Last Day of June
[X-Morph: Defense on Steam, also multi-platform]
“Retro arcade-platformer with multi-genre parts, inspired by ZX Spectrum, Bioshock and works of H.P. Lovecraft.”
“Darkness sleeps just beneath the cracks on the ever-changing planet. The curious will uncover powerful artifacts and forge them anew. The strong will take the nanosword and crush galactic giants.”
A few week ago, closer to Solstice Chronicles: MIA’s July 27 release date, I blasted my way through the first few story mode levels before the game’s unforgiving difficulty level strained the fun out of the game. At that time, I was more than okay with letting the game fade into being just another game in my Steam library that never gets re-installed. Fast-forward to now, and I decided to give Solstice Chronicles one more chance. The publisher gave me a copy of the game to play, and while I know I’m not obligated to write anything about a game that I’m given, I still feel guilty if I don’t do anything with it.
So I decided to load into Solstice Chronicles: MIA one last time before I shelved the game.
I skipped the Story mode and went right into the Survival Mode. Remembering my difficulty with the difficulty was definitely not difficult, so I selected the Recruit setting (the easiest mode) and was transferred to a load-out screen where I saw my soldier and how completely unprepared he was for combat. All of the options were unavailable to me besides an assault rifle, a submachine gun, and a pistol. All of the perks and extra fancy-pants options were locked away, presumably for players who put more time and effort into the game. I wasn’t too keen on heading into what I expected to be a hellish experience with basically an astronaut suit and some dinky weaponry, but I knew I had to start somewhere, so off I went on my first Survival mission.
I was dropped on a dimly-lit Martian landscape. The red planet’s dust swirled in the endless winds, and the little light posts strung up here and there did little against the oppressive darkness of the dust storm. I was informed that my mission was to restart power at four power stations and then hightail it back to the evacuation zone for pick-up. The longer I took, the tougher the enemies would become, but the better the loot would become. It’s tried-and-true, risk/reward system that I’ve seen before in games.
I was accompanied by a little floating robot that could do things like find me loot or, if necessary, blow itself up so I could escape from an overwhelming wave of monsters.
Using the WASD keys for movement, and aiming with the mouse, I moved effortlessly through the starting area. A few monsters scurried in at me but a few bursts from my assault rifle blew them apart like I was shooting a pinata. My flashlight sliced through the darkness, revealing abandoned equipment, a few more monsters, and some much-needed ammunition. Without hesitation, I scooped up that ammo because I knew it was only a matter of time before the trickle of monstrosities grew to a deadly tsunami of gnawing mouths and screaming sacks of flesh.
Sure enough, a few moments later, after initiating power at the second station, all hell broke loose.
Waves of the easy-to-kill monsters filled my screen while a few monsters, oddly shaped like tires, rolled in at me. My ammo count was quickly approaching empty, and I knew I wouldn’t last very long without more firepower. I sprinted away and sought the cover of the power station that I had just re-activated. I had my back to a wall and was filling the air with led. I glanced inside the station, a desperate attempt at locating more supplies, and saw a box that I had somehow missed. It was an automatic turret. I had my drone pick it up and we promptly evacuated the area as my screen continued to fill with more monsters.
This is where I took a gamble. I had no idea how this turret would work. As I instructed my drone to set it out in a very open, very exposed, position, I hoped that the turret would have a 360-degree field of fire, and could take advantage of the open space to help me fend off the monsters. To my relief, the turret worked as I needed it to, and after a short assembly time, it was active and blasting apart any monsters it detected. At this point, I instructed my drone to ustilize the Scout ability and it flew off and began periodically returning and dropping off ammo and weapons that it found in the surrounding area.
For awhile, everything was going well. My turret had my back, the drone was supplying me with enough ammo and weaponry to fend off the frenzied mass of monsters that were at this point, pouring in from every side, and slowly I realized that I might just actually be having fun.
And then Solstice Chronicles: MIA broke.
