An interesting thing is happening in the gaming world, early access. Primarily we are seeing it with indie games. Early access is where developers are selling their game before it’s completed. In some cases you are buying into the beta development phase of a game, in others it’s a nearly complete game that just needs final tweaks. Either way you become part of the development process by helping the developers through feedback and other means to complete their game. While there are hundreds of games offering early access, I’m going to look at just four; Audiosurf 2, Darkout, FORCED, and Takedown: Red Saber.
If you own Audiosurf then you have an idea of the kind of game Audiosurf 2 is going to be. Basically it takes a song from your digital music collection and turns it into a track for you fly down while gathering or avoiding specific types of blocks. The first game was a huge hit. Rather than rest on his laurels creator, Dylan Fitterer wanted to do something more. With Audiosurf 2 he introduces some new modes, wakeboarding mode and Steam Workshop integration.
The wakeboarding mode has the player riding a wakeboard while being pulled by two boats. At points where the song gets intense you can jump and do tricks in mid-air. It’s a fun addition to the already classic modes. Dylan also tweaked the graphics a bit. He kept the blocks you collect the same shape as before, but the blocks you avoid are now different shapes to help you distinguish them. The number of blocks has been increased making it harder to avoid the bad blocks.
The most interesting news is the addition of the Steam Workshop. This allows anyone with a copy of the game to make their own modifications to the game and share them with the rest of the world. There are quite a few available right now. Most of them change the look of the game, for example there is a Halloween themed mod that replaced the good blocks with jack-o-lanterns and the bad blocks with coffins.One of the mods that I have been enjoying changes the game play. It’s called Rescue. People you need to save have replaced the good blocks, while aliens have replaced the bad blocks. Unlike the regular game you also have the ability to shoot the aliens for bonus points.
Audiosurf 2 starts out great, is almost fully fleshed out as an early access game, and with Steam Workshop it can only get better, I give it a 4.75 out of 5.
For more information see the AudioSurf 2 blog.
Darkout is a side scrolling exploration/building game in the vein of Minecraft and Terraria. The story finds you crash-landed on a hostile planet that is in perpetual darkness and you have to survive on your own. The game starts you out with a fair amount of equipment to help you survive; you can even scavenge your ship for additional parts and supplies. Each new game creates new procedurally generated biomes, so no two worlds will be the same. The creatures on the planet are based on shadows and darkness making light your best weapon. As with most games like this, your first order of business is to create a home base, someplace safe that you can work out from.
There is so much to explore, create, and defend against. I found myself losing hours to this game. It’s very colorful and pretty. I really like that they made the art style a more modern cartoon than the voxel/pixel style that seems to dominate these style of games. The unique light/darkness mechanic makes for an interesting means of survival. With the exception of a few updates every now and again you wouldn’t think this game is still undergoing development. I give Darkout a 4.75 out of 5.
For more information see the Darkout web site.
FORCED is an action adventure game with some similar elements to the Diablo and Torchlight series of games, but with a heavy emphasis on cooperative play. In FORCED you are part of tribe that exists for one reason, to create gladiators. When the men reach acertain age they are lowered into a pit that is the only way out of the valley the tribe lives in. At the bottom of the pit they are introduced to a glowing sphere named Balfus, a Spirit Mentor. Balfus not only instructs the player on how combat works but is also a crucial weapon and tool throughout the arenas.
As I said FORCED has a heavy emphasis on cooperative play and Balfus is key to that. Balfus can be moved around the arenas to activate switches or destroy things via summoning by the players. The players can only summon him in one direction at a time so it takes coordination between players to move him around corners, over switches, and power-ups. There is a single player portion of the game; in this part summoning Balfus works a little different in that you can summon him to a specific spot and then move to another while he is moving to the first. In either case while Balfus is being maneuvered, creatures and pit fighters are also attacking the players.
Players are able to upgrade their characters via active and passive skills that they earn as they progress. Another battle mechanic is “marking” targets. Every time you successfully hit a creature a mark appears above them. The more marks they have the more damage your active skill attack will do.
While playing online with friends we did run into some problems using Balfus to move columns to open passages. It sort of ended the game for us, but a few days later I went back in and the game was working fine. This type of glitch is the sort of thing that you may run into with an early access game. On the plus side there is a way of reporting bugs like this to the dev team. Additionally, updates, patches and fixes are always being pushed out to the games.
I had fun with my friends playing FORCED and it is very close to being a full game soon. It’s still available as an early release, with its official release on October 24th. I give FORCED a 4 out of 5. If you have time I suggest checking out how the dev team came together to develop FORCED. It’s one of the more unusual ways a company was created.
For more information see the FORCED web site.
Takedown: Red Saber
Takedown: Red Saber is a first person tactical squad shooter game in the style of Rainbow Six. It began life as a Kickstarter that managed to get fully funded. The description really excited me. A first person shooter that relied more on stealth and tactics than it did on running and gunning. Part of that is the fact that it only takes a couple shots to kill you. While the description excited me, the execution did not.
The first problem was trying to find a game online that everyone could join. As soon as you clicked on the online section it would ask you to open ports. Not sure the last time I was asked by a game to open ports, but I know it was many years ago. First we tried to play a group game, but we found there was no real way of inviting each other to a game. Eventually we found a random game and just joined it. There is minimal sound and no background music to give the game a realistic feel, but that is about the only part of the realism. Graphically it’s dated. Like years dated. The second problem came from the lack of afore mentioned sound effects. This means you don’t hear enemies walking. You can watch them walk right up to you and not hear a thing. Gunfire is there, explosions from grenades are kind of there, but footsteps? Nope. Somewhat predictably the online portion wasn’t much on the stealth and tactics either. We tried at first, but the people we were playing against were just running and gunning.
The third setback is that the single player portion of the game gets worse marks than the multiplayer portion. The A.I. for the enemy is just horrendous. They have no programmed tactics other than maybe kill and hide. I saw one run towards me then suddenly crouch down and hide next to a pole giving me his back as a nice big fat target. Your squad’s A.I. isn’t much better. I’ve heard them state, “Tango sighted,” but then never take a shot or get killed themselves. Pretty much the only reason I could find for your A.I. being there is in case you get killed. Then you become the next person in the squad. Getting killed will happen often, no matter how stealthy you try to be. Open a door, shot in the face by the enemy. Get ready to enter a room, get shot in the back by an enemy your squad mate stated they “sighted.”
My feeling is that Takedown: Red Saber is very, very early in its development stages because there is a lot wrong and hardly anything right. On one hand I hope that the issues get fixed so that the game can become what the dev team described. I would love a stealth tactical squad shooter to play but in it’s current state, this sorely disappointed. On the other hand, it might be fun to run and gun for a few minutes, but there are tons of games out there that do it much better. I give Takedown: Red Saber a disappointing 1 out of 5.
For more information see the Takedown: Red Saber web site.
That’s the thing about early access games, depending on where they are at in the process you could be buying a near perfect game or you could be buying something so buggy it makes you wonder why it’s even on the market. In this case though, three good games out of four aren’t bad at all.