Dreamscaper Review (PC/Steam)

DREAM. DIE. WAKE. REPEAT.

Roguelites are a familiar breed here at Qualbert – several of us are big fans of the genre and that was shown in my previous review of Orbital Bullet – a 360-degree spin on this type of game. There’s no shortage of roguelite games to play after a decade+ of popularity, so it takes a lot for one to stand out. Dreamscaper hopes to do that, spending a good year in Early Access before being prepared for a 1.0 release in August. So, how does it fare alongside its roguelite counterparts, with a higher standard set after 2020’s massive hit in Hades?

Dreamscaper PC visuals review
Once you hit New Game, you’re greeted with this screen – no background, no text, just a need to move forward.

Plot

Relying on contextual clues and flashbacks, regards for plot in Dreamscaper are few and far between. With the majority of the game spent in a dream state, there’s only a few environmental interactions to gleam through to earn some plot details. The main character, Cassidy, is new to Redhaven, and will slowly venture out into it as she unlocks segments within her dreams, where the dungeon-crawling takes place. After bosses are vanquished, a vague flashback plays, revealing bits and pieces of what transpired to bring Cassidy to this point in her life. As the majority of the game is spent in her dreams and it could take hours for players to progress, it’s a struggle to see what you’re fighting for at points.

Visuals

The environments within Cassidy’s dreams differ based on which section she’s in – from a wintery wilderness, to cityscape streets, to a Redwood forest, it’s fascinating to see a dungeon-crawler where the dungeon emulates real life settings. When you compare that to the dark, dank recesses of Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon’s fantasy surroundings, it’s a novel take on level design in this genre. The lack of face on characters is also a compelling design choice that gives the game a unique flair.

Dreamscaper PC visuals review environment
This is technically a dungeon within Dreamscaper. Environmental design is quite the looker in your dreams.

Gameplay

Anyone who’s cut their teeth on the combat of a roguelite will have a headstart in Dreamscaper. With the ever-present threat of losing your life in just a few hits, your moves are calculated and careful – you’re put to the test with scaling baddies between each level and you’re bound to die. This is where my favorite part of roguelite comes in – you can manage some upgrades to make subsequent runs a bit more do-able. Titles like Rogue Legacy and Hades capitalize on this, and I find these titles more accessible thanks to it. One can only get so lucky with pickups/loadouts and once you get into that sweet spot, you’ll ascend the gauntlet significantly further than you could before. While Dreamscaper doesn’t do much to forward the genre, it manages to do everything right and has the replayability factor down pat.

Dreamscaper PC visuals descend
Take a breath after you vanquish a boss – every section is considerably tougher than the last.

Sound

With a soothing accompaniment in the music department, Dreamscaper continues the trend of indie games having triumphant soundtracks. Fitting every occasion with ease, it’s no wonder the 53-track OST, composed by Dale North, is available alongside the game on Steam. As far as sound design within the action, every whomp, wallop, and whack with your weapons feels like it has weight. Snow crumbles on the ground with every step. Monstrous bosses intimidate with massive roars. The care given to this aspect of the game deserves plenty of praise.

One of the game’s more relaxing tracks, “Hometown (Exploration)”.

So, why should you play it?

  • You crave a good roguelite that rewards you with every run.
  • A challenge doesn’t phase you and you don’t mind multiple runs.
  • Skill-based gameplay gets your adrenaline pumping.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You dread a plot moving at a snail’s pace.
  • You’re discouraged by dying easily/at a moment’s notice.
  • You don’t have time to grind a bit for progression’s sake.

A press copy of Dreamscaper was provided courtesy of the publisher.

Life is Strange: True Colors Review (PC/Steam)

When emotions take control of you, take control of your emotions.

It’s weird to have been with a game series from its very start and to experience all of its twists and turns over the course of six years. DONTNOD’s Life is Strange captivated gamers that asked more of TellTale, those that wanted a non-franchise story told in an engaging, choice-driven fashion. I recall the terrifying wait of each chapter releasing with a few months in between with agonizing cliffhangers that kept my mind racing. Then, Deck Nine Games handled a prequel in Before the Storm, crafting exposition and building off the first game’s memorable characters to expand the LiS universe. Now, Deck Nine can deliver a full-sized game in the vein of True Colors, bringing back a fan-favorite from Before the Storm and exploring small-town Colorado in detail.

Haven Springs, Colorado, is an extravagant setting that is enhanced by Moments of Zen letting the player take in the view.

Visuals

After a brief cutscene establishing the main character, Alex lands in Haven Springs, Colorado by bus. With several cuts to the scenery and a slow walk speed, the player gets to immerse themselves in the breath-taking sights the town has to offer. A flowing river passes under a bridge adorned with several flower arrangements. You then get the chance to take a gander at the river in the first of the game’s Moments of Zen: a cutscene where the character reflects on their journey and current thoughts as the camera cuts to their surroundings. Some of my own tears flowed along with the river as I felt like I was right there in an idyllic Haven Springs thanks to picture-perfect immersion 5 minutes after starting the game.

Golden hour in Haven Springs looks as gorgeous as it would in real life.

Aside from the standout environment, the graphics and visual performance are a big enhancement from previous iterations in the series. My biggest gripe with these entries was the motion-capture being janky and not how a human would naturally move, but this was completely remedied in True Colors. In conversation, characters are more expressive here, as well – eyebrows furl in anger and raise in delight, dimples show after a hearty laugh, and it complements the auditory side quite well in doing so. This is the best Life is Strange has ever looked, so much so that I’d love to lose myself in this small town in a free roam mode.

A sombre song sung by the talented mxmtoon at a tense moment is enough to break even the strongest wills.

Audio

The audio design in Life is Strange: True Colors is masterful in just about every aspect. When we call it an indie soundtrack, it’s actually bands you’ve never heard of, while still being perfectly in-context with the game’s themes and tone. These accompany the fantastic sights in the Moments of Zen, and while the player has the option to bring them to an early halt, it’s worth hearing the whole song in almost every instance.

The game’s title track, “Love Song”, by Australian folk/indie duo, Angus & Julia Stone.

Voice acting is on point and makes characters feel like genuine people with a full gamut of emotions. You can hear the rage, the despair, the nervousness of characters whose minds are in disrepair. Wholesome characters have a homely vocal presentation, whereas suspicious individuals sound conniving and serve as a frustration point when they get smug with you. It’s thanks to precise vocal direction meeting talented voice actors/actresses that these characters come to life.

In addition, the sound design of the world is prime. There were a few moments where I confused the game with real life thanks to this attention to detail, such as a frantic knocking on the door sounded seriously realistic. Whether it was creaking floorboards, a purring kitten, or a gas-lit lantern running out of fuel, I was zoned in at every step. The only issue was that Alex’s dialogue trigger whenever she entered a certain area would result in me hearing her say the same thing 2-3 times once I moved to a specific spot – otherwise, the sound in the game is mechanically strong.

Steph from Life is Strange: Before the Storm returns in a big way and is a fan-favorite through and through with her spunky, spontaneous nature.

