Let’s talk about … – Skara, multiplayer hack ‘em up, going F2P

Skara: The Blade Remains is a multiplayer hack ‘em up currently in Early Access on Steam. Released back in October 2014, the title was received to ‘Mixed’ reviews, and is now preparing to move to a completely F2P model.

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Sales of Early Access on Steam will close by September 30th, moving Skara to a new, invite-only model until early 2016 when it moves completely to a F2P model. 8-Bit, the studio behind the title, have assured players that have bought into Early Access that they will continue to be able to play the game. This also extends to people who supported the game on Kickstarter and Greenlight.

“Of course, anyone who already owns Skara will get to keep playing it!” commented Pablo Rodriguez, Skara’s Creative Director. “We wanted to make sure ‘limited edition’ actually means something: Exclusive access to the game’s development while we finish testing, the rewards we detailed in the packages, and eventually their money back in virtual currency upon the game’s full F2P release.”

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8-Bit keep pushing with content updates as it nears it’s new, free model, and have this week released a new build featuring a tutorial, new combat features, refined UI and a player ranking system. A list of full features in the 0.5.4 version is as follows:

  • A new playable tutorial (including a new environment: The Khilma dungeons).
  • Power up items in the arenas (specifically health power ups and damage buffs).
  • Try all three characters without leveling up! This is something a lot of our users requested and we were very happy to change.
  • Class skills are now attached to different buttons (Q&E on the keyboard, X and Y on Xbox controller)
  • The Melee combat is faster now, the Hit stun is reduced. Also the free target mode has been modified to allow characters to dodge without losing focus on the target.
  • Rankings! Who will be the best? Find it in the War Log in the UI.
  • We also changed the Duel Game conditions to make it feel more like a Versus fighting game.
  • We’ve worked on the animations for all characters to make them more realistic and more spectacular. Characters should blend to sprint mode now and a lot of other features: Check them out!
  • New in-game HUD: Now you can check your enemy’s shield meter as well as the skills they’ve equipped. There’s also a new effort meter when sprinting.
  • Bug and crash fixing to make the game more stable. Please as usual send us feedback if something isn’t working by either writing in the forums, sending us an email, or filling out a bug report.

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If you’re interested in playing Skara you can sign up for an invite to the new build here. Either that, or wait until it releases as F2P early next year! If you just can’t wait, the Early Access build of Skara is still available on Steam.

Here’s the trailer for the latest version!

Let’s take a look at … – M4 Tank Brigade

Early Access can be a great thing. It allows communities to experience a game before its complete, providing valuable feedback to the developer regarding improvements and ideas. As a reward for showing your support early on, you get the full game a discounted price and get to experience the process of a game being built. Everyone is a winner.

Unfortunately, there’s another side of Early Access. Sometimes games that look to have little hope of ever making an impact in a world enter Early Access, and the only thing you get is the experience of being let down, frustrated or wishing you hadn’t made that purchase. M4 Tank Brigade unfortunately falls into the latter. This game is riddled with poor control, graphical anomalies, collision detection issues, and sound choices that will make you want to punch your monitor they are so bad.

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In the tutorial you are provided with an abundance of information, which is a good thing. Everything from how to move, change positions from turret, to driver, to machine gunner, change squadrons, call in airstrikes, and hunt the enemy down. Though, while doing so, you’re forced to listen to some of the worst dialogue (content and quality) I have ever heard.

The voices sound like they were recorded in a basement, and try to push off the stereotypical ‘Drill Sergeant’ persona. The combination of “Hit any key to continue”, and “Way to go!” blasting through my speakers, because no one bothered to adjust the audio levels of the recorded dialogue, were almost enough to make me not want to finish the tutorial. Not to mention there are two different voices that are used. It’s confusing and just beyond bad.

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Things unfortunately don’t get any better in-game. The controls are very confusing, and once you’re in your tank, simple tasks such as driving, switching positions, and shooting are non-trivial; your tank continues to move and you can’t steer it. In what I expect is a WWII tank simulator, why would there not be multiple people per tank?

Trying navigate the mini map requires the mouse, but the mouse can’t be used in the tank. As a result you will find yourself moving your hand from mouse to the arrow keys, all while trying to aim the turret and keep your tank in position. It’s very unintuitive and overly complicated.

