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Gamebox 2.0: Games of March 2022

As we’re gearing up for the return of PAX East next month, we checked out a batch of new games to review.  We explored a futuristic Aztec society in Aztech Forgotten Gods, tried to solve an FMV whodunnit? in Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus?, drove a high-tech spy car in Agent Intercept, tried to survive frozen horrors in Expedition Zero, and more.  Check out all our reviews and impressions below.

Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? (Zach): Coming from Wales Interactive, Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is a new FMV whodunnit? that will probably be right up your alley if you enjoyed stuff like Knives Out. Abigail Hardinghams stars as the main character Abby.  Right before jumping on a group video chat for a yearly quiz game in honor of her demanding Mum’s birthday, Abby gets a call from her Uncle Marcus, played by The Office’s Andy Buckley.  At a family meeting that Abby missed, someone allegedly poisoned Uncle Marcus and he’s only got a limited time left for Abby to help him find out what he was poisoned with and who did it.  As you progress through the story, you’ll be making choices in a similar style to the Netflix interactive movies or Wales Interactive’s previous games, like The Complex. Abby’s goal is to gather evidence by talking to her various family members in order to be able to accuse the killer and save Uncle Marcus.

The story progresses through the various rounds of the family’s trivia game and the person hosting the round and who Abby chooses to partner with affects your dialogue options and what evidence you can uncover.  It will take multiple playthroughs to gather enough evidence to figure out who the culprit is but the evidence you gather in each run stays collected and you can skip through scenes you’ve already seen to save time.  The main thing keeping things from being tedious is the performances, which are excellent across the board.  Andy Buckley does a great job of getting more haggard as the game goes on and Abigail Hardinghams is a likable and relatable antagonist to control, especially compared to her wacky and exasperating family members.  From Abby’s vapid sister Lottie to her acid-tongued and perpetually drunk Aunt Judith, all the characters are well-acted and fun to interact with and there seems to be a lot of variety in the dialogue and scenes depending on who you decide to talk to and when and it’s also great to just sit back for a bit and watch the scenes play out.  There’s been a bunch of great FMV games lately and Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is a fantastic entry in the genre with great performances and a fun story that should please anyone trying to show off their inner Benoit Blanc.  The game is out now on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, iOS, and Android.

Expedition Zero (Chris) After a meteorite crashes into the cold wilderness of Siberia, a scientific soviet expedition crew seeks to research the cosmetic debris. But what they find is far more horrifying and soon a lone survivor remains. Stuck in the frozen tundra and surrounded by mutated creatures, the survivor must find supplies to rebuild their camp, craft defensive, and find a way to escape before they are lost to the unforgiving weather or the sinister creatures that lurk within it. Enigmatic Machines and tinyBuild presents a chilling entry of true survival horror in Expedition Zero. Taking the collecting and crafting elements of survival games and the haunting atmosphere of horror games, Expedition Zero is a first-person title that puts the player in the role of a survivor that must rely on brains than brawn to overcome the nightmare situation.

Expedition Zero has a semi-open world that lets you explore ruined encampments in an attempt to collect alien samples and craft equipment in order to leave the remote area. But standing in the way are mutated corpses that inhabit the icy wasteland, and something much dark still lurking in the shadows. If the mutated creatures of the night don’t pose a big threat, the icy weather is a cruel unstoppable foe that will surely stop the player dead in their tracks. Every moment spends time outside will slowly lower the player’s body temperature. Too low a temperature and things start to get slow for the player. Luckily, the player is equipped with an environmental suit that offers some protection. At the start, the suit offers some resistance to the weather and later on can be upgraded for better protection. There is also a battery that powers up displays and other equipment that must be recharged with a charging station and additional batteries.

The expedition campsite and surrounding ruins have salvageable items. These items can be broken down into one of three material types that can be used at 3D printers to craft items. Each 3D printer is designed to only use one type of material, so you can’t camp one printer to build everything. There is a lot of backtracking around the area as the player must find the materials, printers, and alien samples in a randomly generated order. The locations of a few items change if the player is killed. It adds a mini rogue-like element to try different runs to understand how things flow and get a general layout of the area.

Expedition Zero simplifies a few of the survival concepts that make this title easier to pick up without studying crafting guides. This isn’t exactly an action-horror title as the combat is functional and not the focus. Enemies aren’t too tough to outmaneuver, and even sneak past. Expect one creature that should be avoided due to its invincibility. The game is formatted like a series of fetch quests by collecting samples and unlocking schematics for the 3D printers. However, the game gets more surreal once the mystery of the expedition is peeled back a bit. The game does a good job of applying pressure for juggling all the item management and giving a sense of unease while exploring. Expedition Zero isn’t an ambitious title but works well with the scope and themes. The game showcases its strengths early and sticks with it to be a spooky experience. Expedition Zero was released for PC on March 24th.

