June 20, 2012

Indie Fort 2: Return of the Fort

Remember the IndieFort? It was a pretty great bundle from GamersGate with quite a few games that, to me, felt like a breath of fresh air from the usual bundle offerings. Well, like all good bundles, it's back again for a new round with six more games. Also like the last bundle, the six games being offered are rather eccentric and unusual, which is exactly the kind of games I love.

Of course, this means you might be rather perplexed about whether or not this is the bundle for you. Well, I'm here with my usual bundle review to set you straight on all six games on hand. Skip past the break for the full scoop.

Developed by Phr00t
Windows, Mac

I took a look at 3079 way back when it was part of the Indie Royale Alpha Pack. Since then, 3079 has been patched again and again, and finally saw a full release. Normally I tend to point you towards reviews I've already done, but since so much has changed in 3079 I decided to hop back into my old save file and press on into the Humoid/Neander wars. Go read my first post on the game, and then pop back here.

Done? Good. Here's what hasn't changed. The game still looks really terrible, and there's no way around it. There have been a few nice tweaks (weapon models are no longer 2D, hurray!) but overall this is the same looking game as it ever was. It's a shame, because the new models for the fighter planes (more on those in a second) and larger bases look rather nice. It would be neat to see if Phr00t could go back and improve on the really early alpha models.

The gameplay also remains pretty much the same in terms of quests and goals, which I find is a bit too random and procedural for my liking. However, there have been a ton of awesome additions. My favourite is the grappling hook (which may have been in the game last time I played it), because grappling and swinging is my absolute favourite game mechanic. Another amazing addition is the mini-fighters, small planes you can pilot and use to rain hell from above. As a diehard space sim fan, I heartily approve.

Want to know just how awesome this is? I was infiltrating a Neander base floating hundreds of feet above the ground. I grapple to the roof, when suddenly I see three Neander fighters zipping towards me from above. I fire my grapple gun at the first one, zip up to it and mash the E key to overpower the pilot and take it for myself. Then I loop around, ace both the other ships and proceed to help my Humoid buddies take out a particularly large ambush below.

3079 is not the most well organized game, and it requires a certain suspension of disbelief to play. However, the constant warfare and craziness around you is ridiculously good at creating those unexpected procedural moments that turn a so-so game into a thrilling action epic. It's not pretty, but 3079 has its moments of greatness.

Fortix 2
Developed by Nemesys Games
Windows, Mac

Fortix 2, on the other hand, has not changed much since I reviewed it in the Indie Gala 2. Since the game is pretty basic (but still fun; I just wasted an hour beating the rest of the levels) I'm just going to copy and paste my blurb from there. It's a good game, but there's not a lot else I have to say about it besides what I already have.

Hey, you ever play Qix before? It's that game where you have to chop off chunks of the arena while not letting you or your trail be hit by a spastic monstrous being known as the Qix, which due to hardware limitations is represented by a bunch of multicoloured lines. Fortix 2 is also that game, or at least a heavily updated reskinned clone of it.

So what exactly does Fortix 2 have over that free version I just linked? Let's run it down.
  • Better graphics: I don't care how nostalgic you are, the primitive graphics of Qix kind of take away from the amusement. Fortix 2 has a clean and fairly nice art style, and more importantly has enemies that have easier hitboxes to track.
  • A storyline: It's very barebones though, and doesn't really add anything. Or maybe the storyline of Fortix 1 was just far too nuanced for me to leap into halfway through...
  • New types of enemies: The variety is appreciated, and some of the enemies are quite challenging to deal with (fudging bone dragons, man). It makes planning your moves far more important, as being stuck with a minimal amount of space left and two enemies that rush towards you the second you step off the line will have you rethinking your plan on the next try,
  • Forts and buildings: Probably the biggest deal, and the best improvement on the original formula. Over the course of each level you have to deal with impenetrable walls and stone slinging towers. To do so usually involves capturing a section of land with either a key to open a gate or a catapult to blow up said tower. This makes each level fairly unique, and gives the game a bit of an attrition element to things. Mostly you have to slowly capture important sections in order to give yourself access to more of the field. It's a great addition that pretty much sums up the key thing Fortix 2 adds to the formula.
It's fairly difficult, though the limited number of levels goes by fast. But the Qix formula is a solid basis for a game, and while Fortix 2 doesn't reinvent the style it certainly polishes it.