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The landscape is ridiculously barren. Between a few houses and anti-tank barriers, there is literally nothing. Not even trees in most cases. In addition, the collision detection doesn’t always work. You can run into a house and stop dead in your tracks, while other obstacles allow you to pass right through. The terrain is also pretty flat, with a few bumps along your path, are giant trenches that will put you in a huge bind if you find yourself in. They are best to be avoided unless you are taking cover from fire.

I did enjoy the explosions, and found the AI to be aggressive and intimidating; however, the enormous lack of polish, lack of an online community, and a host of better games already on the market make this game forgettable. It’s best to avoid playing this game at least till it comes out of Early Access. Maybe by then it will be an entirely different game, but who knows when that will happen if ever.

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Tl;dr M4 Tank Brigade is an ugly, irritating, unpolished action tank simulator that is currently overcharging for the content it provides. Graphically it’s about as barren as a desert, and the audio is awful to the point where you’d almost rather turn it off and just read the text provided. Controls are overly complicated and counterintuitive which may be the biggest issue with this game. I’m not sure what sort of crowd wants a game like this. If you are a huge WWII tank buff, or historian, you may find a way to enjoy it … if not, I’d recommend waiting till it’s out of Early Access before even considering it.

Rating – 3/10

Purchase – Steam £10.99/$14.99

Trailer – 

Let’s take a look at … – Caves of Qud

Caves of Qud is an early access science/fantasy rouge-like, created by Freehold Games. The best way to describe Caves of Qud is as a massive simulation in which you can play either as a “True Kin” (a human) or a mutated human (More on that later). You play how you want. Want to be a strong mutant with horns who can fly? This game has that covered. Want to be a normal boring human that is awesome with a sword? This game also has that covered. Forge your own path! You can dig through anything. Melt walls into lava and so much more. Seriously, its friggin awesome what you can do in this game.

Before I go any further, I feel it’s fair to say that I don’t play a lot of rouge-likes. I loved Dwarf Fortress and have played that hell out of games with rouge-like elements to them, so this is a bit of a new experience for me. So with that in mind let’s continue onwards my fellow Indie Gamers!

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The first thing you’ll notice when you fire up the game is a complete lack of audio of any kind. As someone who works with audio on a regular basis, I feel it’s an important part to any game. However, I’m more than happy to let that slide for the time being given the game is in early access. The graphics are very reminiscent of oldschool 2D RPG’s and have a similar feel to Dwarf Fortress without the harshness of ASCII art. The graphics are simplistically beautiful for a game of this type and can’t fault them at all. If you are used to Rouge-Likes you will pick the mechanics of this game very quickly. However, Caves of Qud is horrifically brutal, especially if you don’t know quite what you are doing.

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I spent a short while trying to figure out the controls, but they are easily learnt and once you have them sussed you’re good to venture out into the land. For example, Crtl + Numpad is how you attack, and pressing “L” is how you look at objects. Just don’t look at the “Watervine farmers”, whatever you do, don’t look! My first hour involved me dying not once, but four times from looking at “Watervine Farmers”!

The first character I created was a mutant human called “Garkun the Badass”. I feel it is only fair I tell you his story so his death wasn’t in vain. I loved him like Dr Frankenstein loved his monster. He had massive horns that could impale even the biggest giant, big wings, night vision and massive muscles that could stun even the most stubborn watervine farmer.

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Garkun spawned into the world at a place called “Joppa” along the far rim of “Moghra’yi, the Great Salt Desert.” His first mistake was looking at the locals. They don’t like to be looked at. They really should put a signs up around Joppa about how offended the locals get when you look at them. Or maybe it was because he was a hideous looking mutant, I don’t know. The farmers came at him and he ran south towards a great plain. A small pond with two glowfish lay before him. So he did what any self-respecting mutant would do. He jumped into the pool and eviscerated those fish, then ate what remained.

Now feeling full from those lovely fish, Garkun decided to head west. This was a big mistake as more watervine farmers (two of the scum) were there. Garkun looked at them and tried to communicate but just like the locals in Joppa, these watervine farmers weren’t nice people. They struck Garkun with their steel vine reapers. Garkun the Badass struck back with ferocity and badly wounded one of the farmers, but it was too late. The second farmer had hit Garkun in the back which bought him crashing down. And there he died at the hands of those evil watervine farmers. Those are the trust monsters of this game. Don’t let Garkun’s death be in vain. Always remember, don’t look at the locals, they don’t like it and they will hunt you down and kill you with their vine reapers.

