Tag Archives: early access

Fable Fortune Preview (PC)

Fable Fortune is the somewhat unexpected entry into the card-game genre for the Fable series. Unexpected because there hasn’t been a Fable game in a long while, and because the card-game genre is not only saturated but also completely dominated by Blizzard’s excellent Hearthstone.

It’s no great surprise then that Fable Fortune feels instantly familiar. Essentially this is a slight retooling of the Hearthstone formula rather than a new take on the genre. You and your opponent take turns to play cards, using up gold to do so. The amount of gold you have goes up by one each turn so you can progressively play more, or more powerful, units. The aim of the game is to reduce your opponent’s health down to zero before they can do the same to you. You have a hero ability unique to each class and create your deck from a combination of neutral cards that can be used by any class, or specific cards that are tailored to your particular brand of combat. So far, so Hearthstone.

Fable Fortune does have a few aces up its sleeve though. First of all, and my personal favourite addition to the game, is that you have a taunt ability that can be placed on any unit for 1 mana. This makes taunt-specific cards less important and frees you up to create some interesting plays. You can force opponents who run very few units to waste turns killing off your weakest units, or turn absolute powerhouses into solid walls to protect you. This ability can only be used once per turn but is available to all characters and will often save you from death.

Secondly, and a much less enjoyable change, you start with three gold on your first turn instead of one. I can see why they’ve made this change, it means there’s far fewer skipped turns at the start and everyone has some options. On the other hand, it eliminates the viability of having high-risk decks designed around killing the opponent before they have a chance to get going. I quite enjoy that kind of variety in the game but here rushing is much less of an option.

The final significant change is the morality system. At the beginning of each game you select one of three quests. If you complete this quest, you get a morality point to spend on either good or evil, and this will change your hero power. The more quests you complete, the more points you get, the more options you have. This system also affects certain morality cards that shift depending on your alignment. While it’s an interesting extra system, its impact on the game seems quite limited from what I’ve seen so far, and it would have been nice to have a little more nuance to the system, like healing units pushes you towards good and killing things pushes you towards bad? It feels like an adaptation of the worst side of Fable, which for me was how easy it was to game the morality system. Here they’ve removed any pretence of it being organic and simply let you click a button.

In terms of game modes there’s your regular PvP but also a PvE co-op mode that works on a rotation. Each ‘season’ (lasting a couple of weeks) you get to take on a boss alongside someone else. You take a turn, then the boss, then them, then the boss, then you and so on. You can make use of your team’s units but only your hero powers. The major downfall of this is how incredibly limited the communication system is. You can suggest moves using little exclamation marks, but you can discuss strategy ahead of time or chat at all. In versus you can’t even say ‘well done’, you can just concede. This lack of interaction spoils the co-op mode a bit and really eats into my enjoyment of the versus mode. Everyone is just a faceless opponent with no character, making the game feel more like a grind that it needs to be.

In terms of strategy, the game is fine, but not a patch of the variety and range of Hearthstone. Some of the decks and classes lend themselves to ridiculously long games thanks to the taunt mechanic, and fast, decisive wins are few and far between. At the moment it’s too easy to cling on for another few rounds even if you’ve clearly lost, dragging out games far past the point where they stop being fun or exciting.

Graphically it has a nice Fable-esque art-style, but very little in the way of animation. The boards have no interaction and are simply static backdrops, the cards just project a little 2d cutout of the character above them, and spell effects are basic and uninteresting.

Overall I feel like this has been quite a negative preview, but you definitely can have a lot of fun with Fable Fortune. If you’re looking to learn a new game with new cards and a few new rules, it could be engrossing and eat up your time. If you’re just a casual player like us, it’s hard to see why you’d ever choose this over Hearthstone.

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Shadows of Kurgansk Preview

There’s been a wealth of survival horrors since the early days of DayZ (and I’m tempted to say Minecraft). Each tend to have their own little quirk of unique selling point, but they eventually come down to trying to manage stats to keep yourself alive while crafting, exploring, and fighting.

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Shadow of Kurgansk has two fairly unique features. Firstly there’s a campaign-esque tutorial with characters that lets you know what your options are. This obviously eliminates some of the wonder of exploration and experimentation that you find in things like DayZ, but it also gets you on your feet much quicker so you can take part in the real mode, the survival mode, without making too many stupid mistakes. The other unique thing is the art style. While it’s going for a slightly cel-shaded look, it ends up looking a lot more like the incredible and underrated XIII from two generations ago, rather than like Borderlands. The fact that this is an old game ins’t an insult to Kurgansk, XIII still holds up today with a comic-book style that hasn’t really been imitated successfully in FPS games.

