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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (402)

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The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5

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Satellite Reign   PC (Steam) 

CyberJank 2015    3/5 stars

Several years ago, I put out a request for coop game experiences on one of the Internet’s biggest gaming forums. Most of the suggestions I received were either games the MJ Crew had played already or games that are actually PvP and NOT coop (because today’s youth have lost their reading comprehension skills). The sole useful suggestion I received was “Satellite Reign,” which I knew nothing about, but decided to take the suggestion at face value, especially because the game was on sale for next to nothing on Steam.

“Satellite Reign” is a spiritual successor to a game called “Syndicate,” which released on multiple platforms way back in 1993-1995 (before multi-plats were cool the order of the day), with development lead by the latter’s original producer and lead programmer. “Syndicate” was a product of the much-lauded studio, Bullfrog, which, in my estimation, actually produced very little of value before being gobbled-up and digested by Electronic Arts. “Satellite Reign,” however, is a self-published, Kickstarted Indie game by a small studio called 5 Lives, whose 2015 Kickstarter campaign was successful, but not as outrageously so as many other spiritual successor games, raking in 3/4 of a million dollars, over-shooting the original goal of roughly half a million dollars by 50%.

Let’s just say that none of the MJ Crew were rabid fans of the original “Syndicate” (or had even heard of it), and that this will probably be the last time we solicit game recommendations from the anonymous Internet.

“Satellite Reign” is, like so many other Kickstarted Indie games, built in the Unity Engine. While Unity can be a huge time-saver and be used to produce high-quality and polished games, it is usually used as a shortcut or a crutch, and that’s definitely the case here. “Satellite Reign” doesn’t look particularly interesting or attractive. The camera is fixed at a single isometric angle (to represent the view from the titular satellite network) and has a weird ‘bobble’ to it that is quite annoying. Beyond that, most of the characters and scenery look like generic Unity Store assets that could be bought for a few bucks. The only exceptions are the signs and storefronts that populate the game’s Cyberpunk world. These all seem to be unique assets, and give a much-needed sense of visual personality to the game.

Audiowise, “Satellite Reign” is something of a wreck. As is typical for a Cyberpunk-themed game, the soundtrack is abysmal and, mercifully, forgettable and easy to ignore. There is a minimum of voice-acting, but in most occasions, there are no subtitles and the voiceover happens during a lot of noisy sound effects, which drown-out what’s being said. The audio mixing is, in general, quite poor.

Technically, “Satellite Reign” isn’t going to win any awards either. The game does not support Xinput natively, making a Steam controller a necessity, but even with the best possible hardware at hand to control the game, the user interface seems like it was intentionally designed to be as awful and unintuitive as possible. Character movement is all ‘click-to-move’ awfulness, with characters frequently failing to respond to commands, seizing up, or getting stuck in scenery. Basic design flaws aside, “Satellite Reign” also suffers from egregious performance issues. A simplistic-looking Unity game should perform smoothly and flawlessly even on mid-range or older hardware, yet we found that the game stutters and chugs all the time for no adequate reason. Furthermore, the netcode is horrendous, as when playing a networked coop game, we had frequent instances of our characters teleporting around their location, running in place, and otherwise making things very unpleasant.

“Satellite Reign” is a very bog-standard Cyberpunk game. For those out of the loop, Cyberpunk is a Genre (with a big “G”) of near-future Science Fiction that explores the loss of humanity’s… humanity in the wake of universal cybernetic implants and the complete sublimation of the world’s governments into the Corporate Capitalist system.

Like every Cyberpunk-themed game, our heroes are a team of relative nobodies who are attempting to push back against the system through hacking, subterfuge, and (on rare occasions) violence. Our story begins with an anonymous contact claiming they have a computer virus that will allow them to hijack the world’s pervasive satellite surveillance system, thus seizing control of one of the Corporations’ most insidious tools of control. In order to plant this virus, however, our team will need to infiltrate the personal office of one Steven Dengler, the CEO of Dracogenics, Inc. This will be no mean feat, thus our anonymous contact encourages our team of nobodies to go on a full-bore crime spree across all the districts of the creatively-named The City in order to build up enough cash, resources, and high-end technology to have a shot at taking-down Dengler in his own nest.

