Tagged: Steam

Devolverland Expo: Playing around in a virtual E3.

2020 has been quite the year. A roller coaster ride that sees no signs of stopping, and there’s no way to get off the ride. COVID-19 has really sidelined a lot of projects, such as E3, the famous video games expo usually to show off the hot new games. The ESA actually canceled this year’s E3, after going for a good 24 years straight before that. As a result, many publishers have been live streaming their events from the safety of their homes. That includes the rather infamous Devolver Digital.

Devolver Digital’s been around the video game landscape since 2009, taking up the mantle of B-tier publisher releasing out there, off-the-beaten path games like Hotline Miami, mostly to critical acclaim. They’re also the absolute masters of the advergame, releasing a free game to promote a movie or a holiday event.

Since E3 was canceled, Devolver Digital opted to follow its peers by doing a livestream of their conference instead, complete with the oddball sketch comedy that’s rather goofy and ridiculous. After doing the usual announcements of their upcoming games like Shadow Warrior 3, Serious Sam 4, and Fall Guys, they advertised one more game. This one was different, and was free to play right that moment.

At least Devolver Digital doesn’t have to share space with the big publishers or controller companies.

Devolverland Expo is a bit more self-indulgent than the previous efforts. Developed by Flying Wild Hog – the Shadow Warrior reboot developers – it’s a first-person game that gives you the experience of being at a convention without risking yourself getting sick.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this kind of promotional game. I’ve written about them doing this twice before: The Expendabros, a standalone expansion to Broforce that was based on the then-recent The Expendables 3, and Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike, a pixel-style difficult platformer made by the same people who made Enter the Gungeon. I’m not surprised they decided to go back to that well once again, this time with something fairly relevant, considering current events.

I mean, this looks less tacky than seeing an ad for Medal of Honor: Warfighter

The plot is simple: The Devolverland Expo was going to be this big event to show of the hot new games, but due to unexpected events, the expo was canceled. Despite that, the player decides to head to the convention hall anyway – which is a loose representation of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is usually held – and after doing some quick hacking on a power box near the entrance, access to the Devolverland Expo is granted.

COME TO THE ROBOT ZONE, HUMAN

Since Flying Wild Hog are known for their first-person prowess like Hard Reset and the Shadow Warrior reboot, the game is also a first-person game. Though, it’s more of a first-person exploration game than an FPS. After entering the expo hall proper, there’s robots roaming around that’ll capture the player if they’re in line of sight for too long. But you’re not defenseless, as there is a convenient weapon that’ll give you a bit of an upper hand.

Those red neon lights makes me think that’s a prize for a game show, rather that a promotional item at a booth.

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Alpha Prime: Plunging back to the world of eurojank.

As I’ve been writing about random games for years at this point, I’ve started to look back at the various cheapo bargain bin games I’ve written about. Most of them were made here in the United States and published by ValuSoft, the most infamous of bargain bin game publishers. Other times I’ve written about stuff a little lesser known, like City Interactive’s Enemy Front. But sometimes, despite owning many different bargain bin games over the years, there’s a few that made me wonder “Why the hell did I buy this?” Alpha Prime fits that bill perfectly.

A shame I have no idea who Ondrej Neff is. They should’ve done what they did with Metro 2033 and make a novelization of the game that’s somewhat difficult to read in English.

I honestly can’t remember why I bought Alpha Prime. Maybe it was $1 in a Steam sale. Maybe I saw someone show me a dumb video about it, and it looked so bad I couldn’t resist giving it a try. Regardless, I had the game in my backlog, and I felt like I needed something drastically different from BioShock 2, which I had just finished and written about recently.

Alpha Prime is made by Black Element, a development studio based in the Czech Republic. They were part of a collective called the Independent Developers Association (IDEA), founded by Bohemia Interactive. Suddenly it makes sense why the makers of ARMA and DayZ published this mid-2000s budget FPS. At least, according to the Steam store page.

Since I have a penchant for rough, janky games made in Europe, I decided to give this a try just out of morbid curiosity. Let’s just say the experience was rather… unpolished.

It looks like Arnold isn’t even interested in Livia’s advances. Wonder if that’s a side effect of the Hubbardium.

The plot goes like this: Arnold Weiss (or Arnie as some call him) is a former soldier who was stationed at Alpha Prime, an asteroid full of Hubbardium, a fictitious space rock that is said to give people special powers. After being egged on at a bar by an old fling named Livia, he goes back to Alpha Prime to help his buddy Warren, and stop his group from mining more Hubbardium. But then disaster strikes.

