Game Review: Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure

My cigarette had been drained to its death, I reached over for another but the pack is empty… damn. The gloom of the night engulfed the room as I sat there at my laptop trying to come up with a clever and witty opening to an article. Over the clickity-clack of my keyboard, all I could hear in my head was the gravelly voice of a detective who was seemingly narrating what I was doing, while sounding like he’s fallen out of some kind of noir-esque film or TV show.

Developed by DigiTales Interactive and published by Assemble Entertainment comes the very noir-esque Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure. I mean, the word noir is right there in the title!

Another cigarette tumbles into the abyss. The sun is slowly coming up, glistening in the sea of buildings below.

I look up at the stars one last time before they disappear. They don’t provide any guidance. They don’t give a fuck.

I have to make this decision on my own, and very soon. Problem is, I don’t know how. I’ve never been able to figure out why I do what I do. Not really.

No more time to think. I have to go.

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So you play as Neil Conrad, an agent for the Central Department of Investigation or CDI. Not the crappy Philips CD-based flop of a console from 1990 but an actual investigative department that… well, investigates crimes. The first thing I want to cover in this review is the visuals.

As you can see from the trailer and screenshots, there is a very 16-bit, pixel art aesthetic going on here. Each locale you visit is unique in its own way and oozes atmosphere. Highly detailed environments that keep your eyes busy, tiny little nuances that really work well in this pixel style. Moody subways and busy streets are packed with details. Lacuna looks ‘effing gorgeous and the simplicity of the art only helps to make the world you are in even more enticing. The more time I spent with this game, the less I wanted it to end. 

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Still, end the game eventually does do, yet as I sat there watching the credits roll, I felt the urge to play through again. The replay value here is great if you’re a big adventure game fan (as I am) because there are eight different endings to see. Not only that, the route to those ending is sublime. See, the game opens with the following warning…

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There are dozens of choices you make in Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure that actually make a huge difference. I’m not talking about the bullshit decisions that you find in adventure games from Telltale (as an example) where a choice just leads to a very slightly different bit of dialogue, while the story and resolve never really change. Events here are massively affected by the things you do or do not choose to do. See that warning screen up there? It’s not lying. You fuck up, the game continues and you have to live with that mistake. There is no going back, no checkpoints, no retries.  

Lacuna opens with a flashback/tutorial that gets you up to speed with the simple controls and rather in-depth investigation mechanics. You have to find clues within the environment, read news articles, check emails and more. You then cross-reference your evidence and come up with a conclusion to whatever the problem was. As mentioned above, you can get this wrong and the game continues with you having to live with the mistakes you (possibly) made. After that introduction, the game begins proper with you playing as the aforementioned CDI agent, Neil Conrad.

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Conrad is a trench coat-wearing, chain-smoking (though you can help him quit… if you want), gravelly-voiced, self-narrating, ex-wife baggage, a strained relationship with his daughter kind of guy. He feels very stereotypical within the sub-genre that is noir storytelling. Yet, how you play as him is really up to you. Be a hard-nosed, stickler for the rules agent or play as a more relaxed, bending (or even breaking) the rules kind of guy. It really is up to you and your decisions really do impact just how the story pans out. You can try to rebuild your relationship with your ex-wife and daughter, you can drive the separating wedge in even further… or you can just ignore them completely. 

The plot of the game is one I really don’t want to spoil here but I will say that things begin to go sideways following the assassination of a foreign minister. This is where the game’s plot really begins and where your investigation kicks into gear. This is also where the decisions that you make start to affect what is going on. The story here has so much packed into it that you really need to pay attention. Thankfully, every conversation you have, every clue, every news article that you do find is kept in your Cell (mobile/cell phone). This can be rather overwhelming at first as there is a lot of information here that needs to be unpacked but you’ll soon get the hang of it all. The whole thing is designed with such simplicity that things just work. Aside from the main story, there are side-quests that can reveal more about the case you are on, if you pay attention. Perhaps you should stop off for breakfast with a colleague instead of getting to a crime scene ASAP? But both choices will have repercussions on the plot both big and small.

