First Hour: Sunless Skies

Time for a new idea for this blog: spending exactly one hour with a new game and trying to describe the experience. Today is an excellent opportunity to try it, because the Early Access version of Sunless Skies has just been released by the Failbetter Games.

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Although it appears that the residents of Fallen London are not able to return to the surface, their Queen managed to find a new way to expand her dominion by reaching into the stars. Fittingly for the setting, the explorers use clunky steam locomotives to travel between settlements and outposts. Obviously, both hazards and opportunities can be found in the High Wilderness. On the one hand, the Londoners can find plenty of new goods here, with time itself becoming a strategic resource, but as it was to be expected, there are void-faring monsters and even worse horrors lurking out there. Of course, the protagonist is a commander of such a locomotive.

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Sunless Skies is a direct sequel to Sunless Sea and comparisons are inevitable. The first glance reveals that the graphic artists did a really good job. The locations are depicted in tiny details, the background has several layers and the sense of space is breathtaking at moments, even if currently there’s no chance to move in three directions — not even a ‘dive’ option like in the Zubmariner add-on. Character portraits and images illustrating the ports you’re visiting are excellent, especially when you remember the clumsy graphics from the browser game which were later recycled in SunSea. Even the interface looks pleasant to the eye, which hits my soft spot (interface aesthetic was one of the reasons why I loved the Silmarils’ games so much as a kid). My favourite addition are the short pieces of text slowly appearing after our space engine reaches a new location.

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Flying the steampunk cousin of Apollo 13 isn’t much different from sailing on the Unterzee, but some important changes happened. First of all, it seems to be faster even with a basic engine, but also more inert, so it’s quite difficult to change direction and avoid collision. Fortunately, our locomotive is far less fragile than the vessels from the previous game and suffers damage from hitting obstacles only at high speed. The other significant change is the possibility of strafing which becomes very useful in space fight. This time there are no turrets and gunnery officers to speak of, instead we are required to target manually by moving the ship and shooting two types of weapon. After a moment of confusion, I emerge victorious from my first scuffle with an unidentified foe.

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This reminds me that I’m playing an early beta version. Unlike Sunless Sea, I’m not able to see the name of my enemy and their health. Is this a bug or a feature? Maybe I need to have special equipment or gain knowledge to see who is attacking me? I’ll have to check that later.

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Another novelty is the new system of character progression. Instead of enlisting an officer and asking him for training, now we are able to determine the past of our supposed hero. The ascension to Level 2 required me to answer whether my alter ego was happy with their prole life. I’m really curious what happens next. Anyway, this was a very pleasant surprise, because I love character creation and role-playing.

There’s not much more to add after a mere hour of playing. All I can say that I’m excited to see more and really glad that I’m playing in Early Access. Waiting for new updates and watching the game develop sounds very promising. Of course, I will mention the changes in my weekly reports.

Meanwhile, I have a dead settler on board, the hull is damaged and fuel is running out. Damn, I love you, Failbetter Games.

 

 

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Soviet City: Post-Stalinist Gulagcore

Proletarians of all planets, rejoice! A new piece of Soviet City soundtrack has been recently delivered by Dawid Hallmann.

This time, the track includes a speech delivered in a haunting, almost demonic voice by Comrade Wiesław, praising the “immortal idea of Socialism”, and the propaganda song “Pochód przyjaźni” (The March of Friendship”) about the joys of being a hard-working Communist worker who overcomes every obstacles on the path to the Red Utopia. Yes, it’s all as cheesy as it sounds, but somehow my laughter suddenly stops when I realise that THIS really happened.

Anyway, it’s another great song which almost perfectly matches the game’s theme and atmosphere. Let’s hope that other tracks, planned to be released soon, will have the same excellent quality.

Avantgarde: The New Wave of Soviet Dubstep

In my first post about Soviet City I mentioned that there’s a painful dissonance between the game’s general theme and gameplay, and it’s soundtrack, at least to a person who understands Polish and the historical context behind the speech samples used in the game music. A folk song from the Kurpie region performed by an old lady, or the voice of a classic Polish poet reciting one of his work shouldn’t be used as a background for a game which protagonist is a ruthless official ruling a grimdark Soviet dystopia. Fortunately, Dawid Hallmann, the man behind the SC soundtrack, is of the same opinion and has recently started working on new dedicated music. The first song was published by him on YouTube today.

As the artist himself writes in a commentary below the clip, he’s curious if they’ll like the new song in the Russian embassy. Considering the reaction of Russian gamers on YT and Steam, I think they won’t be exactly happy about the change, but I think it’s a great improvement and hopefully we’ll see more of it soon.

Avantgarde: Jalopy, or In The Dying Land

Even though Soviet City turned out to be a disappointment, I liked being a Forward Recon Gamer for a while and decided to try another early-access title recently released on Steam. This time it’s Jalopy.

How could I resist a game which promises me a journey through the German Democratic Republic on board of a trusty Trabant — one of the automotive legends of the former Eastern Block? Screenshots and trailers were encouraging too, since the visual side of Jalopy strongly reminds of the Interstate series, even if the car looks way more humble and I didn’t notice a minigun mounted on its top.

After a half hour of play, however, I can tell that the strongest part is the unique setting. According to the wall calendar in the garage — the ‘main base’ where our journey begins — it’s June 1990 and the GDR is just about to fall apart. The calendar proudly displays a blurred picture of Erich Honecker, the last leader of the First German Socialist State. The first sight after leaving the starting point is the outline of a Soviet T-34 tank on the horizon, which most likely is yet another monument of humiliation placed there by the masters to remind their slaves that ‘ihr habt den Krieg verloren’. During the road trip from Berlin to Dresden, in an attempt to cross the border, the Uncle, the player’s only companion and advisor, wonders if it will be possible to enter Czechoslovakia after it has dropped the word ‘Socialist’ from the official country name. To put it short, the atmosphere is similar to that of Papers, Please, although it’s certainly more melancholic than oppressive.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much more to say, since the current version of the game made it impossible for me to pass through the first petrol station, simply crashing everytime I tried to pay for my precious 10 litres. The developers promise constant updates, though, and there’s hope that I’ll learn about the Czech (and Slovak) post-Velvet Revolution hospitality.