indie game

All posts tagged indie game

Indie Studio Mobrite returns with a followup game to their original zombie hit Dead Ahead. Fight rather than flee in this combat focused squeal. 

Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is the follow-up game to the mobile game simply titled Dead Ahead from developer and publisher Mobrite. It is available on IOS and Android and is free to play. Dead Ahead is a simple game where the player is tasked with escaping the zombie hordes that are chasing them in a side-scrolling, obstacle-filled driving game for mobile. Zombie Warfare features the same unique visual charm, with a huge array of new characters, enemies, weapons and locations to enjoy the apocalypse. As the name implies, Zombie Warfare’s gameplay is focused on combat, but with a heavy coating of micro-transactions it’s hard to focus on its interesting gameplay and graphics.

Setting and Graphics – An Expanded World for Dead Ahead

One of the main ingredients that made the first game a joyful experience to play was the game’s graphics and subtle world building. The first game’s opening cinematic creates a sense of dread but also shows a glimpse of the world the player will be inhabiting. Its characters are hand drawn and have a cute, almost chibi quality to them. The player drives a pizza delivery scooter, and most of the zombies have cute (even mildly sexy) designs, making Mobrite’s apocalypse a fun, playful and unique world to survive in. This followup game features even more of the same high-quality pixel art, and creative character and enemy designs. There are a large collection of survivors to unlock from civic employees and civilians like the shotgun-wielding farmer and the armored Fireman to fully armed military and police units. There are plenty of new zombies and even human enemies as well. Your squad will occasionally go up against roaming gangs, some of which are half infected with the zombie virus and brandish ranged weapons or special armor.

Overall the art style and environment in Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is high quality for what is there, but does seem to be lacking a bit of the charm that was present in the first title. This specifically is felt with the game having no cartoon cinematic into, and the campaign feels very much like a set of levels, not a continuing journey, and there is no story at all. This would be fine but it seems like the game is trying to have a larger scope than the first title, though it really is just in level variations and not in an overarching story. It’s hard to not be a bit disappointed by this, as it seems like a missed opportunity, especially as the world map gives the feeling of being in a whole world of zombies to explore. This is not a major mark against the game though, as the levels feature a high variety of enemies and visual palettes.

Gameplay and Mechanics-  The Game has Good Bones, with Flawed Execution

Pushing any non-gameplay issues aside, there are great things to say about the backbone of the game.  The concept of a PvZ style strategy game in the universe of Dead Ahead works well on paper. Seeing the small pixelated characters running off their battle bus into the zombie hoard is great. The basic game rules are that the player has 2 main resources to manage: “Courage” (blue meter) and “Rage” (Red meter). All units and abilities cost one of these resources and the player will have to choose a “hand” of 6 units/abilities out of their total unlocked (or bought). As the level timer ticks on the player slowly builds courage, while every kill builds rage, both of which are used to drop units and objects onto the battlefield. all units attack and move automatically, and the player must deal a certain amount of damage to the enemy barrier to win. Unlike PVZ though, units behave somewhat as if they are in lanes, but there is no way to control which of these invisible “lanes” they will move to attack or defend it. The player units have AI behavior that is designed to have them respond to threats ahead of them or when enemies are in close proximity, but sometimes the AI is not very responsive, which is a huge problem in a game where taking ANY DAMAGE to your battle bus at all will cause the player to lose their 3-star score. This has lead to many frustrating times of my units allowing a single weak zombie to run past, or to not fire at the most critical target because they moved to another lane automatically. This could be fixed with set lanes, or with the addition of manual focus fire or move orders, but neither of these are in the current build.

Price and Micro-Transactions – Mid to Late Gameplay is Very “Pay-to-Win”

The promising qualities of great art, a good gameplay premise, and the pedigree of an enjoyable first game make Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare all that more disappointing when the whole product is taken into consideration. In order to actually enjoy the positive game elements, the player will be loaded down with having to watch a lot of ads that remind them that the game is going to be unbalanced if they don’t start paying real money. I will say that when playing this game to review it for this article I did not pay any money but rather just relied on the daily login bonus and set out to grind for any currency I lacked. This made the experience start off as a fun game with a simple loop of fighting and upgrading my units. As with most games that feature an XP or currency-based upgrade system the amount of currency or XP required for a level up or upgrade is increasingly high for each new tier. This increase in upgrade prices is unreasonably steep and causes players who are not using micro-transactions to essentially be soft-locked out of the higher level units and even the final worlds of the game. At this point in the game’s progression, it is becoming obvious that the game is designed to have players pony up more than just a few bucks now and again to be able to continue playing.

