Full Motion Video games are like a 6 year olds school play, terrible but we are never allowed to say. Instead we smile politely and clap and say it was good. The heyday of FMV games was the early 90s when Sony released Johnny Mnemonic and became the first film studio to release a video game…back when the ‘video’ part of that meant just that.
Soon after Electronic Arts followed up with Mark Hamill in Wing Commander III (and IV). The 90s were awash with FMV games, Night Trap (1992), 7th Guest (1993), Phantasmagoria (1995). It was going to be the next big thing.
Full Motion Video never worked though.
The reality was very different from the hype. Usually offering limited gameplay and using second rate actors who couldn’t create a scene if they had a tantrum in a shopping mall. It was gamers who saw through the hype to realise they actually offered very little and the FMV game died along with punctuality, Fax machines and MC Hammers’ parachute pants at the end of the 90s.
So when ‘Not for Broadcast’ landed on my desk, I was less than excited.
A full motion video game with what looks like second rate actors in grainy rendered footage and cheap backdrops; where you play an trainee broadcast editor for a nightly news programme.
Look, it’s not that hard. Choose the angles, roll the ads, and bleep the swears, but as the tutorial warns you, just keep in mind that how you show these people will change their lives…and maybe yours.
The controls are simple enough and you are introduced to them well in the first level broadcast and the game is outstanding. You begin a year in the job at the start of a new government taking power and one of your first edits is a statement from the winning party leaders.
Things become more sinister and your choices are more subtle as the game advances. For example, having picked up the skill of editing out swear words over a couple of broadcasts, you are then instructed by the station boss to bleep out overly critical statements of the government as well. So when a faux gangster rapper, who spends the entire interview lying and talking garbage, takes the stage for an unrehearsed song that criticises the government, what do you do? Do you edit out the swearing and the criticism or do you allow it and make this prick a hero or perhaps allowing it will get this prick arrested? The choice is yours.
Not for Broadcast consistently puts you in these difficult and subtle positions; asking if you will cooperate to keep your job because you need to to keep your family together? Or if seeing what is happening under this new regime and the impact that has on your family, will you try to undermine it?
The impact of your choices plays out in text based updates of family life between broadcasts and is tied to what is going on in the country.
This heavy theme of coming police state and your facilitation of it is juxtaposed with the actual broadcast material which is pure comedic gold. So much so, that I don’t much care about my family updates I want to get to the shows. There’s so much going on it’s glorious.
Not only are the jokes puerile in that we frequently deal with the leader of a multi-national company called Rymmington Svist and at one point interview an ex-con called Tit-Wank Tony who unleashes everything on a live interview we might have secretly wished for in our head, but the stories and presentation of each item is delightfully observed and presented.
We have to manage a god awful teenage drama presentation about bullying, a bizarre new sport that has an imaginary round and is invaded by streaking nude protesters, a new tv show for kids about farm animals boufing, one of those inexplicable letharios that seem to do and offer nothing and yet are nationally famous lying in bed hosting a quiz about himself, and so many more wonderful characters that offer delicious comment on society. It is glorious choosing what to do with them? Do you deliver the clean edit you are supposed to or do you broadcast the rants that are supposed to be off-screen? Do you present the message these terribly self-righteous people want to deliver or do you show the tired, eye rolls of the individuals forced to share an interview with them.
Do you cut the adverts short to expose your lead anchor slagging off the guests he is returning to interview or not? There are lots of choices here and all of them are recorded in your edit that went out to the nation that you can rewatch at anytime.
Not for Broadcast isn’t without some small problems though.
I had occasional crashes and had to restart levels and failure and loss of viewers means you are sacked and have to restart the level as well. This can be a bit tedious as we’re running a show here and there are often lengthy things to repeat, but these issues were very infrequent and are enormously outweighed by the sheer fun the game consistently delivers.
Not for Broadcast is still in Early Access and some people like to leave Early Access games alone until they have launched, but you really shouldn’t here. It’s entirely worth it even as it is, despite there being more updates in the pipeline.
