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.
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.
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…
It’s a rarity that I end up playing most games in the survival game genre, such as Minecraft and Rust, Subnautica, Don’t Starve, and more. It’s not that these games are bad, but the market has become oversaturated with games in this genre in the last decade or so.
My talents for building beautiful structures, or finding the patience in my ADHD brain to gather the countless resources to craft what I need to advance to the next tier of the game.
But Valheim hits different.
You are a mighty Viking warrior, sent by Odin Allfather himself to the Norse equivalent of Purgatory in order to slay mythical beings that threaten Valhalla. Starting in the relatively peaceful Meadow biome, you build a small home (or find one) and begin to collect resources to better your equipment and explore the world.
Valheim offers a great tutorial system in the form of a huge raven that explains some of the core mechanics of the game, and offers a bit of direction on how to progress forward, which is a big step up from similar games that just drop you into a random world with little to no instructions.
I really enjoy that Iron Gate Studios spent the time to add a good, clear goal as well as a simple but well integrated tutorial system. One of my biggest struggles with Minecraft over the years is how absolutely massive the game is, with little to no direction on how to get to the endgame goal of killing the Ender Dragon or how you should be progressing forward.
Wait, Minecraft Is 12 Years Old?
It’s possible that’s more of an opinion, or signs of age as Minecraft is nearing it’s 12th year, but I’m not as much of a fan of the “figure it out yourself” side of these games. Maybe I’m just old.
The world of Valhiem is a beautiful, slightly haunting world. Danger might not lurk around every corner, but it is ever-present. Beyond the safety of the open Meadows biome, lies a myriad of dangerous creatures that attack relentlessly. From Greylings, Trolls, skeletons and more, they will endlessly hunt you down as long as you leave the safety of your home.
Base building becomes even more important as you delve farther into the world, as attacks on your home will become more frequent and you’ll need to build defenses like spikes and pits to stop them. Crafting your base is a breeze, with pieces snapping into place and requiring you to be mindful of support beams, chimneys for smoke ventilation, as well as protective walls for safety.
Beautiful Visuals, Open World Exploration
Visually, the game’s landscapes are beautiful and the building system lets you easily create nice looking structures without being an architect (in contrast to Minecraft where I can’t build anything). However, monsters and players themselves look like they were ripped out of Runescape, and don’t really mesh with the rest of the visuals of the game.
I do miss the lack of things to discover in the world, but to my credit I have only explored the first two biomes, and have not seen much on the Wiki to change my mind about more discoverable things beyond abandoned structures and small dungeons.
Where No Man’s Sky offers a plethora of locations that overall don’t matter a great deal to progression, and Minecraft offers a huge variety of possible things to explore that are (usually) beneficial in some way, Valheim’s abandoned homes generally only offer the same couple resources (some gems/amber/money that you can’t use for a while longer, feathers, bees, and maybe some arrows). The crypts you find in Black Forest are necessary to create Forges and smelters, but after that there’s never been anything of note to find in them.
The game also offers a skill system where the more you use a skill, the better you get at it.
Or, so I’m told.
I haven’t really noticed any difference between where I started the game and and where I am now. I’ve been sprinting since I started the game, but I haven’t seen a single difference in running speed. The only noticeable progression is upgrading tools and weapons, which make a decent enough difference to feel like progression.
The Final Verdict
Overall, I’m still really enjoying running around the world of Valheim. I’m somewhere around day 35 or so of my current world, wasting time trying to mine more bronze before I craft a ship to sail to the next island to face the second boss. And I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of it.
For an early access title (which is only about $20), it’s a great game at it’s current version. Iron Gate Studio has been adding small patches fairly frequently, improving the game’s stability while also being fairly open about their roadmap for new features.
I hope that some of the visuals are changed as the game goes on, mainly the horrendous looking trolls and player models, but we’ll see if that is just a design choice or not. I’d also like to see more attention paid to the skill system, to feel like there’s an actual progression for all the trees I’ve hacked down over the last 20 hours of game time.
