Game Review: Backfirewall_

The indie gaming scene is thriving right now. There’s a really rewarding treasure trove of great games, made outside of the mainstream, that I currently have my eyes on and being released through 2023. Several titles are already on my radar that I’ll be covering. Then, there are some titles that I hadn’t heard about and seemingly come out of nowhere. Developed by Naraven Games and published by All in! Games comes Backfirewall_, one of those games that I hadn’t heard of but when I saw the trailer attached to the press release sent to me, I knew I had to play and review it.

“Hello and welcome to Backfirewall_, a first-person tragicomic adventure set inside a smartphone. You are the update assistant. Solve wacky puzzles to counter the update and save the previous operating system from deletion. The fate of the System is in your hands!”

So, I guess that I had better cover the story first. Backfirewall_ is set inside a smartphone. You play as an update assistant being guided by an operating system called OS9. The thing is that the owner of the phone needs to update its software and the old OS. OS9 doesn’t want this to happen as that means he, and you, will be deleted. And so, OS9 tasks you with trying to stop the phone from being updated and deleting the old OS. Got that? No, the story doesn’t make a great deal of sense and yet, it makes absolute perfect sense at the same time.

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If I were to try and sum up Backfirewall_ in a straightforward and simple way, I would liken it to The Stanley Parable meets Portal. Even then, as fantastic as those games are, this lazy likening really does not do this game justice at all. Like The Stanley Parable, this game features a humorous running narrative that guides you through the game, supplied by the OS9 character. Then, the game is split into various corridors that will lead to puzzle rooms, this is what put me in mind of Portal.

The game begins with a tutorial to get you used to your four skills. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. Before you can even play the game proper, you are greeted by OS9 who asks you to adjust sliders for the volume of the music, voice and sound effects. Just this simple idea perfectly sets up the humour of this game. If you’re not giggling to yourself at this point and before the game even starts, then you need to have your funny bone checked. After you have set your preferred volume, then you get to play the tutorial.

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As mentioned, you have four skills or ‘cheats’ as the game is set in a smartphone and is based around software, programs, apps and such. These cheats allow you to make certain objects disappear, raise or lower other objects, change the colour of things or duplicate items. The puzzles in the game are all based around using those four cheats and usually entail you creating errors in the phone’s programming to disrupt the whole updating of the software. For instance, an early puzzle has you in a location with a set number of boxes. You have to delete the boxes to disrupt the total. As you progress, the puzzles get more creative and you’ll be having to use those four cheats of yours to disrupt as much as you can in ever increasingly more clever and inventive ways.

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But, it’s not all about puzzles as you’ll be doing a fair bit of exploration too. There’s quite a lot of stuff to discover too. Bugs that need reporting, hidden toys, messages sent to and from the phone’s user and more. You really do need to keep your eyes open as the phone that you are in is crammed with character and characters. The various apps of the phone are the NPCs here and you’ll be talking to the likes of social media, photos and other apps that really do help make the environment feel alive. It kind of put me in mind of a Disney/Pixar film where things that are not meant to be alive are living. Think of Toy Story meets Inside Out… in a smartphone. There is a hell of a lot of charm here and charm goes a long way.

Then there’s the humour. I honestly don’t think I have has such a laugh with a game as I have had with Backfirewall_, it is just overflowing with jokes, references and sometimes, utter nonsense. Very, very mild spoilers ahead but there is a part in the game where you have to get a form signed. You end up getting tangled in so much pointless bureaucracy, sent from one place to the next and back again… multiple times. It’s really quite maddening and highly frustrating. Yet, it is so brilliantly observed and realised that you can’t help but laugh as you are forced from pillar to post, just to get a form signed. It became my favourite bit of the game. Stupid and infuriating nonsense but hilarious.

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Backfirewall_ will cost you around £12 and is available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox. This may not break new ground or really bring anything revolutionary to the table. But, it really doesn’t need to. Backfirewall_ is a good, solid puzzler with a wonderful sense of humour, great characters and a brilliant finale. The last act of the game is [REDACTED TO AVOID SPOILERS] and really had me caring about the apps/NPCs I had met along the way. A recommendation from me for a great little game at a very fair price.

Game Review: GoldenEye 007

One of the most important video games made (according to me) has just seen a re-release. When Rare officially announced that GoldenEye 007 was ‘coming soon’ to modern consoles, pretty much everyone assumed that ‘coming soon’ meant coming soon. That announcement was back in September of 2022 and it was finally released on the 27th of January 2023, over 4 months after that original ‘coming soon’ announcement. Given the totality of time, I guess 4 months is technically ‘coming soon’.

