Matthew Byrd

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  1. Steam sales may be a great time to pick up new games at discount prices, but the true value of a Steam sale can only be realized by those willing to dive into its discount depths and take a chance on an incredibly cheap title indie game or two. Though it's fun to explore the sub-dollar section to see what gems you may find, those with a five dollar bill burning a digital hole in their digital pockets will want to make sure they don't let this sale go by without picking up these classic indie titles. Speedrunners - $3.74 Innovative, exciting and downright addictive, this competitive 2D runner has finally escaped the clutches of Early Access and is now officially one of the best indie multiplayer games on the market. Just be prepared to hate all the friends that dare play Speedrunners with you. Titan Souls - $3.74 Depending on who you ask, Titan Souls is either a brilliant testament to the power of game design or an unfinished mess of confusing puzzles and frustrating mechanics. Given that the game's demo isn't the best indicator of the full experience, if this Dark Souls meets Shadow of the Colossus title sounds appealing to you, now is the time to give it a chance. Crypt of the Necrodancer - $3.74 In a just world, this utterly addictive and inventive rhythm-based roguelike would be installed on the computer of every single gamer. At the very least, you should take advantage of Crypt of the Necrodancer's shockingly low price by downloading it as soon as possible. It's that good. Battleblock Theater - $2.99 Has it really been over two years since this charming multiplayer game captivated the indie world with its immediately appealing mechanics and general sense of fun. With the right group of friends, Battleblock Theater can lead to all-night play sessions that you'll remember forever. This War of Mine - $4.99 Are you the type of gamer that doesn't mind feeling deeply, deeply depressed after you've played a new game? Then This War of Mine is perfect for you! This tragic tale of the horrors of war from the perspective of average civilians remains a unique meditation on the subject of war and a great game to boot.
  2. If you haven’t heard about Dead by Daylight you likely haven't been paying attention to Twitch, YouTube or the top spot on the Steam best seller list. This multiplayer game about avoiding a horror movie slasher has quickly become the talk of the streaming world and an unexpected hit for its developer Behaviour Digital who reported the game has achieved profitability in one week. But for as incredibly popular as the game is, there is a bit of debate at the moment concerning whether or not it is actually “good.” Granted the fact the game is so wildly successful that discussions about it's quality are kind of irrelevant at this point, but it’s certainly interesting to watch the backlash concerning the game’s rather simple gameplay and numerous little design flaws develop so soon after the game was warmly received. This backlash has led some to question whether or not the game has the staying power needed to remain a sales success. To be honest, it’s difficult to imagine the title remaining relevant even months from now. Though it could always see a slight uptick from a major DLC release or by taking advantage of the Halloween season, the fact that Dead by Daylight achieved much of its early sales due to its popularity among streamers and its low introductory price point suggests that the game isn’t exactly going to become the next Minecraft. Perhaps the better question is: does that matter? Dead by Daylight may be an incredibly simple game that only gets worse the more you dwell on it, but it’s also a highly enjoyable multiplayer title that maximizes the potential of a concept that many have long wished would be made into a video game. You may hear a lot of negativity surrounding Dead by Daylight now that it is past the honeymoon period, but it remains a highly enjoyable game that every horror fans should try at least once.
  3. It takes a lot to stand out on Steam and in the world of indie gaming in general. Typically, the best way to do this is through an eye-catching description. Something that will immediately separate your game from everything else out there and immediately inspire everyone to give it a look. So far as that goes, Bohemian Killing's billing as a "Nonlinear First Person Courtroom Drama Set In The Streets Of 19th Century Steampunk Paris" may just take the cake as the greatest indie game description out there at the moment. What does that loaded tagline actually mean? Well, according to the game's full description found on its Greenlight page, Bohemian Killing places you in the shoes of a brilliant inventor by the name of Alfred Ethon who has been accused of murder. Half of the game takes place in the courtroom where the trial of your life is being held. Here, you must examine the evidence placed against you in order to put together the best possible testimony for your defense. Where things get really interesting is in the testimony process itself. Here, you must travel back in time to the night of the supposed incident and re-enact your story as you deliver it. The trick here is that you are essentially able to form whatever defense you'd like based one what you feel will go over best with the jury and judge. The game's creator promises a near infinite amount of possibilities based on the way in which you prefer to build your testimony. For instance, you may be able to explain the blood on your clothes by getting into a bar fight near the time of the murder or by cutting yourself shaving. While there is some room for doubt regarding whether or not the game's developer can live up to his sizeable promises (how often have we heard of a game with "infinite possibilities" before?) so far the game looks like it may be able to provide a unique experience at the very least.
