Review

Review: Darkest Dungeon

Review: Darkest Dungeon

Review copy of this game provided by its developer, Red Hook Studios.

Darkest Dungeon is a rare breed of game – it was successfully Kickstarted, entered Early Access a year after its campaign was succesful, and exited the Early Access stage a year after that. In my opinion, this is one of the best examples of a game developer using crowdfunding to complete its game – and without the game in question being stuck in Early Access forever, to boot!

On September 27, the game then transitioned to Playstation 4 and Vita as well.

Darkest Dungeon is described by Red Hook Studios as a Gothic RPG, which is a pretty good way of describing it. The game has a killer art style, and H.P. Lovecraft’s influence all over it. The general atmosphere of the game is complemented by the soundtrack as well, with both the music and sound effects being really satisfying.

The game is a turn-based RPG where your party of adventurers delve into the depths of human endurance while exploring their way towards the darkest dungeon. Story-wise,  you take the role of someone returning to the Hamlet at the behest of his or her Ancestor, to right the wrongs that they have performed. To put it another way, if you were to mix a drink of the Darkest Dungeon story,  you’d mix one part Hell House by Richard Matheson with three parts H.P. Lovecraft, served chilled in a high glass…You’d have Darkest Dungeon.

Gameplaywise, there are two distinct aspects – managing your Hamlet (or town, if you’re not into old-timey words) and the actual adventuring bit. Both parts are informed by the other, and if you’re not using the loot you collect while adventuring to upgrade  your Hamlet, you will soon find yourself woefully unprepared to face the horrors that the game throws at you. The Hamlet consists of a handful of buildings you need to upgrade – from the Stagecoach where  you’ll recruit new adventurers to the Guild or Blacksmith where you upgrade your adventurers or their kit. Of particular importance is the ways for your  adventurers to recuperate from adventuring – like the Abbey, or the Inn.

The reason you’ll want to upgrade the latter buildings is simple – while adventuring, your adventurers will build up Stress. Build up enough, and you risk them getting negative Quirks. Your tank may decide that it’s better for him to bleed than to receive healing, or your healer may panic at the sight of  the undead. Stress is not only a bad thing, however – your  adventurers may prove to excel under pressure and gain a positive Quirk. These Quirks can be anything from being better at dodging to dealing or withstanding more damage, which becomes essential to manage as  the game goes on.

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Additionally, you’ll need to keep your adventurers stocked up on items such as torches, food and shovels – because the darkness increases stress, starving increases stress, and trying to clear obstacles without a shovel may get your heroes hurt.

As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s thematic universe, this is one of my favorite games set in that theme, ever. The game itself is not scary as such – but you will feel the stress and anxiety that your adventurers are submitted to, as well. The game can both be uncompromisingly punishing as well as super rewarding. The feeling of joy when a stressed character copes with Stress by getting a positive Quirk can be amazing, especially at the lower levels where you don’t have a lot of options with regards  to gear and skills.

I mostly played the game on my Playstation Vita – and I’m thoroughly impressed with its performance on this platform. The game plays without a hitch on the platform, basically. My only two gripes with the Vita version is the fact that the game does not utilize the touch screen, as the controls can be kind of clunky, and that the UI is not scaled up just a little bit. I was still able to play the game just fine, but having the UI and text in general being just a bit bigger on the small screen would have been great.

As it stands, though, I’m keeping Darkest Dungeon on my Vita – the gameplay is, as mentioned, top notch and the performance of the Vita port (along with cross-buy and cross-save) makes Darkest Dungeon a must-have for Vita owners.

Darkest Dungeon is available on PC, Mac, Linux as well as Playstation 4 and Vita.

Posted by Barl0we in Gaming, 0 comments
Review: Wheels of Aurelia

Review: Wheels of Aurelia

Review copy of this game provided by its developer, Santa Ragione.

Wheels of Aurelia is described by its developer, Santa Ragione, as a narrative road trip game. It is probably the most accurate way to describe the game overall.

In Wheels of Aurelia, you take control of Lella, a woman on a road trip towards France in 1970’s Italy. Initially, she will have one companion with whom she can talk, but the narrative can lead to Lella picking up hitchhikers or otherwise switching (or adding) passengers on her way. Each playthrough takes around 15-20 minutes, with 16 different endings to achieve.

The gameplay consists of two distinct parts: driving whichever of the game’s cars  you choose at the start of the game, and making conversation (or not) with whomever you happen to be driving with. The choices you make – both in terms of conversation as well as where to drive – shape the story around you. Most of the time, the driving takes a back seat to the conversations, which require you to make your choice on a timer. Much like in a TellTale game, your options depend on a certain speed to choose your words – albeit with a much more forgiving time frame to choose than in a TellTale game.

The setting for the game feels new as well, while at the same time still managing to feel relevant to a current audience. Lella can have many interactions, ranging from the banal with hitchhikers, to deeper  (well, relatively) discussions about women’s rights, or even the topic of political unrest. The fact that the game draws from the actual political and societal climate of 1970s Italy makes the game a really interesting experience.

The graphics are divided into a neat, mostly sunny, isometric view of the Via Aurelia on which Lella and her companion(s) are travelling. The  graphics are simple, while still managing to be nice to look at. Added to that are more detailed character models which really adds a lot of, well…Character to the characters. In fact, the design is so nice that I had not even noticed that the character models lack arms before someone pointed it out to me.

Wheels of Aurelia screenshot

The game’s soundtrack fits well with the aesthetic, and really shows a vision for how the game and its stories should be presented.

That is not to say that the game is without its flaws. I generally appreciate when games take a more narrative approach to the experience, but your mileage may vary. I am a proponent of games as art, and Wheels of Aurelia definitely feels like the indie arthouse project it is.

The actual gameplay part of the game is simple, with only small frustrations such almost-too-perfect-to-beat enemy drivers in a few races. The stories are neat, but I would sometimes hit conversation parts that felt abrupt, with some of my choices (which are at most times limited to two choices to speak, and being silent) referring back to things a character had said to Lella a while back. It would also in hindsight have been nice to see the character models not have their  arms cut off, and perhaps even with a bit of animation to really drive out the character they add to the game.

When all that is said and done, there are only a few roadbumps in the way for Wheels of Aurelia. It is a neat set of experiences, with an original setting. If you’re not a fan of games where narrative takes the wheel in favor of gameplay, this might not be for you. If you’re interested in good storytelling, and a setting that hasn’t been covered much in games in the past – get in.

We’re going on a road trip.

Wheels of Aurelia is currently available through Humble, Itch.io and Steam for $9.99 / 9,99€. It will be available on PS4 and XB1 on October 5.

Posted by Barl0we in Gaming, 0 comments