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If you have as much imagination as I do and you love RPGs/Rouge-Likes then you will truly fall for Caves of Qud. It holds such depth and immersive character building that you can play it any way you want. I don’t think I even remotely scraped the surface of the game having only done a few quests. But I do know that I will be playing it a hell of a lot more for weeks to come. I can’t wait to see how this game progresses as extra things like music and sound effects are added that give it even further immersion. A game to certainly watch out for in the upcoming months!

TL:DR – Caves of Qud is a truly immersive early access game with lots of depth and harsh difficulty. Any lover of Rouge-Likes will experience pure joy from playing this. The graphics are reminiscent of Dwarf Fortress without the harshness of ASCII art. There is currently no audio in the game but doesn’t detract from the immense depth and size Caves of Qud brings to the table. Keep an eye on this game in the next coming months. Screw watervine farmers, they killed my friend! R.I.P. Garkun the Badass

Rating – 7/10 (Will easily be 9/10 when it adds music and audio)

Purchase – Steam £6.99 ($9.99)

Trailer –

Let’s take a look at … – Kidnapped

Kidnapped is a horror game by Deceptive Games. After making its way through Greenlight, it’s now on Steam in Early Access. Kidnapped tells the tale of Sebastian Lee, a Scotsman that mysteriously disappeared in 1992 without a trace. Taking place throughout a number of environments, Kidnapped promises some impressive features such as a dynamic changing world, a psychological horror experience and heavily interactive environments. Let’s take a look.

I had an up and down ride with Kidnapped, so I’m going to write about it in the order I experienced it. I’ve worked my way through chapter 1, so will relive it, keeping spoilers to a minimum, and bring you along.

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First things first, I experience resolution problems before the game had even started. On entering the menu I hit the settings to see what was what, a habit I’ve picked up from watching endless WTF? Is, and upped the resolution. It defaulted to 1600 * 900 and my monitors are all 1920 * 1080 which the game didn’t seem to like. On hitting play the screen went black and non-responsive for a few seconds causing me to miss most of the opening cut-scene. It seems it has problems readjusting to the resolution when the scene changes. Since the game is in early access, this can be overlooked. It’s not game breaking, usually, it’s crashed my system once, it’s just a pain in the ass.

You start your journey in a dank basement. A narrated opening cut scene brings you to your feet and your journey is underway. You are Sebastian, and you have no idea where you are or why you are there. Controls are simple and standard for the genre: WASD or arrow keys to move, left mouse to pick up items, right to examine, and E to drop. There are small issues with stepping on things, your character jumps about a bit, but they’re solid overall. One thing that is immediate is how slow the character moves. Kidnapped may have the slowest moving character of any game I’ve played. You can hold shift to sprint, and even then you’re just reaching a good walking pace. Again, not game breaking, but a constant grip as you slowly make your way around the map.

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Graphics. Oh the graphics. Kidnapped looks like it was released in 2010. The models are very low quality, as are the game menus. Despite this, loading times were long, and screen taring was a real issue. A quick jump back into the settings and I found capping the FPS at 60 sorted the problem. So up until this point I’d run into a few bugs, the graphics were incredibly outdated, and the main character would lose a race to a sloth. First impressions are key, and unfortunately Kidnapped fell short.

After a quick exploration of the cellar, we make our way upstairs to the kitchen were our first goal is revealed. ‘Find 5 Circuit Pins to unlock the kitchen door. We leave to kitchen to now find a long, dark corridor where there once stood a wall. With rooms on either side, we cautiously make our way along. It’s dark, there are creepy sounds all around you, and you sense the tension. Then … a naked man walk across the corridor and roars. It’s not scary at all, quite the contrary in fact, it made me laugh. Not the reaction they were going for I’m sure.

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Needless to say the first encounter with your captor is a let-down, and even though the game is in early access it shouldn’t be this way as it has a heavily adverse effect on gameplay. For the rest of the game, or the first chapter at-least, you know that’s what’s chasing you is a naked muscle-man. It’s no monster, no terrifyingly grotesque creature or ghost, but a naked man wearing a mask that roars at you.

As you work through the house to find the five pins you come across a number of different slips of paper. Most are random nonsense, but some tell a tale of someone who seems to have been put in prison, and is now out for revenge on those that did it. The more you diligently you explore the more of these you’ll find, and the more of the story you will know. While most of the gameplay seems to revolve around walking and exploring, looking for certain items to aid in your escape, I have run into a quick puzzle: a brief riddle and the rotating of some statues, and I’m sure there are more to come.