  4. Sometimes, you can’t help the memories you retain from when you were a child. There is no real explanation as to why these memories stay with you when others fade away, but for some reason, they are the ones that stick with you even when you don’t want them to. One of those memories for me will always be the speeder bike level from Battletoads. Even though the difficulty of this level essentially prevented me from ever playing Battletoads past that infamous stage, I still recall failing at it over and over. It’s one of my most vivid gaming memories. Now a new game has come along that manages to perfectly recreate the memories of failing at that level, for better or worse. It’s called Barrier X, and let me tell you right now that it is going to infuriate you. The concept of the game couldn’t be more simple (you just need to maneuver your ship left and right in order to avoid red areas and the barriers they contain), but the trick lies in the execution. Just like Battletoads, your reflexes need to be perfect if you’re going to avoid a brutal demise. Unlike Battletoads, Barrier X never feels unfair. You’re going to die over and over again in the pursuit of success, but the mechanics are airtight enough to ensure that you are responsible for your own failures as opposed to them resulting from a strange racing level trying to adhere to a 2D action game’s controls. Most importantly, there is a rhythm to the game’s levels that make it much easier to find yourself in that groove that the best high-speed games often provide. You know what’s funny? When you remove the most frustrating elements from the concept of avoiding barriers at high speeds, it turns out the process is actually pretty enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still going to tear your hair out in the pursuit of that perfect run, but at least you’ll have fun in the process this time around. Fans of reflex-based titles can find Barrier X on Steam for $2.99.
  5. The future of horror gaming became a little bleaker today with the announcement that the beloved Kickstarter horror game Allison Road is canceled. This highly anticipated game looked to build upon the formula established by games like P.T., but now some mysterious obstacles in the publishing process will likely prevent it from being released at all. While the loss of this promising title is devastating, fortunately the world of indie gaming is filled with enough horror masterpieces to help genre fans fill the void. Those looking to cope with the cancellation announcement by spending their evening getting the hell scared out of them should look towards one of these classics to help do the job. Layers of Fear It’s easy to dismiss Layers of Fear as just another jump scare game if you just watch the trailers and look at some of the images, but developer Bloober Team’s project is much more than just another anything. This story of a painter slowly descending into madness as he tries to find the inspiration for his masterpiece certainly draws upon what games like P.T. and Allison Road were trying to do in the sense that it derives much of its scares from its creepy environment and first-person exploration, but the artistic design of this title combined with its greater emphasis on psychological torment over jump scares makes it a unique entrant into the genre. Layers of Fear is just as capable of terrifying you with elements that remain unseen as it is the things that jump out at you from the dark. Fran Bow Although Fran Bow is a far different game than P.T., Allison Road or indeed the other games on this list, what this title manages to accomplish is far too notable to overlook when recommending indie horror games. Fran Bow is the story of a girl that finds her parents have been gruesomely murdered and attempts to discover the meaning behind their death. Her investigation is complicated by a mental disorder that makes the bizarre events that play out before her all the more difficult to discern from reality. The result is the video game version of a classic dark fairy tale that doesn’t hold back on disturbing imagery and creepy twists. SOMA The creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent must have known that they’d have a tough time following up on one of the greatest indie horror games ever made, which is probably why they initially set out to make SOMA a sci-fi game rather than a pure horror title. What they ended up with, though, is a horror game that trumps its spiritual predecessor in most every way. This journey through an underwater base that doubles as the scene of a horrific incident manages to unnerve its players through sudden scares much like P.T. did, but separates itself thanks to an increased emphasis on storytelling. The narrative presented in SOMA is one of gaming’s greatest and will ensure that you continue to play long after your nerves are shot. Monstrum Monstrum is a first-person survival horror game that isn’t interested in reinventing the genre wheel. Instead, it just wants to scare the player as much as humanly possible. In that pursuit, it is an overwhelming success. Monstrum uses procedurally generated levels and an increased difficulty factor to ensure that you never feel entirely comfortable with what is transpiring. Survival in this game does not come easy, as it often requires the player to wade through seemingly unwinnable scenarios in order to learn how to survive in the future. Anyone that appreciates the value of stealth in their horror games will instantly fall in love with this creepy masterpiece. The Park There’s always been something creepy about an abandoned amusement park. Maybe it’s the fact that a place we usually associate with being full of life is now suddenly devoid of it, but the visual of such a place sends chills down your spine. The Park takes full advantage of this effect. Not only does it present a terrifying abandoned amusement park that’s full of funhouse scares, but it mixes it with the story of a lost child whose possible fate only adds to the suspense. Though very short and big rough around the design edges, The Park is an old-fashioned scary good time.
