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We’ve officially hit the double digits!
It’s a sunny morning as I type this up, my coffee is good and I’ve only got a minor backache to distract me. It’s time for another episode of Indie Corner, where I talk about many indie games that are available on the market, both old and new.
There have been some fantastic releases this month, and I’ll be covering them in more detail when I can. Soulash, Hero’s Hour, ANNO: Mutationem, Tunic, and Core Keeper are just a few! I hope to pick some up and try them out when finances allow. I’ll be covering a few different indie titles today as usual. Some old, some more recent.
I came across something odd with Popup Dungeon. I realized it hadn’t seen any big updates in months. When I did some digging, it seems that the game is complete, and the developers have moved onto new projects, possibly due to fewer sales than expected.
It’s rare in this age to see games ‘finish’. I’m so used to seeing games get supported for years with additional patches and expansions, so having any game complete is a strange experience, let alone a small indie game. Usually, it’s the result of a broken launch and troubles for the studio, but I don’t see that with this game. It does feel complete, despite a few issues with the in-game mod launcher which I’ll cover later. If it didn’t receive financial success, that’s a shame, because this is one of the strongest titles on the market. It nearly won my 2020 GOTY upon first revision, losing out only to Spiritfarer. I had so much fun with Popup Dungeon’s expansive content, strong voice acting, and varied customization. The reason I’m covering it today is that I want people to give it a second glance because it’s an underrated toolbox.
I first picked up Popup Dungeon in Q3 2020. It was released in mid-August of that year and I immediately had my eye on it. However, I was swamped working on the release of Spellforce 3: Fallen God with the rest of Grimlore Games, so I held off making any major purchases. When my work ended, I immediately leaped on Popup Dungeon, and I was blown away.
Boasting a papercraft art style, Popup Dungeon grabbed my attention from the beginning. It oozes charm. At its heart, the game is a turn-based RPG with an emphasis on creativity. With its editor tools, you can create anything. Spells, enemies, characters, items, campaigns? If you have an idea, there’s a good chance you can make it with the game. That amount of player control is staggering.
The content in the game is also considerable. With a beefy tutorial mode to learn the ropes, the heart of the game boasts a massive twenty-five-chapter dungeon campaign where you explore a Wizard’s Tower (voiced by John de Lancie!). Each of these levels has self-contained stories of increasing difficulty, different events, and boss fights. This alone is a huge amount of content, but there are also several smaller campaigns to tide the player over. Sweetwater is a short but sweet mission, while Gone Home is a huge sci-fi adventure with plenty of variety. There’s also a Halloween and Christmas-themed campaign each, as well as an arena and endless mode. With strong characters, clever writing, and a ton of variance, I was impressed at every turn with just how much there was to do in this game. With endless modifiers to tweak the player experience, there’s no shortage of things to do.
Combat is turn-based and designed like Xcom, with so many abilities, enemies, and different spells that it can be overwhelming to work out what the hell you’re supposed to do. The gameplay is deep, addicting, and enjoyable, with a sense of progression that always left me coming back for more. There’s a charm system to add upgrades to your roster of characters, but this will also increase the difficulty of the encounters! With so much available, it’s pretty hard to balance, but Popup Dungeon has some of the best turn-based combat I’ve seen. It’s hard to do well, but I struggle to think of games that do it better.
Then there are the mods. The developers made the controversial decision of keeping all modded content in-game, without Steam Workshop. This wasn’t popular especially given the somewhat clunky experience of the in-game mod tool, but I can understand why. There are a lot of licensed mods in this game, which is a nightmare for Steam Workshop. I can understand the reasons, but I wish it was fully supported. There are thousands of characters and modifiers available to download. When you can finish enemies off with a Lightning Blast from Seto Kaiba’s Blue-Eyes White Dragon while protecting them with the Death Star, you’ve got a winner. It’s a shame Popup Dungeon is rarely talked about, because it’s a memorable experience. Hopefully, this ramble convinces some people to give it a try.
Survivalist: Invisible Strain
Have you tried Kenshi? It’s one of the quintessential indie games out there. In development for years by a small team, it’s become a giant in the sandbox scene. A gigantic, open-ended squad-based sandbox, the number of things to do in that game is insane.
