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.
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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.
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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