A (too) comforting Shelter

Survival- and horror-games have exploded in popularity the past few years, creating an exciting cascade of games mixing and matching various themes and multiple genres as a result; indie- and AAA-titles alike. Though, where most seem to be infected by zombies, few have attempted to portrait the true origin of survival found within the animal kingdom.

Welcomed by bright and very minimalistic graphics, Shelter 2, by developer Might & Delight, seeks to introduce the player to a world in which their every move and action remains absolutely vital to their continued survival. Players of the original Shelter will immediately feel at home, and anyone new to the Shelter-series is about to start a truly unique experience.

The beauty of nature is unmatched - just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

The beauty of nature is unmatched – just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

Taking the engaging role as a pregnant lynx mother, the player finds themselves in a peculiar and surprisingly vulnerable situation in the middle of the food chain – being neither the strongest nor weakest animal. This means that despite being both healthy, agile and relatively fast, dangers remain both eminent and inevitable. The vulnerable position and rumored wolf packs undeniably invites to action; unfortunately the only true taste of raw action throughout the entire game is strictly experienced during the prologue.

As the prologue finishes, the player is required to find a safe shelter. Once this is achieved, the main objective changes significantly. It is no longer about actual survival, but rather hunting helpless, wild rabbits within safe distance from your newly established base. Rinse and repeat until your kittens eventually reach adulthood and start their own endeavors. At first glance this feels rather vague, without real substance and somewhat underwhelming – which is both the truth, and a huge shame.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels too laid-back.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels rather relaxing.

Now, it is important to stress that Shelter 2 features several positive elements which undeniably is a direct result of the dedication and passion shared among the developers. There is absolutely no doubt that Shelter 2 is the product of a carefully nursed idea. Period. However, success is never guaranteed with just a good idea. In fact, and more often than not, a good idea is merely the key to get the real work started. A good game demands proper, responsive gameplay, solid graphics and preferably an enjoyable soundtrack. Shelter 2 is a good idea, and does feature the above as well. Surprisingly, however, the game can’t help but feel incomplete regardless – leaving the feeling that the massive potential simply has been left untouched somewhere behind the snow-covered mountains.

There are several reasons at to why the untouched potential can be compared to the mountains as they, too, are left unused in the game. A major downside to Shelter’s gameplay is the severe lack of replayability. The greatest incentive to play a second time appears to be for achievement hunters only; not because players are encouraged to explore more of the world. The fact that the player is given no reason to explore the – and let’s be honest, beautiful – world beyond the first competition is strange. There’s no lack of food nor any eminent dangers forcing the player to move – I certainly didn’t encounter any through almost four hours of gameplay. Shelter 2 ultimately leaves you begging for more content; which isn’t necessarily a good thing in this case.

The potential is undoubtedly present, but whether it’s fully utilized is largely depending on interpretation.

It is evident that Shelter 2 is created with passion, and whilst it does manage to introduce a lightweight version of the Animal Kingdom, it lacks to present true survival and actual dangers. The first play-through will be rewarding and in many ways interesting. However, without any incentive to continue to play, explore or challenging survival, the three-four hours of gameplay hardly justifies the current price-tag.

Buy Shelter 2 on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/275100/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

 

BLACKHOLE – Mind-bending space adventure

Welcome to the year of 2121.

Science has progressed enormously, and mankind is now in possession of technology allowing them to effectively protect Earth from the dangers in space. You find yourself on a spaceship on such a mission – in fact a quite special one set out to close the last remaining black hole. The crew consists of seasoned astronauts and a highly sophisticated, GLaDOS-like AI, Ariel. Why you are here is an entirely different matter. You are not a seasoned astronaut, and the others would rather not have you here. You’ve thus been assigned to the coffee-machine with the noble cause of providing the crew with freshly brewed coffee whenever needed. A task which you miraculously manage to screw up, repeatedly. However, before there’s any time to delve with yet another of your numerous mistakes, the ship’s alarm starts. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and panic quickly ensues. The crew has accidentally steered the ship onto an inevitable path towards total destruction. What a morning!

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The player must explore the richly detailed planet Entity in an attempt to scavenge parts to repair the spaceship and locate potential survivors.

It would have been naïve to fight the black hole’s immense powers, and the crew must, although reluctantly, accept their faith. And sure enough, the ship crashes into the planet-like world, Entity, seconds later. At first glance, no crew-members appeared to have survived beyond Auriel. Yet, for reasons unknown, you somehow managed to survive the horrendous crash and crawl your way through the remains – much to Auriel’s surprise. After the dust has settled, you and Auriel must now find your way through the alien planet on a mission to scavenge materials for reparations and rescue any fellow crew members whom might have survived the crash.