Plot

Gone are the days of waiting for the next episode of Life is Strange to release – True Colors has its full story available upon launch. Alex’s time in Haven Springs has enough suspense riding on each scene that when the game took a break to become a LARP (Live Action RolePlay) complete with a turn-based system, I felt the needed break somehow kept me even more immersed into the story. Choices really do culminate in the last scene as you’ll truly see who’s with you and who’s against you. With a tentative runtime of 10-12 hours, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides enough of an experience to stick in your head long past the rolling credits.

Gameplay

Like the rest of the titles, Life is Strange is an adventure/point-and-click with the quirk that you can move around freely. Inspecting the environment is a must, as you can unlock interactions and new dialogue if you keep a keen eye out for what’s around you – for example, a birdwatcher struggling to locate an adverse aviary can do so once you find it and coax it in the right direction. These little interactions are summed up at the end of each chapter and compared against other players, so you can see the choices they made, too. I couldn’t imagine playing this game without viewing every possible thing around me – it’s excellent for attention-to-detail gamers that love exhausting their surroundings.

The best Life is Strange yet?

Life is Strange: True Colors gets everything right that the previous games got wrong. The voice acting is superior, the motion-capture is finally spot-on, the length of the title maintains a fast pace from start to finish, and the few bugs are getting squashed with post-launch support (none of which I experienced in my playthough save for the audio). After suffering a loss in the family soon before my playthrough, I knew I’d resonate with the grim moments to come – the cry count hit 5 before all was said and done thanks to gripping voice acting, cathartic payoffs, and a setting that I’d love to retire to. This is indeed the best Life is Strange game to come, and an easy GOTY candidate.

So, why should you play it?

  • You love a knockout soundtrack, sound design, and voice acting backing edge-of-your-seat climactic moments.
  • You crave characters that you will effortlessly love/hate with ample opportunity to help/hinder them.
  • You love a story that rewards going off the beaten path, trying new things to get different outcomes in subsequent playthroughs.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You can’t be bothered to explore what’s around you in a game, and desire instant gratification instead of a slow burn payoff.
  • The $60 price tag may feel like too much for a 10-hour experience.

A press copy of Life is Strange: True Colors was provided courtesy of the publisher.

Valve Index Review (PC/Steam/VR)

Valve’s newest headset brings virtual reality one step closer to reality.

Virtual reality, or VR as it is most commonly referred to, is not a new concept by any means. The idea of being completely immersed in a virtual space was conceptualised as far back as the mid 20th century, prior even to the existence of the home computer. With the first commercially available headsets made available in the early 1990s, it seemed like the work of science fiction where simply donning a headset could allow the player to enter another reality. Though it’s true that the applications of VR extend into areas such as training simulations, cinema, and even social virtual worlds, there is one area where VR has remained consistent, pivotal, and constantly advancing: videogames.

Virtual Boy VR Valve Index PC Steam Review
One of the earliest (and most infamous) commercially available VR headsets.

However, technical limitations have long held back VR headsets from achieving a true sense of reality. This is until recent years, where mass produced headsets coupled with the rapidly evolving technology of gaming consoles and powerful personal computers have finally managed to blur the line between reality and the virtual world. To be fully immersed in the world of a videogame is an experience like none other, and something that “flat gaming” (that is, games played on a regular screen) can never hope to achieve.

Having been invested in virtual reality for several years now, I’ve eagerly awaited a piece of technology that could truly take my breath away, or have me convinced I had left my living room entirely. Previous headsets, while incredibly entertaining and providing unmatched gaming experiences, would still regularly remind me of being firmly grounded in reality due to unwieldy controllers and unimpressive visuals. Though my most recent VR experience has begun to change my perception…

The Valve Index, manufactured by none other than Valve (the corporation behind Half-Life and Steam), is the latest virtual reality headset to launch in Australia. Released initially in 2019 for the US market, the headset is finally available for purchase in Australia next month, where the Index VR Kit officially launches available only through EB Games Australia. Alongside a hefty price tag, the need for a powerful PC, and several square metres of space, this impressive piece of technology provides the most definitive VR experience to date. So is the Index worth your hard-earned cash? Read ahead and find out.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review

What do you get?

The Index VR Starter Kit, which is entirely contained within a single hulking black box, is jam packed full of almost all the equipment that you’ll need to dive into virtual reality. Almost is a very key word here, because there is something absolutely vital that any player wanting an Index will already need at their disposal: a powerful PC. Before you even consider purchasing an Index, be sure to run the SteamVR Performance Test to give you a sense of how well your computer will handle it.

So your PC passed the test? Good! You now have permission to open the box, which contains:

  • Valve Index VR Headset – the most important aspect, of course. This fancy, expensive hat lets you play cool games and houses two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens for your eyeballs’ enjoyment.
  • Valve Index Controllers (x2) – you’re going to want to treat these with respect, because these controllers are an incredible piece of tech and a pair of them will set you back a whopping $499.95AUD. So make sure to secure those handstraps; you don’t want to fling these into your monitor.
  • Valve Index Base Station (x2) – they’re watching your every move. These tracking stations are able to visualise the headset in virtual space and will need to see it at all times. For dedicated VR enthusiasts, an additional two base stations can be added to expand your play area.
  • Power supplies, power adapters, and charging cords – if I had to estimate, I’d probably say you get about 10m of cords with the Index, so try to keep them organised. Each power supply also includes an Australian adapter that slots in.
  • Half-Life: Alyx (digital download code) – this is more than just a tech demo, this is the most impressive VR game ever made. With 12+ hours of immersive gameplay, exceptional use of the VR headset and controllers, and a thrilling adventure set just prior to the events of Half-Life 2, Alyx is an absolute must-play and perfectly demonstrates the capabilities of the Index.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Kit Unboxing EB Games Australia
Opening this box definitely makes you feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

The Setup

It’s a considerable amount of gear and can be a bit daunting at first, but thankfully getting ready to use the Index is a smooth experience that requires minimal effort. Here are a few tips to consider when getting set up:

  1. Display port – does your PC have one of these? Well, mine didn’t (it has a display port mini), so be sure to purchase the appropriate adapter prior to setting up your headset to avoid disappointment.
  2. Power points – you’re going to need four of these at a minimum. One for your PC, one for the headset, and then one for each base station.
  3. USB ports – the headset needs to be connected to your PC via one at all times, and spare ports are preferable as well for charging the controllers.
  4. Space – an essential aspect of your setup. You’re going to need an area where you can stand and move freely with about 1 – 2m either side of you unobstructed. Set up in a cramped games room at your own risk, as I found out when I knocked several items off a shelf mid-game.
  5. Downloads & updates – as soon as you’ve got everything plugged in and ready to go, be prepared for a multitude of updates. Literally everything needs to update, including the headset and controllers. It’s also recommended to pre-install SteamVR and even Half-Life: Alyx to avoid needing to wait for these to download (on rubbish Australian internet).
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Gif EB Games Australia

The Headset

The quintessential piece of virtual reality equipment – wearing this headset will almost certainly convince players they’ve left their living room or office entirely. And the Index Headset is more than just a couple of screens and lenses; there’s an incredible amount of technology incorporated to provide as legitimate a VR experience as is currently possible.