Not Games just released one of those, a second large update made during the lockdown of the last 18 months, which has not hampered their style or commitment one bit as they simply introduced an hilarious lockdown of their own in the game, developing a storyline about teddies that come alive and hunt people down requiring society to hide in our homes.
This allows all sorts of observed fun of lockdown; people wearing pants only on the bottom half, fake backdrops and people pretending to be outside, people caught eating lunch and not ready for the camera to be on them and forgetting to switch it off.
The death-teddies eventually invade the studio and become another difficulty to deal with as does a passing storm that electrifies some of the buttons making them unusable. The game winds up the chaos continuously with each broadcast and never lets you stop laughing.
I tell you this is the best Full Motion Video game I have ever seen and is one of the best games of any type I’ve played all year. An hilarious ride with stacks of replayability.
Not for Broadcast is available for about $25 and is worth every penny in current form with more updates to come. My Friends…the revolution will be televised, just put me in charge of broadcasting it will you.
Checkshirted wearing, waxed moustachioed hipsters, this game is for you.
I mean it’s for the rest of us as well, but especially the bearded no logo uniformers who dream of wielding an axe in the wilds. Mana Potion Studios have produced a fine little RTS, city builder, tower defense game to delight us.
Jaunty music, fishing for food, venison for the people, a proper medieval looking castle designed by you, siege engines, classic big marrow shaped club wielding trolls wearing nothing but slashed hulk shorts and Lumberjacks. Lumberjacks galore. I never wanted to be a barber anyway.
There’s a lot to love about Becastled, a wonderful game that is part city management, part RTS. It is like Total War for people who used to play Settlers on wet break in the science labs.
You’re A Lumberjack, Barry. You too, Harry.
You play the master of the Kingdom of the Sun. You guys rule the daylight and life is good.
The deer stroll nearby, the earth is luscious and your people are productive. You begin by placing your central hall or Castle Keep onto a chosen hex and found your settlement. Then you spawn some citizens willing to do your bidding and your first objective is to tell them to be lumberjacks, because almost all of the early currency is in wood. So, site yourself near some trees and get going.
As usual in an RTS management city build you need to get resources and spend them to enable expansion. You will need wood for building more houses to grow your population, you need wood to build taverns to keep them happy, you need wood to build a farm to feed your growing population, you need wood to build training centres for archers or melee warriors to defend the glorious new Utopia you are building, in fact you’re going to need more lumberjacks.
Wood is the currency early game, building, expanding and sustaining that is the key, as it is in any resource management builder.
Here Comes Trouble
As the game progresses you need other things and very much like playing the board game version of Settlers, you need to be located next to lots of varied resources and some of them like stone and gold or a sort of mined solar gem are needed later for upgrading the stockade and towers to stone ones and building a church to restore your dead warriors in the resurrecting power of daylight hours because, you see, you are on a daily clock.
When the day is over, the Moon Warriors spawn somewhere nearby. They are blue goblins and trolls and they come each night without fail from different directions in ever increasing numbers and with better equipment each night. They march inexorably toward you like the hoards of Mordor, carrying scaling ladders, battering rams, cannon and siege towers to breach your city walls and so you must prepare for sunset each day to go once more into the frey to see if you live or die this day. To survive you must protect and defend your Keep. Citizens and troops may die, buildings may fall, but your founding Keep must survive or the game is lost.
The controls are delightfully simple, the expansion tree is entirely open, the only thing that holds you back is…lumberjacks. If you can get going fast enough and manage food and housing, then you can get other careers going for masons, miners and engineers.
The first few days are easy to defend against, by which time you need to be up and running with defensive structures and plenty of varied methods of defense. The only help you get is that a blue mist signals the spawning site for the Moon Warriors that coming evening. If you have not planned or do not have a productive enough village then you could find they are due to spawn on the most exposed side.
So, you need a strategy and you need to act quickly and consistently, managing choices and resources to sustain, defend and develop…much like any standard RTS. The difference and appeal with Becastled is the varied nature of how you can play.
Hoards of Hordes
It has stacks of playability with challenges split into eight difficulty levels, with three levels of combat difficulty, on seven different terrain types with resources either abundant or scarce and most interestingly you can alter the length of the game, effectively your win point.