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One of my favourite aspects of the game is how the environment changes around you. This is a very clever mechanic, and has produces some of my favourite in-game moments. It makes you question yourself: ‘Was that door always there?’ ‘Wasn’t there a wall here a moment ago?!’ The changing environment takes away your control, but unfortunately that feeling doesn’t really surmount to anything as you then remember that your hunter is nothing to be scared of.

Since the general threat is not there, at-least for me, the scares in Kidnapped come from the jumpy classic horror moments. Some of these are great and timed perfectly. It’s absolutely terrifying when a ball bounces past a door you’re about to enter and the ghostly sound of a child laughing follows. It gives me chills just thinking about it. Moments like that are memorable and genuinely scary, but other times they miss the mark. I think back to the first time you see the main enemy. Naked man and a roar. Really?

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Kidnapped isn’t a BAD game. For me however it currently has one too many flaws for me to really get into the experience. Just as I get into it, my sense of fear building, the character will get stuck on something, or the naked man will roar at you. There is a good horror game in Kidnapped, it just needs its rough edges removed. It is in Early Access, so rough edges are to be expected, but they’re just too sharp for me at the moment.

I will for sure be returning to Kidnapped once it reaches a full release to learn the tale of Sebastian. I’m intrigued.

Tl:dr – Kidnapped is an early access horror game with potential, but a boat-load of flaws. Models are low quality, it has performance issues, the movement needs work, but every now and again you’ll experience a genuine fright which reminds you why you’re putting up with it. If you’re a fan of the genre, and ready to overlook a handful of flaws, then you’ll find reasons to play and like Kidnapped. For me, I want to see what else it has to offer, but there are too many flaws to work through at the moment. I’ll be waiting until it’s out of Early Access before finishing the campaign and learning the story behind Sebastian Lee.

Rating – 6/10

Purchase –Steam £5.59, discounted to £4.69 until July 27th

Trailer –

 

Let’s take a look at … – Interstellar Marines (Early Access)

Interstellar Marines is a science fiction FPS with quite the history. Currently in development by Zero Point Software, the game has been in development since 2005 under the working title Project IM. After being Greenlit in late 2012, a Kickstarter was launched to fund the rest of the game, but it unfortunately fell short of its target: $157,907/$600,000 was raised.

Since mid-2013 Interstellar Marines has been available in Early Access on Steam. That’s quite a run in Early Access! Let’s take a look.

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The official website states that IM will take you through three massive campaigns, taking you through mankind’s first contact with a sentient alien species. The gameplay currently available in Early Access appears to be the pre-cursor to this storyline. You play as a soldier who has been specially selected to join the Interstellar Marines, and you play through training.

On starting the game for the first time you’re greeted with an epic introductory cut scene. It looks great and production value is through the roof. It got me really excited to get playing! This quality carries right through into the game models and environments. It’s a looks great, and even in early access I had only a few very minor graphical glitches. The same can’t be said for UI. It feels empty, and unfinished. Not a fan, and I hope it gets an upgrade before the game leaves early access.

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My favourite thing about Interstellar Marines is how it feels. It’s solid and different than a lot of shooters. The closest thing it reminded me of was Battlefield. You feel more connected to the character, and movement feels real. It’s the little things like how your sight sways, and if you become out of breath they will sway more as you recover. Weapons give a lot of kickback, so you can’t just spray and prey. You have to pick your shots, and use your weapon wisely.

At the time of writing this article, the game supports keyboard and mouse only, so those that like to play their shooters with a controller are out of luck. I would however encourage those pad users to give the game a go with mouse and keyboard. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

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Up until this point Interstellar Marines has a good first impression. It looks pretty good, I like the controls, they feel solid, and the overall production is great minus some lacking UI. As we now come to take a look at gameplay however things ramp down a gear.

There are currently 2 campaign missions available, and both are training exercises that take place in quite small environments with equally small goals. Campaign 2 is longer than campaign 1, but they can both be completed in a short single sitting. There is also only a small collection of weapons available, and a single enemy. It’s all very sparse and demo-ey feeling, even for an early access title.

Alongside the 2 campaigns, and a tutorial level, there are a selection of scenarios such as survival and escape. These can be played in either singleplayer or online multiplyer, although I could only find a couple of multiplayer games live that were both for survival.