Contained within the headset are two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens with a maximum framerate of 144Hz for silky smooth gameplay. These sit in the main body of the headset behind two lenses, which can be moved horizontally using a slider to adjust the inter-pupillary distance, a nice touch for fine-tuning the image. The combination of these particular screens and lenses allows for an immersive field of view, moreso than other headsets I’ve used previously, meaning that the gameplay fully wraps around you with fewer blindspots. Images on the Index are crisp and able to achieve a significant level of detail (if your PC will allow it).

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Key Visual

Though it’s not all about the visuals – the Index achieves an impressive auditory experience too. Two built-in ear speakers sit raised just beside each ear to create a surreal suspension of disbelief. Easily adjusted into place within seconds, the speaker design creates a proper sense of 3D audio without any physical intrusion of headphones or in-ear earphones. Audio quality is impressive, with a sense of environmental space that allows the player to detect sounds as if they’re coming from any direction, and noise leakage is almost non-existent.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Ear Speakers Headset
The ear speakers will truly surround you in the audio.

Finally, if you’re going to be wearing this unit on your head for hours on end, it’s got to be comfortable. My melon head stretched the index to its very limits! Thankfully, numerous adjustments allow the headset to adapt to suit players of all sizes. The size of the headset, angle of the screens, distance of the lenses and speakers can all be easily changed within seconds. During our play-testing we got the Gaming News Australia crew together to try out the headset, and adjusting it between each player took a matter of seconds. You’ll easily be able to play for several hours before the headset begins to become restrictive and uncomfortable, but fine-tuning the adjustments takes some trial and error.

The Controllers

With only a few basic buttons and minimalistic design, the simplicity of the Index controllers can be incredibly misleading. Despite how basic they appear, these just so happen to be some of the most technologically-advanced controllers you’ll encounter. However, the impressive aspects of the controller cannot be shown off in a gif, because it’s all under the surface.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Gif EB Games Australia

Hiding beneath the sleek exterior are numerous features that aim to enhance the VR experience. By sliding the controllers onto your hands and fitting them into the hand grips, each hand is unknowingly mapped by 87 individual motion sensors. This allows accurate tracking of the position of each finger and any minute movements that are made. To deepen the experience, there is actually no need to “hold” the controller, as they comfortably attach to each hand and allow a completely open hand without fear of the controllers dropping. In addition to the motion sensors, the hand grip features a force sensor, which detects squeezing and grabbing inputs.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Finger Tracking Gif
Demonstrating the finger tracking of the controllers.

Tactile inputs are still utilised to complement the more advanced sensory controls. The analogue stick (though small) is smooth and easy to control, and the trigger and action buttons all have a satisfying clickiness to them. Each controller also has an oval-shaped track pad on its surface, which functions effectively as an input for scrolling and navigating in-game menus. While the ergonomic design can be adjusted for most players, those with bigger hands may have some trouble reaching the lower face buttons, as these can be awkward to reach.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Key Visual
The sleek design hides a deceiving amount of technology.

Charging the controllers is as simple as plugging in a USB-C cable, no special docks or equipment required. Full battery life will last just over 7 hours of playtime, which is more than enough for the vast majority of VR sessions. They also charge quite quickly – getting to half capacity in around 30 minutes, meaning you won’t be kept waiting too long if they run out.

The Games

Bundled with every Index Headset is a download code for a game by the name of Half-Life: Alyx, the newest entry in the iconic sci-fi shooter series that helped Valve shoot to fame back in 1998. This is a tailored experience that has been designed specifically for virtual reality and a brilliant standalone Half-Life game on its own. Having played through the game in its entirety, I found myself regularly in awe of the clever gameplay mechanics, which showcase every single aspect of the Index to near perfection. Alyx is quite possibly the most polished VR experience to date, and an absolute must-play for fans of the series.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review City 17 Half-Life Alyx Visuals
It’s a thrill to navigate through the treacherous City 17 in Half-Life: Alyx.

We tried out several other games to put the headset to the test, including rhythm games like the incredibly popular Beat Saber and the recently-released God of Riffs, both of which make excellent use of the controllers in a musical setting. Other notable games in different genres include Moss, Blade & Sorcery, and Vacation Simulator, all of which are unique VR experiences that are worth checking out. And if you’re looking for something more social, VRChat is easily the most popular service available where players can interact with each other using 3D avatars. It’s the future of socialising!

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review VRHome SteamVR Home
Home is where the headset is. Literally.

Strangely enough, one of the most impressive “games” is not a game at all, it’s SteamVR itself, which is more like a dashboard for loading up games. You can customise this to various different environments that are crafted by the Steam community. During my time trying out the headset, I turned my VR Home into “Bag End” from The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and was able to explore through Bilbo’s iconic hobbit hole. The VR Home is also packed full of interesting Easter eggs, customisation options and virtual tools to keep new players entertained.

Other Thoughts

Before we wrap things up, there are just a few more points about the Valve Index that are worth mentioning. While the technology is evolving rapidly and this is one of the finest examples of virtual reality, there are a few limitations that hold the Index back from being a perfect experience:

  • Cords – be prepared for LOTS of them. While they are mostly unobtrusive and won’t significantly impact your gameplay, cord organisation is a must for any seasoned VR player, otherwise you’re likely to end up with an unsightly rats nest of cords on the ground (like me).
  • Space requirement – you’re going to be moving around during most games, so ensure that the Index is setup in an appropriate area. If you’re lacking in space, then VR may not be a viable gaming option.
  • Game library – while there are several superb VR titles and a growing number of creative uses for the platform, this is still a relatively new platform, so the library is quite small in comparison to regular games.
  • Price – the biggest limitation of the Index. The Index VR kit will set you back nearly $1900AUD, and players still need to have invested in a modern PC with the capacity to run the games. This is by no means an entry level headset and may be a hard purchase to justify for newcomers.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Banner

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Valve Index is one of the most advanced pieces of gaming hardware that money can buy, and an incredibly impressive VR experience for newcomers and seasoned players alike. Clever design elements incorporated into both the headset and controllers provide the player with an unmatched sense of immersion that makes going back to regular games seem almost banal in comparison. The inclusion of Half-Life: Alyx makes the Index a near perfect experience to demonstrate the possibilities of VR and its applications within videogames.

While impressive, the Index is unlikely to be replacing traditional videogames any time soon. The need for a powerful PC in addition to a hefty price tag are both hurdles that will unfortunately limit many gamers from even considering the Index. The headset is clearly aimed at those already invested in the technology and suits this demographic as a worthy investment for those keen to spend the time in virtual reality. For those dedicated players, Index is a gaming experience like none other.

So, why should you buy it?

  • You’re a fan of VR and looking to upgrade from a lesser headset.
  • Accurate hand-tracking controls that allow creative and immersive gameplay.
  • You own a powerful PC and looking to put it to the test in new ways.
  • Fans of Half-Life will likely be blown away by Alyx.
  • Gameplay that blurs the line between reality and videogames.