Keep the Solar Kingdom safe for 10 days in the easiest instance or try for up to 30 days. With each added day of challenge the Moon Warriors get more powerful and more difficult to defend against, but potentially your castle starts to resemble Carcasonne…another fine board game Becastled clearly draws influence from.
And if you are feeling like Henry V then you can take the ultimate challenge of an infinity mode and see how long you can survive the nightly mounting hoards. I have seen some people on YouTube try to build a wall around the entire map and another who fought for 50+ days. That you can alter the challenge so greatly and try to break the game with challenges like walling the entire map is great freedom for a game.
Who Just Died?
There are some problems with Becastled; some men stop working sometimes and it often isn’t clear who has died when you begin the day after an attack and you have to check absolutely everything to reassign workers otherwise the city will start to fail and you need to work hard each day to grow and repair if you are to survive the night.
Pathfinding is another problem, the AI isn’t great at this, when you send troops to certain locations or to engage in combat with a group of the enemy they take the shortest direct path, but this can lead to them being stuck on a cliff edge or behind a gatehouse or something. With a battle raging this can be disastrous and you can be left wondering where that unit you sent to help got to, but it’s now all too late.
Visit The Solar Kingdom Today!
However, these minor problems for a game in Early Access and the devs are patching these sorts of things at least once a month so by the time you play they may even be gone.
On top of this they have published a clear road map of exciting development that includes tech trees, city building expansion and boss fights. I can only hope they make PvP possible in the future.
Becastled offers hours and hours of medieval fun at a bargain price. It proves both accessible and challenging at the same time. You really would be medieval to not go and get this, especially if RTS is your thing. Can you go 50 days without defeat? I can, but then I’m a Lumberjack, so I’m ok.
Mood is required for this one – Lights out… Headphones on… It’s time for some horror.
Reficul 666 is a survival horror game from MAG Studios, who seem to specialise in this genre. Taken as an FPS, there is something sweeping the globe as night falls and it is knocking out all communications. You are going to be on your own, in your little part of town, attempting to meet your friends and trying to survive the nights’ terrors.
Snug in the safety of your house is where you begin your journey to survive, but it just so happens that a portal that leads to the demon lair is in your town, wouldn’t you know it.
“Alexa, How Does My Day Look?”
Pals have left notes to meet you and a local priest has apparently been preparing, so you had best get ready…these things always come down to you to solve. You are armed with a torch, pistol and lighter and you are sent on something of a linear adventure to navigate.
Live observations at the movies reveal that you should not show the monster too soon. Part of the terror is the build up. The horror movie The Descent did this very well. Sometimes the reveal is a disappointment, sometimes not. It’s a fine line in horror between getting it right and making it naff; Reficul 666 does it right. By placing the character in constant darkness save for the direction of the torchlight or the dim holy glow of the bible most of the surroundings are hidden and you can never be sure of what or where something is unless you are looking at it and when you do catch sight of a demon or a shadow it works.
Was it different when the boss demon appears at the end? No, you can’t see him clearly unless you direct your torch right at him. And what a great job the dev has done on him, he looks like a terrifying version of Dave Grohl’s devil.
Reficul 666 does a great job of making your skin freeze. They have incorporated a whispering of demons that increases in volume when you are near them; a nice warning mechanic, but also one that builds tension very well. When the whispering about dragging you into the darkness begins, it drives your anxiety levels up and the heart rate rises, then racing up to you are some shadowy demons and terror overtakes you entirely for a moment.
Peek through your fingers, I am not exaggerating. It is not a jump scare, it’s just an excellent user of tension and delivery. No matter how long I played the game and even when I carried a Holy Bible that would shock the approaching demons out of the way, it still made the hairs stand up momentarily, each time one glided towards me round a corner.
Maps are good and it has a relatively tight open world environment, unfortunately this is where most of the positives end for Reficul 666. It’s all a little dated graphically, there is little to no interaction with the environment beyond opening doors. The game has almost no colliders at all. Kick a box to reveal a key, knock a chair or a glass of alcohol over, make it smash, start a fire; these are things that make a gameworld feel alive and also provide other opportunities for gameplay.
