Review: Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine

There weren’t many games I was more excited about than Hack ‘n’Slash from Double Fine Entertainment over the past few years. So when it finally hit version 1 .0 last week I jumped on it. I just finished the main story and thought to myself, ‘Self, you should take this opportunity to wow your thoughtful on the Internet. No one ever thinks to put their opinions there.’

And so, here we are. First, for those not already familiar, Hack ‘n’ Slash was originally developed as part of Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight a little while back (it was pitched in 2012, I believe). The premise is fascinating: instead of taking on enemies through sheer force you do so by altering the very code of the game. And so, as soon as you find a sword in the game you find out it cannot directly hurt enemies or cut bushes but you can use it to reprogram enemies (by changing variables) or make a bush be set from not burning to, wwell, burning. Over the course of the game, the level of control you have over the code within the game grows until, at the end, where you can really break the game (day, by creating bad functions). The game looks like the Legend of Zelda, but it’s really a puzzle game and the puzzle you have to solve is how you need to change the code to progress. Of course, your control over the code is never absolute, but it is pretty impressive and – towards the end of the game – it gets insanely deep as you go inside the code of the things that you are inside the code of in some sort of crazy code-Inception.

So, I love the premise. The graphics are good enough, they are pleasingly cartoon-y, even if I always think that 2D drawings moving on a 3D plane is a little weird. It’s common enough, so it’s not really a problem, but I always find it slightly off-putting. Still, Hack ‘n’ Slash suffers from one major problem: The pacing. To put it mildly, the pacing is incredibly uneven. The game has four chapters to play through, but there isn’t a whole lot of game until the end of the third. The combat, such as it is, largely revolves around swinging your ‘sword’ to change some variables on one of the objects in the game. Is it neat? Heck yes it’s neat, but it’s not terribly challenging. And then you get to the end of that third chapter and the difficulty spikes like crazy. All of the sudden you’re dealing with full strings of code and trying to parse them to figure out which thing you need to change to solve the puzzle and move to the next room. I crashed the game more than a few times (although it does recover itself and it gets an A+ for saving at each room so if you do something exceptionally stupid you can go back in time before you changed the code of the game in said particularly stupid way, which I really only had to do once). I know just enough about coding to get the through the game, which I did at about 6 hours, but if a person didn’t know anything about coding the first 2/3 of the game would not have prepared them at all for the end of the game. And then, once you start to get the hang of the game, and you really see the power of having all of the code at your disposal and things start to open up a little, boom, the game is over. This is not a game length problem, mind you. It’s a complaint that the game changes fundamentally most of the way through the game and then walks off the edge.

So, that makes it sound like I didn’t like it, doesn’t it? That’s not the case. I do not, in the least, regret buying Hack ‘n’ Slash. It does something that I have never seen or heard of a game doing before and that, for me, is worth applause and a purchase. It may be for you, as well, but understand that you are buying a premise. There’s some insanely cool potential there, but it is mostly at the end of the game. The story is entertaining enough (including a few chuckle-worthy lines and, generally, good writing), being of a lighthearted, jokey sort of thing. There is the promise of modding the future, too, which might do some pretty neat things, as well, but that’s certainly a wait-and-see situation. I’m sure some people would find the length a little off-putting, but I’m sure you could spend more time messing around with the code of the game if you understand it better than I do (which is not a terribly high bar), but I just wish that the pacing had been a little more even. So, all in all, for me, this was a worthy purchase. But should you buy Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine Entertainment? Unless you  are really taken with the premise, that would be a much harder recommendation to make.

Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine Entertainment is available now and regularly costs $19.99.