Those are words that *can* be used to make a sentence, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.

At least, I think that’s how the story goes. Naturally, since this was made by Czech people, English is not their first language. There is lots of stilted, awkward dialogue in this game, combined with a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes that made it very hard to comprehend the game’s story, and I ended up ignoring it after a while.

Leaning? shooting behind cover? Yeah, this is definitely a 2000s era FPS.

Alpha Prime is a by-the-numbers FPS. Shoot dudes, try not to get shot too much, that sort of thing. The weapons are standard FPS fare for the time: pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, grenades, the works. There’s some interesting ideas, like the assault rifle being a mini gatling gun, but it acts no different than your standard FPS assault rifle.

These uses of the ReCon could’ve been useful, but most of the time it’s used to look into cameras, which isn’t really as useful.

The game does throw a couple interesting ideas, however. At one point you acquire a ReCon, a device that lets you hack into cameras and activate platforms and traps. It’s kinda neat in spots, but in most cases seeing into the next area won’t help you that much unless there’s a trap inside to make combat easier.

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Half-Life Before: A mod that should’ve gotten the red light.

I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.

Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.

On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.

Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.

is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world are we talking about here?

Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.

Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.

The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.

One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.

So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.

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Shadowgrounds: A fun little top-down action game.

If you’re like me, you probably have a massive backlog of games. It’s not surprising, Steam sales have become the bane of our existence. In my case, I sometimes buy games and wonder why I bought them, like Chrome. I almost wrote something about that game, but I kept dying even on easy, so I bailed out of playing that one.

This is just a small excerpt of some of the games I’ve bought on countless Steam sales and never played or finished.

So let’s see what else I got. It’s a bit early in the year to write about Amnesia: The Dark Descent, stuff like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has been done to death, and I don’t think there’s interest in me writing about the Telltale Wallace & Gromit games…

79000-shadowgrounds-windows-front-cover

“Doom 3 meets Smash TV” is quite an unusual boxquote.

Here we go. Shadowgrounds, a game from Frozenbyte, a Finnish developer who’d later be known for the Trine series of games. This was one of their earlier efforts, and holds a bit of a memory for me. We have to go back to the far-flung past of 2006 to explain this story.

While Steam is an absolute juggernaut and considered the gold standard of PC digital distribution now, back in 2006 Steam was a much different beast. Besides Valve’s own titles, there wasn’t much third party support for the storefront, outside of a few indie games like the wonderful Darwinia and the one-note forgettable Rag Doll Kung Fu.

Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds was one of those early adopters of Valve’s content delivery service, and while it probably wasn’t a breakout hit, I remember it being one of those standout games during Steam’s early years. Considering this was during the transition period for PC gaming where games were still sold in physical boxes in stores, this was probably a better place for the game than being stuck in a bargain rack at a GameStop.

I bought this along with its sequel, Shadowgrounds: Survivor during a Steam summer sale. I was familiar with the game through a demo, but I figure the full game was probably worth a try. It being $1.24 during a Steam summer sale probably helped too, as I’m a sucker for impulse-buying games for super cheap.

You play as engineer William Tyler, who is sent to the moon Ganymede to do some routine generator repair. As expected in fiction like this, stuff goes wrong and aliens begin to invade. Armed with only a pistol, Tyler must fight loads of aliens as he fights for his life while trying to find out the mystery of this invasion. Along the way you meet people that try to help you make sense of this mess.

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Even for a top-down shooter, this game has pretty good level complexity.

Shadowgrounds is a top-down shooter. It reminds me of Valve’s Alien Swarm, though European readers may liken this more to Team17’s Alien Breed series of games. The game is fairly straightforward: Shoot the aliens before they attack you and kill you.

A lot of the arsenal is fairly commonplace stuff for these kind of action games: You start with a pistol, then later get an assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, stuff like that. The only unique weapons on display is a laser rifle, a longer-range railgun and an electric zapper weapon towards the end of the game.

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You can’t tell in the screenshot, but the character’s head-in-a-box has a moving mouth, but not their in-game version. Looks kinda weird to me.

Throughout the game there’s a lot of PDAs and computers that explain the shady dealings that this military base does, which is kinda cool. While this does give some Doom 3 vibes, it at least seems more interesting especially when one of the PDAs is a small gag about a chef’s love for meatballs.

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Remembering Xfire: The program that was once better than Steam.

A few days ago I had found out a memory from my PC gaming past was going away. Xfire, a game chat client, was shutting down its client and account services. This news saddened me, as Xfire and me go way back.

