Welcome back! I hope you got a chance to flick through the Games of Rezzed Part 1 (which includes a really nice cosplay of Killzone, Fallout and World of Warcraft). We are now back in Tobacco Dock, the venue of EGX Rezzed 2016, to check out five more titles that appeared. So, let’s get on with the show!
Game: VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartending Action (also known as Valhalla or Waifu Bartending)
Developer: Sukeban Games
Format: PC/Mac/Linux, iPad and PS Vita
I had heard about this game for a long time. My curiosity has been growing like a heavily bioengineered seed at being able to dive into a cyberpunk universe, learning about the lore of the land from a non-combative role like bartender. I like cyberpunk tales, but find it can often be boiled down to two categories: Either you’re a combatant in the hopes of over-throwing someone and/or making money, or you’re an investigator Blade Runner style trying to find out the truth about something. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just I appreciate it when a game comes along to mix things up with synthesised alcohol and heavily manufactured ice.
Valhalla (with less numbers) is what the title suggests actually: You are a female bartender (named Jill) in a bar in a cyberpunk universe, and you must pour drinks for patrons. Through a combination of 5 alcohols, each one applied to a mixer (or blender if you leave it in there too long) in different quantities with maybe ice and perhaps aged, you can create the drinks as required. There is a recipe book you can also flick through if you are trying to track down the perfect drink as your customer wants.
Except, well, that doesn’t seem to be the point of the game.
What is the point is through serving drinks you can chat with the patrons, learn about their lives in an universe that is heavily augmented by technology. Through the EGX Rezzed demo I got to chat with a woman who streams herself online 24/7 (not really as lewd as it sounds), learning about her experiences of doing so and why she chose that life. As far as I could see, beyond what I could serve her when asked to, I couldn’t see any chance to choose a conversation option. Just more, well, go with the flow.
Verdict: I believe the main crux of if this is your thing is the alternative name: Waifu Bartending. This is a game where you talk with people about their lives, which by that I mean you read through the visual novel about their lives, and occasionally get nudged awake to serve a drink. If you find the idea of learning about different lives in a cyberpunk setting enjoyable, perhaps with a noticeable anime influence, then this might just be your cup of tea. While the tale told in the EGX Rezzed demo was somewhat interesting from an environment perspective, at times the writing felt like it was beginning to creep into “straight from an anime” territory for better and for ill.
The grade of Valhalla is a C-. Interesting, but sadly just not enough interactivity.
Game: A Place for the Unwilling
Developer: AlPixel Games
Release Date: Unknown
It is understanding how a game that has slipped by unnoticed as much as A Place for the Unwilling has to want to finally grab some attention. I actually had never heard of the game before prior to stumbling through the indie game section of Rezzed looking for something to grab my attention by both sides of my skull. This is especially since my favourite part about conventions are games I discover which I had never heard of or even being convinced of games I had mentally written off as not worth my time turning out to be good.
A Place for the Unwilling starring you as a man who has just moved into London (…I think?) during the Victorian age receiving a letter saying in three days time the sender will die by their own hand but it wouldn’t be suicide. After being given a licence to be a trader (which will open some social doors, rather than open up a bartering system), you must stumble around the streets trying to unravel the mystery beneath the surface.
However, all the events you can access to investigate are time-specific and there’s only so much time in the day. Every single thing you do consumes time; which inspires that woe of the sand of time crawling between your finger tips, wishing it just would stop so you can get more done.
Verdict: To go back to my original point: It is understandable for a game as unknown as A Place for the Unwilling to leap into the known, to drum up glee and excitement to fuel pre-orders. This comes with a heavy “however” though, as said demo must be complete enough to convince people this is time they want to spend on it. Sadly, the demo consisted of running around the map to poke events, missing out the promise of actually running around the streets progressing along the lantern-lit conspiracy trail. I constantly felt like I was scratching the surface rather than getting a sense of what the game actually is like.
The grade for A Place for the Unwilling is a D-. I really hope a better demo is released, as right now I’m still not sure what the gameplay of A Place for the Unwilling would be like.
Game: This is the Police
Developer: Weappy Studio
Format: PC, Mac and Linux
Release Date: Summer 2016
While I am of the train of thought that video games can cover any subject, there are some subjects where greater care must be used when handling it. One subject matter is police brutality/corruption, as there are fears of militarisation and concerns of unlawful killings in the USA. Both these have lead to rioting in the USA and greater distrust in the Western world, as people are believing they serve to uphold control (sometimes as more of an occupying force) rather than serving the people. So a game about said topic matter has to be handled with some care, at least enough as to not provoke the simmering fury on either side of the situation.
This is the Police is a management game where you play as a police chief. Close to retirement, you look around your broken life and decide there must be a better way. You must manage your police station as you decide who to send on jobs (as the higher the professionalism, the more likely they can accomplish it), what approach they should perhaps take in some circumstances and how to deal with city hall who may grant you some money to be used on your police station if you do them favours. In addition you may be asked to solve crimes, sending detectives out to gather storyboard pictures which you must then arrange in the right order according to witness statements.
Although, there is also the seeder side as sometimes you may need to send police officers on jobs that may not be necessarily police enforcement, like private security work. There is also the nature of the city hall requests, as I encountered one that asked me to help simmer down an uprising of a racist gang targeting black middle class people (e.g. doctors) by firing every black police officer/detective I have (logic being, at least no police will be targeted). You also have your own personal story to contend with, as your life is falling apart (e.g. a crime lord is trying to get a rat to feed him information from inside the station, and is black-mailing you into it) and you must keep it together the best you can.
