Monday, 27 January 2020

Asylum Reviews: Valfaris [Xbox One].

Steel Mantis’ Valfaris is a surprisingly difficult platformer with a lot to offer. Their previous game, Slain: Back from Hell was well received, so we were excited to play their latest title. Set in space to a heavy metal soundtrack, it gives off a lot of DOOM vibes. Long ago, Valfaris vanished without a trace, and has now mysteriously reappeared in the orbit of a dying sun. You play as Therion, who has come to save his home of Valfaris, and figure out why it has returned filled with evil and darkness.

Gameplay feels intense, with hordes of enemies coming after you, leaving you feeling particularly vulnerable. Controls felt decent, aside from some slight floatiness whilst jumping, and an occasional stuttering frame rate which left you open to attack when you least expect it. You start off with simple weaponry, and can unlock better and more powerful weapons as time goes on. You also have a shield to defend yourself against enemy attack, but sadly you are unable to move whilst using the shield so it can lead to some easy mistakes being made.

You can also collect souls which will enable you to upgrade your weaponry. Four souls can be taken to a checkpoint for these upgrades, which brings me to my next point: Checkpoints! These can be skipped to increase your rewards later, but at least for me, they were unavoidable. Missing a checkpoint was just a guaranteed death for me, as I'd quickly end up overwhelmed by enemies without the safety net of a recent checkpoint to spur me on.

Art style is interesting and retro, with lots of bright colour and detail. Despite being a modern game, it follows the old style way of building up a scene with different layers to almost fake a 3D-style. Everything looks great, with lighting adding to the atmosphere. The sound design is what really elevates things, as the heavy metal music really adds to the situations and amps you up for the fight.

Enemy designs are varied, with each behaving in their own way. Learning their patterns is the best course of action, and allows you to utilize skills you’ve picked up along the way.

 Weapon choices are great as each have their own cool designs and differences between them. Some weapons are more efficient against bosses, whereas some might be best against a room with tonnes of enemies in it. I liked how they all had unusual and interesting names as well, such as Hellwraith, Embryon and Skysplitter.

Figuring out which weapons work best against certain enemy types and what ones fit your playstyle best requires a little trial and error, but adds another layer to what Valfaris has to offer.

At just £20.99 on Xbox Store, it's a decently priced game for what it includes. And if you're a fan of these kind of games, and a fan of heavy metal music, then you'll be in your element here. The framerate drops were a bother, but didn't happen often enough to leave me frustrated terribly by them.

In the end, we decided to give Valfaris the Collecting Asylum rating of 7/10.

Have you played Valfaris yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Asylum Reviews: Pathologic 2 [Xbox One].

Ice-Pick Lodge's Pathologic 2 is a narrative driven game set in a bleak rural town during a plague outbreak. It is a full-scale reimagining of the original game, by building on top of the premise of the original but adding so much more to it. You play as Artemy Burakh, a surgeon brought in after the local healer's death, and you have just 12 days to do what you can to help.

Early on you'll find yourself confused, walking around talking to NPCs to try to find out what's going on. Choices you make, whether making them consciously or by simply running out of time for particular tasks, will have an affect on things. With only 12 days, there's no way to save everyone, so it's up to you to prioritise and figure out the best course of action. Gameplay like this is usually always a big pull for me. It gets me hooked trying to get to the bottom of things, and the limited time nature has the stress and adrenaline going as I desperately try to beat the clock.

Combat is basic and slow which can leave you feeling vulnerable during fights, particularly if a few people gang up on you at once. Weapons help to shift the odds in your favour, but ammo is scarce and melee weapons are damaged with use. You have a reputation throughout all of the districts of Town-on-Gorkhon, and helping citizens will increase your standing amongst the locals. Of course, failing to do things on time, or fighting/killing people will affect your reputation too, often leading to citizens of a particular area attacking you on sight if it gets too low.

I came across frequent frame-rate drops on Xbox One whilst playing, which was often frustrating as it would lead to me taking avoidable damage. If you can manage to avoid large groups of enemies, this helps with the frame-rate a little, but for all this is designed to be a difficult game filled with frustration, that wasn't part of it. You need to plan ahead for most things, such as ensuring you have enough clean water and access to food and a bed, as your own survival is just as integral to the game as figuring everything else out. So avoiding groups of enemies just became another part of my planning, where able.

Character designs are varied and interesting, and interacting with them allow you to see them close up and in greater detail. Conversations will allow you to discover new information, such as tasks to complete or areas of interest. Certain types of character have different purposes too, with the creepy bird-faced people giving advice and info, to big lumpy Ferrymen that can transport you via boat for the price of some 'fingernails'.

The art design in general, whilst interesting in its grim appearance, suffered a few times from a clash between detailed characters and plain, almost textureless backgrounds that would finally pop in afterwards. Sound design was eerie and left me feeling deeply unsettled at times, which adds to the bleak atmosphere and total helplessness.