But why shouldn’t you buy it?

  • Lacking the PC hardware to run games smoothly.
  • Requires adequate space to allow for a large enough play area.
  • Price tag means other cheaper headsets may be more appropriate for VR newcomers.

A Valve Index VR Kit was kindly provided by Valve for the purpose of this review.

World for Two Review (PC)

A beautiful, empty world down to one human and a robot that can create more life.

The pixel aesthetic has shined through in indie games for the better part of a decade – titles like Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, Celeste, and tons others are fan favorites thanks to their gorgeous presentation accompanying the other elements to make a memorable video game. When all the moving parts are in perfect harmony, it’s a formula for a 10/10 experience. World for Two, the newest offering from developer Seventh Rank, aims for that level with a life-creation game in this style.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Pixel Art
There’s no two ways about it – World for Two is a looker.

Gameplay

The official genre title for World for Two is “life-creation”. If you have experience with titles like Monster Rancher, Spore, and other titles where life/death is at the forefront, you’ll have a vague idea of what’s going on here. Your task is to create new organisms, thanks to the DNA/genealogy of previous organisms. With death, comes life; you will harvest the DNA from your creations, and after three DNA pulls, they disappear. Once you create a new organism, you can experiment with DNA/gene combinations to keep discovering more and more new organisms. An area of opportunity here is showing what the outcome is after an attempt, as some combinations yield nothing – it’s guesswork unless you really want to personally note every combination. There was one moment where I tried four different combinations and got nothing out of it, only creating frustration for me.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Family Tree Gameplay
You’re in charge of the family tree – and it gets pretty complicated.

Another big pain point is the fact that you have a lot of waiting around to do in the early game – to create more genes, you’ll need an item that spawns from the blue flame outside the lab. This item has a spawn rate of one every 30 or so seconds, and upgrades to the machines in the lab require 10 of the same currency you utilize for the genes. As such, World for Two basically becomes an idle game – except you have to be tabbed in for the items to come about. With what little time I have to game, this really hurt my view of the game and I wish there was some way to expedite the tedious process, as I could have spent that time finding new combinations.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif Flames
There’s a LOT of standing around waiting for flames in World for Two.

Audio

Worthy of note in World for Two is its prime background music. The stellar compositions are the only sound you’ll hear – there’s absolutely no audio in the game otherwise, whether it be speech, item activation, or anything else, so the music carries the weight of the auditory presentation. Coupled with the visuals, its presentation is nailed and will definitely be what hooks in gamers that are easily swayed by the familiar campy aesthetic.

One of the relaxing piano tracks from the game.

Visuals

As you can already see, what steals the show in World for Two is a killer visual experience. Always adorned with a picture-perfect reflection on the bottom of the screen and painstakingly-crafted environments, any moment of the gameplay could be screenshot and used as a wallpaper. Meshed with a silky-smooth 60fps and a day-night shift, this game gets high marks for mastering the hook of pixel-based shots.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif

Plot

There’s not too much exposition given in World for Two – because not much is needed. As far as you can tell as the newly-built android, you’re the errand runner for the last human on Earth, a scientist who has crafted a laboratory perfect for building new life forms. Equipped with a Gene Printer, an Item Printer, and an Incubator, you have the tools for the task, but the ingredients are a different story. You can gather bits and pieces of what may have happened as you traverse each of the four areas which unlock after upgrades. For a title with its plot established within the first few minutes, there’s not much suspense to build after the fact.

So, why should you play it?

  • Unbelievable pixel visuals that will stun even weathered fans of the aesthetic.
  • A novel concept that a lot of people haven’t experienced.
  • Great for fans of experimentation and a stress-free game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Inevitability of waiting around to progress.
  • Repetitive nature.
  • Likelihood of making the same mistakes in creation with no guidance.

A press copy of World for Two was provided courtesy of the publisher.

God of Riffs Early Access Impressions (PC/VR)

Beat Saber, but make it metal.

Chances are if you’ve played VR, or even heard of it, you’ve probably encountered a game by the name of Beat Saber. This music/rhythm game took the virtual world by storm with its initial release back in 2018 and still has a massive community thanks to its simplistic but engaging gameplay and regular updates. However, one aspect of Beat Saber just didn’t grab me, and that was the genres of music available. There’s plenty of adrenaline-pumping EDM, synth, upbeat pop music, and even some punk rock, but one crucial genre (and my personal favourite) was almost entirely missing from the tracklist: METAL.

Well thanks to a new VR game by the name of God of Riffs, that guitar-shaped void is about to be filled! Developed right here in Australia by Boss Music Games, this rhythmic heavy metal VR experience has the player slaying hordes of demons to thrashing beats and face-melting guitar in several original songs produced specifically for the game. It’s what’s been described by the devs as a “heavy metal album cover brought to life” and it’s definitely the kind of VR game I can imagine Jack Black playing.

At the moment the game is in its early stages, but the team were kind enough to hook me up with an early access copy – so let’s dive through the gates of hell, pick up our mighty axes, and become the God of Riffs!

Gameplay

If you’ve played Beat Saber, you’ll be able to easily dive straight into God of Riffs. With a trusty axe in each hand, these act as your only defense against the onslaught of hellspawn that charge headfirst towards you. By choosing one of the four available tracks, you’ll have to destroy enemies to the beat of the songs, which is a simple gameplay mechanic to pick up and play, but difficult to perfect!

God of Riffs PC Vr combat gameplay gif

Swinging around the controllers feels really natural, and becomes seriously satisfying when you’re able to do so perfectly in time with the music. Bonus points are awarded for hitting chains of enemies in a row, but miss too many and they’ll deplete your health bar leading to the God’s demise. Each song lasts approximately 3 – 4 minutes, which feels like the perfect amount of time to get a hang of the rhythm without becoming too exhausting.

Several gameplay options are also available – modifiers to change the speed/intensity of your axe swings, changes to enemies, and an easy/medium difficulty to ensure that players of all proficiency are catered for (with hard being added shortly). Each song also features a global leaderboard to flaunt your hi-score, and though I didn’t get close, it was enjoyable to challenge myself and constantly work towards a better score.

Visuals

As you’ll notice, the visuals are pretty basic, with cartoon stylised enemies and environments. Though it’s not particularly visually-impressive, it works well in VR and is still successful in immersing you within the game’s world. Gameplay is fluid and looks crisp despite the basic details, though at this stage there aren’t many options to bump up the graphics – something that’s hopefully added in future!

God of Riffs PC Vr Review Environment visuals
This area just LOOKS metal.

One nice touch is the option to change the level environment for each song – several locales can be chosen and each have a distinct aesthetic. I’d recommend trying all of them out and seeing which level suits each song best. Tracks about fire and demons seem fitting in the lava level, whereas pirate-themed song absolutely has to be played on the edge of the sea.

