Breathedge – Review

Breathedge – Review

From the makers of the Matrix… no news yet, but I am in possession of an immortal chicken.

No it’s not a euphemism for something rude, these things do go together. They are a glimpse of the kind of knowing humour on offer in Breathedge. It catches you off guard as you watch the opening cinematic of you being dragged towards an interrogation by some robots made from coffins….you’ll find out later.

Somebody Cut My Cable

A few days after I was given this to review someone cut my internet cable and I had to go somewhere else to download, update (trying not to forget my external drive) and shift everything onto my laptop just to get the game open to run. I was starting to feel like I was in ‘The Game’ and that this was some sort of meta pre-level of scavenging to prove I was worthy of playing Breathedge.

Having crafted together the ability to play the game I did not dare switch it off in case I couldn’t get back and my guy was lost in space to die.

…and I still have no idea why I am in possession of an immortal chicken.

Breathedge is a space survival sandbox game where you are constantly seeking out materials from the wreckage of the space ship you crashed in, to survive and improve your situation. It inevitably involves crafting essential equipment and tools to allow you to progress and in this sense it is rather linear and fairly standard, especially in the early levels. You are given a set of tasks to complete largely in a pre-designed order and you are prevented (by distance and no knowledge of location) from accessing other areas until crafting progression allows.

This is in ‘standard’ mode which is the story mode. Here there really isn’t much of the base building that you might expect in a sandbox crafter, rather you use discovered bases. Breathedge does offer a variety of play options which level story and freedom against permadeath, unlocked achievements and base building.

Downright Beautiful

Breathedge is, graphically, a downright beautiful game right from the get go. The premise is that you have survived an explosion of the largest spaceship in human history, which it transpires was a funerary ship (appropriate). You are on it delivering your fathers’ coffin when the explosion occurs and now you must survive.

Progress, like any sandbox crafter, is slow and contained at first, but opens up at a decent rate once you get past the first chapter. Your problems scale with progress as you move from simply surviving and getting home to uncovering and becoming embroiled in far bigger machinations as the game switches from a crafting exploration game to a more liner adventure game in its final few sections.

A common frustration of sandbox crafters is obtaining enough of the right resources. In Breathedge common sense developers have prevailed and resources divide into two categories.

Firstly the basics to survive, ice, various nutritional elements for crafting into food and various metal and chemicals for tools. These basics are in plentiful supply and often floating around freely…you won’t run out.

Secondly the other stuff, materials for crafting into bigger items (once you have discovered blueprints), plastic, copper wiring, rubber, paint, etc.

These things are found next to or attached to items of space debris. So there is some clarity about where to look for stuff you need and the in-game encyclopaedia offers visual clues on where to find them. This clarity means progression is always possible and never too far away.

About Time… Wasting

There are some gripes about unnecessary time wasting that falsely lengthens game time for no purpose and it is all over the place. Journey time is one particular complaint, it takes a long time to travel anywhere initially and repeatedly having to return to your base to refill oxygen on top of that is annoying. Planning and crafting to bridge what, early in the game, seems a vast distance and discover a new base takes a long time.

Once you get there and realise you need to return to transfer your phat stack of collected resources, over several journeys it is most definitely annoying. I mean having unlocked or completed an area, what is the point in making me travel 4 minutes back to my original base just to collect some resources

This is space and the future, (albeit a 1950s Soviet stylised one) so why, once I have securely moved on in the game or discovered more bases, can I not activate a fast travel system?

This needless wasting of time is present all over the place; you see it in the actual crafting, where every object created needs a 5 second wait for it to be built. If you are making several components that’s a wait of a couple of minutes for no reason at all.

Health & Beauty

Health is another example, it is restored by sleep, but you literally have to wait staring at a screen doing nothing but watch a spinning sand timer for a minute in order to recover your health. It serves no purpose except to waste time, at least until you get the medical box blueprint to craft instant healing.

It is for this reason that some major reviewers have been unkind to Breathedge, but I think they’ve got it wrong. You see any complaint about this artificial and imposed pointless game lengthening (which I think is a valid complaint) is dispelled shortly after completing chapter one.

Very quickly after this point you discover a second base and rapidly open up triple the length of time on oxygen, bigger spare tanks to carry and even discover a vacuum cleaner rocket bike and begin whizzing around at quadruple the speed like a sort of space Hagrid.

