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.
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…
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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 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.
This was the greatest basketball game of all time – NBA Jam. There you could jump many times your own height in a ‘physics out the window’, big head, WTF are the rules, two-on-two BBall game of speed and excitement. Score three unanswered baskets and the ball caught fire and would fly in from anywhere you threw it. It was raw, arcade power brought to the console and I loved it.
Grapple Hoops is like the love child of a night where Superhot got very drunk and took NBA Jam home for some serious Boom shaka laka….and you’re gonna love it.
The game is essentially an FPS but your gun is a basketball and your alternate weapon is a grappling hook…hence the name. It all looks like the training school for bad assassin robots or something; a sort of Superhot for crash test dummies.
All of the action takes place atop high rise buildings dozens of feet apart that spell certain death should you miss your footing, miss-jump or misfire the grapple. The objective is to score baskets in a strategically difficult hoop at the end of the level. On the way, the basket will be defended by bad guy Crash Test Dummies, who you eliminate by smashing the basketball you are carrying in their empty faces; then watch them fold in slow motion like a cheap tent at the end of a festival. This is the easy bit and you are assisted by a super slow-mo when you draw the BBall to sling a shot, which helps you aim.
There you are at the start of the game, smashing doors down to emerge Keanu Reeves style, on top of a skyscraper and you have to run full pelt off the building with the purpose of jumping some impossible distance. The Mark of the Ninja is a useful personal skill if you have it, because using the grappling hook to fire at rapidly receding flagpole as you fly through the air to swing off ‘a la Spiderman’ is like a sort of colossal half-time crossbar challenge.
This part of the game is pretty unforgiving; you will die a lot getting to grips with the levels and controls. It is so fast and punishing that you can die and restart a level five times in a minute. This sounds tedious and like some sort of excessive rogue-like, but it isn’t. Objects and enemies remain in their place and behave predictably, so rather like a standard FPS, you try and learn where they are, when to act and try different things to get past or defeat the enemies and there are multiple routes to the hoop sometimes.
So despite dying five times in a minute, you will after that minute have made progress and consistently be able to get past what was in your way. So amidst a very challenging game you can feel you make consistent progress. That’s a good trait to have about your game and Grapple Hoops definitely has that ‘once more…this time I can do it’ feel about because of this.
If you get past all the obstacles and sit down all the enemies in your way, then the basket approaches. Often you will be flying through the air at this point…time to draw the ball again and if you sink the shot the rim explodes in a breath of fire and the level is complete. Do this close enough to dunk the ball and the camera will pan out to show you hanging from the hoop post-dunk with it aflame. It’s pretty cool stuff…especially as it’s so goddamn hard to do. There is a genuine sense of achievement to doing this. Most of the time you will be flying in the wrong direction desperately putting up bricks.
The demo consists of five levels and a practice arena. It will take you several hours to get through everything (on easy). The difficulty is set pretty high and I could not nearly complete all the levels of difficulty…but I feel like I could with practice and that’s the key. Each level is timed and there are three settings – easy, medium and hard. So there is a lot of replayability here. Beat your fastest run on a level and get yourself on the leaderboard scores, or try to complete the levels at a higher difficulty.
The levels themselves are not that long and the pace of the game so fast that you can jump in and out of this game pretty quickly, but the challenge means that you will likely always spend more time than you had planned trying to get it right.
Grapple Hoops is like nothing you have played. It’s the sort of game that only an indie developer could make. To mash together the ideas on show here – high rise parkour, basketball Saints Row style and some Tomb Raider swinging, sounds far too confusing to ever get out of the hungover coffee room conversation of ideas in a major publisher; but it works and it’s bold efforts like this that make indie games such an exciting area these day.
So head on over to Steam or Itch.io and download the demo; this game is shooting from downtown and hits nothing but the net. Swishhh…
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