Game Review: Alien Scumbags

Have you ever wanted to play a game based on nothing but the title? I have. Developed and published by Monster Finger Games comes the wonderfully titled, Alien Scumbags. Simple, straight and to the point… but enough about me. Let’s take a look at the game.

The year is 20XX, the earth has been ravaged by nuclear wars and our only hope is the research shuttle Nostrami. Unfortunately the ship has been incommunicado for 48 hours now.
That’s were you come in! You are Master Chef, a bad ass space marine and it’s your job to explore the dark corridors of the Nostrami to find out what events occurred.

I think the best way to explain just what Alien Scumbags is, is via some comparisons to other games. Try to imagine the mighty Doom but in the form of a 2D platform-shooter. Throw in some of the first two Duke Nukem games and a pinch of pretty much any 8-bit platformer circa 1985… oh yeah, don’t forget a shit load of blood and ‘adult’ but very puerile humour. I mean, the game starts with the following screen.

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‘Yes’ may be highlighted there but trust me, I chose ‘no’. If you are going to play a game like this, then you have to play it complete with pixel bewbs and all. That screen there really does set the tone of exactly what Alien Scumbags is all about. If you are the kind of person who is a bit prudish over swearing and pixel bewbs, then you can always pussy out and select ‘yes’.

There is a story here and it is as it should be, pretty basic. You play as Master Chef and are tasked with exploring the Nostrami, a spaceship that the crew have seemingly disappeared from. You have to kill aliens, discover logs to fill in the backstory and try to learn just what happened on the ship.

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With the main character being called Master Chef and the ship being the Nostrami, you should already be pretty clued into the level of homage and parody here. We already have Halo and Alien references and not even really started yet. Alien Scumbags is crammed full of movie and gaming references, the intro alone mentions several big-name gaming heroes, with you as Master Chef being very low down on the list of notable heroes who were wanted for this mission. Even the fact that you are a chef turned action hero is a reference to Steven Seagal’s Under Siege.

As you make your way through Alien Scumbags, you’ll be hit with movie and gaming references every few minutes. Posters on the wall depict famous films, some secret areas pay homage to instantly recognisable titles and more. As you play through the game, you’ll unlock new (non-copyright infringing) versions of other playable characters such as Chun-Li, The Flash, Jason Voorhees… and a bunny. These characters aren’t just model swaps as they have differing attributes. The Flash character is fast, Chun-Li jumps higher and so on.

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The gameplay of Alien Scumbags is simple and basic. You shoot aliens in the face and try to get to the end of the level. This is why I likened the game to Doom, because that is really all you had to do in Doom too (or even Doom II). It is the simplicity and basicness of Alien Scumbags that makes it so appealing. This really is instant pick up and play stuff. There is nothing complex here, nothing that will have you trawling through tutorials. You shoot aliens and get to the end of the levels.

There are a couple of boss battles and even a bit of variety with some vehicle-based bonus stages. But the core gameplay is as simple as it needs to be. Graphically, Alien Scumbags is chunky. It has this real 8-bit blockiness to the graphics and everything feels very solid. Aliens explode in a shower of blood and guts, entrails will litter the levels. This is certainly not a game for little kids… just big kids. You’ve got your over the top violence coupled with pixel bewbs and a load of actually very funny dialogue and scenarios. The levels have various secrets to find, which makes multiple playthroughs a joy. Speaking of which…

Alien Scumbags isn’t a big game. It’ll probably take you a little over an hour or so to get through the story, if you really want to rush that is. But that really depends on your chosen difficulty setting too. Playing this on hard really is ‘effing hard and you’ll need to slow down and take your time. Easy mode is way too easy but it’s also a great way to get a feel for the game. I have played through on three different difficulty settings. Truth be told, I have only finished it on two of those settings, I’m still trying with the third as I write this… and there’s still another more difficult setting yet to try. But for me, this is a great indicator of the quality of  the game. It may be short but it is great fun and drags you back in to try the harder setting and to seek out all those secrets.

