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Gamebox 2.0: Games of October 2020

As the weather gets chillier and the days get shorter, video games are the perfect excuse to stay inside. This month we played the “reimagining” of a submarine shooter, used guerilla warfare in 1941, delivered packages in a cyberpunk future, hopped around a spoopy platformer, and more for this month’s Gamebox 2.0 reviews! Read our impressions below.

Aquanox: Deep Descent (Zach): The original Aquanox is a game I definitely remember playing back in the day, although I’m not 100% clear how we even got it (It was a strange promo disc that had the full version of Aquanox but demos of other games).  THQ Nordic has reimagined the series for Aquanox: Deep Descent.  Set in a dystopian world where the Earth’s surface has been completely destroyed by nuclear war, humanity exists solely under the ocean in massive submarines and underwater settlements.  You play as a crew of “cryos”, who have recently been thawed out of stasis and thrust into a deep storyline involving different factions and different areas of the ocean to explore.

The gameplay is from the cockpit of your submarine and if you’re a fan of the Descent games, you will find Aquanox to handle very similarly.  Because you are underwater, you have a full range of motion to your fighter sub but there’s also a sense of momentum that you will quickly get used to and use to maneuver your ship quickly around obstacles and against enemies.

You start out with a fairly standard DSF submarine but you can earn enough credits to either upgrade it or buy a vast array of other subs.  Some are heavily armored but slow while some are fast and nimble but very vulnerable to sustained enemy attack, so it really depends on the mission and your playstyle.  That goes for the weapons as well, as you can equip a number of different weapons that can change the way you attack and engage the enemy, from machine guns to missile launchers to mines.  In addition to battling enemy pirates and vicious sea life, you can find salvage on the ocean floor and use it immediately to craft important items for your sub or save it and trade it in at hubs, which is where you can also talk to various characters and get new missions.

The way the story plays out feels a lot like something like Wing Commander or other space sims of the 90s.  In addition to the in-depth single-player campaign, there’s also multiplayer where you can battle other players in sub to sub combat.  If you’re into more arcadey sims like Wing Commander, Aquanox: Deep Descent is worth checking out as it features a unique setting and the underwater setting offers up a fairly distinct feel to exploration and combat.  This new version also definitely lived up to the memories I had playing it as a kid and fans of the series should be happy with this new version as well.  It’s out now on PC.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! (Chris): In 2042, wars and corporations have changed the landscape, but hungry people still need great food. A once highly esteemed chef of a 5 star rated restaurant must now rebuild their career in a food truck. Along with a small crew of two helper robots, a chief must work up their fame to get back to the top. Developed and published by Vertigo Gaming, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is back to deliver another serving of fresh cooking delight. All the fast-paced, arcade-style cooking simulation returns with a new setting, robotic companions, and a new set of food challenges.

The player takes up the role of the chef and manager of a food truck. From setting the menu, preparing the dishes, and serving the customers, the player is responsible for a whole lot to keep this food truck in the business. But the chef is not alone, two helpful robots named Cleaver and Whisk are there to help. From words of encouragement and speedy service, these quirky companions aid the player whenever they can.

The gameplay of CSD3 has the player carefully select food items that each requires a sequence of steps to create. These patterns can range from two or three-button clicks for a single-phase or multiple phases to assemble a complete dish. Each level requires a set menu of dishes, that slowly increase in difficulty with complex dishes with more integrated preparation. The menu is built with daily items that can be made ahead of time before the customers, and other dishes are custom orders that must be made when asked.

Dishes can be practiced before each stage, and it’s extremely useful to get the difficult patterns down because the pacing is frantic and requires a rhythm to keep up with the demands. Luckily, Cleaver can be used to quickly serve up fully cooked dishes and get new customer’s orders. Dishes that are made fresh and ready for the customer will get highly favorable ratings and more cash, while late or ruined dishes will be docked.

