Rubber Bandits

Rubber Bandits’ one good game mode, Heist, can’t carry the weight of the other seven.

I don’t like Rubber Bandits very much. I don’t recommend it. Before I get into reviewing Rubber Bandits, though, I want to talk about party games in general a bit. I’ve written about this here, but I’ll go into some more detail on why I do not trust the party game genre.

Doing virtually anything with friends can be a good time, or at least a good memory, assuming everyone makes it out unharmed. I spent a lot of time in college playing Magic, and I remember it somewhat fondly. I also remember the time I convinced folks to follow my example and run a lap outside around an area near our dorm with almost no clothes on and no shoes after a winter storm.

While freezing my feet off wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, it was definitely memorable. Playing around and doing ridiculous things is just like that. The value isn’t from doing dumb shit, it’s from doing dumb shit with friends. Something can be dumb, questionably made, and only mildly amusing and still be a good time.

Which brings me to Rubber Bandits.

Rubber Bandits is an up-to-4 player party game, with 8 competitive game modes, and 1 cooperative arcade mode. The game modes all share the same controls. You can jump, you can move with WASD or the controller, you can pick items up, throw them, and “use” them. The use function varies from item to item. Using a grenade pulls the pin, using a pistol shoots the gun, and using a chair beats someone over the head with it (just like in real life).

I have two important notes about these controls. First, characters control in a sort of wibbly wobbly way. I’ve had weapons I’ve picked up seemingly clip behind my character making them impossible to swing. There’s a jello-like feel to movement. Second, the game has a VERY heavy auto-aim system for projectile weapons. If you roughly point at another player and try to shoot them, you will likely hit. Not because you lined it up well, but because the auto-aim just works like that.

The result is a “combat system” that is fairly unsatisfying to actually fight with. Long range attacks are almost automatic hits, and short range attacks are a wobbly unfortunate melee. I’m not saying that a system of weird and wonky controls can’t be fun, but it doesn’t work here because the combat is so unwieldy. Now that we’ve covered controls, let’s talk about game modes.

First, you have the “Just Beat People Up” ones. These are Brawl, Team Brawl, Dodge Bomb and Snack Panic, and Carnage. Then you have Pork Pursuit (Hold the object) and Bomb Panic (Don’t be left holding the object). Finally, you have Heist and the co-operative game mode. The co-operative game mode isn’t very fun or interesting. It’s effectively just a reskinned version of the Heist game mode with extra NPC’s. Points are awarded after each round, and the first player to 21 points is the winner. Scoring is a bit weird, but I believe it’s 5 for a win, 3 for second place, 1 for third, and none for fourth.

Of these game modes, Heist is the only one that does something I haven’t seen before. If you’ve played Mario Party, Pummel Party, or honestly any mini-game based party game, you’ve already played something similar.

Heist is the only game mode with any sort of interesting tension. All players are dropped into the map. The map has a set of valuables to steal, and an exit. The exit only opens once all valuables are picked up. The goal is to get as much loot as you can, and then escape.

It’s a fun idea. Heist is the best Rubber Bandits gets. Most of the maps have some sort of switch or activatable object that changes up the play area. Grabbing all the money and running usually doesn’t work, because another player will just drop the floor out from under you. So even once you get the cash, you need to incapacitate your fellow players long enough to make your escape.

Even at its, best, though, it doesn’t always work. Some maps only have a single gem instead of multiple pieces of loot, so only one player gets any points. Some maps are just kind of janky and unfun to play, like the map where almost everything is dark. Other maps have the start of a good idea (the map where you need to mine down with pickaxes) but don’t really execute on it.

I’ve already made it clear I don’t recommend this game. Now I want to quickly run across the border from the land of opinion into the unoccupied territory of speculation. So if you want, you can stop reading this article here. Rubber Bandits is $5 for a copy, and it’s available on PC and Console.

The Land of Blatant Speculation

Anyway, now that we’re safely located in speculation, I want to share a theory I have about Rubber Bandits and how it ended up this way. There are a lot of little things that to me suggest Rubber Bandits was developed as a different experience, and that the 7 game modes that suck were sort of tacked on after the fact to fill space.