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It’ll only take you around three to four hours to see the end credits and the locations you visit in Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure are fairly small. But don’t that the seemingly shortness of the game put you off, as there’s plenty of replay value here. I got a pretty bad ending on my first playthrough as I didn’t play detective very well and actually failed to solve a few of the cases. But as soon as the credits ended, I found myself getting right back into Lacuna for another playthrough and because there is such a wonderful branching system used here, another playthrough can result in a very different gameplay experience. 

There’s a lot of reading and re-reading here. Lot’s of dialogue between characters that you need to pay attention to. A lot of piecing clues together to try and get to the bottom of the cases you are thrown into. So if you are looking for a fast-paced game, you won’t find it here. This is slow, methodical and highly detailed. Still, you can get things wrong and the game continues and the mistakes you made stay in the game as the consequences of your actions are revealed. For instance, I got the description of a suspect wrong which led to a fellow CDI agent being shot. That was something that Neil Conrad, and I controlling him, had to live with. 

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See, most, if not all, adventure games that promise a level of choice in the narrative never seem to really deliver on that promise. You just get a slightly different bit of dialogue or a slightly different cutscene with the plot stays the same. Shit can really change for both good and bad here with Lacuna. If I had one criticism, then that would be that there is only the one case to solve. That case is split into multiple parts over several in-game days and there is a lot to unravel. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen another case or two for Conrad to have had to deal with. Then again, the ending I got would’ve made that pretty tricky. 

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Priced around £13 to £17, depending on the format. Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure is well worth a purchase. I’m only a few days into 2022 and this is already my favourite game I’ve reviewed so far. Yeah okay, so I’ve only covered three games but this is top of those three and that’s got to count for something. This is also the debut game from DigiTales Interactive and for a first effort, Lacuna is simply amazing. A huge recommendation from me if you are into your adventure games. Buy it, it is wonderful. 

Game Review: Taxi Chaos

I often miss the arcades of the eighties and nineties. The arcade is a dying breed these days and finding a truly great one is like looking for the Holy Grail. Thankfully, there are devs out there that like to try and keep the arcades alive, developed by Team6 Game Studios and published by Lion Castle comes Taxi Chaos.

Get behind the wheel and get ready for a brand-new taxi experience! Drive around the city as the seasoned cab driver Vinny or the self-proclaimed ‘influencer’ Cleo, and pick up the craziest of customers!

Power through midtown in a strong muscle car, race past all parks in an exotic supercar or drift around the business area in a Japanese tuner taxi. Whicher you choose – your challenge is to deliver your passengers on time! At least, if you want to make any money.

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Do I even need to point out what we are dealing with here? If you were in an arcade circa 1999, then you’d have been made fully aware of Sega’s madcap and immensely fun taxi game, Crazy Taxi. An awesome arcade classic that spawned a pretty successful franchise, a franchise that Sega have all but ignored for years now. Aside from the main titles in the series, Sega has done very little with Crazy Taxi, save a handful of really shit, free to play, mobile, tappy-tap games recently. Still, what Sega won’t do, indie devs will.

So yeah, what we have here with Taxi Chaos is basically Crazy Taxi’s spiritual successor. You get to choose from two characters, Vinny or Cleo. This really is nothing but a cosmetic choice as both characters play the same. The only difference (outside of the visuals) is that the two characters have slightly different dialogue. Oh yeah, when you pick up a passenger, they exchange a few words and often have funny bits of chit-chat between them.

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Where the game does offer some variety is with the selectable cars. There are seven to choose from, though all but one will be locked at the start of the game. You unlock the other cars by completing specific tasks such as driving so many in-game miles, getting high star ratings, completing missions, etc. Each of the cars have their own stats and this really does vary how well you can and will do in the main game. Speaking of which…

In terms of the core gameplay, Taxi Chaos is just Crazy Taxi. You have an open-world city to drive around, pick up a passenger and take them to their destination before time runs out and that’s it really. Longer trips reap bigger rewards. There is no endgame here, just a high score to go for, which can be added to the online leaderboards. You just keep going until time runs out and games never last longer than a couple of minutes or so. It’s fast and frantic arcade action… just like the Sega arcade game it is inspired by and if you did enjoy Crazy Taxi back in the day, then you’ll probably enjoy this… probably.