I enjoyed my time with Pathologic 2, but I think you've really got to be into this kind of game to fall in love with it. The stress might be too much for some people, but if you like a good challenge when playing a game, then this just might be for you.

In the end, we felt that Pathologic 2 deserved the Collecting Asylum rating of 6/10.

Have you played Pathologic 2? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Asylum Reviews: Cold Silence [Xbox One].

Cold Silence, by developer Half-Face Games, was initially conjured up as a result of a Game Jam with the prompt "White Silence". In it you play as a mountain climber, Hughes, who has gotten lost in the blinding snow. The game guides you to begin with, directing you through the snowy peaks and caves to find equipment to aid you in your quest to survive: better boots to allow you to jump higher/further, a radio for communication (and other stuff which we'll touch on shortly), a shotgun to blast through brick walls - a little odd, but okay - and more.

When we first downloaded the game, we had a little bit of trouble getting it to function. It appears to act more like an app on Xbox One by asking for permissions before you play. This weirded us out a little as I don't really remember this happening with any other titles, but once done we were able to access the game without further issue. I'm not sure if this was caused by accessing the game prior to release, but again, I've done this with many other titles and not run into this issue. Thankfully, nothing else seems to have gone wrong since. 

The very simple art style works magnificently within the context of the game. The harsh white backdrop of the snow covered environment obscures your vision just enough to cause mild difficulty, and the platforming is made just a bit more challenging due to the surfaces all blending in with one another. For the most part only two colours are used, white and a blueish grey tone for outlines, but every now and then you'll either die or come across blood, and the bright red stands out so well against the dazzling white snow. There are a number of different difficulty levels which change the level of health you start with. The hardest option can only be played as a single run, whereas every other difficulty has chapter select options 

Once you are out of the main tutorial phase, much of the gameplay is left up to yourself to figure out. There is a lot of trial and error required when playing Cold Silence, as you learn where to go in certain routes to get from one place to another quickly, and then to improve and get better and faster at your movements. There are a lot of traps dotted throughout such as spikes, falling icicles and weird shadowy figures that when first discovered didn't seem all that threatening since the mysterious voice conceals you from them to guide you past. After you've had it explained to you that you must not come in contact with these shadow-people, you'll soon be chased down by the most terrifying pixel-man you've ever come across. They move with such speed and ferocity that the limited vision you have can send you into a full blown panic, often to your own detriment.

As mentioned above you find a radio early on in the game, which isn't only for the benefit of communication: it can be used to create weird block textures over the transmitter posts for a short period of time, allowing you to gain access to other areas - including some that require a bit of backtracking. The blocks don't stick around for long so you have to have semi-decent timing in order to make your way upwards or across large gaps without falling back down - usually into spikes or the abyss below. Your radio also offers another surprising benefit: tapping x, which activates the blocks, can also destroy the shadow-people that you'll find chasing you at multiple points in the game. It took me longer to realise this than I'd like to admit. Luckily for me there's achievements for dying so often, since it's pretty much a given that you're gonna die a lot. There are also achievements for dying in different ways: I think my record was six death related achievements in the space of around 10 minutes.

There are a total of 60 achievements which seems insane for such a small game, however a whole bunch of these are for 0 Gamerscore each. Frustratingly, these 0 Gamerscore achievements are for a lot of secret achievements, which weirdly enough are for defeating bosses. The reason for this is that when the game was first released on Steam it was made up of five chapters and had no bosses - therefore the game can be completed without ever defeating, or even coming across the bosses. Bosses are also quite difficult to figure out, one in particular: Daughter, had me almost ripping out my hair. To even unlock her, you are required to find three sweets before blasting a door and going through. Nothing I could do would harm her, let alone kill her. Dropping bombs, using the radio shockwave... nothing. Spoiler alert Until I realised that the spikes at the very bottom of the hole aren't meant for you, but her!

The addictive nature of the game means that I keep going back for more. With each attempt, I get ever so slightly better. Backtracking and looking for other routes is enjoyable, as is trying to find all of the items that are hidden around, such as the trees. I had played a long time before I even came across my first tree, and it happened purely by chance. For such a small game, there's a lot to keep you busy, and at the super low price of £4.19 on the Xbox Store, it's definitely worth giving a go if you like this style of game.

Overall, I've had a lot of fun with Cold Silence and it makes me excited to see what Half-Face Games do next. Allan liked the game, but didn't get as addicted to it as I did - the repetitive nature combined with the frequent struggle to find where to go next really wound him up more than it did to me - evidently I have more patience, ha - but he did like what he played.

In the end, we decided to give Cold Silence the Collecting Asylum rating of 7.5/10.

