Layers of Fear 2 takes places separate from the first game. You don’t have to play the first one to understand what is happening in Layers of Fear 2, but it will help you appreciate some of the subtle references to the first game.
Most of us have seen it. And if we haven’t, then we have seen it parodied on the likes of the Simpsons. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic. It was revolutionary in a number of ways that I am neither knowledgeable nor smart enough to describe. But all viewers are left with some vivid imagery and themes that remain with us.
At the forefront for me, beyond that amazing score, is the black monolith at the beginning of the movie, appearing before a group of monkeys. The dawn of man. The moment it all changed. The inspiration and cause of all that was to come.
The game “Dawn of Man” is none of those things. But that does not mean that it is not a perfectly OK game to play.
The game’s premise is pretty straight forward; You start with a few villagers and you need to build them a home and help them to survive. This is a resource management game and brings up memories of Banished and even Age of Empires. New technologies are discovered. New resources are exploited. But what is ultimate important is survival.
In reading previews, I felt this game’s main selling points were 2-fold. First, the setting was somewhat unique. You are starting from scratch, from the dawn of man (hence the name) and can build your group through numerous technological advances to something closer resembling our own world. All whilst fighting off saber tooth tigers and who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Sadly, the game never really lives up to this. It has all the moving parts and they are in what feels like the right places but it just never felt important. I constantly felt I was in a rush to get the right resources in place to get the next building or the next technology, without feeling like the tribe had actually discovered something. It was unearned and meaningless. This is supposed to be the dawn of man, not production line simulator.
The second was that this game looked like it was going to be a more personal affair. Those who have read my previous reviews know how important this is to me. Where Age of Empires has nameless drones, static through the ages, Dawn of Man has individuals with names, a family and a potentially bloody future ahead of them. Banished had attempted also this but the cities you create become too large too quickly for you to truly care about a particular person or family.
Dawn of Man should not have had that problem. With fewer people to care for, I should have cared more. But I didn’t. I wish I did. In some respects, a game like this should have been closer to The Sims than to Age of Empires. To Rimworld rather than Banished. It should have had more personal interaction and control than a point and click adventure without a story. Dawn of Man basically leaves you in the position of finding a resource and telling a villager to go and get it. Not exactly inspiring stuff.
And that is not to say that this or those games are not good games. Dawn of Man does give you a sense of achievement as your village continues to survive and develop. It is also certainly a pretty game which makes it a nice way to pass some time. But as with so many others, and especially those that set themselves at the very beginnings of our existence (I’m looking at you Spore), Dawn of Man promised so much but didn’t quite have the complete picture of what these times meant and what they mean to gamers like me.
It is at times like these that the philosopher in me takes hold. I’m not being melodramatic; I actually have a degree in philosophy. Games set at the dawn of man excite me because they allow me to scratch an itch of wonder at what made it all happen. Could I survive? Could I have been a great thinker of the time or a Picasso of the ancient world (finger painting on walls was about as far as I got artistically so who knows).
Dawn of Man could have been that monolith. It could have challenged the genre and brought about a new age. An interesting age that allowed us to look back and ask “what if?”. Instead, it is just another black rock, albeit very pretty, that could be lifted and placed into another era, past, present or future, without much needing changed. And that’s OK. But Dawn of Man will not be one for the ages, and the opportunity for inspiration may have passed for another time.
I didn’t fall in love with baseball until I moved to Chicago in 2015 but the love affair started at a much earlier age. One of my earliest movie memories was watching Kevin Costner build his Field of Dreams. There is a romanticism to baseball. It woos you not with its rules or stats but with its history, what it stands for and how it brings people together.
Since moving to the States I have tried to get involved with the sport in a number of ways. I watch almost every Cubs game, I have started playing fantasy baseball and I can’t wait for my kids to start playing T-ball. But I will never get to play myself. Not really.
One way I have been making up for that is by playing SIE San Diego Studio’s “MLB The Show” franchise. I started in 2015 and have been playing it ever since. Buying the latest version has been my annual birthday present to myself and I love it every time.