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However… Taxi Chaos is just ‘lacking’, for want of a better word. What may have worked well in 1999 doesn’t really fly in today’s gaming market. I think the best way to look at this is not to compare Taxi Chaos to the arcade original, but instead compare it to the homeport of the arcade version from the Dreamcast. See, the arcade version was just that, an arcade game and those things were designed to swallow your coins. They were simple and tailor-made for quick bursts of short play. The homeport added several new features to give the buyer more game for their money and added longevity. You had the original game faithfully created but the Dreamcast port also came with a load of bonus content.

You got the Arcade mode, Original mode with a new map and the addition of the Crazy Box, which had loads of mini-games to enjoy. Do a ski jump, a bit of bowling, drifting challenges, stunt/jump courses and more. The Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi was the arcade version and loads of extra content. With Taxi Chaos, you get one city to drive in… and that’s it. No bonuses, no mini-games, no extras. Even more so, the city in Crazy Taxi was based on San Francisco, so it had the big hills and jumps and a lot of scenery variety. The city in Taxi Chaos is based on New York and is very flat and everything looks very samey with big grey buildings everywhere. There is a version of Central Park here and a dock area with some slight variety buy that is about as interesting as the map ever gets.

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You do get three different play modes with Taxi Chaos. You get a standard Arcade mode, which is exactly what you expect it to be. There’s a Pro mode, this is the same as Arcade but it removes the arrow pointing which way you need to go. This mode makes things a lot more difficult if you feel like a challenge. Then there is Free Roam mode, which just lets you pick up passengers and drive around the city with no timer. Really useful to learn your way around if you feel like doing a Pro run. But as the city is so samey and lacks the variety that the Crazy Taxi map had, finding your way around is too damn much of a chore. I mean here are two screengrabs I took of the game at different areas of the city.

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Now, those two screens are from opposite ends of the map. As you can see, pretty much everything looks the same as 90% of the city is grey buildings and straight, flat roads. So if you are playing on Pro mode with no navigation, it’s too damn hard to work out where you are or where you’re supposed to be going. There are no major landmarks to use as navigation and it really just becomes a guessing game as to which way you need to go. I like a decent difficulty challenge in a game but this is just unfair. The Crazy Taxi map had so much more going on in it, open park areas, a freeway, downtown, rural areas, a shopping mall and so much more.  The map here is just so damn plain. Plus, the controls here feel a bit ‘off’. It’s hard to get across in words unless you actually play Taxi Chaos for yourself. You can’t really throw the cars around and do the drifting that was in Crazy Taxi. The different cars here all do have different stats, yet none of them feel as ‘loose’ as the vehicles in Sega’s arcade game.

Plus, when I play Crazy Taxi (and I still do), I can get some good runs going. I can have games last twenty to thirty-plus minutes. With Taxi Chaos, I can’t make a game last longer than two to three minutes or so. The time bonuses seem to be way off and don’t reward you with enough extra seconds between passengers. I noticed there are two timers here. One is your main timer and the other is a customer timer. Crazy Taxi has this too but the time given and the bonuses earned allowed you to extend your game time by quite a bit, something you just can’t do here. In Crazy Taxi when you pick up a fare, you can get twenty plus seconds added to your time (depending on the distance) and five seconds for a successful drop-off. Here you get a lot less. Coupled with the bland map which is mostly straight streets, this is why you can’t make games last longer than two to three minutes, because the main timer and bonuses given are flawed.

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There are also supposed to be special characters to pick up. Both your customers and the hints during the loading screen mention them. These characters are meant to open up special side missions where you need to find and collect hidden objects around the map. I played Taxi Chaos for around four hours and never once came across any of these special characters. Another flaw was that the navigation arrow was very erratic and would often change direction, even when my destination was directly in front of me. Plus the camera is too close to the car and you can’t change it.

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I’ve been playing the Xbox version of Taxi Chaos, which comes in at a whopping £26! Bearing in mind that you can get the 360 version of Crazy Taxi  (with a lot more content than just one map) for less than £7… and it is backwards compatible too. I seriously think that this game needs a massive price drop for me to recommend it on Xbox. I mean, it is a slightly more reasonable £16 for the PlayStation version and £20 on Steam (both of these versions have recently been on sale too, bringing the price down a bit more). I don’t get the wildly different prices here. Taxi Chaos is fun… but it’s not £26 worth of fun. Even harder to swallow, it’s £31.50 on Switch! Seriously, what is going on with these prices, how can the exact same game be £16 on the PlayStation but double that on Switch?

