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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (291)

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Doki Doki Literature Cl... 3.5/5
Quest for Infamy 2/5
Neutopia 4.5/5
Divinity: Original Sin ... 5/5
Infested 4.5/5
Battleborn 3/5
Dungeon Master II: The ... 3.5/5
Pop'n TwinBee: Rainbow ... 4.5/5
MARIO & LUIGI 2.5/5
Little Samson 3.5/5
Tales from the Borderla... 4/5
Beyond Shadowgate 3/5
RetroArch 5/5
Radical Dreamers: Le Tr... 3.5/5
Toilet Kids 3/5
Detana!! TwinBee ( Bell... 3.5/5
Titan Quest ( Titan Que... 2/5
Pop'n TwinBee 3.5/5
Mother 3 ( EarthBound 2... 4.5/5
Star Trek Timelines 3/5
Do-Re-Mi Fantasy: Milon... 3.5/5
Bahamut Lagoon 4.5/5
Dungeon Defenders II 3/5
Deus Ex: Human Revoluti... 3/5
Lara Croft and the Guar... 4.5/5

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Krater: Shadows Over Solside   PC (Steam) 

The Gaming Equivalent of Lutefisk    2/5 stars

“Krater: Shadows Over Solside” (“Krater”) is the fourth game by Swedish Indie developer, Fatshark, who previously did contract work on a couple no-name titles as well as the more well-known “Bionic Commando Rearmed 2” for PSN and Xbox Live. “Krater” is a unique new IP title that came out of nowhere in 2012, but has since spawned a spinoff title, “Bloodsports.TV,” in 2015. I was quite excited about “Krater” when it was first released, and originally planned to play it as a coop game with one of the other members of the MeltedJoystick Crew. Unfortunately, I learned recently that the amount of ‘coop’ in the game is limited to three stand-alone missions that aren’t part of the main campaign. I figured I’d be okay skipping out on such a small amount of content, plus my Swedish roots and inner RPG-snob needed something that would please them both. Sadly, that something is NOT “Krater,” as instead of a delightful Swedish-ish taste treat like a Swedish Fish candy, I experienced something more like the other traditional fish of Sweden, which my grandmother forced me to eat on many Christmases throughout my childhood…

Presentation
Just to look at it, “Krater” seems to hold a lot of promise. And, indeed, the presentation is very good for a small-time game from an untested Indie studio. Using the BitSquid engine, Fatshark managed to create a post-apocalyptic world that differs significantly from the tropes of that setting by virtue of being vibrant, colorful, and somewhat lively. Character designs are somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Borderlands’ franchise, with characters who dress like fashionable hipsters, but with omnipresent breather masks completely obscuring their faces. Environmental design makes it appear that Sweden is definitely more ready for an apocalypse than any other nation, as the map is covered in forests and dotted with houses and settlements that maintain self-sufficience via solar and wind power, plus big tanks of homemade alcohol. Spraypaint and neon lights are a significant part of every environment, making the ruins of Northern Europe appear far more cheerful than they have any right to.

At the start of each chapter, a 2D still image with narration serve as story cutscenes. These are rather underwhelming and never really explain much of anything, which is disappointing.

The audio is quite well-done, though. While definitely not as amazing as the ‘Fallout’ soundtracks starting with “Fallout 3,” “Krater” does make use of licensed music (from Swedish… I guess Indie bands?) mixed with its own soundtrack. Licensed music typically plays only in the game’s towns, while the main soundtrack that accompanies world and dungeon exploration is quite well-done and pleasant on its own, which is a significant improvement over the soundtracks in most other post-apocalyptic games.

“Krater” isn’t completely voiced, but the narrator and important NPC have partial voiceacting, all with delightful Nordic accents. The player's party of characters constantly spout the same handful of quips, which are a mix of Swedish and English, while out adventuring, which starts out amusing, but quickly becomes tiresome due to repetition (keep this in mind, it will be a recurring theme in other aspects of “Krater”).

Technically, “Krater” is fairly solid. I didn’t experience any crashes or game-breaking glitches, though playing the game 5 years after release, I’d certainly hope all of that stuff had been patched. “Krater” does not, unfortunately, support Xinput, making it necessary to play it with a Steam controller to avoid insanity. And Fatshark doesn’t have an official Steam controller configuration available, so it’s roll-your-own or stick with office productivity inputs.

Story
“Krater’s” story opens with a group of mercenaries – the player’s characters – waking up hung-over from a night of riotous partying. Through the course of a brief tutorial, the player is introduced to three of the four character classes and given a brief glimpse at the post-apocalyptic Sweden in which the game’s events take place. With the troops rallied and ready to get out of town before security forces arrive, the player’s team learns of an opportunity for work in the centrally-located city of Norrmalm.

Taking a few introductory jobs in Norrmalm eventually leads the party into a bit of intrigue between some of the Old Families of Sweden (who still control huge amounts of land and wealth, despite the end of the world), as well as the re-emergence of a mercenary terrorist named Bloodclot. Ultimately the core set of story missions is rather bland and uninteresting, with very little in the way of intrigue, mystery, or excitement.

But wait, things get worse! In addition to the boring core story missions, “Krater” features dozens of bland, samey side missions, of which the overwhelming majority of tedious fetch quests.

I spent just shy of 30 hours actively paying “Krater,” and at no point did I ever find myself engaged or wowed by the story or writing. None of the NPCs are particularly fleshed-out, and the player’s cast of characters is even more generic and personality-free than the cast of the original “Borderlands” (who had personalities grafted onto them in the sequels).

