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8.29.2020

Outbreak: The New Nightmare: PS4 Review: Retro Resident Evil-like Survival Horror

     Outbreak: The New Nightmare is the result of solo indie developer Evan Wolbach's Drop Dead Studios, and is a callback to a bygone era of horror games.  Based on the old Resident Evil games of the 90s, it focuses on surviving a zombie apocalypse after being dropped into the middle of things and having to just figure it out.  There are no saves, no checkpoints, and no clues- you get dropped in completely blind and have to put in the leg work to finish entire levels in one go as all true survival horror games make you do.

     The PS4 version comes with 6 playable characters, each with their own benefits and detractions- one might start with a good weapon and better healing, while another has a much larger inventory, and another could have some poison immunity or higher weapon damage.  Though each character earns experience and can unlock skills over tries of play time.

     There's a slew of potential play options with 16 scenarios spread over 3 different game modes- there's the typical story campaign, an "experimental mode," and the kill everything you can "onslaught mode."  They each have their particular plus sides, and honestly, I enjoyed the onslaught mode- simple zombie killing fun- and that's coming from someone that is notorious for being a lore hunting enthusiast.

     Outbreak really hits the mark with the retro look with the atmosphere and fixed-camera angles, setting up a feel that was quite era specific.  I was never a fan of that aspect of the Resident Evil games, but I fully appreciate the way it effected the game and experience.  It adds a level of perspective that fits the survival horror genre nicely.  I always preferred the later 3rd person perspective level of immersion more that RE4 shifted to.  The fixed camera angles do present one big issue and it's with the controls.  The controls are just as clunky as they were back in the day- running down a hallway, having the perspective shift, then you run immediately back to where you were and likely a zombie you were fleeing is frustrating as hell.  

     Another issue is the inventory management.  You only have a very, VERY limited inventory- which feels absurdly ridiculous.  Like 4 items for the standard character, and why does an assault rifle take the same inventory as a handgun?  This is made worse by the fact that there appears to be a bug with item combining.  There were items I KNOW I should've been able to combine (as I own the games on Steam as well), but could not actually combine them.  In addition, I must also note that the Playstation Trophies seem to be bugged as well. I killed at least 50 enemies and healed probably 40 times and neither of those trophies popped (nor did the kill your first undead trophy).  The only one that popped was the first death achievement.  Anyways, there's a lot of small annoyances, but in reality, that actually adds a layer of frustration that unintentionally is a perfect call back to the genre Outbreak is mimicing! 

     But back to inventory management, the biggest issue is that unlike the Resident Evil games, you HAVE to kill these undead.  You can't run by them because they'll follow you- so you are forced to kill them and waste ammo.  It's also an issue that you can't outrun them either, they are a bit too fast and will follow you through entire areas.  It seems like a massive imbalance.  Luckily items you need glow on screen (or are visible on the map, because they are hidden behind pillars or something).  So at least that's one nicety to ease the struggle.

      This was a tough review to do.  On one hand Outbreak: The New Nightmare is a janky mess with old graphics, terrible controls, and some serious imbalance/inventory management issues.  But on the other, the developer absolutely nailed the exact feel of the old games it was based on.  It has the lack of resources and resource management, it has the mystery of piecing together what you need to do, and the old fixed-cameras that add a level of intrigue to the experience by making it feel like you're viewing it through security camera footage.  It really is a great callback to those old games.

     In the end, I can heartily recommend this game, but sadly, I can only recommend it for a very specific demographic- those that grew up in, and truly enjoy, those old 90s era survival horror games that Outbreak is focused on imitating.  Some may disagree, but despite its myriad of flaws, Outbreak: The New Nightmare is still a wonderful effort by a solo developer in bringing us a retro-inspired survival horror game that truly captures the feel of the old games, and if you were a fan of them, I'd definitely say give it a shot.