So, all of these complaints rapidly recede and the only annoyance that remains is the short wait time for crafting items, but that, by virtue of being the only one, becomes trifling as the game opens up into a vast multitude of tasks to complete and places to investigate; it isn’t as if I have to do a stupid three minute puzzle every time I want to buy items cheaper, (yes I mean you Bioshock) and if it doesn’t spoil that game I can assure you by chapter two crafting items won’t be bothering you here. Aside from that, developers are responsive to the community and a recent update has increased the oxygen and tool durability in the early stages to improve your experience.

Breathedge is a wonderous game of beauty, discovery and adventure. The college humour jars at times, but like the annoyances of the early stages this too dissipates and a more confident game emerges.

In Breathedge there is always something to keep you going and I have lost hours into the early morning on repeated nights playing this because I felt I was just about to crack a puzzle or felt I would just investigate that thing over there, just finish off this last part of the task and I will have made significant advancement. Every achievement in Breathedge feels significant and getting that feel and commitment from a player is a sign of a good game.

You’ll get about 30 plus hours out of Breathedge and the developers are planning two free expansions later this year. It isn’t a perfect game or consistent and in some ways that’s a good thing. So, if you can see past the jarring frustrations of the first chapter (somewhat now patched), you will be rewarded with a visually stunning adventure based largely on a solid crafting background. It’s worth your time and you will enjoy it.

I still don’t know why they give you an immortal chicken, but it’s good for shorting out flayed electrics on space debris. I wonder if that’s how my internet cable was cut…

NUTS – Review

NUTS – Review


Squirrels
…Shifty buggers I always thought. Stashing things, hiding, staring at you and running off abruptly like you caught them saying stuff about you or making some sort of plan to get you. I was looking forward to this NUTS review and playthrough. A pleasant squirrel surveillance puzzle game; a chance to have them endeared to me.

Cream chinos – check.

Blue shirt – check.

A chance to be David Attenborough for this NUTS review. Nope…a chance at revenge.

NUTS review

Last year a squirrel defeated me. No ordinary squirrel mind you, clearly the local Ninja Warrior champion. He kept invading the garden and stealing the bird food.

I tried lurking at windows to shoot him with a super soaker, I tried making squirrel baffles that meant he couldn’t climb onto the bird table. I hated him… he beat me time after time and every time he just used to sit there staring at me through the window, eating the food. NUTS was going to be military grade training for me in tracking and understanding the enemy.

Three Years In The Making

NUTS was originally a short demo created in 48 hours for Global Game Jam in 2018. So much good comes out of that annual event in encouraging developers to just go ahead and make that idea with the specific goal of perhaps starting them down the road to completing something. NUTS is a great example of that journey. Published by NoodleCake it has taken three years to get from that short demo to the full game you see today. You can still download and play the original demo from Itch.io. Jonatan van Hove (Joon in the listed designers), the original Icelandic designer has left it there for posterity.

NUTS Chasing XP Indie Game Review

NUTS is a beautiful, calm game, that bears a lot of similarities to Firewatch. In both games you operate in a remote location of natural beauty with only a more experienced colleague in telephone contact with you as the other human, who offers guidance and tasks.  Here your job is to save the Melmoth forest from developers by proving that the area is a significant squirrel habitat and that they live here.

Lights, Camera, Action

After a brief set up you are into the game and it’s pretty simple, with few command options. You pick up cameras and place them to track squirrels, then you return to the caravan, hit record and watch the playback in the morning to see if you captured any on film. If you did you go out and move the cameras to try and ultimately find out where these squirrels are coming from and going to. That’s it; you play on your own, set cameras and scrub video for stills of them to print and fax to your boss for the next mission.

Really…that’s it.

That’s all you do for the whole game. Review over… go photograph some squirrels.

NUTS squirrel game review

I am aware that this sounds implacably dull and cyclical gameplay, but it really isn’t. It is remarkably engaging. You can be cautious and place cameras quite close together and be certain of tracking their route, you can try to find high wide angle positions or examine the land and take your best guess as to where they might go from where you saw them last. This approach is most rewarding as you scrub the video the next morning to see if you were right.

