‘Loot Or Die’ Seems Interesting, and Very Literal

It saddens me to say this, but there is less and less to get excited about on XBLIG these days, insofar as upcoming games that are still coming to the service. Loot Or Die, from ubiquitous developer Chris Antoni, is looking to break that dry cycle.

Coined as a sort of twin-stick / RPG shooter— with drop-in co-op— the game sees you battling aliens and other creatures on a number of different planets. Strategy and depth come into play with the gear and weapons you collect in each stage, ranging from common items to more epic armor and weapons that will increase your stats. The novel ‘ring’ system gives you additional perks to choose from, such as double damage, or allowing you to warp ahead of enemies and / or beyond hazards. True to the game’s name, you’ll have to find better equipment if you hope to survive from planet to planet.

Currently on Day 17 (of an unknown total), the game is shaping up well. Rather than subscribing to the speedier development cycle that his previous releases have seen, the developer is taking his time with this one, polishing the gameplay / mechanics. That added attention to detail should pay off when Loot Or Die is eventually released.

You can follow developer Chris Antoni on Twitter, and keep up with the game’s progress on YouTube.

REVIEW: Really Scary 2

I’m really not sure how I got here, covering another Chris Antoni horror title. It’s hard to keep track of how many there’s been, and I swore them off the last time. I mean, I thought I did. Everything’s cylindrical, maybe. Despite promises and all the best intentions in the world, I end up back where I started. Reviews bleed into other reviews, one jump scare leads into the next, and it feels like all of this is being done in a loop. A loop I can’t seem to escape. Which, coincidentally1, is the premise of Really Scary 2 ($1.00).

Really Scary 2 - Screen

Well, it was the premise of Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s excellent mindbender P.T. before this, but you get the idea. This XBLIG-inized version of P.T. is a low-budget homage, warmed up in a dirty microwave and served as if it’s fresh, but it manages to do quite a bit with just a little. The game mines the genre for the typical trappings; dim lighting, deranged individuals (including the protagonist, it seems), a healthy splash of blood here and there. Ditto for its cast of the usual Antoni suspects, including the headless bloody bear, the spider, the wolf man, and Chris’ house2.

The ‘loop’ as presented here is almost an entirely linear route (thanks to the pseudo-FMV and the limited, directional controls), more about building up dread and setting up the occasional jump scare than trial-and-error detective work. Radio broadcasts attempt to paint a picture of your budding insanity, doors open on their own, the room changes ever so slightly when you revisit, etc.

Really Scary 2 - Screen2

To help mix things up, there’s a brief ‘puzzle’ sequence (think Team Shuriken-style, ‘guess the right direction or die’ trick), and a bit based on timing where you avoid approaching enemies. Despite its admittedly-limited arsenal, the game’s pacing is decent, spreading out its scant scares and gameplay for maximum benefit. You’ll still likely conquer the game in 25 minutes or less, with only a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ending to extend that playtime.

Even with my continued savaging of these types of games and their highly-repetitive nature, they tend to do well for the developers that make them. And despite some serious, serious, indie horror / sequel fatigue, Really Scary 2 pulls off some effective jump scares and psychological ticks. It’s not at all original, mind you, but given the community’s apparently voracious appetite for horror on the cheap, that’s not going to be a problem.

  1. Or not so coincidentally, because I needed an opening. 
  2. Seriously, after seeing practically every square inch of the place, at various angles and lighting, and in half a dozen games, I’m starting to feel like I live there myself. I should probably be paying rent. 


Despite an occasionally anxious nature, I’m hardly a hypochondriac; in fact, I’m more likely to avoid a reason to go the doctor than worry over every tiny pain or glitch in the system. That said, I wouldn’t mind the premise of Bacto ($1.00) taking place in my body, doing the grunt work of a cleanup and battling infections for me. Of course, I’d have to be sick for this, and… you know what, let’s not talk about that.

