Gamebox 2.0: Tactical Dismemberment Edition

For this edition of Gamebox 2.0, we push our strategic planning to the limit in some turn-based tactics games, revisit lost memories, experienced the latest quirky adventure from Swery65, explored ancient catacombs, and fought in a space colony. Plus a few extra games we managed to squeeze between horror movie binge watching.

The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories (Zach): Coming from the mind of Swery65, who previously brought us the cult favorite Twin Peaks homage Deadly Premonition comes The Missing. You take control of JJ, who is on a romantic camping trip with her girlfriend Emily on a remote island.  A massive storm breaks out overnight and Emily goes missing and, when JJ goes to look for her, she is struck by lightning but finds out through the mysterious powers of the island that she cannot die.  JJ continues her search and has to solve puzzles throughout the island that requires her to break off limbs, set herself on fire and suffer other horrific injuries.  This macabre puzzle solving mechanic is offset by quirky humor in the form of text messages from various characters on JJ’s cell phone, the fact that you are collecting donuts and finding Big Boyesque statues around the island and running into characters like a doctor with a moose for a head.

The game does a great job of trusting you to figure out the mechanics and the puzzle solutions without holding your hand and there are some extremely clever ones throughout, with one of the first ones that utilizes the limb dismemberment being removing enough of your body to act as a counterweight on a beam of wood so you can crawl up the other side to progress.  There are some great set pieces as well, like running from horrific monsters, and the story is a great mix of dramatic and quirky that will hold your interest and make you want to dig deeper into the secrets of the island.  If you are a fan of games like Limbo and Inside, you should definitely check out The Missing, as Swery65 has definitely put his own unique spin on the genre with interesting characters, a creepy setting, and unique and extremely well-implemented mechanics. It’s out right now on PS4, Steam, Switch and Xbox One.

My Memory of Us: (Chris) Developed by Juggler Games and published by IMGN.PRO, My Memory of Us is an adventure game about two children who journey into a city invaded by a robotic army. An evil Robot King has taken control of a peaceful city, sending his army to occupy the area and control its citizens. Trapped in the city, the Boy and the Girl try to escape while helping anyone they can along the way.

Much of the story is told as a flashback, narrated by an older version of the Boy character. The Boy looks back in his memory of living through a war and the people who helped him. When the game starts, the Boy is an orphan living off the streets. One day the Boy is discovered by the Girl and they instantly become best friends. However, when the Robot King declares war and invades the city, this friendship will be put to the test. The Robot King selects a group of citizens to be marked red and isolated from the general public. The Girl is captured and marked red, setting the Boy off on a desperate quest to save his friend. Players will control both the Boy and the Girl at the same time, switching between characters and moving them while holding hands. There are certain tasks that only one of them is able to do. The Boy is smaller and very quiet, allowing him to sneak in the shadows and use certain items. The Girl is more athletic, she can run faster and is handy with a slingshot. Together, they will combine abilities and use their strengths to overcome challenges.

The game doesn’t offer many complex challenges. There will be a few puzzles that take a few minutes to analyze and some retakes on certain platforming selections, but any veteran gamer will figure out the solutions very quickly. The presentation of the game is very polished. The game introduces new mechanics and does not drag on to make things boring. The visuals do an excellent job of translating a very serious subject and makes it universally understandable. The musical score is very whimsical at times when the children are exploring and very intense when it needs to be. The narration from the older version of the Boy is performed by Patrick Stewart, who brings great depth in conveying the emotions felt in the levels. Overall, My Memory of Us is an emotional game to play. The real-life inspirations behind the cartoon visuals make it a little unsettling to enjoy, but it offers a rewarding story to take part in. My Memory of Us was released October 9th, for PS4, Switch, Xbox One, and Steam.

Space Hulk: Tactics (Zach): I’ve always, from afar, been a fan of at least the general idea and aesthetics of the Warhammer 40K universe and have played a bunch of games based on the franchise, like the excellent shooter that came out on PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2011, Space Marine.  One of the latest games to use the license is Space Hulk: Tactics, from Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studio.  Based on the intense board game of the same name, Space Hulk: Tactics puts you in control of either the Blood Angel marines or the hideous Genestealer aliens on board the titular Space Hulk, which in the Warhammer 40K lore is a gigantic mess of asteroids, wrecked ships, and other debris that hurtle dangerously through space.  The Space Hulk is threatening to destroy an important Forge world, so the Blood Angels must enter the twisted maze and find a way to break it apart but they find it swarming with Genestealers.  The game plays out via tile-based movement and action points, each of your Marines or Genestealers have a certain number of points each turn that they can use to move or attack.  The corridors of the Space Hulk are extremely narrow, so positioning is extremely important, including where your units are facing at the end of each turn.  Combat is decided by dice rolls and there are no health bars for either side, if you lose the dice roll, your unit is gone for the rest of the mission, although the Blood Angels can bring in a unit that can revive downed units.  There are also cards that you can either play and get whatever benefit is listed or you can cash them in for points and gain some additional combat or movement for your units.