It’s great when you cut down the chase with a well deduced guess in placing the camera and, surprisingly it’s also quite joyous when you are totally wrong and stare at empty video for 90 seconds and realise you’ve been had…the cunning blighters.

Sure, there has been some criticism of the needless walking back and forwards but you find new routes, new possibilities for your cameras and the sprint function dramatically cuts down the retreading of steps or the return walk to the caravan. It honestly never bothered me one bit.

NUTS gameplay review

Let’s Talk Aesthetic

NUTS takes a different slant on look as well as gameplay. At first I am reminded of those stories of kids turning orange from drinking too much Sunny Delight day after day.

Well NUTS looks like it fell into a vat of Sunny Delight and you are wandering around playing the game through a diving mask filled with Sunny Delight. The entire game is presented in stark pastel shades of green, purple and yellow. Again though, this works and it is a clever choice that gives this game a very pleasing aesthetic. Imagine they made your standard glossy natural looking forest, the game would appear a lot duller and perhaps the gameplay intrigue would not be enough to save it.

In addition, the abstract colour palette makes Melmoth forest and the game in general both pleasing to the eye and memorable. It also allows the game to take something of a minimalist approach to surroundings. I don’t know how they do it, but what I noticed while putting together our NUTS review is the environment is entrancing – and the design of the levels makes this visual approach work for highlighting and negotiating different terrain in a way it just wouldn’t if it were plainly shown as a grey rock and green tree in clear definition.

I got about five hours of pleasant gameplay for this NUTS review, and the only replay value are tapes left lying around from when your boss was surveying the squirrels some time ago.

You may miss them as you progress through each of the six levels. You don’t need them to complete the game, but given a large part of the game is the narrative then it certainly adds to the game to seek them out.

Let’s Go NUTS

All in all, NUTS is definitely worth a pecan. It’s basically a giant game of hide-and-seek and has a great feel to it all round. It’s a good example of simple ideas done well – work. So go check it out and bathe yourself happily in this luminous squirrel conundrum. The story is strong, the gameplay straight forward, but engaging and you’ll have a good time discovering what these squirrels are up to.

The discovery is going to make me treat the one in my garden with a little more respect…I might even give him some nuts.

Stephen Daughton

What Lives Below Review

What Lives Below Review

This isn’t really a game… this is a secret recruitment program for the Japanese whaling Industry. If you complete this game your download IP location is given to the Public Security Intelligence Agency in Tokyo; then a strange man in black shades and black badly smelling rubber overalls sidles up to you in the milk aisle asking you how handy you are with a harpoon and if you want to join the fleet? I can’t quite verify this because the game is not as straight forward to finish as I imagined. 

What Lives Below

The game opens up with a beautiful menu screen of a vast colourful setting sun as you rise and fall on the swell of the sea, backed by a great electronic beat; It all bodes well. ‘What lives below’ is currently a demo and the developer has created what they describe as four boss fights, taken in a first person perspective.

You begin on the wharf of a tiny island with one mock Tudor house and a small boat reminiscent of Jaws; you just know that at some point you are going to whisper to yourself, ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’. 

What Lives Below Review
Indie Game What Lives Below

The procedurally generated ocean swells are big, vast and combined with the changing lighting and weather it does a good job of creating a dangerous, brooding and malevolent environment. It all makes you feel alone and vulnerable, this is reinforced when you meet the first sea monster and it leaps vertically 40 foot out of the sea.

The four fights on offer see you hunt an electric humpback whale, a giant brooding octopus who might even pick you up and throw you around if you don’t keep moving, an oversized (incongruous) eagle and a bloody great Godzilla sized sea turtle.

What Lives Below Indie Game Review

They will all try to destroy you by smashing or shoving you under the waves and it gets quite intense and chaotic in battle at times.

Initially in seeking the monsters they stick to a generated route (except for the octopus who is clearly a sedentary obese octopus) but the moment you do them the slightest damage the creatures pursue you and the frantic battle is on. To succeed you need to do a variety of things, stop the boat from bursting into flames, repeatedly harpoon the monsters to wear down their health and deal with additional dangers like avoiding lightning strikes.