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There’s even some scenery interactions with the classic exploding red barrels. But you can also shoot down pictures from the wall and have them fall onto aliens, chairs and sofas can be shot at and more. You can hide in lockers and this adds a little basic strategy on the harder difficultly settings. I’d best not forget about the high score table, so you can go back to try and beat your best previous effort. On top of the story mode, there’s a nice homage to the original 1983 Mario Bros. game. You get a mini-game with a single screen and ever spawning aliens, you just see how long you can last. Weapons and health pickups randomly spawn that can help you take out the endless Alien Scumbags.

As I reach the end of this review, I do need to highlight a couple of niggles. Okay, so this first one is less a niggle and more a public service announcement. The game does feature gamepad support but when I first tried, every button worked except the fire button. For a shooter, this is a slight inconvenience. However, this wasn’t the fault of the game, more so an oversight by myself with the controller setting on Steam. So it wasn’t a problem with the game, I just needed to re-configure my gamepad via the options on Steam itself. I just thought I would mention that here in case anyone else has controller issues.

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But about those niggles. I would love to see customisable controls. You can play via the keyboard or gamepad but you can’t configure the controls at all. I do like to have the ability to set the keys/buttons to whatever I felt was more comfortable as for me, the default keys/buttons were not the best they could be. You can’t stack ammo for weapons. While your pistol is unlimited ammo, the other weapons are not. So if your shotgun can only hold six rounds and you’ll only ever have six rounds for it. This isn’t much of a problem on easier difficulties but on the harder settings when you really need to save ammo. Playing this on hard is so much harder because you will run out of ammo so fast. But perhaps that is a big part of the appeal, it is bloody hard to stay alive.

My other issue is that the game will auto-equip any weapon you pick up. I waste ammo because I’ll be in the midst of a fight with some Alien Scumbags, moving across the screen and shooting the shit out of everything with my pistol, walkover a weapon and there goes that all-important ammo (cos it doesn’t stack) because the game has swapped my pistol with whatever weapon I just picked up. I think putting in an option to turn that off would be a good idea so people can set their own preferences.

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£6.19 (precisely) on Steam is how much Alien Scumbags will set you back. You get a great and very (re)playable game for your coin here. This is puerile and silly, sure. But this is a huge part of the appeal, sometimes you just need to unplug your brain and indulge in a little silliness. Alien Scumbags has this in spades. Full with jokes and pop culture references, plenty of basic but really fun gameplay, loads of secrets for you to find, unlockable characters and more… I mean, you can even play in a Game Boy-like mode. Yes, this is a recommendation from me for a few reasons. First, it’s just a really blood good little game. Second, I love getting the word out there to help support small developers like this. Third, I want a sequel. I seriously think this game has a lot of scope for the future and a sequel could be amazing.

Game Review: Gravity Chase

What do you think you’d get if you mixed two parts F-Zero with one part Tempest and a squeeze of WipEout? I think that you’d probably get some kind of gravity-defying, futuristic-arcade racer. One that’s not too dissimilar to this game right here, Gravity Chase, developed and published by micro-studio Repixel8.

Welcome to the futuristic anti-gravity arcade racer with a twist.

Gravity Chase racing competition takes place on tunnel tracks for super-fast 360 degree Zero G racing.

Skill and precision piloting are required to follow the optimum line along with strategic use of pickups, powerups and weapons in order to progress through the race series.

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The trailer really does tell you all you need to know about this title, so this is a very short review. See you in the next one…

Okay, I guess I’d better go into a bit more depth of just what you are getting for your money with Gravity Chase. Well, you get quite a lot really. You get ten different vehicles split into three speed classes, each with their own stats, strengths and weaknesses. All of the vehicles can be upgraded too, using points you earn from racing and (hopefully) winning. There are sixteen race tracks and each track features three different racing modes with Arcade, Combat and Eliminator. Arcade is pretty self-explanatory a basic lap race and your aim is to cross the finish line first. Combat throws in weapons to the mix as you try to take out other racers (and them you) in a bid to be the winner. Eliminator is like your standard arcade race, only every thirty-seconds will see whoever is at the back get eliminated until only one racer is left. Then, each of those three modes comes on three different difficulty settings, each setting not only makes the AI harder but the effects of the gravity for the races also changes.

