Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Rebellious

Surprise! I finished another game. I forgot to mention last time that I'd been playing Rebel Galaxy on and off for a while, and I put it to bed last night. It's a funny old game; apparently it was made by just two people, which is super impressive for what it is, but does also explain some of its failings. First up, what is it. It's a flying, shooting, trading, exploring space opera. Think along the Elite/Privateer lines and you're pretty much there. Uniquely, though, this isn't fully three-dimensional - you only travel along a single plane. It's a bit more like a driving sim that they swapped the road backdrop out and replaced it with a star field. (I have a theory that it may have been based on a driving game engine, but I could be wrong.) So, you can only turn left and right, not up and down. That sounds insane in a space game, but actually I got used to it pretty quickly. Other objects - enemies, meteors, etc. - can move above and below you, giving the feeling of three-dimensionality, but you're still glued to your single plane.

How do you fight when enemies can swoop and dive around you and you can only turn in a lumbering circle to try and track them? Luckily, you have two (well, three including missiles) ways of attacking, broadside cannons and turrets. Broadside cannons are powerful but can only be fired sideways so you have to turn side-on to your quarry, while turrets can track and fire at targets all around you. You can choose which of these you want to be in charge of, letting the other cannons auto-fire. While it's kind of fun to act out your star wars fantasies of being Luke in the Millenium Falcon turret, I found it much easier to let the computer handle the turrets, while I concentrated on flying and firing off a broadside every now and then when I got the chance. Combat is mostly fun and visceral, but it's rapidly apparent that kiting is the best strategy. The ships that you buy are mostly big and slow, and as you upgrade them they get bigger and slower, so you never really want to just fly into the thick of things bobbing and weaving because a) you can't bob and weave, and b) you can't dodge a laser. Flying directly into a firefight against a well-armed foe will mostly just get you killed, so you're better off trying to lead a couple of ships away from the main party at a time and slowing whittling them down. It's a bit of a missed opportunity because playing something nimble would have been fun, but it makes sense in-universe. If you want better shields you need a bigger ship, and bigger ships don't behave in the same way as smaller ones. You'll end up flying the equivalent of a well-armed oil tanker, which is fun in its own way, but doesn't scratch that specific space opera itch.

In terms of setting, they've gone for a kind of wild-west feel with twanging cowboy guitars with a battered, crumpled look to the universe and the people in it. It's a good fit and adds to the ambience of the world they're building, but I have to admit I turned the music off after a while because it got a bit samey and was a bit of a distraction. I prefer space to be a quiet place.

So, for the most part you're flying between systems doing delivery quests and earning enough money to upgrade the various parts of your ship. Stuff is expensive and doesn't make any really noticeable difference (other than upgrading the ship itself), so it gets grindy really quickly. Also, the quests themselves don't really change (that's where I think the depth of the game suffered from only having two developers) so no matter where in the galaxy you go you're mostly doing the same thing over and over. There is a main quest that pulls you along for a while, but actually you don't need to grind that much to finish it, and once you're finished...what else are you going to do? The ending itself was also really meh, you finish the quest, you have a chat, and you're left to carry on flying around. So, yeah, good while it lasted, but I think I'm done.

Next up on the randometer is...WaxWorks! Interesting. I remember this well from when it was released - a kind of adventure horror thing, similar to the Elvira games. I had one of the Elvira games, but I don't think I ever played WaxWorks. I'm also going to make a start on the King Arthur game series and see if I can make some headway there.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Clockwork soda robots

Well that didn't go well. Here we are near the end of March and the world is almost unrecognisable. Games are the last thing on my mind while I'm worrying about where we're going to get food from. Free time is pretty much non-existent - I'm working mornings and evenings so I can spend some time looking after the kids during the day, and the odd hour I do get is just a smeared, bleary-eyed crash of time curled on the sofa. Does that mean I'm not thinking about games at all? Of course not. I'm pining for a return to normality, and games are a defining feature of my normal life. I've been thinking of starting up a new gaming project even crazier than this one - I know it's my brain trying to run away from the real world; trying to escape into a dream life of unending electronic entertainment, but who wouldn't want to escape this?

Anyway, I didn't come here to whine. I came here to catalogue the games I was playing pre-covid-cataclysm so I wouldn't completely forget them. I mentioned in my last post that I was playing a few 'snack' games, and I think I mostly finished three of them. First up was Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink. This was a really simple hidden object game, but sometimes that's what you need. I actually find them quite relaxing as a way to turn your brain off for a while. Not really much more to say, it had a story, I played through it, I found all the objects.

Next up was Soda Dungeon. This is one of those 'idle games' ported over from mobile. There are no micropayments in the Steam version (you still can buy in-game currency in bulk, but why would you?) so it's just an auto-grind. Again, something you can do with your brain on snooze. You choose a set of characters, equip them, start them off on their dungeon journey and then go away and do something else for a few hours. When you come back, they're either all dead or they completed the dungeon run - whichever it is, you still end up with a bunch of loot at the end that you then pour into incrementally powerful abilities for exponentially more money. As far as I can tell, there is no end to it. I've made it to the last zone, but from what I've read it's just endless so I'm going to count it as done.

The final game I played was Robothorium. This is a very light RPG where you send a group of robots on missions and slowly level them up. There's a hard level limit that my bots hit long before the end of the game, which is always disappointing. That doesn't mean the fights get any easier, as the enemies scale as you progress. I made it through to the final boss, but as far as I can tell it's functionally impossible to beat it with my current set up. Essentially, all enemies in the game have shields and health. Once you do enough damage to drain their shields you start to remove their health, and once their health is gone they're destroyed. Enemies regain a bit of shield (and sometimes health) at the beginning of their turn. Your characters work in the same way. The gimmick with the final boss is that it recovers a huge amount of its shield every turn, and it has a huge shield to begin with. My characters don't do enough damage each turn to offset the amount it's healing. The boss also isn't doing enough damage to me that I can't recover every turn so we're at a stalemate. I can see what I need to do to defeat it - you can find certain weapon types that do a little damage to an enemy's body at the same time as a little damage to its shield, so I could chip away at its health even while it restores its shield - but those weapons are rare and only found in random drops at the end of fights. I started grinding out fights to try and earn the weapons, but hadn't got anywhere after a few hours of trying. As mentioned, I'm also already at max-level, so the grinding has absolutely no material benefit, which is fairly soul destroying. So, even though I'd actually really like to finish this one, I think I'm going to have to call it a day and drop it.

That's it for now. Who knows when the next update will be. My aim is to carry on with Rebel Galaxy when I can. Stay safe everyone, my thoughts go out to you.