But what if you already have Kenshi at home? It’s nearly impossible to find anything which comes close to what Kenshi accomplishes on the market, but Survivalist: Invisible Strain feels like that candidate. I picked this up over the Christmas period. Holiday times are always a glutton of food and Steam Sales, where I buy a ton of games only to play the same six or seven.
Stop glaring at me, random penguin.
Made by a single developer and selling for the price of a McDonald’s, I’ve been playing Survivalist Invisible Strain for a while and rather enjoying it. As the name suggests, it’s a zombie survival sandbox. Once upon a time, this genre was flooding the market as every Tom, Dick, and Harry tried to replicate the success of Rust and DayZ. This trend has fortunately relaxed in recent years, but Invisible Strain is one of the better ones on the market. It’s one of those highly adaptable game experiences that I love experimenting with. Pick a character, tweak whatever you want, and go off to explore. After the apocalypse, the world is trying to rebuild, with vast numbers of communities struggling to survive. It’s a big, janky sandbox, and it has a heart.
It’s a familiar flavor, but I enjoy the sundae. Sure, it’s a little buggy, and the game’s graphics are lacking, but it’s all part of the charm and I always prefer substance over graphical clarity. Better an enjoyable dirt pit than a boring art masterpiece. All NPCs can be talked to, remember your actions, and provide their quests and recruitment options. The gameplay is open-ended from the start, with an emphasis on survival. There is a loose story mode as well as a sandbox mode, so there’s plenty of content. With plenty of ways to fight zombies and evil dudes with all sorts of weapons, strong survival mechanics, and a lot of variety, there’s a lot to like here. I’m only a few hours into the game after plenty of trial and error, but for the price tag, there’s great potential here. Hopefully, I can play enough to give this a full review in the future, but I like what I see. With all the modifiers to customize your loadout and experience, mod support, and editor, it has a brave future.
I’m getting Death Trash vibes from this game. Not so much the genre, because they’re different in design, but the pedigree which comes from it. Like Death Trash, Blood West is very early in development. Only the first scenario is present in Early Access, but there’s a decent amount to do nonetheless. It’s an open-ended, immersive first-person shooter, and a great one.
This is made by the same guys behind ******* Hell, an impressive turn-based sci-fi roguelike that just left Early Access last August, so they’ve got experience. Blood West is a gunslinging, Western-inspired shooter which feels like a breed between Hunt Showdown and the Stalker series. What a delicious combination!
I don’t play too many shooters, especially not multiplayer ones. However, that doesn’t mean I shun the genre entirely. I’ve been enjoying more variety of games in the last few years, and the shooter is one of those. I love shooters that either provide a lot of tactics and customization or immersive shooters. Great examples of these are the Stalker series, Arma 3, Ravenfield, and Cyberpunk 2077 (an RPG that has better shooting mechanics than it has any right being. I can play Cyberpunk for years). Blood West feels most like the Stalker series. Janky, atmospheric and brilliant, I love that series.
Blood West takes an old-school approach to visual design and gameplay, and while the content is a bit light in its early form, I’m impressed by what I’ve played so far. Starting as a fallen, broken soul, the player must transverse a hellish landscape of demons and corrupted corpses to try and break the curse. It’s difficult and punishing, but combat is incredibly satisfying. Like most immersive shooters, running in guns blazing isn’t optimal. You will take hits hard and will die, so patience is the key. I love how the world looks, and the lore while subtle tells the story nicely enough.
It may be short right now, but the game isn’t expensive, selling for £11/13EUR/15USD. That’s more than reasonable for what’s available. I’m enjoying the gameplay loop which combines exploration, satisfying and varied combat, and stealth mechanics. With a death mechanic which curses your body for future runs, there’s an incentive not to keep dying, and it taught me to learn from my mistakes. It might not be perfect; I wish there were more graphic options to tweak. The opening area was so dark I fell to my death multiple times, so I wish I could change the brightness at times. These are minor nitpicks, though.
I know many people are reluctant to buy into an early access game because of the risk, but I love being part of a game’s development. As long as the starting content is solid and the developer commits, I’m happy to support it. Blood West has massive potential, and if it makes my Best of Early Access list in December, I won’t be surprised.