Music

Now the most important part of any rhythm game – what’s the music like? Well I can happily say that even in early access, the music for God of Riffs impresses. At this stage there are four tracks available, each with distinct melodic style, and equally impressive as music that has been specifically composed for this experience. The tempos vary considerably to provide several different challenges; some are fast-paced thrash metal, whereas others are a bit slower almost to the point of hard rock. The title track is easily the most impressive, and even by itself is a catchy song that I’d happily listen to outside of the game! Here are a couple tracks that you’ll get to smash heads to:

So, what’s next?

Considering the game only recently launched as early access, expect regular updates and new content in the coming months. You can pick it up on Steam for $7.49AUD and at this price it’s well worth it for VR metalheads and anyone who enjoys Beat Saber/rhythm games in general. I’ll definitely be keeping eye out for future updates and keen to hear all the new music that will be added up to the game’s official release!

You can pick up God of Riffs here: God Riffs on Steam

An early access code was provided for the purpose of this article.
All gameplay was played and captured on a Valve Index headset.

Samurai Warriors 5 (PC) Review

It’s you vs. the world, and the world doesn’t stand a chance.

In fighting games, you typically fight someone one-on-one. In shooters, you typically fight a team. But in the genre of musou, you’re expected to fight thousands – all at once. Popularized (and trademarked) by the Dynasty Warriors franchise, publisher Koei Tecmo housed this franchise, as well as the Samurai Warriors franchise, for going on its third decade. It’s seen spinoffs incorporating franchises like Zelda and Gundam, proving ultimately most popular in the East, but still having a market in the West. The Samurai Warriors franchise has reached its fifth entry, and is looking to keep the genre relevant after all these years.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga
The presentation of Samurai Warriors 5 is pristine – gorgeous watercolored backdrops accompany in-game cutscenes with emphatic voice acting.

Plot

The storytelling within Samurai Warriors 5 is stellar, and will be a great time for those compelled by the feudal history and warring culture of 15th Century Japan. There are plenty of cutscenes that extend to several minutes to give the player a good idea of each character’s personality – there’s no shortage of characters, as you’ll encounter several named allies and foes on each March. While the main character is presented with plenty of options on how to move forward, though, there’s zero input from the player – a disappointment, as branching paths would make a lot of sense in several situations. Nevertheless, as tedious as the gameplay may be, at least there’s ample story to back it up.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga Combo
In this photo: tons of bodies strewn about, a 326 combo, and a tutorial. Par for the course for a musou!

Gameplay

It’s time to break down how Samurai Warriors 5 and musou’s in general play: it’s you vs. the world, and the world doesn’t stand a chance. One look across the battlefield and you’ll see dozens or even hundreds of enemies at any given point. Consider yourself a god amongst men, as your battle-trained enemies will perish in one or two hits as you carve a path to your next commander. Even then, these baddies will succumb to well-placed combos as you juggle and stun-lock them into submission. It’s an irrefutable fact that no game genre will make you feel more powerful than a musou.

So, having the power to crush everything in your path with little to no resistance – how does that pan out? Well, to some, it’s welcome to feel fully in-control and to let off steam, but with no challenge means a fraction of the reward of falling an enemy in any other game. As such, I had to play Samurai Warriors 5 in bursts, as it almost felt like a chore navigating a large battlefield with nothing standing in my way. It didn’t help that the convoluted menus with tons of systems and no depth felt like more work than it was worth.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga Horse
You’ll be seeing your equine a lot to expedite moving from point A to B.

Visuals

The visuals of Samurai Warriors 5 are a mixed bag. While the gameplay/combat is as smooth as silk, the graphics were sacrificed to make that happen. Cel-shaded/muddy characters aren’t anything to write home about, but I did enjoy seeing a wealth of expression and emotion in their faces during cutscenes. All things considered, I’d prefer the game not experiencing any slowdowns or stutters like it does now than it being too graphically-intensive to run well.

Audio

The sounds of Samurai Warriors 5 fare better than its visuals. Sword slashes are succinct, characters are voice-acted by experts, and the music is appropriate for the time period involved. Whatever weapon you have equipped, you can expect a mighty whack, thomp, thud, etc. to follow after your swing. Characters will laugh, shout, cry, and groan with some oomph to their performance. I usually put my own music over action games, but opted not to with the fitting soundtrack to the battles. This is an area where the game shines.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to devastate hundreds of enemies on-screen (with little/no fear of failure) after a long day.
  • You’re compelled by feudal Japan and love a good storyline.
  • You’re already familiar with the musou genre and have been waiting seven years for a new Samurai Warriors title.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You want any semblance of a challenge in your video game.
  • You get bored of always having the upper hand.
  • You don’t have a controller – it’s troublesome on mouse/keyboard.

A press copy of Samurai Warriors 5 was provided courtesy of the publisher.

Orbital Bullet (PC) Review

I’ve been frequenting roguelite games ever since I first ran Rogue Legacy on my crappy laptop in 2013. The prospect of coming back to a game time and time again and getting something new out of it is the ultimate sign of replayability. With every impending death comes a gameplay tactic or two learned, increasing your chances of success in future runs. The genre is currently in a renaissance as Hades captured the hearts of thousands last year, earning the top spot of many GOTY lists. I have dozens of roguelites wishlisted on Steam that I’ll eventually get to, but for now, I’m keen to take a look at Orbital Bullet – one with a clever gimmick and a heap of polish despite it being in Early Access.

Dubbed “The 360° Roguelite,” it’s easy to grasp and hard to master this circular concept.

Gameplay

Getting into a roguelite is a bit of a challenge. There’s always a learning curve, a necessitation to figure out how the game operates, and how to make the most of a run before you’ll almost certainly perish – typically in the early-goings. Orbital Bullet gives you quite a bit of health to work with, but is home to blistering-fast enemies that are merciless. You’ll have to learn patterns and remind yourself to dodge just as much as shoot/pounce. There’s a welcome variety in enemy types, weapons, and skill trees, in addition to randomized perks, level layouts, and more to sufficiently provide the player with a new experience each time.

Combat entails both shooting your enemies with the option to bounce on them Mario-style. I found myself particularly loving the boomerang/bola gun, fitting in two powerful shots at the cost of one trigger pull. Mixing this in with ample traversal and getting around to dodging enough made for a strong run where I got through several biomes. Getting health refills after floor clears sure didn’t hurt, either! As far as roguelites go, Orbital Bullet is quite forgiving in how much damage you can take; this isn’t a bad thing, as I love feeling strong in video games.

Audio

Orbital Bullet‘s score is absolutely massive – the instant you get past the tutorial, it ramps into high gear. I’d love to have shared it in the video below, but my amateur nature tuned the game audio too low, so enjoy it within the announcement trailer above. As far as weapon sounds go, it’s pretty standard fare of bangs and booms – the music is the highlight here.

Visuals

Opting for a cross between pixel and realistic aesthetic, Orbital Bullet boasts pretty colors and makes great use of them with compelling terrains. There’s a vast difference between biomes as you progress through levels, not just being the same thing nonstop. Bright colors accompany your shots and enemy clears, all moving along quickly with the refresh rate of your monitor (in my case, with 0 slowdowns at 144fps.)

