Preview: Redshirt – or – How to enjoy Social Networking without joining Facebook!

I’ll start by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining I found Redshirt and it’s life-sim style gameplay to be.  Published by popular indie game developer Cliff Harris and his one man indie game studio Positech Games, I already had an idea that this was a game about social networking in a sci-fi setting, but I was finally able to jump in and play the beta preview build of the game for the first time over the past few days.  Simply reading about it, seeing screenshots, and then watching the newest trailer made me curious about it’s gameplay.  But I wondered, would it be the type of game that I could get into?

I’m not a big fan of Facebook.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the appeal of social networking and connecting with friends and family, particularly when you haven’t seen or heard from some of them in a long time.  I like the fact that you can almost instantaneously contact and connect with people, sharing your trials and tribulations, a simple joke and a hardy laugh with one-another, discussing who’s going to win the next big match, or mentioning that cool new song you heard on the radio.

But I don’t know… Facebook just isn’t appealing to me.  I’m not a fan of it’s cluttered and messy user interface, nor do I like the fact that I don’t have total control over my own profile, let’s say I want to leave and delete my account and info for example. Why would you want to leave the service though?  Especially when helpful information can be acquired through the connections you have with other people.  However, reading that someone just finished eating a peanut butter and chili sandwich, had a bowel movement the size of Godzilla, or discovered a new youtube video they’d like to share of someone creating origami with their buttcheeks (though I must admit, that would be mildly interesting), are just the sort of things that don’t float my boat.

I’ve thought quite a bit about why I’m just not a big fan of Facebook.  I’ve asked myself what could it possibly be that turns me off of this so-called “service”.  Is it a service that is mostly for girls and women?  Statistically, female users might outnumber the male users, but not by much, and that can’t be it because I have plenty of male friends and relatives who log-in regularly.  Am I too old?  Nah, I’m still young at heart and I enjoy discovering new technologies and applications, plus I play with toys (hey, I have two young sons… honest!).  Am I anti-social?  I’m a gamer – OF COURSE I’M ANTI-SOCIAL!!!  Next question!

Whatever it is, and as popular as Facebook is, I know I’m not alone.  Perhaps it’s the whole human element and the necessity people feel to participate in an unending popularity contest.  I don’t want to compete for other peoples approval, nor do I feel like I have to.  I’m very much my own person and for the most part I’m happy with myself and the way that I already do connect with friends, relatives, and new associates or acquaintances.  When the time is right and I think that Facebook provides the kind of service that I simply can’t do without, I’ll probably jump aboard much like everyone else.  Until then however, I’m going to play Redshirt.

The gameplay in Redshirt is a lot like creating your own Sci-Fi soap opera.  The story is mostly about you, a guy or girl, living life as a lowly bogroll technician aboard a huge Deep Space 9 style space station, while trying to expand your friends list, seek a romantic relationship or two, advance your career, engage in planned events, and ultimately sustain popularity, ergo happiness, by using the space stations vast social network called Spacebook.  You’ll find many of the things that people are looking for in real life social networking, but you’ll also find an intriguing, humorous, and thoughtful take on social networking as a game

Redshirt is mostly a casual affair, and it does offer players quite a bit of freedom over their choices, but it also involves a bit of strategy.  If you want to befriend the right people, be they human or alien, who can open up new career opportunities and connections for you, then you’ll have to play the popularity game and schmooze just the right people along the way.  This involves attending the right events, making the right connections, inviting people over for drinks, and posting nice comments on other character’s Spacebook profiles.  By acquiring new interests and meeting characters with similar interests, you can expand your own network which can lead to new relationships, opportunities, glory, and happiness.

Having a lot of friends does have its benefits, but there are some downsides as well.  If you neglect or ignore your friends, or the people you’re romantically involved with, they’ll begin to feel that neglect and this changes their attitude toward you.  Some characters simply won’t become friends with you until you share similar interests or have more of the same friends.  Aside from the other characters in the game, you’ll also need to focus on yourself and keep an eye on things such as your own health.

