Tag Archives: $2.99

REVIEW: Evolution II: Fighting For Survival

I’m all for Evolution. The theory of it, the reality of it, the facts of it— you name it, I’m for it. Hell, when I don’t shave for a few weeks, I doubt my own evolved humanity. So by natural extension, you would think I’d be all about something like Evolution II: Fighting For Survival ($2.99). Like the original, it’s a much, much, much smaller version of Spore (think of the Microbial beginning) and / or Fl0w, focusing on crafting and… well, evolving, your very own water-based… creature1. That said, this game is more busywork simulation and trial-and-error than actual entertainment.

From the start, Evolution II allows you to create your own species, mixing and matching appendages as you please… with a little work. You see, the tutorial gives you the basics and little else, setting you loose to stumble around in the evolutionary darkness, finding out which body parts will suit your design best. While you’re given a preset species, and free to tinker with the available options2, you have to pay attention to your HP and attack power, as well as basic movement. Build a ‘tank’ that can take a lot of damage, sure, but without the proper pieces, your creature isn’t going anywhere.

Once you’ve chosen a form for your Darwinian baby, you set out to grow and expand your race, eating nearby plants and / or attacking the smaller creatures around you3. This leads to reproduction, and further evolutionary options to make your species stronger and more agile. From there, it’s rinse and repeat as you slowly take over the ecosystem. Unfortunately, achieving any kind of success in the game often ‘splinters’ your family, turning friend into foe, and the process of survival repeats. It’s an interesting mechanic in theory, but more often than not, the odds are against you. Being punished for simply existing is hardly a recipe for fun.

Evolution II - Screen

Ho, looks like we got ourselves a badass here. 

To pack more sea-salt in the wound, Evolution II is yet another in an evolving list of XBLIG games being released in ‘beta’ form. Not in those exact terms, but ‘Watch for an improved and expanded PC version’ is a nice slap in the face of XBLIG players that just shelled out $3 for your apparently imperfect (and unfinished) game. I’m no PR man, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to tell your customers that they’re paying so someone else on another platform can play the ‘real’ version of the game you just bought.

Though in the end, I suppose no one wins, as Evolution II: Fighting For Survival is a content-lite homage to already-existing and better-playing games. If you’re a Darwin buff it might intrigue, but given that the original game was just released last year, I’d question the necessity of a nearly identical-looking (and more-expensive) sequel this soon. With the developer’s own admission of a superior version in the works, there’s absolutely no reason to support this game.

  1. There’s probably a scientific term I could insert there, but I’m not that bright. 
  2. You’ll have to. The game’s randomized settings mean you’ll likely get stuck with a ‘broken’ species at the start. Fix it or don’t, evolve or die, as the say. 
  3. See, who said ‘bullying the little guy’ doesn’t pay off? 

REVIEW: Servo Series I: Overclockers

Although the Roman numeral in Servo Series I: Overclockers ($2.99) would seem to indicate this is the first game in a series of open world, bot-on-bot first person shooters, it’s not. Well, not really. It’s markings match that of a game that blasted its way out of late 2012, calling itself Project Crossover. That one had potential, potential that was squandered by boring fetch quests and massive amounts of walking. Or  hovering. Whatever. A lot of something that wasn’t fun.

Some quick research showed that Stamper Games was behind that former attempt, and really, once everything’s been tallied up and been given a once-through, this new game is a slightly better-looking version of the first. Oh, and that bit about ‘potential being squandered’, and ‘boring fetch quests’? There’s a lot of that present in Servo Series I too.

Swapping out rebellion and evil corporations for a secretive sect of robots addicted to high clock speeds (it’s as tech-focused and uninteresting as it sounds), the game once again has you— a robot with unorthodox programming and exceptional traits— traveling a foggy landscape, completing quests for various friends and factions (the slow, thickly-robotic voice work returns) in towns scattered across the wasteland. Taking on these missions typically advances the narrative and grants you experience, which can then be applied to different health and weapon upgrades upon leveling up.