There are 3 main games modes; Road to the Show (RTTS), Franchise and Diamond Dynasty (DD). All three give you the opportunity in some way to live out your baseball fantasies. RTTS allows you to create a character and be drafted to a team. You start in the minors and work your way up to the majors with an end goal of being inducted to the Hall of Fame. Does it get better than that?
Franchise allows you take on the role of Manager. You pick the lineup, you trade the players and you draft the next generation for whatever team you choose to lead. Not happy with how the computer determines who wins or loses? Well, you can take control of a single player or the entire team and those wins and losses will be on you.
DD allows you to create your own team centered on collecting and trading electronic Topps baseball cards. With your team you can play in various game modes both on and offline, providing you with new cards, or various types of points that you can then use to purchase packs.
In previous years I have primarily focused on RTTS and franchise modes but decided to give DD a proper shot in 2019 and I have not been disappointed. I collected (American) football cards as a kid and the need-to-get-them-all attitude I had then has certainly been reignited, primarily because the cards end up doing and meaning more than just a piece of cardboard.
Each card means a new player can be added to my team, who will then compete in the various game modes. But do I have someone better? Do I want someone with higher fielding stats or do I want a slugger? There are lots of options and subjective preferences, which makes this a very personal affair. There is even a creative side as the player can design their own uniforms for both home and away games.
I have only had the chance to play the offline game modes but I have been having a lot of fun with them. The 2 main options are Conquest and Moments.
Conquest has various maps made up of hexagonal blocks that can be filled with your or other teams’ “fans”. Each team has a particular block that represents their home base. The aim of the game is to attack other blocks to take them over using your “fans”. When attacking a block you will play a 3 inning game. How hard that game will be is determined by the number of attacking and defending fans on their respective blocks. The greater your advantage in fan numbers, the easier difficulty you can play on. Taking over the entire map will give the player lots of points and plenty of high ranking cards.
Moments is a new addition to DD this year and allows the player to play some of the greatest moments in baseball history. There is an entire section on Babe Ruth and one on the 2016 Cubs. The challenges are hard but the rewards great. And, frankly, who doesn’t want to recreate the moment the Cubs ended a 108 year world series drought? Just Cubs fans? Nah.
Online matches are definitely on my list as soon as I can get myself online properly. Online game modes allow you join leagues with your team, play in a battle royale mode (where you effectively do a draft from random cards prior to starting) and also play games for fun with your friends or a stranger.
I grew up on (American) football so I played a lot of Madden in my youth. Creating a player was always fun but I never felt that I was really part of the action. I never felt that my personal skills were being put to the test or that I was part of a team. MLB The Show betters Madden for that experience by leaps and bounds.
Whether my player does well or not is down to me. Am I swinging at junk in the dirt? Did I try to steal a base I shouldn’t have? that is all on me. But it also reminds me that I am playing a team sport and that I cannot control everything. I can be 4 for 4 with a home run, a double and 3 RBIs, but I could still easily lose if the rest of the team is not playing well or the other team just happens to play better. And that has happened a lot. The game makes you feel that you part of it and that is a good thing.
There are still some issues that mean this game is not perfect but nothing ever is. And when you are talking about a game that looks to give a personal experience, then personal preferences and gripes will always come into play. So I won’t give you mine. What matters is that these are so small, that I still come back to the game each year. Whether its summer ball or the off-season, I am still rounding the bases and heading for third. The replay value is immense.
This is a game for me. This is a game for baseball fans. Why? For love of the game.
The Standard edition of MLB The Show 2019 is available for download on the Playstation Network store for $59.99 or available on disc at your local games retailer and also on Amazon.
Developed by Plukit, Staxel‘s team started with Bart van der Werf and Conor Goodman. Bart was originally a programmer with Chucklefish and worked on Starbound. They originally started Staxel in 2014 then releasing it to early access January 2018. The game is now out of early access and retails for $20 USD with a 25% discount during launch.
