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Gamebox 2.0: Games of August 2021

Summer is winding down but the gaming hasn’t slowed a bit. We squeezed the last bits of summer gaming as we checked out another batch of PC and console titles over the past month. We visited a cyberpunk future, redressed tackey clothing, fought as a blind warrior princess, protected our squadmates in WW2, and more! Our reviews are below for our August edition of the Gamebox.

Fashion Police Squad Demo version (Chris): When drab clothing and dull personalities need a total makeover, the Fashion Police Squad is on the case. Developed by Mopeful Games and No More Robots, Fashion Police Squad is a retro FPS that puts the player into the stylish shoes of Sergeant Des. Armed with an arsenal of apparel-altering weaponry, Des is on the hunt to stop fashion crimes around his city. From loose-fitting pants, uninspiring suits, and tactic outfits, Des will make the streets sassy again.

The gameplay follows old-school FPS like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom. The shooting is fast and smooth, relies on quick reflexes to evade incoming attacks. The demo shows off a handful of weaponry like a color-changing gun, a sturdy leather belt, and a super slap attach gives an instant fashion makeover. Battles are really easy to handle one on one but get hectic once groups of enemies start to swarm. The game’s environments are rendered to have 2D pixel spirits in a blocky 3D world, which blends well. Mopeful Games leans into the quirky nature of the game for some funny moments. Enemies make random phrases with low energy tones to them, there is upbeat chiptune music and a silly booming voice that announces every fashion crime solved. It’s a solid and goofy FPS with a fresh sense of style. Fashion Police Squad is slated to be released in 2022.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown (Zach): If you’re looking for something completely unique to check out, The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is an audio-only RPG from developer Falling Squirrel.  Out now on PC and Xbox, The Vale: Shadow of the Crown puts you in the shoes of blind princess Alex, who is on a journey to a new home on the outskirts of the kingdom after her brother ascends to the throne when their father dies.  Alex and her uncle are ambushed by soldiers of an invading army and Alex has to find her way on the long journey back home.  You are inside the head of Alex, so you have no visuals to navigate through the world.  Headphones are absolutely required as the game utilizes audio for navigating and combat. When fighting, you’ll hear your enemies coming from a certain direction and you need to time your attack to strike in the right direction.  You use the right stick on your controller to attack in the direction you want to strike, which is simple but satisfying as you hear your strikes hit the enemies.  Other times, you’ll have to listen for your goal, whether it be the rushing of a river or listening to shouting merchants in a market to find the one you need to buy items from.

As you would expect, the audio design of The Vale is phenomenal and with a great pair of headphones, you are fully immersed in the world as the audio surrounds you.  The voice acting is fantastic as well and it feels at times like an interactive audiobook.  As you progress, you’ll build up an inventory and find better weapons, armor, and equipment and all the menus have audio cues to add to the accessibility.  The Vale is definitely like no other RPG you’ve ever experienced before and it’s definitely worth putting on some headphones and immersing yourself in its fantasy world.

Hell Let Loose (Chris): Black Matter and Team17 drops players into the brutal front lines of WW2 in Hell Let Loose. This FPS title is an online multiplayer, with up to 100 players in a match, that focuses on realism over quick-twitch combat. This is not a simple FPS title that only one person can dramatically change the tide of battle with one lucky kill streak. Players will be part of a small platoon that will make up an army, each playing a vital role to overcome the opposing army. Communication and teamwork are all required to press into the enemies and outmaneuver their positions.

Hell Let Loose features large-scale open battlefields, featuring locations from the eastern and western fronts of WW2. The objective of the game is to secure and capture control points. Both armies spawn on opposite sides of the map and will have to work their way across the battlefield. Players can travel by foot or a few vehicles, sometimes making it easy or harder to be noticed by the opponents. With danger lurking around every corner, death can come in a blink of an eye.

There is a minimalist HUD to show items and positions. There isn’t a visible health bar, but if a player takes enough damage, they will need to be bandaged up to recover. Take too much damage all at once and the player will end a near-death state. In this state, the player has to call out to a medic before they bleed out or give up and be re-spawned with a time penalty. Each army is made up of roles for Infantry, Armor, and Recon. Infantry handles mostly in direct combat and support. Armor handles heavy vehicles such as tanks and trucks. Recon is for scouting and long-distance combat. There is a role for Commander that will oversee the entire army and will have to issue orders and manage the individual squads.

Like most realism FPS, Hell Let Loose has a learning curve to understand. Maps are big and take some time to understand layouts. Working as a squad takes a few rounds to understand the abilities. It is not recommended to be the Commander or a squad leader for newcomers. There are a lot of strategies to coordinate that can get overwhelming for the first few rounds. The learning curve is a bit steep, but it can be learned over multiple plays.