Step into these rooms and sadly there is none of this here, plenty of areas are just rooms with boxes or a bed in and serve no purpose. There’s too much of this and you quickly learn that investigating this world serves little purpose despite it being possible to enter many of these houses.
Into The Catacombs, I Presume?
Repaid by understanding this you are left with a linear adventure where you follow notes from one empty house to another until you eventually transport to the catacombs of the demon. It is a little uninspiring, but the catacombs level is planned better and has a decent feel to it, despite still suffering from looking good but having too little interaction.
Raw music sound is virtually non-existent, it’s just the murmurings of the satanic shadows that stalk you. Most of the time the only other thing I could hear were my clogs snapping heavily on the metal road. At least that’s what they sounded like I was wearing. Perhaps the whispers are all you need in a horror game, but I think people underestimate the subconscious addition sound done well can give a game and there are probably opportunities here.
Reficul 666 is listed as being in early access and indeed many of these issues could be developed and improved if early access goes well. The issue here is that Reficul 666 is a repackaging of an earlier effort called Reficul VR which was effectively the same game published back in 2018. There have been some improvements since then, but they are minor and cosmetic.
Peek at the core design and mechanics of the gamed and they are pretty much the same and it lacks depth. It needs a clear outline of what it hopes to become and a developer log that tracks progress to have confidence to part with what is a relatively high price for the current available material.
It’s Not All Bad
Now, there are actually lots of places Reficul could go from here to become a good game. You could have safe houses that you need to secure, perhaps some base building elements, meeting some of your other friends could be good, especially if their character is developed and they then get killed. All sorts of things here have potential, but one thing is certain it needs more of something.
Reficul 666 does have one hell of an atmosphere, but it needs to develop and finish well. Available on Steam in Early Access, you’ll get about an hour or two out of Reficul 666, but it is a long way from justifying the price point in current form.
Of course in another form Reficul666 read backwards spells something else – Lucifer. Like the first word in every paragraph you just read.
Did your ordinary German soldier in 1943 who was fresh out of school at 18 know he was one of the bad guys in WW2? I’m a bit confused about The Happy Little Virus. Normally in games you play the hero, sometimes the bad guy, but when you do it’s clear. I think I’m the bad guy in this…
The game is played in imagined circuit boards, in a kind of Tron way, where you are in the grid, on the motherboard of a computer or in the servers. You play a virus…so a bad guy (right?) and there are companies to choose from to ‘attack’ on the menu screen.
One is for Guide Dogs and the other is a Cancer support charity… we’re hacking and stealing from these people? We’re definitely the bad guys! Right? Perhaps we are fighting corruption or abuse? No, there are suggestions that rich people want guide dogs because they are trained to poo on command. You are sent to hack and steal from various addiction, wildlife and support charities. We’re definitely the bad guys.
Happy Little Dalek-like Creature
In The Happy Little Virus you control a small Dalek like creature in a 2.5D shooter and you have to run through circuit boards, which are effectively corridors. You gradually collect weapon power-ups through the course of the game and your progress saves after each level.
The early levels are just corridor shooters and lack a zing about them to draw you in, but if you persist the game does develop a bit. You are presented with wider levels, giving you choice about how to tackle opponents. Enemies (the good guys) are similar Dalek shaped creatures but represent anti-virus software and sometimes can reproduce in hubs on some levels.
You (as the virus) can take over these hubs and replicate yourself a few times. This gives you a form of extra life in some of the more challenging levels. Levels also develop a variety of additional features. You can regain health from circuit board resistors and there are firewalls, which act as little laser gates that can be activated on and off sometimes. If you are smart you can use these to your advantage making some of the faster anti-virus Daleks career into them as you sidestep like a matador.
Sound & Visuals
The music and sound effects are not up to much, it’s there, but pretty rote and unobtrusive. The colours however are vibrant and look good, with bright greens making borders and circuit connections and some levels using luminescent lighting to provide a different type of challenge than just more enemies. The gameplay curves nicely in difficulty although the final level is something of a chaotic overwhelming challenge.
