one of a kind in both its emotional value and its ingenuity.

A true point and click adventure, you are given control of 5 little bugs on a journey to save their home from an invasion of parasitic spiders which are, very literally, sucking the colour and life out of the world around them. Instantly you are treated to a vibrant range of personalities and worlds to explore, solving various puzzles in order to progress to the next steps of our tiny heroes’ story. Yes, as is with most games in its genre – and most games in general, mind – this is essentially a long series of item quests, leaving you to seek out a multitude of hidden objects and solutions scattered around the environment. However, there is a brilliant sense of depth and personality within this title, and I found myself wandering through each stage with a childlike sense of awe and curiosity, prodding each little detail with my cursor and grinning madly at the effect it would cause. For me, Botanicula brought to life a deep feeling of discovery and innocence; a tiny window into an organic, surreal world, inhabited by an encyclopedia of strange and wonderful beasts that populate each leaf, branch or tunnel along the way.

Although only taking about 3 hours to complete in full, Botanicula does require a serious level of care and observation. With each creature you discover, an animated card is placed within your inventory, not only allowing you to relive your experiences with the more memorable ones, but also in an attempt to actually find them all – a challenge which is not easily completed, especially so in a single playthrough.

What this game really offers is an adventure through the imagination; a brilliant blend of art and logic that does not disappoint at any point during its progression. Whilst the puzzles certainly push you to the limit of lateral thinking, I quickly found myself emotionally attached to my insect friends, guiding them in each step of the way. At one point during play, one of the characters was very suddenly eaten by another creature, leaving me in a complete state of shock and horror! It was  only when he was spat out again a few minutes later did I restore any sense of calm, but I was honestly shaken at the core – just for the sake of these 5 tiny beings.

All in all, I highly recommend Botanicula for the level of escapism it provides, as well as the full extent of which creativity, humour and personality have been invested so entirely. It has certainly been a long time since I have ever been so deeply involved within a game and I absolutely enjoyed every second that I was allowed to experience this intricate universe that Amanita Design have so perfectly created. A genuine 10/10.

Buy it from Steam here

Visit the website here

TITAN ATTACKS

Proudly declaring itself as ‘the best Space Invaders tribute ever’, Puppy Games’ Titan Attacks does not fall short of any expectations – in fact, it goes quite a bit beyond…

Combining the classic format with a fresh, new selection of upgrades and enemies, you must fight your way from Earth to TItan itself to save your beloved planet from hundreds of waves of relentless aliens. In other words, expect a bad case of carpal tunnel by the end of this, because you’re going to be jabbing that fire button with the rage of the old Gods.

Amongst the usual upgrades (health, power, etc.) there are also additional guns that can be added to your tank – not forgetting an absolute wealth of achievements that will keep even the most casual gamer fixed. Titan Attacks‘s biggest selling point, however, is its charm: each ship and parachuting alien (which are, quite frankly, adorable) is memorable and lovingly rendered in a smooth, retro style and there is most certainly a cheerful sense of humour running throughout each level, as well as its menus – I literally felt saddened every time one of my newly-disarmed prisoners was struck by a stray bullet, letting out a little squeal of pain.

Puppy Games have definitely made a number of good choices throughout this release, especially so in how the player is rewarded for what they do correctly – or where, indeed, they fail. Completing levels without damage will increase a multiplier on your score, but one mistake will promptly put you back to the start, creating a healthy divide between the competitive and casual reaches of the highscores. Furthermore, the game automatically saves your progress and allows you to jump back into each stage with your previous points and upgrades. Throughout each level there are a couple of bonus Challenge Modes which can only be described as ‘living up to their name’.

Overall, this is a brilliant, little game which holds attraction to any arcade lover of any age or skill level. The final stages are impossibly hard, but the ability to replay certainly replaces any frustration with a sense of satisfaction that has placed Titan Attacks as a very strong competitor within its field – certainly worth trying out for yourself.

Buy it from Steam here

Try it or Buy it from Puppy Games’ website here