Hammerwatch Review

Hammerwatch is one of a number of games I started playing this last Christmas. It has been unplayed in my Steam library for years (I purchased it New Year’s day in 2014 for just over £2). It’s an indie, pixel art, 2D overhead dungeon crawler with loads and loads of enemies to kill. And unlike many games of its ilk isn’t a rogue-like and isn’t quite a twin stick shooter, although it arguably comes close.

The game has six different classes that can be selected and do have a noticeable impact on the gameplay. Each class has a different main attack and skills. And having played the Wizard followed by the Ranger I can say that the class can have an impact on the difficulty too. I found the Ranger easier with a better range on the main attack.

Hammerwatch screenshot from the PC version.

The levels are fairly large, easy to get lost within and can take a while to progress through with big boss battles breaking up the action towards the end of each chapter. Although it’s worth mentioning that while the game has two campaigns included to play through it does also have survival and wave-based modes as well.

I think this is a game that comes alive with other people although unfortunately I only played it solo. Although it’s fun I found the core gameplay loop can get repetitive quickly as ultimately most of the enemies have either one or two attack patterns. There are upgrades and a combo mechanic that can introduce slightly new elements to the gameplay but ultimately this is a very simple kill hordes of enemies and seek keys to unlock new areas. Although there are also some cool secrets to find.

There is a lot of content here and I do think the game has plenty of fun moments. The controls could be better though. This might just be the PC version but I tried both the Steam Controller and a Wireless Xbox 360 Controller. Essentially you have to use Right Trigger or A button to fire your main weapon, whilst using the left stick for movement and right stick for aiming. When you combine this with the extra skills that are on the front facing buttons (by default) it can make it overly complex to get everything working quickly as the gameplay requires. This felt like a game which is crying out for twin stick support. So shooting with the right analogue stick as well as aiming direction. I do think this change would immeasurably improve the gameplay albeit make the game slightly easier.

As an aside I’ve said recently the Steam Controller works well in certain games. Although I didn’t feel this was one of them. With the dual haptic pads, instead of sticks, I was often struggling to aim the 8 directional fire as easily as on dual analogue sticks although there is an almost unlimited customisation for the Steam controller to improves things.

I don’t currently score games as I generally just write up my feelings on the game in question but this would be a hard one to score overall. It is a simple fun old school 2D shooter which has a great visual style, nice audio, and great ending mechanic to ensure replayability and different modes to enjoy. However it does get samey, repetitive and feel overly simple. However the developer has continued to support the game years after release on PC which is to be commended. I would have personally enjoyed this game more with a better control scheme and I suspect this is more fun when played with someone else. However even just playing on my own I still played through to complete the campaign which is a sign that I had fun with this game.

Played the PC / Steam version.

The Division 2 Private Beta (Impressions)

I written before how I generally was a huge fan of the original game and how the The Division 2 was definitely on my radar for 2019 upcoming releases. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be included in the private beta after registering last year.

I played this on an Xbox One X despite having played the original on PC and these are my thoughts:

  • I’ve had a few bugs and glitches with enemies floating or zooming about once or twice. Also the game disconnected and crashed to the Xbox dashboard twice on the first hotel mission. And the ‘poor connection to host server’ message has appeared a lot suggesting the servers are struggling on Ubisoft’s side. When I’ve been disconnected both times I’ve had to start the whole mission again which was very annoying. At least Anthem would ask if I wanted to re-join the expedition to resume where I was when this happened.
  • Framerate seems fine (on Xbox One X) and as far as I could tell the didn’t fluctuate badly. I would guess the game is dynamic 2160p or 4K – scaling down the game’s resolution when required. On a personal note having played the original on PC I can’t say the drop from 60-100+ fps bothered me that much.
  • Like the original a very pretty game. It appears to recreate its location in stunning detail. Washington, D.C. might not be as iconic as New York City but the more open, green areas are welcome.
  • AR’s and SMG’s seem to have more recoil on them, almost like LMGs from the original game.
  • The map doesn’t seem any bigger than the original, although wider. I know Massive have said it is 20% bigger though.
  • The UI is very similar and very badly implemented. They feel like they are optimised for console/controller, over flashy, don’t use space well and are even more complex than the first game.
  • Although a new look the game seems to have the same enemies types in this, but again they try and flank and take cover etc. when they need to.
  • I also followed some friendly NPC’s around because it says they are scouting for water thinking it might be an organic side mission, but alas even with an enemy shootout there was no reward or anything.
  • I also could play everything so far solo (haven’t tried endgame stuff) but unsure if it scales up for groups.
  • It feels like there are more lootable objects hidden around which is good and encourages exploration.