  6. For the sake of full disclosure, I will now admit that I'm a shameless roguelike and roguelite fan. Even though the definition of what constitutes a game in these genres grows a little larger each day, the fact is that any game that offers a random series of events built around a permanent death system will usually still get about 10 hours of playtime from me at a minimum. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit trepidatious going into Solitairica. I'm willing to buy into just about any premise that even vaguely follows the rules of the Rogue genre, but a game billing itself as a "roguelike solitaire experience?" Even I have my doubts about how that would translate into a proper rogue game. In a way, these fears hold true after playing the game. Solitairica is not a roguelike or roguelite game. Not really. About the closest it comes to the genre is the randomization of its enemies and rewards, though the method in which it presents these elements is not too different from a standard RPG game. You make your way through a very simple medieval fantasy story in the hopes of challenging an evil emperor, and along the way you fight random enemies by playing a modified version of spider solitaire. If you really wanted to stretch the term, you could qualify the game's progression as roguelike, but honestly, this game has no reason to bill itself as a member of that genre. Instead, Solitairica is more of an update on the Puzzle Quest concept. In fact, it's actually fairly identical to that game in the way that it handles presentation, combat and progression elements. The difference - as you've no doubt guessed by now - is that Puzzle Quest used a modified match-three puzzle system in place of traditional combat, whereas Solitairica uses a modified version of spider solitaire. If you're wondering how exactly the one-player game of solitaire translates into a competitive battle system, the answer is, "Fairly well, actually." For the most part, the solitaire elements in the game are identical to the classic game. Anyone familiar with the rules of spider solitaire will have no trouble jumping right in. Where Solitairica updates the concept is through the introduction of mechanics assigned to certain cards that denote combat abilities. For instance, you may have a series of cards that are assigned attack abilities. Match these cards to the top row, and you will receive points towards your attack spell. Execute that attack spell, and you deal damage to your opponent. Cards can also be assembled into themed decks like in a CCG title in order to emphasize certain playstyles, and you have the ability to upgrade your cards to increase their effectiveness. The reason that this system works as well as it does is because it's essentially just a game of solitaire. There are a couple of minor deviations to the formula - such as the notion of taking turns and the presence of secondary items that can benefit bad hands - but at its core, this is an updated version of the classic game that PC gamers have been playing since they discovered Microsoft included Windows. While the fact that this game only seeks to enhance the solitaire experience as opposed to completely reinvent it is the main reason that it’s as addictive as it is – and believe me, the game is just as addictive as solitaire can be – it’s also the reason for the game’s biggest fault: its reliance on luck. Much like an actual game of solitaire, sometimes the cards just don’t fall your way in this game. That, combined with the game’s sometimes unfair random enemies, results in battles you simply can’t win if things don’t go your way. A touch of that quality can add to the experience in games like this, but there are many times when Solitairica abuses the privilege my disguising its randomness as intended difficulty. Too many of these types of winless games in a row, and you’ll have no problem putting the game down and walking away. Still, there is a lot of simple fun to be found in this surprisingly bountiful game. Anyone who considers themselves to be a diehard solitaire or Puzzle Quest fan will find more than enough content here to justify the hours you’ll spend coming back for casual playthroughs, but those hoping for something more skill-based need not apply. Pros: Interesting Concept Surprisingly Addictive Lots of Content Cons: A Little Too Random Could Use More Deck Designs Uneven Difficulty End Score 7/10
  7. Do you know those indie games that get announced, make everyone that hears about them excited and then seemingly disappear into nothingness shortly thereafter? For some time, it looked like Tumbleweed Express was destined to be one of those games. It's been about five years since the announcement of Tumbleweed Express; a game that puts a Western twist on the tower defense genre by asking players to arm and escort a train through dangerous lands. At the time of its unveiling, Tumbleweed drew a fair amount of praise for its offensive approach to the classic genre, as well as its always welcome use of the still criminally underexplored western genre. Since that time, however, the game has vanished into that dreaded "no response" space where games go before passing into the abyss. Remarkably, developer The Dirigiballers actually managed to yank this title from the void and put it on Steam for $4.99. The final product itself is a strange one. Tumbleweed Express mixes traditional western elements with traditional sci-fi to create a world that feels like what may have happened if the Wild Wild West filmmakers decided to just run wild with the concept. It's a bit misleading to refer to is as a tower defense genre, as the tower defense elements really only come in the form of outfitting your train with various pieces of equipment. Instead, most of the action in the game players out like an on-rail shooter (pun not intended) that has you controlling the main cannon to take down a variety of incoming "bullet-hell" type threats. Is the game actually good, though? My answer would be an enthusiastic "meh." It's incredibly simple, fairly short on content and bears many elements of a game that has been worked on for far too long. Still, it's certainly not a bad game and there is a certain pleasure in seeing one of these titles escape development hell for once.