Hell Let Loose is wildly immersive, with tough but fun game elements. There are enough features for causal shooters to run straight into combat and clever mechanics for tactician minds to layout assault plans. The key to having a great time in this game is good teamwork. Most of the games I joined were with players that approached the game with patience and decent communication. The game has been in beta and early access for a while and has built up a good size community, so there are tons of servers to join with people that will be your brothers in arms or the enemy in your sights. Hell Let Loose was released on PC this past July 27, and a PS5 & Xbox version will be coming soon.

Foreclosed (Zach): With an awesome comic-book aesthetic, Foreclosed from Antab Studio and Merge Games is a new cyberpunk action game out now on pretty much every platform.  You play as Evan Kapnos, who lives in a cyberpunk future where people are given “identity chips” at birth that can be bought by corporations, putting you in debt to whoever can afford your identity.  Evan’s company, Securtech, goes bankrupt and his identity is “foreclosed” on, forcing him to head to court.  On his way there, he’s ambushed by goons looking to kill him and he finds out from the CEO of his former company that he’s been equipped with an experimental chip that gives him special abilities.  Evan sets out to find out who’s after him and stop whatever plan they have.  The biggest positive for the game is the look.  It has an awesome comic book style that throws back to stuff like XIII and more recent games like Void Bastards and it constantly changes perspectives and puts things into panels and also uses comic book sound effects and voice bubbles.

The combat, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the visuals.  It’s not terrible by any means but it feels loose and unsatisfying.  There’s not a lot of great feedback when you fire and hit enemies and there’s no cover system, which given its third-person perspective you would think would be a staple of the genre by now.  You can crouch behind obstacles but it’s not the same as hitting cover and popping up and down like a Gears of War.  You also feel weirdly weak, at least early on, as the game throws a ton of enemies at you from all directions and you go down fairly easily after a few shots.  You do level up and start to unlock different abilities, both for your experimental chip and for your gun.  You can unlock abilities like overheating enemies from behind for a sort of stealth kill and stuff like rapid-fire and explosive rounds for your gun.

There’s an interesting mechanic where the more upgrades you put on your gun, the faster you overheat, so there’s a trade-off to putting on a ton of upgrades but having to cool down more frequently.  You can switch off the upgrades at any time to go back to your regular gun, so that offers up some flexibility in firefights.  As I mentioned, the combat is terrible but it definitely feels simplistic and a step back compared to recent games that had excellent third-person combat, like Control.  The voice acting is also a little wonky but could be fun to certain players in a “so bad it’s good” way.  Foreclosed definitely looks fantastic and if you can deal with the somewhat subpar combat, it’s out on every console plus PC.

Retired Men’s Nude Beach Volleyball League (Chris): Retirement brings a big chapter about a person’s life to a close, but it does open new opportunities. For Len Rizzo, his golden years are going to get a lot more tanned as he takes part in one strange recreational sports league. In a collaboration by Will Brierly, Rachel Olson, and Aaron Bleyaert, Retired Men’s Nude Beach Volleyball League is a sports sim title that unfolds as an unconventional art house experience. At the surface level, this game is about Len’s volleyball matches in a retirement league filled with nude men. However, there is an interconnected narrative about Len’s decisions in life and how he landed up in the volleyball games in the first place. If you had seen any prior titles from Snowrunner Productions, expect that the game is not what it appears to be.

The game features very basic volleyball mechanics that make it feel closer to Pong than anything else. The controls focus on movement and one button to hit the ball when serving. There is no button for reflecting, smashing, or blocking any volleyball shots. If the player moves Len to the predicted path of the volleyball, Len will automatically do a return swing. However, it’s really hard to determine where exactly the ball will land and if Len will be able to maneuver in time.

The lack of real controls and the camera angles play big factors in hindering the player’s ability to enjoy the volleyball parts. It’s a game that relies on random luck if hits are connecting or the ball land where they intended. However, it’s only after the first two matches does the game’s meaningful message start to poke thru. While the game has a competitive element of trying to win volleyball matches, the game’s narrative takes center stage of the game. Len reflects on his decisions in life and develops an interesting meta journey that doesn’t quite stick its landing to build a big impact.

Overall, Retired Men’s Nude Beach Volleyball League is not going to be for everyone. It’s a game that feels like it’s meant to target game developers for quick gags like it was made in a game jam. I don’t mind the game’s janky visuals and glitchy mechanics, it was fun to see what other broken elements would be subtle or oblivious. I really wish the team polished the volleyball gameplay so it didn’t always feel like it was testing one’s patience than playing a game. The creators and game are self-aware of the limitations and it doesn’t lie about its intentions. If you a fan of obscure and novel games, see if you want to take part in the Retired Men’s Nude Beach Volleyball League.