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See, gravity really does play a big part in the game called Gravity Chase, which will affect just how the vehicles handle and race. When I first played this, I really didn’t like the controls at all and the vehicles felt very ‘slack’. But the more I played and the more I got used to how gravity is used, how the vehicles have this inertia-like feel to them when you steer, the more I began to really enjoy myself. I went from feeling frustrated to feeling elated. The tracks here are actually tubes and you’ll either race in or on them. The ‘tubeyness’ (I just invented that word for this game) of the tracks means that you can partake in 360 degree racing. There is no real up or down, just bloody fast racing action.

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You get an up to four-player local split-screen mode too. That always earns bonus points as far too many games these days seem to ‘forget’ that this was how we used to multiplayer back in the day. The tracks are very twisty-turny and throw plenty of challenge your way. Easy to play but it’ll take you a good while to master. Gravity Chase is also a very handsome looking game that’ll see you racing through exotic jungles, neon tubes cities, active volcanoes and more.

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£10 is all Gravity Chase is going to set you back on both Xbox and Steam. Honestly, that’s a crazy low price point for a game crammed with so much content. Especially when you consider that the studio, Repixel8, is really just one man, Andrew Jeffreys. The same man behind the pretty damn great Formula Retro Racing, which I also enjoyed. All of Repixel8’s titles have a very low price but are still crammed with gameplay value. This just goes to show how you can have a great passion for making games without the greed.

Gravity Chase is a big recommendation from me. I mean, come on, it’s only £10! Grab yourself a copy when it is on sale from the 21st of this month.

Game Review: Hyper-5

Capcom’s 194X series, the R-Type titles, Gradius from Konami and Taito’s Darius. What do all of those games have in common? Aside from being awesome, they’re all classic shoot ’em ups (or shmups), a genre I have had a major soft spot with for many years now. A new indie shoot ’em up, developed and published by Hyper Productions, is released on Steam at the end of the month and it is called Hyper-5.

Hyper-5 is a cinematic shmup inspired by classics from the “golden era” of the 90’s. Responding to a distress beacon, deep space scout ship Hyper-5 is drawn into a terrifying battle with an unknown enemy. Will Hyper-5 survive its encounter on planet 4GDT?

Taking place over five environments, each with their own distinct enemies and (of course) big boss fights. Hyper-5 is old school shooty-action, given a modern lick of paint. To be released on Steam on the 28th of January, a demo is also available on Steam now, if you want to check it out. In the meantime, I have the full game to look at… but is it any good?

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The first thing I want to tackle in this review is the graphics. I’m more used to some nice retro 8 or 16-bit pixel art for my shoot ’em ups. What Hyper-5 has gone for is a more 3D polygon style. The graphics here are really very nice too. Some fantastic lighting and smoke effects, detailed environments (the underwater level is amazing), some pretty impressive explosions… especially on the bosses. Taking out some of the bigger enemies sees chunks of metal fall from the ships. In terms of the visuals, Hyper-5 is very pretty. Then there’s the presentation. See, Hyper-5 is being called a ‘cinematic shmup’ and yeah, it certainly is just that. There are little cutscenes that really bring the game to life. Each of the five areas of the game has its own little mini-movies, there are cutscenes when you lose all your lives, cutscenes when you take out a boss and so on. It really does look and feel cinematic. Yup, this game sure is easy on the eyes for an indie title but it is the gameplay that I’m more interested in.

