Tag Archives: Raoghard (Developer)

REVIEW: Giant Hunter

Noticing how feeble we are as Humans in relation to, say, ten-story-tall dragons, or skinless Titans, is kinda back in vogue. As is the art of taking down said monstrosities, and scoring one for the little guys. Sony’s own recently-re-released Shadow of the Colossus is the crème de la crème of an interactive David versus Goliath, and plenty of king-sized homages to the game have already been made in Minecraft-ian boxes. As for a fight, Giant Hunter ($1.00) turns that blocky prospect into reality.

Giant Hunter - Screen

‘Hunting’ at night; cool, but not advised.

Though you have to mine materials in order to craft weapons and tools, it’s not a chore or the game’s focus. To damage a giant, you need a crossbow made of wood, and explosive arrows. Using the ‘village’ as your home base and safe zone (some rather annoying bandits roam the countryside at night), you can dig and find all the necessary components in under a half hour.  After you’ve crafted enough items to sustain you, you’re ready to set off and look for your first giant. Following the ‘lighted’ beacons on the tops of surrounding hills will lead you to them.

Much like the terror you felt the first time seeing a colossus come into view, your first encounter with a Giant is pretty awe-inspiring. Suitably epic, for blocks, that is. Shaking your screen, roaring its disapproval, and smashing the landscape with each move (do watch your step; the craters left behind can trap you), the giants can make for a tough and intimidating fight. You won’t be scaling these beasts, however, just shooting some very noticeable weak points. While their ‘skin’ is otherwise impenetrable, you’ll see each giant has orange blocks over certain areas of its body, signaling where to hit it with your explosive arrows.

Sounds easy enough, but given the ‘shifting’ nature of the giants as they walk, your target areas are constantly in flux. Some strategy is required. You will have to circle around enemies to gain perspective and sometimes retreat after hitting them, given the giants’ penchant for chasing you down and stomping you into dust. Giant Hunter‘s continue system is forgiving, respawning you at the site of your death, though you will lose your equipped item. Once you’ve felled a giant, you must ‘mine’ their heartstone and place it on the altar back at the village. Doing so allows you to upgrade your characters’ attack, speed, or mining prowess.

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The game does support online co-op up to four, although hunting with friends may lessen the experience and challenge. It’s best to move onto that after finishing the game solo. After you’ve taken down the five different giants, you’re left on your own to craft or build (the game uses limited block styles) as you like. A tad anti-climatic after the battles you’ve seen, but at least it’s something to do for any budding world-builders.

What Giant Hunter does best, though, is faithfully recreate the thrill of a fight with an enemy several times larger than you. With the mining / crafting of your arsenal beforehand, and the buildup to each encounter, it’s a welcome hybrid of two game’s styles that completely succeeds in its mission.

REVIEW: Avatar Survival Games

If you ever wanted to unleash your inner Jennifer Lawrence (and I’m talking ‘Katniss Everdeen’ Jennifer Lawrence here, not ballroom dancing Jennifer Lawrence), Avatar Hunger Games… er, Avatar Survival Games ($1.00) is a pretty good outlet for releasing that whole pent-up, ‘down with totalitarian regimes’ rage. No regimes come crumbling down here, but it does break with the ‘indie FPS status quo’ to offer a tense and unique take on multiplayer deathmatch.

Avatar Survival Games - Screen

The inspiration is plainly obvious, though the style accommodates for the ‘survival’ aspect rather well. And while it’s long been a cheap shortcut for developers to avoid designing characters, the fact that you use your avatar identity here actually helps to personalize the fight and make it more visceral. Allowing for up to eight players, in a Battle Royale, ‘winner takes all’ scenario, matches start off with the requisite scramble to the weapon stocks on the opposite side of the field.

This random assortment means not every combatant is created equal. Though there’s enough in play that everyone will be armed after the initial dash, the weapons vary in range and effectiveness. Swords and axes naturally make for devastating melee tools, provided you are close enough, while bows, blowguns (with poison darts), crossbows and others grant you some invaluable space from which to attack, with limited ammunition. Both have their logical advantages and disadvantages, and it’s this trade-off, the posturing and the dancing, that escalates the fight.

Some tactics and planning are essential as well. Though you’re certainly welcome to come out swinging / slinging, you only have one life to live per round. The questions is raised. Do you risk an immediate assault, or hold back and let the others thin the herd? Either style is possible. The map is huge, with plenty of cover and underground space. Supporting items, like mines and traps, further tweak the battlefield, making each step potentially more treacherous than the last, depending on how you play.