     Outbreak: The New Nightmare is available on the [ Playstation Store ] for $12.99

     Future installments on the way are as follows:

     Outbreak: Epidemic on Sept. 10

     Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles on Sept. 24

     Outbreak: Lost Hope on Oct. 8

     Outbreak on Oct. 22

     *Review Copy provided, thank you!

7.21.2020

Terraforming Earth: A Genuine Procedurally-Generated, Puzzle-Platforming Pleasure

     It isn't often I come across a game so lovely and well put together that I'm taken aback. Terraforming Earth is exactly that type of game.  It's a beautifully stylized, procedurally-generated, puzzle-platforming game completely loaded with heaps of style and charm.


     The premise is that something has gone awry and life on Earth has been eliminated.  Three robots are sent in to remedy this terrible situation and bring life back to the dead planet.  What makes this so wonderful, not including the charm of the robots (who are considerably more entertaining than Portal 2's Atlas and P-Body), is that you can play infinitely and never have repeat levels.  It's a puzzle-platforming gamer's heaven- infinite puzzles to be solved.  Sure, you'll be bringing life to a dead planet, but those puzzles, that's where it's at.

     The levels are each a puzzle to solve in gathering supplies or completing a task.  In doing this, each of the 3 core robots you use to solve the puzzles has an ability to aid in these tasks.  The blocky blue bot (Opi) can lift, jump, and throw things, the yellow orb bot (Curi) can hover and fly at a certain height, and the triangular pink bot (Spiri) can make short range teleports.  Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but pretty early in the game the puzzle difficulty starts compounding rapidly.  It should be noted that, that statement is NOT a complaint.  I had a few puzzles within the first couple hours that really pushed some abstract thinking- in particular, I had to use the blue robot to throw the yellow bot over a wall and let it fall to a certain height and then hover it all the way across the map to land on a platform.
     That small change made me really explore and reconsider the levels as a whole, and it was a truly wonderful experience- you can't simply look at it as necessarily a step by step process.  Sometimes you have to backtrack or think way outside the box  It is rare that a puzzle can make you push the boundaries of "how" it can work, and it's made even more impressive that it was a procedurally-generated level- meaning the developers put in the extra effort to consider what many players might not have ever remotely thought of, and that sets it above so many other puzzle games.

     One thing that nagged me is the fact that procedural generation can have the potential to create levels that cannot be solved.  I personally had not encountered that issue in all the time I've put in, but it seems like a valid concern that will come up, and the longer I play the higher the probability.  The downside is you'd have to abandon the level, losing robots in the process, and possibly have to regain "Trust." The loss of robots isn't too awful, but the "trust" is a bit annoying.
     The Trust system itself seems a bit to harsh in that you can lose a bunch really fast, due to things outside your control, and then have to spend a ton of time rebuilding it.  Honestly, it needs a bit of tweaking, and definitely could use some better explanation in the game while you're playing.

     The story, which will likely take a backseat for many players, is to return life to the planet and figure out what actually occurred that wiped it all out in the first place.  Along the way there are plenty of hints- even right at the beginning of the game- and it's hard not to make comparisons to Wall-E, but Terraforming Earth really makes it their own here.  But what got and kept me intrigued was all the little banter between the army of robots you create along the way. They complain, comment, and offer tips as you are on your way to fixing the ruin the Earth has found itself in.  It isn't a ton of variety, but it adds a fun layer of AI's perspective on the situation and what should be done.  There's times when a bunch of them are talking over each other and their word bubbles overlap en masse.


     Overall, Terraforming Earth is a tremendously fun game.  The flaws are quite minor, and it is just fun to play.  It's got great music and sound design (the noise of Curi rolling around is outstanding in its own right), truly stunning hand-crafted art for visuals, clean and responsive controls.  The game is an all-around amazing experience.  I got stuck on puzzles and had to step away a bit, I lost robots through trial and error, but I never wanted to quit playing at any point.  As I said in the title for this review, Terraforming Earth is a genuine procedurally-generated, puzzle-platforming pleasure, and I highly recommend it.