Kurgansk is a little by the books in other respects, you are exploring a post apocalyptic temperate wasteland where there’s plenty to scavenge, rats to cook and eat, and monsters to kill. One of the biggest problems we have with the early access version so far is that the monsters simply aren’t scary at all. They look like the local hoodies you’re likely to recognise from outside your local McDonalds and they drop pretty quickly after a couple of blows to the head. Similarly the Stalker-esque anomalies that are meant to have horrific and terrifying effects just warp your screen a bit or make things a little dark. They’re not the lethal death traps we were used to seeing in Pripyat.

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Overall Kurgansk shows some promise with an interesting art style and a slightly different take on the genre, but at the moment everything it’s trying to do just isn’t working so well. The dialogue is awful, the combat is floaty and weightless, the crafting is dull, and the world just isn’t scary enough. Go play The Forest, Stalker, DayZ, or even H1z1 and soak up the atmosphere. In those games you’re always fighting to survive, always on the run, you rarely feel like the apex predator. In Kurgansk you generally feel like you’re the most powerful being around, and it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing interesting to do with that power.

We’ll keep you updated as new builds come out, but for now we’d probably hold off on this one.

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Clandestine Review (PC)

Clandestine is a game that can, technically, be played in single player. Doing so however is akin to eating a ready made steak slice cold. Sure you can do it, it even says so on the packaging, but it’s never a good idea and you’re really missing out on the true potential of the steak slice.

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At it’s heart, Clandestine is a stealth game owing much to Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, and even Alpha Protocol. Where it differentiates itself is that you play as two separate characters. One has the third person view, sneaking around various facilities trying to do sneaky things and complete sneaky objectives. She can climb over some small things, knock people out or murder them, hide bodies, open simple doors, and even shoot. The other character is a hacker and all you see (except for the bits between missions) is his computer screen, separated into four quadrants. He has a message log, a camera view that can watch the player’s point of view or any camera in the level, a hacking network map (showing all the devices and how they are connected) and a real map of the area. On the real map he can see guards that are within view of the player or a camera, alongside a small group of enemies that can be targeted, thus staying on the map indefinitely.

In single player, you jump between these two at will. This does work and it is possible to complete missions this way, but it always feels silly when you have to leave your operative hiding in the corner so you can go and look at some computer files. In co-op though (clearly the mode the developers intended you to play) suddenly the game really comes alive.

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At it’s best one player will be silently moving between boxes, timing her movements exactly while the hacker frantically searches for a door access code, keeping an eye out for who can see he has accessed sensitive files. The operative will sprint towards a door just as a hacker access the code to open it, screaming into her ear seconds before a guard rounds the corner. At it’s worst, one player spends most of the level trying to work out what his home node is while the operative murderises everyone in a warehouse with a pistol because the combat is too forgiving. This is a game where you have to play along a little because the freedom you have to approach things from different angles often tempts you towards taking the messier, and easier, option.

Made by a small team and working its way up through Early Access, Clandestine definitely takes on the appearance of a game from ten years ago. The graphics are incredibly unpolished and animations and dialogue are often bad to the point of comedy, but somehow this just adds to the game’s charm. Since you’ll be playing through it in co-op anyway, it’s easy to laugh off the rough edges and start really getting into the challenges that the game presents. As long as you agree to try and do things stealthily, there really is nothing like it. The hacking, which could have been an incredibly dull tacked-on feature, ends up being possibly even more compelling than the third person sneaking that we’ve seen many times before. As long as you have voice communication, the interplay between the two really adds to the drama as you try to calm down a frantic operative with your knowledge of what’s really around the next corner.

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Overall, Clandestine is a brilliant little game for two players who are into their stealth. It’s definitely niche, and you need to be able to look past the dodgy art and engine, but the ideas here are more than worth your time.

Verdict 7

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DiRT Rally Early Access Preview

We haven’t played a rally game this exciting since at least Rallisport Challenge 2, it’s been a long while since we played any racing games that was this good, and this is only Early Access. DiRT Rally is a return to pure Rally driving for the DiRT series, forgetting about the Gymkhana and Rallycross distractions of the last few mainstream games, instead creating a real Rally simulator with realistic rules, physics and vehicles.