Since the cooking now takes place in a food truck, customers and settings change with every state the truck makes a stop at. However, 20242 has been hard on a few states but people demand quality food and some will go to extreme lengths to stop rival food business from succeeding. A few of these distractions can be eased a bit with new upgrades to the kitchen and complex food items.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! satisfies the playing experience with tons of addictive gameplay to master, hungry stirring visuals, and an upbeat soundtrack to tie it all together. Also side Cleaver and Whisk, there a ton of features that give this title charming quirks. Returning fans will find it easy to be back in the hot seat of the kitchen and newcomers will instantly warm up to the task. Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! was released on October 14 for Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Cloudpunk (Zach): There have been tons of different spins on the cyberpunk genre in the world of games over the years but Cloudpunk from Merge Games and ION Lands is a thoroughly unique and gorgeous take on the genre.  You play as Rania, who is newly arrived in the sprawling vertical city of Nivalis.  Desperately in need of cash, Rania takes a job as a delivery driver for the shady, semi-legal company Cloudpunk, who delivers packages with no questions asked.  Over the course of her first night, Rania will meet a number of different characters and become involved in conspiracies and mysteries all over the city.

One of the first things you’ll notice right out of the gate is how stunningly realized the city of Nivalis is.  Even though the graphics are more pixel/voxel style, the city feels like a living, breathing world and is dripping with atmospheric details and aesthetic touches.  While the game is open-world, it’s also very story focused because it’s an adventure game at heart.  Rania will get a mission from her dispatcher, Control, and then go to pick up the package and deliver it to the customer.  There are certain points and missions where you can decide how or even if you want to deliver the package and that will affect your relationship and the story moving forward.

You’ll drive your hovercar around the city but once you get to your destination, you have to find a parking spot (which adds to the immersion and feel of a real, living city) and then set out on foot to complete the delivery.  On foot, Rania can also run into characters that can offer up items to buy or side missions to complete.  Rania can also head home to her apartment, where you can buy items to decorate it and make it homier and she also constantly chats with Camus, her AI dog that gets integrated into her HOVA vehicle.  The voice acting is fantastic as well and the story is incredibly well-written and makes you want to keep playing to see where things are going to go.  The entire game takes place over the course of one night in Nivalis and Rania’s decisions will change the city forever.  The game is definitely worth checking out if you are looking for an interesting, funny cyberpunk adventure and it’s out now on PS4, Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

Pumpkin Jack (Zach): Out now on Switch, PC, and Xbox One, Pumpkin Jack is a spoopy/spooky fun platformer that is an amazing throwback to games of the PS1/PS2 era of character platformers.  Published by Headup and developed by Nicolas Meyssonnier, Pumpkin Jack puts you in the pumpkin head of Jack, a conniving rogue and thief, who is brought back from Hell by the Devil to be the Devil’s champion on Earth and stop a powerful Wizard from thwarting the Devil’s plans. Jack is aided by an Owl guide and a cowardly Crow, who helps Jack by dive-bombing enemies and you proceed through different levels with classic platforming and simple but satisfying melee combat.  Jack can find a number of different weapons that are all slightly different and work better in certain areas, which is why you can switch between them at any time.  Jack also has the standard double jump of many a retro platforming hero and there is a ton of great platforming challenges to take on at each level.

At certain points, Jack will have to remove his head and use it to solve a puzzle or complete a challenge in an area before he can proceed in his regular fashion.  When he’s just a head, Jack cannot jump as high and can’t attack but he can manipulate switches and you’ll have to do things as Jack’s head like maneuver a bomb around a course to get it to a pile of explosives to blow up a wall blocking your path in the main level.  There’s also “action” sections in every level where Jack has to do things like flee a burning barn or ride a mine car that are more tests for your reflexes.  Jack will also battle bosses and a wide range of spooky enemies on his quest to kill the Wizard.  The game looks fantastic and is the absolutely perfect game for Halloween/Fall with a fun spooky atmosphere and a soundtrack that evokes things like “Spooky Scary Skeletons“.  It admittedly doesn’t do anything really new or different, so if you aren’t into retro gameplay or want something unique in a platformer, you may be disappointed but outside of that potential tiny niche of gamers, everyone else with fond memories for games like Medievil or Jak & Daxter will probably love Pumpkin Jack and it’s an absolutely spooky fun blast.