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Players can rank up via kills, and the one critique I have comes with its wacky, wonky system for doing so, that shows some players with higher XP totals but lower skill levels. A few have even complained of progress being suddenly reset. There are no unlocks by gaining levels, however, and it doesn’t seem to have any other effect or purpose, except to make for a confusing situation on the online leaderboards and tarnishing individual bragging rights (the real crime, some would say). Minus that and some online hiccups, it’s a generally fun experience.

With the huge success of the Hunger Games books and accompanying films, it’s strange that the action side of the property hasn’t been used to greater effect in videogame form (cheesy Facebook / Mobile iterations don’t count). Given how well it translates to a competitive FPS in Avatar Survival Games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the idea expanded upon by a bigger publisher at some point. For now, though, this indie homage is more than up to the task.

REVIEW: Saturn 9

No beating around the bush on this one; I owe Saturn 9 (80 MSP) and developer Raoghard some serious credit. After ragging on the studios’ previous, multiplayer-only efforts, Vampire Slayer and Bulkhead (which serves as the visual inspiration / foundation for this new game), I wondered if the effort wouldn’t be better spent in crafting a single-player, adventure-minded game that combined the Sunburn Engine’s penchant for gorgeous visuals with a meatier premise.

Saturn 9 is the answer to that criticism, or perhaps the developer’s plan all along, a sci-fi horror adventure that channels Event Horizon’s hellish hallucinations, Eternal Darkness’ psychological / meta-mindfucks, and tops it off with a well done twist of Slender. Those individual ingredients all add up to a pretty good recipe, one of the strongest (and, sadly, shortest) horror adventures you’ll come across.

Given the previous games, that focused on gunplay and constantly being in combat, you might be surprised to find there is none of that in Saturn 9. While you’ll make use of a small assortment of tools (trusty flashlight, screwdriver, …a man’s hand), you won’t be killing anything. The game is all about setting a mood, be it through the excellent lighting / shadow work, or the scientists’ journal entries that catalog the ship’s slow decent into chaos (narrated to you via some very decent voice-acting). There’s no heavy story arc or much explanation in the end, but it is effective in creating a palpable unease.

Instead, your chief impediment is the ship itself, dark and cold as a tomb, locked away from the prying eyes of ‘The Company’ that sent you to investigate. Moving through the incredibly claustrophobic halls and rooms, there is some light puzzle work to be done (almost entirely in spotting clues for the various password-locked computers) that’s also completely optional if you prefer to cheat your way to open doors.

Saturn 9 - Screen

Through some scares and cleverly-done hallucinations (that I won’t spoil), you’ll eventually wind your way down to the cargo hold of the ship. The final act of the game is a tense showdown with the menace aboard the station, though it’s not a fight, but flight, as you gather up the data (all Slender-like) you were sent to collect and make your escape. The game will last you just under an hour, but that hour, preferably spent alone in the dark, is well worth it.

It’s light on puzzles, difficulty, and playtime, but Saturn 9 is a very pleasant surprise, one of the best ‘cerebral horror’ adventures you’re likely to find on the indie channel. If there is a sequel or expansion that continues in this style of storytelling, I will definitely be the first in line to play it. Easily recommended.

REVIEW: Bulkhead

If Bulkhead (80 MSP) seems familiar while playing it, you’re a brilliant detective that’s onto something, as it comes from the same developer behind another unique but flawed first-person shooter, Vampire Slayer. Here too, the standard Deathmatch formula is altered to create a hybrid experience, and again, it’s for the worse.

Bulkhead is playable online or offline with up to six players (or five AI) competing to capture an alien artifact. Kill or be killed is the obvious fact, though your chief objective is to search the multi-leveled station’s plethora of containers. This builds a certain tension, as you’ll need to stand in place for a few seconds waiting on a percentage unlock for each box. Mostly you shuffle from one room or hallway to the next and scan again, trading fire with AI or human opponents along the way. Once you’ve lucked onto the artifact, the sirens go off and you scramble back to a certain-numbered airlock to await a short countdown before extraction.