Bacto - Screen

Bacto is an Eat-Em-Up, starring a white blood cell1 on perpetual night watch, rooting out infections and killing off harmful bacteria. Lucky for him… er… it, that noble work takes the form of a very colorful game, complete with global high scores, powerups, and some ugly-looking beasties that are no doubt hell-bent on wrecking whatever body they inhabit. Levels task you with eliminating a preset number of enemies, with subsequent stages adding new, bigger bacteria, and roaming, impervious antibiotics you must avoid.

Said white blood cell attacks those enemies by expanding outward, swallowing and destroying foes within its reach. Oddly, those same enemies are deadly to the touch, depleting your life bar quickly should you make contact2. To counteract that serious deficiency, there are a few powerups to take advantage of. These include a shield item that allows you to plow through incoming threats without taking damage for a short time, and a ‘spread shot’ weapon type that will clear out some of the surrounding enemies, bailing you out of a potentially inescapable position.

Bacto - Screen2

Of course, you’ll have to work at it to get yourself boxed in; stages scroll endlessly in all directions, giving you plenty of space to work with. You can bank those powerups, too, opening up some strategic opportunities during the later, more crowded rounds. The problem is, it’s all just old hat. And a little boring.

You see, despite the generally bright visuals and simple setup, there’s nothing going on in Bacto that you haven’t seen done in other pseudo-shooters. Even the idea of fighting infections inside the body isn’t new, and the slight adjustments and modifiers here and there don’t do enough to make Bacto interesting over the long term. So there’s no rush in getting sick. Healthy is more fun.

  1. Possibly called ‘Bacto’, maybe? Which is kind of ironic? 
  2. It’s odd, but think of it like a bullet-hell shooter. You have to make contact with the bacteria to kill it, but so long as you are in your attack animation, and the enemy doesn’t touch the middle core of the cell, you seem to be okay. 

REVIEW: Real Evil

The original Resident Evilcheesy dialog and all— probably holds an affectionate place in all our hearts. It’s a landmark game. Besides widely being considered the genesis of the ‘survival horror’ genre, its style and ideas inspiring hundreds of would-be homages and clones since, it’s hard to ignore any game with zombies in it1. Chris Antoni’s Real Evil ($1.00) wants to be a nostalgic, even campier, low-budget version of Resident Evil. Its heart is in the right place, but its complete reliance on that goodwill and nostalgia proves fatal.

Real Evil - Screen

It starts off promising enough. Real Evil‘s tale is a meta-story of sorts, involving a bland-ish robot plucked straight from your average XBLIG title and thrust into the real world without explanation. This sees you battling zombies on pre-rendered backgrounds (…fancy words for ‘pictures of someone’s house’) and searching for clues / items, complete with those inherently-awkward camera angles and a limited amount of ammo. Ah, Resident Evil, I remember you well.

Player movement is equally-awkward, taking its cues from the old-fashioned ‘tank controls’ the RE series was known for. It’s a less than effective scheme in hindsight, more about rotating slowly to face the direction you want. The combat animations for your robot are nifty but slow, meaning you’ll have to aim and fire pretty fast at some points to avoid a quick death (one hit = instant demise) or unseen foe.

As you explore, you’ll run across some basic puzzles, such as piecing together a computer password or maneuvering objects in the environment, and some nods to previous games by the developer. Well, it’s all highly self-referential, actually. You’re in on the joke if you’ve played most of the games referenced, but if you’re coming to Real Evil fresh, both the narrative and the gameplay are likely to feel bizarre or disjointed. One minute you’re fighting zombies in an attic, the next you’re staring into the void and facing off against cubed threats on a level ripped from Block King.

Real Evil - Screen2

Even with the shifting styles, Real Evil‘s biggest issue is its adherence to Resident Evil‘s ancient ideas regarding gameplay. The camera angles are a nuisance more than they are a fond memory, with the jarring transitions from room to room sometimes making it hard to tell if you’re hitting a target. To complicate matters, there is a limited amount of ammunition to find, with no way to attack enemies if you happen to run out. It’s entirely possible to trap yourself at a save point unarmed, making any future progress impossible.

That’s hardly a recipe for fun. Points go to the developer for the XBLIG-unique twist on an old formula, but the mishmash of games and ideas here don’t quite work. Add to this the frustrating viewpoints and an extremely-low tolerance for mistakes, and Real Evil‘s attempt at nostalgic survival horror feels bloated and just as dated as its inspiration.