At times you’ll need to make healthier choices, such as not eating the space lobster with its side order of super-gluten garlic bread, and start dining at the healthier restaurants aboard the station.  At other times, you’ll just want to let it all hang out, drink heavily, and have fun with your friends in order to increase your happiness, while embarrassing yourself along the way of course.  There are choices to be made and a lot of freedom when making them.  To buy, or not to buy the Turbo-Mop or the RoboCat, that is the question.

At the beginning of the game, players can choose to create a custom character.  You’ll pick the gender and even the species you want your character to be.  The gameplay is turn-based and allows players a few action points with which to use each turn.  Within a turn players can check their messages, write on other character’s Spacebook walls, send out friend requests, attend a myriad of events, and even shop for useful items that can provide short-term or long-term benefits.

There are ton of options to choose from, though not all of them are available in the early game.  A number of random events and situations turn up on the space station from time to time and they can have an affect on the overall atmosphere and attitudes among the variety of characters you’ll meet as well.  Although Redshirt is mostly a casual game, there is a depth to the choices you make and the amount of situations you’ll find your character in, adding some simple fun but strategic elements as well.

You’ll do a lot of pointing and clicking throughout Redshirt, and the majority of the clicking is done within a GUI (graphical user interface) that, oddly enough, resembles another very popular social network you may have heard about.  However, I found that learning to navigate Spacebook and it’s many social aspects, functions, and features, was more intuitive, user-friendly, and fun than actually using Facebook.  Interestingly, Redshirt has a colorful cartoon-like quality in its appearance that works well with the overall tone of it’s gameplay and life-sim / imitation social networking.

I wish I could pinpoint exactly what it is that makes Redshirt so appealing to this 30-something male gamer.  I can honestly say that everything I find annoying or off-putting about Facebook, I find humorously interesting and entertaining within Redshirt.  It’s entirely fictional and it leaves a lot to the players own imagination, but in many ways it mimics what we know about social networking and some of the silly uses we’ve found for it.  Redshirt is all about the popularity contest, connecting with new characters, achieving life goals, and being silly along the way.  It does a great job providing a mix of casual and strategic gameplay coupled with a healthy dose of satirical entertainment.

If this sounds interesting to you then you should definitely head over to the Redshirt official website where you can pre-order the game and then download the beta version today.  You might just find yourself as pleasantly surprised and entertained as I was!

Blooprent – a FREE particle based puzzler

Looking for a fun puzzle game experience that won’t cost you very much?  Well, look no further.  Developed by David Joslin, Blooprent is one such fun, and entirely free, puzzler that is based on getting particles from one area of a level to another.  You’ve probably played the “get object from point A to point B” type of puzzle before, but Blooprent is different.  In it, players will need to build complex systems in order to guide the particles.  Players will make use everything from solid blocks, ice blocks, conveyor belts, fans, moving hydraulic parts, and more, in order to create the most effective pathway for the particles to travel.  Your objective is to reach the goal by manipulating these objects while guiding the particles through pathways that you must invent and create.  In some cases that’s simpler said than done.

The game introduces players to the core mechanics of gameplay slowly over the course of the early levels.  As players progress though, they will also learn how to combine these objects to make some interesting and complex designs.  Players are also graded on their performance: how many entities were used, how many dots lost, and the time it took for the dots to reach the goal.  It’s kind of hard to compare the gameplay to anything else since it is pretty unique, but the first impressions I had with the game made me think of The Incredible Machine meets Mercury Metldown, although I found Blooprent to be a more enjoyable and cerebral puzzle game experience.  Obviously, the best part about Blooprent is that it’s free, meaning anyone and everyone should download and play the game, at least giving it a try.  If being free wasn’t enough, Blooprent also comes with an in-game map editor that allows you to create your own levels and upload them for others to play.

Be sure to check out the Blooprent official website for more detailed info and give this fun and free puzzle game a try!

Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action – Review

Aces Wild

developed by (Tyler Doak) Culture Attack Studio

I’ve got a confession to make.  I love videogames!  There I said.  Well, maybe I should elaborate a little.  Aces Wild is the type of game that could make you fall in love with videogames.  This is a gamers game and it’s the type of game that gamers my age grew up with during the first console war (SNES vs Genesis – you remember).  It’s an all out 2D side-scrolling action-brawler-beat’em-up embracing a no-holds-barred attitude and flair that you don’t often see these days.  It’s fast-paced, requires excellent gamer reflexes, looks fantastic, and packs one hell of an awesome punch, with it’s punishing but highly addictive gameplay.  Aces Wild represents the kind of game you’d watch in awe as a kid, just wishing you could do all of those fancy fighting moves in real life!  Rip that bad-guy ninja a new rectum?  Yes please!

Let’s start off with the story shall we?
A group of Ninja.  A huge tournament.  Lots of fighting.  Whoever wins obtains title of Grand Master Badass.  Winner also earns deed to Ninja clan land and legacy.  You’re a true heir to the clan.  You must win.  Honor.  Yadda-yadda-yadda.  Alright, now lets go perforate some bad guys!  Yes, it’s the nonsensical fluff-filled kind of story you’d expect from an Action / Beat’em up.  This beat’em up however, is anything but mindless and it’s a ton of frickin fun!

If you can’t already tell, Aces Wild is all about putting the big hurt on the bad guys and doing it as quickly and powerfully as possible.  It sounds simple enough, but Aces Wild adopts the oldschool style of gameplay where quickly learning the controls and grasping the core mechanics, combined with a bit of trial and error, are requisite to gameplay progression.  Aces Wild is challenging in all of the right ways and punishing to those who mistake it for a simple button-masher.  If you’re able to pick up the nuances behind the fighting and action, then you’ll find that Aces Wild is a very rewarding experience.  This is the type of game that will either leave you feeling like you’re an awesome gamer with exceptional skills, or feeling like perhaps you should’ve stuck with those simple match-3 or solitaire style games.

When starting a new game, players may choose one of three characters: Ace Wilder, Gene Drift, and Eagle Morris.  Each character has their own attacks and fighting style.  Ace utilizes a flurry of rapid punches and kicks that can lead to large combos while pressuring the enemy.  Gene wields a long sword that can hit a bunch of enemies around him from a number of angles.  Eagle uses a mix of get in – get out tactics that allow him to quickly rush through his enemies while using his short sword.

Although each of these characters have a unique fighting style, they also share some common movements and traits.  Each character can hit with a light attack, a hard attack, and a charged power attack.  More importantly, these characters can also dash and dodge.  Attacking is simple enough and is done by approaching an enemy, or a handful of enemies, and then launching a frenzy of quick attacks mixed with hard attacks and the occasional finisher.  What might at first seem like simple action is offset by the challenge that comes from dodging the enemies attack or counterattacks.  In order to keep the combos going at a fast and furious pace, players must learn to utilize the dash and dodge mechanics if they want to keep the fluidity of combat going and prevent the enemy from taking advantage of any openings.

Combat isn’t only about hitting the enemy though.  As players press forward and perform combos, their power meter goes up.  This power meter gives the player a damage multiplier and also allows for more powerful combos, hard attacks, and the ability to unleash their quick finisher or power move.  These finishers themselves aren’t the life saver you might think they are, but they can create some distance between you and the enemy.  However, unleashing this finishing power move will replenish some of your health.  It’s very important that players learn to use this tactic in regaining some of their health back at the right time as it becomes a strategic and defensive maneuver, more so than the damage and space given by the finisher itself.

Of course, like all good things, it must come to an end.  Once you use this finisher move, your power meter depletes and you’ll need to quickly rack up more combos in order to refill said meter.  There’s definitely a mix of ying-and-yang gameplay going on here, and players will quickly find themselves pressured and overwhelmed if they aren’t able to achieve the kind of kung-fu-ballet that one needs to perform in order to proceed through each new stage and subsequent level.  If you’re willing to learn the combo/dodge/dash sequence of movements you’ll quickly find yourself engaged in some of the best action this side of the old arcade beat’em ups.