Glitchpunk (Zach): GTA III changed the world when it came out and introduced the 3D open-world action genre but Daedalic Entertainment and Dark Lord are throwing back to the OG GTA games for the new top-down open-world action of Glitchpunk, which is out now in Early Access on Steam.  Only 1 map is available right now, but more will be added as the game progresses.  You play as an android bounty hunter in the city of New Baltia, where a religious cult rules over the dingy and dark streets.  If you played GTA or GTA II, the original, top-down PC, and PS1 classics, you will feel right at home in Glitchpunk.  It plays exactly like those games where you are playing from a bird’s eye view of the city and traveling to waypoints to get missions.  Like GTA, you can steal any car on the road, there’s a bunch of radio stations to listen to and if you commit crimes or murder civilians, you’ll build up your wanted level and have the police after you.

There are various missions for different factions that you can take on and complete with objectives from killing different targets to blowing up targets or stealing certain vehicles.  There are kiosks scattered around the city where you can purchase weapons and health items and it leans into its cyberpunk side by allowing you the ability to hack people and objects in the world, letting you mind control NPCs or take control of cars remotely.  You can also get modules to modify your android body and gain new abilities and skills.  The game has a great, dark, and dingy look and feel and the action is fast and brutal.  If you are a fan of pre-GTA III GTA and cyberpunk, definitely check out Glitchpunk on Steam.

Until We Die (Chris): When alien invaders push humanity underground, brave workers and soldiers rebuild and fight or die trying in Pixeye Games’ Until We Die. This title is a 2D, base defense strategy game that has players controlling resources management and fending off hordes of mutant aliens. It’s a race against time to survive the relentless horrors that crawl out of the dark. The game features a few roguelike mechanics to make every session unique and challenging.

Until We Die puts players in the shoes of either Ivan or Anna, one of the field commanders leading the humans. It will be their job to get food, scrap, tech, and manpower to establish a base. Food can be harvest from vegetation in uncleared plots of space or from worms. Scrap can be salvaged from old materials. Manpower comes from recruiting volunteers. All these will be vital resources needed to build structures and units to defend the base from attacks. The game is broken into a “day” and “night” cycle that lets players explore the surroundings during the daytime and be ready to guard the base during the nighttime. Mutants become more aggressive at night when a purple mist surrounds the player’s base and attacks can from either direction.

There is a fun and steep learning curve to figuring out the strategies. Resources can be collected at any pace and there are a few bonus perks that can be gained by completing certain requirements that will boost abilities. However, the game doesn’t always make it clear why and how certain perks will be unlocked and no time to teach how to survive enemy encounters. It’s a lot of trial and error to figure out when enemies spawn, which abilities you should use and what to build, and apply it all on the next playthru. The latest version of the game pits players with the challenge to survive 28 days in the game that roughly equals about 2+ real-time hours. There is no speeding up or making the days longer, but you will wish it could go slower so you have enough time to do more tasks per day.

The real trick of Until We Die is understanding how to prioritize resources and actions. Supplies have to be watched carefully to make sure essential structures are built-in time and units are available to be assigned critical tasks. Minor missteps will have a snowball effect that won’t be realized until maybe 20 minutes into a session. The game will make it oblivious if you are unprepared to handle an alien attack once defensive and units start to crumble into dust.

Until We Die is chaotic and challenge in the right ways to sink hours into playing. It’s addicting to learn the mechanics and try to be a more efficient commander. The pixel art is nicely animated and detailed, giving this title a very timeless charm. While some of the instructions and controls can feel a little stiff and clunky, such as the E key being the primary action button for almost all commands and no shortcuts quickly pick units from a crowd, the game is still approachable for everyone to pick up and play. Pixeye Games has a roadmap to add more features and fix issues, so the game can be a totally different experience later on.

Beats of Fury (Chris): It’s a top-down shooter with a rhythmic twist in Gamera Game and Bubble Head Games’ Beats of Fury. This is a mash-up of the fast-paced action of a Bullet Hell title and the precision timing of a rhythm game. Players take control of a DJ, who is laying out musical attacks against waves of swarming enemies. Enemies are color matched to a corresponding button on the control that has to be pressed in sync with the music. But the enemies will be coming from all sides. Players will have to swirl around 360 degrees to get enemies in a target radius. If players miss an enemy, DJ takes damage. Building up combos restores health and increases the multiplier streak.

Beats of Fury has fun mechanics that really challenges players to follow the rhythm and look out for enemies. The soundtrack is a mix of dance, trap, and metal songs, each offering a different bpm in their gameplay. There are a few visual effects that can get a little distracting like the spinning of backgrounds objects. But after an adjustment, it takes too long to be in a trance and vibing with the music. The game is in early access and at this time offers eleven stages with four levels of difficulties. There is a global ranking system that tracks every player’s high scores. Bubble Head Games is currently developing a story mode, a marathon mode and a stage editor to import customize tracks. Beats of Fury is great for fans that enjoy a little action in rhythm games.

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