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.

Superflight Review

I never thought I’d be any good at wingsuit flying. First, it would require me to climb a mountain, or jump out of a plane, two things that I don’t plan on doing anytime soon, if at all. Second, I’m certain that as soon as I take flight, my body would involuntarily seize up, and I would just Frisbee into the side of the mountain, spewing vomit the whole way. Third, it would require me to go outside for an extended period of time, and hahahahaha.

So instead, my pale, but perfectly-safe, butt gets to experience wingsuit flying via video entertainment. Namely, through Superflight, a new indie game from GrizzlyGames.

The premise is simple: players take control of a little figure who appears to be made out of cardboard. It’s exactly as I imagine I’d look if someone gave me a moving box and said, “Here Tom, now go fly.” This is about how I’d end up looking:

And then I would die.

My time playing Superflight was half spent saying, “Ooooh, neat!” at the colorful landscapes I flew through, and half spent saying, “Ooooh, shit!” at the colorful landscapes I flew into.

It’s okay though, dying in Superflight is no big deal; players who crash lose whatever point combo-chain they had and their remaining point score is tallied on a personal and global ranking. Points are easily acquired by flying close to the landscapes, or through the little caverns and holes that are usually scattered throughout every zone. Each zone takes the form of a floating landmass, and the player is dropped near the top. If the player flies below the floating landmass, they’re transported to another zone where the descent continues. There are even warp portals that players can fly through to instantly be transferred to a new zone and pick up some bonus points for doing so.

Zones are procedurally-generated and players can generate and save their own maps to share with friends. For example, if you type EpicBrew into the seed generator, you’ll get a blindingly pink map. Pro tip: there is a hole straight down from the start of the map that leads right through to the bottom, so you can escape before your retinas burn out.

For under $3, I did not expect Superflight to bring much to the table. What you see in the video is what you get. The sound design is a bit rough around the edges, —quieting the wind whistling noise was a necessity— and a nice ambient soundtrack would have been nice, but then again, Superflight is a $3 game. Adding a custom soundtrack or a sound designer would bump that price up by a handful of dollars. An excessive cost when Spotify fixes the problem just fine.

I found that playing Superflight with a controller (I used a USB Xbox 360 controller and it worked flawlessly) feels so much better than using the keyboard. For whatever reason, the mouse is not used, so flying is controlled with the WASD keys, which felt clunky. The joystick on the controller felt so much smoother, and I could even recline back in my chair as I flew my little cardboard Iron Man into another mountainside.

[[RECOMMENDED]] Superflight is a fun, affordable game that perfectly fits into a quiet evening.

A Steam copy of this game was purchased by Epic Brew for the purpose of this review.

Slice of Life: Solstice Chronicles: MIA

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, 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.

Beyond Eyes Review

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. 

Battle Brothers Preview – Rolling With the Rat Bastards

Battle Brothers is a recently-released, turn-based RPG that I’ve been playing over the weekend. Since its launch on March 24, Battle Brothers obtained a “very positive” accolade on Steam, and according to the developers, the sales figures are positive as well. After spending a few hours with the game over the past few days, it’s not hard to see why. Battle Brothers is a very engaging game, and as someone who normally shies away from turn-based RPGs, I found myself hooked on the game’s hospitable gameplay which was either intuitive or easy-to-learn.

Battle Brothers is based around a group of mercenaries that players recruit, equip, and send out on missions. Players can choose some basic customization options at the start, but the most important part of any mercenary group is the name. After some deliberation, I selected the name, The Rat Bastards, for my mercenary group. It seemed a proper name for such a down-on-their-luck gang.

After the basics are established, it’s off into the medieval world of Battle Brothers, and then hopefully onward to riches and glory. Realistically though, there’s going to be a lot of blood and death before riches and glory are aplenty. A lot of blood and death, actually. Like, a lot, a lot.

I learned the hard way that sending a former monk armed with a pitchfork into battle against a hillside of thieves with nothing to lose is a good way to send that monk to his maker a lot sooner than he probably would have liked. Rest in peace, Volker, we hardly knew ye.

Battle Brothers is sporting a healthy dosage of Oregon Trail inspiration in its blood, adding a bit of nostalgia to work with the stat-based decision making. I felt compelled to take care of my mercenary units that I have had the longest, even if they weren’t the best units I had. Battle Brothers will remind players that a particular character has been a part of the group for X-amount of days, or that he partook in that one big battle, or survived a massacre, or so forth.