Getting from one place to the next is now much easier (and less busywork), thanks to Fast Travel hubs found in towns and the No Man’s Land between them. Transportation conveniences aside, you’d still do well to make the journey yourself, in order to earn additional experience and loot fallen enemies (you can carry as much ill-gotten hardware as you want, then sell off duplicates). Cash can then be spent at vending machines, which house new weapons and improved versions of existing types, as well as armor and shields.

Ammo is slightly scarce this time around, perhaps to add challenge, or to focus on the importance of the new melee system and your bot’s ability to block incoming projectiles / attacks. It’s a nice thought, but most fights can be won simply by waiting for your enemies to exhaust all of their ammo before pouncing. And although tracking enemies in open ground can be hard, you can always just wait for a bot’s zippy one-liner to carry through the fog, often proclaiming their superiority to you… right as you kill them. Good stuff.

Servo Series I Overclockers - Screen

Unfortunately, for every old problem that’s sorta-fixed, Servo Series I adds a new one to the roster, such as a user-unfriendly inventory system and the inability to hurry conversations along without skipping the entire message. There’s some balance issues as well, as enemies can be unfair the deeper you travel in the game (I got one-shotted a few times, even at higher player levels), leading to restarts (argh! those long loading times!) and inevitable frustration.

Most of all, Servo Series I: Overclockers is just not very fun to play, the same verdict that I leveled at the original game. It’s improved in certain areas, but the most vital aspects in designing an entertaining game have been ignored. The plodding, ‘Point A to Point B’ mission structure and bland combat do nothing to accentuate an already-dull storyline, and the sudden spikes in difficulty will likely finish off what’s left of your patience. As such, there’s absolutely nothing here that requires your interest or involvement.

REVIEW: Super Dungeon Quest

From a visual standpoint, and from reading its idea on paper, Super Dungeon Quest ($2.99) is the kind of game that appeals to me right away. It would probably appeal to most others, too. A straight-up dungeon hack & slash, with a hint of roguelike flavoring and a ton of lovely-looking sprites, several character classes to choose from, and some light RPG values that enable you to level up your stats as you go.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen

So why then, after playing through the game’s randomized dungeons with two (of seven) different character classes, a fireball-slinging Wizard and a melee-focused Warrior, am I left with such an empty, repetitive feeling? To understand that, you have to first recognize the gameplay for what it is; a twin-stick shooter. Sure, you don’t use the right thumbstick, but attacks can be auto-aimed and spammed repeatedly. For the range-based Heroes in particular, like the aforementioned Wizard, and the Archer, Bomber, etc., the ‘shooter’ vibe is strong. Less so for the blade-wielding types, but each character has their own special attack / move that helps offset any shortcomings based on weapons.

It’s all faster-playing than you might think, with you twin-sticking your way through hundreds of blurred baddies and collecting gold on the way to each floor’s exit. Once you’ve battled through enough villains and found the key (you don’t necessarily have to kill everyone to find it, though you should; that extra gold you’ll farm is, well, golden), it’s rinse and repeat all the way to the skill bank, which allocates your typical boosts to health, attack power, mana, luck, etc, in exchange for gold. Said upgrades are basically interchangeable between the Heroes, as you’ll only ever need increased weapon power and health to breeze through the game on its normal setting.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen2

And oh, what a breeze it is. There’s absolutely nothing else tying you to the game, as it is minus a story, bosses, or even an excuse for all the looting. Once you’ve traversed the entirely of the dungeon (fourteen floors = forty minutes, slightly longer on Hard), the game simply returns to the title screen after tallying your stats. There’s two alternative modes to try your luck at, both wave-based, and which play exactly the same as the main game— albeit in a single arena— with you again earning gold to spend on upgrades between rounds.