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You can reset on the track when you inevitably go thundering down a cliff or get stuck behind a wall, but it creates a time penalty, like in real Rally. You can fix damage to your car between races, but each repair you do will cost you a certain amount of time. Different road surfaces and weather conditions affect your grip and handling in realistic ways and even the weight distribution of the car just feels right as anyone who has driven too fast down a country lane will be able to tell you.

Thankfully Codemasters Racing Studio have avoided the temptation from many recent racing simulators to go into a hyper sterile and serious environment (see Gran Turismo 6) in order to make it seem authentic. The menus are snappy and look good, you earn credits at the end of each race (more if you resist the temptation to restart) and you can spend these on a range of different vehicles from early champion cars all the way to the most modern vehicles the sport has to offer. In your races there’s no minimap, just a co driver shouting instructions about the next turn and an arrow on the screen to give you an idea of what’s coming up. You can choose a third person view, but really this is all about the helmet camera view and throwing yourself around a corner with only blind trust in your co-pilot to let you know what’s happening next.

In the Early Access version there’s three environments and only the bare Rally mode (no Hill Climb yet) but there are 36 separate stages (a couple are going down the same route backwards) and a full campaign mode and regularly changing challenges. In our eyes, this is well worth the money already, with the promise of more content to come it’s simply a no brainer.

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Killing Floor 2 Preview (PC)

We’ve spent some time with the early access version ahead of it’s launch on April 21st.

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When it first came out we didn’t really take Killing Floor seriously. It appeared to be riding on the coattails of games like Left 4 Dead and Gears of War’s horde mode without any real identity of its own. It probably didn’t help that we were playing it over Christmas when everything had become Christmas themed and it had this strange combination of an earnest attempt at horror and some light comedy. Monsters come in waves, you shoot them, they explode into blood and guts. Of course we hadn’t really grasped the sort of game this was, and there hasn’t been any others like it that have achieved the same level of success. Killing Floor is about progression, slow progression through class trees, unlocking perks and becoming steadily more powerful until you can take on the hardest challenges. It’s also about ridiculous outfits, terrifying and hilarious monster designs and incredible amounts of gore.

The second entry in the series is about to hit early access and it already plays like a more polished, AAA version of the first. Visually it looks great, with a handful of low resolution textures being the tradeoff for huge numbers of exquisitely detailed and modelled monsters attacking you at once without any slow down. All of the assets could be replaced between now and the final launch but already the lighting and level design is superb.

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Each round you stock up on weapons and ammo from a store and then prepare your area for defense. You might want to weld some doors shut to create chokepoints, you might want to leave them open for escape routes. It’s up to you and the levels are big enough to enable a variety of approaches to each wave. We’ve mostly been playing on normal so far and the difficulty ramps up nicely as you go from fighting naked shambling zombies right up through invisible (also naked) ninjas and then finally a terrifying boss that uses grenades, machine pistols and nerve gas to systematically rip apart your entire team. As the waves go on there’s more at stake and that final encounter really does become terrifying, especially with the excellent sound design that lets you know exactly what kind of doom is heading your way.

Every now and then a zombie kill will enable ‘ZED time’ where the colours fade out only leaving black, white, yellow and red. As you can see in the screenshot above it really emphasis the gore and gives you a second to focus your attention on lining up a couple of kills. It’s hard not to feel like a badass when you spin around, line up three headshots, taunt the zombies and then reload in slow motion.

We’ve had a lot of fun with Killing Floor 2 already and the developer is promising tonnes of content to be released regularly, just like with Killing Floor. If you’re at all interesting in co-op FPS games, you need to get on this.

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Skara – The Blade Remains Early Access Preview (PC)

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Years and years ago we played a game called ‘Die By the Sword’ and it was brutal. You could set the sword to be manually swung using your mouse and occasionally you’d kill things in one hit just because you managed to connect with their neck. Much later Deadliest Warrior tried the same trick, with less precise control but still the chance to finish an opponent with a single well-placed strike. There’s something incredibly satisfying about using your skill to cut short a bout and Skare – The Blade Remains looks set to continue that idea.

Currently the Early Access only allows you to fight in a single arena with a single character. It’s the most basic of alphas content wise, there’s a rough kind of host/join menu in place and it’s just about to enough to get you up and playing. We’ve been toying with it for a couple of hours and managed to find a decent number of opponents.

