War, good God y’all… What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Turns out Edwin Starr was wrong. War, Uh-huh…yeah, what is it good for? Turns out it’s absolutely great for computer games.
Where would we be without the FPS? Still throwing pine cones across the sandpit and claiming I had been revived by Jeff and wasn’t dead. From Command and Conquer: Red Alert, through Call of Duty and Company of Heroes, I’ve loved them all along the way. Hold on there big dog, I know what you’re thinking…FPS.
Watch This Review:
Eximius Review – FPS / RTS Hybrid Fun
Eximius: Seize the Frontline, from Ammobox Studios is just out of Early Access and is blast. It is an FPS / RTS Hybrid. Whaaat… Yes. You can play the game just like Company of Heroes and you can play it just like Call of Duty. You can even play it both ways at the same time if you want to. How is this even possible you ask?
Eximius is, in simplest terms, a 5v5, squad based arena battle set in the near future of a collapsed political order. Two factions vie for control of the future world order: Axeron Industries, the product of a global financial elite trying to reestablish order. They have units based on robotics to save people from front line combat. The other side is the Global Security Force (GSF) who are made up from the surviving political world order prior to collapse.
All this set up matters naught though and is swiftly forgotten once you are past the opening intro. Simply pick a side and go through training. There is no real consequence to the side you pick except the choice of weapons, units available and some inevitable variation in play style to suit your differing strengths. Mostly they are similar classes but with slightly different qualities.
Point, Shoot, Smile
The controls are pretty standard and so is the weapons training. There is nothing confusing here – machine guns, pistols, bazookas, EMP weapons, etc. Everything is comfortably familiar. There is a good sound to the fire system, the weapons have variable recoil, but upgrades can improve stability. They sound powerful and act heavy, pleasing stuff. On the battlefield the draw distance for shooting is pretty good, even with standard weapons.
When you leave training, you can choose to join an ‘Open game’ which is just a rolling restart game with whomever joins and the remaining spots made up with AI players. Or you can join a specific 5 man team to take on a set scenario or you can tackle a variety of maps and missions yourself, offline with a team of AI support. There is lots of variety and the AI is of such a good standard that you need never worry about matchmaking to get a game. There are always at least two of these happening at any given time.
All of this seems like a pretty standard Battle Arena game and you’d be right. What sets Eximius apart is that only four of your squad of five play as FPS officers on the battlefield. The fifth man plays the game RTS and from a standard zoomed RTS view of the battle.
Commander and Conqueror
It turns out that what really makes the difference to your team is the Commander. They provide tech upgrades, they can build tanks, different classes of soldiers, they assign a support group of soldiers to you or not and they can drop strategic supply points to enable you to refill ammo and change weapons as you meet different foes. They play Command and Conquer whilst you play Counter Strike and you can talk to each other, ask for things like re-supply, reinforcements or decide attack plans and changes. It is a quite excellent achievement to blend these two game styles seamlessly together and talk/plan across them at the same time.
There is a rare breed of revered heroes called ‘Battle Commanders’ by Eximius community who are players capable of playing the Commander role and capable of jumping into the FPS fight at crucial moments to rectify some part of their grand plan and never losing sight of the overall plan and time in the frontline.
I tried being the Commander once or twice…let’s just say I need practice. I have mostly been playing as an Officer on the battlefield and sometimes my human Commander would provide ammo and weapon upgrade stations for me to use and sometimes they wouldn’t. In one match it became clear that the Commander had his plan and I wasn’t in it, I could die and respawn frequently but there would be no upgrade points for me.
In another we had upgrades and I joined the fray attempting to follow other Officers in direction and battle as support. The Commander rarely attached soldiers to me for support, clearly deeming my contribution unreliable, this was until a crucial point late in the battle when we were losing heavily that I slipped away changed my weapons and crossed to the other side of the arena undetected. I destroyed a tank holding position, protecting a flag point.
