July 02, 2012

Commandos, Cargo and Aerial Combat with Indie Gala VI

Indie Gala is the benevolent bundle fundraiser that never quits, so it's not very surprising to see that they're back with a new bundle. What is surprising is the content, which includes a selection of indies and oldies from the Commandos series and tiny publisher bitComposer Games. That means there's a fair amount of games to work through, so let's get rolling quickly.

This time we have Steam codes across the board, with three games in the base package and a few more to beat the average. Skip past the break to learn about more.

Commandos series
Developed by Pyro Studios

I haven't played a Commandos game since my computer had Windows 98 on it, but it was one of my favourite series back in the day. It's a tactical action strategy game, which is a sadly underused genre that only spawned a few titles like the Desperados series and Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood. However, Commandos was one of the first and simply one of the best.

In Commandos, you are the commanding officer of a British assembled commando team tasked with sneaking into German installations and sabotaging the Nazi war effort. Your squad is a crack team of elite soldiers each with unique skills, lending the game a fantastic puzzle solving approach to the stealthy proceedings. These are roles like the Sniper, perfect for long range silent kills, or the Driver, armed to the teeth and capable of hijacking vehicles, or the Sapper, who has an explosion for every occasion. Teamwork is definitely key here: maybe the Diver needs to shuttle the Spy across a river to pick up a uniform, or the Sniper needs to off a lookout so the Green Beret can scale a cliff. Many of your tools and ammo are limited, and you never have all eight soldiers with you in every mission, so each level is a puzzle to solve with the resources at your disposal.

The Indie Gala includes all four Commandos games (lalala, I can't hear you, Strike Force) though 2 and 3 are beat the average bonuses. Out of the four of them, I think Behind Enemy Lines and the semi-expansion Beyond the Call of Duty hold up the best. They're very unforgiving, but the sprites have aged well and the tutorial is fantastic for explaining everything. The sequels are still rather fun too, but they screw around with the interface and the hotkeys, and neither include particularly helpful tutorials or guides. Still, they're mostly more Commandos, which is never a bad thing, and they introduce the Thief, one of the more interesting commandos.

It's a hard series for sure, and you will need to hammer that quicksave/quickload button, but I think it's still one of the most unique and satisfying genres around. If you like slow paced stealth games, particularly those that play out like puzzles, Commandos' team based gameplay offers a new take on them while still remaining rather fun.

The Void
Developed by Ice-Pick Lodge

I previously wrote about The Void for an Indie Royale bundle, but since I have so many games to get through I'll just copy and paste my previous review down below.

Whoa. Let me just... ok. Let's try to talk about The Void, and also let me emphasize the try part. You can't really explain The Void, because there are so many things going on at once. It's not a mindless game you can just dive into, and playing it is going to take some learning and practice. When was the last time you played  a game where the manual was requiring reading? Because in this case, it took me a manual, a guide and a bunch of forum surfing to figure out exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It's certainly unforgiving, and you'll probably have to start from scratch two or three times before you save your own soul.

But what exactly is The Void? Well, the Steam page calls it an action adventure. I'm going to go in a slightly different direction and call it an avant-garde Harvest Moon. You see, colour is the most important thing in the Void. It's your health, your stat boosts, your attack method, your puzzle solving tools and your seeds. There's never enough of it, so you need to explore little tiny pocket dimensions known as chambers to get more, and also visit gardens and infuse colour into trees to grow more for later.

But perhaps I'm ahead of myself. In The Void, your character is a lost soul on the brink of death and oblivion and other such nastiness. A voice calls out to you, and you wash up on the shores of the chamber of a Sister. She enigmatically explains the importance of colour and how to properly travel the Void, and from there you go on a macabre adventure to restore your life, all while getting caught up in an age old hierarchy of Brothers and Sisters. This requires investigating chambers, which are dark and surreal rooms with an overwhelmingly sinister art style, fighting predators, which are terrifying golems and monsters, navigating the Void, a map between each chamber that eats at your colour and also the only screen where time passes, and collecting the aforementioned colour. However, things don't really stay so simple, and the open ended structure allows you to tackle goals and bosses in many orders. You're also on a strict time limit, and when the cycles run out the Void will vanish forever.

The base mechanics are definitely confusing, and you'll want to restart a few times once you realize just how limited your colour resources are. In all honesty, the mechanics are probably why the game has never really risen above a small cult following. However, the beautifully haunting art design, the fantastic soundtrack (included in the bundle bonus materials) and the creepy atmosphere make the exploration segments oddly enchanting, even if I was puzzled by the overarching metagame. The game never uses overt scares or jumpy moments, but playing with the lights out and headphones on can be wonderfully creepy and spine tingling.

I suppose the easiest way to review the title is to explain my own experience with it. I went from an initial period of dislike and annoyance with the game, and closed it down fully prepared to write "it stinks!" and move on. After reading the manual and learning a little bit more about the world of the Void, I went back to the game and realized there was a pretty deep system at work here. The Void is certainly not a game that will ever jump out and draw you in. Like the lost soul in the game itself, you need to work hard to discover the secrets and the rules of the world before the game will click in in your head. Still, I would say the work is worth it, because the world of the Void is hauntingly beautiful to explore.

Cargo! - The quest for gravity
Developed by Ice-pick Lodge

And now we come to the mania to The Void's dementia. Cargo! is essentially what you would get if you took The Void, and made everything the exact opposite. It's still weird, of course, but a very different kind of weird. Everything is bright tones, vibrant colours and nonsensical world designs. Indeed, the only thing linking Cargo to The Void is the fact that both games don't make an ounce of sense, and you really do have to work overtime to keep up with them. Cargo is simply more cheerful about it.