Anyway, I knew that I had to get my hands on this newly re-released GoldenEye 007, it was one of my most played games on my N64 back in the late 90s. I wanted to not only play the game again, but also see if it has held up since its release just over 25 years ago. But before I do get into this review, a brief history of how and why this could be really disappointing.

Just for the record, as I write this bit, it is the day before GoldenEye 007 is released. So, I have not yet played this re-release. But before I do play and give my view, I want to cover how I think this could be a disappointment.

First, it has been just over 25 years since this game was released back in 1997. Some games do age like wine and are just as great now as they were decades ago. Some don’t and I have a feeling that GoldenEye 007 will be one of those titles that are better left in the past. Then, I have to cover the biggest disappointment. This is just the N64 game with a slight bit of polish. A while back, it was revealed that Rare had developed a full remaster of this game, to be released on the Xbox 360. The only problem was that Rare didn’t have the rights to the Bond license and loads of messy behind-the-scenes stuff involving Nintendo meant that the remaster could not be legally released. Fast forward a few years and at the start of 2021, the remaster was leaked onto the Internet, confirming that it did indeed exist.

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Much like how Rare remastered Perfect Dark a few years back, the GoldenEye 007 remaster looked really damn good. When it was announced that this legal re-release was coming, many assumed that it would be the leaked remaster and given a bit of a tidy-up. But no, we are getting an N64 port instead. Why? Nobody really knows. Well, nobody outside of Microsoft, Rare and Nintendo know. There is most probably some kind of ‘legal thing’ stopping Microsoft and Rare from releasing the remaster. I have no idea what that is. If this re-release is okay, then why not the remaster? It can’t be an MGM/Eon/Danjaq productions/licencing issue because if it was, then surely that issue would still be there with the N64 version… right? It must be something between Microsoft and Nintendo and I don’t know what.

This is obviously a joint venture between Microsoft and Nintendo because the game is only being released on their platforms. I would assume this is due to the fact that, when the game was originally released in 1997, Rare was owned (or mostly owned) by Nintendo. So, the original source code for the game is still owned by the Big N, I think. This is why Rare have not been able to release the game before due to all the messy behind-the-scenes legal crap. Nowadays, Rare is owned by Microsoft and somehow owns some kind of stake in the original game because one of their (now) studios made it, even if Nintendo own the source code.

Still (as mentioned), Perfect Dark was remastered by Rare a while back and that was made while Rare was under Nintendo. It even uses the same game engine as GoldenEye 007, slightly modified. So, if Nintendo had no problem with Rare remastering and releasing Perfect Dark, why the issue with GoldenEye 007? This does make it sound more like an issue with MGM/Eon/Danjaq as the rights holders of James Bond. But as I previously said, if it was a Bond rights issue, then surely this version would also stumble at that same hurdle.

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None of this explains why the Xbox 360 remaster can not appear on both the Switch and the Xbox. Surely it’s the same game, just with nicer graphics. Though is it suspected that it is Nintendo being difficult and that they are the ones preventing the remaster from being released. Why could Nintendo and Microsoft reach an agreement to release the N64 version but not the Xbox 360 remaster? Or even better, why not both the original N64 and the remaster in one package? Best of both worlds and everyone wins. You’d think that these two multi-billion dollar companies could reach an agreement and put a smile on GoldenEye 007 fan faces. Plus, having a share of some profits from the game must be better than having a share of nothing.

Anyway, this is why I feel the disappointment could set in early, because this is not the very well-received remaster (which is still playable, if you know how). Then, there are two different versions of the same game. The Switch version has online play but the Xbox version doesn’t. However, the Xbox version gets a 4K upscale and framerate upgrade, as well as (much-needed) improved controls, I think. Look, this whole thing is a fucking mess. Why could there just not be one version of the game with all the same features on both the Switch and Xbox and more to the point, why couldn’t that one version be the remaster?

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And with all of that out of the way, let’s see if GoldenEye 007 still holds up a quarter of a century later. Oh just for the record, I’m playing the Xbox version. I’m not going to do a traditional review, play the game and offer my opinion. Instead, I’m just going to load this up and scribble down my thoughts as I play. A ‘first impressions’ kind of thing.


Just from the title screen, I’m taken back to 1997 and a tsunami of nostalgia has just slapped me in the face. Some minor adjustments aside (copyrights, etc), it is exactly the same. Well, it would be as this is the N64 game ported over. The music, the intro and so on, all put a smile on my face that I honestly was not expecting. There are no bells and whistles here, just the game as it was, with some minor refinements. Moving that red crosshair around the screen feels much more natural on the Xbox than it did on the N64 using its controller. Right then, let’s play this thing and ready myself for some bitter disappointment.