The response from my Commander was instant. He held battle back where I had come from and sent me as many reserves as he could from reserves to support what he recognised as a decisive move. We went on to capture several nearby resource points and the enemy were crippled. We lost less than 20 battle points to the enemy teams 300 from this moment on. The post game chat was full of delight and congratulations. These are the moments you play Eximius for.
It isn’t a perfect game, the learning curve is initially steep, but there is a lot of potential in the game for varied styles of combat. More variety of weapons are being added and of course, more skins and customisation. The development team is dedicated, improvements are frequently made and what might be thought of as currently lacking does not detract from the glory of the game.
Eximius is a Latin word meaning ‘excellent’ and Seize the Frontline is indeed an excellent game. It is not just another battle arena with thrown together assets; it is a well thought out game that offers a deepening level of skill the more you play it. They have a welcoming community in the Discord and the game is structured so that newbies can join a team of veterans and not hamper the chance of victory severely. War, uh huh, yeah…may well be good for computer games, but me? Good God y’all I am far from Eximius at it. It is fun though…see you in the fight.
Stephen plays on Eximius: Seize the Frontline as Alt_Ending and is easy to defeat. Take a good look at my face because all you’re going to see from the floor just before you respawn is the back of me walking away.
The golden age of 3D platformers has long since passed on, with only a few straggling titles aiming to fill the void of the classing collect-a-thon exploration games. While Blue Fire is decidedly NOT one of those games, it definitely reminds me of them, if only a little bit.
Blue Fire is Robi Studio’s first game, where you play as a mysterious warrior in the land of Penumbra. You are destined to do….something and then it’s off to the races as you’re dumped into the large open rooms of the game to hop, skip, and jump your way around this world.
Where’s The Story?
One of the first things that stuck out to me is the lack of storytelling. Coming hot of the heels of my first playthrough of Hollow Knight, the world of Penumbra feels empty and bland. The world itself is beautiful and some regions feel huge and imposing, but there is a distinct lack of ambiance in the world.
There’s also very little direction provided, whether it’s narratively or gameplay wise. The story isn’t very well explained, aside from your usual “chosen warrior that finally woke up” trope, which I wouldn’t mind if the game gave me any context clues beyond that. There’s even an NPC that doesn’t know who you are but “knows you are the one he’s been waiting for” and gives no further explanation.
The areas lack detail and character, as there’s no theming to tell them apart. The first area has some bookshelves and statues, but there’s little explanation as to what the area is or used to be. Was this a library? Why are there statues of guys doing emotes (and why do they matter)? Why does only this one room have furniture? That room has a map and a statue, but you’re telling me the map is unreadable. What’s the point?
Run, Jump, Explore
Hollow Knight’s distinct areas make you feel as if you’re in a new area. The lighting and music shift, the enemies may change, and the terrain changes as you progress. Life scuttles around in front of the camera and deep behind you, birds fly away as you approach, giving you a sense that you’re only in a small part of a large world.
Level design is something I felt was very wishy-washy. In the Void areas (which are optional challenging platforming sections that reward you with extra health upon completion), platforming was tight and required some skill to navigate. I loved these sections, and they were pretty frequent. Even the first “dungeon”, where you unlock the ability to run and jump off of walls, was pretty dynamic and interesting, although there wasn’t any sort of puzzles to make it challenging.
The overworld, however, was fairly bland and linear. Either the area was linear with little to nothing to explore, or the smaller side areas offered almost nothing beyond items that the game doesn’t tell you what to do with (I later found out you’re supposed to sell them in the main city, but I never even saw an NPC to sell from).
Some areas just had questionable design choices, which made me confused and a little frustrated to deal with.
For example, to enter the first dungeon of the game, you have to climb a series of ladders to flip a switch and unlock the door. Sure. No problem. Flip the switch, drop down, jump from the platform to the dungeon entrance and voila: you’re in.