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It also falls well short of the fun that Crazy Taxi offered. Taxi Chaos certainly looks like Crazy Taxi, but it doesn’t have its sense of urgency, speed and well… craziness. The slightly more reasonable £16 for the PlayStation version makes a bit more sense for what you get here. Though I’d still suggest waiting for a sale to bring it down to £10-£12… or just get a copy of Crazy Taxi even cheaper instead.

Look, I did like Taxi Chaos, I wanted to love it but ‘like’ is the best I could muster. It’s just a very, very okay game. I’d seriously suggest avoiding the Xbox and Switch versions at those insane price points as the content and value for money is just not here. It lacks the fun factor that Crazy Taxi had, it lacks the content of the home port which made the game so damn enjoyable. Taxi Chaos is a valiant effort in reviving a classic game. It got the looks right but it is just missing so much of what made that classic game so classic, to begin with. I’m sorry Team6 Game Studios but you either need to add a lot more game modes and content here, refine the gameplay and work out some of the issues, or drastically drop the price to £10-£12 across all formats for this to sell.

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There is still a gap in the market for a really great Crazy Taxi homage, one that will need some work for today’s market. How about a multiplayer mode where you and your friends can compete on the same map for fares? A career option where you start out with a rundown cab and build up your cash to buy upgrades? Multiple cities? Customisation for the cabs? An editor so users can create and upload their own crazy challenges? That would be worth paying £26 (or maybe £31.50) for then. But Taxi Chaos as it is? Nope, save you cash and buy a copy of Crazy Taxi instead.

Game Review: KeyWe

Well, I spent a lot of time last year delving into the world of indie gaming. Something I plan on continuing in 2022. So what better way to start the New Year than with an indie game released last summer? Yup, I’m a little late on this one. Developed by Stonewheat & Sons and published by Sold Out comes KeyWe.

KeyWe is a cute, co-operative postal puzzler starring Jeff and Debra, two small kiwi birds working in a whimsical post office. With no hands to help them, they must jump, flap, peck and butt-slam their way across an interactive landscape of levers, bells and buttons to get those messages delivered on time.

Encounter perilous postal environments and navigate seasonal hazards while waddling through the Telepost’s various mail rooms, and partner up with a pal to help these adorable kiwis complete their tasks, whatever the weather. Unlock new accessories to customise your kiwi and become the best-dressed mail bird in Bungalow Basin.

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As I said, this was released last summer, August in fact. So I am several months behind with this. The synopsis up there pretty much covered what KeyWe is all about. You (or you and a friend) play as a couple of kikis (Jeff and Debra) and run a postal service. The game is made up of several mini/party games, covering a variety of tasks including typing out messages, putting labels on parcels and other mailroom shenanigans.

In each of the mini-games, you go up against the clock, with faster times earning you stamps. Those stamps can then be spent on numerous cosmetics for your kiwis. You can dress the little fellas up in new clothes, hats, glasses and the like. As I say, these are cosmetics and don’t offer any gameplay perks, it’s all just a bit of fun and nonsense. The controls feel a bit fiddly at first but you’ll soon get to grips with them.

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KeyWe is really built around co-op play, which you can do both online with friends or even some good old classic couch co-op. But there is a solo mode where a quick tap of a button will let you switch between your two kikis with ease… though this really is best in co-op. For me, KeyWe really isn’t my type of game at all, I have never been a fan of party games at the best of times. Here, you really don’t get that many mini-games to play either. Some games are just slight variations on others too. I mean, there are only really four main types of games but multiple versions of those four types. Plus, there is really only a couple of hours or so of gameplay here before you’ve made your way through all the mini-games. There’s also an ‘overtime’ mode that offers a few more interesting mini-games. In fact, I found the overtime mode better than the main one.

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£20 is how much KeyWe will set you back which for me is a bit steep for what you get. But as I freely admit, this just is not my type of game. If you are into your party games, you’ll most probably get a lot more out of this than I did. A game that really can be a lot of fun with a friend and one that will definitely test just how strong that friendship is, what with all the bickering you’ll be doing between each other to get the job done.

Indie Game Review Roundup 2021

Well, this looks like it’ll be my final article of 2021.