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Of course, starting out on the Dam level. It looks just like the original N64 game (because that’s exactly what it is), but just that little bit smoother. Now in glorious native widescreen too and from the off, those improved controls are wonderful. I’m not a hater of the N64 pad, but it was a tad awkward to use, especially with GoldenEye 007. Having to hold down a button to bring up the crosshair so you could aim and use those yellow buttons to strafe/look up and down. You don’t have to do that anymore as this new control scheme is more like a modern FPS game. Move with the left stick, aim with the right, simple stuff. Though you can hold down the left trigger and ‘aim down the sights’, which does bring up that classic red crosshair. But, you don’t control the crosshair around the screen as with the N64 original. Like a modern shooter, the crosshair stays in the middle of the screen as you aim. I wasn’t expecting this but the controls are great and work very well.

I’ve not played this game in 15+ years, so the old memory is a little hazy. But I still remember most of the level layouts and objectives. Oh and I’m playing this on the easy Agent difficulty, just to see how it plays. I do remember how playing on harder difficulties gave you more mission objectives to complete. I also remember how the game didn’t hold your hand (as with modern games) and left you to work out exactly what needed to be done.

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Ha! I actually forgot about the start to the second level and crawling through the air duct and taking out the guard in the toilet, like in the film. “Sorry, forgot to knock.”. It was impressive how close this followed the film, while still doing its own thing. A lot of the levels looked like scenes in the film, just N64ed. I think this is one of the main reasons that the game is so loved and celebrated, it was a movie tie-in that followed the film and did it justice. I have noticed the really stupid AI though. Things have advanced somewhat since 1997 in that regard. The enemies here are willing to just run right at you and directly into the line of fire.

Speaking of the enemies, that awkward side-jump they do brings back memories. The fact that they had various hit areas was pretty impressive for the time too. Shoot them in the leg, arm, etc and they react. Yeah, the AI is terrible, but I have to admit to enjoying this more than I thought I would. The improved Xbox controls are definitely a much-needed addition. You can aim and move at the same time now, couldn’t do that on the N64. That should make unlocking some of the secrets a bit easier.

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Some, well pretty much all, of the graphics have dated badly. That’s not something exclusive to GoldenEye 007 though, pretty much all 3D games of this era have dated like rotting meat. I’ve gotten a bit lost on some of the missions as I had forgotten quite a lot of the game, I’d totally forgotten some of the levels even existed. I need to brush up on and refresh my GoldenEye 007 knowledge. But the music, even 25 years later, the soundtrack kicks some serious bum-cheeks. Of course, the pause menu music is amazing. All of the music for this game is iconic and worth listening to on its own. One of the finest game soundtracks ever and it is so damn good to hear it again. I think this game has one of the best renditions of the James Bond theme that even most of the film composers can’t beat.

I had to quit and up the difficulty to Secret Agent, as Agent was just too damn easy and the combination of the bad AI and improved Xbox controls made it even easier. Plus, I get to remember how I’ve forgotten most of the other mission objectives now too. Yup, just as I remembered, no hand-holding, no objective markers. You have to explore the levels, read the mission objectives and work things out for yourself. The AI is still pretty stupid, but just that little bit tricker to take out. It was fun playing on Agent difficulty, but a whole lot better now I’ve moved up to Secret Agent.

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I have to be honest, I was expecting myself to play this for an hour or so and conclude that this is better left in the past. I’ve just played through the entire game in one sitting and loved it. Of course, the graphics still look very N64 and are not appealing to the eye for the most part. But then again, they’re also charming in their own way. Just before publishing this, I thought I’d take a look at the general consensus on the Interwebs. There’s a lot of negativity about the graphics. I have no idea what people were expecting, this is an N64 game from 25 years ago and it’s going to look like an N64 game from 25 years ago. The main backlash seems to be about the controls though, on the Switch. See, the Switch version doesn’t have the updated control scheme that the Xbox version has. I can see this being a major issue as even in 1997 and when using the N64 pad, GoldenEye 007’s controls were awkward. I can only imagine that is magnified in 2023 and when using a controller that is not the N64 pad. It seems that, despite the lack of online multiplayer, the Xbox is the best version to play. I think the lack of online play but better controls is a fair trade-off.

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Playing on Xbox, I’ve really enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. The controls work brilliantly and the slight upscaling of the 25-year-old graphics is basic, but ‘better’ than not having it at all. Still, the main thing, the core gameplay is great. I think that GoldenEye 007 is as playable now (if not more so) than in 1997, at least on the Xbox. I’ve now played through this on Secret Agent setting and really enjoyed it. I still want to go back and 100% it too, unlock all the cheats, finish on 00 Agent difficulty and so on. I have four new games in my review pile to get through and yet here I am, playing a game that is just over a quarter of a century old instead.