Partisans 1941(Chris): It’s 1941 and the Germans have invaded the Soviet Union. With war tearing through the country, soldiers fight across ruined towns and villages. Overshadowed by the invading army, a small squad of Soviet soldiers will slip into enemy territory in Partisans 1941. Developed by Alter Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment, Partisans 1941 is a real-time tactical action title set in the early stages of WW2 from the Soviet perspective. Following Captain Zorin and his ragtag team of rebellious soldiers, this partisan squad must stealthily outmaneuver and overpower the German forces. Using their wits, skills, and seized supplies, they will pick apart the invaders one battle at a time.

Partisans 1941’s gameplay is a 3D heavily forces on quiet and patient stealth combat. Enemies are scattered across levels, patrolling and guarding various points with very itchy trigger fingers. Rushing into battle without any plans will result in a quick defeat. To turn the odds to the player’s favor, enemies must be carefully approached and selectively taken out, creating a good tactical advantage. There is a tactical slow-motion mode that lets the player assign actions for every partisan and execute them at once. This is similar to a feature in Shadow Tactics but is played with a reduced real-time frame.

Each partisan member has particular stats and skills that will grant them different abilities and unique strategies. Some are equipped to handle more silent or ensnaring tactics while others have more offensive strengths when things go loud. Stats and Skills can be leveled up, greatly improving their uses and efficiency.

Equipment and supplies play a big role in how the partisans stay alive in battles. In each mission, partisans can loot enemies and supply caches to utilize on the field or store back at the base-camp. Weapons and ammo, along with food and medicine, are collected and managed with each partisan. While every character can use the same weapons, there are preferred weapons that play to the character’s special abilities.

However, plundering supplies can have consequences. The partisans are fighting the Germans in their homeland. Citizens that still need their own resources to stay alive in this time of war. Raiding the locals will demoralize the partisans mentally, leading to poor battle efficiently as their guilt weighs on them. But when supplies are low, sometimes there is no choice but to take what is needed to fight another day.

When not in missions, the partisans will rest at their base-camp. There is a management system here that will unlock new upgrades and opportunities to gain resources. By spending supply points, new facilities can be built to gather food or craft items. There are also mini-task that will send partisan members off to perform a task and possibly gain rewards.

There are a few things that can break the game’s immersion. There could be some improvement on the cover system, as partisans will sometimes path to the worst position to cover themselves. It can ruin a silent approaching when a partisan decide to go to a highly visible portion of cover directly in the line of enemy sights. Some of the English voice could be cleaned up a bit. A few characters sound out of place with British English accents and don’t quite match the tone of the story.

Overall, Partisans 1941 is a great entry in the tactical genre. Partisans 1941 has some fun and interesting ideas that work well for most gamers. Alter Games tells a dramatic story through the actions of the partisans. Combat feels very strategic, it rewards smart choices and punishing bad risk. Every battle has a solution, but there is room on the battlefield to experiment. The different management systems never reach a complexity to hinder the main gameplay. Partisans 1941 was released on to Steam on October 14th.

Breakpoint (Zach): The latest game from the mad scientists at The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developer Studio Aesthesia, Breakpoint is a fast-paced, intense new arcade-style shooter.  At first glance, Breakpoint may seem like a simple Geometry Wars clone but the fact that it is a “twin-stick slasher” is what sets it apart from similar games.  Instead of having guns like many other twin-stick shooter games in the same genre, your ship in Breakpoint has only melee weapons like swords, axes, and spears.  While it may not make a ton of sense logistically, in gameplay, it really changes things up as you have to get so much closer to the enemies to take them out, increasing the danger and difficulty, especially as the hordes get bigger and more complex.  The title of the game comes from the fact that, after a certain amount of hits on enemies, your weapon “breaks” causing a massive chain reaction explosion that takes out a ton of enemies in the area and vastly increases your score.