In Cargo, you play as Flawkes, who empathically explains that she is not a plumber, but a mechanic ("Do I look like a Mario?" she exasperatedly asks the creators of the world). Apparently Gravity has become slightly non-functional, so weight has become a major currency. However, an energy that reverses the effect has been discovered, and it is known as FUN. The catch is that FUN can only be produced by a bizarre race of tiny naked ugly cherubs called Buddies. Give the buddies a boot on the arse, they giggle and squeal and you get FUN. Use it to construct vehicles and buy better parts which lets you give Buddies sweet joy rides and allows additional landmasses to appear. Oh, and there's three gods that are actually one god, and a bizarre devil robot chatting with you, and giant music notes, and a volcano that spews buddies, and everything in between.

Unsurprisingly, a game about booting tiny naked men on the arse is a bit strange. However, it's surprisingly compelling. The grotesque creepiness of the Buddies gave me a bit of a sick joy from booting them off a cliff, while the vehicle construction elements are surprisingly compelling and fun to play around with. The graphics are gorgeous, with a bizarre art style that somehow becomes cohesive while still looking like an acid trip. There's a bit of bugginess in the form of infrequent crashes and errors, but I only experienced this phenomenon once.

In fairness, I had no idea what in the world I was supposed to be doing. This might bug some people, but oddly enough I just decided to go with it and see what happened, and I wasn't disappointed. As a traditional game, Cargo is pretty much an utter failure. As the world's weirdest sandbox, there's nothing else quite like it, and probably no better (or cheaper) opportunity to try it out.

Ion Assault
Developed by COREPLAY

As twin sticks go, Ion Assault certainly has a unique thing going for it. Like all twin stick shooters, you are a ship using one stick to move and the other to aim (or mouse and keyboard, though I much preferred the gamepad). Unlike most twin stick shooters, your teeny ship is lacking in a fundamental department: guns. The only offensive manoeuvre you've got is to charge various sedentary ions on the field, and launch the resulting cloud of bullets at the targets. At first it's simple, because your enemies are either dumb as rocks or actual rocks. Of course, the game amps things up as things go on, and it gets very dicey.

In terms of every other aspect, Ion Assault is up to par in every field, if not exactly outstanding. The graphics are good, the soundtrack is fine and the wide selection of modes is appreciated. The game also does feature an intriguing dynamic difficulty adjustment, which spawns enemies based on how fast you clear them. This can be tricky to balance, but it seems that COREPLAY has done a good job of this.

But overall, aside from the core mechanic this is just another twin stick shooter. That's not to undercut the core mechanic, which is a good twist on the genre and adds some much needed risk and limitation of abilities that the average twin stick shooter lacks. It requires a certain degree of skill over just basic reflexes, and certainly seems like a worthy candidate for any twin stick fan's library.

Air Conflicts: Secret Wars
Developed by Games Farm

Air Conflicts: Secret Wars is a perfectly good arcade shooter. Though it does claim to offer sim-like modes, the game never really becomes hardcore enough for diehard sim fans, but for everyone else you get a fun to play dogfighting game with many different settings and control schemes to give yourself just the right amount of assistance.

The fights are the star here, but the game is bookended by a storyline that at the very least tries something different. You are DeeDee Derbec, a born pilot whose father was a WWI ace and who bums around Libya with your mentor Tommy doing smuggling and other such odd and illicit jobs. When that nasty old scamp Rommel starts to invade Africa, DeeDee hops in the old Sopwith Camel at the behest of an Allied general to assist in the fight by killing Nazis in planes, Nazis in trucks and Nazis pretty much wherever they hang out. The "cutscenes" aren't particularly well done, with a single comic book image being repeatedly panned across over and over while dialogue plays, but there are some cool storytelling tricks in play, like entire levels set in black and white flashbacks to Derbec's daddy. It's a weird little story that starts off fairly pedestrian but gets surprisingly interesting as the game progresses.

However, the storyline is just the icing on a fairly exciting slice of cake. The dogfights of Air Conflicts are fast paced, dangerous games of agility and reflexes, with plenty of near misses and exciting moments. There are a ton of missions to work through, divided into seven campaigns, and while some of them can be a bit dull the majority are rather engaging and full of variety. You'll do bombing runs, stealth missions, snatch and grabs, escort flights (that don't suck, surprisingly) and lots more. Even though there isn't a wide variety to the goals and tasks of the game, the missions still feel unique and fun, though not exactly at the top of the genre.

I wasn't expecting too much, but there's something really exciting about flying low to the ground, trees whacking the underside of the plane as you aim to place a rocket squarely up a convoy's tail pipe. For a quick arcade flight game fix, Air Conflicts is a very solid choice for the cost.

Well hey, look at that. Normally I find a few duds here and there among Indie Gala's offerings, but altogether I have to say I really liked these games and they're all definitely worth checking out if you're interested. Maybe it's the Commandos fan in me, but even then the other titles are pretty great as well. To snag your own bundle, hit up this link before the sale ends on roughly July 9th.


  1. The only game I liked from the bundle was Ion Assault, couldn't really care about the Commando games unfortunately.

    1. Oh, they're definitely an acquired taste, and almost impossible to get working properly on a really modern PC. I mostly still like them because I have very fond memories of playing them back in the day.

  2. Games just for collection in Steam Library, but Ion Assault not bad.

  3. Good thing The Void's soundtrack was included in the bonus materials.

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