The first one is the camera. Rubber Bandits uses a locked camera that keeps all players in frame, instead of just focusing on your character. This would be fine for couch co-op or versus, but in internet multiplayer it’s pretty awful. In addition, because the camera has to always keep everyone in frame, it cuts down on a lot of the design space available for creating maps. Everything always has to face the player, there’s virtually no space to hide behind anything, and maps are a sort of “3D but only in one direction” affair.

This brings me to the second point about the game and Heist. When I was reading Steam reviews to find justification for my own opinions about the game for investigative purposes, one review stood out. Actually, it was one genre of reviews: a group of players who enjoyed an earlier demo the game had, but were disappointed by the full product. From what I could glean, that demo only offered Heist, but also offered an alternative scoring system. Remember when I mentioned different placements give amounts of points? Well, in the demo, apparently points were awarded based on how much money you escaped with, not your placement. To me, that feels like it would shift things up quite a bit in terms of both where the player pressure is, and where the player reward is.

I don’t have any evidence for this theory, but given the game’s whole theme around stealing money, jailbreaking, and robbery, it all makes me feel like Heist was a primary game mode. But then Heist got sidelined when the other modes were added. If that’s the case, I think it’s a bit of a bummer. Heist isn’t some world shaking innovation, but at least it’s interesting and different. Every other game mode available is something I’ve played before in a different game, and burying Heist under all the crap is just unfortunate.

Sector’s Edge

Sector’s Edge is a fascinating combo of Battlefield and Minecraft, even if the beta still has some rough spots.

I generally like Sector’s Edge. I think I should probably make that point early, because I’m going to be complaining about it a fair amount. But overall, I enjoy the game, and recommend it.

Sector’s Edge is a free to play FPS with fully destructible terrain, and building. On the sliding scale of FPS’s, it plays much closer to something like Call of Duty or Battlefield than Halo or TF2. What this means is that time to kill is low, and getting one-tapped is pretty common.

Let’s also talk about the F2P element real quick as well. I’ve played 10 hours, and as far as I can tell, money only buys you cosmetics. There’s no way to buy more powerful guns in the cash shop.

There’s also a point-based loadout system. The game gives you a bunch of starting loadouts, but you can also build your own. Loadouts consist of weapons, armor mods, throwable items, and your digging tool. These can all be customized with various attachments, and even the digging tool can be upgraded or downgraded to change the number of available points. Sector’s Edge has some of the worst grenades I’ve ever encountered in a video game, but all the other weapons I’ve tried have felt pretty good, so I’m going to call it even.

Okay, now that we’ve covered both of those, let’s talk about the biggest difference between Sector’s Edge and other shooters. The fully destructible terrain and ability to build. Every Sector’s edge map is effectively made up of Minecraft-style blocks, and players can also place blocks.

Believe it or not, not only did the stairs and hole not exist at the start of the game, there used to be an ENTIRE BUILDING.

You can build by placing blocks one at a time, or by putting them down in configurable structures that can be designed in sort of home base area called the Ship.

This means that maps will start out nice and pristine, and depending on how things progress, they will end as combination sunken crater and modern art installation. In one of the most memorable games I’ve played, an entire section of the map ended up being so destroyed that there was a literal air-gap between attackers and defenders, with both sides trying to build across, but also not let the other team cross.

One big difference between Sector’s Edge and Minecraft is that you can’t build floating structures connected to nothing. If a building ends up connected to nothing, it comes down hard, usually leaving an impact crater. These moments are surprisingly smooth (even if the audio can go a bit nuts) and fun to watch. But it does bring me to my biggest problem with Sector’s Edge.

Now you see me.

Not all of the game’s maps are set up in a way that takes advantage of the destructible terrain, or is even fair to both teams. As an example, I’d offer the desert map. It’s a large flat map, with two bunches of smaller houses on opposite sides. If the game mode is capture the flag, one team’s flag starts atop a small house within a cluster of chokepoints, and the other team’s starts in the middle of the desert, with no cover or obvious defenses.

Additionally, because the map’s so flat, and the “houses” are packed with an incredibly hard to destroy material, digging and destruction feels pointless. And while you can tunnel a bit, it often doesn’t help.

Now you don’t.