With the story set, many would find it hard to believe that BLACKHOLE indeed is a platformer. There’s no doubt that the game is  a platformer, but it manages to stand out on several factors. The game features an interesting and unique setting accompanied with a great sense of story-progression. The latter is largely achieved by exquisite voice-acting, which especially shines through from the intriguing AI, Auriel, and her constant chatter. The hand-painted 2D-world is moreover beautifully designed and delightfully accompanied by a great soundtrack.

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The game is full HD and performs at a steady 50 frames per second – even on low-end machines. The smooth gameplay is greatly accompanied by responsive controls.

With the story, world design and voice-over in place, the next step is the actual gameplay. A good gameplay, and especially in a platformer, requires solid and responsive controls as well as a challenging and preferably non-repetitive maps. BLACKHOLE very much manages all of this, and does so in a way which appeals to a surprisingly wide audience. The latter, for instance, is achieved by allowing players to advance through levels with a bare minimum of required objectives and unlimited time. The option to complete things with ease should be put in perspective, though. There’s no mercy and players will die repeatedly and grow increasingly frustrated with several levels, but they can decide to continue without completing everything. This, of course, means that players looking for an extra challenge does not have to look far.

Onto the actual gameplay. BLACKHOLE consists of a range of different puzzles which all requires the player to think creatively. The main aspect of this is altering the gravity in order to avoid obstacles. Inspired by VVVVVV, gravity needs to be altered more than once just to complete one objective. In addition to swapping gravity repeatedly, the player must not only reach the objective(s), but also safely return to the start-portal to complete the level. The beauty if this is that whilst the mechanics are simple, and whilst the player can progress with just a few objectives completed, every single map is a challenge and genuinely enjoyable.

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Entity might be pretty, but is most certainly also dangerous.

The longer you play BLACKHOLE, the more you realize and appreciate the genuine dedication and keen eye to detail throughout the game. It is evident that the developers, artists and musicians wanted to deliver a unique and challenging game. The fact that ongoing support the next six months with additional levels and content for free has been announced already merely stresses the true dedication.

It is your time to become a hero and survive the dangers within the black hole.

Buy BLACKHOLE on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322680/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Adorable Snowmen (A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build review)

..breathe in.. breathe out..

Prepare yourself for a challenging journey following a seemingly lonely monster in a charming and atmospheric world where simplicity and cleverly designed puzzles is key. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is not your usual puzzle-game, but will likely prove to be one of the most charming and enjoyable puzzle-games you’ve played for a long time.

The graphics are very charming and is greatly accompanied by the soundtrack.

The graphics are very charming and is greatly accompanied by the soundtrack.

You’re on a mission to fill a beautiful and snow-covered garden with beautiful snowmen. A snowmen is created by stacking three different sized snowballs (large, medium and small – equal to bottom, top and head) on top of each other. You must start with the largest snowball as base and gradually attach the two smaller snowballs on top. However, the snowballs must be attached directly from one of the four surrounding tiles. If a snowball is pushed through a tile covered with snow it’ll grow in size and become useless to its original purpose. Do not get fooled by the initial simplicity; the puzzles increase significantly in difficulty.

There’s no penalty for making a wrong move as you can simply revert your moves one-by-one till you’re satisfied. It is moreover possible to restart each room individually if you’ve lost track of your progress and appear to be completely stuck. However, it is important to keep track of your overall progress as each completed room unlocks one or more new routes and thus new puzzles. You’ll find some rooms to be impossible to solve without access from different angels as a result. The no-penalty system positively contributes to the already peaceful and relaxed approach which ultimately makes the game a challenging journey rather than an unforgiven puzzler.

Do not get fooled; all puzzles are cleverly designed and will prove a challenge as you gradually progress.

Do not get fooled; all puzzles are cleverly designed and will prove a challenge as you gradually progress.

The player is in addition to the above also able (and encouraged) to interact with the environment – creating a Zen-like feeling with the compelling audio and artwork. The anonymous and faceless black monster suddenly doesn’t feel so strange, and you start to feel empathy with the little guy hopelessly trapped in the beautiful garden.

As you complete the final puzzle (wherein you re-create the game’s creators, Benjamin Davis and Alan Hazelden, as snowmen), a gate will open followed by the camera slowly flying above the entire garden, displaying all your creations. The camera will eventually stop and ‘THE END?‘ will fade in. The dubious question-mark indicates that there indeed is more to the game. It is now time to explore your complete garden to uncover the mysterious secrets. Those interested in doing so will find intriguing new maps and interesting mechanisms left in a dreamlike world.

...what lies above remains a mystery, but the keen puzzle fans will find challenging new gameplay and intriguing mechanics.

…what lies above remains a mystery, but the keen puzzle fans will find challenging new gameplay and intriguing mechanics.

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is an innovative and very challenging game set in an atmospheric world with compelling artwork and audio. The game features cleverly designed puzzles and several hidden secrets. Puzzle enthusiasts will love it, and those new to the genre will be welcomed by the simplicity and increasing difficulty.

Buy A Good Snowman is Hard to Build on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/316610/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.