The thing that impressed me the most about Space Hulk: Tactics, besides the solid tactical gameplay, is the presentation.  The game looks fantastic and features lots of great touches to truly immerse you in the setting, including a first-person mode that allows you to put yourself in the shoes of your units.  It’s a little strange to play in that mode for any extended length of time but it’s a very cool addition that you don’t really see in the turn-based genre.  There are also some great cutscenes whenever something major happens, like your when your units attack or are being attacked, that feature some awesome, brutal kills.  Besides the campaign, there’s also online battles where you can test your strategies against other players online and you can create your own missions with the included map editor.  If you’re a fan of tactics and the Warhammer 40K universe (or even if you aren’t), Space Hulk: Tactics is a great turn-based strategy game that offers some unique and challenging gameplay in a gorgeous and brutal looking package.  It’s out right now on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (Zach): Speaking of turn-based tactical games based on tabletop properties, Acthtung! Cthulhu Tactics also recently came out on Steam from Ripstone Games.  Based on the pen and paper role playing game of the same name, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is set in World War II where a secret occult war is being waged alongside the main conflict as the Nazi Cult of the Black Sun is trying to unleash Lovecraftian horrors and a small squad is sent in to stop them.  You’ll control the four-member Allied squad, with each member having specific skills and weapons.  The gameplay is similar to XCom where you have a certain number of points each turn and you can move into cover to avoid damage.  Achtung! features a “momentum” system, where if you are able to chain kills and critical hits, you’ll fill a meter that will allows the player to perform more actions each turn than you normally would be able to along with special abilities.  You’ll gain equipment and weapons and level up and you can acquire new skills and abilities for your squad members as you progress in the game.

The main complaint I would have with Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is that it is brutally hard.  I hit a brick hall just in the first actual mission following the introduction as you are tasked with taking out at least 2 dozen Nazis.  Maybe I just need to get a better handle on the game’s systems but it seemed like the odds were impossibly set against my squad and it doesn’t help that if they are injured or see other squad members go down, there is an insanity meter that ramps up and, if it maxes out, your squad members start acting erratically and panic.  Even the notoriously brutal XCom feels like it ramps up in a more organic way than Achtung! does.  I really enjoy the setting and the character designs but just know at the start, this is not going to be a walk in the park.  If you think you have the chops, it’s out now on Steam.

Insomnia: The Ark (Zach): Insomnia: The Ark is a new action RPG from Mono Studio and HeroCraft set on a giant space colony that has been left to fend for itself in the depths of space.  There is a ton of lore to dig into and several factions to interact with and you are given a wide range of customization options for your character related to how they fight and how they look.  The gameplay reminded me a bit of Knights of the Old Republic as far the perspective and the way you navigate the world but you have direct control of your character during combat.

Combat…doesn’t feel great.  It definitely feels less polished than the dialogue and environments and the general world building.  Melee combat feels a little better than using firearms, which force you to hold in place while you aim with the mouse and it makes you vulnerable to enemy shots more often than not.  Luckily there is a stealth component that seems to work fairly well, so you can sneak up and take out enemies before they pose a threat.  If you’re into stuff like Bioshock and Fallout, the world that is set up in Insomnia seems massive and interesting to explore but the combat and some weird quirks with the camera and movement hold it back a bit for me.  It’s out now on Steam if you want to check it out.

Dimension Drifter (Zach): Released into Early Access, Dimension Drifter is an old school shooter from Paul Schneider, who previously developed the game Unloved.  Both games draw inspiration from games like Doom and it feels very Doom-like as you move through randomly generated levels blasting demons to try and reach the exit.  The game adds loot and you can collect a number of different weapons and other items in the levels, but you have to exit the level to keep them and also the experience you acquire.

There’s barely any story and only 1 playable character with only a few options for customization but it’s still early in development so both of those things could get fleshed out later on (there are some features right now that are straight up grayed out and say they’ll get added later).  Right now the main thing is the gameplay and it feels extremely fast and smooth and there’s lots of old-school gibs flying around and the weapons feel great and seem to have some sold impacts on the enemies, although you do have to keep an eye on your ammo as you can quickly run out against the massive hordes of enemies you’ll encounter.  There’s a solid foundation for a great old-school shooter in Dimension Drifter and hopefully, it will get fleshed out more in the future.  If you want to jump in now, it’s on Steam via Early Access.