Have you played it yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Monday, 6 January 2020

Asylum Reviews: Big Pharma [Xbox One].

Big Pharma is a management sim in which you produce pharmaceutical products with the goal of making money. This is the second game developed by Twice Circled, the first being another management sim in the form of Megaquarium.

Despite starting off with a tutorial to ease you into the inner workings of your soon-to-be money making machine, I was already flummoxed. The UI feels clunky and awkward on Xbox One, and looks like it would work significantly better on PC. Some instructions threw me off by telling me to build a certain machine, yet that machine not being available in the options - except it was, it just was named something different. I don't know if this is just a technical issue, like a glitch in the coding or just wrong information input whilst naming items.

What first caught my attention with Big Pharma is the concept of running your own business, and the battle against competitors for your products to do well. Creating the required production lines and working out the best way to maximise your profits is an intriguing concept, and one that drew me in. I like the repetitiveness of games like these, as it can feel quite soothing to just lose yourself in to it. The challenge of figuring out how to have your lab laid out to utilise the space most effectively, combined with learning what machines are needed to get the desired effects whilst negating the harmful aspects of the medication.

Once you get used to how things work and the way machines hook up to each other, the game becomes more challenging. Your goal is to make money, so upgrading machines and production lines to improve the drugs is one of the first steps. Better drugs = more money. But with this, there is a catch. Typically this will take longer due to all the processes required, so while the money is better - it's slower. So then you've got some decisions to make: do I make more low-quality medication to crank them out faster, or do I just accept that it'll take longer? I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, having my main set of production lines on the go, with some faster ones to fill in the gaps and increase my profits faster.

Games such as Theme Hospital were my jam when I was younger, and I really enjoyed the humour involved so I think that really draws attention to the fact that that's exactly what this game is missing. I know that Big Pharma is not the same as Theme Hospital, but playing this just makes me pine for a new TH more than ever. The art style here feels quite drab and boring, and the layout of a lot of things makes the game feel like more of a chore than it should.

As mentioned before, I really enjoy the repetitive aspect of games like these but after a while I did find it fairly tedious due to frequently having to wait around for things to complete. Thankfully there is a fast forward option that can be toggled on and off to allow you to speed up the process somewhat, but even with this it did still seem to take a while longer than I'd like. Something just feels missing, as it would be good to have other things to keep you busy whilst you are waiting on a production run ending, but right now it's pretty limited. Priced at £24.99 on the Xbox Store, it's probably more expensive than I'd value it, so I'd suggest for you to wait for a price drop if you're interested in playing. If you don't have a lot of patience to handle management sims, then I'd recommend you to give it a miss, as it requires more patience than most.

In the end, we decided to give Big Pharma the Collecting Asylum rating of 4/10.

Have you played it? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy New Year!

2019 is finally over, and 2020 is here. Every year is the same, we aim to be better or do more of this, less of that but it never amounts to much. Everything from October to December gets pushed further and further back under the premise of "we'll do it after the New Year" whether that's dieting, or a better skincare routine or even just on being more focused on a task - Entries to the Asylum anyone?

I'm just as guilty of this as the next person, and it usually always get blamed on work, the kids or the new puppy, since obviously those all take up the majority of my time, but I'm to blame too. I'm a champion procrastinator, a lifetime habit of putting things off combined with a severe inability to focus on one task at a time. I finally get around to doing something, and find myself moving onto something else halfway through (Allan can vouch for this based on my tidying methods!).

For the website, my main aim is to get things back on track with not only Entries to the Asylum, but with my reviews as well. Things were quite slow and steady for a while as we hadn't had a lot of things to review that overlapped, and then all of a sudden we ended up with almost 20 things to review. By no means am I complaining, I love that we are slowly but surely getting to a stage now that we are being offered more games and movies to review, but all of those in a short space of time kinda caught me off guard. To prevent me from being so overwhelmed going forward, I have devised a schedule of sorts to give me scheduled time to play and review games each week so that I always get the time I need to do everything that needs to be done - currently it's a fight between me and the kids as to when I can get on the Xbox or Switch, as even though there's two of each at home, inevitably they both always end up wanting to play whatever I'm on.

Right now, I've got a bunch of loosely written reviews that need neatened up and finished properly, as well as be formatted/have pictures added, but having so many has flummoxed me a bit. I don't want them to keep dragging out, so I aim to sit down this weekend and get them all finished and posted. A lot of them are fairly overdue, but I don't always get the games until release day (or sometimes after) so having to then play them holds back the review also.

For 2020, I will stick to my schedule so that my reviews and other content don't suffer, as ultimately I want this place to grow and continue to move onto bigger and better things. I will also continue to post more on social media to draw people in, as I feel that while I have a decent following on Instagram, a lot of those followers don't then move to here to see my content. 