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The map is a circular pit surrounded by volcanos with a steel grate in the middle that occasionally drops into the lava below. You spawn, you fight, you die, you spawn and so on. There’s basic bars for health and stamina and no sense of score or accomplishment, but what is here is an idea. Like the best early access games, the idea shines through clearly. You have a spear and a shield and you can hit enemies through pokes (controlled by a left click) or a swing (controlled by the right). The collision detection is a little wonky at the moment and without a way to lock on to your enemies you end up just attack in one of four directions if you use a keyboard, but it’s enough to set up a little game of cat and mouse. You want to run away for a while and then let them come to you. You can block but it’s sort of pointless now, the collision detection is too wonky to make it useful, instead you need to time strikes and roll out of the way. If you’re clever you can attack an enemy right on the edge of the pit as the grate falls, hoping they will roll right into the lava. Or you can whittle their health down with jabs here and there. It’s very compelling as a competitive little game and a clear proof of concept for what the game could eventually become.

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As an added bonus, if you hit the tilde button you can bring up a console and play with all kinds of things. We managed to find ways to turn lighting sources off individually and it’s surprising how effectively that changes the mood of the arena.

For now Skara is in very early days but it’s definitely one to watch for the future if you enjoy competitive fighting games. The devs have expressed a wish to create something that could become an e-sport and if it succeeds we can see it being a lot of fun. For now it’s an interesting toy, and at £11.99 it’s an expensive one. But remember that’s a way of supporting development and you might get a full game out of it in the end. Compared to many early access games we’d say it’s worth it, but then we are fans of pushing people into lava with pointy sticks.

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The Escapists Hands-on preview (PC)

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Over the last year we went through all of ‘Orange is the New Black’ the Netflix TV series set in a prison. While it did the job of making prison look unappealing in some respects (the mindless violence, isolation and destruction of relationships) it also managed to make all the prisoner’s little schemes and hobbies a lot of fun. While ‘The Escapists’ is set in a men’s prison the activities and intrigue contained within is surprisingly close to what we’ve seen on TV.

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Playing as an inmate serving an indefinite sentence for an unknown crime your task in ‘The Escapists’ is unsurprisingly to escape. There are different prisons but each one isn’t going to be an easy task. Constantly throughout your day you have to keep to the prisoner’s routine which leaves you precious little free time and there are guards absolutely everywhere. To help you out though many of the other prisoners need favours and there is an ind-depth crafting system that allows you to create (illegal) tools. So for example you might find from a crafting note that you can make a guard’s uniform from ink and an inmate uniform. Getting an inmate uniform is easy, you take a job in the laundry and simply don’t put one of them back. The ink might be harder, but at lunch you speak to another inmate and find they have one for sale, but it’s $20 more than what you have. You hear James wants someone to beat up Ross and will pay them $25 for it. So next roll call you beat up Ross, get taken down by the guards and accept the bruises in exchange for the $25 from James. With that money you buy the ink and then in your cell at night you can craft a new guard uniform. Clearly it won’t get you past any real guards or locked doors, but it will fool the cameras enough to allow you to sneak around at night a little more easily. Unfortunately if your cell is searched you might end up losing everything so it’s worth finding a little hidey hole somewhere where you can stash your gear. Like another inmate’s desk for instance.

For what appears as a simple 16-bit style game there’s a surprising amount of depth. There’s no multiplayer and currently there’s just one prison and 100 craftable items, but that’s plenty enough to keep you going for now and as the early access edition is only £6.99 it’s well worth the money.

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As the game progresses we’re hoping to see more meaningful interactions and relationships with other inmates and staff as well as more methods to escape. That being said we still haven’t managed to escape the first prison so back to creating candles from batteries and wires for some unknown purpose!

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Mini Metro Early Access Preview (PC)

We’ve recently moved out of London so we’re somewhat glad to be rid of the underground. Yes it’s a marvel of engineering, a true artifact of history and an incredible convenience but it’s easy to forget all of that when it’s 5:30pm on the Central Line and your sandwiched between scary looking drunks and angry looking businessmen in the middle of the summer heat. Thankfully Mini Metro deals with just the nicest and potentially most interesting part of the underground, the map.

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For a game in early access this is an incredibly accomplished project. There are no rough edges or glitchy behaviour, instead there’s simply missing features. What is here is incredibly polished and well worth the money if the concept appeals to you at all.