Overall

Everything feels very similar to the first game; the way the story starts, the way you build the base, the gunplay, movement, skills, perks, echoes, audio recordings etc. It’s simply more of the first game as if the same template has just been lifted from the first one, and simply put into the new location with some minor changes. And whilst that’s great for fans of the game I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I personally wanted an Assassin’s Creed 2 or Mass Effect 2 style improvement.

This all feels so remarkably similar, that my hunch is that we are looking at more of the same. Meaning you are replaying the same mission content over, and over. Of course many will argue that is true of the genre but I very rarely have the same complaint of similar games like Warframe where it always feels like there is more actual content.

Of course as mentioned this is a demo/beta and the full game may unlock more new features. And I do think there is enough enjoyment here for hardcore fans of the original who will love this as it is more of the same. However whether irrationally or not I did burn-out on the original Division and I haven’t seen quite enough to buy at the initial asking price. Although I will likely purchase at some point in the future.

Which is good in some ways because there are other games that I am really looking forward to playing and my backlog is still as big as ever.

My Headphone Review Round-Up

Following a long-term recent review of my Creative Sound Blaster X7, I wanted to write about my thoughts on my current headphone line-up. Over the years I’ve used a number of good, bad, cheap and semi-expensive headphones along with various audio setups.

My current headphones include some of the more highly regarded stereo headphones in the entry to mid-price level that are often recommended for gaming. And seeing as I’ve just taken delivery of a new pair I though now was as good a time as any to go through them. Particularly as I have owned some of these for several years now.

The headphones reviewed here are:

  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
  • AKG K702
  • Sennheiser HD 598

Methodology explained

I’m not an audiophile so will try to outline my detailed impressions as clearly and as simply as I can.

  • These are all open backed headphones and let air into the headphones so you can hear the outside world, but the outside world can hear what you are listening to, i.e. sound leakage.
  • All have a wide soundstage and there is some similarity in how they handle videogame audio.
  • They are highly rated where it comes to positioning sounds for competitive multiplayer gaming.
  • None of these are ‘gaming’ headsets.
  • None of these include a built-in microphone so is something that needs to be factored in, whether it might be USB desk mic for PC gaming, or a detachable microphone like the Antlion ModMic. I rarely use a mic but it is something I will add in the future.

Although I have used some of these headphones with different external DAC & AMPs and Soundcards these have recently been used with my aforementioned Creative Sound Blaster X7 which has no trouble powering any of these headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

Purchased January 2019, £101 from Amazon UK

My latest purchase and currently using quite heavily with all audio sources. First of all the headphones are deceptively light but appear very well built. A mixture of metal and plastic they have a lovely mostly black look to them. The distinctive grey ear cushions particularly standing out. The main headband that connects each ear cup is metal with a mostly plastic finish on the earcups.

The headphones are comfortable (second only to the Sennheiser HD 598) although this is subjective. However despite the DT 990’s supposedly having more clamping pressure than other Beyerdynamic DT headphones, these don’t feel too tight to me. Indeed the fit is OK even after a few hours. The earcups are round and smaller than the other headphones mentioned here and this can mean the edge of the earcups sit on the ears. However like all of these headphones they are very comfortable overall.