Learning how to play the game is only one aspect though.  Next you’ll need to learn how the enemy attacks.  The enemies are varied and numerous.  Most of them attack in patterns that aren’t difficult to learn, but do become increasingly tough to master the further you get in the game.  Thankfully, each enemy in the game has a “tell” that alerts the player to an incoming attack, giving them just enough time to tap the dodge button or key, allowing them to continue the beating and follow up with a combo or quickly dash to safety.  Things become more complicated as you encounter more and more powerful enemies though.  You’ll encounter mid-boss type characters along the way, and if you think they test your skills and reflexes, just wait till you face the real bosses located at the end of each level.  The bosses are the true test of everything you’ve learned and I had a lot of fun trying to fight and figure out their patterns.

There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not computer games should be played with a keyboard and mouse, or gamepad.  In the case of Aces Wild, I’d say that the gamepad is hands down the winner.  You absolutely should play Aces Wild with a gamepad.  It plays and feels like a classic console game, but definitely deserves the respect of hardcore PC gamers as well.  The keyboard works just fine, and the controls are very responsive no matter which method of game control you decide to use, but I found that Aces Wild was at its best while I was using my Xbox 360 controller.

There are various difficulty levels for players to choose from.  I chose to play through using the default “sassy!” difficulty level.  The campaign takes place across 7 varied levels made up of about half a dozen stages each.  It isn’t an extremely long game, but there are plenty of reasons for multiple playthrus.  Speed runs, boss rush mode, local co-op, completing the campaign with all 3 characters, beating your own score, and just playing the game again because it’s so damn fun are just some of the reasons why Aces Wild has a lot of replay value.

Graphics and Sound:
Aces Wild is one slick looking game.  The character graphics, enemies, and backgrounds look great, but it’s when everything is moving and the action starts that Aces Wild looks truly impressive.  The character animation and stylish combos catch the eye in the type of way that attracts even those gamers who aren’t very good at this type of game.  Even if the anime art style isn’t your thing, this is the type of game you watch and can’t help but want to try it out based on how good the action looks.  Aces Wild is much like a Dragon Ball Z Fanboy spectacle, everything goes over 9000!!!

If I have any slight criticisms it’s that Aces Wild has so much action that, at times, it’s easy to lose track of your character amidst the blur of combat, but it’s still not so bad that I couldn’t complete the game.  The only other thing that might stand out a bit is that some of the stage backgrounds come off as a bit dull, but this is only noticeable when you’re not engaged in a frenzied melee, and that happens very rarely.

The audio is quite good as well.  The playable characters are fully voiced, and even some of the bosses have some great voice work added for extra flair.  The soundtrack is also fast paced and intense.  It’s a pumping soundtrack that encourages the sort of knuckles-to-face kind of gameplay.  Luckily, the music avoids being annoying or distracting, which often becomes the case in action games and brawlers of this type.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve played an action beat’em up that was so much frenetic fun.  I’d go so far as to say that Aces Wild is as good as other modern beat’em ups such as Castle Crashers, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World.  If you can imagine those games, merged with a 2D version of the more recent Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry series, you’d have a pretty good idea of how Aces Wild plays.  Culture Attack Studio has done an awesome job with Aces Wild by flaunting everything we love about the somewhat familiar gameplay while keeping the game engaging and challenging without having to sacrifice the fun factor.  Games like this are demanding in that they require fast reflexes, they also have highly addictive gameplay, and every so often, you come across an action brawler of this type which is also unique.  This best describes Aces Wild and my experience with it in a nutshell.

With it’s precise controls, challenging yet rewarding gameplay, stylish graphics and sound, Aces Wild is a game that is easy to recommend to gamers.  It’ll test your mettle, even if you’re an experienced gamer, but Aces Wild is a memorable experience that will keep you coming back for more, even as you fail, time and time again.