If you want to jump from the entrance back to that platform, you can’t. It’s barely out of reach with your dash, so you have to instead jump and dash to a much lower platform, climb some ladders, and then jump back to that platform. Maybe I’m just not properly timing my jump, but I felt that it was impossible.
Entering the first city in the game, the terrain definitely changed but the area felt just as empty as the previous ones. A distinct lack of ambient life made the areas feel dull and forgettable. Even if there was something as simple as rats scuttling around in this broken world would make all the difference.
It’s a true shame that the level design wasn’t consistent, because the platforming felt very tight and well done. You can tell that Robi Studios spent a lot of time working on making platforming feel right, but the game just doesn’t get to stay consistent with it.
Slashing and Hacking Away
Blue Fire is not only a platforming game, but is also an action game. You get to hack, slash, and even cast spells as you challenge the strange looking creatures of Penumbra. Attacking and blocking (or parrying) feels great, and the animations are smooth.
But enemies attack in predictable, stiff patterns that I never had a struggle with. Enemies with swords have slow, simple attacks that are easy to dodge out of the way, and you attack so much faster than they do that combat doesn’t often last very long. Paired with a distinct lack of enemies in the world, combat is almost a non-issue. One monster every few platforms doesn’t make me feel challenged in the slightest.
There are even some rooms where you’re locked in, Legend of Zelda style, to defeat some enemies and unlock a chest. But the game just spawns two enemies, and that’s it. Too easy to dodge and there’s very little on the line.
A Dying Flame
Blue Fire has a distinct visual appeal that is what originally hooked me. Paired with the vibes of a Hollow Knight-like Metroidvania in a 3D Legend of Zelda type world, I was sold from the start. But the game feels like it was split too far down the middle and missed the best parts of both of those games: Exploration, Storytelling, and combat. If Blue Fire had stuck to a more traditional 3D platformer and focused on a larger platforming game, that would have been killer. Or, if it had gotten deeper into the Metroidvania roots and added some more challenging combat, maybe I would have been more satisfied.
I don’t really want to recommend Blue Fire unless you’re really captured by the visuals and want a similar vein to Hollow Knight before Silksong releases. For me, I’ll probably wait. But I will 100% keep an eye out for whatever comes next from Robi Studios, because they’re definitely a studio to keep an eye on.
Checkshirted wearing, waxed moustachioed hipsters, this game is for you.
I mean it’s for the rest of us as well, but especially the bearded no logo uniformers who dream of wielding an axe in the wilds. Mana Potion Studios have produced a fine little RTS, city builder, tower defense game to delight us.
Jaunty music, fishing for food, venison for the people, a proper medieval looking castle designed by you, siege engines, classic big marrow shaped club wielding trolls wearing nothing but slashed hulk shorts and Lumberjacks. Lumberjacks galore. I never wanted to be a barber anyway.
There’s a lot to love about Becastled, a wonderful game that is part city management, part RTS. It is like Total War for people who used to play Settlers on wet break in the science labs.
You’re A Lumberjack, Barry. You too, Harry.
You play the master of the Kingdom of the Sun. You guys rule the daylight and life is good.
The deer stroll nearby, the earth is luscious and your people are productive. You begin by placing your central hall or Castle Keep onto a chosen hex and found your settlement. Then you spawn some citizens willing to do your bidding and your first objective is to tell them to be lumberjacks, because almost all of the early currency is in wood. So, site yourself near some trees and get going.
As usual in an RTS management city build you need to get resources and spend them to enable expansion. You will need wood for building more houses to grow your population, you need wood to build taverns to keep them happy, you need wood to build a farm to feed your growing population, you need wood to build training centres for archers or melee warriors to defend the glorious new Utopia you are building, in fact you’re going to need more lumberjacks.
Wood is the currency early game, building, expanding and sustaining that is the key, as it is in any resource management builder.
