They Are Billions – Hands-On With Early Access

They Are Billions is a single-player game that’s all about survival. Yes it’s a game about the zombie apocalypse (go ahead and roll your eyes, I’ll allow it), but it’s challenging and fun enough to be worthy of your time. Trust me. I sunk four hours into this game without even realizing it.

Currently in Early Access on Steam, They Are Billions is city-building race-against-the-clock survival game. Players must manage the economics of a growing settlement while also attending to the defenses of the settlement. Neglecting the latter leaves the door open for the zombies to stroll on in and quickly decimate the population.

The zombies spawn randomly around the map, and it only takes a few seconds of them clawing unattended at a building to to transform the inhabitants of the building to blood-thirty zombies themselves. In seconds, a settlement can go from quiet refuge to a bustling metropolis of flesh-hungry citizens.

The longer a settlement exists, the more zombie attention it will attract. The trick is to quickly establish a strong economy in order to afford the necessary defenses to repel the ever-increasing zombie attacks. Walls, soldiers, and traps all must be strategically constructed to deter the attacks and delay the inevitable. Eventually, the settlement will succumb to the zombie onslaught and you’ll watch as everything you built so hard is trashed. It’s frustrating, but with each playthough you’ll learn a bit more about how to establish your settlement’s economy and how to best deploy your defenses.

They Are Billions, as of this writing, has no tutorial, so your first few attempts will likely end in swift defeat. However, the mechanics of the game are not complex, and I was able to obtain a firm understanding of the core aspects of the game by the time the zombies overran my first settlement. My second settlement lasted almost four times longer; learning how to play They Are Billions is not difficult, which makes me that much more likely to return to it, once I eventually burn out.

As the game is in Early Access, I expect additional content and developer updates in the coming weeks and months. Currently, They Are Billions features a Survival Mode (which is the aforementioned experience), and a Campaign Mode is expected to be released in Spring of 2018. I’ll certainly keep Epic Brew updated with any major updates to They Are Billions.

As things stand now, They Are Billions is a very promising game, even in Early Access.

[They Are Billions official website]

First Look At Episodic Murder Mystery, The Council

What happens when George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, a Cardinal, and a handful of other 18th Century fancypants have dinner together? No really, this isn’t a lead-in to a joke. It’s a question that upcoming, episodic murder mystery game, The Council, will answer.

Developed by French independent game studio Big Bad Wolf, The Council allows players to make decisions, develop social skills, and shape the outcome of the story. The results of their actions can lead to permanent physical disfigurements and psychological traits that affects a character’s mentality throughout the duration of the story. The game employs a Social Influence system that allows players to choose how to manipulate the characters around them; be a detective and uncover secrets to catch people off guard, be a likable diplomat and gain favor, or engage in the occult and creep everyone out, the choice is in the player’s hands.

From the press release:

The Council begins in 1793, with players taking the role of secret society member Louis de Richet after he was invited to a private island off the shores of England by the enigmatic Lord Mortimer. Joining him are a number of high profile guests, including Napoleon Bonaparte and President of the newly-formed United States of America George Washington. The strange nature of this private reception goes beyond just the prestigious guests―Richet’s own mother has recently gone missing on the island, while each member of the colorful cast seems to have their own hidden agendas.

Look for the first episode of The Council this February, on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Teslagrad on the Nintendo Switch – Impressions

Rain Games recently launched their 2013 platformer Teslagrad on the Nintendo Switch. I played Teslagrad during its original release, so I was interested to see how well the gameplay experience translated to the Nintendo Switch.

Teslagrad is a puzzle platformer adventure game set in a fictitious, vaguely-Serbian, city. The looming Tesla Tower dominates that city, and within its imposing walls is where the core of the game takes place.

Utilizing various gadgets, the young hero must out-wit the tower’s elaborate obstacles and….well, I’m honestly not too sure what was going on in the story. Something about an evil king who was evil and everyone disliked him because…he was evil. Something like that. The protagonist stumbled into the king’s old tower, the aforementioned Tesla Tower, after he ran from bad guys…it’s all very vague. The plot, and lack of any real narrative, was a sore spot for me, especially when the game could have used an interesting narrative to hold together the simplistic, puzzle-based gameplay.