This is my biggest issue with Sector’s Edge as it is right now. Some maps feel incredibly fun and interesting, and some are boring slogs where individual contribution feels meaningless, and whichever team is better at not running into the meat grinder wins.

I still have some other small issues, which these are the sorts of things that might change in a beta. Let’s go through them real quick.

First, there’s almost no indication you’re being shot except for your health decreasing. Second, the game has a movement system that allows sprinting and then crouching to slide. But since you can’t hit both keys at once, you can’t really use the slide without rebinding keys. Third, and this is just a personal dislike, I wish there was more support options like droppable ammo-boxes available. I get why they made this choice (probably to discourage snipers that never interact), but right now when you run out of ammo, you’re pretty much useless.

Ignoring all of those, though, there’s one really big thing that the game needs: some sort of squad system. The game’s 12 v 12 pacing is pretty chaotic. When I play with friends, I’d like to be able to actually play with them. Right now, it feels like we’re just playing parallel on the same map. And when I’m playing with 11 randos, I’d like to be able to find my friends, squad up, and be able to work with them. To be clear, I’m not asking for the ability to respawn on them or anything. I just want to be able to pick out specific teammates whose location and status are highlighted on the map.

I recognize that I have a lot of complaints here, but I want to stress I still like the game. The main reason I have these complaints is because I played it for 8 hours straight yesterday. It feels like a good game. There are things about it I like (most of the guns, the destructibility) and things I don’t (some maps, grenades being uncookable and on a microwave timer), but overall I enjoyed Sector’s Edge and recommend playing it.

If this got you interested, you can find it here on Steam.

Boston FIG 2022 Writeup – Part 1

They say to strike while the iron is hot, and it’s been like a day since Boston FIG wrapped up. So if it actually was iron, it probably wouldn’t be very hot anymore, and now I’ve lost the thread entirely.

If you haven’t heard of Boston FIG, it means Boston Festival of Indie Games, and it’s a smaller game convention that takes place in Boston. I find it to be a really good place to find games that I might not otherwise hear about.

That’s what this writeup is gonna be: a list of all the stuff I saw and played at Boston FIG, some notes on which things I liked, and where to find out more info about those games.

That said, before I start the rest of this glorified listicle, I want to make two quick notes:
1. I only played board games at Boston FIG, and of those, I played or listened to pitches for almost 75% of the pool of the games. I didn’t get a chance to see the digital side at all, and there’s a whole quarter of the board games at the show I didn’t see at all. So if your game/a game isn’t on this, I apologize. I just may not have gotten to it.
2. I think of myself as a someone who enjoys lighter board games, but even more importantly, I prize demos far more than pitches. For a digital convention this can be difficult, as not everyone has the time or effort to make something that can be played digitally. And some games (thinking of you, Crash Factor) would probably be near impossible to make a cheap digital version of. Thus, the longer paragraphs are pretty much exclusively for things I could actually play at the show.

Retrograde by Resonym

Retrograde is a roll and write, a genre that I think could be better named. I assumed “roll and write” meant some sort of word game, like Scrabble. As such I had kind of avoided it until someone explained, “No, it means a game where you mark stuff to score.” So Retrograde doesn’t involve writing any words. Instead, you roll dice in real time to try to get sets, then draft one of a series of cards from a shared pool to determine which of the invading droids on your sheet you can actually blast. The primary tension comes from trying to get a perfect roll vs. getting the draft card you want before someone else snags it.

You can find more about Retrograde here, and I believe it comes out next month or so.

Dyna-Boom By Entro Games/Chris Backe

Dyna-Boom is a set collection and movement game by Entro Games, which is actually just one guy named Chris Backe. I’m not throwing shade here, that’s his description from the site. Anyway, Dyna-Boom. You move around a playing field of randomized tiles, flipping them after you pass over them, and collecting them when you pass over flipped up tiles. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I very much enjoyed playing Dyna-Boom, and I want to play more.

Chris mentioned to me that he’s currently looking for a publisher for the game, so I guess maybe check out his site if you’re a publisher?

If, like me, you’re also not a publisher, don’t worry. You can play the Tabletop Simulator version of the game, and you can download the set of rules from the Entro Games site under the games page.

