This week’s batch of PC demos brings a variety of puzzlers. Thus, I’m enjoying the thought that puzzle elements can be found in many genres.
Infernium presents a hellish world. In this first-person game, the player interacts with objects while evading nightmarish, robed entities. Pulang: Insanity is a psychological horror game from an indie studio based in Indonesia. Amidst the exploration, it uses colors as a way to disturb the player. Blast-Axis takes a shot at space-flight physics. It also forces you to find buttons to open doors. Finally, Spy Tactics is a slow, methodical, turn-based stealth game with a stylish soundtrack.
Here are the PC game demos we tested this week, along with links for those who wish to try them out.
Infernium drops you into an other-dimensional fantasy world where rocks seem to float on water. Amidst all of this, decrepit wooden bridges connect medieval-looking cliff-islands. When you die, you spawn in a hellish landscape with floating orbs and roses growing on the ground. If you couldn’t tell already, it’s easy to get sucked into Infernium’s visuals.
The actual game is rather simple. It’s all about first-person exploration and unlocking doors. You have two controls: the left mouse interacts with objects, and the right mouse casts a spell that warps you forward. To add to this nightmarish world, red-robed figures stalk you when you enter their line of sight. Since you have no weapons, all you can do is flee from them.
For all of its trippy atmosphere, Infernium is a rather solid title. The game shows its fantasy roots subtly. Since there are no weapons, the only spell you can cast helps you jump forward. Among all of that, the act of evading the robed enemies while interacting with the environment makes this game a thoughtful yet focused foray into puzzle games. According to the developer, this game takes inspiration directly from Pac-Man.
Recommendation: For first-person explorers who seek other realms
Pulang: Insanity takes you through an unnerving mansion to find where your daughter is hiding. Why she hides is unknown.
I’ve long thought that good horror games use colors to bring a sense of fear. As I’m walking through this mansion, I keep thinking: who would want to live here? The colors are off in a way that is disturbing, so why would someone decorate their house this way? Did the arrival of astral beings bring these strange red colors? In the end, Pulang: Insanity proves to be mysterious and disturbing. As you explore the mansion, there is no way to know exactly what is going on.
For gameplay, the player opens drawers and explores the house to progress forward. The details are subtle, and the aesthetics of the mansion bring a sense of dread. The exploration is nicely balanced, and the game is frightening at moments when you least expect it.
If I had one criticism, it’s not about the demo at all, but rather about the teaser that plays during the load-up screen. The problem? It shows way too much. For a demo with rather subtle gameplay, which slowly unfolds into an actual horror game, I think the trailer should retain that subtleness. If the developer reveals too much in the trailer, they risk ruining some of the fun for the player.
From a small, independent studio based in Indonesia, Pulang: Insanity proves that horror games remain alive and well — although, what’s alive might be stalking you.
Recommendation: For fans of psychological horror. This game might be a sleeper, so don’t pass up this demo
When I first loaded up Blast-Axis, I was greeted by a complex user interface. Immediately, I realized that the flight controls were reminiscent of the X series. In other words, the movement offers left and right strafing, up and down motion, left and right axial rotation, forward and reverse movement, and the ability to turn in a curvature left and right. In short, all directions are an option for your spacecraft.
Once I realized that my ship came equipped with a buzzsaw, I thought that Blast-Axis would become some sort of space flight-simulator mixed with drilling and mining, perhaps letting the player sell ore for cash (i.e., something like the economic elements in the X series).
The actual demo is something less serious than that. Although I do believe the game has potential, it’s currently plagued by a mixed identity. Mainly, the complex user interface suggests a complex space-flight game. Take that, then mix it with some otherwise unrefined enemy designs, and you have something that is trying to be both a flight-sim and an arcade shooter at the same time. This mashup was certainly interesting, but it worked against itself.
As for the positives, the space physics are floaty in all the right ways. Along with that, the ship was a total pleasure to fly. And best of all, the core gameplay involves unlocking buttons to open doors throughout the map. While you do this, you must fend off enemies in the process.
I hope that the developer considers an aesthetic redesign of the enemies to have them match the more realistic visuals of the rest of the game. This one change could go a long way, and it could further cement Blast-Axis as a new contender in the space-flight simulator genre.
Recommendation: For fans of space-flight games and arcade-shooters, although the mixture of the two is questionable
Spy Tactics runs with the idea that stealth games can also be puzzle games. Through turn-based movement, the player must get from one end of the map to the other without being seen. Since the guards will always face where they are about to move next, this allows you to plan ahead and think about where to place your character.
For various reasons, Spy Tactics reminds me of a game called Jewel Chase. If you owned a Windows 95 machine back in the 90s, chances are it came with a free copy of Microsoft Entertainment Pack: The Puzzle Collection. Jewel Chase was a game from that pack. This top-down collect-a-thon sported a stylized, jazzy, 1920s musical soundtrack. Spy Tactics features a similarly styled soundtrack, and although the game is far slower-paced than Jewel Thief, I could see this game fitting into a modern rendition of the Microsft’s Puzzle Collection. Come to think of it, I would absolutely love a collection like that.
While I do adore the soundtrack and the unique take on stealth gameplay, I also have some reservations. The in-game music becomes repetitive, as it uses the same audio loop over and over. Along with that, this game is extremely slow-paced. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I do relish in the game’s simplicity, I think the pacing will be an issue for some. I won’t say that I don’t recommend Spy Tactics, as it certainly has a unique sense of style. But I think that a very small number of players will actually find this game entertaining.
Recommendation: Try it, but know that the pacing won’t appeal to everyone
I’m a sucker for games where you must find buttons to open doors. Sure, these sorts of puzzles aren’t the most complex. After all, if you explore a map long enough, eventually you’ll find your way through. Infernium and Blast-Axis prove that the simple act of press and explore remains prominent in games today. The fact that this element stems all the way back to early id Software games proves that exploring a game world is something that people still crave. Best of all, you don’t need an enormous open world to achieve that feeling of getting lost. You simply need a tightly focused map that pits the player against his own wits. The game, then, doesn’t even need to have enemies. Sometimes the level itself is the enemy, and your weapon is your own patience.
For last week’s rendition of this series, we covered the demos for A.N.N.E., MineRalph, Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets, and Soulfire. If you’re a developer and would like to have your game covered in this series, please email editor (at) pcinvasion (dot) com.