Here Comes Trouble
As the game progresses you need other things and very much like playing the board game version of Settlers, you need to be located next to lots of varied resources and some of them like stone and gold or a sort of mined solar gem are needed later for upgrading the stockade and towers to stone ones and building a church to restore your dead warriors in the resurrecting power of daylight hours because, you see, you are on a daily clock.
When the day is over, the Moon Warriors spawn somewhere nearby. They are blue goblins and trolls and they come each night without fail from different directions in ever increasing numbers and with better equipment each night. They march inexorably toward you like the hoards of Mordor, carrying scaling ladders, battering rams, cannon and siege towers to breach your city walls and so you must prepare for sunset each day to go once more into the frey to see if you live or die this day. To survive you must protect and defend your Keep. Citizens and troops may die, buildings may fall, but your founding Keep must survive or the game is lost.
The controls are delightfully simple, the expansion tree is entirely open, the only thing that holds you back is…lumberjacks. If you can get going fast enough and manage food and housing, then you can get other careers going for masons, miners and engineers.
The first few days are easy to defend against, by which time you need to be up and running with defensive structures and plenty of varied methods of defense. The only help you get is that a blue mist signals the spawning site for the Moon Warriors that coming evening. If you have not planned or do not have a productive enough village then you could find they are due to spawn on the most exposed side.
So, you need a strategy and you need to act quickly and consistently, managing choices and resources to sustain, defend and develop…much like any standard RTS. The difference and appeal with Becastled is the varied nature of how you can play.
Hoards of Hordes
It has stacks of playability with challenges split into eight difficulty levels, with three levels of combat difficulty, on seven different terrain types with resources either abundant or scarce and most interestingly you can alter the length of the game, effectively your win point.
Keep the Solar Kingdom safe for 10 days in the easiest instance or try for up to 30 days. With each added day of challenge the Moon Warriors get more powerful and more difficult to defend against, but potentially your castle starts to resemble Carcasonne…another fine board game Becastled clearly draws influence from.
And if you are feeling like Henry V then you can take the ultimate challenge of an infinity mode and see how long you can survive the nightly mounting hoards. I have seen some people on YouTube try to build a wall around the entire map and another who fought for 50+ days. That you can alter the challenge so greatly and try to break the game with challenges like walling the entire map is great freedom for a game.
Who Just Died?
There are some problems with Becastled; some men stop working sometimes and it often isn’t clear who has died when you begin the day after an attack and you have to check absolutely everything to reassign workers otherwise the city will start to fail and you need to work hard each day to grow and repair if you are to survive the night.
Pathfinding is another problem, the AI isn’t great at this, when you send troops to certain locations or to engage in combat with a group of the enemy they take the shortest direct path, but this can lead to them being stuck on a cliff edge or behind a gatehouse or something. With a battle raging this can be disastrous and you can be left wondering where that unit you sent to help got to, but it’s now all too late.
Visit The Solar Kingdom Today!
However, these minor problems for a game in Early Access and the devs are patching these sorts of things at least once a month so by the time you play they may even be gone.
On top of this they have published a clear road map of exciting development that includes tech trees, city building expansion and boss fights. I can only hope they make PvP possible in the future.
Becastled offers hours and hours of medieval fun at a bargain price. It proves both accessible and challenging at the same time. You really would be medieval to not go and get this, especially if RTS is your thing. Can you go 50 days without defeat? I can, but then I’m a Lumberjack, so I’m ok.
Mood is required for this one – Lights out… Headphones on… It’s time for some horror.
Reficul 666 is a survival horror game from MAG Studios, who seem to specialise in this genre. Taken as an FPS, there is something sweeping the globe as night falls and it is knocking out all communications. You are going to be on your own, in your little part of town, attempting to meet your friends and trying to survive the nights’ terrors.
Snug in the safety of your house is where you begin your journey to survive, but it just so happens that a portal that leads to the demon lair is in your town, wouldn’t you know it.
“Alexa, How Does My Day Look?”