In terms of that gameplay, I don’t think it will be a great shock to anyone if I said this plays like a classic side-scrolling shoot ’em up. You control a ship, the titular Hyper-5, and shoot down waves and waves enemies, while dodging all that they throw at you. You have a health bar here (no one-hit deaths) so you can take a few bullets to the hull before going boom! Your average shmup will have you take down a wave of enemies to get a new weapon or upgrade. Hyper-5 kind of has that, in that taking down a wave will leave a little bonus for you to nab. However, the weapons and upgrades in the game work on a progression system. Complete certain tasks/challenges in the game and you’ll unlock a new weapon. Challenges range from shooting so many of a certain enemy type, collect X-amount of bonuses or even finish a level without shooting a single bullet. You then head to the armoury and buy/equip that weapon.

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There’s an upgrade system for those weapons too, upgrades you unlock with points earned in the game. Add more firepower, shoot faster, etc. Those upgrades also work for the ship itself. You can upgrade your speed (which can be changed in-game), upgrade your shields and more. With my first play of Hyper-5, I really didn’t like it, I found it slow and sluggish for a shoot ’em up.  But once I got some weapon unlocks, once I get a few upgrades, the game felt a lot more like a decent shooter. In fact, the more I played the better it got. I think that perhaps the best way to describe this progression system is to think of this as a roguelite game. You will die (a lot) at first but you’ll also make steady progress and unlock new weapons. You’ll try again with a new weapon and make a bit more progress before dying (again) but you’d unlocked something else by then and upgraded a weapon or two… and so you try again. Rinse and repeat as is the nature of a roguelite.

Reading the game’s description and there’s no mention of this roguelite style gameplay. I actually think this is a bit of a disservice to the game itself. See, I found Hyper-5 really frustrating at first, to the point where it was going to be a big part of this review. However, once I got it into my head that I was playing a roguelite and got to grips with the progression system, it all made much more sense. I love a good roguelite game and knowing what you are getting into upfront really helps your mindset going in. This is a roguelite shoot ’em up and it should be embraced as much too… especially as this is a good one.

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Hyper-5 offers up a firm and tough but fair challenge. This certainly is not an easy game but it is a game that gets easier the more you play, the more weapons and upgrades you unlock, while still throwing up a fresh and new challenge with each of its five stages. In writing, just five areas seems like quite a low amount and perhaps I’d have liked to have seen a couple more. But with the roguelite gameplay, you do re-play over and over while steadily progressing and upgrading your ship. I mean, I have racked up a little over three hours of play just for this review and I’m going back for more when this is published. That progression system really hooks you and makes you want to come back for more.

Yeah, I really liked Hyper-5. It is a wonderful celebration of the classic shoot ’em up genre, while adding enough modern polish to make it its own thing too. I do have a niggle though. 3D menus, Hyper-5 has this 3D effect so the menu moves when you move the cursor. I really don’t like 3D menus and this is just a personal taste issue, I find them annoying when the text keeps moving. There is an option in the menu to choose between stylised font and a ‘readable’ (that’s how it is described) font. Personally, I found both of them readable. But anyway, my point is that it’s nice to have that option here for people who may struggle with the font… so how about people that struggle with 3D menus? I think an option to turn the 3D menus off would be a good idea… even if just for me.

Okay, so to finish this review, I need to do my usual and take a look at the price. When released, Hyper-5 will set you back $9.99 (I don’t have a confirmed UK price but that should be around £7-ish). That really is a good price point indeed. You get a very playable roguelite shooter, a pretty extensive weapon and upgrade system, a few different game modes, including a top-down time-trials and bonuses like a 3D gallery. There’s also gamepad support and fully customisable controls, along with a plethora of graphic options if your GPU is struggling under the impressive visuals.

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Hyper-5 is the work of one man, Jamie Patterson and he’s UK based. My passion for both indie and British gaming aside, all told, Hyper-5 is an attractive package and if you fancy a new shooter with plenty of content for a good price, then I say go for it. Check out the demo on Steam or itch.io.