Memories...

Memories…

To describe Xfire, it was part instant messenger, part server browser. It was a lighter, sleeker Gamespy Arcade, or for a more recent example, AMD’s Raptr client. While Steam has basically taken over that landscape, for a long time having a complimentary client like Xfire was sometimes mandatory, almost to a point where it was bundled with some games, even being used in console games like Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, something that Sony Online Entertainment thought was fit for a press release.

Wasn't it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn't play it? Such dark times...

Wasn’t it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn’t play it? Such dark times…

For those who weren’t around in Steam’s early days, Steam was mostly garbage. Games didn’t run, you had to wait hours to install games (and there was no guarantee you’d get to play it right away!), and the most important feature, the Friends/Community, was perpetually broken and unusable. This is where Xfire excelled: It was a great chat client program to keep up with your gaming friends. Though it wasn’t just for Steam games, but other games where the server browser was cumbersome, like Soldier of Fortune II, or Battlefield 2, were also helpful for finding games back before peer-to-peer multiplayer was more common.

The Xfire website — which still exists, but only in a fragile shell nowadays — also had a fairly cool profile system setup. Here you could make friends, keep your favorite game servers for convenience, even take screenshots and video. All of these were considered pretty impressive for the mid-2000s, and paved the way for competitors to adapt that into their social features.

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Modern Warfare 3: The most disappointing Call of Duty.

This post is particularly hard for me to write. When I wrote this originally, the game was having a free weekend on Steam, as is common for a lot of PC games these days. Since I’m not the richest person around, getting a taste of these big budget AAA games are a treat. But then there’s Modern Warfare 3, and how particularly busted it is. Modern Warfare 3 is a bad Call of Duty game, and you shouldn’t play it.

This took me like a hundred hours in MS Paint to make.

I should back up a bit. I’m not one of those pretentious jackasses who bemoan that “Call of Duty is killing the video gaming industry.” I mean, it’s part of a larger problem, but I’m not one of those hipsters who slam the big budget stuff and praise stuff like McPixel. (This is not to say McPixel is bad. It looks pretty fun, actually.)

In fact, until about a few years ago, I was a Call of Duty nut. I owned practically every game in the series up to that point. I played the multiplayer a lot — perhaps not as much as the maximum level max prestige players, but enough to still have a blast playing it — and I even enjoyed the campaigns of each despite how much they’re corny action movies in disguise.

You wanna know my dedication? I did an unboxing of Modern Warfare 2‘s Hardened Edition, at launch, in one of the last times I’d go out for a midnight launch for anything.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8QW80hIZiA?rel=0&w=640&h=480]

But as I kept playing Modern Warfare 2, I came to a realization. It wasn’t as great as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was. Treyarch’s World at War felt better at times.

Modern Warfare 2 is basically Michael Bay: The Video Game, complete with homages to The Rock. They even got Bay stalwart Hans Zimmer to do the score. But the story was full of nonsensical twists, ridiculous American jingoism and cliched catchphrases of Keith David yelling at Ramirez to defend a Burger Town.

The multiplayer, which is basically the major reason I played Call of Duty was not very well balanced at launch, and prone to bizarre bugs like the “Javelin glitch” — where you could prime a Semtex grenade, cancel it by switching to the javelin, and cause a massive explosion when you died. A few times I accidentally joined hacked lobbies of 16-player Rust where the only winning outcome was the game-winning Tactical Nuke. This was not long after launch, even.

It really felt like Infinity Ward didn’t have the passion or love, throwing anything at a wall and seeing what stuck. Then the Respawn fiasco happened in 2010 where about half the team left due to creative differences between them and Activision, then it all started making sense.

2010 was around the point when I started losing interest in Call of Duty: I didn’t pick up Black Ops until earlier this year, and as of this writing, I never bothered grabbing Modern Warfare 3. After replaying MW3‘s multiplayer again through the Steam free weekend– the third the game has had since launch — I realized why.

Kill Confirmed is probably one of the best additions to the series yet.

While there are a few cool new things, such as the small skirmish Face-Off mode and Kill Confirmed, it’s the same multiplayer stuff from Modern Warfare 2, just amplified to a ridiculous degree. The maximum level is now 80, and there’s a whopping 20 prestige levels! Weapons have levels now, them trying to fix a problem that was already fixed in Black Ops. You can get prestige tokens that unlock double XP bonuses. There’s new guns, new killstreaks, they added deathstreaks, there’s perks for weapons now, the whole nine yards.

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