The sound produced by these headphones has more bass than the other two. And the Low frequency sounds also have more presence and impact. This makes them more fun for gaming although they still have a wide soundstage. The separation of sounds isn’t quite as easy with these though. Although I am still getting used to the sound signature there is a vibrancy and brightness to the output that I like. I found these headphones more of a mixed bag when listening to music than the Sennheiser or AKG’s although there isn’t a lot in it and I might like these more over time.

The DT 990 Pro are 250 ohm headphones which means they need to be amplified and the Creative Sound Blaster X7 copes very well with them. The included cable isn’t detachable from the headset and is coiled. This can make the cable seem heavy and be irritating in certain scenarios.

AKG K702

Purchased July 2015, £137 from Amazon UK

At the time of writing this, these headphones are now only £105 on Amazon UK. So right in that competitive price bracket and can be directly compared to the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones. I’ve had this set for over three and half years and they are my favourite headphones. Mainly due to the neutral output and reference sound. But with a super wide soundstage it feels like you can hear everything going on around you with extreme clarity.

In terms of comfort they apply very little to no clamping pressure which means they can feel looser than other headphones particularly as they are so lightweight. The round ear cups are massive and the foam used is super plush on your ears. This is all good. However the K702 had a leather headband that adjusts when placed on your head. During prolonged wearing I find this feels like it’s pushing down on the top of my head. As long as I take a break or adjust the headphones I can get around this. Again they are very comfortable in the main and at least the K702’s lacks the bumps on the underside of the leather strap that the older models used to have.

The sound is very detailed and I find this makes them perfect for gaming and they are great for music too. They seem to thrive with Dolby Digital and SBX. There is no heavy bass and whilst this might make them less ‘fun’, I still really enjoy the sound. They seem to output the sound as the creator intended. They are renowned for being like a ‘god mode’ for competitive multiplayer games due to how easily you can make out where other players are.

The headphones include a detachable mini-XLR cable that can be replaced. One observation is that the small strings that support the leather band adjustment appear to be very thin in places on mine and therefore I imagine might break at some point. Therefore I think even though I treat all these things with kid gloves these headphones, whilst of high build quality, are more delicate than the other two models mentioned here. These have a 62 ohm impedance but I have use them with an Astro MixAmp or Laptop and whilst usable they can be improved with an amplifier to give that extra power. But either way my go to headphones for gaming for a while now.

Sennheiser HD 598

Purchased April 2012, £167.99 from Amazon UK

I’ve had these for nearly seven years. Although now discontinued there are similar models in Sennheiser’s current line-up. I used them for a long-time and are really very capable all-rounders. They excel at gaming, movies and music.

These are probably the most comfortable headphones I ever tried. The ear cups are Sennheiser’s instinctive oval shape and the headband has a soft material which you never feel. Again very light weight so they can be worn for hours. My only minor niggle is the ear cups aren’t as thick as other headphones and the inside of the earcups has no padding, not that your ear should touch this. The cable has a 2.5mm phone jack with a proprietary connector but can be disconnected. The beige and brown walnut look is distinctive but I can imagine not to everyone’s taste.

Again a very wide soundstage so making out where sounds are coming from isn’t an issue, which is ideal for gaming. They are fairly flat sound with little bass. Although the sound is not as neutral as the AKG K702 and warmer. As they have a 50 ohm impedance these are less fussy and don’t necessary need an amp but will be improved by one.

They aren’t as fun as the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s or as clinical as the AKG K702’s so as I don’t want to build a headphone collection I might sell these on. But again highly recommended and I do love their sound.

Summary

I feel like the AKG, Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser headphones I’ve mentioned cover some of the more popular models. The AKG K702 and Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro particularly represent some of the better value choices for headphones on the market although any of these headphones are a great purchase. I’m not personally convinced that spending two, three or many times more on expensive headphones would be worth it just for gaming.