Speculation

Speculation is a number guessing game. Everyone gets a hidden number, and then takes turns drafting face up cards that give away various pieces of information about that hidden number. Nick Federico, the designer, mentioned to me that he thought of it as like trying to count cards in Poker. I’m inclined to agree with him that it’s a lot like Poker, because just like Poker:
1. I am very bad at it.
2. It made my head hurt.
Speculation was not my favorite, but if you want to try it, it has a Tabletop Simulator implementation you can grab here.

Lab Meltdown by Zerua Games

Lab Meltdown is a co-operative… hmm. Writing “Co-operative Board Game” seems like kind of a cop-out. But I’m not sure what genre to place it in based on what I played.

Players are a group of astronauts on a space station, working to stabilize various chemicals compounds and keep the station from turning into a ball of gas and flames high in the sky. It has some very neat movement mechanics, with the same cards being used to both run your astronaut around, and also stabilize chemicals.

It did feel like it might end up suffering from quarterbacking, where one player ends up directing everyone else on where to go, and what to do. But it also isn’t out/published yet, so it’s also possible that might change.

While Lab Meltdown isn’t released, Zerua Games does have a bunch of other games out, and you can see those on their website here. (Tack was also at the show, and supposed to be very good, but I didn’t get around to playing it!)

Rapid Fire Round – Some Other Stuff

All the games listed below are either one of two things: I didn’t make it to their booth, or they just had a pitch deck and not a demo.

The Worthy – Grand strategy/area of control game. Lots of minifigs.
WarBonds – Grand strategy fantasy wargame. Apparently fully deterministic. Not really my thing.
Persuasion – Supposed to be good. Didn’t get to play. No idea how it plays.
Critical Care – Won a bunch of awards. Didn’t play it. Also supposed to be good.
The Genetic Code – Genetics themed builder/trick taker. Didn’t have a demo.
Plague House – Non-worker misplacement game. More stuff by author here.
Crash Factor – Manual dexterity/placementgame with a board designed to allow structured placement and strategies without having great dexterity.

That’s all for this section of the writeup. I think there were enough games to do 2-3 more of these, so expect more as the week/day rolls on!



V Rising

V Rising is a solid survival/crafting game with a vampire theme and mechanics. I can’t think of a good vampire pun to put here.

I like V Rising. I don’t think it’s a perfect game. But it cost $20, and I’ve played 60 hours of it. If that’s not an easy recommendation, I don’t know what is.

V Rising is a multiplayer survival/crafting game in the vein Valheim or Rust. Instead of following their lead and being in a first person or over the shoulder camera, V Rising has a top down camera much closer to something like Diablo.

And instead of being a human unlucky enough to wash up on some random island, you’re a vampire.

The vampire thing isn’t just a theme. Sure, there’s a blood meter that replaces your hunger bar. But who you drink blood from also heavily impacts gameplay. Drink blood from a worker, and you’ll harvest more resources. Drink blood from a nun, and you’ll restore health when casting spells. Drink blood from a warrior, and you can parry some incoming attacks.

Also, you burn real hard during the daytime.

The general gameplay loop of V Rising is straight forward. After you get through the game’s equivalent of tutorial, and have a simple base set up, you’ll venture out to farm materials to craft better gear. Once your gear is good enough, you can go fight stronger bosses or “V Blood Carriers.” Defeating a boss and harvesting V Blood unlocks additional spells, powers, and crafting recipes. Then you can craft better gear! But that might require expanding your base, which requires more resources. So you rinse and repeat.

Of course, when I say “harvest resources” I mean less in a “harvest crops” sort of way, and more in a “humans in the Matrix” sort of vibe. V-Rising’s combat is probably closest to Battlerite (not surprisingly, given that Stunlock made both games). If you’re not familiar with Battlerite, I’d say it feels like a slower-paced version of League of Legends. Also, damage, health and “level” is all completely dependent on the level of gear you have equipped.

I never really had that “Power Fantasy” moment that I get from games like Path of Exile. Instead, you’re limited to 3 skills from your weapon, 2 spells, and an ultimate skill. Even when you outlevel an enemy, unless the difference is absolutely massive, you can still get put into the dirt. The combat is at its best in the game’s boss fights against V-Blood Carriers. It’s at its most annoying against packs or random mobs.