This year, I made a conscious decision to concentrate more on the indie game scene. Something I’m planning on doing a even more of in the future too. I mean, it’s not even 2022 yet and I already have four indie games to review. I just prefer indie games to big-budget AAA titles. I did explain why right here. The short version is that I find indie games far more interesting as the devs are willing to take chances and can show a lot of originality or breathe new life into some brilliant retro game concepts. Whereas AAA games are slowly becoming tired and nothing but sequels to franchises that continually repeat the same old gameplay and mechanics over and over.

As we reach the end of 2021, I thought I’d just take a quick look back on some of the indie games I have played and reviewed this year and offer my personal favourites. So here it is, my indie game review roundup 2021. Kicking things off with not only my favourite indie game of 2021 but my favourite game of 2021 in its entirety, indie or otherwise. Just give the titles a click for my full reviews.

UnMetal

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A Metal Gear parody with some of the finest and funniest writing I have ever witnessed in any game. Chock-full of game and movie references, in-jokes, fourth-wall-breaking and just outright clever storytelling. The gameplay in UnMetal was old school, 8-bit fare but with a few modern twists and features one of my all-time favourite game characters with Jesse Fox. I really was super impressed with just how well this all came together. I only put a review request in on a whim as I had nothing going on at the time and I thought the trailer looked okay, my expectations were zero. Then when I played it, I was blown away by just how ‘effing amazing UnMetal is, to the point where I ended up writing one of my longest reviews ever (one that the dev of the game called a ‘love letter’). I eventually played through the game five times and I might even sneak in another cheeky playthrough before I publish this article too. In short, UnMetal is amazing, buy it!

HyperParasite

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Okay, so I am cheating a little bit here. Technically, I first played this game in 2020 and not 2021. However, HyperParasite was the first game I reviewed this year… so I’m counting it as a 2021 review… cos it was. A top-down, twin-stick shooter that uses a brilliant roguelite gameplay mechanic and keeps you coming back for more. Even now, over a year after first playing HyperParasite, I’m still playing it. Every now and then, I just feel like having a quick game… which usually turns into several hours. I’ve still not finished it yet either. I have got to the last area and all, but I’m working on unlocking every single character… which is tough and does take quite a while to do. Still, I do adore this game and it is a big recommendation from me. 

R-Type Final 2

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One of the greatest ever side-scrolling shoot ’em ups was reborn this year with R-Type Final 2. I have a big passion for the R-Type games, as you will see if you read my review of this one. The game kept what made those classic shooters so damn good… and bloody difficult, whilst throwing in plenty of unlocks and surprises. Alternate paths to take that lead to branching levels. Different endings, tons of cosmetics to discover. You could even design your own level layouts and even re-title the game itself. R-Type Final 2 had a lot crammed into it and the more you found, the more you wanted to find. All while never straying too far from the awesome gameplay that made these titles so playable in the first place. Old school shoot ’em up action, given a smashing modern update.

Horizon Chase Turbo: Senna Forever

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As a massive Ayrton Senna fan, I knew I had to give this one a go. The base game of Horizon Chase Turbo is great. Simple 16-bit arcade racing action done very well indeed. So when the devs announced they were doing a Senna add-on, I sent off my review request ASAFP. The main part of this add-on took you through (most of) Senna’s F1 career from his first drive with the Toleman team up to his third World Champion title win. Even though I am a die hard Senna fan, I find I can be very critical of when a game uses his name as they never really do it justice. Horizon Chase Turbo: Senna Forever absolutely nailed it though. A brilliant blending of arcade racing action and respecting the greatest F1 driver of all time. 

Song Of Horror

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I played quite a few survival horror games this year, none of them really stood out to me… except for Song of Horror. A loving throwback to similar games of the nineties. Titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill were definite influences here, as well as the overlooked Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Song of Horror had a few rough edges but nothing that ruined the game. It also featured a permadeath mechanic that really made you care about the characters. And about those characters, they were all different and not just character model swaps. Each character had their own personality and even acted and reacted differently to events in the game, this made paying as the various characters really interesting. It also featured some genuinely scary themes and ideas, something severely lacking in modern horror games.  