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14. September 2014 by Michael
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Kickstarter: King Down from Saar Shai is a tactical chess-based game with gorgeous minis

Man, am I a sucker for pretty miniatures. Take, for example, King Down – currently on Kickstarter – from Saar Shai (who previously ran a Kickstarter for the card game ‘The Agents’). Shai bills the game as the prequel to chess but, really, it’s something quite different – a tactical game that uses the classic chess pieces to create a completely different game. Oh, you play on a chess board, all right, but instead of trying to take all of your opponent’s pieces, you’re trying to get to 8 Victory Points either through destroying your enemies or by controlling a zone in the middle of the board known as the Capitol. You gain pieces by summoning them onto the board, using your limited amount of Action Points in order to bring new pieces into play and order your existing pieces around. The pieces in the game move like their chess counterparts, but the game it creates looks very different. Actually, you can see for yourself since the print and play version is available for you to try and see if this is your thing. But you know what your chess set probably doesn’t have? Those bangin’ minis. Seriously, those are some sick looking sculpts. The game itself, through the Kickstarter, runs $65 and includes 80 miniatures plus whatever stretch goals are met. King Down has already well-exceed its initial $50,000 goal (at $79,646 as a write this). In a recent update, Shai indicated that he already has stretch goals lined up, including additional minis, and that he is looking into the possibility of completing each army as a proper chess set, although there’s no answer on the latter point yet. In any case, I really dig it when  games play around with existing tropes and King Down certainly looks like an interesting take on some of the rules of chess.

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11. September 2014 by Michael
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Battle Brothers is an open world turn-based strategy game inspired by Jagged Alliance and X-Com

I admit it, the headline is really long. I always hated writing headlines anyway and it’s not like the thing has to fit on a newspaper page, so leave me alone. Oh? Battle Brothers from Overhype Studios currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux? Sure, yeah, we can talk about that, I guess. There’s a trailer above these typed words about it, in fact. You may have already watched it. It appears to be a game about disembodied busts of warriors who occasionally behead each other. And it may be that! But it promises to be much more. Battle Brothers, which is expected on Early Access in early 2015 and to be released by mid 2015, touts many features including procedural world creations and characters, permadeath (I love permadeath), lots of enemies, and RPG-esque leveling and inventory. You can actually check out a demo of the tactical combat, if that is your sort of thing, which it probably should be. There’s also a pretty lengthy gameplay explanation video available, too. BEHOLD MY VIDEO SORCERY:

Even more info is available on the Battle Brothers Greenlight page or on the official web site. I’ve given the demo a few minutes and it actually has, from what I see, six different scenarios in it demonstrating the combat. The game appears really basic if you just load up the first tutorial level, but the second level shows off things like the various heights as well as fog of war. The gameplay is really quite boardgame-y, which is good because I like boardgames. The soldiers are very much ‘pieces’ (what with being busts on stands) and they move form one spot to another as if lifted and set down (or jumping). I really dig how the enemies show damage as you battle them and the art style is nice and consistent. Of course, it’s early in development, but I’m definitely excited to see how this develops as it nears early access in the upcoming months.


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10. September 2014 by Michael
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Hack ‘n Slash from Double Fine hits 1.0, discounted until September 16

Yep, that’s a release trailer for Amnesia Fortnight entry Hack ‘n Slash from Double Fine. It looks good, being a game where a character might suggest “You just write some Lua code.” (that part is really about modding, but still). Hey, pal, why don’t you just write some Lua code. Whatever the hell that means. Also, you’re not the boss of me. Hack ‘n Slash is unique insofar as you apparently write (Lua?) code in order to change the rules of the game use menus in the game to change variables that change how various objects and creatures in the game behave. The gameplay in the trailer (towards the end) has a sort of Legend of Zelda vibe to it, which seems promising. Also, there’s a lot of code in there that I have no idea how to parse. It’s been in Early Access for a bit (this version adds the final act, mod support and Steam Workshop integration) but it’s now been released on Steam for $19.99 (currently discounted to $13.39 until September 16, 2014). I have spent your Earth moneys on it, so I will let you know what I think as soon as I play it. Like many of you, I suspect, I have more games than a rational person would ever play but this one stands out enough that I’m looking forward to give it a go even if it, apparently, thinks it can tell me what to do.

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10. September 2014 by Michael
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After Action Report: Invisible, Inc. from Klei Entertainment Part 1

Okay, so I’m not starting Invisible, Inc., from developer Klei all over again. This After Action Report will be picking up live and in progress. That’s how these things happen folks. Not familiar with Invisible, Inc.? It’s a turn-based stealth game from the developer of Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja that is out in Early Access now. So, it’s early access meaning that this may not represent the final game or the next build or whatever. Deal with it.