There are a ton of different weapons to pick up and they all feel dramatically different, so you may find yourself ignoring certain ones and risking it all for others depending on how they feel to you.  You can also throw your current weapon in the game’s only real long-range attack that can help you get out of tight jams but leaves you open to attack and most likely with a weaker weapon than you had.  The game has a similar look to Geometry Wars with vibrant neon and various geometric enemies coming at you and it’s set to a thumping and fantastic synth-wave soundtrack.  If you play a lot of games like this, you know that you usually get into a “flow” at a certain point and Breakpoint definitely has that feeling going on as you become laser-focused on dodging enemies and projectiles.  It also really has that “one more run” quality that will keep you playing for probably longer than you thought.  One thing that might put some players off is a lack of other game modes. Breakpoint is laser-focused on its single, score attack mode, so if you are looking for something else, you won’t find it here.  If you are into the score attack, hardcore arcade action that Breakpoint is offering though, you should definitely check it out on PC and Switch.

Shoot 1UP DX (Chris): Developed and published by Mommy’s Best Games, with porting by Super Soul, Shoot 1UP DX is a dedication to the crazy mayhem shoot ‘em up games fans have come to love. Shoot 1UP DX is inspired by classic shoot’em up titles with a few twists. Instead of collecting 1Ups or extra lives to build up ship credits, Shoot 1UP DX sets loose all the available ships at once and uses them as a squadron. Every ship is a unit of life/player credit. Collecting 1UP tokens build up the squad, and losing ships reduces the overall life stat. If all ships are lost in battle, then the player is defeated and the game is over.

As with most shoot’em up, the plot plays a tiny role in the game. A mechanical-tentacle alien force has been conquering the galaxy. They have built up an army of battleships and creatures that must be repelled back. It has a really generic but traditional narrative that only appears in the intro and the ending. While the story is paper-thin, the gameplay fills up the time with tons of exciting combat.

Shoot 1UP DX has a very cool mechanic that lets the player utilize the number of ships to increase the power and spread of bullets, plus the mobility of the squadron. With 2 or more ships, the player can expand or shrink the formation of the squadron. Spaced out ships have a wide spread of bullets and charge up a huge laser known as the Plasma Auger, which deals out a ton of damage to whatever gets caught in the blast.

As powerful and useful the wide/expanded formation appears, it is still vulnerable to enemy bullets and crashing into oncoming ships. There is an element of tactical advantages to intentionally crash a player ship as it allows the squadron a brief second of invincibility to quickly reposition around the screen. The key to surviving and keeping the squadron count high is expanding and shrinking at tight moments.

Each level has a branching path that allows go into a free-roaming mode that lets the player manually move toward the enemy in a 2D dog fight. It’s a neat throwback feature that resembles the mechanics of Technosoft and Sega’s Thunder Force.

While the game has a short run with only 8 stages, it offers a multitude of difficulties and ways to play. The first two difficulties, “Chilled” and “Normal” should offer a decent challenge, but don’t overwhelm the player too much. The “Serious” mode really aims to bombard the screens with tons of bullets and is a test of the player’s skills. There is also a fun “goof” mode that is unlocked that lets the rate of power-ups spawn faster and quickly gives the player the edge in combat all the time. It makes the game hilarious easy but is super satisfying to basically dissolve enemies before they have a chance to shoot.

Shoot 1UP DX is a brief but thrilling title that pays great homage to the additive shooting gameplay. There is enough challenge to have repeated playthroughs and polish features to make it fun. Shoot 1UP DX was released for Switch and Xbox One on October 15th

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