Lake

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This really was a very interesting little title. I mean, you deliver post in a sleepy small town in 1986… that’s it really. A little rough around the edges and I did find one or two (easy to fix) issues (there have been a few updates since). But overall, I really did enjoy my time with Lake. I guess the best way to describe Lake is as an interactive soap opera. You take the main character, Meredith Weiss, through various ups and downs as you talk to and get to know the town’s residents. As you deliver the mail, you’ll also take part in side-quests that reveal more about the people you meet. As I described the game in my review, Lake is a fantastically relaxing and tranquil game, a delightful change of pace if you ever feel like just unwinding and chilling out. I still stand by that too, a great chillout game.

Deadly Days

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This was another one of those games that I knew nothing about but was damn happy I discovered it. A top-down roguelite that played a lot like the classic Cannon Fodder. You control several survivors during a zombie apocalypse following the introduction of a new burger on the market. Deadly Days was tough, hard as nails difficulty that was quite frustrating at first. After a while, it became really damn rewarding the more you played. There’s a surprising amount of depth here once you scratch the surface and Deadly Days throws a lot of gameplay your way. Hard yes but really damn enjoyable and a game I poured plenty of hours into.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

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I think I may have had my gaming snob head on when I first played this. I remember playing the opening hour or so and already forming my review in my head where I wanted to rip into it. But a couple more hours later and Yonder’s charm and personality had entrapped me. There’s no violence here of any kind, you just run around the land helping folk. It is one of those gather resources and craft items kind of things set in a wonderfully striking and beautiful world. A bit too easy and hand-holdy at times, but the game really does have a lot of charm that kept me entertained and put a smile on my face.

Chorus

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One of the most recent games I looked at this year as it was only released at the start of December. It’s also a bit of a wildcard as it’s not quite indie but it’s not exactly AAA either. Chorus comfortably sits in that in-between area, that AA zone of a smaller game studio knocking out a pretty impressive game that feels like a big-budget release. Chorus is a really great 3D shooter with some utterly fantastic space battles and dog fights. An upgrade system, very responsive controls, stunning visuals and more. There’s a lot to do here and you do get your money’s worth. It is just let down slightly by a ham-fisted story and one that continually breaks up the top-notch gameplay way too many times. A very pleasant surprise to end the year on though.

Anna’s Quest

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Sometimes you just need to take your foot off the accelerator and enjoy a slow-paced adventure game. Anna’s Quest is that and so much more. Think of this as a more grown-up take on a child’s fairy tale. With wonderfully hand-drawn art that looks like something from an animated movie. A story that has a dark and twisted edge and game simple mechanics that just work. I’ve played a few adventure games this year and Anna’s Quest is far and away the best of the lot. A very endearing and utterly charming title that kept me entertained from start to end.

Speed Limit

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This one was in and out of my list a few times, I just couldn’t decide how much liked or loathed it. After a bit more thought and another playthrough recently, I decided to keep it in. Speed Limit is an incredibly short title and you can get to the end credits in just a few minutes. However, the shortness of the game is offset by a low price point, brilliant gameplay and the fact it has had a free update and new features since I reviewed it too, a review I now think that perhaps I was a bit too harsh with originally. Speed Limit is a multi-genre game that throws five different game styles at you… at a breakneck speed too. As I said in my review, this game is a haven for speedrunners and even though that style of game really doesn’t suit me at all, I’ve still to got to admire Speed Limit for what it does and how it does it. In its purest form, this game is a fantastic example of what makes indie gaming so damn great.

Lawn Mowing Simulator

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I’m going to finish this round up with the most surprising game of the year for me. I will repeat what I wrote in my review about my ulterior motives for wanting to review this. I just wanted to write a very sarcastic and snippy article about the pointlessness of these simulation games. Why do you want to drive  a train, etc when gaming offers such a wide spectrum of far more interesting vocations to partake in? I really wanted to rip into the whole simulation sub-genre and just be a complete dick about the whole thing. However, I actually fell in love with Lawn Mowing Simulator and what was going to be a bitchy review turned into one full of praise. The game is brilliant and the career mode is what really made it for me. I just loved mowing the lawns of the English countryside while building my own business.


I really have enjoyed the last twelve months of indie gaming, 2021 was a fantastic year for the smaller game developers and publishers. those titles up there are only a small snippet of some great games I have played and reviewed in 2021. I already have a few top indie games on my radar for 2022 such as…

RPGolf Legends from Articnet. A blending of classic 16-bit RPG gaming and golf, coming very soon in 2022. The first game is on Steam for an incredibly low price, so well worth checking out. I am hoping to get a review code for this one and get a review done early in the year.