Game Review: RPGolf Legends

I actually have a bit of a double review here. While the main part of this review will be me looking at RPGolf Legends, I’m going to be taking a quick look at the first game too. Yup, RPGolf Legends is actually a sequel. The first game, RPGolf, came out in 2018. developed by ArticNet and published by Chorus Worldwide. Despite being released four years ago, I have only very recently played the game… like a few hours before starting on the sequel. So I thought I would offer my views on RPGolf before moving on to the new title.

Once upon a time, the kingdom was a land of peace, harmony, and an all-consuming passion for the greatest sport – GOLF. Everyone in the land played day and night, and soon the kingdom itself was turned into the most beautiful course the world had ever seen. The land was happy. The land was good.

Until the monsters came…

In its obsession with golf, the people had become complacent, leaving the kingdom open to attack. Hole by hole, dungeon by dungeon, the monsters emerged and drove the people off the course. And a great sadness fell across the world.

Then one day, a brave girl appeared, determined to play the finest course in the world. Armed only with her golf club, she would set forth to play the nine legendary holes. But first, she would need to rid the land of the monsters…

RPGolf is a game whose title pretty much tells you exactly what you are getting. It’s an RPG blended with a golf game, that simple. Using a very SNES looking JRPG art style mixed with the idea of putting a small ball into a slightly larger hole. RPGolf is a simple and basic little game, I don’t mean that in a snobbish, dismissive way at all. The simplicity and basicness quality of the game is what makes it so appealing. This is a very easy game to pick up and get into.#

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Simple controls with a basic premise. You run around, what is essentially, a golf course. That golf course has become overrun with monsters and you have to smack those monsters in the face with your golf club while also playing a round of golf. What you get with RPGolf is a nine-hole golf course. Getting around those nine holes took me under two hours and then the credits rolled. This (at first) seems like quite a short game, but it’s not.

See, there is a lot more to ‘finishing’ RPGolf than just getting around the nine holes. Even after the credits roll, the game opens up in a way that I’m not going to spoil here. Aside from playing golf, you have to explore dungeons, discover villages, solve puzzles, talk to NPCs, fight bosses. Your basic RPG gameplay is here, kill monsters, earn EXP, level up, buy equipment and items and more. See, I may have got to the credits in less than two hours, but there was still so much more of the game to discover. According to my Steam profile, I have racked up just shy of six hours playing RPGolf and there are still a few more things I need to mop up before it is finished 100%. So don’t let that small sounding nine-hole course put you off as RPGolf is bigger than it first seems.

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This really was meant to be just a quick look at the game before I get stuck into the sequel and in that regard, RPGolf is a great little title. An interesting mix of a 16-bit JRPG and a basic but fun golf game. There’s a lot more going on here than you first realise too. Only available on Steam, it’s also incredibly cheap at under £3. RPGolf is most definitely a recommendation from me. Buy it now and play it before the sequel. Speaking of which…

An evil force has sealed all the golf holes in the world! Join forces with the spirit of a golf club and embark on a fantastic action-golfing adventure to save golf in the world!

Travel around in a unique open-world where monsters and golf coexist, get your best scores in 6 unique environments and beat monsters! When you are resting, do not forget to help people with their quests… every encounter counts!

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Once more developed by ArticNet, this time published by KEMCO. RPGolf Legends will be released on Xbox, Steam, Switch, PS4 and PS5 on the 20th of January, with pre-orders already open. Before I do get into this review, my advice… just pre-order now and play the first game while you wait. The short version of this review is that RPGolf Legends is more of the same, which is a good thing because the first game was great. Only this sequel feels like Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap has plugged his amplifiers into it and turned them up to eleven.

Comparatively speaking, this sequel is gargantuan when put up against the first game. The basics of you having to battle monsters… while playing golf is still here, yet there are so many additions and refinements that make this feel like several massive leaps forward. The nine holes of the first game are replaced with fifty-four here. Those holes are played over six uniquely different areas too. Classic lush greens and arid desert, dim swampland, freezing tundra and more. Each of these areas brings new and interesting challenges to not just your RPG adventure but also the golfing itself. Environments are not just there to look nice, they affect the game in multiple ways. Have you ever tried playing golf on ice? Even the weather has an effect. Of course, you have to contend with the wind as standard but rain can and will change how the ball acts on the golf courses.