And that’s really all there is to it. There’s no real ‘plot’ in “Satellite Reign,” but simply moving from district-to-district checking off a list of places to go, people to kill, and goodies to steal. There’s some light lore and world-building to be found, with various Corporate groups and their unique identities, but it’s incredibly weak and uninteresting. Really, the only truly interesting thing about “Satellite Reign’s” lore is that Steven Dengler is actually a real person and CEO who paid big money to the game’s Kickstarter campaign in order to be the main villain as well as an associate producer.

“Satellite Reign” is, mercifully, not a terribly long game, though it does go on for a bit longer than is comfortable. It took the MJ Crew roughly 20 hours to get through it. The fact that we stuck it out is somewhat surprising, though, considering that half of us were willing to drop the game in the trash after the first dismal session.

“Satellite Reign” is, essentially, a mashup of a small-scale RTS (with typically only 4 characters to control, but with up to 9, depending on circumstances) and a Stealth game. Across four different districts of The City, the player’s team of freelance Cyberpunk agents will infiltrate corporate buildings to steal prototype weapons and blueprints, hack ATMs to gain a steady stream of illicit income, bribe people, assassinate people, and generally impede security forces in their ability to stop the team’s activities.

All of this is done on-foot with four characters: The Soldier, the Support, the Hacker, and the Infiltrator. The Soldier is the team’s violence-doer, with the ability to wield heavy weapons, shrug off more enemy fire than anyone else on the team, and to cause distractions to lead guards away from valuable targets. The Infiltrator is the team’s stealth-doer, with the ability to sneak past guards and cameras under an optical cloak. The Hacker, however, is the real star of the game. As far as I’m concerned, “Satellite Reign” should have the subtitle “Hackers Rule,” since the Hacker is the only character who can hack ATMs, hack camera systems, hack locked doors, hack automated defenses, and essentially win the game. Late game Hackers even gain the ability to hack the neural implants in enemy soldiers and add them as temporary squad members or send them away to the cloning vats in order to provide bonus stats to the team. But what about that last class… the Support, was it? I got the ‘privilege’ of playing Support, and it was absolute trash. Support’s main feature is the ability to turn on a special view filter that reveals how The City’s infrastructure is connected, allowing the Hacker (or the Soldier, via his Hardwire skill) to see exactly which panels they need to hack in order to shutdown which security measures. Other than that, the Support has the ability to bolster the team’s health regeneration and damage outputs, but those rarely come into play because “Satellite Reign” is a dedicated Stealth game, and in Stealth games, combat is a mistake.

Yes, combat is awful in “Satellite Reign,” largely because any and all violent disturbances will result in endless squads of enemy reinforcements showing up. When enemies are not only better armed but in much larger numbers than the player team, of course the player team is being setup for failure. The irony of this awful combat is that, after Stealthing and hacking through the entire game, the final confrontation is a long, drawn-out firefight.

“Satellite Reign” does have a fair amount of depth to its underlying systems, at least. As the team makes progress through their huge checklist of things to steal in each district, they earn skill points, which can be spent on each agent to either improve their basic skillset or add new skills to it. Likewise, each agent has a number of cybernetic, gear, and weapon slots to fill, with increasingly interesting options becoming available as the team steals their prototypes and blueprints. Prototypes can either be used as a one-off item that disappears when the agent using it dies (which will be often) or can be sent away to the team’s research facility in order to become a regular part of their arsenal, with free replacements available upon death. Blueprints simply add new items to the arsenal immediately.

Death is treated in a somewhat novel fashion in “Satellite Reign.” Apparently, cloning technology has become incredibly advanced in the game’s Cyberpunk world, allowing dead characters to simply be cloned and dropped off at any of the game’s relay beacons (read: fast travel points). Resupplying a fresh clone costs a variable amount of money based on their equipment, but waiting patiently will see that cost drop to zero within a few minutes.

Saving money in “Satellite Reign” is also somewhat novel, due to the fact that most of the team’s income comes from hacked ATMs, which trickle a few dollars into their account each second. Which is not a fantastic way to keep up with the costs of research and new gear, let alone quick cloning. We found the ideal solution to be having the host player idle the game for a couple of days, which accrued hundreds of thousands of in-game credits, and made it so we never had to worry about money again.

For players who love bog-standard Cyberpunk, lots of Stealth, and 4-player coop “Satellite Reign” is kind of an okay experience… provided you play as the Hacker. The awful UI, awful controls, sub-par performance, and punishment for players who prefer to take a guns-blazing approach, however, ensure that only gamers who fit into the specific niche “Satellite Reign” targets – and who desperately wish there were more “Syndicate” sequels – will be satisfied with this thing.

Presentation: 2/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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