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It’s Better Late Than Never time again, the review series that takes a look at the gaming titles we have unforgivably overlooked in recent months. In this instalment we will be looking at three very distinct and vastly different titles: the light-hearted and addictive Stardew Valley, the beautifully sinister Inside and Stellaris, an immersive and remarkably thorough space adventure.
Stellaris is a 4X grand strategy game that takes place in the year 2200, developed by Paradox Developent Studios, who are well known for their work in the grand strategy sphere.
This is their first title that takes place in a futuristic setting, that I know of, with their previous titles (Hearts of Iron, Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis) focussing on historical themes such World War II or the medieval period (with the exception of Cities: Skylines).
In Stellaris you take control of a nation with the goal of gaining full control of the star system you find yourself in, through either alliances, domination, destruction or a combination of all of them.
You will start out with a single planet and a few ships and it will take hours of meticulous resource management, building diplomatic relations and interstellar warfare to reach this goal. This might seem discouraging to some but, honestly, there was never a dull moment in my time with Stellaris.
As the game progresses you will encounter a multitude of distinctive races, deal with various political situations and immerse yourself in challenging struggle to become the ultimate ruler. This struggle will take place over hundreds of years with you often needing to replace your expired rulers, each with their own political inclination.
This large progression of years just further enhances the sense of scale this game conveys and makes it one of the most exciting titles I’ve played in the genre.
Stellaris is a remarkably thorough title with incredible depth and addictive gameplay that makes it a breeze to play hours on end. Beyond its engaging game mechanics and beautiful design, I think its defining factor is the ability to tailor your nation and its story exactly the way you want, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in a play through that is totally unique to you.
The amount of elements you can customize to your liking is staggering, with each one boasting a plethora of options to choose from. You are able to choose between races, their various appearances, traits, your home world, how that world looks, your government style and its ethics… and the list goes on and on. And almost everything, from ship fleets to planets, can be renamed as you please.
This results in game that has immense replay value, which can sometimes feel like quite a rare thing in the gaming industry. Stellaris is certainly not a title to be missed.
Release Date: 9 May 2016
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Grand Strategy, Simulation 4X
Stardew Valley is an addictive little gem I’ve discovered recently. You play as a disgruntled paper-pusher who is growing increasingly frustrated with his/her menial city job. When you receive news that your grandfather has died and left you his farm in Stardew Valley, you leave the relentless bustle of the concrete jungle for the tranquillity of the countryside.
But farm life is hard work and now, with the farm neglected after your grandfather’s passing, you have to start from scratch to restore it to its former glory. This means planting crops, watering them every day and clearing the farm of various obstructions such as trees, weeds and stone boulders.
Now in real life some would consider this mundane and arduous work but in Stardew Valley the repetitiveness of maintaining your farm every day and seeing it edge closer to prosperity rapidly grows addictive and increasingly rewarding.
The game will take place over seasons, which are thirty days each, with each season providing its own unique possibility of crops. Plan accordingly though. With each season’s change all your planted crops will die. I learned this the hard way, emptying my entire bank account on seeds and then standing up on the first day of summer to discover nothing but a field of dead crops. It has been a while since I’ve felt such deep sorrow.
Once you mastered the art of the crop farming you can move onto other endeavours such as raising farm animals and mining for ore, which you can smelt into valuable bars.
But Stardew Valley is much more than a farm simulator. Beyond your farm there is a whole world to discover, filled with wonderful places to visit, interesting people to meet and hidden secrets to discover.
You are able to befriend anybody you meet, after paying them off with multiple gits that is, and you will even be able to marry, and with a recent update, divorce them. Also, if you were wondering, same sex marriages are also an option.
You can also explore the surprisingly large valley and visit locations such as the mountain spa, the abandoned mines, the hermit wizard’s tower and the museum (to which you can donate any artifacts you find). There will also often be events you can attend where you will be able to socialize with the whole town and take part in the festivities of the day.
Release Date: 26 February 2016
Developers: Concerned Ape
Genre: Indie RPG, simulator
Platforms: PC (review platform), Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Inside is one of those games that, even though it had been recommended to me on countless occasions, always ended up on my backburner list. Now that I’ve played it, I can see why so many were intent that I should enter its beautiful bizarre and sinister world.
You play as a nameless boy who wants to escape the clutches of an Orwellian-like government that is rounding up citizens and placing them under mind-control.
To do so you will be traversing a strange and eerie landscape (quite reminiscent of Limbo, a title by the same developers) by climbing over fences, jumping over diseased pigs, swimming through filthy water and solving weird mind-control puzzles.
You will be doing all this while hiding and running from a string of threats such as patrolling soldiers, search dogs and various environmental threats.
While Inside’s puzzles come in many different forms, the ones that I found most intriguing were those involving mind-control. In these puzzles, you take control of the before-mentioned zombie citizens by plugging into devices that allows you to control them to solve the respective puzzle.
This was an interesting mechanic that I thoroughly enjoyed and was used to great effect, especially in later stages of the game.
But now, let me just get this out of the way. I don’t think it’s as outstanding as a lot of fans have led me to believe. The game is undeniably gorgeous and unique, conjures up a breathtaking atmosphere, provides interesting and challenging gameplay, and deals with some intriguing themes.
But even considering all that, I still couldn’t get myself to see it through to very end. Not because it’s a bad game, I think it simply just came down to a matter of taste. Inside is a brilliant and well developed game. I’ve just never been that into puzzle platformers and unfortunately Inside, while it tried very hard, failed to challenge that.
Release Date: 7 July 2016
Genre: Indie, Platformer, Adventure
Platforms: PC (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox One,