You can’t do these things at the same time as you might in a standard fps. In this sense you have to manage your situation, rather like Command and Conquer or Company of Heroes, frequently taking care of the needs of survival (repair and steering) trying to give yourself time to fight in-between these moments, all whilst under attack; It is challenging.

The difficulty is set reasonably high. It’s fair, but there is a sense of ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ about this; when you die you start again back at the island, have to hop on the boat and go find the sea beasts again. And you will die a lot to begin with as you adjust and find your strategy; that is as it should be in a demo presenting boss fights; these are meant to be the difficult bits of a potential full game, but it might be frustrating at first.

Then there is the weapon, you only have a harpoon and there is something slightly repetitive about this, despite an alternate fire mode which simply electrifies it. Currently this harpoon feels a little flimsy, there isn’t much noise or punch to it and you don’t feel you are using a significant weapon here. Things are also a little difficult to control overall because the ocean swell is so great.

What Lives Below Screenshot

During your adventure, you move quite considerably on the boat in terms of field of vision and it makes it hard to get off accurate shots against the monsters, so it’s just as well they are huge. These things are all just minor gripes though and the developer, keen for feedback, is perfectly able to improve on them based on what we can see already on offer.

What Lives Below Gameplay

What lives below has garnered lots of positive attention, surpassing 2000 downloads in its’ first week on Itchio; a sizable achievement for a young developer. They have just gained a Steam development page and it is amazing to think that this is the work of one 19 year old in just eight months. It looks good, is something different in style, has some impressive ocean physics and shows a tremendous amount of potential.

Currently you’ll get a couple of hours play out of it and it will be interesting to follow the development of the wider levels, weapons and story building. So head on over to Steam, follow it there and download this boss demo on Itchio to give it a go. It is free to download, but you’ll regret not giving them a donation once you play it. 

…and if you do well at it, you’ll find me wearing shades and a black suit, serving you at the sushi counter with a car outside waiting to take you to harpoon training.

Is it worth playing No Man’s Sky in 2022?

Is it worth playing No Man’s Sky in 2022?

No Man’s Sky has probably one of the most notorious launches for a new game of the last decade. Soaring on hype, the game failed to deliver on almost everything, leaving gamers crushed with buyer’s remorse.

Now, over four years after the initial release of the game (and several large, free updates), is it worth playing after all this time?

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Two planets nearly touching each other (Photo credit o0BaBaBoOeY0o on Reddit)

What’s the game like in 2021?

The core gameplay loop for No Man’s Sky is the same as many other survival/exploration-based games in the genre. You’re a person, in a world, and you harvest resources to build a base, upgrade your character to explore farther, and fight increasingly tougher enemies.

One of the biggest reasons why I could never truly get into Minecraft and its kin was exploration.

The different biomes were neat, but they didn’t make me inclined to stick around if I didn’t immediately find resources or points of interest. Especially for Minecraft’s sake, most of the game is spent underground anyway, making the change in biomes hardly noticeable.

With No Man’s Sky, you’re instead greeted with the same key resources on almost all planets. Some planets will not have these resources in abundance, which means you may have to stock up and come prepared for some planets.

These planets are completely procedurally generated, while they may still fall under similar biomes to other games, they end up being completely unique every time.

An exotic “Plated Planet” biome (Photo credit Lucifer926 on Reddit)

Between zooming from planet to planet, harvesting resources, and building bases across the galaxy, you’ve still got to explore space as well.

Space Stations serve as trading hubs between you and the local system’s economy, with different prices being offered depending on where you are. Here you’ll meet the three prominent races of the galaxy, learning their language to communicate, trading resources, unlocking new technology, and even buying better starships.

Environments That Leave You Breathless

Space – that is where the game truly shines in the graphics department.

Seeing these vibrant, colorful worlds in different systems and configurations often leaves you breathless. Systems with multiple stars, ringed planets like Saturn, even the sheer size and closeness of planets offer awe-inspiring views that can’t be replicated in other games.

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A Three-star system near a ringed planet (Photo credit JIARVIS on Reddit)

However, survival games such as these always fall into the same issue: Is the core gameplay loop enough to keep you entertained?

Just like Minecraft, the core of the game resides around harvesting resources, exploring new places, maybe building a base, and then going to another planet and repeating this cycle. No Man’s Sky offers some breaks to this via space travel, missions, managing your fleet of ships as you travel system to system.