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy visceral, tight action-platforming gameplay.
  • A bangin’ soundtrack is your ideal background to slaying doomed enemies.
  • You want a different experience every time you come to a game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • The prospect of high difficulty/possible motion sickness puts you off.
  • Too much happening on-screen is a regular occurrence.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.

Death’s Door Review (PC/Steam)

The Crow’s fate hinges on Death’s Door. Can you handle it?

Devolver Digital have certainly garnered a reputation for being one of the best indie videogame publishers in the business. With an eccentric approach to advertising incorporating comedy and satire, coupled with handpicked creative and often unusual games, Devolver have captured the attention of gamers from around the globe since their inception in 2009. And, like a fine wine or a delicious block of parmesan shaped into a game controller, they only seem to get better with age.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
Just a few of the excellent games from Devolver.

To add to their already vast library of published titles, launching today on PC/Steam is a brand new game by the name of Death’s Door, an intriguing hack & slash following the tale of a soul-collecting crow set in a stylish yet gloomy world. Created by Acid Nerve, the small indie team responsible for Titan Souls, this immediately grabbed my attention thanks to its unique visual style and its avian cast of characters. Earlier this month I wrote an insight into the preview build (which some of this article will draw upon), but over the last couple days I sat down and completed the game in its entirety.

So what mysteries await behind Death’s Door?
Let me open the door a crack and dive into this full review…

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals

Story

It’s no surprise that office work is often monotonous, and that’s no exception for the Crow, who lives life by the clock, punching in on a daily basis and delivering the harvested souls of the deceased. Every day is much the same in the bleak and monochrome Department of Souls, where a murder of crows work tirelessly to harvest and transport the deceased souls of the world. This odd office operates under the power of a mysterious being known only as the Lord of Doors, the latest in a lineage of powerful lords who have harnessed the ability to create interdimensional doors and transport the souls of the dead.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Lord of Doors
The Lord of Doors and his luscious lock. No, not his hair.

But a bird has to make a living, and so he sets off on his usual daily task to collect the next assigned soul on the roster. However, this routine task doesn’t quite go according to plan… Upon collecting the next assigned soul, the Crow is ambushed and the soul that required delivery is nowhere to be found. Returning to the office empty-handed (winged?), it’s made apparent that the Crow’s own soul may be in danger unless actions are taken to recover the lost soul. Venturing back into the bleak landscape to seek a solution, he just so happens to stumble upon…

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
Bit of WD-40 should get it open.

Though inconveniently, the door is locked, and the key to opening it and retrieving the lost soul lies in the three Colossal Souls belonging to the Tyrants of the kingdom: a cursed witch, a mad king, and a vicious beast. Only by opening Death’s Door may the Crow retrieve his lost soul and solve the mystery that lies beyond. So the Crow’s journey begins…

Gameplay

The game takes place across a sprawling Kingdom that is accessed through doors departing the office-like hub world. By entering these doors, the Crow enters new locations full of souls ripe for the harvest. In design akin to Dark Souls, maps are vast and intertwined in clever ways, with shortcuts aplenty, clever use of vertical space, and secret locations that seamlessly link back to one another. The interconnectedness of each map is thrilling, and on numerous occasions left me wondering how exactly I ended up back where I began. Each of the 5 main areas is further divided into several smaller distinct locales and dungeons; each are fascinating and worth exploring every single corner.

Environmental puzzles will hinder the Crow’s progress throughout these areas, and while most are simple, they are rewarding and offer more of a challenge when simultaneously trying to fend off hordes of enemies. Secrets also litter every location, which are cleverly hidden in plain sight. For example, navigating around a corner will consequently turn the entire world around you, and reveal objects that previously could not be seen. Exploration truly rewards curiosity, and observant players will have the chance to obtain unique collectibles, new weapons, and upgrades to help the Crow along the journey.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Secret Gif

After exploring each main area, the map eventually branches off into smaller, more intricate locations that have the feeling of a “dungeon” reminiscent of earlier Zelda titles. Three main dungeons feature throughout the game, each themed around the overarching tyrants. The gameplay here is quite traditional: collect several keys, solve small puzzles in each room, fight challenging enemies, and collect the souls of four deceased crows to unlock a door and progress further. After unlocking these doors, the Crow will gain a unique ability, allowing access to deeper areas of the dungeon and then to the boss that awaits menacingly at the end. I couldn’t help but be reminded of A Link to the Past or Minish Cap in this design, which is truly a compliment to the gameplay.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Soul
I guess you could say he was the soul survivor here.

Once a new ability has been obtained, previous areas of the world will become accessible, which is a clever way to promote backtracking and replayability without making it seem tedious or forced upon the player. Exploration too is key! By returning and further exploring a location, the Crow may become more powerful, particularly through collecting bundles of souls or health/magic expansions that are hidden in bird-shaped shrines.

Combat

Harvesting souls is not without its dangers, and as such the Crow is equipped with weaponry to help on this treacherous quest. Five melee weapons in total can be unlocked, from swift daggers that suit those who prefer fast combat, to towering greatswords that swing slowly but with considerable range. Several subweapons too can be unlocked, starting with a bow and progressing towards more powerful options – these can eventually be enhanced to further devastate unsuspecting enemies.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Bow
Woah, it’s a crow with a bow!

Once accustomed to the combat, attacks can be chained together in swift movements, and when coupled with ranged attacks and well-timed dodges, become a fluid barrage that at times made me feel as if I was playing Hades again. Enemies are plentiful and pose quite a threat, especially when waves upon waves of foes begin spawning in enclosed spaces. Restoring health during combat is not an option either, as the only way to do so is by planting seeds at particular pots and then consuming the flower that sprouts from them. This means you’re going to need to learn how to dodge; every enemy encounter must be done with caution to avoid losing health unnecessarily.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Flower
Consume the bloom.

While there’s no level system, the Crow may spend souls to upgrade the strength of attacks, the speed at which they can be performed, or other stat boosts that assist the Crow during combat. This is most pertinent when facing off against the formidable bosses that stand between the Crow and Death’s Door. These boss fights are challenging, fast-paced, and will likely result in numerous retries and deaths. However, this is when the combat truly shines! All the techniques previously learned can be added together in these encounters to exploit each enemy’s weakness. The satisfaction of collecting a Colossal Soul after an intense fight is unmatched.

Visuals

Interestingly, the game’s design and visual style seem somehow both charming and unnerving. The isometric view and intricate details create an illusion that allow the environments to appear like miniatures or scale models. The design and animations of the Crow are cute and cartoonish, often juxtaposing with the bleak surroundings. Enemies feature exaggerated grotesque appearances, and the design of some characters are just straight up hilarious, including a cast of characters whose heads have been replaced with pots, or a “human chef” who is basically just a corpse controlled by giant squid on his back.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Frog King
Even the bosses are pretty quirky, like the Frog King here.