Blind Fate: Edo no Yami from Troglobytes Games. The same dev team that made the awesome HyperParasite, my favourite game of 2020 (and some of 2021). A title where you play as a blind cyber-samurai… and that premise sounds pretty awesome. Just how you do depict playing a blind character in a game, a medium that is a very visual experience? I’m really interested to see how this pans out. A free to play prologue is on Steam.

Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator from Auroch Digital. Start your own brewery and make loads of beer. Looks like this could be another sim game that really surprises. Plus beer and gaming is always a good mix. I do have a weakness for these business-sim games and making beer is as good a (digital) business to run as any other.  I was given a Beta code for this last month, I just never got around to playing it though.

Arcade Paradise from Nosebleed Interactive. A game I have had my eye on for many, many months now. Work in a rundown launderette and convert it into a top arcade. With over thirty playable and original arcade games too. Again, a business-sim that sounds right up my street as a gamer who grew up in the arcades of the eighties and nineties… plus, you get to clean the toilet.

Last but not least, Beyond the Long Night from Noisy Head Games. A twin-stick, roguelike title that I’ll be doing a special preview of early in the year when the game launches on Kickstarter soon. So stay tuned for more info on this one folks.

There are some cracking titles being released in the first couple of months alone and many more surprises to discover later, many of which I’m looking forward to covering in the New Year. Here’s to another top indie gaming year.

RASIE GLASS

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

Well, it’s finally here. After an eighteen-year gap from The Matrix Revolutions, Mr Anderson is back.. but was it worth the wait? Okay, I’m not doing spoilers here so this is a safe review to read. Still, I would recommend just going into The Matrix Resurrections as blind as possible and avoiding any reviews.

Not only is this film one of those legacy sequels that seem to be all the rage these days. This The Matrix flick also joins the list of brilliant film sequels that uses the ‘resurrection’ subtitle. I mean…

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Surely The Matrix Resurrections can’t be this bad… can it? I often find these legacy sequels follow similar paths, high on the nostalgia and references, while lacking any real substance of its own. The Matrix really did change cinema back when it was released in 1999. Every other film released for a few years had some kind of reference or joke that was The Matrix influenced. Several filmmakers tried to emulate the style of the then Wachowski brothers, see movies like Equilibrium or even the Keanu Reeves starring John Wick trilogy. Films that used sci-fi or action… or both to stylistic effect. If there was one thing that The Matrix oozed, it was style.

Of course, under all of that style was some ‘effing awesome substance too. The Wachowskis created a hell of a world with the first film, a film that got a lot of people theorising, analysing and talking for years, even today. I was lucky enough to see The Matrix on the big screen when it was released. It was a film I knew nothing about, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. It was released at a time when Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much dead, so nobody really paid it any attention. It was topped off with a lot of unknown or forgotten about actors. Honestly, back in 1999, The Matrix was a massive underdog of a picture that people didn’t expect anything from… especially me. Yet, I came out of that cinema and said that this film would be our generation’s Star Wars. A comment I still stand by and one I feel that became true in many ways. Star Wars had legacy sequels too… ones that (perhaps) didn’t really please the fans of the franchise.

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As for the sequels to The Matrix, they are largely detested. For me, I thought they were fine. hardly as groundbreaking as the original. Yet, since when have sequels ever been better than the original? It happens yeah but it is very, very rare. I thought that The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were okay films. I don’t outright love the sequels as I do with the first film, nor do I outright hate them like so many fans do. So yeah, I’m kind of going into this film with an open mind. I’m not full of hate that we have another sequel, I’m not exactly full of hope because these legacy sequels (or just sequels in general) rarely turn out great.

Well, it’s time to see just how good or bad The Matrix Resurrections is. Again, I’m not doing spoilers here, other than mentioning things already seen in the trailers, so I can’t really go into depth with the plot here. I’ll just copy & paste a synopsis that I found to cover the basics.

To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. If he’s learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of – or into – the Matrix. Neo already knows what he has to do, but what he doesn’t yet know is that the Matrix is stronger, more secure and far more dangerous than ever before.