Gameplay itself is very unforgiving. The campaigns do not have any checkpoints, so if you die during the mission that’s it. It adds a real sense of fear, and make you feel very vulnerable which is great. It can be frustrating when a robot that you can’t see shoots you, and the mission re-starts, but I enjoyed the challenge. I was playing on normal, and it doesn’t take many bullets to kill you. There are also two difficulty levels available above normal, so I can only presume they are insta-death!

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I was unsure whether to include this next section or not, but since it directly affects you as the consumer I decided to leave it in. The advertising of the game irks me greatly. I understand that when selling a product you want to make it seem amazing, you really have to sell it. But Interstellar Marines has lists upon lists of selling points that just shouldn’t be there. Here are a few from the list of current features:

  • Shoot from hip or look through the Red Dot scope for increased accuracy.
  • Full-body first person character simulation (no more floating hands!) with a physics-based dynamic character controller.
  • Toggleable tactical flashlight for when it’s pitch black.
  • Toggleable laser to assist your aim (no crosshairs).

These are all standard things that every FPS has. It’s like selling a car and going ‘Look. It has wheels and doors.’ Well, it’s a car, so obviously it has wheels and doors, what else does it do? This may seem pedantic, but this sensationalism is seen throughout the Steam page, the website, and all promotional material, and the game does not live up to how it’s sold. On the website you’re painted a picture that you’re about to receive an epic ‘AAA-Indie’ experience, but that’s just not the case. Not yet anyway.

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What gameplay is there is solid, it’s just there isn’t a lot of it! I enjoyed my time with it, but have no reason to go back to it. If you’re a big fan of shooters you’ll find reasons to like Interstellar Marines. But given the development history, and its current state, I’m not sure I’d actively suggest it right now, but keep an eye out.

Tl:dr – Interstellar marines is a promising shooter with controls that feel great and make it stand out amongst other shooters, and an interesting sounding story line. Its main problem right now is lack of content, and according to plenty of Steam reviews updates just aren’t coming frequently enough. Fans of shooters will find reasons to like it, but for casuals I’d suggest waiting until further into development.

Rating – 7/10

Purchase – Steam (Early Access) (£10.99)

Trailer –

Let’s take a look at … – RONIN

Ronin a side-scrolling action-platformer developed by Tomasz Waclawek and published by Devolver Digital. I’ve played games published by Devolver before, all of which are extremely stylized and unique. Ronin does not disappoint, and I quickly fell into the world that this game was portraying.

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The first few levels serve as a tutorial, getting you into the swing of the games play-style. You control your street ninja by jumping, wall climbing and slicing through levels. Complete the 3 optional objectives in each stage (avoid triggering the alarm, kill all enemies, spare civilians) and you’ll earn a skill point which you can then spend on various upgrades to how your character can attack. They call these Limit Breaks.

The most interesting aspect of Ronin is the combination of a turn based combat system with free-flowing movement. Each level consists of a combination of buildings with locked doors, windows and elevators. Each building has computer terminals to hack, and bad guys to kill; it’s your task to work your way through them. The moment you are spotted by the enemy the game switched to the turn-based system, allowing you to plan out your attack. Enemies’ bullets or movements will be reflected as a red line that shows the path they’re going to take to attack you. Once the turn has ended you make your next move by either jumping on them, for stunning purposes, or by cutting them down with your sword. Kill enough enemies and the skills you’re able to purchase come into play as your limit break goes up, allowing you to perform more elaborate sequences. Throw your sword, create a decoy, or even teleport to an enemy to gain the advantage. The odds are often against you, you but with careful planning, and the right combination of skills, every fight is winnable.

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There is a story underpinning Ronin, although it’s a bit cryptic. You aren’t even sure what your name is, or the true meaning behind some of the bigger targets you will have to go up against.  It appears someone did you wrong and you’re on a crusade for retribution. The boss fights offer interesting scenarios, requiring even more careful planning to defeat them and their cronies. Enemies are fairly varied. There are agents with pistols, super agents with machine guns that fire for two rounds and a samurai who is just a PAIN in the ass to kill. There are also civilians that can be killed, but that should be avoided unless you plan on not earning your coveted skill point. If the civilians see or hear you, for example if you break a window near one, they’ll trigger the alarm. They’re almost as dangerous as the enemies shooting at you!