And The Bad News?

The game doesn’t come without any faults, however.

No Man’s Sky has a fairly unimpressive story, which isn’t unlike other games in the same genre. Games like these offer little in the plot department, and instead opt for players to forge their own stories through their experiences while playing and exploring the game.

Gameplay gets repetitive as well, especially if you have bad luck and end up seeing similar planets in each system you jump to – which really ruins immersion when you’ve seen six Acidic planets in your last three jumps. This may be a personal beef though, as I don’t intend to land on every planet I see as other players may.

My final gripe with the game is the lack of difficult combat. The primary “enemy” of the game, Sentinels, are pretty dumb enemies. They offer little challenge after a certain point, and just attack in endless waves if you don’t actively run and hide from them to drop your “wanted level”.

All in all, the game has little to offer for downsides if you are already a veteran of the genre. There may be some struggles in Multiplayer that I’m not aware of, as I have only played solo so far.

Screenshot courtesy of u/Mokshake on reddit.

For me, I’ve never been more hooked in a game of this genre. I’ve already dumped over 70 hours into the game, including a 3 hour stream. The game continues to offer new free updates every few months, which keeps players like me anticipating what comes next.

Would I recommend the game? Absolutely.

Hades – A Breakout Title

Hades – A Breakout Title

Let’s be honest here. Hades is a fantastic game and there’s no reason to give it anything but a recommendation. Five Stars. 10/10. To claim otherwise that Supergiant’s entry into the rogue-lite genre isn’t a masterpiece would be a complete lie, and I’m an honest man.

Overview of Hades

It’s not difficult to describe Hades on the surface – It’s a 2.5D rogue-lite game that takes place in the beautiful world of the Greek Underworld. You play as Zagreus, the edgy and cool son of Hades who just wants to leave his hometown and explore the world, but Hades oddly refuses to let you leave Tartarus and communicate with your Olympian relatives.

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Hades

So naturally, you run away. Dashing through the rooms of Tartarus, fighting monsters left and right as you make your ascent to Earth. You meet colorful characters from Greek mythology, like Sisyphus and his super cool eternal punishment despite him being super kind, or eternal sad boy Orpheus who just wants to vibe in the afterlife.

Not to mention the Olympian gods, who send you their blessings to help you advance through each run, each one with their own personalities and boons to offer unique builds for every run through the layers of Hell.

Unique Features

One of the most unique features that Hades offers is that it’s a rogue-lite with an actual story. And like, a good one too.

Most roguelikes have a story ranging from “mom locked me in a basement and is going to kill me, by the way here are the four horsemen of the apocalypse and my dead unborn brother” to [frustrated shouting at your monitor when you’re 12 minutes into Monsoon difficulty], with gameplay superseding the story-line of the game.

Which is totally fine, for those respective games. It’s not like I don’t have almost 150 hours in Risk of Rain 2, or half that in Binding of Issac.

Progress, Die, Repeat

The more you progress, and die, and repeat, the more the game opens up for you. New characters begin to wander the halls of Hades’ home, as well as new weapons with unique upgrade paths for each one. Each character has their own story and personality that unlocks the more you spend time to interact with them, or gift them items to strengthen that bond.

Supergiant isn’t new to the realms of excellent storytelling as well as engaging gameplay – with the hit games Bastion and Transistor under their belts, they are no strangers to fantastic storytelling. Paired with the unique genre of Roguelite games, the gameplay loop of progressing as far as you can before dying also allows the story to unfold at the pace of the player. Hades only offers one clear goal: Escape Hell, and you beat the game.

Of course, most players aren’t going to be able to pick up the game and complete it in their first attempt. Once they have shaken off their mortal coil, players see new characters and options in the world to unlock and play with, as the story unfolds with each incremental victory.

Summing Up Hades

Eventually, the game culminates in it’s “final ending” (Although I think there is a third ending after you escape a certain number of times), which is not only completely satisfying, even still adds further content to explore within the game.

Generally, I don’t play a game all the way to completion for a review. In this case, our Hades review was epic. I’ve logged close to 55 hours of the game, and I still pick it up for a few runs every couple days.

I don’t think there is any other way to sum up how I really feel about this game, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.