Agent Intercept (Zach): Developed by PikPok, Agent Intercept is a throwback to classics like Spy Hunter but with a modern look and unique perspective.  You are the best agent in The Agency and you’ve been given the keys to their most valuable and deadly weapon, the Sceptre spy vehicle.  The Sceptre is loaded with weaponry and can transform into multiple forms, including a boat and a fighter jet.  Tasked with tracking down and stopping the vile forces of CLAW, you play through three different chapters with 5 missions each.  As you complete each mission, there are various secondary objectives to complete that will earn you intel and you need to earn enough intel to unlock the final mission in each chapter, which is usually a much more elaborate stage featuring a massive boss battle.  The objectives range from drifting for a certain distance, collecting enough points, defeating a certain amount of enemies, and more.  During my playthrough, I unlocked at least 2 or 3 objectives for each mission, which was more than enough to unlock the final missions without needing to redo prior missions.

Unlike Spy Hunter, which was played from an aerial view or even the PS2 era reboot or other racing games, Agent Intercept plays from a sort of isometric side view.  It takes a little bit to get used to as it’s a pretty unique perspective for a driving game but you should be able to get used to it fairly quickly and then be drifting and jumping through the stages while battling enemy vehicles and dodging traps.  The game has a fast, arcade-style pace and it’s constantly throwing obstacles and enemies at you while also having you switch between modes depending on where the path goes it’s intense but manageable.  There are point pick-ups to collect as well as boost, which you want to be using as much as you can to drift and take down enemies, and weapon pickups like missiles and machine guns.  The story is a solid take on spy movie cliches with double agents and over-the-top supervillains building doomsday weapons and it’s enough to keep you progressing through the levels but the gameplay is the main draw.  The game also has an extremely cool and unique stylized look that sets it apart from similar games and it reminded me a lot of the game Counterspy from back in 2014 while character designs and story reminded me of Renegade Ops from 2011 along with the obvious influence of Spy Hunter. Agent Intercept is a fast-paced and action-packed arcade-style game that is easy to pick up and have a blast with.  It’s out now on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One.

Princess Farmer (Chris): Harvesting veggies, making friends, and fighting frenemies, being a magical farmer has its perks and its responsibilities. Developed by Samobee Games and published by Whitehorn Games, Princess Farmer is a match-3 puzzle title, with visual novel elements that have an overload of charming cuteness and classic retro-inspired sprite work. The plot follows a bunny farmer that is given magical abilities by Mother Gaia, a mystical goddess that resides in the forest. Turned into farming royalty, Princess Farmer seeks off on a journey to help the harvest new crops, make new connections, and uncover a mystery lurking in the woods.

The puzzle mechanics follows a usually match 3 rules; align three or more objects of the same time in a certain fashion to eliminate them from the grid. But the added twist that expands on this is the ability to hold, stack, and reorder the columns. The player is able to pull up a vegetable from the topmost vertical spot, which moves all the veggies below up to one spot higher.  You can also replant a veggie back into the ground that will push back the whole column of veggies by one spot. There are rocks that occasionally show up that can be removed by smashing two of them together, freeing up their spot for more veggies to fill.  This simple but very effective mechanic offers up creative ways to set up combos, work around missing veggies or manage inconvenient tight situations. The first two chapters of the story mode introduce each mechanic one by one until you are given stricter time limits, vegetable objects, and even a duel against another farmer. The story mode breaks up the puzzle challenges with dialogue sequences where Princess Farmer interacts with people she encounters. There are dialogue choices where Princess Farmer is able to give confident, shy, or ambitious answers to get certain reactions and affinities.

Princess Farmer strikes that fine balance of simple and addictive puzzle action, making it a great title for gamers of all games to get into. The presentation of the game is great, telling the story like it’s an old-school anime that you are nostalgically rewatching. The hard-drawn artwork is beautifully done that invokes a bubbly mood. The music is relaxing and the sound effects don’t distract while buildup big combos and seeing them fall into place. Princess Farmer is a delightful fun casual puzzle title that is worth a look for your next game harvest. Princess Farmer is out now for PC, Switch, Playstation, and Xbox X.