Each level felt familiar but there was enough variance to keep me interested for the 7 hours I played. There are only 2 music tracks, but both are great and really add to the atmosphere. I wasn’t able to finish it as the last mission is real crazy, but I was engaged throughout and really enjoyed my time. Once I finish the game I’ll update on the story more so be sure to check back for that.

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Tl:dr – Ronin is a side-scrolling action-platformer, with turn based combat, that adds a fresh perspective to the stealth kill genre. Great atmosphere, music and combat system allow this game to shine where others have lacked. Currently in early beta access, it feels complete enough to warrant the purchase. With a skill tree allowing new abilities to be unlocked, retribution will be swift on the ones who have done you wrong. I definitely recommend giving this a shot if you are looking for a fresh challenge in this genre.

Rating – 8/10

Purchase – Steam £9.99 (Early Access)

Trailer –

Let’s take a peek at … – DiRT Rally

DiRT Rally is the latest entry into the Colin McRae Rally series from CodeMasters. Currently in Early Access on Steam, we managed to get our hands on a copy and I’ve sunk a fair few hours into the title. I’d like to point out that I have no real experience with rally games. I own WRC for the Play Station 2, so that’s the extent of my rally gaming career! Also, because I’m a filthy casual and only own a wheel for my Xbox, so I played with a game controller.

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Since I’m a newbie to Rally games I was expecting a steep learning curve. What events are what? How do I enter them? etc., but the game has a very clean and self-intuitive interface that immediately dismissed those woes. As you boot the game for the first time there is a great tutorial that introduces you to all the features it has to offer, and gets you up to speed and ready to race in no-time.

In career mode there are currently 2 championships available: the Rally championship, and the Pikes Peak USA hill climb that was recently added. The hill climb challenge was added mid-review, so I unfortunately don’t have enough credits to try it out! You need 175,000 credits minimum to purchase the right car, and I don’t see me getting that any time soon!

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The rally championship consists of 5 tears: Open, Clubman, Professional, Elite and Master. At the end of each championship your points will dictate whether you are promoted, relegated or just stay the same tier.

Each championship then consists of multiple events, each of which has multiple races. I’m just approaching the end of my first championship which consisted of 3 events, each with 4 races. That’s the crux of the game, complete a number of races to complete an event, complete enough events to complete the championship.

Online play includes Daily stages, Weekly stages and Monthly stages that allow you to compete against others for the best times to earn credits. In the daily stage you get provided a car, but in the weekly and monthly event, you’ll be using the car from your garage. So get racing and earning credits so you can perform on the online stage.

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The first car you have access to is from the 1960s. As you play and earn more credits, you have the option to buy cars from later decades, all the way up to the 2010s. Including the hill climb cars, there’re 20 in total to unlock. That’s plenty to go at, and since the game is still in early access there’s almost certainly more to come!

You are only part of the equation in DiRT Rally. Alongside yourself, you have a crew of up to 5 engineers that will travel with you throughout your career. You start with 2 slots, and the others are unlocked as you wrack up miles in the stages.

Each engineer has 10 skills, with each being more apt at some that others, so it’s important to pick the right engineer for your team so these are as balanced as possible. No use have 5 engine specialists on your team when no-one can change a wheel! Each engineer also has a contract length and cost, so that has to be taken into consideration also. If you hire a top-notch bunch of engineers, then can’t afford to renew their contract they will be gone.

From what I’ve played so far, I don’t know how much the makeup of your engineering team actually effects gameplay. For a casual player such as myself, content with finishing 5th and not blowing up in the process, I imagine the makeup of my team will bear little effect on my results; it hasn’t so far. For serious players however, I imagine striking the right team balance will help a lot. It’s a fun feature, which gives more control and connection to the team.

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Racing feels great. With no mini-map, it’s vital that you listen to your engineer describing the upcoming roads. “Left 6” and “right 4” will be phrases that you’ll hear a lot. If you stop paying attention, and miss the upcoming warning if a hairpin, things are about to get real bad.

The car is a constant fight. You’re always riding a fine line of being in control of the car and sliding towards a tree or cliff … or at least I was. The controls are tight enough so that you can stay just on the right side of that line so long as you give the car your upmost attention. Again, I used a game controller for this, so my comments should be disregarded for wheel users and that’s usually a different ball game.

If you get the guts to up your speed, and start using your handbrake, there’s lots of fun to be had, and crazy high-speed turns to nail. The faster you go however, the more punishment awaits should you screw up. I was 86% through a nice ice stage, went over the edge and received terminal damage. I DNF’d the race and overall lost 800 credits that race. Bad luck, next race awaits … NO. Terminal car damage brings a swift end to your entire championship. So, so punishing.