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Yes, I’m still annoyed that they can’t work out a deal to bring the remaster to us fans, but I’m not overly disappointed that we got this version instead, as I thought I would be. I can only hold out hope that this re-release is being used as a test to see if putting the remaster on the market is worth it. Microsoft, Nintendo, MGM/Eon/Danjaq productions, if you read this… yes, yes it is worth putting the remaster on the market. £20 a pop, you’ll make a fucking fortune. GoldenEye 007 is available on Xbox as part of Game Pass, or free if you own the digital version of Rare Replay. You can pick this up on the Switch for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members. Though Interwebs talk suggests that it’s really not worth it, as the Switch version is a bit poo.

Game Review: Children Of Silentown

Getting a new year off to a good start is always easier when I’m given a review code for a great indie game to help kick things off.  Developer Elf Games and publisher Daedalic Entertainment are the teams behind Children of Silentown. A modern point ‘n click adventure game that is as dark as it is beautiful, as it is enjoyable.

“Children of Silentown is a dark adventure game that tells the story of Lucy, a girl growing up in a village deep in a forest inhabited by monsters. People disappearing is nothing uncommon here, but this time, Lucy is old enough to investigate on her own. Or so she thinks.”

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You play as Lucy, a young girl living in the small village of Silentown. Silentown is a very sleepy and even stereotypical place. The kids play simple games in the street, such as hide ‘n seek and their parents work as farmers and woodcutters. It all feels very ‘Disney’, except for one tiny element. Silentown is surrounded by a dark and mysterious forest and the forest is said to be full of monsters. Residents of Silentown frequently go missing, taken by the monsters into the forest, never to be seen again. The grown-ups don’t want to talk about what has been going on in the village and dismiss talk of any monsters.

One day (very slight spoilers for the first part of the game), Lucy’s mother goes missing, assumed to have been taken away by the forest monsters. While her father tells Lucy to just forget about it, she can’t. Turning detective, Lucy (you) sets out to investigate her mother’s disappearance and ends up releveling just what has been going on.

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First up, as this is a modern point ‘n click adventure game, the game mechanics here are nothing to really shout about. If you are familiar with the genre, then you’ll know what to expect. You control Lucy, walk her around the numerous game screens, interact with scenery and items. Talk to a lot of people, solve puzzles and such. In terms of the bare basics, Children of Silentown really doesn’t throw anything new into the mix, it’s an adventure game and one that will feel instantly familiar. I don’t mean that as a negative either, as the old adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

That’s not to say that this game doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table, because it does. Along with all the usual point ‘n click adventure game shenanigans, you can sing. As you play, you’ll find new musical notes and those notes make songs. You can then sing those songs to help with your investigation in numerous ways. Reveal more about a character and get them to open up, so that you can question them further, as an example. Not only that, but the songs are also linked to a spot of puzzle solving, with each song having its own puzzle. So, let’s say that you do use the previously mentioned song to reveal more about a character sometimes, their memory may be torn and you have to repair it with a sewing mini-game/puzzle.

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The whole using songs to further progress in the game reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, with each song having its own specific use. Here though, you have the added bonus of the songs being tied to puzzle solving, which adds an extra layer of gameplay.

Outside of all the singing, Children of Silentown falls back on that classic, tried and tested adventure gameplay. There is a lot of walking, a lot of talking and a lot of searching for useable/interactive and so on. Yes, you will be visiting and revisiting the same screens over and over as you try to work out just what needs to be done next. Thankfully, this never feels tedious due to how nice the game is to look at. The art style here really is striking and gave me Tim Burton animation vibes. I mean, even though you are having to investigate the possibility of monsters in the forest, the non-monster characters look pretty scary themselves. Sickly, almost stick-figure-like people with huge, round white eyes that seem to stare into your very soul. It put me in mind of the film, Children of the Damned. Lucy and the various NPCs that you will encounter just look pretty damn terrifying themselves, never mind the actual monsters.

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That wonderful art is showcased brilliantly throughout the game, but no more so when Lucy has nightmares. There really is some staggeringly beautiful but deeply disturbing and genuinely scary imagery when Lucy closes her eyes at night. The whole game has some very creepy and horrifying undertones (as well as plenty of much more ‘in your face’ and obvious overtones). The world that you are in, the village of Silentown really feels very daunting and uncomfortable, even when things are seemingly calm and ‘normal’.