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You start off by picking a city and then are placed on a blank tube map in the same style as the ones used for the London Underground. The only thing that connects it to the real city at first is a single feature, usually the river, so you can see the recognisable kinks of the Thames running through your map. At first there’s only three stations and you can connect them with a simple click and drag of your mouse. Start from a station and you will begin a new line, cross the river and you make a tunnel. If you drag the end or middle of a line you will shape the line around your modifications. You can even delete bits of line or entire lines altogether if you’d like. At each stations passengers will appear, signified by shapes. Each station is also a shape. Those people want to get to that station, so circles will go for next circle stations. There’s only a certain number of shapes and they double up so you start trying to make sure each line has one of each shape on it to avoid people needing to change. The game goes on until you have too many people waiting at a station for too long, at which point you get a summary of how you did. It sounds simple but it gets complicated very quickly. You always want your trains to be faster as you see people waiting for painful amounts of time. You suddenly realise too many triangles are getting stuck at one bit of a line because the train that arrives is always full. Do you make a new line to serve them or add an extra train to the existing line? At the end of each week you are given a reward of an extra train and then you can choose between things like a new line, an extra carriage for a train, or a new tunnel.

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Before long the game becomes almost impossible to keep track of and the whole thing collapses in on itself, but then you immediately want to have another go, see if you can last for just a little bit longer. The clean and refined aesthetic is absolutely beautiful to look at and after you finish each run it gives you a choice to make a screenshot of your final layout. Every animation, icon and bit of text has clearly been considered and measured perfectly. Everything is minimalist (there’s no names for stations or lines at the moment) but provides you with all the information you could need to make informed decisions.

This is early access done right. There’s a few extra features we’d like (the ability to move trains between lines when you’ve made a mistake without deleting the whole line and maybe optional names for stations and lines) but this is nitpicking what is already an exceptional puzzle game. We’d say the early access version is well worth the money, we can’t recommend it highly enough. The developer has thoughtfully included a brief roadmap on the startup page as well as a list of known issues so you always know how it’s developing.

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We will of course bring a full review once the game is officially released, but we say just get it now!

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Next Car Game Early Access Preview

This is a look at what is available right now on the early access version of the game. A full review with score will be coming once the game is released, but this is based on what is playable right now after you’ve paid around £19.99.

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Next Car Game is from the makers of Flatout. Not that terrible Flatout 3, but the original and the second one – the criminally overlooked destruction-based arcade racers that pushed physics for raving games in a way that hadn’t been attempted before and hasn’t since up till now. You race around tracks or take part in destruction derbies and you crash a hell of a lot – that’s all there is to it. If you’re still reading, you’re exactly the sort of person Bugbear is catering for.

As an early-access game this is definitely one of the most alpha games we’ve seen. There’s two cars, two tracks and a destruction derby. You also get a nice little physics-demo playground but right now there’s very little to play. At around £18.99 for now it’s nowhere near worth that – you’re helping them to fund the rest of the development and supporting a company that have been consistently excellent – but don’t expect value for money for another few months at least.

Going through the bare bones menu systems you eventually get plonked on a track and told to press ‘enter’ to start. Sadly right now there’s no controller or steering wheel support – you’re using the arrow keys Trackmania style for this one. As soon as the countdown finishes you’re off alongside up to 23 other races who will immediately cause devastation to the track for the next quart mile or so. Cars fly up in the air, roll off the side, spin around and disintegrate in what is the most beautifully realised chaos we’ve ever seen in a racing title. Thanks to some excellent soft-body physics everything crumples in new and exciting ways, with bits of body panels bending and creasing before coming off entirely. It seems as though it’s all cosmetic right now, but as a proof of concept it definitely works.

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The opponents’ AI has definitely been created with crashing in mind, rather than clean racing. Although there’s a definite challenge it feels like it comes more from the handling and sluggish controls rather than the enemy racers. Instead they do something very rare for the genre – they make mistakes. Nearly every corner you’ll see one or two misjudge it, occasionally causing a chain reaction and taking out the whole pack. The AI isn’t brain-dead though, in the destruction derby mode it’ll start reversing to protect the engine once it’s beaten up too much.

As a game, limited is the only real word for Next Car Game. It’s beautiful (thanks to the destruction, the visuals are still in early stages and look functional but uninspiring) and it’s hilarious, but there’s so little to play you need to be aware that your money is a pledge of support for the promise of a future game, not something you’ll be able to sink your teeth into right away.

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