It’s a truly gorgeous game; eye-catching environments like detailed dioramas definitely had me pausing to appreciate the Crow’s surroundings on numerous occasions. Every single location has a clever use of vertical space and uses this to its advantage with an emphasis on depth-of-field. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and at times this is even incorporated into some puzzles, which will require you to closely analyse for hidden clues.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
“If only I could fly…”

Audio

I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack. So how does Death’s Door hold up? Well, the world of Death’s Door is bleak, so too should be its music. Most of the early tracks have a certain sadness to them, with the majority featuring piano with light orchestration and ambient background effects. This obviously intensifies during enemy encounters or boss fights, becoming more frantic and fast-paced, but never seems to stray from an overall feeling of melancholy. Here’s a snippet of the music from the Ceramic Manor, the first main dungeon of the game:

Music gains more depth with progression through the game, featuring more detailed tracks, orchestration, and on occasion even some jaunty tunes. Overall, the soundtrack is exceptional from what caressed my eardrums during the journey. I’m very much looking forward to the official release! Here’s an example of my favourite track from the game, which is quietly contemplative through its use of soft flute and cello:

My favourite track, which plays in an isolated encampment.

What else?

What surprised me most about Death’s Door is its inclusion of comedy throughout the journey. For a topic as dark and macabre as death and reaping souls, there’s an impressive amount of legitimately amusing humour. This is portrayed through its cast of colourful characters, most of whom are incredibly quirky and feature hilariously well-written dialogue. Arguably my favourite moments from the game are cameos from the bosses, who pop up during the dungeons to monitor the Crow’s progress and crack some witty one-liners. Here are a few examples of the game’s wonderful humour:

Outside of the main linear story, there are a few additional aspects of the game to keep completionists satisfied. Small trinkets can be collected and require the player to navigate obscure areas, solve optional puzzles, or complete combat trials to obtain these. Amusingly, the trinkets accumulate at the Crow’s desk back in the office and these begin to pile up excessively to the point of becoming clutter. Though they serve no other significant purpose than a neat visual touch, many of the tasks required to collect them are reward enough, as they offer an added element of challenge to the rest of the game.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Collectibles
Everyone knows crows love collecting things.

There is also some post-game content which I won’t go into any detail on, but can be accessed once the main story has been completed fully. This is a nice touch for those wanting more from Death’s Door, especially as many more locations can be explored completely with all items/abilities unlocked.

Conclusion

Few games can achieve world-building and gripping gameplay in an 8 – 10 hour experience quite like Death’s Door. Through its unique story and characters, stunning presentation, clever exploration and thrilling intuitive combat, this is yet another superb indie game to add to Devolver’s arsenal. The sheer quality of game produced by a small team like Acid Nerve is incredibly impressive and has me eager to see what they will create in the future. Fans of action/adventure RPGs would be foolish to pass by Death’s Door, which is quite honestly one of the most polished games I’ve played so far this year. It’s a game to die for.

So, why should you play it?

  • Entrancing world and story with an amusing cast of characters.
  • Fluid, responsive and enjoyable combat that never feels unfair.
  • Gorgeous visual style, particularly the design of environments.
  • Clever interlinking maps and dungeons.
  • Backtracking and exploration never feels forced.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can be challenging at times, so may not suit all players.
  • Only available on PC and Xbox. Sorry Nintendo and Sony fans!

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.

Mini Motorways Review (PC/Steam)

These motorways might be mini, but they’re big on gameplay!

Imagine a brand new portable gaming device with almost no buttons at all. Just a massive touch screen and nothing else, running on its own proprietary operating system and only featuring downloadable games designed specifically for it, no cartridges or discs at all. Sounds absurd, right? Surely nobody would buy something like that. Well, it already exists, and has for over a decade: the Apple iPad.

This iconic touch-screen tablet, while mostly marketed as a device focused on productivity and functionality, has been used for gaming ever since its release in 2010. Like it or not, the iPad is technically an unconventional handheld gaming console, made easily accessible for casual gamers in households and offices across the globe. Early titles like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Infinity Blade and Plants vs. Zombies HD proved that touch screen mobile devices could produce gaming experiences to rival that of dedicated handhelds. In the following years, many iOS games even achieved critical acclaim: Monument Valley, World of Goo, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (pictured below) to name just a few.

Years later, the obsession with mobile gaming still hasn’t stopped thanks to New Zealand developers Dinosaur Polo Club, the minds behind the puzzle strategy games, Mini Metro (2015) and more recently, Mini Motorways (2019). These simplistic, heavily-stylised, minimalist games make the mundane – traffic – into a mesmorising procedure through vast interconnected networks designed from scratch by the player. What starts off as a simple concept soon becomes increasingly complex!

So how does an iOS/Apple Arcade game like Mini Motorways with a casual style of play and heavy use of a touch screen translate into a dedicated PC experience? Far better than you’d think! Read on in our review that’s hopefully a bit more entertaining than sitting in traffic.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review

Concept

When sitting in gridlock, have you ever wondered how you might be able to get home, to work, or to your destination just a bit quicker? Maybe with a more direct route, some extra roads, or possibly even a high-speed motorway to reduce your commute? Well, Mini Motorways will help make these thoughts a reality! By taking control of metropolitan networks from around the globe, the player has the opportunity to turn this disorderly drive into a highly-organised mesh of roads and motorways at the click of a button.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
Is this what it feels like to work for LA city council?

The game is divided into themed maps, each of which are based on a real-life location. You’ll have the option to build networks connecting huge cities like Tokyo, Beijing, Los Angeles, and many more. They also feature distinct geographical landmarks like rivers and coastlines that make the level not only more authentic, but add an additional level of challenge when building your network.

Gameplay

What might seem like a mundane and complex concept is stunningly simple and oddly-satisfying. The game will slowly introduce you to its gameplay mechanics through a short step-by-step tutorial, which clearly explains the key concepts of the game. The goal is simple: the player must connect coloured houses to similarly coloured destinations by adjoining them with roads by which the cars may travel. Cars must collect pins from their destination, and collecting a pin counts for a single point. As time progresses, additional houses and destinations will begin to appear, making the commute more complex.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review Gif

More cars on the road will require additional means of managing the traffic. After each week of gameplay (which is the equivalent of a couple minutes), the player will be given additional resources: roads, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, and most importantly, motorways. By utilising these different structures, the flow of traffic can be made smoother and more efficient, which becomes necessary when the small map begins to expand a sprawling city.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
You’ll be able to build a sprawling network within minutes!

Eventually, pins will be popping up rapidly around the map. Failure to collect enough pins in time will set off a timer on a destination, which will slowly build up unless cars navigate to the pins. Once the timer is full, the level is finished, and the score is calculated by how many pins are collected. This is then automatically uploaded to a worldwide leaderboard to challenge thousands of other players.

Visuals

Clean, crisp, simplistic and minimalist – perfect words to describe the unique visual aesthetic of Mini Motorways. Though initially suited to handheld play, this visual style looks incredibly pleasing on PC, with its straight lines, curved highways, and intricate matrixes of roads. What the game lacks in detail it makes up for in style, with each map having a distinct colour palette and design reflective of its geographical location. For example, when playing in Tokyo, a light shade of pink is used to resemble that of cherry blossoms, and building roads through its trees will result in puffs of pink leaves.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
At times it’s almost hypnotic to watch.