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Children of Silentown will be available from the 11th of January on PC and all of the consoles. Priced at around £18, you really do get a great little game here. Classic point ‘n click adventure action with puzzles that never feel awkward or out of place. A great story that kept me guessing where it would be heading and a wonderfully dark and disturbing art style that is as beautiful as it is macabre.

Indie Game Roundup 2022

Well, it’s that time of the year. Those weird few days between Christmas and New Year where nothing happens, you’re not sure what day of the week it is and you’ve been living off leftover turkey and chocolate for the last three days. It’s also when I like to do my (newly) annual indie game roundup. My second Indie Game Roundup after last year. Now, not all of these games were released in 2022 but they are all titles that I played and reviewed in 2022 and I’m presenting them in the order that I played/reviewed them, no best to worst or anything. I’ll also be including links to my original reviews should you care to give them a read.

Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure

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Dark, gloomy and utterly drenched in atmosphere. Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure was a very stylish adventure title with a really detailed 16-bit art style. Choices that you made had a major impact on how the story panned out and the replay value was high with multiple different endings to discover. The short 3-4 hour playtime really was a plus here too as it made going through the game more than once feel less of a chore and more of a pleasure. 12 months after first playing this and I’ve still not found all of the endings. Writing this quick roundup has got me wanting to get back into it now too.

RPGolf Legends

This was a game that my pal Badger at Stoffel Presents got me into. He kept talking about it through most of 2021 and I just had to check it out. RPGolf Legends was a sequel too, so my review covered both the first game and the sequel. Both games are great and well worth purchasing. A retro-styled RPG that felt very SNES-era, but with the interesting twist of throwing in some golf. I also said that perhaps RPGolf Legends could be my indie game of the year, even as early as January when I reviewed it. Now, looking back, it’s certainly a strong contender and I would definitely put it in my top 5. You can get both of the games pretty cheap now and I recommended that you do.

Ravenous Devils

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I still remember when the awesome Troglobytes Games told me about this a couple of months before it was released. Just from the brief description and one single screenshot, I knew this was a game that I wanted to play. A Sweeny Todd-inspired title where you kill and cook people, to serve to customers and use the profits to help build your business. The gameplay was simple but engrossing and even though it was a very short title, the amazing low price made this a must-buy. I did say in my original review that it was very much a ‘one and done’ type game though. However, the devs added some free DLC and extra content that actually drew me back in. In fact, I reviewed that too. Now, I do find myself delving back into Ravenous Devils for a play now and then. The whole ‘one and done’ thing is no longer relevant. It’s cheap and packed with gameplay, buy it.

CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience

This was another game recommendation from my friend Badger and it is, without a doubt, the most emotionally draining game that I have ever played. As simple to understand that CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience was, it was just as difficult to play properly. A survival game that is harsh and bleak and one that you will see the ‘Game Over’ screen dozens of times before you ever see a real ending. A very sobering title with a real and worthy message behind it.

Arise: A Simple Story

I don’t think that I’ve played a game with a better implemented and told narrative this year than I did with Arise: A Simple Story. The basics of the game are nothing to shout about and what you get is a casual platforming experience with all the gameplay mechanics that you come to expect. But then it throws in a time manipulation thing and a story told with zero dialogue but bucketloads of gravitas and emotion. Playing as a recently deceased old man, you find yourself in the afterlife and reliving important moments from your life. From childhood to parenthood and eventual death. Wonderfully poignant and a title that still plays on my mind, several months after experiencing it.

DYSMANTLE

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From a brilliantly told tale of the fragility of human life to a game about smashing shit up. Starting out with nothing more than a crowbar, you destroy your environment and earn experience points to level up. Learn new skills, upgrade your weapons and kill a load of zombies along the way. Crammed with tons of missions and sub-missions, a varied and decently sized map. DYSMANTLE boasts that 99% of the objects and scenery in the game can be destroyed, it’s great fun too. A survival/crafting game with a ‘destroy everything’ mentality that works as a great way to relieve some stress and tension.

House Flipper

I detest decorating, DIY or anything connected to home improvement. I’m just really shit at it and have zero interest. Still, I seriously got sucked into the whole House Flipper phenomenon as it became massively popular when it was on Game Pass a few months back. It was just such a great ‘chill-out’ game, relaxing and calming. Hugely repetitive and redundant and yet, the game just had this power to make you lose many hours when playing it. You can quite easily waste several hours just decorating a single room, converting an entire house can take so much longer. I just found House Flipper an utterly fantastic way to unwind at the end of a rough day. I’m really looking forwards to the sequel next year.