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The cars are detailed nicely, as are the environments. Some of the scenery as you fly past a rock face is spectacular. Also it runs great. I’m sitting on 4 hours play time and haven’t run into a single issue.

One thing I did feel with DiRT was a bit restricted. There are no side-objectives: ‘Complete X track in X time’ etc. time-trials, challenges, it’s just straight-up no-nonsense racing. Now that’s not a bad thing, the game is true and absolute racing sim, but those looking for more than that won’t find it.

Tl:dr – DiRT RALLY is an out and out rally sim. With a pure focus on racing alone, and no gimmicky additions, it offers a great rally sim experience; those looking for more won’t find it. It looks great, runs great, and feels great.

Rating – 9/10

Purchase – Steam £24.99 £18.74 (25% off for Steam Summer Sale, Ends 22 June)

Trailer –

Let’s take a look at … – ShellShock Live

Fans of Worms and Pocket Tanks-style games, here’s one for you! Released in early access this past March, kChamp Games’ turn-based strategy game ShellShock Live is a blast … pun intended!

On the surface ShellShock Live might seem like just a clone of Pocket Tanks, but there’s so much more to it. Single player and online multiplayer options, an enormous plethora of unique and fun upgradeable weapons, unlockable maps, and a nice leveling system with achievements makes this worth checking out.

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Game play is simple learn, but hard to master. Each tiny tick of the arrow key to change the angle of your attack makes a big difference. Your location (changeable but limited by your fuel) and launch power are also factors. You might think you have it all lined up and figured out, but then an attacker’s weapon destroys your terrain, changing your angle of attack and therefore forcing you to re-calibrate.  You can attack directly in a straight line, by arcing your launch, or by using other items in the environment that can change the direction and speed of your attack. The weapons themselves act uniquely- some bounce upon landing, some roll, some stick and blow up wherever they impact anything. You have to practice with each weapon type to see what’s best for any given situation.

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Single player challenges vary between regular battles, target practice, or combinations of both.  Sometimes you’re limited as far as how many weapons and weapon types are available, and other times you’ll have packs that drop from the sky to replenish your expansive inventory. There are 8 sets of maps, and you have to beat every map in the set before moving on. After you finish a map, you will be awarded player XP for your performance and for finishing the challenge. You will also add points to each type of weapon you used, allowing you to level them into a more powerful version later.

Multiplayer is online only and the main screen shows all available players. The player level that you’ve earned from successful challenges is visible, so you can compare yourself to others to see whether you are evenly-experienced enough to battle each other. One glaring problem with this game is that because it’s so new, the amount of online players is always extremely limited, and those that are online are always much, much higher levels than me. Hopefully that changes over time.

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The first thing that caught my attention in this game was the sound effects. Launching weapons reminds me of the awesome sound of fireworks blasting into the air before they explode. I can’t help but leave my volume up unreasonably high while I play this, making my room sound like a war zone.  It’s a LOUD game. The other audio snippets in the menu screens are great too.

The graphics, although extremely basic, are also perfect. The mission screens and main page are nicely laid out and look modern and military. Each unique weapon has interesting details upon launch and detonation. Controls are intuitive. My only complaint is that load screens for re-attempts are a little bit long for my impatient personality, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

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This early access game is well-polished, with its main fault simply being that there aren’t enough players online to make multiplayer a good option for those who are low-level. Despite that, this game is definitely worth the buy, even at full price, which is still fabulously cheap at $6.99. Buy a four pack and play with your friends for $19.99.

Tl:dr – A Pocket Tanks-style strategy artillery game with a budding online multiplayer and tons of fun upgradeable weapons makes this game a great way to practice some of that trigonometry you learned in school!

Rating – 9/10

Trailer –

Let’s take a peek at … – Courier of the Crypts

It’s your first day of work. You’re excited to start your new job as a courier, spending time delivering packages to their recipients. What will your first delivery be? The butcher? The blacksmith? Or maybe to a perilous crypt full of dark magic, angry spiders, hidden treasure, and difficult puzzles!

You might need to ask your boss for a raise when you return … IF you do.

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Guided only by your magic torch, your goal is make your way through the dark hallways and eerily-lit rooms of the crypt. With maps offering little in the way of hints and help, it’s up to you to explore the environment and work out what puzzles need to be solved in order for you to progress. For example, keys are hidden around the map, and once you’ve found a key, you then have to find the lock it belongs to! Buttons on the floor need to be held down, but with what?! 