Fans of great emergent storytelling and multiplayer survival games, Valheim is an easy pick. Even if you want to sit and let the game marinate for a bit longer for more content, there’s already plenty to unpack now to keep you entertained for a few weeks with your buddies.
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?
What’s the game like in 2022?
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.
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.
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.
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.
To start this Black Iris review, I must preface by saying at first it feels like I’ve clicked the wrong link… that I’m not paying attention somehow, because I think I am viewing one of the shortlist finalists for a major Art award at the National Gallery.
The game has a stuttering whirr of noise behind it at times, rather like the time you stuck a peg in the spokes of your bike wheel as a kid to make it sound like a Ducati and it includes some short silent black and white videos of time speeded bacteria growing across a petri dish.
You know the sort of art I’m talking about.
The opening titles are disconcerting Blair Witch Project style shaky close ups of trees and foxgloves in the woods and all of this builds a sense of tension at the start.
But no, all is well, I have indeed downloaded The Black Iris, developed by Arboreta Games. I say all is well, but in fact the premise of the game is quite the opposite.
You play an engineer tasked with shutting down some research stations in the woods (it’s always the remote woods isn’t it) in North Eastern Scotland, with all of the workers disappeared or dead.
You can tackle things in any order and the pixilated graphics are made to lend themselves to the theme, at times making me feel like I am reliving the last 15 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with it’s disorienting, psychedelic presentation. This works well in creating a world blistering between the normal and some chaotic otherverse.
The Black Iris is a third person, over the shoulder supernatural horror adventure game drawing heavy influence from movies like Beyond the Black Rainbow; where black irises play a significant part in the movie and the setting for all the terribleness of the film is a research facility called Arborea, clearly where the developers here get their name from.
Another inspiration appears to be a similar horror movie, The Void where they take the triangular shape prevalent in that movie and make it look like the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, but in fact it turns out to be a Church to a new lunatic cult for sacrifice of the individual…wait it is Glastonbury.
In any case horror references abound in the game design, the chaotic mind-altering focus around the sphere in Event horizon is another and the developers do achieve their aim of making a credible interesting take on it.
Most of the Black Iris reviews I skimmed through have missed the way this game is balanced. Sure there are flaws; the graphics are blocky and there are moments when you inexplicably pass through walls of buildings and the entry to buildings instantly rotates the camera view but not the movement controls making for some stuttering to the play, but they get so much right.
Diversions, delay and misdirection to your mission, an ability to interact with your environment and you need to in order to progress. There are empty bottles lying on the floor of some buildings for no other reason that you can knock them when you walk and the noise makes you stop to look at what happened; mist emerges from a door when you open it, for no other reason than to try and add atmosphere.
These little things are painstaking to construct, but elevate the game beyond what might have been a simple linear adventure. Why make your life more difficult than all of the above by deciding it should also be set in the rain? Because it matters and recognizing all these things matter to convincing world building and drawing the player in, is a mark of good development.
One of the best things about The Black Iris is the score; it matches the feel of the game perfectly, with the sinister, suspenseful and uncomfortable rattling and the sound of wind and rain, it all adds to the experience.
The game has been regularly patched and improved since its release; there are plans for controller use to be added and the developers are keen responders to feedback. So go join the nearly 4000 other people who have downloaded this in the first two weeks since it dropped on Itch.io.
Black Iris is the first ever game developed by Arboreta and considering that it is a marvelous achievement and I can’t wait to see what they do next. You will get about 30-40 minutes play out of this and the best bit? The developers will let you have the game for free; but they ask you to consider paying what you like for it. Here it is worth pointing out to you that all of the profit after Itch.io gets its 10% will go to their local food bank in West Dunbartonshire.
I hope you have enjoyed this Black Iris review as much as I have enjoyed both playing and writing about it. Black Iris is available on Itch.io:
Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed if you pay the suggested amount to be taken on this short trippy adventure. And it’s better modern Art than you’d see for more money in any Gallery, so really you’re winning.