  8. As a lifelong fan of good gaming experiences in whatever form they may take, I admit that the recent uproar regarding Overwatch's full price point despite its lack of a single-player campaign confused me. After all, while it's understandable that gamers would want as much content as possible out of their purchases, at no point was Overwatch presented as - or to our knowledge - intended to be a single-player experience. To me, the debate surrounding the game ultimately boiled down to: "If you like what the game offers buy it, and if you don't like what the game offers then don't." Still, I know that the controversy isn't a simple matter of whether or not the game offers a campaign experience. Instead, it's a debate that represents the much larger worry some in the gaming community have over whether or not developers really care about single-player games at all. Many feel that the largest publishers in the industry are more concerned with creating multiplayer games and banking off of the microtransactions that come with them. Is this feeling accurate? Well, to be honest, the numbers behind the argument are a bit iffy. If you look at the best selling games of 2015, you'll find that every game technically offers some kind of single-player content. I emphasize technically because many of these games (such as Star Wars: Battlefront) don't really offer more solo content than a glorified tutorial. Indeed this lack of effort when crafting single-player experiences in popular games probably represents the real issue in the industry today than simply saying: "There are no more single-player games." Except, it's still not fair to say that developers aren't putting their full effort into these modes anymore. Not really. While the mainstream game industry may be philosophically shifting more towards multiplayer experiences, saying that there are no more single-player games is an insult to the efforts of some truly great indie developers. Now I know what you're thinking: "Indie gaming doesn't count. It's the major releases that have stopped producing the same kind of single-player games they used to. That's what needs to change." That's an emotional argument, but there is some truth in it. The fact of the matter is that indie games can't produce the same kind of single-player games that a major developer can when they devote their resources to it. We're not going to get an indie equivalent of Uncharted 4, The Witcher 3 or possibly even DOOM. The money just isn't there for most studios. But much like the Overwatch controversy, focusing on what indie games can't provide rather than what they do provide benefits nobody. Indie gaming can't consistently provide big-budget masterpieces, but they can provide a variety of experiences that the industry at large could never possibly support. There is no major developer that would ever take the chance on a smart throwback like Undertale. A company like EA couldn't dream of resurrecting a beloved - but undperforming - franchise in the form of a title like Stardew Valley. Ubisoft wouldn't go anywhere near an inventive experiment in storytelling like Her Story. Now maybe you like these games and maybe you don't. That's fine. Not every gamer has to like every game, and there are plenty more examples of great single-player indie games where these came from. Regardless of your specific tastes, it's important to not quickly dismiss efforts such as these in the argument that gaming has forgotten about the individual player. Doing so just confirms the suspicion of major game publishers that the most vocal supporters of a single player renaissance ultimately represent a minority that are unwilling to fiscally support single player gaming in the same way that multiplayer gamers apparently do. Even if you don't purchase these games as a way to show your support, it's past time that the efforts of the indie game industry in providing a variety of gaming experiences catered to target all needs - including solo play - is shown the proper love whenever the discussion of this fading philosophy of design is brought up. Failing to do so not only belittles the efforts that goes into these games, but only speeds up the process in which yet another corner of the game industry walks away from crafting great single-player games.
