April 07, 2012

The Indie Gala III Bonus Round

One of the most important things that made indie game bundles such a success is also something I normally ignore. I probably shouldn't, as it's a pretty critical part of the overall package. Yes, I'm talking about bonuses. Every indie bundle strives to add great post release bonuses along the lines of new games, fun little extras, soundtracks and albums.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that from now on I'll be striving to cover more of these post launch bonuses with the same care I use on the main bundle package. If it's just a minor addition, I'll try to just update the post, but for big or numerous bonuses I'll probably spin it off into a bonus post. Like this one!

Most of this push for more post launch support on my bundle reviews comes from a kind tweet from the people organizing Indie Gala, asking that I consider taking a look at the goodies they've thrown in since my first post. I may not have thought that the most recent Indie Gala was all that hot when it came to the games, but since the initial launch they've added two more games, four electronic music albums and a short comic preview. That's a lot of extra stuff to sift through and it might just be the extras that push you over the edge.

So let's get started past the break.

Developed by Bugbear Entertainment

Ok, this is a bit cheatsy, since FlatOut is absolutely not an indie game. But even so, I kind of like the idea of including a retro game in each bundle pack, especially since it seems to be a trend starting with Postal in the last IndieGala. I'm a huge retro fan of all genres, so therefore anything that gets me more retro games in my backlog is a winner. It also helps that FlatOut is a really fantastic racing game.

Now, I'm coming to this as an outsider. I'm not a big racing guy, but I do make exceptions for particularly great racing games that draw me in. FlatOut is definitely one of these. There are two modes of destruction derbyesque racing which are both a lot of fun: straightforward lap races and last man standing slugfests. The racing is quite a bit like any standard Need for Speed influenced racer, but with a few distinct qualities. For starters, the courses generally fall into a smattering of categories including off the beaten path forests, abandoned construction sites and run down rally tracks. The emphasis on dirt and the environment pays off with a fantastic aesthetic, with each car kicking up clouds of dirt and sparks as they joust for first.

In fact, graphically the game looks really amazing for a seven year old release, and even better if you blow the graphics up to a high resolution. The models are all very detailed and the textures are great. The biggest claim to fame, the physics, work surprisingly well and are definitely comparable to most modern racers. The cars handle well and they all react to crashes and bumps properly, creating a racing engine that, if not the most realistic, certainly feels right. The destruction is probably the biggest selling point from back in the day, and it's still impressive. Everything breaks; run into some scaffolding and it shatters over your hood, or bang into a wooden guard rail and careen through it into the woods. The cars all blow up very well too, featuring some of the best vehicle damage effects in racing games of the time. Everything is tactile and reacts to where you were hit. Side-swiping a rival might rip off your door, or running into a tree will smash in the hood of your car. One of the most memorable parts is the fact that your driver is a separate entity; hit an overturned log too hard and he'll fly out through the wind-shield and ragdoll his way down the road.

It looks great for a game released last generation, it handles extremely well and it's an altogether solid experience. There's a bunch of levels and events to work through, and cars to buy, tweak and upgrade. Even the licensed soundtrack is pretty excellent, albeit in a slightly goofy, guilty pleasure sense. It may not be an indie game, but it's a great retro title and a fantastic racer.

Gear Grinder
Developed by Targem Games

Gear Grinder was a roller coaster ride of emotions for me. When I booted it up I was excited, because I love car combat games and there's a noticeable lack of them on the PC. As I played more, I felt like the game was more focused on straightforward racing, with a few decent but ultimately dull survival matches. It was fun enough, but there were a few quirks bugging me. The controls were good but not great, the physics were a bit over the top and unrealistic looking and the difficulty spiked randomly all over the place. However, the more I played, the crazier the game got. What started as a generic truck turned into a crazy death machine with buzzsaws all over it and a freaking laser cannon. What began as a streak of poor voiceovers in a shoe-string storyline turned into an absolutely bizarre series of increasingly hilarious twists and one-liners up there with the best worst B movies. What started as basic racing to the checkpoints turned into wholesale slaughter of oncoming traffic. This game is completely nuts.

I'll save the badass storyline for later, and talk a bit about the gameplay. You drive a truck through a series of loosely connected events. The actual racing itself is decent, but not great; there's nothing objectively wrong with it, but it doesn't feel as good as you would hope from a racer. If you were to play Gear Grinder and FlatOut in quick succession you'd see what I mean. Luckily there's quite a few good points to the gameplay as well. At first you'll be mostly doing standard arcade races and reach the checkpoint goals, but then you'll realize your truck has two modes. You can be in race mode, which is a big jet engine on the bed of your truck that can use some very potent nitro, and weapons mode, where the jet folds into your truck and so many beautiful instruments of doom fold out. The nice thing is that you can flip between these modes by tapping a button, and the game expects you to. Firing your weapons and smashing cars slows down your truck but also fills up a meter. Swap to race mode, and the very same meter becomes the amount of nitro you can use. The connection between modes is a very unique mechanic; while plenty of racers offer nitro for slamming your opponents around, they rarely make it this strategic.