Aztech Forgotten Gods (Zach): While it has a cool world and interesting ideas, Aztech Forgotten Gods was kind of a miss for me as it is visually unappealing and has controls that never make you feel like you are in control.  Set in a Latine-Futurism world where the Aztec civilization flourished and became a massive, tech-enhanced empire, you play as Achtli, whose mother is a scientist investigating a mysterious gauntlet and energy sources in an ancient temple.  When her project is going to be shut down by her boss, Achtli and her mother sneak into the temple to try and finish her experiments. Achtli puts on the gauntlet and absorbs a massive amount of power, which awakens the long-dormant snake deity Tez, whose essence takes up residence in Achtli’s head, and unleashes gigantic ancient monsters on the city. Achtli has to figure out the powers of her new gauntlet and work with Tez and her friends to take down the monsters and figure out where they are coming from and why.  The story and setting are pretty interesting but the game looks like a PS2 game and its pacing and storytelling style are like that era as well.  There’s no voice acting and the characters do a lot of miming and utter simple sounds while you read their dialogue.  After an initial tutorial sequence that shows off the movement and combat, it’s a pretty long time before you really get to do anything interesting again, as you mainly are just talking to characters and going to different places around the city.

Combat never feels great and there’s not a lot of variety or combos.  You have one attack button and you jerk toward whatever enemy or target is selected.  Your gauntlet also lets you rocket around on beams of energy and it works fairly well once you get the hang of it but that also feels really wonky and jerky as well.  If you’re pressing on the stick, you go forward and if you’re not, you go up but there isn’t the free-flying movement you would expect and you have to do a combo of letting off, dropping, or rising up and pressing forward if you need to change altitude.  Combat and movement just feel like you’re constantly out of control and it never feels good playing it.  That combined with the general ugliness of the visuals and pacing makes Aztech Forgotten Gods something I would have to give a pass.  If you want to still check it out, it’s out on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch

Aeterna Noctis (Chris) In the realm of Aeterna, the Queen of Light and the King of Darkness wage war against one another to become the ruler of Aeterna. Cursed with eternal life by Chaos, the creator of Aeterna, the Queen of Light and the King of Darkness have fought, died, and returned, never leaving one conqueror to reign forever. The unending cycle has kept Aeterna at a standstill and two rulers in conflict until the end of time. Developed and published by Aeternum Game Studio, Aeterna Noctis is a Metroidvania title. It has hand-drawn character models and assets that overlay gloomy landscapes. The game puts you in the role of the King of Darkness, a powerful warrior that has embraced the wick forces of Aeterna. In a recent battle against his nemesis the Queen of Light, the King had been slain and reborn. He journeys around Aeternum to must reclaim his lost abilities and build up his strength to challenge the Queen once more.

The King should be no stranger to death as every area is filled with dangerous foes and even trickier platforms. Aeterna Noctis is told in a non-linear fashion with 16 zones to explore. They are cut-scenes that play out details, but it’s mostly up to the player to move to the next region. However, some pathways are inaccessible at the start due to not having the right abilities. At the start of the game, the King is armed with his sword that can swing in big arcs and can down strike enemies while the King descends from heights. Not soon after, the King gains a dash ability that lets him move quickly to avoid attacks. Later on, the King gets magical arrows that can he can fire and teleport to their targeted location. As the King gets stronger, his options of navigating around the map open up and make it easier to travel, but there will still be plenty of deadly obstacles to overcome.

The gameplay has the familiar elements from Metroidvania, but with an added feature of a Dark Souls collecting system. Defeated enemies drop soul essence that King collects for upgrades. Banking and spending the essence is key to leveling up the King. But if the King dies before spending the essence, the saved essence is dropped at the spot of the King’s death. The King re-spawns at shelter locations in the form of thrones and can travel back to the last location to recollect the essence once again. There is a slight twist to the mechanic. Dying and not recollecting the lost essence prevents the King from collecting new essence. It gets to be mandatory to fetch the dropped essence instead of taking the loss. However, there is a shortcut to retrieve the ability to collect essence, but it comes with a price tag. The King can pay the Keeper, a ghostly watcher, to retrieve the King’s core essence instead of traveling back for them. It does save time, but the cost eats into the grind to build up the collected gold.

With a large-scale world to explore, there are some spots that will make the player feel a bit lost. The in-game map is uncharted and requires purchasing portions from a cartographer. It gets a bit frustrating to blindly wander looking for the cartographer that appears somewhere late in the zone. Some of the flow can be confusing that needs some trial and error to figure out the layout. Hitting switches to open up doors are spread out and you won’t easily know where to go the first time. Paired this with backtracking for lost essence and the harder, trapped-filled level designs begin to wear you down.

Aeterna Noctis is a solid adventure title that offers plenty to explore and challenge. The levels feel a little overwhelming at times, but the variety of keeps it fresh from being too tedious. The story is very anime-inspired and I enjoyed the lore about previous events of the King and Queen’s past cycles. The pacing of the game is long but rewarding to reach each boss fight. These battles feel great to test the player and see how well they can utilize all of the King’s skills they have unlocked. Adventure-seeking gamers should find Aeterna Noctis as a great homage to the Metroidvania genre. Aeterna Noctis is now available on PC, PS4 & PS5, Xbox X, and Switch.

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