So, I’ve played through a few games. At first, I didn’t understand the Roguelike nature of the game. You’re going to lose but you get scored every time you do so. That, over time, unlocks new technologies. So, each time you run you get two agents to start with and two technologies. Over the course of a single game you buy new equipment and level up the agents. And then they die, you get experience, and more starting options. Then you try again. And die. And so on.

So, I’ve done this a few times and I’ve gone with the standard starting equipment. The new parasite equipment is neat but it lacks the elegant flexibility of the standard Lockpick program. The game gives you a world map that has a number of locations for you to do missions. You have 72 hours and traveling to each location takes a certain amount of time. I had to Casablanca which is ‘Very Guarded’ and five hours away. Every turn you play Invisible, Inc., life gets harder. The alarm goes up. Doing things like taking out guards makes it go up, too. As it goes up, more guards show up, computers get harder to access and you get closer to not making it out alive.

One of my agents makes a stupid circle around the room, finding no doors other than the one I saw initially. So that was a good use of my limited time. Deckard, my other agents, heads into the next room on turn two and finds a turret. I make the decision to take out the power supply instead of taking over the turrets. Turrets will take out the bad guys if they are hacked but that also may result in a prematurely raised alarm. I head further in, put one guard to sleep and find a computer with some Encrypted Data, which will help raise my level if I can get it out of here. Great. Still only about halfway through alarm level one, but Agent Internationale is just on the other side of the door from a guard. I manage to find the elevator pretty quickly, which is nice since I have had missions go south as a desperately try to find the elevator to get out of Dodge. Sadly, one of the guards spots Deckard (I got a little aggressive with my movement since it’s at such a premium) and I’m forced to waste a turn waiting for him to get knocked out by the waiting Internationale. Still, more guards close in and now things are really going south. I was feeling really good about this, too. No more! Deckard gets taken out when I fail to take into account a guard’s heavy armor which defends him against my only means of attack. I have, however, hacked a turret to help me get out of here. It takes out two guards as Internationale runs to a Nano Replicator (store) that I don’t have enough Energy to unlock. Crap. I have to wait a turn and a guard walks perilously close to me but I manage to get the replicator on and purchase some Med Gel. That’s basically all of my money. Now to see if I can revive Deckard and get out of here. Alarm 3. I predict a guard’s movement and it looks like he’s going to walk away, so I let him go. I move close to the door and set my Overwatch, meaning I’ll attack the first enemy in range. Sadly, he’s armored, too, meaning I do nothing. Luckily, I can duck out of sight (the enemies are dumb, but predictable, which is good for this kind of game). The guard walks up to the very edge of the bookcase I am behind and I hold my breath. Luckily, he loses interest just as he’s there and I start to head out of the room. And wouldn’t you know, more guards! I manage to hide and play cat-and-mouse as the alarm hits five and climbs towards six (its max) and finally use the Med Gel on Deckard! Unbelievable. Deckard takes out a guard and gets to the elevator, but now Internationale is in a room with three guards. I hide and, eventually, manage to get away, running past the guards and getting into the elevator. I end up with no money after the mission, but I do get to keep the Med Gel, which is nice. Still, I can’t do any upgrading without money, but given the alarms I raised and how long I stayed in, I should probably just be happy with both of my agents alive. That was a luck break. We’ll see how long it lasts. Probably not long, as I think the longest I’ve made it is through two missions. If I’ve learned one thing it is that you need to make progress every mission (mostly come out with more money than you came in with) and I didn’t really do that, although I only ate up five hours and have Med Gel, so I can’t say it was a complete waste, but I certainly didn’t get any further ahead than when I started.

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09. September 2014 by Michael
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The Escapists – Pixel Art Prison Break Early Access Now Available