My character was somehow pulled beneath the map, and my screen went blank except for the user-interface, and the player model. I could run in place, shoot, and swing my melee attack, but that was it. I could still hear the monsters scrambling somewhere above me; the game continued even as I was stranded in this glitched purgatory. I waited a few minutes and when nothing happened, I sighed, closed the game, and uninstalled Solstice Chronicles: MIA.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA currently holds a “Mostly positive” rating on Steam. It does not seem like bugs are a prevalent issue, in the handful of user reviews I read through, though a few reviews mention graphical glitches, which I guess my situation applies to. Regardless, a lot of people seem to enjoy Solstice Chronicles: MIA, but if you’re looking for my opinion: Helldivers is a better option that provides a more refined, very similar gameplay experience.
A copy of this game was provided to Epic Brew by the publisher. Trailer from Gamespot Trailers’s YouTube channel. Screenshots taken from the Solstice Chronicles: MIA Steam store page and from the author’s own gameplay experience.
I enjoy “walking simulator” games. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was one of my favorite games the year it came out, and while I found Firewatch a disappointment, that was primarily due to the story, not the actual gameplay. So when I saw that a “walking simulator” about being a blind girl was on sale, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. I picked up Beyond Eyes last week when it was on sale, on Steam. It is normally $14.99, and I believe I paid around $3 or $4 for it.
After playing the game, it turns out that’s $3 or $4 too much, if you ask me.
Beyond Eyes is a great example of an interesting concept held back by gameplay that desperately needs a few extra layers of polish. The concept of controlling a blind child and only being able to “see” what they hear, is an excellent concept for a slow-paced adventure game. To some extent, Beyond Eyes executed this concept very well, particularly in the earliest parts of the game. Hearing a bird in a tree, and seeing the bird pulse out of the white blindness as it chirped was a pretty neat mechanic.
At first, these sound effects acted as guides, figurative lighthouses in the white blindness. Rae, the protagonist, eventually finds a stray cat that she names Nani (Nah-nee). As stray cats tend to do, Nani runs away. The opening of the game is Rae simply walking around a pretty garden, looking for where Nani ran off too. The garden served as a good training grounds to learn how the white blindness works: it fades away based on proximity, and gradually fills-in behind Rae, as if her memory of exactly what was where is fading. It’s neat at first, but as the game drags on, it becomes a major annoyance.
The problem is that the white blindness isn’t consistent. In some areas you can turn around and see the trail you took to get to where you currently are, in other areas the white blindness closes very closely behind you, making it very difficult to figure out where you are in relation to anything. One of the latter levels has Rae walking through the rain and it’s almost impossible to gain any sense of where she is. Her slow movement speed is understandable, since she is blind, but when you’re walking around very slowly and have no idea where you’re going, the charm of the game quickly wanes.
I was content with the fact that, for the sake of the experience, I was being forced to walk so slowly with such limited visibility. I dealt with the frustration of walking into countless fences or other barriers that I did not know were there until I literally bumped into them; I tolerated being strung along through the experience because I was supposed to care about a feral cat and a blind girl who should have known better than to stand mere feet away from exploding fireworks; I ignored the fact that the game features “memories” of the girl visualizing Nani doing something in an area we (the players) have never been to; or that no one (there are other humans around) even tried to help the little blind girl who was wandering around on her own. I put all of those issues aside for the sake of trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a few short hours.
But it’s rather….immersion breaking….when the game suddenly takes control of Rae and WALKS HER ACROSS ROCKS IN A RIVER. I was literally removed from the perspective of Rae, just so Beyond Eyes could give me a good view of this little blind girl walking across river rocks. There is no way she could have known those rocks was there. So she’s either faking being blind or the developers just stopped caring about consistency. I’m leaning towards the latter.
That river scene was the point I decided that Beyond Eyes was one of the most poorly thought-out games that I’ve played in recent memory. As I said, Beyond Eyes is based on a very interesting concept to explore in a video game, but the developers absolutely floundered in their delivery of translating that concept into an entertaining experience. I literally cannot figure out why the developer thought that the inclusion of that river scene was in any way appropriate after making me walk, literally blind, through a rainstorm for the past twenty-minutes. That one scene single-handedly ruined everything that came before it, and anything that came after it. It made no sense, it invalidated the entire game.
Clearly, I am not happy with Beyond Eyes. I’d ask for a refund, but since it takes two hours just to walk out of the tutorial (hyperbolic, but you get the point), I guess I’m out $4.