There's a lot of unexpected variety to the events, which is neat. Some missions require bowling using your truck as a ball, some put you in control of an RC bomb car that has to cause the most destruction, and one particularly destructive event turns driving on the British side of the road into an art form. If a big honking truck cab doesn't pack quite enough firepower for you, the truck's got main guns, side guns, body weapons (buzz saws and stuff) and more to pick from. The game includes a cursory upgrade mode, where winning gold medals in each event unlocks new loot. Most of the unlocks are just straight upgrades, but there is a bit of strategy to what kind of weapon you want to use. Lasers or machine guns? But I love them so equally!

Let's move onto the game's worst quality, which paradoxically is my favourite part: the storyline. It's unbelievable how cheesy and awesome it gets. Your protagonist is Jack Hammer, who looks like Christopher Walken doing the Max Payne 1 face, is about to be lethally gassed for "willful homicide" and "major government and private property destruction". Instead of dying, Hammer wakes up in a garage with a truck fully loaded with weapons and a mysterious patron who commands Hammer to work for him. Little did they realize that handing a death machine to a psychopath was a bad idea! Hammer's a loose cannon, and he just won't take orders from The Man! What follows is a increasingly absurd series of events, mostly about Hammer being betrayed by people. The cut scenes are poorly animated behind an obtuse grain filter, which I guess makes it looks all Grindhouse, and the voice acting itself is just goofy all around ("Holy poly!" screams Hammer as he explodes the billionth cop car with his laser). But it's all in the charm; the ludicrous twists and hilarious quality is the kind of goofy, awful B movie plot I love.

Critically, I just can't say that Gear Grinder is a good game. It's got some great moments going for it, but there's too many issues. However, I have no problem calling it an amazing "so bad it's good" kind of game. It's essentially the gaming equivalent of a Mystery Science Theatre movie; so goofy and weird that it loops right back around to being vaguely enjoyable if you go into it with a sense of humour. The nice thing is that, unlike most "so bad it's good" games, the gameplay itself is good enough that most of the time it isn't an annoying chore to play and the B movie plot cutscenes had me laughing out loud. I'll close out with one of the best exchanges I've ever heard in a game. Ever.

(cell phone rings)
BAD GUY: You're driving me crazy, Jaaack.
BAD GUY: If you cut me off... you die.
HAMMER: Wanna dare me?
BAD GUY: We've implanted a bomb in your brain. You disobey the orders, you die.
HAMMER: I'll do it, but you're playing with fire! (throws phone out the window)
(phone bounces down road as BAD GUY laughs evilly)

Music and More

One of the things I really like about the IndieGala is the commitment to including music as well as games. Other bundles often throw in the soundtracks for the included games, and some occasionally add an album or two of chiptunes as a bonus. But IndieGala likes to go all out, throwing great albums around left and right. They also like to branch out, throwing in a wide variety of electronic music ranging from chiptunes to full techno bands. Now, I'm not much of a music critic and I can't claim to be even remotely as well versed in electronic music as I am in electronic amusements, but I definitely dig the tracks included here.

There's four albums in the package. The first is Electric Children with the DJ friendly mix album All Night Party. It's a neat blend of typical club DJ sets mixed in with a massive chiptunes influence. The chiptune elements changes up the formula quite a bit, and the remixes never sample too often or too heavily.

The next EP is Chiptune Hero from DJ Cutman, and features a bunch of popular music remade into chiptunes, with a couple of originals as well. Have you ever wanted to hear Man in the Mirror, but rendered through a Gameboy? DJ Cutman has you covered.

F-777 closes out the tunes with two compilations. The first is called Viper EP, and features variations on a single track fusing a ton of styles. Be sure to check out the orchestrated version, which really amazed me. The other F-777 release is a full duo album with an artist named Kr1z called Remotion Vol. 2. It's very much in the same style of Viper EP, but with way more tracks and contributions from other artists.

Music not enough? Your eyeballs getting jealous of your ears? The other bonus is a preview of upcoming graphic novel Sonia the Cruel. Since I'm a complete and utter nerd of course I'm into graphic novels and comics, and this one seems intriguing. It's a swords and sorcery adventure, but with the intention of subverting the stereotypes. Judging from the preview, they do this pretty well by making the main heroine a completely remorseless psychotic bastard. Is this the bonus that will make or break the deal for you? Probably not, but it's worth a look and I wish the comic creators all the best of luck for pursuing a personal dream project.

So with these new extras, does that change your mind about the Indie Gala? If so, you still have a little less than two days to pick it up, so go check out their site. At the very least, the charity angle means you're donating to a worthwhile cause.

Also, what's the verdict on bonuses? Is it worthwhile to go back to older posts when games get added? Chime off in the comments if you want more follow-ups to bundle posts like this one.


  1. I already had the Indie Gala, and while I was initially a bit disappointed in the lack of music at release, they've really come through - like they usually do. In past Galas, there's been one or two gems - but this is really great. I would pay at least five dollars for the four (album|EP)s alone - really made this bundle shine for me.
    In terms of making a separate post for addons, I would say it depends. If it's one or two little things, like Royale tends to do, I'd say skip 'em unless something really stands out. If its major additions like the ones Gala favours, definitely.

  2. Thank You for your kind words about our prologue ;) ! We do hope that first issue of Sonia the Cruel will be really good. Great blog, and we know that fighting with your own backlog can be really hard.


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