The EscapistsI remember seeing The Escapists from Mouldy Toof Studios back when it ran its Kickstarter campaign. Now The Escapists is out in Early Access on Steam and on the Humble store for $9.99. I bought it and I’ve enjoyed my time with it so far, although that has only been a couple of days of game time. Also, it is early access so the current state of the game may not reflect the final state in release. Currently there is one prison in the game for you to try to break out of. I dig the pixel art graphics and how the game forces you to follow your daily prison routine while you plan your escape. During the course of the day, you have to build your stats in order to bust out but you also have to do your assigned job (mine is laundry), go to the cafeteria to eat and check in with the guards twice a day. A couple of in game days into the game, I have successfully built my stats up some but I am no closer to breaking out. I have found that you can stand on the furniture to see the vents and you might be able to get a pick ax or spoon to dig through the walls. You can get items by buying them from other inmates and random checks mean you can’t just amass items you are not supposed to have and, instead, have to take the chance that you might be caught or flush your hard earned items down the toilet. Literally. There is also a crafting system, although my character is not smart enough to actually use the recipe yet. The recipe I have found allows me to upgrade a pick to a better one, which certainly sounds advantageous. I am a little ambivalent about having to alternately tap keys to use the treadmill or weights. It feels like key pressing for its own sake to me and you so it often enough that I would much prefer a simple timed stat earned system like the current in game book reading. Currently,there is only one prison but there are more maps planned and a map designer down the road, which will hopefully lead to some clever prisons to escape, as well as some longevity for The Escapists. In the meantime, you can check out the current, early access version of The Escapists if you are so inclined on Steam and on the Humble store for $9.99.

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22. August 2014 by Michael
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Kickstarter – World Wide Wrestling RPG by Nathan D. Paoletta: A wrestling RPG Powered by the Apocalypse

Here’s something I don’t tell someone every day: I love professional wrestling. Until recently, I really hadn’t watched much in over a decade (although the WWE Network has, awful marketing aside, allowed me to just watch the pay-per-views and enjoy the Web-only NXT show) but there was something about professional wrestling that echoed in my soul. It is probably, as a child of the late-80’s and early 90’s, that I grew up during what was arguably the golden age of U.S. professional wrestling – The height of Hulk Hogan’s run with the likes of Earthquake, Jake the Snake Roberts and – my favorite – The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. And so I’ve always had a passing interesting in wrestling RPGs. Not that I’m likely to play one any time soon, but the conceit of a roleplaying game centered on pro wrestling, mechanically, intrigues me.

And so it is, at least, that I get to World Wide Wrestling from Nathan D. Paoletta, which has a Kickstarter running right now ending on September 15, 2014. The art for the playbooks looks solid, the game is Powered by the Apocalypse (i.e., uses the system popularized by Apocalypse World which I love dearly for powering the amazing Dungeon World) and allows for ongoing feuds, determining how ‘over’ your wrestler gets and for determining the growth of your federation. Even better, there are playtest rules available right now. I haven’t spent much time with them yet, but they might be helpful to give you a better idea of what the game is about, anyway. A PDF copy of the game runs $10 through the Kickstarter and a physical copy is $20 with a listed delivery date of April 2015.

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21. August 2014 by Michael
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Imperial Assault – A New Star Wars board game from Fantasy Flight Games with shades of Descent

This post was almost about how I wasn’t excited about Star Wars: Imperial Assault from Fantasy Flight Games. It is the first of two big Star Wars board game releases over the past few weeks (the other, Star Wars: Armada – a capitol ship game that at least looks very similar to their own X-Wing Miniatures Game – I am less sure about for the moment). It looks an awful lot like Fantasy Flight’s own dungeon crawler Descent (at least at first glance, there aren’t any rules available yet) at first glance. It even has similar double-sided, interlocking map pieces. Really, I didn’t need another dungeon crawler. I have a first edition of Descent and I’ve never felt the need to upgrade it. It serves its purpose fine: It’s a solid enough RPG-lite board game with tons of chrome. Generally, I can more easily get Mice & Mystics to table anyway. In any case, what struck me about Star Wars: Imperial Assault is that it isn’t just a dungeon crawl (although it may well be that, too, since the game pits “you and up to four other friends play a series of thrilling missions woven together in a narrative campaign”) but it can also be played as a tactical skirmish game. Star Wars RPG-lite board game? Not very interested. But lord-help-me I loved the Star Wars Miniatures game and the promise of expansions without having to pull random boosters would certainly tempt me if the skirmish gameplay is any good. And it looks like the plans for expansion are already well in place: According to Fantasy Flight’s web page “[a]dditional Ally Packs and Villain Packs will be the first expansions released for Imperial Assault, bringing added life to the iconic heroes and villains you fight alongside. Each of these packs includes a sculpted plastic figure, alongside a new campaign side mission, two new skirmish missions, and Command cards to enhance your skirmish missions.” It looks like somewhat-similar Lieutenant Packs for Descent retail for around $14.95, although who knows if that will hold true for this game. For the time being, we will have to wait: Star Wars: Imperial Assault is due out in early 2015.