  9. To what degree does a game’s subject matter impact your enjoyment of it? For instance, let’s say that there is an incredible new grand strategy game all about managing the territorial battles of ‘20s mob gangs. While you’re a fan of grand strategy titles, you honestly could care less about ‘20s mob gangs. In fact, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say that you actively hate the idea of ‘20s mob gangs. Would you still play this game? Such is the dilemma that YouTubers Life presents. YouTubers Life is a game all about simulating the existence of a YouTube star. Your created character starts with little more than a computer and webcam to their name, and you must find a way to turn this humble set-up into the foundations of an internet empire. My initial concern with this title was that it would attempt to cash-in on the very popular concept of becoming a YouTube hit and present a simplistic mobile-type clicker game that had many acquiring various resources instead of actually doing anything of merit. In a way, I’m glad I went in with these lowered expectations because the Early Access build of YouTubers Life is actually one of my favorite simulators in recent memory. So far as broad character aspects such as managing your home, social life and basic needs goes, you’re going to find that YouTubers Life does not differ much from the formula set by The Sims years ago. Anyone who has spent any time with that series will feel right at home with the way that this game handles basic interactions and navigation, though the biggest Sims fans will be slightly disheartened to learn that YouTubers Life takes a simplified approach to the basic concept. So far as elements like character and world customization go, you will not find nearly as many options as you will in even the early Sims title. To a degree, this is to be expected, but it is a bit of a shame that your options in creating a character that is ultimately going to be the center of your media world are so limited. It’s very much worth stating again that the game is in Early Access and that new options could always be added, but the problem here is more of a fundamental design issue in the character creation than it is a lack of item options. What YouTubers Life does well, however, are the elements related to actually building a successful YouTube channel. While this process includes the kind of steps you would expect in such a process such as selecting the type of content you’re going to put out, updating your equipment to improve your presentation value and staying on top of the hottest content trends, it also goes into aspects of the profession I wasn’t necessarily expecting such as the need to edit your videos through a simplified editing program. By far the most surprising element of the game, however, was the way it emphasizes socializing. This world can sometimes be all about who you know and how you present yourself, and YouTubers Life does a tremendous job of emphasizing how important getting yourself out there and meeting as many people as possible really is. It also goes so far as to emphasize the importance of maintaining your own social needs along with juggling an insane amount of work hours. This personality element is what makes YouTubers Life so special. Generating compelling content in this game is easy enough once you learn the mechanics, but the need to remain relevant and contents is a consistently compelling motivating factor. This is especially true of industry specific elements such as dealing with online trolls and rival channels. That aspect does bring us back to the original point of whether or not you are entertained by the very concept of becoming a YouTuber. If the answer is “No” then I don’t believe that YouTubers Life does enough as a Tycoon/Simulator game to really expand its appeal beyond the appeal of the concept material. There’s always room for improvement there as the game develops, but it doesn’t appear that the game is trying to be as deep as some of the most popular games in this genre. If, however, this concept does appeal to you, then you’ll find YouTubers Life to be a surprisingly clever take on its subject matter that is worth downloading even in its early state. Pros: Unique subject matter Packed with clever jokes Compelling socialization options Cons: Lack of overall depth makes it dependent on subject matter Content creation process eventually becomes too easy Unimpressive audio design End Score 8/10
  10. Last Week Tonight host John Oliver recently did a segment about 911 services in America that was considered to be quite the eye-opener regarding the reality of working as a 911 operator. Specifically, the piece highlighted just how underequipped the average 911 operator is and how this lack of proper resources puts an incredible level of stress on them when they realize that often times their decision making in a non-optimal setting can separate life from death for the person on the other end of the line. As if the report didn't drive home that point clearly enough, developer The Play Way has recently unveiled a teaser trailer for 911 Operator; a simulator that aims to recreate the experience of living as an emergency dispatcher. While the released trailer doesn't show much in terms of gameplay, it does recreate a real-life call within the theoretical game mechanics that highlights how compelling this title could be. The call in question comes from a girl who is looking to order a pizza. The operator has the option to politely inform her that his is an emergency line and that her question is not appropriate for this service, or forcibly do so and hang-up. In this particular instance, they chose the former, which was a wise decision considering that the caller was disguising their actual emergency call from a dangerous person in the room. The operator is able to dispatch help because of this. It's a small taste of the project, but the potential is certainly there. One could easily imagine a Papers, Please type game that forces players into difficult situations that require them to discern fake calls from real ones, or come up with a proper solution under the pressure of a timer. Also, considering that the example call was a recreation of a real life 911 call, there is certainly more than enough compelling material for the developers to mine. No word yet on the release date, but the concept alone could make this one indie title to keep an eye out for as more information becomes available.