It most certainly retains all the visual cues of a mobile game despite no longer having any touch screen aspects. Clicking to place and remove roads and other structures both looks and feels intuitive. The game becomes most visually satisfying once a detailed mesh has been created, with hundreds of tiny cars flitting about efficiently.

Audio

One of the most respected composers in the world of ambient videogame music is responsible for the sounds of Mini Motorways: Disasterpeace. Known for creating the music of games like Fez, and Hyper Light Drifter, it should come as no surprise that the tracks featured in this game are relaxing, hypnotic, excellent background music. There are no particular melodies that will grab you, as the music is entirely procedurally created, and reacts based on your own actions in the game! The songs generated are rhythmic and structured, varying with the scale of the traffic and gameplay, and could easily be listened to on loop for hours. Combined with the soft hum of traffic, the sound of Mini Motorways is a satisfying ambience to accompany the overall experience.

A short snippet of procedurally-generated ambient music.

Extras

Several additional features have been added with a focus on accessibility. Players have the option to remove particular animations, adapt controls, and adjust visuals based on their preference or needs. For a game as simple as this, it’s a nice option to include these added elements where many others would omit them.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
As if the game wasn’t already challenging enough.

Additionally, to keep you coming back for more, the game also includes daily and weekly challenges. These are changes based on existing maps – for example, the week in which I wrote this review had a Moscow challenge, which allowed unlimited roads but no motorways and a limited number of bridges (making the entire map incredibly challenging). These slight changes surprisingly make a dramatic difference to the gameplay.

Conclusion

Mini Motorways is a simple concept designed for a touch screen but elegantly adapted for PC, and retains every element of its captivating procedurally-generated gameplay with little to no compromise. What may seem simple on the surface has significant depth and will appeal to those who relish in high scores, trying their hardest to make it to the top of a leaderboard. More casual players too will receive plenty of enjoyment from Mini Motorways, though may already have had the option to play it on their handheld devices and there is no advantage to playing it again on PC. This is a game that can easily be enjoyed by anyone, so it’s worthwhile that those without iOS devices can finally try it out.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of simple, procedurally generated gameplay.
  • Love trying to get the high score? This game is for you.
  • Crisp clean graphics and relaxing ambient soundtrack.
  • If you never had the chance to play it on iOS.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Have already played it on a handheld device.
  • If you prefer more complex strategy games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Mini Motorways is also coming to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022.

Mass Effect 3: Legendary Edition (PC) Review

To talk about Mass Effect 3 and not mention its ending is a bit of an impossibility, so rest assured that we’ll get to that later on. But, let me start in saying that this is the quintessential sci-fi action experience in spite of what takes place in its conclusion. When I think about playing a hero in a game, I want to control an all-powerful, versatile, masterful warrior that is respected by comrades, feared by foes, and earns their high regard every step of the way – I feel no game franchise creates this fantasy better than Mass Effect, and it comes to a head in its final instalment.

Garrus Vakarian: calibrated for 4k.

GAMEPLAY

Mass Effect 3 sees Commander Shepard face an overwhelming Reaper invasion – so when Shepard takes to the battlefield, they have to be at their best in sync with tons of biotic/tech powers to survive the onslaught. There’s more freedom in choosing what powers Shepard has in 3 instead of being locked to a few in 2 – my go-to Vanguard loadout sees Shepard jump from enemy to enemy with Biotic Charge, unleashing Nova to topple nearby enemies, and busting out Shockwave in tight spots. To manage the recharge time on these powers, I limited the weapons to a light shotgun and the overpowered silenced pistol unlocked in The Citadel DLC.

Outside of combat, Shepard can navigate a few locales within the Citadel, carefully scan Reaper-infested galaxies for points of interest, and converse with squadmates aboard the Normandy. Conversation paths have been simplified to two options in most conversations, but you’ll still have to dedicate to Paragon/Renegade for vital conversation points – especially in the final minutes requiring a perfect score to unlock the final dialogue option, something I still didn’t manage to do in my playthrough.

Familiar faces will return at every corner – rewarding players for choices in previous titles thanks to imported saves.

VISUALS

The most recent of the three titles included in the Legendary Edition, not much had to be done to make an already-pretty game look even better. That being said, it’s still an improvement seeing Mass Effect 3 in an even better light than it previously was in, thanks to more graphics options and the upres to 4K. A silky-smooth unlocked framerate was the cherry on top, with not a single slowdown occurring even in heated battles and flying across the map taking place. Draw distance is excellent, and large vistas make for great photo mode usage.

AUDIO

Mass Effect 3 employed new musicians to handle the game’s score, and, unfortunately, there isn’t much to write home about when it comes to memorability. While the music is never inappropriate, I can’t recall a single standout track like I could for the first two games. The best I can say is that it’s serviceable and gets the job done, but isn’t on the level of what Jack Wall crafted in the past. On the other hand, weapon fire and Reaper invasions sound massive – the bloodcurdling cry of a Banshee overbearing everything else on the battlefield still gives me chills. Plus, the voice acting performances are amazing – your friends are endearing, your foes menacing.

Oh boy. Here’s where it gets interesting.

PLOT

I’ve purposely saved the plot of the game for last – it’s the most contentious aspect of Mass Effect 3 and is still being talked about to this day. To continue and conclude a space epic was no small task, but BioWare provided quite a lot of closure to this saga. Almost every significant (and a ton of not-so-significant) character returns in some form in the events of Mass Effect 3; you’ll see squadmates from 1 and 2 lay their life on the line for you – or loathe you, depending on your past actions. You still have a lot of say over how the game plays out, thanks to plenty of turning-point dialogue options and courses of action. It’s exceptionally hard to save some lives as certain conditions have to be met, but it’s possible with enough effort and know-how.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING?

And here’s the hot take – I think Mass Effect 3 has an excellent ending. You are given three courses of action, all of which are vastly different, and you see the weight of your actions directly after your choice is made. Everything you’ve accomplished to this point culminates in one last choice that speaks about the kind of Shepard you’re playing. There’s pros and cons to every single choice, and large implications about the future and the past that go into what you decide.

Back in 2012, when Mass Effect 3 was released in its original form, there was a lack of closure to this ending – this was later remedied with free DLC to showcase what Shepard’s sacrifice meant. In the Legendary Edition, with all of the paid DLC attached, I feel like I fully completed Shepard’s story in all of its bravado, so this lasting final choice to destroy the Reapers – a goal since early on in Mass Effect 1 – was a perfect, logical action. Earning the “Shepard Lives” ending made it that much sweeter. Now, if only BioWare embraced the Indoctrination Theory

So, why should you play it?

  • The best combat in the series, and arguably in sci-fi action gaming.
  • Tons of full DLC that you may have missed is included.
  • See your old characters get a fulfilling ending/conclusion.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You’re still bitter about the ending and your mind can’t be changed.
  • You skipped ME1 – you’ll miss out on a LOT.