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Anyway, the first thirty minutes or so of The Matrix Resurrections is full of self-gratification, meta, sucking its own dick, ‘aren’t we clever’, non-stop references to the first three films. All legacy sequels do this, they can never just be their own thing, they have to lay on the nostalgia trip hard and heavy. The Matrix Resurrections does this harder and heavier than most other films if its ilk. I had a few niggles with Ghostbusters: Afterlife for doing the same thing (especially the ending), this film though? It takes that shit to whole new levels of unbelievable forced nostalgia. The Matrix Resurrections feels like it’s trying to be clever… and failing hard. There were times during the first half an hour when I could feel my eyes rolling, as if they had a mind of their own. It really is quite sickening how much ‘look at me, I’m a sequel to a popular film’ that this does do.

From lines of dialogue that are either taken directly from the previous films, lines that are similar but slightly altered to other lines like “Reboots sell” that force what the film is down your throat. Subtle scenes that echo those from the previous films or reference events. Neo eating noodles in a local restaurant, etc. Yup, this film really does its very best to let you know that you are watching a sequel to a massively popular film that has had a good few years gap between. Honestly, I really was getting a bit angry at just how ham-fisted The Matrix Resurrections was being with its blatant callbacks and references.

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After all of that self dick sucking though and when the plot began proper, once they got all of the front end heavy nostalgia crap out of the way… the film seriously kicks up a gear. Not only that, all of that shit in the opening suddenly began to make a lot more sense. This wasn’t forced nostalgia just for the sake of having it, just to keep ramming it down your throat that you are watching a sequel to a film that’s a couple of decades old. What first felt like a film trying to be clever and failing, soon felt like a genuinely clever film. It feels… well I guess it feels very The Matrix. The opening thirty to forty minutes began to feel like it was making fun of legacy sequels that do the nostalgia trip thing. It got most of that crap out of the way in the opening so it could get into the main story proper, all while still having some importance on the actual plot too.

The think the best way to describe The Matrix Resurrections, without going into deep spoilers, is by linking to this officially released trailer. That way, you can choose to click on it and reveal more about the plot of the film, still without spoilers. But there is just enough there to get the theme and concept of just WTF is going on, still using what is known about the universe that the films take place in.

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How and why both Neo and Trinity are brought back (they were most definitely dead at the end of The Matrix Revolutions) makes sense within the universe that these films exist. Are they even the original characters, are they some kind of program, are they real? That’s the beauty of The Matrix as a franchise, it is pretty much limitless and with some thought behind the writing, you can really do anything. What Lana Wachowski has created here is pretty damn impressive given the legacy these films have created. There have even been questions of whether The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel at all. If you have seen the trailers, then you’ll know there’s a lot of reusing certain shots, effects and iconography that makes this feel like it is some kind of a remake… I can’t really get into that without spoiling the plot. All I can tell you is that this film has a lot more depth than it first appears to.

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Of course, you have stylised action. There are mass shootouts, “I still know kung-fu” fight scenes, vehicle chases and so on. In this regard, The Matrix Resurrections does very well indeed. It’ll never be as groundbreaking as the first film was, you just can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice. Still, the action here is very well done and while hardy original anymore. still manages to impress. There’s a scene that involves an interesting new look at bullet-time which is also used to deliver a hell of a lot of exposition too. A kind of a slow, race against time action scene that is packed with urgency… just presented in a very slow way. It’s certainly an interesting twist on what we have seen before. As the trailers show, there’s new Morpheus. Once it is explained why, it makes perfect sense. There are several returning characters from the previous films some very much expected, some genuine surprises.

There really is a lot here to talk about, I just can’t as I’m not doing spoilers. I think this is a film that’ll need more than one viewing to get the most out of it too. Not because The Matrix Resurrections is confusing or anything, it’s really not. If you could follow the first film, you can follow this. The multiple viewings will really be because there’s a lot of little details here, a lot of nuances that need your full attention and I’m pretty sure there are things I missed when I watched.

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I went into this film, not dismayed but definitely weary and unsure if I should even bother with it. By the time the end credits rolled, I was pretty damn happy. The Matrix Resurrections takes what we already know about the world and updates it for a more modern era. Some great action, balanced out with more character-driven and story elements. Not as amazing as the original but a very worthy sequel in its own right. It does sequel-bait at the end and there’s a very pointless ‘comical’ end credits scene that you really don’t need to see. But yeah, I say give this one a view.