Monday, 12 May 2014

Some Early Access Games, And Why They're Cool

As you may have noticed, I bitch a lot. But it's nowhere near all negative, as there are genuinely games, both old and new, I am definitely happy about. Bastion, for example, was awesome. I'm kind of hoping Transistor will be too.

So, today, I'm going to talk about a pair of Early Access games that are definitely showing promise, and why they're not the vapourware we're starting to see a lot of in Early Access. Let's begin with my absolute favourite of the lot: Invisible, Inc. by Klei Entertainment.

It's definitely still in Alpha, as evidenced by some drastic changes between updates (the next one's in a few days, as Klei are pretty punctual about the whole "updating" thing), but...

Look at that concept artwork. More to the point, in a paragraph or so, we'll get to how the actual game looks, and it's pretty sweet. But for now, the basic idea. It's a mix of X-COM/Jagged Alliance (so it's turn based, has limited actions, and fog-of-war... And, once they bring it back, research to improve your game), a roguelike (procedurally generated floors/challenges, permadeath), and any stealth/heist game from the early 90s (you steal shit. For reasons. Actually, last update had a sort of backstory, but it disappeared this update, leaving us wondering if it was real or not.)

In essence, you play one of three starter pairs of thieves working for the eponymous Invisible, Inc (corporate sabotage a specialty!) There's ACME, who are great at stealth and hacking, but fall to a stiff breeze, The Cleaners, who specialise in killing everything on a floor (which is actually sort of discouraged, but we'll get into that), and The Soviets, who are a middle ground who, sadly, have to hack consoles in meatspace. Bah.

This is the end of a first turn in Invisible, Inc with ACME. The red tinted tiles are where cameras/security guards/evil robutts can see, the glowy terminal behind that laser barrier is a Console (hack them by standing next to them, or having Dr. Pedler here be near them, to get sweet, sweet CPU, used for hacking everything else), and we may already have a way off this floor, which I won't be taking. Why? Because of the way scoring in this game works.

You get score by getting money. You get money by 1) opening safes and stealing the cash inside, 2) Exploring 75% or more of each Floor, and 3) NOT KILLING ANYONE. Not even robots. Admittedly, the cash bonus isn't great for doing that, but, more importantly, even a dead robot makes for -50 CashMoneys per "corpse", which can actually result in negative money for the level if you really went hog-wild with the Cleaners. But this isn't what makes me happy about this game. After this screenshot, I quit the game, and thus denied me a resource that I'm assured will be back soon, possibly with the update in 2 days time: Research. Every time you play through to the bitter end (and it will be bitter), you get Research points, which, in the updates where research is a thing (and, hopefully, the final product) allows you to buy teams, extra equipment, and other fun stuff.

There are currently 10 floors, three corporations, and around 4 enemy types/Hidden Fun Stuff per corporation. Sankaku, for example, specialise in Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics and heavily armoured drones, while the rest... Go get the game, support the team. You won't regret it if you like stealth strategy type games.

Next up is... One of the rash of "Dwarf Fortress... IN SPAAAAACE!" we've seen quite recently. MAIA. Capitalisation deliberate. MAIA is very much still an Alpha (all the things I mention here are), but hot damn if it doesn't already have the basic mechanics for Fun (in the Dwarf Fortress sense). Asphyxiation? Check. Vital equipment breaking down? Check. The latest update having the first example of MAIAn Megafauna to screw your day (and crew over)? Check. The ability to replace colonists (if the game's Director AI lets you)? Check! It's surprisingly fair, and, like DF (or Spacebase DF-9, by Double Fine), you have to start small. Worry about power, workspace, and beds before you worry about water. Worry about all of that before you worry about Science. And always, always worry about the planet fucking up your plans with an Earthquake, lightning storm, or Megafauna ragefest. If you've played Dungeon Keeper, most of the basic concepts will be pretty easy for you, and DF covers the rest. It updates a little slowly at times, but the developer is pretty on the ball, and it looks like it might be a hell of a lot of fun.

Also, like Dwarf Fort, some of the bugs have caused unintentional hilarity. Which is awesome.

Are there any other Early Access games I'm playing right now? Sure. But most of them are either in fairly early stages (the Goon led Signs of Life, for example), have an... interesting update history (Xenonauts started... a long time ago), or are not quite what we were promised (Chroma Squad, for example, continues to have the PAX Demo as its "Early Access", despite a tentative release date of, er... Summer 2014. Which is not that far off. Early Access continues to be a bit of a gamble, it seems.

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