Thoughts on other headphones

  • I did purchase Philips Fidelio X1 headphones in January 2014. The ear cup material was a harsh feeling velour but they were comfortable. I found the sound output a bit muddier, lacking some separation and heavier bass in comparison to my other headphones. I think they were better for music and movies than gaming. I sold them on 18-months later. It sounds like the newer Fidelio X2 headphones may have been improved but at much higher prices it puts them up against some tough competition in my view. Particularly models like the AKG K712 and Sennheiser HD 600 headphones.
  • I also had the Astro A40 headphones which I purchased with an Astro MixAmp 5.8 and whilst they were a step up from what I had at the time, they aren’t even in the same ballpark as the headphones I have mentioned here.
  • I think the Audio-Technica ATH-M40X are very intriguing. Although closed back headphones, they are generally well regarded and have a certain degree of portability. And for me they would be usable in scenarios where I didn’t want sound leakage and therefore an interesting option. Also they have an RRP of under £90.

Anthem Demo Impressions

I recently put Anthem in my most anticipated games for 2019, and so having finally played the open demo (1st Feb to 3rd Feb) I thought I would write up my initial thoughts. In summary there are a few good things but I also have some major concerns at this stage.

Played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Good

  • The ‘verticality’ of the world. Rushing down the huge cliffs and waterfalls, or climbing high to get to a top of a mountain feels great. Also opens up some really interesting tactics in firefights, like being able to take refuge on a high vantage point. Makes games like The Division feel really flat in comparison.
  • Flight works well. Controls take some getting used to, but being able to quickly fly around or get to another side of a firefight is fun and different.
  • Combat feels good. The weapons feel impactful and some of the special abilities are great (R1 ability in particular).
  • Freeplay mode with world events and organic grouping works well. Obviously very similar to Destiny.

The bad

  • The game isn’t ready. Sure it might be an older fork of development but there are too many things wrong to suggest this will be ready at release. Even a demo should be fit for purpose. Particularly if it’s part of a paid package (pre-order bonus). I’ve had disconnects, crash to dashboard, sound cut out (had to close application) and graphics glitch so textures displayed incorrectly. Destiny in it’s alpha and beta demos, and The Division open demo were very stable by comparison.
  • Performance isn’t looking great. Drops below 30fps on the enhanced consoles and the framerate fluctuates. Digital Foundry did a great summary of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X performance. DF’s similar analysis of the PC version sounds like the game has very high system requirements too.
  • Not solo friendly. This might just be true of the demo. But as a solo player I could not get past the final part of the second main mission and struggled in certain sections. The demo doesn’t appear to scale in anyway. Hopefully this isn’t a thing in the full game, otherwise this is going to be a group co-op shooter only with limted endgame content for solo players (although this is often true of games of this ilk).
  • Microtransactions. The recent reddit discovery did highlight that even if prices are £10, £20 or £30, that a lot of customisation options will likely be locked behind long grinds or real world money.
  • Menus are a bit messy. UI feels slightly over flashy and clunky in places. Having to frequently back out of screens.
  • Loading times slightly long and screens too frequent.
  • Variety, or lack of. Will there be enough in the game? It felt like the core gameplay loop might get old quickly from the demo.

What the demo has succeeded at, even after a few hours, is making me lose interest in this game. Maybe one to check out later on. This has not been a good advert for the game.

After release it should become clear how the microtransactions work, how large the game world is, how much solo friendly content their is, whether the servers hold and if the game’s stability is improved. As ever we won’t really see any of this detail until after launch and reviews as players have the game in their hands.

Rage Review

The great thing about Xbox Game Pass is that it has a mix of new, recent and old games on its service. And for whatever reason I never got around to playing Rage (id Software & Bethesda) that released in 2011. Even though I always was tempted and it is often cheap on any format, I just never got around to buying it. And that is where Game Pass excels. You start playing games you might not have otherwise played. And whilst the Xbox 360 version is weaker graphically than the PC version it was a trade-off I was happy to make.

In Rage you are an non-descript survivor that has to very quickly learn to stay alive and get use to shooting lots of bad guys. There is a story which I thought was reasonably well setup and told although nothing particularly original or standout. The game is mostly an FPS but has driving sections which are used as a means of getting across the world although there is vehicle combat and racing. The game has what looks like an open world(ish) map although in reality the game is fairly linear with the expansive maps are really used for the vehicle sections. There are also some mini-games such as card games although these didn’t have huge depth to hold my attention for long.

