Posts by: Sean Clancy

Review: Cyber Hacker

Password attack software: 500 BTC. Totally worth it.

Password attack software: 2,500 USD. Totally worth it.

Despite the over-the-top name, Cyber Hacker is not a punky, pulpy tale of megacorps v. deckers (à la Shadowrun or Netrunner). Instead, what we have is a down-to-earth freeform puzzle game informed by real, contemporary, illegal hacking. Now, not being a blackhat myself [that’s what a real hacker would say –ed.] you should throw some chunky doubt-quotes around that “real” back there, though even if Cyber Hacker isn’t a functional primer on clandestine hacking (and it may well be), the game’s still a strangely mundane take on the exotic world cybercrime.

Nix the Matrix logic and augmented reality overlays–Cyber Hacker is a game about identifying SSH vulnerabilities, working for cold hard bitcoins, copying earnings reports, dodging Interpol, orchestrating DDoS attacks (assuming you have a large enough botnet), keeping international date formats straight in your head, and always, always making sure to delete the system logs from /sys/logs and the trash bin before logging out.

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Review: Sproggiwood

This is what's known in the extermination biz as "going ham."

This is what’s known in the extermination biz as “going HAM.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind, while playing Sproggiwood, there’s this refrain: I’m here to help, I’m here to help, I’m definitely, most positively, here to help. It’s strongest when I’m staring, befuddled, at the idyllic town which serves as the game’s market/quest hub/low-rent Sims analogue–a saccharine settlement which grows as the player completes levels with different characters, unlocking new villagers, decorations, and buildings (the last of which, in turn, house new playable character classes).

This refrain is weakest when I’m plowing through Sproggiwood proper, which is to say when I’m actually playing the thing, cleaving through hordes (families?) of asexually reproducing jellies with the stout Warrior, or stabbing back and forth between vampiric will o’ wisps with the Thief. I’m chaining powers into other powers, unlocking more abilities (or stronger iterations of the same) as the experience points roll in until, finally, I bring down this boss or that and see the end-stage rewards screen, which details my gold winnings and what new villager I’ve unlocked.

The villagers, as it happens, all look like one of the handful of mobs I’ve been clearing out of the surrounding wilderness and ruins. I mean, exactly. They’re not even wearing hats. So stay with me when I say that Sproggiwood is really about low-fantasy gentrification.

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Review: MicRogue

"Huh, place doesn't come furnished I guess. Couple skulls..."

“Huh, place doesn’t come furnished I guess. Couple skulls…”

You’d be hard-pressed to name more than a couple iconic shields. Yes yes, Captain America’s counts, though it doesn’t even have a name like “Freedom” or “Banner” or “The Philadelphia Escutcheon.” What else do you have to put up against the likes of Sting, Excalibur, Needle, Glamdring, the Vorpal Sword, the Sword of Chaos, the Master Sword, the Sword in the Stone, and so on?

Jason Pickering’s MicRogue has, for what it’s worth, one of the most laughable fictional shields you could imagine. No name for the thing, but plenty of character, and that character is mostly wimpy. The game’s a bare-bones roguelike (a micro rogue, you see, or a micro rouge as my inevitable typo will say a few paragraphs in) which emphasizes movement, positioning, and timing over the accumulation of XP and levels, and one where only three blows to the hero’s gilded shield (or one blow to his exposed flanks) spells “game over.” And yet it says much about MicRogue’s dubious challenge that this wet-cardboard buckler often seems like too generous an armament for the game’s plucky hero.

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Review: Last Voyage

Neighborhood's something of a food desert, but the rent's not bad.

Neighborhood’s something of a food desert, but the rent’s not bad.

Last Voyage is a puzzle game which trades just as heavily in mood and the suggestion of plot as it does in clever mind-benders. As the title suggests it’s a journey of sorts—an abstract, seemingly space-faring trip in five parts. Each act centers around just a handful of mechanics, each different from the last, with the game’s ghostly cosmic synth running throughout.

None of this is to say that Last Voyage has a story in any traditional sense, though there’s a familiar, filmic quality to how the game presents certain puzzles—the monolith and psychedelic tunnel of 2001: A Space Odyssey are possible touchstones here, though the repeated images of a half-risen sun speak just as readily to The Twilight Zone’s middle ground between fear and knowledge. These similarities don’t stop at passing visuals, though. Varied though its sections may be there’s a strong, mechanical, interactive framework which supports Last Voyage’s thematic aspirations.

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Review: Swap Heroes 2

Isn't this where they found Frankie Carbone in Goodfellas?

Isn’t this where they found Frankie Carbone in Goodfellas?

Call any particular cast of characters “interchangeable” and, for most games, you’d be speaking in the pejorative. But for Swap Heroes 2, the second action-puzzler of its name from developer Chris Savory, rolling with a foursome of interchangeable fantasy archetypes is the whole point. As the name suggests, the idea isn’t that your squad is comprised of bland nobodies who wouldn’t stand out at your average weekend LARP (let alone a week-long camp where everyone’s armored to the nines), but rather that your team adheres to one specific, rigid tactical formation, a formation which only allows for two characters to change places at any one time.

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Review: Space Age: A Cosmic Adventure

"You go for a man hard enough and fast enough, he don't have time to think about how many's with him."

“You go for a man hard enough and fast enough, he don’t have time to think about how many’s with him.”

There’s a plasma-hot streak of can-do spirit and 1950s pizzazz in Space Age, an unwavering optimism that colors every moment of the game’s pulp adventure. Early space race kitsch is the style here, with our cast of cosmic explorers decked out in fishbowl helmets and garish spacesuits (with hoop skirts for the ladies, of course). Out of this crew tasked with investigating the alien world of Kepler-16—a crew which includes a suspenders-wearing, toolbox-carrying engineer and an Obvious Love Interest/chief science officer—we have a most average of Seemingly Average Heroes, a lowly private who can barely manage to communicate with his fellows between rapid-fire gees, goshes, shucks, and painfully naïve quips. (Quick paraphrase: “Is there a special girl back home, Private?” “Of course! My mom! Oh, and the family dog’s a girl too, I think. And maybe my neighb- OH YOU MEAN ROMANTICALLY.”)

Space Age is an odd mash-up of action, adventure, and some light (like, lunar gravity light) squad-based tactics. The game itself, as befits the dream of a push-button future, seems to want it all: a little bit of twee sensibility here, a little bit of stealth-game sneakery there, some timing puzzles off to the side and then a big, earnest slice of American apple pie on top. That is a tough ship to get into orbit.

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Review: Hadean Lands

There's also a Hot Topic and an Orange Julius.

There’s also a Hot Topic and an Orange Julius.

Paper is the most important item in Hadean Lands. That’s odd for a text adventure, especially one wholeheartedly classic in form. More important here than hidden keys, improvised rope ladders and hackneyed riddles are ideas—rituals and obscure geological information, specifically—and ideas are written on paper. (Ideas are also occasionally free-floating energy halls invisible to the naked eye. But you’ll figure that one out pretty quickly.)

Hadean Lands is a game about alchemy, where progress is measured primarily through the acquisition of knowledge. The genre-standard march of soon-to-be-unlocked doors and “impenetrable” safes is nothing but a series of trifles next to the synthesis of pure elemental forms. Rest assured you’ll need to assume sure-handed mastery over the elements in order to… well, unlock bigger, more impressive doors and safes.

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