As many obstacles as there were in Teslagrad, the hardest was the game itself. Sections of the game seemed purposefully difficult, like one particular segment that required the player to use their momentum to roll a ball with themselves inside of it, hamster-style. Missed jumps due to odd ledges, made some of my deaths feel cheap and easily avoidable, had the jump just connected. There is one portion of the game that takes place in an aboretum and some of the platforms are branches. Due to the art style, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly where the ledges begin, and that zone in particular was frustrating.

The art style, however, was the high-point of the game. I really enjoyed the animated character models, and apart from a few design decisions, Teslagrad is a very appealing game to look at.

Teslagrad wasn’t my type of platformer. I prefer a good amount of combat or action to break apart the puzzle platforming elements (Trine 1 and 2 do this well, for example). The generic puzzles that typically revolved around a red and blue magnetic force, were simple not enough to keep me entertained.

Teslagrad is a great game, if you appreciate a puzzle-heavy platformer, with little to no action. The Nintendo Switch version ran flawlessly; in undocked mode, which is how I use the Switch the most, I encountered no framerate issues and the resolution was crisp and the game’s visuals vibrant.

A retail copy of Teslagrad was provided to Epic Brew for the purpose of this article.

Hand of Fate 2 Review

With a flourish of his hands, a few fanciful words, and a flip of a card, my fate was decided by the cloaked man: I just starved to death in a burning city besieged by an undead plague.

Not exactly the most glorious of deaths.

With my character’s demise, the cloaked man offered me some patronizing advice, I easily envisioned his smirk beneath his cowl, and levitated all of the game pieces back to their proper places like he was some sort of creepy Mary Poppins.

Hand of Fate 2 is a game within a game within a game. Players take on the role of a traveler in a caravan wagon with the cloaked man. To pass the time he offers to let you play his card game. So you create a character for the card game and start his first scenario. The cloaked man’s game has a few rules to learn, but they’re nothing complex or abstruse. For the sake of time, I’m going to refrain from explaining the rules in much depth, however it’s important to understand that Hand of Fate 2 is not like a traditional card game video game. When it’s time for combat, the cards don’t just smack into one another as the game calculates the damage done; when it’s time for combat, you fight.

Let’s go back a few moments before my aforementioned demise. Across the gameboard were cards arranged in rows and columns. Each card represented a city block that I was traveling through, looking for survivors to save. Every turn cost me some of my food resource, and once I ran out of food, I would take damage with every turn. I ran out of food a few turns ago, so my health level was less-than-ideal at this point. I click on an uncovered card, signaling my character to move there for my next turn. The cloaked man flips the card and it’s an alley full of infected monstrosities.

The cloaked man mutters something hardly encouraging as the game warps me into a combat scenario.

Reality refocuses and I’m now in control of the actual character I’m playing the card game as. All of the weapons/equipment/companion cards that I held in my hand are now a tangible reality.  The monsters do not hesitate and they lurch forward to try and consume my companion and myself.

Using the WASD keys to move, and the mouse to attack/defend, I do a decent job of fending off the monsters’ attacks. As I take a few hits from the monsters, I regret not playing my reinforcements card before this battle scenario, as it would have spawned some city soldiers alongside my companion and I; not the best reinforcements, but it would have taken some of the pressure off of my companion and I.

Eventually, the monsters are slain and I am teleported out of the combat scenario and back to sitting in front of the cloaked man. Unfortunately, the few scrapes I sustained during combat were enough to put me below the threshold needed to survive my next turn. The moment I click to move to the next card, my health evaporates completely and I die. Whirling away all of the cards and game pieces, the cloaked man resets our card game and allows me to choose another scenario or to attempt that same one again.

Hand of Fate 2 is a tough game, but the combat is fluid and fun, reminiscent of early Assassin’s Creed games (I only played the first two), where icons indicate which enemy is about to attack, allowing you time to dodge out of the way or block/counter the attack. Enemy types are varied, so it’s not just hacking-and-slashing through hordes of monsters. Dodging, parrying, riposting, and chaining attacks are crucial for survival, and each action is easy to conduct and visually fluid to observe. Combat in Hand of Fate 2 is great.

The combat is complimented by the game’s easy-to-learn systems, and the ever-intriguing presence of the narrator/game master. I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Hand of Fate 2. I usually have little patience for learning a new card game, but the treat of actually getting to partake in the combat was enough to usher me through learning the basics, and then after that I was hooked.