Rage screenshot

Where Rage really stands out, is its 60fps gameplay, which is very smooth, fast and responsive. More of an arcadey FPS that resembles the other ‘arcadey’ Bethesda shooters in a way. 60fps was much rarer in the seventh generation of consoles so it is a pleasant surprise. Of course the trade-off is that the graphics can be fairly bland, lacking in texture detail and flat in comparison to some of its peers. Indeed Rage set in a futuristic wasteland is often a mostly brown, bland looking game with a few variations but nothing that stand-outs as much as the high frame rate. The game doesn’t have much colour and the locations can blend into each other as well. Although it is far from a bad looking game.

The gunplay is solid and there is a nice variety of weapons including variation of ammo types for each weapon which can change their behaviour. There is some variety in the enemies and a few boss fights in the game. The vehicle sections work well and compare to something like the Warthog in the Halo games. And the game does a good job of limited your ammo to begin with to make it feel like you have to scavenge for things. Although by the end of the game In was probably ‘over tooled’ with too much ammo.

One complaint that is often raised is how the game ends. I didn’t even realise I was in the very final moment of the game before the end sequence and achievements popped. So there is some truth to this.

Rage screenshot from one of the driving sections

Although I can’t be precise it took somewhere around 25-30 hours to complete Rage on normal difficulty and it was a pretty fun experience. Although it is easily a game I could have abandoned with little regret. And I think that’s a fair way to summarise my time with Rage. It feels greater than the sum of its parts. Neither a bad game, but also not a classic. Merely a ‘good’ game. It is worth a playthrough it you like FPS games or would like to see the first game before its sequel arrives later this year. I just wouldn’t say it is essential.

One noteworthy fact is that this game was the first outing for the id Tech Engine 5 which would also go on to power Wolfenstein: The New Order and Dishonored 2 amongst other games. Newer versions of the engine have powered Doom (2016) and its upcoming sequel. You can definitely feel the similarities in some of the newer games, like Wolfenstein.

And finally the game is another great advert for Microsoft’s backward compatibility. Whilst unfortunately not Xbox One X enhanced, it is still great to be able to play Xbox 360 (and original Xbox) games on your Xbox One. The game only crashed once when I tried capturing a screenshot. Bravo Microsoft.

Played on Xbox One X via Xbox Game Pass.

Creative Sound Blaster X7 Review

Not that long before setting up this website I purchased a Creative Sound Blaster X7 (June 2018). I always meant to draft a few words on it but in a very short space of time it has quickly blended into my setup and become a fairly inconspicuous piece of hardware that gets used all the time. So my thoughts are based on seven months of heavy usage.

For a long time audio to me was TV speakers, mainstream PC sound cards and basic headphones. Over the years I purchased a few cheap headsets and never really got the best from my audio setup. Buying cheap Creative 5.1 Surround speakers was something I did a couple of times with my earlier PC builds. And I remember one time many, many years ago buying a Speedlink Medusa 5.1 headset which was really horrid because it was prone to interference through its breakout box and seemed to always provide a hissy sound. So I suppose like a lot of people audio was an afterthought.

Fast forward to 2012 and I suddenly decided to start investigating much better sound solutions. I ended up buying high-end PC sound cards (an Asus ROG Phoebus that quickly became a Creative Sound Blaster ZxR sound card), Sennheiser HD 598 headphones, A FIIO E3/E7 external DAC and AMP combination and a Astro A40 and MixAmp 5.8 set. I also went through some Philips Fidelio X1 headphones as well. What all of these did was give me a serious appreciation for better sound particularly where games were concerned. I had heard good AV/HiFi setups but not many great videogame audio solutions. Over the course of a few months I now had access to reasonably good sound quality and headphones. Indeed even though not an audiophile it even inspired me to completely re-encode all of my music CDs that were once an iTunes library into lossless FLAC file format.