  1. As XBLIG has come to know all too well. 

REVIEW: Pillar

Let me preface this review by saying that I like Michael Hicks as a developer. He does not settle for predictable ideas, nor does he compromise on his original vision. He’s one of the guys behind XBLIG’s last Uprising, even taking part with his interesting (yet ultimately unsatisfying) Sententia. He cites Jonathan Blow as an influence (easy enough to tell in his own projects, really), which is certainly okay in my book. Video Games as a medium need more people willing to take a chance and tell a story that not everyone will get at first glance. That said, his latest, Pillar1 ($4.99) is yet another interesting project that’s lacking… well, much enjoyment.

Not that ‘enjoyment’ has to be everything in a game, but it plays a large part. There’s more to Pillar than what’s on the surface, but Pillar is a puzzle game, first and foremost. Well, a collection of minigames, I suppose. Its puzzles and its gameplay revolve around the idea of human personalities, its six characters built on traits like Giving, Enduring, Distant, Capable, etc.. There’s no dialog in the game, no written story of any kind, but there are connections and conclusions to be made. There’s plenty more to be said (and, more specifically, seen) about introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. Also the titular ‘Pillar’ itself, a supposed source of great knowledge that these characters are after.

The game takes that task and its cast seriously, letting you pick and choose freely between said personalities, even going so far as to ask you who you are, and where you are, in the game world when you continue. Each character is given an initial setup, letting you read into their personality type. One character spends all her time praying in Church, say, while another takes part in the rat race of Capitalism. One might avoid human interaction, while another seeks it out. Eventually, the game draws two of these personalities together, in order to solve a series of increasingly-difficult puzzle sequences.

Those puzzles vary in form and style. Distant / Focused uses a stealth mechanic of sorts, avoiding detection and using ‘voice’ as a distraction to lure guards (just normal people) and / or to unlock doors. Enduring / Renewing has you collecting orbs and opening life-depleting gates, while avoiding personal contact. Giving / Capable presents the most involving puzzles of the bunch, which sees you constructing and lighting various numbered lamps, using pressure plates in specific order. Regardless of character pairing, you can bypass most of the puzzles completely by ‘losing’ (which isn’t a bad idea2), but you’ll only be cheating yourself, not to mention missing out on the puzzle pieces that comprise the characters’ ‘notes’3.

Pillar - Screen2

The ‘lamps’ puzzles are easily the best part about the game.

Unfortunately, Pillar falls in love with its puzzles whether you do or not, throwing room after room at you in succession. Some ideas work better than others in longform, but the game would have been better-served to hand them out in moderation, rather than stretching its mechanics out to pad the puzzle count or drive the point home. Of course, you can always take a break or switch personalities, and then come back to a previous part, but the puzzles can play and feel like an extended slog anyway, in sharp contrast to the game’s quieter, contemplative moments. It seems bizarre to say this, but Pillar is a puzzle game that might be better off without its puzzles.

Much like Sententia, Pillar is a lovely idea that suffers some in its transition to videogame form. It tries to say important things about Life and about Us— and does, to an extent— but it ultimately feels flat-footed and outright dull in certain spots. No doubt the developer poured his heart into it, and he’s to be commended for it, but despite that care and lofty ambition, the end result is just not very fun or balanced. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play Pillar. Just consider it more as a piece of self-explorative art, rather than a videogame you’d play for entertainment.

  1. Pillar marks the first XBLIG I’m reviewing that I didn’t actually buy on my Xbox 360. The game is also available on the PS4 (at a higher price), which is the platform I played it on. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Supporting indie games on all platforms? Probably. 
  2. You totally should ‘lose’ on occasion, as some of the sequences that occur after you fail are worth a look, and give you even more insight into a character / personality. 
  3. Nothing groundbreaking, but completed puzzles (a la Braid) do offer some enlightenment (and trophies in the PS4 version). 

Reviews and News for Xbox Live Indie Games


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 560 other followers