From the HUD wrapping its pertinent text around your ‘helmet’ to the general sense of isolation and emptiness of being in space, the game looks and feels like a sci-fi shooter. This part it gets right. It’s rough around the edges, has rigid controls that get better as you go, yet in all the necessary ways and boxes you can check off, Bulkhead is a first-person shooter. And a bland one it would be, aesthetics and excellent lighting aside, if it didn’t try for something different. Given the setup: a derelict spaceship, unknown cargo, a recognizable audio cue warning of approaching danger, the game has that classic, stuck in a tin can, ‘Alien’ vibe. It’s laughably ironic, then, that the very inclusion of an alien into the mix as a wildcard is the game’s downfall.

Searching the containers here is like rummaging through a box of cereal; you set out with the best intentions to nab a cheap prize, but occasionally you unleash a monster instead (…yes, bad simile). For every container that yields ammo or health or… nothing, there’s an equally good chance you’ll let out an ‘alien’, a rather diminutive facehugger / crab-type that loves to immediately kill you and blends almost too perfectly into the environment, so you’ll sometimes never see it coming despite said audio cues and HUD warnings.

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Looks fun. Isn’t really.

To make matters worse, the little bugger is surprisingly resistant to your available weaponry, including the RPGs you can find among the scattered containers. Not that we all should look to ‘movie rules’ as a legitimate gauge for effectiveness, but typically, toting an RPG and making use of said RPG has resulted in whatever problem one was faced with as being ‘resolved’, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial in nature. I’m not saying an alien lifeform wouldn’t have a tougher skin / more fortitude than a human being, I am saying two shots from an RPG should be enough to take anything down.

That it doesn’t is just another strike against Bulkhead, with the derivative combat and boring artifact search (ten minutes turned up nothing in one game I played) locked in as the only current option. Your dollar might net you some enjoyment, but I don’t see anyone lasting more than an half-hour with this before moving on. Much like Vampire Slayer, it’s a game with an idea that’s just not properly executed.

REVIEW: Vampire Slayer

On paper at least, Vampire Slayer FPS (80 MSP) seems to have it all figured out, taking two contrasting styles of gameplay and setting them loose against each other in an arena setting. Instead of capitalizing on that promise, however, it’s an also-ran in the wave of first-person shooters on the service, with the distinction of taking the whole movement back a few steps with shoddy design choices.

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The game is playable offline with AI bots or online with up to five others, and comes with two maps, a hospital / institution level with tiny hallways and rooms, or an outdoor courtyard with lots of open spaces. As the title implies, it’s Vampires, armed with only melee attacks, versus Slayers, equipped with shotguns, machine guns, crossbows, and crucifixes. Doing the math at face value it would seem unfair, though the vamps gain a few significant perks, such as resurrection and healing (feeding off the corpses of your enemies, natch). And while their melee-only moves force you to get up close, you can leapfrog around the arenas at will, transitioning into attacks and quickly covering much more ground than your slower would-be hunters.

It’s choosing the Slayer side that comes with an extreme disadvantage, and not just in losing the ability to leap or resurrect oneself. You see, vampires will go down with a few shots, but in order to get credit for and really kill the sparkly-in-the-daylight bastards, you’ll need to stake them. The thought is nice, and a wooden stake is supplied for your convenience (another of your secondary weapons), but the actual staking is a real pain, based on positioning (not what you want to do in a fast-paced FPS) and luck. Miss (I’ve cleverly taken to calling it a mis-stake…), or fail to swap in time (vampires don’t stay down long), and they’ll stand back up, catching you off-guard and reversing the roles.

And I wasn’t the only one to notice this, apparently. As you’re allowed to switch teams, online matches frequently filled up with Vampires, constantly leaving the other side with less players, or with those players electing to quit once the trick had been found out. Even with the Slayers’ superior firepower and ‘safety in numbers’ group-think that eventually took hold, the result was the same each time; the Vampires cleaned house. So much for proper balancing.

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Not that being pummeled repeatedly in matches had any adverse effects on my character. Despite the ability to level up, there’s no incentive to do so, no unlocks to speak of or stat-tracking beyond the immediate match you’re in, which makes playing an already sloppy and tedious game redundant. Throw in bare-bones settings and options (Team Deathmatch is the only mode in town), and it all serves only to highlight the dull maps / layouts and unsurprising gameplay.

Vampire Slayer FPS tries but is barely serviceable as a shooter. It does deserve credit for eschewing color palette swaps and attempting to bring some variety to usually-staid team deathmatch-types. The idea can be appreciated from afar, but not when it’s lopsidedly-skewed to favor the undead side once the action starts. As such, the competitiveness and fun in multiplayer sort of implodes from there. The game isn’t a total waste of your 80 MSP, but it isn’t a smart buy either.