Last year as I started to think about needing to simplify my audio setup. Whilst having all these individual components was great spending money on one device made more sense. I wanted something that I could use with my PC and videogame consoles. I deliberated on whether to buy an external DAC and AMP like a Schiit stack. In the end I settled for the Creative Sound Blaster X7 because I realised that as a gamer first, virtual surround is still incredibly important to me. And therefore for the same money whilst better quality audio solutions might exist for music, I could trade off some of that quality to give me a great setup for gaming.

Creative Sound Blaster X7 in its box sitting on top of my old desktop PC.

The Creative Sound Blaster X7 has been out for a while now, being released in 2015. However it remains relatively unique in terms of its feature set. It’s main strength is it is a multi-platform, multiple input DAC/AMP that can work with almost any device and supports both Dolby Digital and Creative’s own SBX surround enhancements. There are much more detailed write-ups, particularly around specifications and audio quality, within one of the many Head-Fi reviews from when the device was released.

Here is a list summarising the things the Creative Sound Blaster X7 is really GOOD at:

  • High quality sound output.
  • Allows multiple inputs at the same time including Optical, USB, Bluetooth etc. So you can listen to a podcast or YouTube video on your PC or Android mobile, whilst playing a console game.
  • Capable enough amp to drive ‘up to 600 ohm’ headphones. That may not be the case but fine driving the full range on my AKG K702 (62 ohm) or Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro (250 ohm) headphones.
  • Brilliant and powerful set of options laid out on the PC Control Panel to adjust surround, calibrate speakers and so on. Will work without drivers though.
  • iOS and Android mobile app with access to the same control panel to access settings over Bluetooth, particularly useful when you don’t want to boot up your PC.
  • Dolby Digital decoder for PS4 and Xbox One via optical input (TOSLINK) but with a solid amp and SBX enhancements that give a very high quality sound. Particularly in comparison to something like the Astro MixAmp.
  • Automatically powers down after 20-minutes to save power.
  • Can work with the Creative BT-02 Bluetooth Adaptor to support wireless voice chat. So less cables! (PC and PS4 only though, not applicable for Xbox).
  • Can output to the powered 2.0 Edifier Speakers I have and automatically changes to headphones output when an audio jack is plugged in.

However like anything it isn’t without NEGATIVES. Such as:

  • Lack of physical controls. Need to use the control panel software to switch between speakers and headphones which can be annoying if you leave your headphones plugged in.
  • Cannot adjust auto standby, so the timing is always set to 20-minutes. And auto standby if Bluetooth device is connected.
  • Voice chat on Xbox can be a mess with wires required to be split in order to plug into a newer Xbox One controller.
  • No indicator on the volume dial.
  • Very minor point, but no theming on the PC or mobile control panel apps. Specifically a dark mode option.

Summary

I love the Creative Sound Blaster X7. It often gets compared unfavourably to the Schiit Modi/Magni stack however that is based on US pricing ($400 RRP). In the UK the X7 now sells for around £240 (I paid under £260) which is the same price as the Schiit Modi/Magni stack. Whilst that is likely a better choice for quality stereo sound the X7 is undoubtedly a more complete package for videogames. Particularly when it is so able at dealing with multiple platforms. And it isn’t like the x7 is bad at dealing with high quality music either. It is very capable external DAC and AMP for music and movies that happens to be great for gaming.

Since I purchased the X7, Creative have released the Sound BlasterX G6 external DAC/AMP which supports Dolby Digital as well as SBX. However because this doesn’t have outputs for speakers it would have to be paired with an headphone amp like the Schiit Magni for a similar price, or both the Schiit Magni and Modi but would cost £130 to £150 more.

The key question would I buy this product again. And whilst Creative probably have a successor on the horizon sooner than later, the Creative Sound Blaster X7 is one of my better audio purchases. A brilliantly versatile device.

January Update

First progress update of the year and loads of updates and games played as I had some playing time over the holidays.