I don’t have too much to say on the multiplayer, mostly because I feel like you can play the game however you want. My first 50 hours were with a few friends on a publicly-hosted PVE server. The next 10 where those same friends on a privately hosted PVP server, and now we’re not friends anymore. Jokes aside, the multiplayer works well, and many of the factors like resource scaling are configurable. If you want a comfy base building setup with some friends, you can just join or host a PVE server with 5x resources, and the ability to teleport. And if you’re masochistic, you can join a 0.5 resource PVP server. Changing the pace and flow is pretty much just a server config setting.

I don’t think the game’s perfect. There’s a whole system for binding and turning humans into vampire servants, but their utility is limited outside of equipping them with a bit of gear, and sending them out on timed missions to gather resources. While the weapons are fairly diverse, the clothing options are a completely linear path, with no build diversity other than “big number good.”

Arise reborn, my servant! Now go get me copper.

Still though, there’s a lot more thought than often goes into games like this. It’s not possible to build a base in such a way that blocks off other players from a critical resource. The number of bosses is fairly high, and despite many of them just being random humans, the actual fights feel meaningfully diverse.

I think V Rising’s greatest strength compared to a lot of the other crafting/survival games is how complete the game loop feels. In 60 hours, I think I only looked at a wiki or guide 2-3 times, and I never encountered any jank.

V Rising is $20 on Steam. It’s a pretty good time. If you’re looking for a solid survival game, or a base builder, I feel comfortable recommending it.

Ed Note: Screenshots are blatantly ripped from the Steam Store page, at time of publishing. The game’s UI doesn’t look like this anymore, though. I still think these are decent representations of what V Rising looks like, even if the lighting in the screenshots is a bit nicer.

MultiVersus

MultiVersus is fantastic. If you haven’t heard of it yet because you exclusively read Gametrodon and literally nothing else, thank you for your loyalty! You’ll be given a ranking position in the new regime. If you have already heard of MultiVersus (because you don’t live under a rock), and haven’t played it, or were on the fence about playing it, stick around and maybe I can convince you to try it.

MultiVersus is a platform fighter developed by Player First Games, and published by Warner Brothers. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the publisher, don’t worry. It’s relevant. But first let’s quickly talk about platform fighters as a genre. Platform fighters are, for better or worse, defined by Super Smash Brothers. If you’ve never played a platform fighter, there are few things that differentiate them from traditional fighting games.

Platform fighters, like traditional fighting games are 2D games where you use your character’s moves to hit your opponent. As someone who plays both traditionally fighters and platform fighters casually, there are two big differences. The first is that platform fighters are far more open, with mobility much closer to a platforming game. The second is the win condition. In most platform fighters, instead of each character having a set amount of HP, they have a percent value. When you get hit, your percent goes up. The higher your percent, the more knockback you take when you get hit by an attack. But no matter your percent, you don’t actually die until your opponent can knock you off the stage. Finally, platform fighters often have more characters on stage than just the traditional 1v1, and MultiVersus leans into this. The game’s primary game mode is actually 2v2, with many of the characters having abilities that buff or somehow interact with their allies.

Speaking of which. Characters!

The other thing a platform fighter needs to be good is good characters. That’s easy for Smash Bros, which might as well just be the Nintendo “Who’s Who” list for video games even if the list does have some washed up entries. (Seriously, I’m pretty sure Falco and Fox are more relevant as Smash Bros fighters than their series is. And there hasn’t been a new F-Zero game in a million years.)

This is great if you’re Nintendo, but if you have to invent your own characters, like Brawlhalla, or Rivals of Aether, or anyone else in the genre it can be rough. After all, it’s not like you can just go dig up a treasure chest of intellectual property from the 40 years.

Hey, remember how I mentioned this was being published by Warner Brothers, and said the publisher would be relevant later?

Turns out, Warner Brothers has the rights to a lot of stuff.

A lot of stuff.

MultiVersus currently has a seventeen-character roster, which isn’t huge, but let’s look at a few folks in that roster. You have Batman and Superman. You have Shaggy and Velma. You have Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Wonder Woman. You have Arya Stark, and Lebron James. You have Stephen and Garnet from Stephen Universe, and you have Jake the Dog and Finn the Human from Adventure Time.