  11. We're almost midway through 2016, and the year has already provided an incredible bounty of indie titles that we can recommend without hesitation. If you're looking for the quick highlights of the year so far, consider these five best indie games of 2016. Stardew Valley Harvest Moon was always spoken of as a game ahead of its time, but it wasn't until the release of 2016's Stardew Valley that I ever appreciated how true that assessment is. While Stardew Valley is not just a knock-off of the Harvest Moon games, there is no denying that the game's most notable elements are pulled from that famous franchise. However, Stardew Valley adds so much more to that basic experience of becoming a farmer in a small town. There is a real sense of adventure about this game that shines through whether you are partaking on its more traditional RPG elements, or simply deciding what crops to plant for the season. Your every action in Stardew Valley can lead to a series of possible outcomes and this branching style of gameplay lends this indie gem infinite replayability. Stardew Valley is the type of game that you can play for months and only barely scratch the surface. The really scary part, though, is that the game just keeps growing. Firewatch Ah, the walking simulator genre. Despised or beloved depending on what type of gamer you ask, there is no genre more controversial in modern indie gaming than this one. While Firewatch certainly contains the lack of traditional gameplay elements that have caused some in the gaming community to despise this particular type of game, it also so happens to be one of the most compelling cases yet for gaming's superior ability to present emotional, minimalist narratives. With the exception of the dialog emitting from your handheld radio, much of Firewatch's story is told through how it makes you feel when you explore its dangerous world. Firewatch forces you to confront your emotions as well as the game's more traditional obstacles. Even if you are not usually a fan of these styles of games, Firewatch's compelling style of storytelling is worth a look. The Witness With all due respect to the many brilliant games that came in-between, 2007's Portal was the most significant entrant to the puzzle genre since Tetris. It showcased that the simple and addictive nature of the classic puzzle game could also serve as the foundation to a more elaborate, story-driven world. The Witness doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Portal, but it is the most compelling advancement of that game's innovations. Whereas Portal used its iconic narrator to link together a series of puzzle rooms, The Witness scatters such puzzles across an open world. It was a bold move to deprive gamers of the traditional puzzle game progress system, but the world of The Witness is so compelling that you'll find no trouble coming up with the motivation to discover its many secrets. Perhaps The Witness isn't as addictive as previous puzzle titles, but it is arguably the most intelligent entrant into the genre in some time. Stephen's Sausage Roll Stephen's Sausage Roll is a lot like The Witness, except it's completely different. It's also highly reminiscent of Tetris, but not the same at all. Well...sort of. Maybe. In a way, I suppose. Ok, I admit that I still don't know how to easily convey just what Stephen's Sausage Roll is. However, I am convinced that the game's inability to be easily summarized is the surest indication of its overall quality. Stephen's Sausage Roll is as much of a puzzle game as it is a glorious tribute to the world of game design. Its mechanics are air tight, its levels are punishingly brilliant and there is an underlying sense of charm about the game that serves as its most endearing quality Stephen's Sausage Roll will frustrate you with its uncompromising challenge, but you'll find it impossible to not stare in awe at its collection of subtle moments of genius. Pony Island I'm going to admit right now that Pony Island is a tough sell, despite its low $4.99 asking price. As if the name wasn't off-putting enough, the game's very description doesn't really give any indication as to what exactly it is. Even those who have played and loved this game often refuse to actually go into details about it to others. What I do know, however, is that Pony Island is among the most intelligent games ever made. The reason that you hear its fans tell you to not do any research about the game prior to playing isn't because Pony Island contains some grand, singular twist like The Sixth Sense, but rather because its entire narrative and concept are designed to constantly mess with your perceptions of what a game is. No other game - and few other pieces of entertainment - have ever managed to break down the fourth wall as successfully as Pony Island does. Pony Island plays you just as much as you play it.