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You want a break from all the golf? Well, you can take part in a bit of fishing and even enter fishing contests. A crafting system has been added, so you can make much-needed items for your adventure. There are different golf ball types that have different effects. A multitude of items that you can equip to help with both your monster-slaying and golfing. The dungeon and puzzle elements of the first game have been vastly improved too. There are a ton more NPCs to talk to and get side-quests from. The map is huge (you need a boat to get around) and is just begging to be explored as there is plenty to see and do outside of the main story. Speaking of the story, there is a lot more going on than just having to clean up monsters from a golf course. However, I’m not about to start handing out spoilers here. I will say there is a real JRPG-like plot going on.

The golf mechanics from the first game have been tweaked, while still remaining simple. Line up your shot, pick a club (though it is auto-selected for best results, you can change it), press a button to start your swing meter and press it again to stop at the required power. This is the thing I love about both the first game and RPGolf Legends, the simplicity of it all. It’s very ‘pick up and play’ and very easy to get into. The RPG side of things is also easy to follow and feels very SNES era/retro. The fights with enemies really does just boil down to smacking them around the face with your golf club. However, different enemies have different attacks, some are best to just move and avoid, others will require deft use of the block button. Even so, you’ll still need your wits about you as you need to pick just the right time to attack.

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The EXP and levelling of the first game is gone but it has been replaced with a class system. As you continue in your adventure, you’ll cross paths with special NPCs that will give you new outfits. Those outfits will give you a new skill specific to each costume. I’m not going into detail, as to avoid spoilers but those costumes can have a big effect on not only how you battle enemies but also your golf game too. There is so much packed into RPGolf Legends that there’s even a retro/arcade-style golf game within this golf game. That’s some golf-ception.

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RPGolf Legends is such a huge game loaded with content that it is pretty easy to forget that you are playing an indie title from a small team. RPGolf was a precursor, a blueprint for what ArticNet really wanted to do. If the first game was a short test flight of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, then this sequel is a five-star, first-class, transatlantic Concorde flight. RPGolf Legends is everything I adore about the indie gaming scene. It is passion, dedication, hard work and talent captured in a game and best of all, it is bloody good fun.

RPGolf Legends is going to set you back quite a bit more than the first title. For a damn good reason though as you are getting so much more game for your money. Priced at around £27 ($29.99/€29.99) over all formats and trust me, it is worth every single penny. If you were to push me to find an issue well… I personally felt that the screen was a little too zoomed in. It’s pretty tricky to see what is just a few inches in front of you and it can be easy to get lost on the map because the camera is too close to the action. Let me do a quick comparison.

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See, the top image there is from the first game of me just walking around the map. The bottom image is from RPGolf Legends, also just walking around the map. You can see just how much closer the camera is (or how much bigger the graphics are) in the sequel. The view is fine when you are taking your shot in golf or during a cutscene as the camera zooms out and you can see more of what is going on. But when you are running around the map and exploring or in a battle, it’s just too close. I lost count of the number of times I ran into an off-screen enemy because I just could not see more than a couple of inches in front of my character. Just another screen to better explain my point.

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This is a screengrab of playing golf in RPGolf Legends. See how the view is further out? That right there is (in my opinion) how should be all through the game. It is the perfect balance between seeing the lovely graphics and still being able to see what is going on. If the devs could put in an option to adjust the camera to your preference, or even have the option to zoom in and out at the touch of a button, it really would improve this game a huge amount. But other than that, I had no issues with RPGolf Legends.

This really is a fantastic title, one that is high up on my recommendation list and could even be a strong contender for my game of the year. Get it pre-ordered ready for release on the 20th of January for your platform of choice. It is being released on everything, so there is no excuse. In the meantime, buy the first game on Steam. It’s cheap as chips and well worth playing at that price.

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.