Pals have left notes to meet you and a local priest has apparently been preparing, so you had best get ready…these things always come down to you to solve. You are armed with a torch, pistol and lighter and you are sent on something of a linear adventure to navigate.
Live observations at the movies reveal that you should not show the monster too soon. Part of the terror is the build up. The horror movie The Descent did this very well. Sometimes the reveal is a disappointment, sometimes not. It’s a fine line in horror between getting it right and making it naff; Reficul 666 does it right. By placing the character in constant darkness save for the direction of the torchlight or the dim holy glow of the bible most of the surroundings are hidden and you can never be sure of what or where something is unless you are looking at it and when you do catch sight of a demon or a shadow it works.
Was it different when the boss demon appears at the end? No, you can’t see him clearly unless you direct your torch right at him. And what a great job the dev has done on him, he looks like a terrifying version of Dave Grohl’s devil.
Reficul 666 does a great job of making your skin freeze. They have incorporated a whispering of demons that increases in volume when you are near them; a nice warning mechanic, but also one that builds tension very well. When the whispering about dragging you into the darkness begins, it drives your anxiety levels up and the heart rate rises, then racing up to you are some shadowy demons and terror overtakes you entirely for a moment.
Peek through your fingers, I am not exaggerating. It is not a jump scare, it’s just an excellent user of tension and delivery. No matter how long I played the game and even when I carried a Holy Bible that would shock the approaching demons out of the way, it still made the hairs stand up momentarily, each time one glided towards me round a corner.
Maps are good and it has a relatively tight open world environment, unfortunately this is where most of the positives end for Reficul 666. It’s all a little dated graphically, there is little to no interaction with the environment beyond opening doors. The game has almost no colliders at all. Kick a box to reveal a key, knock a chair or a glass of alcohol over, make it smash, start a fire; these are things that make a gameworld feel alive and also provide other opportunities for gameplay.
Step into these rooms and sadly there is none of this here, plenty of areas are just rooms with boxes or a bed in and serve no purpose. There’s too much of this and you quickly learn that investigating this world serves little purpose despite it being possible to enter many of these houses.
Into The Catacombs, I Presume?
Repaid by understanding this you are left with a linear adventure where you follow notes from one empty house to another until you eventually transport to the catacombs of the demon. It is a little uninspiring, but the catacombs level is planned better and has a decent feel to it, despite still suffering from looking good but having too little interaction.
Raw music sound is virtually non-existent, it’s just the murmurings of the satanic shadows that stalk you. Most of the time the only other thing I could hear were my clogs snapping heavily on the metal road. At least that’s what they sounded like I was wearing. Perhaps the whispers are all you need in a horror game, but I think people underestimate the subconscious addition sound done well can give a game and there are probably opportunities here.
Reficul 666 is listed as being in early access and indeed many of these issues could be developed and improved if early access goes well. The issue here is that Reficul 666 is a repackaging of an earlier effort called Reficul VR which was effectively the same game published back in 2018. There have been some improvements since then, but they are minor and cosmetic.
Peek at the core design and mechanics of the gamed and they are pretty much the same and it lacks depth. It needs a clear outline of what it hopes to become and a developer log that tracks progress to have confidence to part with what is a relatively high price for the current available material.
It’s Not All Bad
Now, there are actually lots of places Reficul could go from here to become a good game. You could have safe houses that you need to secure, perhaps some base building elements, meeting some of your other friends could be good, especially if their character is developed and they then get killed. All sorts of things here have potential, but one thing is certain it needs more of something.
Reficul 666 does have one hell of an atmosphere, but it needs to develop and finish well. Available on Steam in Early Access, you’ll get about an hour or two out of Reficul 666, but it is a long way from justifying the price point in current form.
Of course in another form Reficul666 read backwards spells something else – Lucifer. Like the first word in every paragraph you just read.