  12. Never underestimate the power of passion in game design. Give two teams of developers the same general idea for a project, but have one of them make it solely for money while the other is driven by a sense of passion for the concept, and the team building it out of passion will almost always give you something that feels more worthwhile. So far as passion goes, you will find fewer projects driven by it more than 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. Conceptualized and developed by Iranian-Canadian developer Navid Khonsari, Black Friday is the story of the infamous 1979 Iranian revolution as told through the perspective of a photojournalist who finds himself slowly swept up in its events. The game aims to convey how the common people of this time were forever affected by what would transpire during this period. Because of this view, the Iranian government has seen fit to ban Black Friday from being released in their country and have also labeled Khonsari a traitor and spy for his efforts in developing it. Seeing the game's story play out before you leaves little room for doubt as to why the government would not want it to easily fall into the hands of the Iranian people. The revolution portrayed here would directly lead to the Iran that we know today, and anyone who so happens to oppose that particular government may not be too thrilled to see the events that unfold here. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the game takes a black and white stance concerning all sides involved, but what it does do is manage to capture the spirit and passion that drives a revolution as well as any game of its kind before it. Then again, there never really has been a game quite like this one from a narrative and setting standpoint, which is a big part of what makes Black Friday so compelling. Video games may be more diverse than they've ever been, but they still rely on the same set of common settings such as dark fantasies or sci-fi space epics featuring space marines most of the time. Seeing such a unique world play out before you as beautifully as it is designed in Black Friday is a simple joy in and of itself. Despite the fact that the game takes notable cues from films such as City of God, there is really nothing else quite like what this game is presenting in all of entertainment. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the gameplay. Anyone who has ever played a TellTale adventure game will be instantly familiar with Black Friday's blend of choice-based dialogue and quick-time event action sequences. Although there are a couple of alterations to that particular formula - the most notable of which being some enjoyable photography segments - the overall gameplay doesn't really venture far from the ordinary. That's a bit of a downer given how everything else about this game is actually quite far from ordinary. When you're not being exposed to interesting new historical facts or getting a glimpse into this culture, you'll find that you're not doing anything in this game that you likely haven't done many times before in several other titles. Coupled with the fact that you could conceivably beat Black Friday in under an hour if you are not concerned with exploring everything - and maybe just a couple of hours if you are - and it becomes quite difficult to recommend Black Friday from a value perspective. However, if you approach 1979 Revolution: Black Friday as an interactive pseudo-documentary, then you'll find that it is a pretty great one. The rich story and diverse cast of characters will have no trouble keeping you compelled enough to see the game through completion, but those who are seeking something a bit more fun that will last them longer than an afternoon will be disappointed to find that Black Friday falls short of starting a revolution for its somewhat tired genre. Pros: Unique Setting Great Story Excellent Production Values Cons: Repetitive, Familiar Gameplay Some Pacing Issues Can be Beaten In Under An Hour End Score 7.5/10
  13. There is no shortage of isometric games on the Kickstarter scene. Perhaps it's because that style of game so happened to produce some of the greatest RPGs of all-time before technology determined that fully-3D gaming was the future, but whatever the reason, it's clear that the indie gaming market has more than enough room for another truly great isometric title. Though it may be early in its development stages, all signs are pointing to Copper Dreams joining the prestigious ranks of the great isometric games. Right off the bat, developer Whalenought Studios wins my heart by describing Copper Dreams as an "isometric Escape From New York or Deus Ex." Though that is a rather lofty comparison to make, Copper Dreams certainly nails the aesthetics of such a creation by perfectly capturing that classic sense of technology-driven depression in the way it presents its own version of the future. Among the drab greys common for a period of time deprived of individuality, though, lie several more traditionally beautiful elements that are most apparent in the design of the game's enemies. The graphic engine itself is also quite interesting. Though traditionally isometric in its design, a zoomed-in look at the game reveals its numerous similarities to Playstation era titles such as Metal Gear Solid and Vagrant Story. It's rare to see this particular era of gaming graphics explored and there is a nostalgic joy in seeing it done so well. However, the promise of the game's premise truly reveals itself in the gameplay. Stealth appears to make up the bulk of Copper Dreams' gameplay, but its brand of stealth looks to be the best kind of stealth; the kind that allows your character to have chainsaw hands. Yes, through Deus Ex-style character augmentation, it is possible to equip your character with a variety of personal alterations, as well as upgrade their weapons with a similar wealth of options. The remainder of the game's action appears to draw heavily from the Baldur's Gate/Dungeons and Dragons style of "roll for victory" actions, though there are unique twists peppered throughout such as the removal of traditional health in favor of a series of status ailments. Ultimately, though, Copper Dreams stands out from the Kickstarter pack by exemplifying the characteristics of its ambitious pedigree. Whether the game will ultimately capitalise off its potential remains to be seen, but those who also feel that it is on the right track can donate to the game via its Kickstarter page.
