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.
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.
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 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.
That’s all you do for the whole game. Review over… go photograph some squirrels.
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.
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.
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.
Would I recommend the game? Absolutely.
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