New game pickups

  • Gran Turismo Sport Digital Deluxe Edition (PS4)
  • Inside (Xbox)
  • Unravel Yarny Bundle (Xbox)
  • Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles (Xbox)
  • Undertale (PC)
  • Refunct (PC)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)

A number of new games picked up in the Christmas/New Year sales. That said I only spent about £30 on the above, as I had £20 in Microsoft vouchers. My one physical purchase was a Legend of Zelda game on 3DS but at only just over £10 seemed bit of a bargain.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Rage
  • Ashen
  • Gran Turismo Sport
  • Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Hammerwatch
  • FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Overwatch

A lot of games started or played this month. I tried Forza Motorsport 7 again to compare to Gran Turismo Sport which I have just started. Fair to say both are great games that I need to play much more. I also started Ashen as this has recently hit Xbox Game Pass. Although early I feel like Dark Souls-lite or an easier Dark Souls is fairly apt.

Over the holidays I played some of the indie games in my backlog. I’ve reviewed Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and FTL: Faster Than Light. I still need to spend time with Hammerwatch. I wrote about what drove me to try Unreal Tournament and I’ve been trying to get into Overwatch recently.

Completed, Abandoned & Shelved

Completed Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Rage. I probably won’t be that far behind in finishing with Hammerwatch or FTL but still want to play these games a bit more. Anyway off to a good start to 2019. Also I have shelved Hearthstone as I am just not playing at the moment.

So 3 games completed and 1 game shelved this month!

Updates

Loads of the stuff on the site. SSL encryption now fully enabled and upgraded PHP behind the scenes. Also did a number of minor edits and tidying up the site including: tiding up tags on some of the reviews and added a summary of games trackers to new Backlog page (was called rules before). I also tidied up my Grouvee shelves and games.

Up next

A few games on Xbox Game Pass I’d like to try. Also a number of games I stopped playing that I would like to return to.

FTL: Faster Than Light Review

During the past month or so I have managed to play a few of the indie games from my Steam backlog. Randomly nearly all games that were released in 2012. And of all of them this is by far and away the one I have my enjoyed the most.

Although I have to own up to a mistake. Only upon playing FTL:Faster Than Light recently have I realised I wasn’t playing it quite correctly when I first tried playing the game. At the time I realised that you could upgrade weapons, augmentations and crew members in the numerous stores found in the game. However I hadn’t realised you could actually upgrade the ship to power up things like shields, or weapons from the main screen. Therefore I thought it was a cool roguelike but a bit hard as I struggled in the latter systems. That said I was still able to reach sector 5 and unlock the Engi Cruiser ship!

FTL: Faster Than Light screenshot from the PC version.

Once you get the hang of the game (and yes, there is a basic tutorial for dummies like me) what opens up is a fantastic roguelike futuristic space games where you never know how each run of commanding your fleeing spaceship will play out. Whether this is a successful run or where one of the numerous alien ships will bring your run to a crushing end on the next jump.

The game is hard. Even on easy the game will kill you a lot. Particularly to begin with. With over 12 hours of so played I’ve seen my ships get wrecked far too often. The game will let you experience a massive range of emotions and it has some fantastically tense moments where you can literally come back from near death with only one bar of ship health.

There some things the game did which annoyed me or I didn’t like. There is no auto pause on enemy encounters once you’ve clicked on the dialog options. This mean you have to press the spacebar to pause every time which gets annoying quickly. And it would have been nice to see previous runs count in a progression model, even if it was cosmetics or something simple like crew names carrying over. However some of this is perhaps over analysing the game for what it is.

And for me of all the indie games I’ve played I think this is one of the best examples I have ever played. Although not a huge fan of rogue-like games it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful, simple yet complex and wonderfully diverse this game is. The highest compliment is that it makes me want to check out the developer’s next game (Into the Breach) even before seeing all the rave reviews that game has received.