In general, the only intriguing thing about “Krater” from a narrative standpoint is the handful of mysteries about the world’s lore and backstory. While most post-apocalyptic games revolve around either nuclear oblivion or zombie retardation, “Krater’s” Sweden seems to have been destroyed by a combination of nanotechnology run amok and dimensional cross-contamination via Lovecraftian tentacle monsters. Unfortunately, the nanotech angle is never really explored and the Lovecraftian angle is limited to one rather sprawling and tedious sidequest that I couldn’t be bothered to finish.

Thanks to ham-handed foreshadowing, it’s obvious from early on that the player’s characters will end up in conflict with Bloodclot, however, it is rather shocking that he’s the final boss of the game, as the writing makes it seem like there should be more beyond dealing with a local thug. Unfortunately, I don’t even know how “Krater” ends officially, as the difficulty spike for the final Bloodclot battle was too tedious for me to overcome. It actually seems like this difficulty spike was put in place to block player progress and give the team at FatShark time to make more game… yet they never did.

Gameplay
For the most part, “Krater” is a typical Hack ‘n Slash RPG. However, it does go the rather unorthodox route of providing the player with three characters to control simultaneously. “Krater” also takes an unfortunate amount of influence from both Roguelikes and MOBAs, resulting in a spliced-up hybrid that is never fun, never engaging, and highly repetitive, even for Hack ‘n Slash standards.

To start with, “Krater” features 3 difficulty levels, but the only effect these have on the game is how annoying the perma-death feature is. On Normal, a character receives a permanent injury every time they are KO’d four times (without visiting a doctor to get the damage fixed). After accruing four permanent injuries, a character is dead forever. Hardcore mode ups the ante by removing the four-KO buffer, saddling a character with a permanent injury every time they are KO’d, with the same four injuries = death mechanic. I, however, as a staunch opponent of perma-death in all its forms, played on Casual, which still has permanent injuries, but removes permanent death. Of course, I never even earned a single permanent injury, so I was probably overcautious.

Also inspired by the detestable Roguelike sub-genre, “Krater” features randomly-generated dungeons. Every time the player enters a dungeon, its layout will change. Annoyingly, enemies respawn even when the player doesn’t leave and re-enter, but merely travels to a different floor in the same dungeon. Enemies are horrifically persistent, making it impossible to run away from a bad situation without fleeing to a different floor, which, naturally, repopulates the fled floor when the player returns.

When I bought “Krater,” I didn’t realize it was a Hack ‘n Slash. I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I knew that. What threw me off was the fact that screencaps and videos all show the player controlling three characters simultaneously. This is, indeed, how “Krater” works, only without the ability to pause the action in any way. Instead of playing like a classic Real-Time with Pause Action/RPG, the combat in “Krater” feels a bit like playing a mouse-driven RTS or MOBA title, with a significant focus on real-time micromanagement.

Character customization also feels rather MOBA-like, as characters are completely disposable (thanks to perma-death). The player starts with a team of White Rarity characters, who cap-out at level 5. Before too long, the player gains the option of recruiting Green Rarity characters, who cap-out at level 10 (but start at level 1 when recruited). It takes a very long time, and puts the player incredibly close to the end of the game before they will start to find Blue Rarity characters at recruitment stations, who cap out at the game’s maximum of level 15. Two DLC characters are available for purchase, both of Purple Rarity, which still cap-out at level 15, but the fact that they are available at the first recruitment station the player visits makes them a significant boost to the early game.

Of course, levels don’t actually provide the player’s team with stats. Yes, you read that right: Levels don’t provide stats. Instead, gaining levels unlocks implant and booster slots on a character. These are implants like the Borg in ‘Star Trek’ enjoy, not the kind of implants Pamela Anderson enjoys… Anyway, characters reach the cap incredibly quickly, then it’s up to the player to grind, farm, craft, or otherwise acquire higher-and-higher-quality implants to boost a character’s stats and boosters to provide added benefits to the character’s stable of two skills.

Yes, there are only two skills per character, and they aren’t mix-and-match-able. “Krater” features four character classes: The Bruiser is a tanky character that draws agro and absorbs damage; the Slayer is a DPS melee character; the Regulator handles crowd control via slow and stun effects; and the Medikus is the healer. Each class comes in Human and Mutant varieties, which have slightly different skills, with the Mutants typically performing better overall. These skills are supposed to work via either hotkey or icon-click, but I found that they only worked via hotkeys. Skills operate solely on cooldown, with no ‘mana’ or other energy source to manage.

The result of this limited pool of classes and even more limited pool of skills is that every combat encounter in “Krater” feels largely the same. I used a Bruiser, Regulator, and Medikus, so every combat consisted of drawing aggro on the Bruiser, buffing him with one Medikus skill, then spamming Regulator crowd-control skills whenever they were cooled-down, and spamming the Medikus’ area heal constantly.

Perhaps most bizarre of all is that, for a Hack ‘n Slash, which is a loot-driven sub-genre, “Krater” has little in the way of loot. Aside from implants and boosters, which are simple things with one number and bigger is better, each character can equip a weapon and a gadget… and that’s it. No multitude of armor slots or accessories: Just two pieces of gear, each of which can have a number of random attributes in addition to the base damage stat. In general, the gear system in “Krater” is so simplified that it’s boring.

Overall
Lutefisk is a traditional Scandinavian dish served in Sweden. While it appears to be fish at first glance, something isn’t quite right about it, which a single taste reveals to be the fact that it has the consistency of jelly combined with the taste of a chum bucket. “Krater: Shadows Over Solside” is kind of like lutefisk: It’s 100% Swedish, that’s for sure, but I can’t understand how anyone could actually enjoy it.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 2/5
Gameplay: 2/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5

 

 


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