This feature made deaths in Battle Brothers more impactful, though I’d imagine that sense of obligation wanes if it’s a player’s second or third time through the game.

I’m not reviewing Battle Brothers; I don’t play enough turn-based RPGs to really have a good sense of what this game does better/worse than other games. On top of that, I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to thoroughly/fairly play through this game. But, as I said, I enjoyed Battle Brothers far more than I expected to, even as someone who doesn’t usually jump at the chance to play a game from this genre.

If you’re on the fence about the game, I’d say it’s a safe bet that you’ll like it. Besides the lack of diversity (a few hours into the game and I only have had the option to recruit white dudes), there wasn’t anything about Battle Brothers that rubbed me the wrong way, or stuck out as a poor mechanic. Sending your gang of mercenaries through the map on longer treks can become a bit tedious, but the ability to fast-forward time slightly, and the occasional random event, do serve to break apart the monotony.

Battle Brothers is available now for PC.

[Battle Brothers on Steam]

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

Enter the Gungeon Review

It was when my fire ant gun allowed me to ignite the ant’s flatulence, turning it into a weapon capable of accidentally igniting an entire room, that I knew Enter the Gungeon was going to be one of those games that I would not forget.

Enter the Gungeon is a rogue-like dungeon crawler that is heavy on the action-combat, and light on strategy. Valuing reaction speed over critical thinking, Enter the Gungeon rewards reflexes over strategic thinking. By nature, Enter the Gungeon is a game that requires players to grind through randomly-generated portions of the game, over and over, in order to slowly progress through the game. Thanks to the rapid combat, there is little downtime, so once you understand the basics, and are comfortable stomaching repeated deaths, Enter the Gungeon welcomes you with open arms.

Speaking of arms, one of my favorite things about Enter the Gungeon is the theme of it all.

Beyond the title, a pun on the word “dungeon”, the game features enemies shaped like bullets, others with gun-pun names (The Gatling Gull was one of my favorites), an item index called the Ammonomicon, and an elevator system that functions like a breech-loading weapon.  Theme is rarely something that I specifically enjoy in a game. Usually I point out the game’s interesting story, or solid gameplay mechanics, but with Enter the Gungeon, I am all about the game’s tongue-in-cheek gun theme.

That’s not to say that the story, or gameplay mechanics, are to be overlooked. In Enter the Gungeon, like many dungeon crawlers, the story is whittled away as players become better and better at the game’s encounters and in dealing with the assortment of enemies. I’m roughly six hours in and the story is still in the early stages of unraveling.n I’m still very interested in seeing how it unfolds.

While the mystery plays out, the gameplay has kept the sometimes-repetitive experiences fresh and exciting. Enter the Gungeon is a free-roaming roguelike, so players can move their chosen character in any direction while simultaneously firing their gun in any direction. The gun variety is a hallmark of Enter the Gungeon and I found myself using weapons that ranged from traditional firearms to weaponized t-shirt cannons, and the aforementioned fire ant.

Don’t dismiss the graphics just yet either, they may be pixelated but the art design and interactivity of the environments can create some riveting gameplay moments. Bullets interact with objects in the levels; a missed shot may fly past an enemy and shatter a lantern, plunging that corner of the room into dim lighting; a table stacked with books that is flipped onto its side to be used for cover will send pages of the books fluttering out into the air; and as you likely saw in the video linked above, a room engulfed in flames is beautiful horror to behold.

The only moderately negative note that I wrote down while playing through the game is that because it’s so action-focused and highly dependent on super-concentration to weave through rooms filled with enemies filling the air with bullets, I find that I am mentally exhausted by the conclusion of my first or second run. It’s not that I’m burned out on the game, I just like to play games to relax and when my character eventually bites the dust, I find myself back in reality, hunched forward, leaning towards my monitor, my heart beating faster than it should for being so stationary, and my fingers stiff from the intensity of controlling my character through it all.

But Enter the Gungeon offers up some truly outrageous moments that have kept me coming back for more.

Verdict: Enter the Gungeon is a very fun, action-focused rogulike that features great high-intensity moments that pair well with the game’s light-hearted, thematic humor.

[Enter the Gungeon on Steam]

P.S. – My copy of Enter the Gungeon was purchased on my own.