The schedule is currently only focusing on my side of things: playing games, writing the reviews, and doing other content for the site (and eventually YouTube). It doesn't yet fall into your side: content being uploaded. Eventually I'll figure out a full schedule for stuff that will be posted - reviews will be outwith this anyway as they will just be when embargoes drop/they are ready. Previously I've had plans for Entries to the Asylum being done on a Sunday, although I think I'll now move this to a Monday, covering the previous Mon-Sun. And I did a Thoughts on Thursdays segment at one point, which I think I'll still incorporate, but not as rigidly as every week - just when I have something worth posting!

I'm looking forward to seeing what 2020 will bring, and can only hope for it to be a bigger and better year for us than ever before.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? What would you like to see from Collecting Asylum?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Asylum Reviews: Demon Pit [Xbox One].

Developed in unison by Doomcube and Psychic Software, Demon Pit is a fast-paced arena shooter harking back to the FPS classics of the 90s. Originally conceived during a game jam, it progressed from "Night of the Pumpkins", it's V1 iteration where the enemies were - you guessed it - pumpkins. As development continued beyond the Game Jam, it evolved into what we see here now: an homage to the era that inspired it.

From the moment you first start the game, you can feel Doom and Quake pulsing through its veins. The low-poly 3D graphics combined with the techno/metal score made it feel very genuine in its delivery.

You play as a Demon Hunter cast into hell for all of eternity, destined to endlessly battle demon after demon.With ten enemy types of varying difficulty and strategy, you'll find an ample challenge as you hunt them down whilst battling to stay alive. Seven weapons will become available to you as the game progresses, with some being more useful than others. Ammo is scarce for picked up weapons, so you need to conserve your good ammo and try to focus on your starter gun where you can, as that's equipped with infinite ammo (so you'll be relying on it a lot!)

It is chaotic and at times frustrating, but working your way out of a bind feels great. In your arsenal you have a Soul Grapple that allows you to latch on to various points around the map to whip yourself out of danger. With each wave, enemies get harder and you'll have to learn to use the Grapple effectively as the Pit will change and have walls and pillars appear to make things just a little more difficult.

With a constantly changing environment upping the ante you need to not only be aware of your enemies, but be aware of your surroundings too. Whilst sometimes this can catch you off guard, you can use it to your advantage by buying some time behind cover if you're surrounded, or cut enemies off by surprising them round a corner.

For less than a tenner, there's a good time to be had if you're into retro shooters. While it definitely leans heavily into the simplistic combat of its inspiration, it's effective and as long as you aren't expecting too much from it, you'll have fun.

In the end, we decided to give Demon Pit the Collecting Asylum rating of 6.5/10.

Have you played Demon Pit yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Asylum Reviews: Golazo! [Xbox One].

It's been a while since either of us have had any sort of enthusiasm for a football game, yet Golazo! had us intrigued from the moment we first saw it. A far cry from the usual real-world styled games such as FIFA and PES, it sports a cartoony 2.5D art-style which works brilliantly alongside the humorous gameplay.

Whilst Allan is a fan of football and has played his fair share of FIFA in the past, what he's really been after is a game that takes him back to the days of RedCard Football. And Golazo! is certainly aiming to fill that gap.

There are three game modes to choose from; Quick Match, which can be played online; International Cup and World League, which are both single player modes. With 51 International teams to choose from, you can choose to play for your home country, if available - Scotland was not, which, my oh my, really annoyed us since England, Ireland and Wales were all options (!!). There isn't even a Great Britain option for us to choose, since all the other GB countries were there, so we had to just go for our Celtic brethren across the water... I urge you, Purple Tree. Add Scotland in as a playable option. In all three modes, winning matches will net you coins. These coins can be used in the shop for kits, balls, celebrations and more.

Gameplay wise, it feels like an old arcade game, with the movements being slightly clunky and the ball magnetically passing from player to player - while we understand that this may purely be an aesthetic choice, it sometimes feels a little too clunky, so can be a tad frustrating. You can quite happily go ham on another player to get the ball without much worry of getting a card from the ref, and you only need to worry about three moves: lobbing, passing and shooting. The occasional power-up will be granted to teams, meaning that you could suddenly find yourself whizzing around the pitch at ease. This adds a little bit of variety into the mix and can change the outcome of a match dramatically.

You can score Golazo! for the low price of £12.49 on the Xbox Store, which is a reasonable price for the amount of replayability is has to offer. It's fast paced and great for a quick game with friends, and is even straightforward enough to have the kids play too.

In the end, we decided to give Golazo! the Collecting Asylum rating of 6.5/10.

Have you played it yet? What did you think?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Asylum Reviews: Valfaris [Xbox One].

Steel Mantis’ Valfaris is a surprisingly difficult platformer with a lot to offer. Their previous game, Slain: Back from Hell was well...