With none of your progress saved upon death (it’s a roguelike, natch) or success, and no leaderboards of any kind for the arenas, it’s all rendered moot in the end. Running through the dungeons once or twice is enough to get your fill, too, as each floor and character starts to feel the same as the last, with only the cosmetic side of it changing as you advance. It plays well-enough, and certainly looks great, but Super Dungeon Quest is just empty adventuring. 


This review is also featured at Indiepitome

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Proxy Blade Zero

It’s been almost two years since I first saw Proxy Blade Zero ($2.99). That was for the 2012 Dream.Build.Play competition, and it was minus the supplemental ‘Zero’ back then. On the surface level at least, this version appears to be nearly identical to that build; it was always pretty to look at. Despite the sparse environments and esoteric combat the trailer showed, I had it pegged as a game to watch.

The final release proves a lot of my initial assumptions true, and that’s both good and bad news. Proxy Blade Zero places you in the role of a sort of Space Samurai, tasked with taking down interstellar criminal boss types. You know, the kind with their own space stations and robotic armies and stuff. Levels consist of multiple battles, with you then finding a key or throwing a switch (or switches) to unlock a door and advance. Minus some brief commentary on your mission, story and exploration take a backseat.

Combat is the absolute core of the game, the Alpha and Omega. Everything else is merely window dressing, as both you and your enemies are poised for equal battle within a series of checks and balances. In simpler terms, you must play defense as much as you play offense. Much like the fighting in games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, PBZ‘s parry and dodge system is more than just a friendly suggestion; it’s life and death. And while the combat here is not as stylish or varied as it is in those other games, you can look like a badass when you pull off an impressive string of moves and combos.

Your attacks come in a few different flavors, standard and charged, using your boost not just as a means of traversal and escape, but as a way to land heavier hits and combat threats more efficiently. Doing so builds your power gauge, which in turn increases the speed and damage of your attacks. This proves to be an important counter in the larger arena fights, as some enemies come shielded and employ deadlier moves.

Proxy Blade Zero - Screen

This reliance on balanced combat is fun, and makes sense…. but only when you’re matched up against equal odds. In group battles of say, four or more, the balance shifts too heavily to the enemy’s side. Taking on multiple foes in a system that is primarily designed for one-on-one fights naturally leads to some unfair deaths. Dodging, parrying, and attacking is harder to do when you are simultaneously avoiding thrown mines and / or laser shots from distant targets.

Melee attacks from heavier enemies can be hard to gauge, as well, throwing off your timing. Misjudge an opening, or block too late, and you can doom an entire fight. To be more fair, or perhaps being aware of this occasional imbalance, the game features very-forgiving checkpoints, meaning you won’t always have to replay multiple fights to reach your previous point. Even with that considered, be prepared to die often.

Proxy Blade Zero is exactly what I thought it was two years ago; a great-looking game with an awesome aesthetic (and soundtrack), coupled together with a layered (but flawed) combat system that pleases as much as it frustrates. Though it’s open to anyone, it’s probably best enjoyed by hardcore players that find games like Ninja Gaiden to be too easy. For the rest of us, it may be asking too much.

REVIEW: Survivalist

Survivalist ($2.99) will be notable for two things. The first, sadly, will be its higher cost (*It was $4.99 at the time of this writing). Gamers are a risk-adverse bunch when money is involved, specifically when it comes to XBLIGs. To some, spending five dollars on an indie game is tantamount to dropping sixty dollars on an unproven retail title. Most will simply never take the chance. To those that do, the game’s second notable quality will apply: Survivalist is one of the most impressive XBLIGs ever produced.

The game puts you in the top-down viewpoint of Joe Wheeler, a rich snob (with his own private desert bunker; how nice) turned reluctant savior, trying to live in a world that has been decimated by several different strains of a terrible zombie infection and society’s subsequent collapse. Think of it as a cross between Fallout and last year’s excellent State of Decay. Survivalist follows in that latter vein, putting the emphasis more on building / being part of a community and securing relationships, over the undead and outright gunplay.