Arcade Paradise

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I spend over a year pestering the publisher and developer of Arcade Paradise for a review code. Exchanged quite a few (often) amusing Tweets and messages and so on. I’m pretty sure the only reason that they did send me a review code was to just get me to shut the fuck up. I fell in love with this game the moment that I saw the teaser trailer in early 2021, it just ticked all the right nostalgic boxes for me. An 80s and 90s vibe with over 30 playable games, with you managing a launderette that you slowly turn into a full-blown arcade. Since its launch, Arcade Paradise has had several updates to fix bugs, etc. As well as having some new arcade cabinets added via DLC. The game just keeps getting better and it was already pretty damn amazing anyway. For a while, this was my game of the year… for a while.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe

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I did play the original The Stanley Parable when it was released on PC and I loved it. It got a ‘sequel’ update/special edition this year though and for more platforms too. The trouble with The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is that is simply impossible to review, unless you really want to delve into spoilers. I even freely admit in my review that I did a bad job of reviewing the game. This is a walking simulator, a genre I’m really not much a fan of, but with one of the most refreshing and unique narratives in a game. That narrative is key here and this most certainly would not be anywhere near as great a title if it didn’t have it. A narrative that looks at and even (pretty much) breaks what it means to be a video game. In fact, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is less a game and more an experience, a great one too.

Blind Fate: Edo no Yami

I’ve been a fan of developer/publisher Troglobytes Games for a few years now. Their utterly awesome HyperParasite is coming up to being 3 years old in a few months and I still have it installed on both my Xbox and PC, to have a little cheeky play now and then. They are the only team to have two games on this very list too, Ravenous Devils (as publisher) and Blind Fate: Edo no Yami (as developer). Essentially, what Blind Fate: Edo no Yami is, is a scrolling beat ’em up. But there is so much more going on that elevates it over other games in the genre. The fact that you play as a blind character being one of them and how the game’s mechanics use senors (senses) to convey your surroundings is really quite unique. A tough game, but one that offers a fair challenge with a great and rewarding combat mechanic too. The fact that my name is in the credits is completely inconsequential, this is a top (but hard) game regardless.

Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator

I’ve really been getting into these sim-type games recently. When they are good, they can be relaxing, rewarding and really interesting. Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator is one of those relaxing, rewarding and interesting titles. I have been known to have drunk my fair share of beers over the years and yet, I’ve never really put much thought into how they are made. This game does a great job of teaching you about home brewing, without making you feel overwhelmed with all that there is to take in and do. As I said in my review, this may not be a 100% accurate simulation of brewing beer, but it makes for a far more interesting game than I was expecting.

Vampire Survivors

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This is my favourite indie game of 2022 because it encapsulates everything that I love about indie gaming. Simple, addictive and hugely playable. I had heard a few whispers of this game before I played it, but I didn’t pay it much mind at the time and did manage to avoid pretty much everything to do with it. I played it for the first time when it was on Game Pass and I was not really sure what to expect. As I mentioned in my review, just from the way the game initially came across, I thought I was playing a twin-stick shooter. It took me a while to realise this was not the case. I died in about 1 minute and really thought that the game was shit. But, I was intrigued and started again. Long story short and I played Vampire Survivors, off and on, for about 2 weeks and finished it 100%. Then I bought it on Steam and finished it 100%. Then, it was released on mobile (for free too) and I downloaded it for my phone… and finished it 100%. The game just keeps throwing new content and more unlocks at you. It has a really low price point too. By far, the most generous game for your money and for me, the most playable of 2022. It’s also had some DLC recently… and I’ve been pulled back into it once more.

Swordship

One of the last games that I reviewed this year and a wonderful surprise it was too. A shoot ’em up without the shooting. The devs call this a dodge ’em up as you have to risk putting yourself in danger, to then quickly dodge out of the way and cause the enemies to destroy themselves with their own weapons. The gameplay is simple as you whizz around the stages, dodging enemy fire and trying to nab containers that can be used for upgrades and such. Tough, very tough but with a difficulty curve that feels quite rewarding.


There you go folks, my top indie games of 2022. It’s been a great year for indies and even though some of the games I played and reviewed didn’t make this list, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy them. For me, these here are just the best of the best of the best. I already have a handful of games on my radar for 2023, I even have a review for a new game coming in January that I have half-written already. Though, that’s not going to be my first post of 2023. As I write this, it is just after Christmas and just a few days ago, a legend of the gaming industry sadly died. So, I’ll be opening 2023 with an article of remembrance.

HNY 2

Anyway, that’s it from me for this year. I’ll be back in a few days for the start of 2023 and plenty of more articles through the year.

