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Behind the Grind

The article that you are about to read contains a strong opinion. The opinion that follows is mine and does not represent the entire GeekOut collective.

I’m going to talk about unnecessary grinding; No, not the over-enthusiastic form of dancing or indeed the thing that people of certain extreme sports like to do. Nope, the gaming kind.

First of all, take a deep breath. Have you done that? Good. I had to before I wrote this, but I’m not sure if it helped or not. Anyway… onwards!

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Housemarque – Indie Developer spotlight

Are arcade-style games dead?

Take a classic such as Robotron; Would a similar game have any place in the marketplace today? Well, I like to think they do still have a place. We have reviewed quite a few of what I would call ‘arcade-style games‘ like The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon.

Independent Finnish developers Housemarque have been making such arcade-style games since the early 1990’s and recently I read their blog, with sadness in my heart, when they declared that Arcade is Dead.

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My history with Digital Pinball

Pinball is a very physical game, the skill that you need to hit the ramps at the right point in time and be able to nudge the table just enough while avoiding activating the tilt switches is a real skill. Pinball machines date right back to the 1930’s, my attraction to actual machines probably started in the 1980’s where I remember playing on them in an arcade while I was on holiday with my parents. Now the history of Pinball itself is something that is well documented on the internet so rather than tell you something that you can just go and look up I thought I would tell you about my personal history with the digital version of the same game.

Early days

It all started for me around 1992 when I first played the hit game Pinball Dreams on the Amiga. Programmed by a small Swedish company called Digital Illusions, eventually, they were made a subsidiary of Electronic Arts and most people might know them now as EA DICE. I have already written about my love for the Amiga in general but I am sure that Pinball Dreams and the games that followed it contributed significantly. The game shipped with four tables that all had a theme, they were called Ignition, Steel Wheel, Beat Box and Nightmare, all of which were well designed with plenty of room to learn where the combinations, modes and jackpots were. I had played other digital versions of pinball before then and the thing that made Pinball Dreams so different was that the ball actually felt like it had weight. You could aim it, even juggle it between one set of flippers and another with some ease. Remember that this game was made way before the Havok physics engine existed and the processing power of the machines in those days was rather limited.

In the latter months of 1992, Digital Illusions released the first sequel Pinball Fantasies, needless to say with the amount of time that I had put into Pinball Dreams it was almost an instant purchase for me as soon as I could afford it. It was not just pinball games on the Amiga that I enjoyed, in 1993 one of my friends owned a Sega Megadrive and we clubbed together to buy the crossover game Sonic Spinball. There was something very oddly playable about Sonic Spinball. They had added a mechanic where you could actually control Sonic in mid-flight which allowed you to get a greater amount control over the game.

It took Digital Illusions two more years to come out with a new pinball related game and it was to be the final one that they would release named Pinball Illusions. Again I must have put hours into this game challenging my friends’ scores by uploading them to a bulletin board. My obsession with the digital version of pinball did not stop there because in 1996 a new batch of developers took up the mantle by the name of Liquid Dezign as they produced Slam Tilt. As far as I am aware this was the only game that they ever made.

Today

Finding a good digital pinball game today is a tricky thing to do. If you have a powerful enough Apple-based mobile device then you might want to check out the work of Cowboy Radio Apps who has remade both Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies in normal and HD. I have no idea how accurate or good these are but if I had an Apple-based phone they would be on my list of things to try. However, if you have some version of Windows or an XBox then I can highly recommend Pinball FX 2 and now the more recent Pinball FX 3. Let’s put it this way, I think I have Pinball FX 2 for both PC and XBox, that’s how much I liked it.

There are several reasons as to why I like the game. The newest version is available for free via Steam and you get a single table to try out, the game itself is graphically pretty, it plays smoothly even on low-end machines and the ball has that weighted feeling that allows you to do trick shots once you get used to the mechanics. As a bonus, if you already own tables for Pinball FX 2 then you can use them in the third version at no extra cost. As a slight criticism, the cost of a single table can range from £1.99 to £7.99 per table so you will find it is best to buy packs of tables and/or well worth waiting for a sale to pick up your favourites.

I do have one bit of advice for you if you are planning on playing Pinball FX 3 on a Windows machine. Turn off sticky keys. The defaults for the game are the left and right shift buttons to use the flippers and it only takes Windows a few moments to offer you the option of “sticky keys” and if you don’t turn it off then it can get quite annoying. Have you played any good Digital Pinball games or are you a pinball purest sticking solely to the physical form? Get in touch with us in the usual way of dropping us some comments or via Facebook, Twitter and Reddit

Love and multi-ball jackpots to you all
– Chris


Heat Signature – Game Review

I remember seeing the Beta of this Heat Signature and was really interested to see what it was like, once it was complete. Now that it’s out of Beta, I’ve gotten my hands on a copy of the game. So we ask the age-old question, was it worth the wait and more importantly is it worth the money?

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Festival of the Spoken Nerd | GeekOut Interviews

After a few months of waiting, I went to see the Festival of The Spoken Nerd show in Wells last week. I had no idea what to expect from the show but was curious to find out and took four fellow geeks along with me. It was a busy crowd from a very varied age range, that I think spanned from 12 to 50+ and I think it certainly had something for everyone.

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Serial Cleaner – Video Game Review

Cast your mind back to last year, when I reviewed a game called Party Hard that had nothing to do with the Andrew WK song of the same name. As you may remember, Party Hard is the game where you play a serial killer and are tasked with taking out as many of the partying people as you could, so you can get some sleep. Did you ever wonder who might come and clean up after you? If you set Party Hard in the seventies and toned down the violence a bit, then Serial Cleaner would be the game to compliment Party Hard.