Developed by Citérémis

Aztaka was a bit of a surprise for me. I really have not heard a lot about it, so judging based on screenshots alone I figured that it was some kind of platformer, maybe with a bit of energy manipulation. Turns out I was right, except that I had missed the fact that there was an entire action-RPG hidden under the surface.

Yes, Aztaka might have a bit of a Metroidvania influence, but there's definitely a lot of Diablo systems at play here, from upgradeable skills to, well, loot of course. You are an Aztec warrior, a descendant from a race of ancients which let's you do cool things like ball up the immortal souls of random wildlife and stick it in jars or branches and such. It's rather intriguing. The storyline didn't really engage me, but the unusual mix of gameplay styles and concentration on manipulating the world around you is a very neat hook.

I suppose I kind of wish they took things just a step further. Take combat, for instance. It's extremely basic, with just one attack to use. You do eventually get spells from your cursed hummingbird friend (it's a long story), but they're mostly superfluous. While action-RPG combat is normally rather confined to clicking over and over, it's hard to come from modern games like Diablo 3 and Krater that use skills in a fun and engaging way. As for loot, the game is ridiculously stingy with it. Over my playing time of the first six areas or so, I only received a couple of rings that were set drops, a necklace I bought and a charm. You have around two dozen slots for loot, but the game doesn't really seem to want to dish it out, or at least not in the beginning parts.

Still, I'm sufficiently intrigued to see where the game goes and if it starts to ramp up at all. The artwork and soundtrack are beautiful, the platforming is fairly fun and my loot obsession is making me eye the icon, desperate to go back and find more treasure. It's definitely an interesting concept, and the developers spun that concept into a decent game.

Dark Scavenger
Developed by Psydra Games
Windows, Mac

Now this is the kind of thing I like to see in an indie game. It may not be polished, it may not be deep, but it sure does have some very neat ideas. I love it when indie developers try new and interesting stuff, the kind of things you really don't see in any other game. Different battle systems, new settings, atypical storylines and the like. Who knows, maybe a weird new idea will become the next huge innovation. Well, maybe Dark Sacvenger's battle system won't quite become the defacto JRPG combat system, but I'd love to see it crop up again.

Right, the game. Dark Scavenger is a weird RPG/interactive novel hybrid about your travels with a band of Dark Scavengers. After being abandoned to the depths of space by a cosmic entity, you are rescued by three bizarre space travellers: a medieval skeleton, a suit wearing little green man and a creature that has to be in the same genus as your average xenomorph. Unfortunately you're stuck on a planet with little fuel, so it's off to find some kind of magic energy source by turn based battling your way across the continent.

Let's turn to the battles. You pick either a weapon, an item or an ally to use at the start of each turn, and the corresponding effect ensues (some end your turn, some do not). Hit baddie till baddie goes all dead-like, score loot. However, all of your gear comes with limited uses, which adds a deeper level of tactics to the battle. Sure, the giant rusty flintlock pistol could end this right now, but you can only use it three more times before it breaks. To get more weapons, you have to click on stuff around the environment and make a series of choices to possibly get more items, sometimes requiring a certain style of of item to complete (for example, a prisoner might need a small, thin weapon to make a lockpick). Between each screen, you hand those items to one of the crew members, each of which will craft it into one of the aforementioned categories.

So it's a bit of a chaotic battle system, since you're constantly changing your tactics to suit what you have on hand. The crew members are not always specific about what you'll get if you give, for example, the electro-spear to them, though they do give hints—the skeleton is rather straightfoward, but the green alien loves riddles and the voiceless xenomorph can only mime out his hints. You essentially just have to go with what you need, what the hints point to or just your own gut, and change tactics to suit the circumstances.

I haven't even touched on the completely insane setting—essentially the developers went with a rule of cool to create a menagerie of every sci-fi and fantasy trope ever and mashed them into one big, slightly Adams-esque planet. There's not a lot of complexity to the game (there isn't even animations, for instance), but it's quite unlike anything else I've ever played, and well worth checking out.

DEMISE: Ascension
Developed by Artifact Entertainment, Pharaoh Productions, Decklin's Domain

You might remember Devil Whiskey, which I reviewed in the last IndieFort bundle. It was a very old game picked up by Decklin's Domain to republish, essentially designed as a fan sequel to older than dirt CRPG The Bard's Tale. DEMISE: Ascension is another old school title brought back from the brink by the same publishers. Like Devil Whiskey, Demise is a party based dungeon crawler, but the similarities end there.