  14. Though the final figure has not been revealed, it's safe to say that the recently released 2016 reboot of DOOM cost publisher Bethesda a pretty penny to make. However, for the sake of discussion, let's just say that the game conservatively cost somewhere around $100 million to produce when the marketing budget is accounted for. If that estimate is even somewhat close to the real number, it really puts into perspective just how far this franchise has come. In 1993, John Carmack, John Romero, Dave Taylor and a few others began work on DOOM as a side project to the Wolfenstein prequel that developer id Software was focusing on at the time. Despite their lack of resources, this small group toiled away at a passion project that was conceptually and thematically more ambitious than the big name game that was being made right down the hall. Even though DOOM didn't even have the simple convenience of a retail release to work with - much less a marketing budget - it quickly generated buzz among the shareware community as the one game that everyone must play. Actually, you could really consider DOOM to be a forebearer for the modern indie gaming scene in that respect. So why is it that we haven't received more FPS indie games in recent years? Now, to be fair, it must be noted that a shortage of FPS indie games does not mean a complete lack of them. In fact, there have been some truly great indie FPS titles over the years such as Superhot, Heavy Bullets and Devil Daggers that show the genre is still on the minds of some of gaming's greatest developmental talents. As impressive as those games are, though, you can't really consider any of them to be a "traditional" first-person shooter game. Instead, they all use the first-person shooter perspective to lend an element of familiarity to more innovative experiences. Superhot is more of a puzzle game, for instance, while Heavy Bullets is perhaps best defined as rougelike. While that level of innovation is always a welcome sight, none of these games really scratch the itch for a traditional FPS experience that many indie gaming fans may find themselves burdened with from time to time. This is actually a bigger issue than it may initially appear to be. One of the greatest - and most necessary - functions of the indie gaming scene is to provide gamers with alternatives to the AAA game industry while also showing that same industry what concepts and genres may be fiscally viable that hadn't been considered before. Indie gaming shouldn't be viewed solely as a testing ground for the entire industry, but it is a pretty useful secondary purpose. The FPS genre doesn't really enjoy that luxury. While major titles like EVOLVE, Overwatch, and Titanfall have attempted to showcase that a different kind of first-person shooter can be financially successful - with varying degrees of success - the genre remains the least represented on an indie scene that is so diverse it even accommodates a number of inanimate object "simulator" games every year. If you're looking for the reason why that's the case, ironically you must first point at the original DOOM. While DOOM may have started out with indie sensibilities, its incredible success soon produced a wave of DOOM clones that all tried to separate themselves by upping what the previous hit brought to the table. It wasn't long before this turned into making sure that your game was more technologically impressive than whatever else was out there. Eventually, this led to the modern era we currently enjoy where FPS games often command the highest of development budgets. As noted earlier, that's not a quality that typically breeds innovation and risk taking. Perhaps the new DOOM will prove to be such an incredible success that developers everywhere will feel comfortable throwing a 100 million dollars at a shooter game that breaks the lucrative Modern Warfare mold even slightly, but should that not be the case - or even if it is what happens - I would still like to believe that the first-person shooter hasn't reached such technological heights that the indie developers of the world have convinced themselves that any release in the genre that doesn't look like a James Cameron movie will be met with scorn and low sales. The FPS genre garnered much of its initial popularity by representing a rebellious school of game design that didn't conform to the standards of the industry at large. With the help of indie developers, perhaps it can achieve that status yet again.
  15. Ever since Crypt of the Necrodancer revealed the joy of taking the dark fantasy dungeon-crawler game formula and replacing the combat with dancing, I have been waiting for a developer to come along and do the same with the Western genre. Ok, maybe that isn't exactly true, but it doesn't make this upcoming Steam Greenlight project any less appealing. Beatstep Cowboys presents us with the relatively familiar scenario of two cowboys ready to duel over money, land, pride or the fact that things could get pretty boring when you had no internet. The twist here is that each player has four beats to enter a series of movement and attack commands that will dictate the action that follows. This leads to a series of chaotic scenarios that sees both players trying to maneuver themselves into an optimal attack position while attempting to account for the potential movement of their opponents. That combination of self-preservation and needing to put yourself in harm's way in order to get a clean shot on your opponent is hectic enough, even before you account for the ability to place bombs throughout the map that help turn each level into a dancefloor warzone. The gameplay feels like a mix between Nidhogg, Bomberman and Crypt of the Necrodancer which...well it just sounds like the best thing ever. That being said, the demo makes it clear that a little work is still required to get this game where it needs to be. Being able to see the opponent's commands does take a little mystery out of the combat, while the rapid beat timeframe often makes winning a duel feel like a matter of simple luck. Still, the foundations for a great couch multiplayer game are certainly in place even this early into the game's development, and elements to come such as the ability for Twitch channels to duel against each other have real potential. Though no release window for an Early Access build is currently available, you can check out Beatstep Cowboy's demo here.