Is having to pay for a mobile game really that absurd? Well no, it would not be if there was a way to pay one time to remove adds, but there is not. It wouldn’t be so bad if the paid products where at least priced well so that $3.99 (what I would pay for this title if the progression was balanced) got you enough gold to buy all the “base” units, but it is not. Not even close. For example, if someone pays $2.99 they get 500 coins. Several of the low power units cost around 700 coins, and the ones you’ll need halfway through the game’s progression are usually 3,000 – 15,000 coins. See? Not even close… Also to really put the nail in the coffin, the most interesting units are not only super expensive, but they can ONLY be bought with real cash, like the pic below of the super OP SWAT unit bundle, demanding $30.

All the extra bits – everyone loves bonus content!

The development team did seem to add some clever extra bits to the game that are worth mentioning. These extra features are not particularly robust or game-changing but are still worth mentioning. Elements like a simple auto battle PvP mode to get a few extra coins, a bonus game mode that cycles through several options a month, and a community discussion board in the game app that allows people to post fan art, and discuss strategy are all good ideas that add just a little extra content to the game. The bonus game modes and the PvP game show the differences between paying players and free players very obviously, and it is unlikely that non-paying players will be featured on any high score boards.

Conclusion

When considering that the game is soft-locked at higher difficulties unless players pay a unwarranted amount of cash, combined with the clumsy inaccurate nature of the enemies and units, along with essentially all resources being on timers rather than allowing for meaningful or satisfying progressing, Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is a game that has many compelling gameplay elements, but in the end is more frustrating to play than it is fun.

Final Score: 5/10

If you have an experience with this game you want to share, positive or negative feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. As always…

Happy gaming friends!

As a huge fan of the Gothic/Lovecraft RPG Darkest Dungeon, I am PUMPED to hear that Redhook Studios is hard at work on yet more content for the already amazing game! This new DLC is set to release Spring of 2018, and is introducing totally new themes and mechanics which appear to be a direct reference to the H. P. Lovecraft story of the similar name: “The Colour out of Space”. So far we know that the DD version of this story will focus on a cosmic evil crashing to earth, bringing new and terrifying enemies (and new cosmic trinkets) to the Hamlet. Lovecraft stories are often centered around ideas of infinite space and the unknowability of the universe, and I feel this is a theme that DD has actually not represented visually very much. There are the overall themes of insanity, Eldritch powers of evil, and hopelessness in the face of infinity, but visually we have nothing like The Dreamlands, Moon Beasts, or the space dwelling Outer Gods. The one exception I can think of is the Shambler fights in the void, which I actually loved as a nod to some of Lovecraft’s more galactic settings. Darkest Dungeon so far seems to focus more on the inner fight between evil and virtue in the game’s heroes, as well as dealing with righting the wrongs of another human. I’m excited to see the game deal more with outside and alien evils assaulting The Hamlet!

So far the other DLCs and updates have all been great, especially the insidiously creative campaign in The Crimson Court, which was SO GOOD! (Though extremely difficult at times).

According to the Darkest Dungeon Website, the new DLC will include:

  • “A New Quest Type: Get lost in time and space as you confront unending waves of enemies, new and old, pushing ever closer to the crash site of the Comet.  Survive as long as you can stomach, and compare your highest kill count with friends and rivals alike!”
  • “A New Enemy Faction: The husks of the Miller and his farmhands roam the area around the windmill, spreading the all-consuming influence of the Comet’s light.”
  • “Powerful New Trinkets: Visit the Nomad Wagon and spend Comet Shards to purchase trinkets with new and powerful functionality.”

The introduction of new enemies and new trinket powers sounds great. And I LOVE the idea of having an aray of cosmic or glowing enemies that look different than the gross grimy monsters we’ve had to slay so far. Darkest Dungeon has always drawn heavily from Lovecraft stories, and I’m super pleased (and a little scared) that this expansion appears to be a more direct retelling of an existing Lovecraft story. Redhook studios will announce the price next year, and hopefully (please, please, please) drop a trailer.