First of all, Demise is much friendlier to new players. Of course, friendly is a relative term, because this is still only for the hardest of hardcore RPG fans. But an extensive online tutorial and a fairly decent in game help system can thoroughly explain all you need to know about the game. Things are rather distilled in this crawler, with the one dungeon being just about the only place to explore. Instead of confusing and sprawling towns, there's just a menu of services to access. Combat is also simplified, and borderline real time. If you are in range of an enemy, your character attacks, no questions asked. You just need to keep an eye on your party health, and be ready to run if things go badly.

Technically the game is party based, but you don't necessarily have to run in a crowd. You can hire NPCs, charm monsters or just make extra characters to assist in the dungeoneering, but doing so sticks you with an XP penalty. Your choice is safer but more cumbersome, or speedy and prone to fits of dying. However, the really intriguing thing here is multiplayer; sixteen players can log into a server and romp around the dungeon together, rescuing each other from certain death and squabbling for loot. I personally didn't get the chance to try it, but the concept sounds really neat.

There's so much going on here that I wouldn't really recommend it for most people, particularly those spoiled by the lush mechanics of modern gaming. The UI, the town services, the auto-map and nearly everything else are pretty unfriendly and rather outdated. There's a lot of stuff we take for granted in games that isn't here, so things like aging characters, expensive healing and running to and from town can get a bit dull. But there's something alluring here for those of you who still enjoy ancient titles like Might and Magic or Wizardry. It's unapologetically retro, and there's not a lot of games like that these days.

EDIT: A few people were having trouble activating Demise, and I don't blame them because the registration process for this game is so convoluted. There are four separate keys. It's ridiculous. Here's a a short guide.

You start with a serial code and a IndieFort promo code. The serial code is totally useless. First, go to http://www.decklinsdemise.com/register.htm and fill out the form with your IndieFort promo code. Then go to whatever email you used in the form. There should be an email with a third code called a legacy key. Use that code plus your email when installing the game. You can play the game now for 30 days, it'll just warn you to register. To do that, wait two more days and you'll get a second email with a fourth key. This is the one you use alongside your email when you start up the game to remove the 30 day limit. You'll also get a username for MyDemise, which will let you access all your codes plus give you your downloads and patches and such. You get all that? Good.

Intrusion 2
Developed by vap games

My list of favourite games ever is fairly nebulous and can change on a whim, but I'm always positive that at the top is Super Crate Box and in the fifth spot is Metal Slug. It's not that I really like Contra style games, and I'm not particularly good at them. I just love the manic absurdity of Metal Slug, with the increasingly epic setpieces and "always go right, whatever the cost" mentality. Intrusion 2 is exactly that style of game, but now with physics, which only makes it crazier. Everything moves and bounces around, from the wreckage of a boss to your rather fetching scarf.

At first I was pleasantly enjoying the game. There were cool things like wires to swing from and snowballs (which got bigger if you rolled them), but overall I felt like it was pretty standard. Then a soldier attacked me on the back of a dire wolf. After disposing of him, I realized you could ride the wolf, and from then on I knew this was something special. There's nothing quite like leaping from cliff to cliff shouting "For the North!" while disembowelling one enemy and shooting another. Little did my excited and tweet-happy past self realize this was just the start of things. As I neared the end of the level, I left my wolf behind Super Mario World castle style and fought one of the best extended boss sequences I've ever played in all my years as a gamer.


Everything is top notch. The physics makes the game truly chaotic and full of "oh sh-" moments, while the limited ammo has you constantly trying out all corners of the extensive armoury. You know how the rail gun is usually one of the most powerful guns? You get it within the earliest level. There are plenty more brilliant setpieces where that stunning first boss came from, and lots of open levels that give you plenty of secrets to find and approaches to take when progressing.

I really don't want to spoil too much because part of the magic is encountering each setpiece for yourself. Suffice to say I was completely blown away by this game. It does the Metal Slug gameplay almost better than Metal Slug itself, with so many creative and cool ideas on display. If I played nothing else, this game alone still would have completely sold me on this bundle. It's a true indie gem.

So that's the second IndieFort bundle from GamersGate. I'm rather taken with it; there's a good mix of games with a wide range in genres. If you want to pick up your own, pop on over to GamersGate to grab a copy.

1 comment:

  1. You sold me on this bundle.
    You chose much better screenshots than what they have on GamersGate.
    Had not noticed Aztaka and Dark Scavenger had such nice hand-drawn art.


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