Only available on PC at the moment, you can buy Aces Wild right now for just $9.99 through the Aces Wild website via the Humble Store.  I’d also recommend that you up-vote Aces Wild over on the Steam Greenlight page!  Go now, your inner badass awaits!

[   9   /   10   ]


Preview: Heroes of a Broken Land

There’s no lack of great indie games out their these days, and Heroes of a Broken Land is a particularly fine example of a great turn-based Role-Playing Game.  Still in the alpha stages and being developed by Winged Pixel, Heroes of a Broken Land, or HOBL, is made up of the greatest gameplay elements found in classic RPG experiences.  It’s a fantastic mix of classics such as Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Master, Heroes of Might and Magic, Wizardry and even a few modern titles such as Legend of Grimrock and other turn-based RPG’s.  Fans of these classics will almost immediately fall in love with Heroes of a Broken Land and it’s classic Role-Playing feel.

Heroes of a Broken Land Alpha 0.4.0 – Desura

HOBL features procedurally generated worlds, so every time you start a new game, you’re also creating a brand new game world.  Players also create an initial party of adventurers that is made up of the usual class types such as Fighters, Mages, Rogues, and Priests.  Once your party is created you may start your adventure and begin exploring the world.  Along the way you’ll recruit new heroes, form new parties, and discover new classes.

There are two main areas to explore in HOBL, the overworld and dungeons.  The overworld is explored from a top-down point of view and is also where you’ll build, upgrade, and defend your main town.  This town is important because it will act as a hub of sorts, where you can recruit new party members, discover new spells, and purchase weapons and armor.  As you explore the overworld you’ll discover other towns, dungeons, and need to be prepared for a number of random encounters, some of which give you access to new items and gold that can then be used to upgrade your main town or hire new party members.

The second type of area you’ll be exploring are towers and dungeons.  These areas are explored from a first person perspective.  You’ll spend the majority of your time delving into the labyrinth-like dungeons that are scattered throughout the world.  This is where the majority of combat takes place as well.  Towers and dungeons aren’t all about combat though, you’ll also need to disarm traps, solve puzzles, and locate important items and loot.  Fans of the classic RPG genre will feel right at home with the tile-based exploration and turn-based combat.

It’s obvious that Heroes of a Broken Land is still in early development, but I love all of the gameplay features and the combination of classic RPG flavors that are already being offered.  The game has simple but charming graphics that show their inspiration, but even at this stage of development, the game contains a rich atmosphere that will draw RPG fans right into the fantasy game world.  I personally love the graphics but I think that’s partially due to nostalgia, however, the visuals are further enhanced by the excellent soundtrack which further enriches the atmosphere.  There are multiple layers to the gameplay and mechanics that are both deep and engaging.  These are the kinds of attributes that are only present in great Role-Playing games.  After spending a few hours with it, I believe Heroes of a Broken Land has the potential to be a huge hit with indie and RPG fans.

Heroes of a Broken Land Features:

  • Unlimited worlds – a new, procedural world is generated for each game
  • A large overworld to explore
  • Multiple parties of up to 6 heroes each
  • Complex quests and dungeons, including secret rooms, nefarious traps and puzzles
  • First person dungeon crawling action in a variety of dungeon types and layouts
  • Town management and construction
  • 15 playable classes and races, each with unique powers and abilities
  • Much more!

If you’re a fan of RPG’s you absolutely must check out Heroes of a Broken Land.  With the Beta version fast approaching, you can pre-order Heroes of a Broken Land and gain early access to the current version and all future updates via Desura or the Winged Pixel website.  You can also play an early alpha version of the game in your web browser through the developer’s website.  The alpha is a little rough around the edges, but it does give you a ‘taste-test’ of the actual gameplay while showing off some of what makes Heroes of a Broken Land so special and why it’s an RPG you definitely want to keep an eye out for!

Redshirt – the sci-fi-comedy-life-sim is now available for pre-order and beta!