There are a variety of different weapons on offer through the game and they are quite inventive, you don’t just shoot things, although of course in a robot shooter, you do have a laser. You can blow a blast on a diffuser that shatters opponents – only at point blank range mind you, you can blow bubbles that capture enemies and bounce them off into space and off the board and you can gather up the shattered bodies of your enemies into a debris whirlwind and fire them at your enemies.
The more enemies you face, the more cluttered your narrow play area and corridors become with these shattered bits of anti-virus robot. This can be a help to you as it slows down the advance of your enemies allowing you to retreat a little and gather yourself; but it can also hinder you by rendering your long range laser redundant with too much debris in the way to hit the intended ‘good guy’.
The weapons then work best at a variety of distances and best against certain types of enemy. This all means you need to become pretty good at switching between weapon types and picking attack and retreat as weapons cool down. all-in-all it’s a pretty good fire system and definitely the strength of The Happy Little Virus.
If the combat is well constructed the level design and gameflow is less impressive. Although the difficulty is well planned and scaled, the essence of the game does not change very much and this makes play somewhat repetitive and slightly irritating. On top of this the constant messaging is just odd and awkward.
There are about 25 levels in all and they are grouped into rough themes, culminating in destroying and stealing from organised religion. It doesn’t feel like there is a narrative, rather that you are being subjected to the developers prejudices. If you can ignore this, it will take you about five hours to complete Dalek Training school.
The Happy Little Virus is a reasonable FPS puzzle game and is available on Steam. It has some good design in weapons and a reasonably well planned difficulty curve, but the messaging falls flat and the game is a bit repetitive and lacking fun after a short while; kind of in the way that Candy Crush is a challenge but isn’t actually fun.
The Happy Little Virus provides the sort of frustrating challenge that trying to bounce a tennis ball on the edge of the racket does, you want to go again because you know you can do better, but you also know the experience and result isn’t going to be much different and when you finish you probably won’t ever do it again, unless you’re a bad guy and then nothing you do makes sense.
Yay…another Roguelite. If your game isn’t procedurally generated, then you’re not with the programme.
It’s a tough deal these days, after Hades; the bar has been set high. So along comes Skul: The Hero Slayer, joining the group like a new pop-up artisan burger joint, offering Japanese corn-fed beef patties on a piece of slate, in a brioche bun and serving Argentine beer whilst they play full Bob Dylan albums… on vinyl.
Just like a few years ago when burgers became artisan…roguelites are everywhere at the minute and there is no sign of let-up. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you know which waygu and which way not to go.
One Large Retro Pixel Art 2D Roguelite, Please
Skul is a pixel art 2D platform roguelite. The graphics and the way the text scrolls one generated letter at a time is very much like an old Nintendo Entertainment System or SEGA game.
The whole look of the game is retro styled and has an early Zelda feel to it. The usual roguelite elements are here. You die lots and keep nothing with you except for small incremental trait improvements which are split into three options, magical attack, melee attack and critical damage chance.
Gradually a combination of mastering the attack styles of enemies and the compound difference of incremental trait advances starts to pay off; you can go further, do more and so the game scales.
The premise is that the heroes of the world have united to finally conquer the demon kingdom and have imprisoned the Demon King, defeating and capturing monsters and wraiths of the underworld in the process. All except you that is… You are Skul, the tiny little skeleton sent on a final desperate mission to expel the Heroes and rescue the Demon King. You do so by journeying through RNG rooms that you have some control over.
Before entering the next room, you are presented with a choice of two rooms from one that delivers a skull, one that delivers money or one that delivers a power-up item. You get this reward when you clear the room full of enemies, but the level of reward, common, rare, unique and legendary are randomised. There is also a blank room which is simply a random pick of any one of the above. This allows you to somewhat control what you get in reward at the end of each room on your run.
Throughout levels there are shop doors to pass through that offer the chance to spend money on a variety of RNG items in each of the categories and a free skull is often offered to you.