Specifications

  • Developed by: iFun4All
  • Publisher: Curve Digital
  • Platforms: Windows, Steam, PS4, XBox One, Mac
  • Release Date: 19th June 2017
  • Rated: Steam: 71 (Very Positive) & Metacritic (PC) 68%, user score 7.5
  • RRP: £11.99

Design

The game has a very unique style and takes full advantage of being set in the 1970’s, where almost every male person in the game has a fine full moustache and sporting some Ray-Ban Aviator shades. Your main character, a Mr Bob Leaner, lives with his mother and makes his living by cleaning up crime scenes. In between missions, there are storyline moments that relate to history. I really like the design line the developers have taken, everything feels right at home.

The colours are really something to behold, the art style is similar to papercraft, almost cell shaded in a way. I’ve not seen that many games that follow a similar art style and for that, I give the game a lot of credit. The design of the levels themselves had a lot of love poured into them. They start fairly simple, giving you a nice introduction to the controls and concept without holding your hand at every turn, as well as having a nice challenge curve.

There are several obvious design decisions made during development and they all feel like they add to the gameplay. Players are punished for taking risks and being caught, given that there are no halfway checkpoints being caught means everything resets. Yes, this causes many moments where you may find your patience being tested and it’s probably because you just were not good enough on that occasion. The great thing about getting caught is that restarting the level is instantaneous. Having a significant reload time for a game like this might be the tipping point that makes me stop playing. Being made to wait several seconds or minutes to have another go of the same level is not acceptable in a game like this, so I am glad they made it instantaneous.

Gameplay

You control Bob, using the cursor keys to guide him. Your task for each mission is to not get caught trying to mess with the scene of a crime. You do this by using your “Cleaner sense”, which gives you the ability to see the whole map, where all the hiding spots, bodies and bits of evidence are. The second tool in your bag of tricks is the ability to hide in things and activate various bits of scenery to help lose/confuse/distract the cops from finding you before you complete your mission.

When you get to a body you pick it up and then hot foot it to the nearest body drop point, which could be your reliable Station Wagon or maybe even feeding it to a Crocodile. Finally, you have a vacuum to suck up some of the blood, which is a requirement on some of the levels. The levels are really well designed; police seem to always be in the same spot while the bodies and evidence seem to rotate around a bunch of predesignated spots with every try. If a police officer spots you then you need to find the nearest hiding spot and wait for them to give up looking for you, before you continue with the job in hand.

Verdict

If you are looking to 100% complete this game, it’s going to take you a while. There are costumes to be found so you can put Bob Leaner in a Saturday Night fever style suit, or stockings and suspenders to name a few. There are also a lot of challenges for each level so you can replay them to make them more difficult. The game also includes 10 film specific scenarios to work your way through as extra content, so there is plenty to keep you occupied. For a little over £5 more than the RRP, you can optionally grab the music as DLC. I must say that it encompasses the era the game is set in perfectly, with some big hair, shoulder-pad style schlock rock, to funk and disco.

I have a few criticisms.

Even though I think the art style is nice, it is at points difficult to understand where you can and cannot run. I got caught more than once by thinking that I could escape the cops through a certain route and come to a dead end. I also think that you could add a hell of a lot of replay value if there was a level designer. You could happily hook it up to Steam Workshop to share levels between your friends, or the public. There have been a few times where I have managed to glitch through the scenery and actually appear on the other side of an external wall with no other choice but to restart, but in fairness, there have been few and far between.

A lot of other reviewers have picked up on the fact that there is no multi-player but I don’t think that a multi-player version of the game would work. I like the game as is, I’ve not managed to finish it as yet but I have seen enough to be able to say it’s a game I have enjoyed being frustrated by and having that feeling of elation when you get a level right and manage to move onto the next one. It’s certainly worth the money in my opinion.

Have you played Serial Cleaner? What do you think of this wave of games that implement very simple rules with a definitive art style like Hotline Miami, Enter the Gungeon etc? Give us your feedback via the comments section or over on Facebook, Reddit or Twitter


Stephen King’s IT – Film review

Being a horror fanatic, you have to work pretty hard to shock me with horror films these days. I have seen it all, and I have a preference towards stories that play with psychological boundaries. I am actively looking for those roller coaster moments where you know that something is going to happen, but you just don’t know when. Anticipation is the key; I don’t want a lot of it, but if you can make me feel it once, then the film maker has achieved something. So how did the 2017 version of Stephen King’s IT turn out?

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Pocket Mars – Board game review

Pocket Mars is a card game that boasts simple rules, and packs a lot of gameplay. I’ve had a copy of it for a while now and remember talking to the publishers Board and Dice about it back at UKGE, and at our recent September Meetup, I finally got round to playing it.

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Review: Doctor Who RPG

I admit I was both curious and anxious when I read that there was a Doctor Who RPG. The child inside of me was gleeful that people had put the Doctor Who universe into a form that can be played by many and then the adult in me grew very cynical indeed. I wondered how they would deal with the Doctor as a character, will this be played by a player or is the Doctor like a super cool NPC.

Will there be references to the Doctors companions from the series? Which ones and indeed which Doctor/s are we going to interact with? There really was only one way to find out and so in a recent Humble Bundle sale, I picked up the RPG and some companion books to go with it. The following will only deal with the main rulebook and will try to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes with no expectations. This is going to be hard!

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Card Game Review: Bears vs Babies

When I first heard about Bears Vs Babies I had no doubt that the team at The Oatmeal would put out something worth while. Given the incredible success of Exploding Kittens, they did have some pretty big boots to fill. Back in October of last year was the first we saw of it, let’s just say that it did not take me long to actually invest.

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