Game Review: Firefighting Simulator: The Squad

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for games involving firefighting. I used to play the hell out of The Ignition Factor and The Firemen on the SNES. More recently, I quite enjoyed Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX too. From developer Chronos Unterhaltungssoftware and publisher astragon Entertainment comes a new firefighting title. Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is, as the title suggests, a little less arcadey than the other games I have mentioned and is more ‘sim-like’. But how does it play?

“Firefighting Simulator lets you experience what it means to fight fires up close as an active part of a major US city’s firefighting team. Discover over 30 diverse deployment locations and complete exciting missions that span a 15k acres large townscape inspired by the North American Westcoast. Operate faithfully reproduced Rosenbauer America fire trucks, extinguish fires, and rescue civilians in need.”

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Originally released back in 2020 on PC, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad has now seen a release on consoles and I’ve been playing the Xbox version for this review. Right, I’m just going to get stuck into this one. Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is as good as it is flawed and I’m going to start this review with the negatives before I move on to the positives.

Perhaps my biggest bugbear with this game is that the AI is atrocious. See, you lead and command a crew of three firefighters, four including you. However, the three in your crew that you do not directly control have the IQ of your average TikTok ‘influencer’. As an example. I did a mission with a house on fire. I instructed my crew to arm themselves with a hose as I broke the door open. Now with my crew hosed up, I then instructed them to go and fight the fire, while I ran back to the firetruck to grab a hose myself. Only, they didn’t fight the fire, they followed me back to the firetruck as the house slowly burnt. I quickly made my way back to the open door and walked inside and again, I instructed my crew to tackle the fire. I got busy doing the same and started to douse the fire with water. After a while, I noticed that I was the only one fighting the fire, my crew were just standing there doing nothing with their hoses in their hands.

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Just viewing this issue from the point of view that this is supposed to be a simulation… why do I need to tell firefighters to fight a fire? That’s their job. Surely, they would (realistically) just start putting the fire out because they are firefighters. Now, this was an issue that would only happen now and again. I do have to say that, for the most part, they would work on putting out the fires as and when I instructed. But, every now and then, they would just stand around doing nothing as the place burnt down around their ears. So yeah, the AI is terrible at times but there is a saving grace, which I will cover later.

Another issue I had was that you can’t zoom in or out on the map. It’s a fairly big map too and you use it to select your missions. As there is a fair bit of ground to cover and there is no way to know exactly where the next available mission is, you have to randomly scroll around until you do find a mission, which takes time and becomes increasingly annoying. Just being able to zoom out and say ‘okay, there’s a mission over there’ and then moving the cursor to the mission would be so much more user-friendly. Or even an option to just scroll through available missions would cut down that annoying factor.

Speaking of cursors. You have an aiming reticle so you can more arcuately tackle fires. In fact, when you do fight a fire, little icons pop up to let you know the sweet spot of where to aim, to put the fire out more quickly. Here’s the issue, you can’t see the aiming reticle to pinpoint your aim anyway. Look, here’s a screen grab I took with me fighting a fire and you tell me exactly where the aiming reticle is in relation to the fire.

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Can’t see it, can you? How are you supposed to pinpoint aim at the sweet spots to put the fire out when you can’t see where you are aiming? The game even calls it a crosshair but it’s not. Okay, so now here’s a screenshot of me not trying to put a fire out and me pointing the ‘crosshair’ where you should, be able to see it for comparison.

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Still can’t see it, can you? Nope, I haven’t turned the ‘crosshair’ off and it is still there. The issue is that it is less a ‘crosshair’ and more a tiny white dot, about a pixel or two in size. It’s almost invisible when you are not fighting fires and it is completely invisible when you are. There’s no option to adjust the size, colour or style of the ‘crosshair’ either. You are stuck with this impossible-to-see, tiny white dot for the whole game. Seeing as being accurate with your aim plays a big part in putting out fires and that you can’t see where you are aiming to be accurate. It kind of makes it all rather redundant.

There’s an experience/levelling system, but it does nothing. Okay, so you unlock new missions and a handful of firetrucks as you level up. But other than that, the inclusion of an experience mechanic is pointless. You don’t have skills to improve, no stats to increase, nothing. Having such an experience system that was used to increase your character’s stats would add a bit more depth to the game, a progression and a goal to reach. You just have the missions and a few firetrucks to unlock and that really doesn’t need an experience system to work. Just have them be unlocked when you complete X number of missions.

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No first-person view, you can only play the game in third-person. Now, there are two different viewpoints a ‘normal’ and a close-up one, both are third-person. However, there is a first-person view when driving the firetruck and when using the ladder/cradle. But for the main gameplay, nope. I just feel that a first-person view would work so much better.