Staxel is a farming voxel based sandbox game heavily influenced by games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. You’re able to customize your character and the farm you live on. Customizing even runs into the town! Not only do citizens ask you to build amenities, you can build homes for new citizens. Of course, the process can be a bit of a grind to get the required materials for different home designs.
Also there’s more to Staxel than farming or befriending the town people. With an assortment of bugs, fish, foragables, and mineraly things to collect. Staxel has a decent sized map with an abandoned mine to explore, and islands to discover!
Probably one of the highlights of Staxel is that it can be an online multiplayer. That way you won’t be alone when you have to grind for those counters and floors when you want Rosemary to move to town. You’re able to live on the same farm or be neighbors with the people you invite. If you’re like me and don’t have someone to play with fortunately you start off with a puppy or kitty to keep you company.
Over all I really like Staxel. This is going on the growing list of games that I can’t put down and will keep coming back to. Although I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone because of the art style and how much you have to grind for items. If those things don’t bother you, then this might be a game for you.
Staxel is currently on sale for just $14.99 in the Humble Store. Pick up your copy here and enjoy!
We are living in a golden age of indie games. Whether it is Stardew Valley, Her Story, Papers, Please or Firewatch, these are games from small production companies that have something to say. They show that it isn’t unlimited resources that make a good game but an interesting premise and good execution. That is not to say that every indie game to hit the market is a masterpiece, or even worth your time. But we now live in a world where we can buy fun, inspiring or interesting games for a reasonable price. And the list just keeps on growing.
You’re not special by Reky Studios fits itself nicely into that mold. You play a character who is not the center of the story. You are just some guy who happens to be in wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time, and finds himself unable to do much about it. I can’t see Ubisoft making a game like that.
The game itself is reasonably short and can be “completed” from anywhere between 5 minutes and 3 hours, with multiple endings to entice players into replying the game several times. It is primarily a puzzle game but also has action scenes that your character plays a minor role in. But it is not the puzzles that will keep you coming back for more, as good as they are. Once you’ve solved them, its just a matter of replication. It is the story that Reky has developed that keeps you intrigued enough to want find out how each ending evolves.
And how do they do that? With writing that is informative enough to give you a glimpse of what might be to come and keep you wanting to know more. The use of hearing old wives tales in front of a fireplace and the general feeling that you are jumping into someone else’s story half way through is an intriguing device and one they have developed nicely.
The other NPCs of the story have their own background, which can lead to side quests, and can often be very funny, with even some 4th wall breaking humor thrown into the mix. But they are used fleetingly, and are generally there to assist you in making or spending your money and progressing the story.
Throughout all of this there are constant reminders that this is not your adventure. You have no significant power. It takes you longer than the hero to make your way through the various mazes. You do not fight the bad guy, at least not directly. And there are items at the village market that you will never buy. Sure, you can scrounge enough silver together to buy a cloak, but it would take you a very long time to buy armor or a sword. And there is no need; you are not the hero. You are not special.
But the game is. Its fun, its interesting, and its challenging. Sometimes infuriatingly so. And sometimes I feel there should be something to point you in the right direction. Playing through, I missed that there was an extra passageway for me to use to meet the next boss and spent 30 minutes wondering why I couldn’t go any further. It took a question to the developer on their discord to know what to do. That won’t be available forever and not everyone will choose to ask.
There are also secret exits to the map, for example, that are needed to progress some of the story. That would have infuriated me if I had not been lucky enough to find it by chance. But there are also secrets I did not solve and storylines I did not complete that do make me curious to come back for more.
Ultimately, it is the fact that this game meets each of my tenants for a good indie game that makes me recommend it for your wishlist. It is fun, the fact that it was even made (and by a single game developer I might add) is inspiring and the entire concept is interesting. All this and at reasonable price. This is why indie games can be great. Welcome to the golden age.
You’re not special was developed by Reky Studios and is currently available for download for Windows on Steam.
*The Mommy Gamers received a copy of the game for review purposes.