Damn, there is even some parts about the game I haven’t discussed, as it is pretty big, but I better leap into the verdict.
Verdict: This is the Police is a game constantly walking that balancing beam between parody and statement. It is so outlandish in how corrupt and brutal you act, and yet there was always that gnawing sensation of “is this some how based in reality, are there grains of truth here blown up to disproportionate levels?”.
On a gameplay side, it plays interestingly as you try to balance building your station up, trying to get the best officers with the highest professionalism count and hoping they don’t get shot. My only problem was more often than not I’d fail in my duties as a cop for no perceivable reason (begging for a percentage chance of success metre), and I had no way of training police with lower professionalism besides taking them on jobs where they might get killed. I also had hoped for a fast-forward button as sometimes I was spent just waiting slightly bored.
The grade of This is the Police is a A-. Is it enjoyable? Oh yes, I had a ton of fun managing my police station and making my own personal journey as a police chief with a broken life. I’m honestly really excited about it. Just, I can’t help but get that scratching sensation in the back of my brain that through the outlandish depiction of corruption, they may end up poking a sensitive spot.
Release Date: 26/04/16
Ah, the four person co-op shooter genre…As you throw yourselves into the rabble of hoards of enemies, fighting them off with every ounce of strength you have in the desperate desire to do the objective and escape with your life. Only then the leader of your pack turns to you, grin on their lips and a twitch in one eye, and yells “WANT TO GO AGAIN?!”.
This time we’re in the sci-fi branch with Alienation, a game that plays very akin to Helldivers. You choose a mission, bring up to three friends or go solo, drop down, do the objectives, get out. However, it has a class system, a levelling system that determines if your guns have an effect against foes (who have their own levels) and a more elaborate environment/mission design that includes destructible terrain.
Verdict: The statement “plays very akin to Helldivers” is very much the measuring post and litmus test here. If Helldivers impressed you or annoyed you, you’ll likely have a very similar time. Although in contrast, it can be played on your own, although is recommended to be played as a co-op experience. Similar to Helldivers, the life of Alienation is going to depend on how many levels there are and the amount of customisation. As someone who enjoyed Helldivers, the grade for Alienation is a B, especially as while there are similarities there are enough differences to distinguish the two games from each other.
Game: Shadow of the Beast
Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs
Release Date: 17/05/16
If there is a title that has been a floating question mark for me, it is Shadow of the Beast. I’ve heard about it for months, potentially years, as a title that has always been on PSN’s Coming Soon list on the front page but always ill-defined what it even is. So when I first saw a playable demo of it, I first thought it was some foolish prank. A deception of some kind. Maybe even a lie as it could just be a trailer you watch.
However, here it was, Shadow of the Beast in playable form.
It is a side-scrolling game on a 2D plane, and maybe due to this I was caught off guard how smooth the platforming animation was as I was leaping off walls, climbing up and navigating the various obstacles. However this came with a gaping problem: When you fall you can die from gravity. You can then resurrect on the spot rather than repeat the level; which means trying to make a leap can lead to a lot of retracing your steps until you get it just right. This is something that led to a Sony rep at the booth offering to play the game for me, with that look of “seriously stuck? Seriously?”. Needless to say, I never got the controller back due to my irresponsibly poor platforming.
The combat is where Shadow of the Beast shows its unusual true form. Killing enemies isn’t much of a challenge, usually (at least until you get swarmed), as with a press of one button the person in front of you is killed. Where the challenge creeps up is not only your very limited health but also trying to chain kills together. It is incredibly easy to focus down one direction, trying to cut down the five soldiers in front of you, but it is hard to avoid the soldier running up behind you to whip your back with a sword. There isn’t a block button and I wasn’t ever able to find a dodge button beyond pushing an enemy from in front of you to behind you. Even this you’ll be interrupted, and with each stroke you lose what little health you have.
You will die, a lot.
Fortunately you can use “innocent souls” to get back up, seemingly hanging over your head the statement of “weeell, we’ll let you complete the level eventually, don’t worry, but good luck getting a score that doesn’t make us laugh at you behind your back”. You also have a rechargeable special mode that lets you just pick a direction and time slapping square until you miss a slot, which happens remarkably fast.
There are also bosses, which one boss I faced required timing so precise I was never quite able to nail it. Just constantly I’d either get slapped, impaled or pounded into the now-bloodied sands. In the end, I had to give up as I was told it was 6pm, closing time.
Verdict: Shadow of the Beast is a bizarre form. It should be an easy ride, laughable as you just press-square-to-not-die, but there is an odd charm to it. There is something to it that feels tactical, as you know that if you get the lowest score your fragile video game ego will be cracked as you sense the game laughing at you behind your back. It also remembers to balance your opponent’s vulnerability, as you slay enemies in one strike, with your own as you can and will be flanked often with your dwindling small health. You can recharge it rarely, but it will always feel a bit too small.
The verdict is a C+. For the price, it looks impressive and feels like it could offer a stiff challenge. Although, at the same time it feels slightly shallow for it.
…And like that we find ourselves at the end of the Games of Rezzed 2016 series! I leave you with a cosplay of Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide which is so accurate I actually felt intimidated looking into the blackened eyes of the elf and the single white eye of the inquisitor, not expecting it when I approached them from behind and asked for a photo. Sorry I didn’t catch the cosplayers’ names.
Special thanks to Sam Pope for the banner image.