     Terraforming Earth on [ Steam ]

     Their [ Official Site ] & [ Twitter ]

6.12.2020

Aqua Lungers: An In-the-Depths Review

     If you've ever heard that a game is easy to learn, but difficult to master- then you know the gist of Aqua Lungers.  The goal is simple- loot sunken wrecks for gold, and return it to your own treasure chest. The obstacles to that goal are small groups of annoying enemies that knock gold out of your hands and slow you down, large boss enemies that can one-shot you, and the absolute worst of the bunch- other players vying for that sweet, sweet gold!


     Players must navigate dangerous depths to break open sunken ships to obtain the golden treasures held within, and carry up to 10 bits at a time back to their stash.  It really is extraordinarily simple- get loot as fast as possible.  If you are attacked you drop some, if you die you lose it all.  A seemingly straightforward challenge.

     In a single player game, there'll be no other divers to beat you to the loot, but be warned there's significantly more enemies to make your expeditions troublesome.  And the bosses can collect gold as well.  I had a couple matches where the boss was collecting gold while the camera panned to the spawning area before I could get into the match.  A little frustrating, but still fun to try and loot the shipwrecks before being mutilated by giant monsters and their annoying little minions.
     There's also a boss mode, wherein the typically invincible bosses must be slain before the timer ends, and as soon as it dies, whoever has the most gold wins.  Players must find a balance between collecting gold, messing with opponents, and working cooperatively to kill the boss before the timer runs out.


     BUT!  What makes Aqua Lungers stand out even better is that players can change the parameters, which can drastically alter how you play.  The base amount of gold that must be looted per level is 3000 to win- but maybe you want a much longer game- crank it up to 10k!
     Would you like a time limit to dial up the pressure in a stressful rush to snag all that loot!  Turn the game into a "mad splash" to see who can grab the most gold in a minute! The winner in that event is whoever has the most gold when the timer hits zero.
    Making this just a little bit more difficult is the fact bosses can gather gold as well in all modes and can win a level.  So sometimes, it's best to play the long game and work cooperatively for a time to kill the boss before it gets the gold, because players cannot reach the next level without actually working together and regardless of who wins- as long as it isn't a boss monster.

     All players begin with a simple harpoon with a quick jab attack that can kill small enemies and slow down other players, as well as a charged attack that gives you a short dash and does increased damage.  It also serves as a wonderful tool to quickly escape from bosses and a makeshift jump when out of the water.  Players can break open little skull shrines strewn among the levels to obtain special items such as a bubble shield for damage protection, throwing spears for long-ranged stabbery, dynamite bundles to blow up friends and enemies alike, and- my personal favorite- spiked boomerangs that can all be flung around to stun and damage enemies/bosses/other players and then re-caught for repeated use.  The devs made a pretty brilliant move in making these item caches respawn items continually throughout the matches.  It offers a nice rotation of things to make the battle for loot that much more hilariously intense.

     As for critiques of the game, honestly there isn't much to complain about.  I did find it a bit odd that you can't play without a controller, and there isn't an inbuilt online multiplayer (there are workarounds with Parsec), and- I cannot speak for everyone on this- I like the idea of couch co-op & pvp, but how many people have up to 4 controllers for a PC setup?
     But I digress, these are minor gripes.  The game's fun factor more than compensates for these petty issues, especially in the versatility of modes when the players set their own rules.

     In the end, Aqua Lungers may be reminiscent of Smash Brothers, but the added co-op element makes it one of those truly special games that perfectly straddles the line between co-op and competition that sets it ahead.  Aqua Lungers is an absolute gem of a game from newcomers WarpedCore Studio, and offers a ton of fun and replayability, and so I can safely say that I highly recommend it.  You don't need to invest much time to enjoy it either, it's an easy game to pick up and play for short bursts- for 10 minutes or 10 hours- it's just a really great time in the field of silly, yet skilled, watery warfare.

     Aqua Lungers on [ Steam ] [ Nintendo Switch ]


*Review copy provided for me, thank you!