But for now, engage warp drive…

Played the PC / Steam version.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Review

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was first released in 2011 for iOS, although on PC it wasn’t released until the following year. A bit like Dear Esther which I reviewed recently it’s been in my Steam library since 2012 after picking it up from a Humble Bundle at some point. Also like Dear Esther it isn’t a long game, taking under 5 hours to play through.

The game can be best described as an indie 2d adventure game with some puzzle elements and a small amount of action. However some of these felt more like a rhythm action game in certain sequences. Without saying too much the story centres on one character who ventures into the mountains shortly after coming across some non-player characters in the game. The story is split into parts which you must complete.

Superbrothers: Sword & Brothers EP screenshot

Audio is an absolute strength of the game, both in the soundtrack and the sound effects. The pacing as well, being perfectly in-tune to what was going on in game. A professional musician helped with the soundtrack and it shows. There is a fantastic pixel-like style to the graphics and the whole package is just very well put together, particularly for the less than five pounds the game sells for on Steam (in the UK). It is a very pretty and charming game than made an impact with me.

That said there are two main issues I saw with the game. Firstly the controls on the PC version didn’t feel great. The biggest issue is that the touch screen controls have simply been mapped to the mouse with no use of keyboard of even joypad controls. This lack of direct control really dampened the experience for me. It plays more as a point and click game but at times I was having to click more than once because mouse clicks simply weren’t registered because of the touchscreen controls expecting you to hold down rather than press quickly. On top of this in fights I couldn’t be precise when needed to and therefore resorted to mashing the mouse button which made these parts more irritating than they should have been.

Secondly the game time-gates content to a real world clock. You can adjust your clock settings although you lose a perfect percentage score at the end. And there is an in-game mechanical for changing phases however this is broken (whether intentional or otherwise) if events have been completed in a certain order. This meant I had to wait over a week just to be able to progress the game. I’m not sure that was really necessary. Other than that some of the puzzles aren’t about logical deduction and become simple trial and error.

This is probably a game best experienced on touch screen and portable devices not just because of the controls that have been designed around a tablet but also the gameplay which is suited as a more casual experience and therefore something you can enjoy on the move. Overall a really abstract, weird and unique experience that I enjoyed for the most part.

Played the PC / Steam version.

Party like it’s 1999

I remember playing the original Unreal Tournament in 1999 as if it was (almost) yesterday. Released at a similar time to Quake 3 Arena which was another seminal multiplayer twitch shooter. Neither game had a campaign and helped to usher in a new era of more multiplayer focused games. I have fond memories of the original Unreal Tournament. Maybe not as technically proficient as Quake 3 but was arguably the more fun of the two games with more weapon variety. Both games had many options for solo offline players with extensive AI-bot support and different modes.

Unreal Tournament screenshot

So having seen a streamer on Twitch recently play the new Unreal Tournament, which was first announced in 2014, I thought it would be worth a look. Particularly as it is a completely free game and available to anyone on the Epic Game Store.

I’m not sure where it ranks in the series of UT games. Also it is clearly unfinished in its pre-alpha state with menus looking rough and having placeholders within the UI. However even with all of that, it is incredibly fun and even better has a few of the old maps available to play.

It also has extensive solo modes against bots including challenges and the ability to set-up Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch modes. All with a XP progression system where you can unlock cosmetic items for your character on the way. Although don’t expect anything too extensive from this.

Whatever the current development state of the game it has still been immense fun playing an old-school, twitch, multiplayer shooter again. Particularly with some very customisable bot modes. It feels very familiar. There are things I could nit-pick at, such as the movement set where you struggle even to make simple jumps but I think that would miss the point given the game’s current state. It is a shame we live in a world where the success of Fortnite has apparently helped stop the development of this UT reboot since 2017. The Unreal Tournament subreddit has much more detail on this.

Anyway if you’re a fan of the UT series this is worth a look. Completely free on the Epic Game Store.

As a slight aside it also is one of only two games I’ve seen support my Corsair K65 Mechanical Keyboard out of the box. UT changes the key colours to highlight movement keys (WASD) and weapon numbers. A neat touch is that the colours match the weapon in the game.