If you have not played the base game yet, and it sounds at all compelling to you, I highly recommend you try it. The game is brutally hard and can feel even unfair at times, but deep game mechanics and intense setting make the game hugely rewarding. Darkest veterans, keep up the good fight, and keep those blades sharp; We have new horrors to slay this Spring!

Happy Gaming Friends!

Stormbound is a unique battle card game emerging in a sea of competitors. Though it has nowhere close to the amount of content as something like Hearthstone, it has one unique trait that could possibly help it find it’s own dedicated audience, and that is that the whole game is played out on a 4×5 chess like board.

Developer: Paladin Studios

Publisher: Kongregate

Stormbound feels as much like a board game as it does a card game, implementing equal parts deck building and tactical strategy. I’m sure that initially, it is possible that many trading card veterans could be put off by Stormbound’s simplistic look and (relatively) small card library. The addition of units that move and battle on a physical board, however, makes its strategy different enough from similar games to stand out. The only question in my mind at this time however is; Does Stormbound have what it takes to be as fun and compelling for experienced players as it is right now in it’s beginning?

I’m happy to make it no secret that I personally am having a great time with the game. I have a few reservations that I will discuss, but generally speaking, the beginning of this game is really cool. I appreciate the style and execution and find it generally fun, but also challenging to master.

One of the biggest things that Stormbound is missing in its current state is a way to square up against specific other players. There isn’t a pass-and-play option or private online matchmaking. The matches are ranked, but they are always against random players. The campaign is relatively short and is essentially just to help new players learn the game and gain some helpful cards, while also getting a taste for the different play styles of the 4 factions. The bulk of the game is all about online battles; about testing your skills and decks against other players. Since the main hook of the game is competitive online play it seems only natural that the excitement of head-to-head fights would only increase with private matchmaking. Everyone wants their friends to play the same competitive games as them, usually, so they can crush and destroy friends and family, as we all like to do from time to time. That being said the game has ranked matchmaking so that at least you square up against people of a similar strength deck/player level.

 

Like pretty much any other mobile deck building game these days, you can spend currency (in-game “coins”, or premium “gems”), to upgrade cards, so having ranked matches is important. The loop of winning coins and cards to enhance, customize and upgrade your deck gives Stormbound a feeling of progression; an important quality in any trading card game for sure. The player ranks are all reset every month so everyone ranked at #1 will be reset to 30 (which is really much higher as each level has several stages), giving everyone a chance to work towards rank based rewards each month. The downside to all this is that as is the case with most free-to-play games in this genre, the progression can be a slog. Grinding for coins/gems can take forever. The third currency (fusion stones) are used for crafting new cards, and are earned only when players reach higher ranks. This can be difficult for low-level players as the grind for coins is slow and without at least some upgraded cards reaching those higher ranks is much more difficult.

I so far have not spent any money playing Strombound, and am finding that I can still enjoy building relatively diverse decks. There was at one time a welcome card pack you could purchase which if that was available again I think I would consider buying that, but otherwise I feel the game does not force players to spend currency to win, but rather rewards players for spending time with the game, and offers the option for purchasing cards to quickly expand the range of deck strategies available.

Even better news is that the game seems to have a team behind it that are continually adding balancing and quality of life updates. Recently there have been many free gifts to players (Halloween gift, loyal player thanks you, etc…) which is helping with the previously mentioned currency problems. I think that though it might have a slow start, if Paladin Studios continues to add content and support, Stormbound could do quite well. The combination of card collection and tactical army strategy is actually done really well. I’m still having fun playing it, and I sincerely hope that soon we get new cards that further develop the currently implemented gameplay mechanics. If It is going to be able to stay fresh and alive in a competitive market I think continued content additions are necessary. For now I’m gonna keep chasing that 1st place rank with my favorite decks! “Long live the Ironclad Union!”

Strombound is currently available and 100% free to play, and is available on IOS and the Google Play store. We would love to hear your thoughts about Stormbound, please feel free to let us know what you think of the game in the comments section below. And as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!