[[Not Recommended]] Beyond Eyes is about a child who stood too close to fireworks, was blinded, and doesn’t understand that a wild cat is probably not going to want to be her pet. The game’s core mechanic is only neat for a short period of time, then it stops being fun and is quite literally a handicap to the amount of enjoyment you could have experienced in this game, had it been made with some extra consideration and care.
This game was reviewed using a retail copy of the game that was purchased for the purpose of this review.
[Re:Legend now on Kickstarter]
The dragon’s lifeless body fell right onto the exact spot where I laid the foundation of my town. As I watched the dragon’s body clip through the Keep, a sense of relief washed over me. Not relief for my townsfolk, whom I had just saved from a fiery demise. No, not for them, but for me.
With the slaying of that dragon notched on my archers’ scoreboards, I had done everything there was to do in Kingdoms and Castles….and I had just hit the six hour mark.
Technically, I hadn’t done everything…there were some Steam achievements leftover for hitting certain population milestones, which would take a lot more downtime than I was willing to pump into Kingdoms and Castles. So, more accurately, I had done everything there was that was worth doing, in the game.
Kingdoms and Castles started out as straightforward, town-building, strategy game. With around two-dozen buildings to construct, everything had a clear purpose and their functions alongside the other buildings made sense. There were no obscure rules to learn, or elaborate game mechanics to keep track of. Wood, stone, food, and population were the only major things that needed monitoring; adequate water coverage (either from coastlines or wells), citizen happiness level (boosted by the presence of churches or taverns), and smart guard tower placement (to defend against invaders) were the only other facets of the game that necessitated the most attention.
There are a handful of other resource systems that need monitoring, but those that I mentioned represent the core of the game. As far as strategy city-building games go, they don’t come much simpler and easy-to-play than Kingdoms and Castles.
The game’s graphic style mirrors that simplicity. Featuring peg-like peasants, the game’s visual appeal comes from watching the dozens or hundreds of peasants scurrying around doing their duties. Once open housing is available, peasants will randomly “move in” to your town and they will automatically pick up on any available task that needs doing. It was fun to zoom out and watch the town in action. Watching the peasants all hopping around doing their own jobs reminded me a lot of watching tiny fish in a fish tank. For awhile anyway, it was quite a relaxing time.
Unfortunately, as pleasant as it was to watch…I could only watch so much before I found myself rapping my fingers on my keyboard, awaiting progression. Once I had read all of the little tooltips for every building there was to build, and had a basic understanding of what a good city layout in Kingdoms and Castles should look like, I had very little else to do as I waited for more citizens to move in, or for more resources to be collected.
Occasionally a viking raid would arrive, and while they increase in strength over time, they’re easy enough to repel that a few archer towers will do you just fine for the first hour of gameplay. They show up, slowly make their way into your town, steal resources and peasants, and make their way back to their boat. If you kill all the vikings you get to keep your resources, if not, you lose all they managed to snag on their way out.
Dragons would also show up, but their presence was a complete joke. The dragons would fly in at random times and mostly just float above my city. Perhaps the dragons in these lands had some sort of amnesia, because they acted more like butterflies than dragons. Only occasionally did they every drop a fire-blast or two down onto my town. Sometimes they never even flew near my town to begin with.
But I finally encountered a dragon that flew right through the heart of my city. After being pelted by arrows for a good half-minute, it was over. The dragon’s body vanished as it fell into my Keep, I breathed a partially-annoyed sigh of relief, and my peasants scurried on, unaware that their lives were about to end forever.
Kingdoms and Castles wasn’t a bad game in that it was broken, and it was even fun for a short time, but after I killed that dragon and I unlocked the achievement, I resigned as Lord of [Tom Already Forgot What He Named His Town] forever. I just can’t recommend Kingdoms and Castles; the game was not fun enough for long enough, and gave me absolutely no reason to play it all over again.
Not recommended. There just wasn’t enough variety of things to do to keep my attention past an hour or two. Feels very much like a stable, early-access release, rather than a full retail game. I will monitor Kingdoms and Castles for major developments and update this review as necessary.
Epic Brew reviewed this game using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer. Trailer and screenshots taken from GOG and Steam, respectively. Epic Brew is not affiliated with either.