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21. August 2014 by Michael
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Early Access Impressions: Invisible, Inc., from Klei Entertainment

Klei Entertainment, Inc., already has a pretty impressive track record. In case you are unfamiliar, Klei is the developer behind n+, Shank, Eets, Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve. I, personally, got a lot of enjoyment out of Mark of the Ninja, in particular. Now they have released the Early Access build for their next game: Invisible, Inc. I was pretty excited when I heard that Klei was doing a turn-based strategy game and, having bought Invisible, Inc., on Steam Early Access (for $15.99, 20% off its full price of $19.99), I’m now pretty excited to have it in my hands. Well, in a manner of speaking. Since it’s digital. So it’s not literally in my hands.

In any case, after downloading the game I decided to go ahead and give the tutorial a try. I will note that this is, obviously, an early access build so everything I talk about here is thoroughly subject to change, so this may not be indicative of the final product or even the next build. On the Early Access page, Klei notes that the final game will have “more playable agents, more mission locations, a final boss mission, more upgrades, another corporation, and more enemies for you to die by” with the core content in place by early 2015.

All of that said, this still looks like a pretty polished package, at least through the tutorial. A couple of minor bothers (the ‘Warning’ sound it plays when you are out of Action Points was a little off-putting for me), but I found the voiceovers in place to be good and the graphics are pretty sharp. The tutorial puts you in control of Deckard, one of the four currently-playable agents, who needs to get out of a building. From there, you are introduced to some of the game’s mechanics, like peeking through a door to see where the enemies are, getting power from accessing computers, using said power to disable cameras, and taking out guards in a hopefully-stealthy manner. It’s a little bit stealth-game-by-way-of-XCOM, including the option to have your agent overwatch for any enemies that wander into range. I also saw an option to spend an AP to predict a guard’s movement, although it was grayed out, which I thought sounded like a pretty neat option. In any case, the tutorial is pretty short, although it does a good job of showing some of what the game has to offer. Access a couple of computers, override a couple of cameras, take out a few guards, peek through and then open some doors. Like I said, it seems pretty solid.

I also loaded up the story campaign and the XCOM vibe is even stronger there, with a world map that lets you accept jobs from various corporations (there are three in the game right now) as you spend 72 hours to try to prepare for the final mission. You can also unlock an Endless Mode although I am not there yet, having just started the story. Apparently there is also permadeath in this world of procedural stealth, so you do need to be especially careful where your agents step. I’m definitely excited to see this game grow and see how it develops into next year. I’m hoping that the addition of extra content and the procedural generation will help Invisible, Inc., have some legs. In the meantime, I’m going to check out the current story mode before long to see if I can get a better feel for what Invisible, Inc., has to offer.

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20. August 2014 by Michael
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Kickstarter: Boss Monster: Dungeon Building Card Game for iOS and Android tablets from Brotherwise Games

I wrote about the Kickstarter campaign for the original Boss Monster card game way back in 2012, including posting an interview with the game’s creators. I loved the the game’s pixel art style and I loved the conceit of building a sidescrolling dungeon for your card-based characters to delve into. The card game appears to have had a successful launch since then (and, as I type this, has an average BoardGameGeek rating of 6.75, for whatever that is worth to you) and Brotherwise Games is now looking to bring the game to iOS and Android via Kickstarter. The app, according to the Kickstarter, will feature AI play against up to three players, pass-and-play capabilities, online play, as well as some cards that are specifically created for the digital platform: “four rooms, two new Bosses, and a new spell that all take advantage of the digital platform, allowing stats and treasure values to change as you play.” A copy of the app itself will run you $5, while amounts over that get you extra digital cards or, in some cases, real cards depending on how much you pay. For those curious as to how the game plays, I might suggest you check out the instruction manual for the card game. If you want more information, there is more on the Kickstarter page or I’ve embedded the video of the game prototype below.

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19. August 2014 by Michael
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