Taking a little break in the big GOTY series with some more Bite Sized reviews!
It has been a busy and brutal year. As much as I enjoy covering games and writing all about them, this annual GOTY series is always hard work. I know my Christmas plans will be relaxation only. No reviewing, no work, just enjoying myself as much as possible!
I’ll be covering two games in today’s article, a cheerful bite-sized special. I picked these up in November, and I was a little concerned that I would not get time to review them before the deadline. Fortunately, I was able to get them in good time, and I’ve enjoyed both these games greatly. In the meantime, grab a hot drink for the cold weather and get cosy.
The first game is an Early Access title that sadly launched too late to officially make my GOTY considerations this year. That’s the downside of games that launch in November. By then, most of my work is done, and I lack the spare time to put much into games that launch in the final couple months of the year. It is partly why I place a mid-November deadline for releases.
Beyond Sunset is great fun, however. A cyberpunk first-person shooter with a torrent of charm, it launched last month to considerable praise. With an active developer providing plenty of updates and responding to feedback, it has a bright future. Big thanks to the developer and the folks at Keymailer for providing me with a code for review purposes.
I had a strange technical issue, although I want to make certain this seems like an isolated incident. I ran into a bizarre problem when loading Beyond Sunset on my laptop. It just would not load into the main menu, even after waiting half an hour. I had it installed on an SSD and all other programs work fine, so it was baffling. Even after troubleshooting for hours in the discord with the developer and the crew, we were unable to find a solution. This was a bonkers glitch, but thankfully Beyond Sunset loads fine on my GPD Win 2 and the Steam Deck. At the time of writing, I’ve yet to work out why this is happening on my laptop, but I wish to be transparent. As a result, I haven’t been able to play as much as I would like, but this should be enough for an early impression.
Onto the game itself. Kicking off with an expanded tutorial, Beyond Sunset comes out of the gates swinging. Waking up with no idea of who you are, yet possessing formidable skills in espionage and combat, you’re contacted by mysterious agent Yuri. In exchange for her help in regaining those lost memories, it is your job to stalk the streets of Sunset City for good-fashioned mob justice. Despite the retro graphics so popular in the boomer shooter scene, Sunset City looks fantastic. This futuristic, grimy setting pops despite the archaic graphical design, and exploring these dark regions is a delight.
It does not take long to realize how fantastic the movement is in this game. While I’m no expert in shooters, being able to transverse environments is a vital part of it. I can be armed like a brick shithouse, but it does not matter if I move slower than British rail on a normal day. Fortunately Beyond Sunset feels fantastic to play. With a variety of weapons and abilities, you can unleash fury upon enemies either from a distance or close up like the blade master you are.
Wake up, Samurai. We have a city to burn! The only recent shooter I’ve played with controls as solid as this is Turbo Overkill, another powerhouse in the market. It’s not just normal shooter and stabby things, of course. Beyond Sunset boasts some impressive RPG mechanics as well. From customizing your character to taking up little odd jobs and missions in the city districts, this game offers a decent amount of content despite only containing a few episodes. It helps that it plays well on the Steam Deck without any major tweaks required, although the font is still a little small.
It is an Early Access title so expect more content to come, but I’m impressed with the amount and quality that is on offer. In conclusion, Beyond Sunset is a solid choice for this year’s Winter Sale, and I wish it launched earlier. It probably would have made my Best of Early Access list.
I had my eye on this game for a while and finally got the chance to see what it was made of. Originally launching last year on Steam, it quickly catapulted to the top of people’s lists for one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2022. More recently, it became available on the Nintendo Switch, and I had to write up my early impressions.
Big thanks to the folks at PR Hound for hooking me up with a review code — this was a game I’ve been itching to try for a long time. My experience with ASTLIBRA Revision is solely with the Steam version — namely the Steam Deck. I play on my PC much more than I do on the Nintendo Switch, and with the Steam Deck’s exceptional performance, I thought it best to focus on what I knew best. In development for 14 years, indie developer Keizo has created a fantastic action RPG that has captured the attention of many. Did it capture my attention? Read on to find out. I played through the early chapters to get as much information as I could.
Astlibra provides players with an impressive set of tutorials. A fully-fledged, separate combat mode exists to experiment with, also part of the chunky demo Keizo offers to anyone interested. With six difficulty options, it is easy to swap them on the fly, a nice tick in the accessibility box.
This game starts slow. Indeed, the prologue warns that it is heavily dialogue-focused with very little gameplay. This is a story-heavy game that packs a punch. Starting as an amnesic protagonist with the help of his little crow companion Kanon, they venture off into the brutal, demon-torn world in search of his friend. There’s some excellent dialogue on display, and Kanon made me laugh several times. Talking crows makes every game better. Once you start playing the game rather than listening to monologues, Astlibra showcases excellent visual design. The environments are gorgeous, both in-game as well as the backdrops. Strolling through a small village with snow-capped mountains in the background is a delight. With all the classic JRPG swordplay actions on display, this both looks and feels great to play.
While Astlibra Revision features both keyboard/mouse controls and a standard controller, I have to recommend the latter. The base keyboard controls are a little archaic and tricky to use, although you can adjust the keybinds. Still, I would just play with a gamepad for easier use. Some of the more challenging combat and parkour sections are easier with a controller in my eyes. I’ve used both a PS5 Dualsense controller on my laptop as well as the Steam Deck, and controlling my character is a dream with both. On Steam Deck compatibility, everything works out of the box. It looks and plays fantastic on the Valve Steam Deck, and its battery life is phenomenal. Expect up to 7 hours of playtime easily! This was done on the original LCD model, and I imagine it will look even better on the OLED Steam Deck.
I noticed a couple of minor issues during my gameplay. Neither of these are dealbreakers, but it is something to keep an eye on. First, Astlibra does not keep the game setting separate between the computer and something smaller like the Steam Deck, so that will mean going into settings and adjusting the resolution every time you swap between your handheld and your computer. The second issue I came across was in villages, where if I was trying to use my sword and an NPC passed by, it would open a conversation with them. Again, this isn’t game-breaking, just minor problems I noticed. I ran into no real bugs of any kind and it performs great, so in terms of stability, Astlibra is as solid as it comes.
Over the Christmas holidays, I’ll be taking several days off. That means lots of gaming, and Astlibra Revision is high on my list to keep playing. I don’t often keep playing games so soon after reviewing, but I’ll make an exception here. Astlibra is great so far, and if you are even mildly curious about action RPGs, this is a solid pick. Just be prepared for a slow start and a long haul.
I’ll have a few more standard reviews on the way, so this won’t be the last episode of 2023. On the list are Jusant, The Invincible, and Stronghold: Definitive Edition, as well as the final parts of my GOTY series. Things will be busy for a bit longer, but I hope you enjoyed my coverage. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback over the past year, and it means a lot.