Did your ordinary German soldier in 1943 who was fresh out of school at 18 know he was one of the bad guys in WW2? I’m a bit confused about The Happy Little Virus. Normally in games you play the hero, sometimes the bad guy, but when you do it’s clear. I think I’m the bad guy in this…
The game is played in imagined circuit boards, in a kind of Tron way, where you are in the grid, on the motherboard of a computer or in the servers. You play a virus…so a bad guy (right?) and there are companies to choose from to ‘attack’ on the menu screen.
One is for Guide Dogs and the other is a Cancer support charity… we’re hacking and stealing from these people? We’re definitely the bad guys! Right? Perhaps we are fighting corruption or abuse? No, there are suggestions that rich people want guide dogs because they are trained to poo on command. You are sent to hack and steal from various addiction, wildlife and support charities. We’re definitely the bad guys.
Happy Little Dalek-like Creature
In The Happy Little Virus you control a small Dalek like creature in a 2.5D shooter and you have to run through circuit boards, which are effectively corridors. You gradually collect weapon power-ups through the course of the game and your progress saves after each level.
The early levels are just corridor shooters and lack a zing about them to draw you in, but if you persist the game does develop a bit. You are presented with wider levels, giving you choice about how to tackle opponents. Enemies (the good guys) are similar Dalek shaped creatures but represent anti-virus software and sometimes can reproduce in hubs on some levels.
You (as the virus) can take over these hubs and replicate yourself a few times. This gives you a form of extra life in some of the more challenging levels. Levels also develop a variety of additional features. You can regain health from circuit board resistors and there are firewalls, which act as little laser gates that can be activated on and off sometimes. If you are smart you can use these to your advantage making some of the faster anti-virus Daleks career into them as you sidestep like a matador.
Sound & Visuals
The music and sound effects are not up to much, it’s there, but pretty rote and unobtrusive. The colours however are vibrant and look good, with bright greens making borders and circuit connections and some levels using luminescent lighting to provide a different type of challenge than just more enemies. The gameplay curves nicely in difficulty although the final level is something of a chaotic overwhelming challenge.
There are a variety of different weapons on offer through the game and they are quite inventive, you don’t just shoot things, although of course in a robot shooter, you do have a laser. You can blow a blast on a diffuser that shatters opponents – only at point blank range mind you, you can blow bubbles that capture enemies and bounce them off into space and off the board and you can gather up the shattered bodies of your enemies into a debris whirlwind and fire them at your enemies.
The more enemies you face, the more cluttered your narrow play area and corridors become with these shattered bits of anti-virus robot. This can be a help to you as it slows down the advance of your enemies allowing you to retreat a little and gather yourself; but it can also hinder you by rendering your long range laser redundant with too much debris in the way to hit the intended ‘good guy’.
The weapons then work best at a variety of distances and best against certain types of enemy. This all means you need to become pretty good at switching between weapon types and picking attack and retreat as weapons cool down. all-in-all it’s a pretty good fire system and definitely the strength of The Happy Little Virus.
If the combat is well constructed the level design and gameflow is less impressive. Although the difficulty is well planned and scaled, the essence of the game does not change very much and this makes play somewhat repetitive and slightly irritating. On top of this the constant messaging is just odd and awkward.
There are about 25 levels in all and they are grouped into rough themes, culminating in destroying and stealing from organised religion. It doesn’t feel like there is a narrative, rather that you are being subjected to the developers prejudices. If you can ignore this, it will take you about five hours to complete Dalek Training school.
The Happy Little Virus is a reasonable FPS puzzle game and is available on Steam. It has some good design in weapons and a reasonably well planned difficulty curve, but the messaging falls flat and the game is a bit repetitive and lacking fun after a short while; kind of in the way that Candy Crush is a challenge but isn’t actually fun.
The Happy Little Virus provides the sort of frustrating challenge that trying to bounce a tennis ball on the edge of the racket does, you want to go again because you know you can do better, but you also know the experience and result isn’t going to be much different and when you finish you probably won’t ever do it again, unless you’re a bad guy and then nothing you do makes sense.
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