Shadows Awakening (Zach): Shadows Awakening is a new action/RPG from Kalypso Media that should satisfy anyone with an itch for a Diablo style adventure.  You play as both a demonic “Devourer” and his “puppet”, the soul of a warrior that you possess.  The Devourer and his chosen puppet have been summoned to help stop a dangerous threat that could destroy both the mortal plane and the Shadowrealm of the demons.  You can switch between your Devourer and his mortal warriors at will and you can even combine attacks between them for a devastating effect like, for instance, your Devourer can freeze all the enemies on screen, allowing your warrior to get in some big hits.  You are given a choice early in the game between a warrior, archer or mage and, as you progress in the game, you can gain more allies, getting the ability to switch between up to four, all of them also gaining their own equipment, abilities and powers.  The Devourer is also in a completely different dimension than the mortal members of the party and you’ll have to switch between them to navigate areas that are impassible in the mortal realm or to solve puzzles.

The game looks great with creepy dungeons to explore and unique cities to visit, which seem to have an Arabian Nights-inspired design.  There are plenty of sidequests to pick up from various NPCs and you can easily keep track and make any of your quests active in the menus.  The game also helpfully equips any equipment you pick up, although you can go into the character screen at any time and dive deep into stats and compare if you want.  The ability to switch between characters at will and the fact that the characters are existing in completely different dimensions gives the game a unique look and feel that sets it apart from its action/RPG contemporaries and predecessors and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to horde some loot and fight tons of creatures.  It’s out on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Epic Loon (Zach): Epic Loon has been out since July this year, so we’re a little Late to the Party, but it’s something that is right up our alley as far as the story’s plot and inspiration.  Epic Loon stars Joe, who has the “biggest VHS movie collection in Wisconsin” but his trusty VCR goes on the fritz.  He goes to his local hardware store that is right out of Gremlins and buys a weird VHS cleaning tape that infests his VCR with aliens who destroy any tape that goes in.  Joe decides to fight them with the most badass tapes in his collection and you play as the aliens, trying to make their way through the movie and foil Joe.  The movies Joe selects are goofy spins on Nosferatu, Godzilla, Jurassic Park, and Alien and there are tons of fun references and inside jokes about all of them.  The gameplay is a slight spin on something like Super Meat Boy where you’ll have to navigate some tricky and precise platforms to make it to a portal that leads to the next scene in the movie.  Your alien is not as nimble as Meat Boy and their main movement is by turning themselves into a catapult and flinging themselves around the levels. Joe can mess with you by rewinding and fast forwarding and he’ll constantly be offering insulting commentary against you.

It takes a bit of getting used to as there is a timing mechanic where you have to launch yourself when you are at the right angle.  I would have preferred direct control but you do get used to the launching mechanic after a few levels and you’ll be able to fling yourself around without too many issues.  The only other complaint I would have is that the game is always 4 player mode, even if you are playing by yourself.  The game fleshes out the other three aliens with AI and they can seriously mess up your flow if they hit you or cause a platform or object to move and it can be a little frustrating, especially if you are near the exit of the level.  Despite some minor control issues, the aesthetic (like goofy FMV and the ability to play the game with things like a terrible French dub by the dev team) and the game’s love letter to badass movies make it more than worth it to check out on Switch, Steam and Xbox One.

Reigns: Game of Thrones (Zach): Reigns and it’s sequel Her Majesty are some of the best mobile games available with their quirky sense of humor and the Tinder inspired swiping gameplay and now the series has gotten even better with an official tie-in to Game of Thrones.  Taking the action to Westeros, you play as a slew of Game of Thrones characters like Daenerys, Jon Snow, Tyrion and more and explore what their reign on the Iron Throne would be like.  Since most reigns end in death or Westeros overrun, it’s revealed that every run you have in the game is actually a vision of a possible future by Melisandre, which keeps the canon events in place.  The gameplay is the same as the non-GoT versions as you are confronted by various characters and have to make a choice about how to proceed with the problem they present to you.  Each choice effects one or more of the factors that govern the kingdom, like the people, the army, the church, and the bank and if one of them either fills all the way up or depletes all the way down, it means the end of your reign in usually brutal fashion.  Reigns: GoT adds a few new quirks including small council meetings where you can choose which member you’d like to hear from and, after a reign ends, you can choose from all the previous characters you’ve unlocked to try again.  It still has the Reigns series’ sense of humor and there are lots of fun references and inside jokes for fans of Game of Thrones.  This is a great version an already great game and, even if you’ve never played Reigns before, it’s worth checking out and it’s the perfect mobile game to kill time with when you need it.  It’s out on Android, iOS, and Steam right now.

 

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