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.

EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

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Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

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

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

Reforming the endless-running genre with Velocibox

As a seasoned gamer, I usually approach games with a clear assumption and expectation that I can complete them somewhat straightforward. This illusion was completely shattered and humiliated after just one minute in the fast-paced and unforgiving world of Velocibox. The amount of deaths was nearly proportional with the amount of seconds played, and after just ten minutes I seriously questioned my abilities to even reach level two, let alone complete the game in level eight.

Introducing and completely reforming the endless-running genre, Velocibox invites the player to a very high-paced game with a constant momentum where dodging and twitching once again becomes crucial for survival. Minimalistic and very bright colours welcomes the player upon loading the game, but after a quick tutorial, the aforementioned bright and welcoming colours show their real face together with the controls and game speed.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

The endless-running genre has been around for ages, but recently experienced its renaissance through iOS and Android games such as Temple Run and Subway Surfers in the previous years. Though, while they may share the same rouge-like elements (no pausing or resetting), then Velocibox is very unique due to the controls and graphics. Unlike most other endless-runners, you are allowed to utilize the ceiling and walls (in fact, you are more or less required to do so). This means that all obstacles may be completed in different ways – all depending on the next obstacle, certain approaches may be preferred. And with 70 different patterns there are a lot of options – and a lot of frustration when your plan fails miserably.

Additionally, the cubes needed to advance to the next level are rarely placed in line; thus forcing the player to hunt these while spinning and dodging obstacles. The player is required to collect six cubes to advance to the next level, though these may be collected when the player see fit – the level will continue to run until the player catches six cubes or dies. Your score, however, is depending on how fast and how many boxes are collected – the more cubes as fast as possible, the more points. The player is thus encouraged to take chances for a higher score – and with integrated Steam Leaderboards, this becomes very relevant.

The different colours add a very interesting - and challenging - level design.

The different colours add a very interesting – and challenging – level design.

Mastering the controls while comprehending the camera movement and constant speed is a strong indicator that Velocibox indeed is a skill-based game – somewhat similar to games like Super Hexagon. It requires fast reflexes and a seemingly impossible overview – though, with enough tries the player learns how to approach the individual obstacles and master the controls properly. However, once the player finally advances to the next level, the aforementioned colours turn out to be a real enemy; because while the controls are essentially the same, the drastic change in colours means a loss of the vague overview. Similar, each new level introduces new obstacles – something which ultimately means the player is forced to slowly progress as they master each level better and better. The better they master the first level, the easier they may approach the second, and so forth.

Each new level introduces new - and at times unforgiving - obstacles.

Each new level introduces new – and at times unforgiving – obstacles.

Velocibox is an extremely challenging and fast-paced game with minimalistic graphics and a very intriguing gameplay. Advancing through the levels requires patience and a great amount of concentration – and despite the thousands of tries, the game still remains fun, entertaining and extremely challenging. The key is undeniably to master your reflexes and understanding the art of re-orientation, and doing so successfully is highly rewarding. Don’t be put off by the first many failed attempts, but rather try and experience the satisfaction by reaching level two (and three, and four, and…) . Good luck!

Buy Velocibox on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/317710/

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