You also have the end of level doors marked in red where you fight mini-bosses in the shape of caped heroes or one of six end of section big bosses.
Back To The Grind?
So far everything is pretty standard stuff for a roguelite, it’s done very well, but nothing special. The trick (and difficult bit) of making a successful roguelite is to avoid the improvement seeming like too much of a grind. There is nothing worse than being thrown back to the beginning for the 80th time, hating the idea of having to do those rote early levels yet again. One of our developer podcast guests recently described a lightbulb moment for him.
It was understanding what the central appeal or mechanic of your game was and to not limit it, but give lots of it to the player. That, after all, is why they are playing it. So, a roguelite has to constantly offer you demonstrable character improvement to keep the player in that feeling of ‘this time know I can get further…one more go’.
How does Skul do at this? There are two things that let it down. Whilst the rooms are procedurally generated, the enemies within rooms are not RNG; they are the same ones in the same places, following the same movements each time and there is limited variety in rooms.
There could (and should) have been more on offer here to make replaying them seem like less of a pointless grind in getting to whichever level you are currently powered for. The other problem is that in the early stages of the game, progress is very slow and the difficulty is punishingly hard. You can easily die fifty or sixty times with little progress beyond the early sections and seemingly scant character trait improvement.
Rotate Your Skuls
These issues could cripple Skul, but they don’t, because what lifts Skul: The Hero Slayer out of what would have been a mediocre entry to the genre at best, is an amazing mechanic that is the core attraction of the game. The ability to swap your skull and pick up another with radically different merits and powers.
There are about thirty-five skulls you can be given but you can only use two at any one time so, there are choices to be made. Each skull will be focussed on either speed, physical attack, magic attack or a balanced one of all elements. Within that there are different tiered skulls that give your play a different level of deadliness in attack and variety.
There are common skulls: rare ones, unique ones and legendary ones. These can and do pair with increasingly power with items that you pick up that complement the characteristics of speed: power or balance more so than the other skulls. The right combinations can result in your character becoming a devastating whirlwind of retribution on the heroes invading your land.
Oh yes… and if the difficulty is too hard there is a rookie setting that halves incoming damage, which 20 % of players choose to switch on – ooufff clearly tough then.
At first it might feel that you are at the mercy of getting an early unique drop of a rare or legendary skull to have any hope of progress, but as your character increases trait power with each run the common skulls become very playable and both the common and rare skulls can be upgraded to become as powered as a legendary one.
This means that not only are there a vast range of playstyles open to you with these RNG skull drops, but as your character levels your ability to use almost any of them effectively also increases, making for an enormously different experience of play each time. Perfecting them and settling on a preferred playstyle is fun and you can very much single-mindedly focus on this from a restart, keep only physical skulls and always choose/buy the physical upgrades.
You can also crush all other found skulls into bones to use as a currency to upgrade your Skul. Make these decisions early on based on the first skull given and you can rapidly compete with a legendary skull, you need not wait on the RNG to gift you one. This is only really possible when you have enough compound trait progression though.
This bewildering choice of gameplay styles and power-up make the early rooms playable on a repeat basis because you are forced to learn several different playstyles, hitting from distance, melee, special moves that are directionally dependent and ones that aren’t, the list goes on, all dependent on the skulls dropped for you in the early rounds.
Games do not usually make you learn more than one or two play-styles, but here there are a vast array of combinations and these changes, if you upgrade; remember that you can only ever hold two skulls at a time. This semi-forced variety is a magical mechanic to the game that takes some learning, but is richly rewarding.
All of this combines to produce amazing combat that you can easily control and master to clear dozens of enemies from different directions with wonderfully satisfying and increasingly powerful attacks and combos. It is something that looks like chaotic luck, but isn’t.
Skul: The Hero Slayer Review Summary
You will probably get about 40 hours out of Skul: The Hero Slayer and it is worth every penny of a relatively cheap price point. This isn’t a perfect roguelite, but it is a good one with a marvellous core mechanic that defines the game and lifts it beyond the small problems it has. Being the bad guy has never been so much fun.