Developed by The Tiniest Shark and published by fellow indie studio Positech Games, Redshirt is a new comedy life-sim set in the future, which is all about mingling, schmoozing, and networking with fellow crew members aboard a busy space station through it’s vast social network.  This is a unique simulation that both embraces and pokes fun at social networking and the culture we know, love, and sometimes hate, in a futuristic sci-fi setting.  I haven’t had the opportunity to try Redshirt out yet, but I love the idea, and it certainly looks and sounds like a lot of fun.  Once you watch the high-quality Redshirt trailer I think you’ll agree.

Although The Tiniest Shark is a fairly new indie studio, that many gamers still haven’t heard of (I’m sure this will change with the release of Redshirt), they are being backed by one of the UK’s longest running, and very popular indie game studios, Positech Games.  The same one-man team (with a bit of help from contract artists), Positech is responsible for a great many well known and successful indie titles such as Gratuitous Space Battles, Democracy, and the Kudos series of games.  This is a big release for The Tiniest Shark, but based on everything I’ve seen and read about Redshirt, this looks like the type of game that any gamer can jump into, and one that even newcomers or casual gamers alike, can pick-up, play and enjoy.

Redshirt is currently available for pre-order, and by doing so, you’ll get instant access to the latest Beta version, including all future updates.  Redshirt will also be available on Steam.  Any customers who pre-order the game through the official Redshirt website will receive a Steam key for use upon the final release of the game.  After many months of plugging away, The Tiniest Shark and Positech Games are set to release the full game (hopefully) some time during September.  Learn more by heading over to Positech Games or the Redshirt website where you can also pre-order the game today.  You might also want to follow the latest development news and updates which you’ll find over at The Tiniest Shark’s development blog.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – Scare yourself s!&#less this September!

Dear Esther indie development studio, The Chinese Room, and Frictional Games, who are best known for Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the equally scary, but slightly lesser known, Penumbra series, have teamed up to bring you what could quite possibly be the scariest game to come out this year, and perhaps even the next few years.  Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is slated for release on September 10th, which should provide plenty of sleepless nights more than a full month before Halloween even gets here.

If you’re afraid of the dark and you scare easily, or simply can’t stomach intense thrillers and psychological horrors, then I suggest you discontinue reading right now.  Those of you who  still proudly wear your adult diapers after having made your way through the first Amnesia game brace yourself, and get ready to delve back into the horror with cold sweats, scream inducing jump scares, and the kind of fear that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand.  Prepare to make an early appointment with your vascular specialist.  To the few gamers that are not yet acquainted, but are still curious about the games in this series, Amnesia has been labelled as one of the scariest games in the history of gaming!  Keep reading and be sure to watch the entire trailer below to find out why.

I love a good horror game, particularly the type of horror game that invokes fear of the unseen and the unknown.  I’ve always felt that true dread can be caused by simple things, such as the dark things that go bump in the night, things you know are dangerous, but things that can’t always see… until it’s too late of course.  Amnesia: The Dark Descent was this type of game.  It’s a game that leaves the player feeling completely alone and entirely vulnerable, especially due to the fact that the protagonist has no way of fighting back.  The only thing a helpless hero can do is run, hide, and hope that the horror passes.  But then, even when you think you’re safe, you really aren’t.  Frictional games was able to deliver this feeling of dread and terror by creating a dark, but extremely rich atmosphere, and merged it with a well crafted tale, while enveloping the player in intense and terrifying gameplay.

You need no prior knowledge of Amnesia: The Dark Descent to enjoy A Machine For Pigs, but it’s certainly recommended that you play it before hand.  You can pre-order Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs through Steam and a number of other popular gaming portals.  Be sure to visit the Official website for additional game info where you’ll also find an older, but equally frightening, game trailer!  Prepare to be scared s#!tless on September 10th!

Edit:  I almost forgot to mention that if you pre-order Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs now you’ll be saving yourself 20% per cent off!  So don’t hesitate!