If you can read that entire list without going “Wait what” or getting a least a little excited for a moment about the idea of Shaggy absolutely thrashing Batman in hand to hand combat, then please come to my apartment so I can give you your “Least Exposed to Pop Culture” gold medal. I grew up without TV, I still barely watch TV, and I know who these folks are.

Unlike Smash Brothers, though, these characters aren’t from a video game, so it raises the question “How well were they adapted?” Personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Shaggy is this kinetic bruiser, dashing around the stage, doing that funky little leg zoom walk, and tossing sandwiches. Finn is an assassin, charging up these big swipes of his sword and leaping around. From the characters I’ve played, they’re all fun, with their own tricks and traps.

But this does bring up a point I want to cover: I haven’t played everyone, because MultiVersus is F2P, and that means you don’t actually get all the characters. It’s the League of Legends model, where there’s a free rotation of characters, but if you want to unlock a character permanently, you have to buy them with either in game gold, or the premium currency.

This isn’t a particularly evil implementation of F2P, but it does commit a lot of the traditional sins of the model. I don’t want to put too much energy into calling them out here, so instead I’ll give you a quick list of why I don’t like it much:

  1. Premium Currency can only be purchased in specific increments. This means you can only purchase say 1000/2000/3000 of it, but all the characters and skins cost different amounts. So you’ll always have some left over, and if you want to buy more stuff, you’ll have to buy more currency. It’s like the evil video game version of the XKCD nacho cycle.
  2. Skins are expensive, like 15-20 bucks a pop.
  3. There’s a battle pass/daily quest system, so you have that whole FOMO structure, and since a lot of your gold generation is linked to leveling up characters, it’s easy to tell the flow of gold will shut off pretty quickly.
  4. Perks are a gold sink for F2P players.

Oh, that’s right! We haven’t talked about Perks yet. Lets cover them quickly.

Each character in Multiversus has four perk slots, 1 unique one, and 3 generic ones. The unique ones are a non-issue for me. You unlock all unique perks for a character just by playing them. They tend to offer some sort of boost, or change to one of your character’s attacks, but since you can see your opponent’s perk choices before a game, they’re not a big deal.

The generic perks are where I have a problem, not because of what they do, but because of how you acquire them. They tend to offer small buffs to both you and your teammate. As an example, one gives you an additional third jump in the air after you connect a hit. If you and your teammate stack the same buff, you get a better version it. For example, the aforementioned jump perk when stacked just lets you and your teammate have a third jump always available.

But anyway, this isn’t the problem with perks. The problem is that there’s a limited pool of perks you unlock for each character. Then you have to spend gold to unlock the rest, and you have to unlock them on a character by character basis. It’s like a worse version of League of Legends’ old rune system.

The gameplay itself, though, is what carries MultiVersus. And while I might not be a big fighting game person, the friend I played most of my 30 hours with is. To paraphrase his thoughts, while the game is very focused around hitstun and combos, it doesn’t feel super toxic. There’s also a larger focus on mobility, and to quote him directly “The lack of the homogenization of the trinity (grab/shield/stun) and the presence of charged aerials is a significant shift from other platform fighters.”

Personally, I just think smacking folks around in the game feels fun, and even as someone who sucks at fighting, the matchmaking has yet to throw me into a game that I felt like I couldn’t possibly win.

Speaking of matchmaking, let’s talk about the other part of online play: netcode. MultiVersus has some issues, but overall the netcode is far better than, say, Smash Bros online. There are still situations where it feels like your inputs are dropped, but it’s fairly rare.

Overall, MultiVersus is an incredibly fun F2P platform fighter, with a strong (if small roster), and solid mechanics. While it doesn’t commit any special sins of being a F2P game, I feel like it would be better if you could just buy the whole game instead of being hit with the traditional spending traps. That said, I might not have tried it if it cost $40, and that would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on one of the very few games to even try to give Smash Bros a run for its money.

MultiVersus is free to play on PC, PS4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox S.

To preempt the question from the one person I know who will read this article: it’s not available for Switch, and it’s not clear if it will be. Just go grab it for PC. C’mon, it’ll be fun!