Well, those are my main issues with Firefighting Simulator: The Squad and a few minor niggles aside, the game is actually pretty damn good. First, I do just want to cover that saving grace to the terrible AI that I previously mentioned. Yes, the AI is awful in single-player but the great thing about Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is that you can team up with up to three friends and play co-op. Let me tell you when you have actual humans playing with you, the game is infinitely better. As long as you keep the communication up and everyone knows what they are doing. Playing the game and not having to rely on the AI is just a far better experience. The only downside is that there isn’t a great many people playing this right now, so finding a suitable online session is very rare. I only managed two games in my playtime for this review.

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There’s a very handy and easy-to-follow set of tutorials that walks you through the many things that you have to do in the game. There is a lot to take in too. It’s not just about pointing a hose at a fire and putting it out. Before you can even do that, you have to learn how to prep yourself and the fire engine so that you can fight fires. Connect a supply hose from a nearby fire hydrant to the fire engine itself, so that you have a steady supply of water. Attaching the attack hose to the correct place on the vehicle and sticking a nozzle on the end of it, so it can then be used to put fires out.

Still, you also need to learn how to get into a building too. Some doors will be locked, so you’ll have to break them open. Then there is dealing with smoke-filled areas, how to recognise and try to avoid backdrafts. Rescuing injured people, the controlling of the ladder/cradle and so much more. The tutorial is really well implemented and despite a lot to take in, it’s all broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest parts that you can always go back to for a quick refresher if needed.

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Anyway, once you are fully trained and confident in your firefighting prowess, you can set out to take on a real mission. Here, the game is a bit hit-an- miss. See, there is no story or narrative to keep driving you forwards. What you have is a map screen with various missions, you just choose one of them and away you go. The missions vary in location, but the basic idea of putting out fires and rescuing people remains the same. Maybe you’ll need to break into a house and save the residents from the burning budling. Maybe you’ll be called to a tree on fire in a park. There is a decent variety of scenarios, even if the basics of what to do are the same.

You can drive to the missions yourself in one of the (if you’ve unlocked them) several fire engines. This felt a bit too ‘light’ for me. The driving physics are slightly questionable. At first, I was driving sensibly, putting the sirens on and even using my indicators at turns. However, I soon learned that it really doesn’t matter. Just give your horn a toot and cars will move out of the way. using indicators is pointless, it;s not as if you get scored on your driving. Well, you kind of do as you get more (pointless) experience points if you get to a call as fast as possible. So, just go screaming around the streets and drive like an escaped convict. You can crash into other cars and not really face any kind of punishment. You can even go around 90° turns at 60mph and the fire engine handles like an F1 car. As I said, the driving physics are questionable and far from ‘simulation’. Or, if you don’t feel like driving, you can choose to just spawn at the mission. I do like that the devs have included that as an option.

Still, I always preferred to drive because you get the radio chatter between you and the dispatcher, filling you in on the details of the mission as you drive. This works as a nice little mission briefing and helps to ready you for what you’ll be dealing with.

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The controls are simple and easy to get to grips with. It’ll only take a few minutes and you’ll understand what to do and how to do it. Even issuing commands to your AI team, when playing in single-player, is easy once you get used to it. You have a ‘weapon wheel’ where you can order each of your team to go and grab a crowbar to open a locked door, arm themselves with a fire extinguisher or hose, get them to follow you, order them to attack a fire and more. There’s also a quick order and context-sensitive option using the d-pad. As an example, just aim at a locked door and press one of the d-pad directions (down, left and right are assigned to your three squad members) and the AI will grab the required tool and come back and open the door for you.  Considering that there is a lot to do here, the controls are simple.

£25 on both Xbox and PlayStation, or £21 via Steam. Despite some issues, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is still very playable and even with several rough edges, this is one of the better games out there with that simulator affix on the end. I would’ve liked to have seen more variety with the missions. Like being called out to road traffic accidents, hazmat issues and so on. Hey, even a bit of light-heartedness with saving cats out of trees. Pretty much every mission is putting out fires/saving people and they can get a bit tedious after a while. Plus, I think using that experience/levelling system for something other than just unlocking fire engines and missions could’ve really lifted Firefighting Simulator: The Squad no end. The addition of a story-driven narrative for single-player would’ve been marvellous too. Maybe even having an interactive firehouse where you can actually slide down the pole to get to a mission?

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Overall, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is a playable title. Yeah, it has its issues (what game doesn’t?) but I really enjoyed my time with it. Definitely better when playing with humans over the AI though. I also found this was more fun to play in shorter, quick gameplay bursts. Just do 4-5 missions and play something else for a while before coming back, over sitting there and playing for hours at a time. If you are looking for your next simulation fix, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad could very well quench that fire.