Survivalist - Screen

Even with overwhelming firepower, combat is dangerous.

Though killing zombies is a part of it, for sure. The mid-western United States never looked so desperate and sparse, and in-game, it’s a large open-world wasteland teeming with trouble and treasure. Singly, the undead don’t pose much of a threat, but in packs, they can catch you off guard and overwhelm. Depending on the strain of infection (green is mild, white is instant death), traveling unprepared and alone into unknown territory (the map fills in as you explore) is generally not advised.

The good news is, you won’t have to, as the game features a robust economy based on gold and a cast of hundreds willing to do anything for you provided you have said gold. Or medicine. Or weapons. Or just a safe place to crash. You’ll carry out plenty of story missions and side quests in your time, but basic survival is the goal. To do that, you’ll recruit other survivors, scavenge (and scavenge, and scavenge some more), and build a functioning home base, complete with buildings, crops, and protective fencing as you see fit.

The characters that you meet and team up with, too, are a complicated sort. They each have their own motivations and desires, and actually react to you and remember the decisions you make. Show you can handle yourself in a firefight, and people will take notice, looking to you as a leader and joining your community if you ask them to. Threaten a trader or a townsperson, and be prepared to get the cold shoulder from your constituents. Take on a former looter after you’ve killed his friends, and of course the dude will harbor a deep hatred for you. This kind of interaction (and their consequences) within the world of Survivalist happens regularly, and it’s truly awesome to see it all play out, dependent on your choices.

Missions can be dealt with in a number of ways. You can go solo, or roll up with your entire posse if you so wish, to even the odds. Play it smooth, or as a chickenshit, and you can avoid a fight altogether. Don’t like your current quest or your benefactor? Lure them away from town, then kill them and loot the body, if you so desire. You may be at war with an entire town afterwards, but it’s your choice. The human condition is reduced to its more feral form in Survivalist. Zombies play host to the game’s overall storyline, though they are hardly the real enemy.

Like The Walking Dead has prophesized before, the real danger in any post-apocalyptic scenario is the people around you. Traders won’t take pity on you or your concerns, and villagers won’t automatically trust you or readily give you work. Zombies are capable of plenty, but looters, often surly and well-armed, can take out your entire party in a hail of gunfire if you don’t play nice and / or have the proper loadout. Bandages are your friend, yes, but having party members with higher skills in medicine, weapons, etc., is just as valuable.

Survivalist - Screen2

Conversations can play out multiple ways.

So if it seems I’m painting a somewhat romantic portrait of this apocalypse, be forewarned— Survivalist is a massive undertaking, a game of extremely-incremental progress. Food, water, medicine, and supplies are always at the forefront of your community’s mind, and are absolutely essential to its survival. Residents will set off in search of these items as they are needed, though it’s always helpful to send search parties out to gather whenever possible (you can direct them to known stashes via the map). The vast distances between viable supplies, towns, and missions, though, can make this a risky proposition.

The game is difficult. Death waits around every corner and barren desert outcrop. Humans and zombies alike will track you and pursue you across the land. Staying put and resting on small successes is just as deadly. Both you and your people need constant upkeep (there’s a character that needs insulin on a regular basis), and that perpetual foraging means the game can start to feel unfair and more like a chore of micromanagement than actual fun.

Of course, it could be argued that this IS the end of the world as we know it, so, naturally, life would be unfair. And I guess you could always banish the weaker links from your community, because choices, man. That said, I would have liked the constant fear of starvation, thirst, and infection to be a little less, well, urgent. There’s plenty of other things in Survivalist that can kill you just as easily. Why spoil all that fun?

Looking past all the hardship, this is easily one the best survival-focused zombie games I’ve played. Save for some fairly-minor hiccups and technical issues, there is not a single serious reason to balk at the price. Survivalist is an intense experience, one of the most content-packed, feature-rich games on the indie channel. It is not to be missed.


Review on The Indie Mine