Through exploration and solving the puzzles you find along the way, you progress through the crypt, working your way towards to the guardian. There are also multiple items such as ammunition, money, and hidden treasure to be found, so you need to be thorough in your searching.

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The main mechanic in Courier of the Crypt is the magic torch that accompanies you throughout your travels. It has limited power however, so you need to manage it carefully by deciding when to turn it on and off and by looking for fuel to bring it back to full power. If you run out of light, the darkness takes over, opening the door for evil spirits to come and kill you, forcing you to start the puzzles over from the beginning. Don’t let it run out!

You can also die from being hit a mere three times. Life can be picked up around the map, but it’s not a common find, so be extremely careful, especially around those spiders. Luckily, your trusty torch can scare some of them away, and if they get too close, the rocks you can find in the map make for good ammunition.

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Starting life as a Ludum Dare entry, Courier of the Crypts has come a long way. This early access 2D puzzle game by Emberheart Games features beautifully dark, retro-style pixelated maps, full controller support, and great ambient music. It’s not easy, that’s for sure, especially with extremely limited hints. I spent a long time even just on the first map, dying over and over again, learning more on each attempt. Once I DID figure out the puzzle, I was still killed by spiders before I could get out.

If you have a short attention span or are easily frustrated, this game will make you want to pull your hair out. However, finally figuring out the puzzle is so rewarding that you just have to try the next one … over and over and over.

*At the time of this review the game is in Early Access.*

Tl; dr –  Manage your magic torch and avoid traps and evil enemies while you make your way through an ominous crypt in this smart, challenging, retro-style puzzle game.

Rating – 7.5/10

Purchase – Steam £8.99 (or your regional equivalent)

Trailer – 

Let’s take a look at … – Steredenn

Blast your way through never-ending enemies and tough bosses in this brand new early-access title from Pixelnest Studio. Steredenn is a shoot-‘m-up that is both gorgeous and addicting; with big, colorful, pixels laid out in beautiful retro-style space atmospheres, overlaid with a wide variety of enemies blocking your path.

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You are a ship with a simple task: survive the onslaught of space pirates. You begin with a basic weapon that can shoot constantly as you weave around the screen, trying to annihilate all other ships in each round.  Bonus points are awarded for destroying all enemies on the screen before they vanish to the left and then more points for not taking any damage. Some ships will drop any of 34 other new weapons that you can pick up and use as you see fit. The game allows you to swap between two weapons at a time, so you have to be smart about what you pick up and which you use in certain situations. But think fast, because it’s easy to become quickly overwhelmed and lose the battle.  And yes, you have to start over from the beginning.

There are three modes of play: normal, arena, and challenge. Normal is typical game play to see how far you can get past waves of enemies and 10 bosses in 20 environments. Although this game is called a roguelike, there is no RPG element to this game. Your only hope of getting better is simply learning the mechanics and the attack styles of your enemies, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each weapon type. If you’re the type to be obsessed with beating your old high score, you’ll love this game even more. Arena is a mode where you can battle bosses that you’ve beat in normal mode, allowing you to set and beat previous win times. “Challenge” mode is currently grayed out in my account, possibly to be added as the developers work on the game.

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The soundtrack for this game is one of the first things I noticed and enjoyed. High energy, and perfect for the action; it never gets old no matter how many times you have to start over. I’m picky about music in my games (I often turn it off completely if it annoys me in the least), but I love the style they chose, a mix of electronic and metal.  Check out a sample here:  https://zandernoriega.bandcamp.com/album/steredenn-original-soundtrack

This game is still being refined, but it is very playable, and I only had one small issue so far. After defeating a boss, my next round of play had no enemies, just space rocks. This was a one-time glitch, though, and Pixelnest encourages reporting of any bugs so they can perfect their game before official release.

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Steredenn is now available in Early Access on Steam for $9.99 (or your regional equivalent), with a 10% discount for early adopters, and will also be available for Xbox One. They are aiming for the official release in July or August. Interested in more? Check out their dev-log at http://steredenn-game.tumblr.com/.

Tl;dr: Steredenn is an addicting early-access shmup with gorgeous retro environments and fast-paced never-ending combat set to fun, high energy music that will have you wanting to “try one more time” over and over again! 9/10.