RECOMMENDED: Hand of Fate 2 is great in every way. I’ve had no problem learning the game’s systems, the narrator is a great character to get to know, and the scenarios present enough of a challenge without being unfair or overly difficult. 

[Hand of Fate 2 on Steam]

Hand of Fate 2 was reviewed with a retail copy provided by the developer.

Slice of Life: Dauntless

My team of four warriors stormed off in separate directions. The forested cliffs of the floating island rose ahead of us in jagged formations. Goats meandered in a nearby meadow. I could never figure out how the goats ended up on these floating islands, but I had the feeling that they were simply placeholder assets, stuck there to give the nearly-vacant island some life.

Apart from myself, the three other hunters, and the goats, there was only one other thing alive on this island: our target, a Shrike.

Shrikes are a type of Behemoth that are tornado-making birds of prey. But instead of hunting field mice and other rodents, Shrikes hunt humans. Our mission was to hunt down the Shrike that was spotted in the area and kill it. Beyond the faux satisfaction of saving countless lives from being consumed by the beast, slaying the Shrike would provide us hunters with valuable Shrike-based resources that we could use to craft better gear.

In silence, the three other hunters vanished into the woods. I stopped to harvest some plants that I had no idea what to do with, but they looked valuable so I snagged them just to be safe.

Out to the east I heard a dull boom, and then I heard the very iconic shriek of a Shrike. One of the hunters had already stumbled across the beast. Because there is no map in Dauntless, players can signal one another across the island by shooting flares into the air to indicate their location and/or the location of the Behemoth.

I bolted in the direction of the slowly-fading flare. More shrieks echoed off of the cliffs. After a minute-long mad dash, I came to a clearing where two of the hunters were already engaged with the Shrike. I paused to marvel at the sight.

The Shrike was stalking the two hunters who had their weapons drawn and were waiting for the Behemoth to make the next move. The beast shrieked and with surprising agility, corkscrewed up into the air and then body slammed into the ground where the hunters stood just seconds earlier. The two hunters quickly recovered from the attack and were already running to attack the Shrike before it could recover from the dizzying attack.

I unsheathed my chain blades and ran in to join them.

By the time I got within range of the Shrike, it had fully recovered from the body-slam attack and with a gust from its mighty wings it put some distance between where I now stood between the two hunters and the beast itself. There was another brief pause in combat while the Shrike eyed us from across the field.

The fourth warrior ran out from the treeline, between us and the Shrike. The Shrike instantly turned its attention to the single warrior as she sprinted to try to get to the rest of us. The Shrike charged at her on all fours. Unaware of the incoming attack, the warrior was hit hard and her body flew forward through the air.

Simultaneously the rest of us ran in to aid the warrior.

I initiated my special ability as soon as I was close enough to the Shrike. My chain blades flew out infront of me, latched onto the Shrike, and pulled me within melee range of the beast. I promptly began a flurry of quick attacks against the flank of the Shrike. The downed warrior quickly recovered from her fall and swung a giant hammer alongside me. The other two warriors attacked the Shrike from the other side.

With a mighty swooping gesture, the Shrike knocked us all down and then it flew a short distance away. Wasting no time, the Shrike generated a tornado and whirled it in our direction. Before the tornado had even passed by us, the Shrike was flying back across the field at us, wings spread out, talons at the ready, as if we were field mice about to be swooped away for a quick Shrike snack.

We all were able to dodge both the tornado and the Shrike. The Shrike, clearly exhausted from the battle, missed its landing and crashed into the ground. I quickly closed the distance and started my assault against the Shrike.

The battle went on for a bit longer, but it was clear that the Shrike didn’t stand a chance. We eventually slayed the beast after it tried to escape to another part of the island. The other warriors and myself all took some serious damage during the fight, but we came prepared and equipped with healing potions that negated most of the injuries we sustained. With the Behemoth slain, we were awarded with a handful of Shrike-based resources and ushered back to the capital city.

While I didn’t get the exact resources I was hoping for, the good thing about Dauntless is that the behemoths never go extinct. Somewhere out there on another floating island is another Shrike just waiting to be slain.

Dauntless is currently in closed beta. Upon release, Dauntless will be a free-to-play game, but access to the Closed beta is currently restricted to players who pay for access. Phoenix Labs provided Epic Brew with Closed Beta access.