Previews// Indie Roll Call: Not a Hero, Steredenn and Sublevel Zero

Posted 12 May 2015 16:55 by
Tireless reporter and Sausage Factory host Chris O'Regan has been abroad again, haunting the halls of Rezzed and playing anything he could get his paws on. Below we've got the next three previews from his time spent taking a whistlestop tour of the best indie games EGX Rezzed 2015 had to offer...

Not a Hero
Developer: Roll7
Format(s): PS4, PS Vita and Windows PC, Mac and Linux

Not a Hero is a game that I first encountered at Rezzed 2014 and it impressed me so much I wrote about it here and invited its developer, Roll7, onto the Sausage Factory podcast. Roll7 has been hard at work turning what was little more than a proof of concept into a full-blown, all-singing all-dancing game that has a cast of characters and even a back story, which to my mind is simply the icing on the cake of what to me is my personal game of the show of EGX Rezzed 2015.

There is just nothing wrong with it, there really isn't. I know, you're reading this and declaring this preview piece to be have jumped the shark at this point. In fact, I wouldn't blame you if you went off and watched a video of cats playing pool, but I implore you to stick around to see why I loved Not a Hero so much.

Oh, you watched the cats playing pool video anyway? Well that's just great, now you've got a brain full of cats pushing balls with sticks. Let's see if I can maintain your attention by keeping within that very narrow motif.

Not a Hero is primarily a cover-based shooter set in a 2.25D visual plane. The player controls a small but very nimble character who is armed with a pistol, which they are almost unnervingly accurate with. A bit like the feline with the pool cue, only much more deadly. The action is very fast-paced as the player's character jumps through windows and sneaks around cover while taking pot-shots at enemies in the buildings they traverse through. It is possible to carry out sliding tackles that knock enemies prone, at which point the player can carry out a coup-de-grace by executing them by either shooting them in the head, or just stamping on it if their gun is empty of bullets. Kind of like when the cat hit that striped 6 ball that was sitting over a pocket, only much more violent.

Now I did mention there was a back-story to Not a Hero as well has a pantheon of characters to select, all with their own abilities. The story concerns the election of the Bunnylord to the position of city mayor. He must do this, otherwise the whole world will explode, apparently. At his disposal are nine mercenaries, all of whom he has hired to clean up the streets of The City in order to assure his victory at the election.

They all have a very unique style to them and carry different weapons that allow players to enjoy Not a Hero in a way that suits their own method of play. Do you want a shotgun? Then select Cletus and enjoy his hillbilly 'yee-haws' as he lets the City's nefarious villains have it with both barrels. It's not unlike when that tabby selected the oak cue rather than the pine one as he made a shot for the 8 ball, only much more destructive.

What really impressed me was the amount of content Roll7 have created for Not a Hero in such a short period of time. In less than a year they have added characters, all of whom are voice-acted by comedians who adlibbed their way through their lines. I won't spoil anything about what they mutter as the player zips through buildings, but some of the stuff being said had me laughing so hard I had to stop playing. The animations are also customised for each character, with their deaths all being very dramatic. One of them actually takes out a martini and drinks it before expiring. Not unlike when that ginger-tom coughed up a fur-ball on the pool table when he missed a shot, only somewhat more sobering.

Not a Hero is appearing on Steam now for Windows PC, Mac and Linux and will also appear on the PS4 and PS Vita sometime in 2015. No cats were harmed during the making of this preview. The same cannot be said for its author, though.

Developer: Pixelnest and Plus
Format(s): Xbox One and Windows PC, Mac and Linux

Anyone who is familiar with The Sausage Factory will know of a certain episode where I and Tom Hegarty of Roll7 in Episode 9 talk at length over Project X, a long forgotten lefty-righty shooter on the Amiga that was punishingly difficult to the point where it was pretty nigh on impossible to master to any acceptable level of skill. Steredenn is remarkably similar to Project X, only it is way, way more entertaining.

What French developers Pixelnest and Plus have made with Steredenn is an arcade shooter that, while difficult, is actually approachable. Failure is due to the player's incompetence and not the fault of the game design itself, which was certainly not the case for Project X. It is this balance of challenge and reward that to my mind Steredenn gets so right.

The player controls a small spaceship that travels from left to right while blasting enemies, all of whom come with an assortment of weaponry that typically takes the form of very large and slow moving orbs of energy. These have to be avoided in order to prevent the expiration of the player's ship. Interspersed throughout Steredenn are boss enemy ships that have their own method of attack that can be predicted by watching their patterns. This is a well-known form of boss creature in arcade shooters, but Steredenn does it with a tremendous amount of style.

Style is very much the core appeal of Steredenn as the visuals consist of fat brightly coloured pixels that flow incredibly fast. Every plasma bolt, asteroid, rocket and explosion is brilliantly animated, drawing the player ever further in to what is a deeply challenging and satisfying video game experience.

Steredenn is due to appear on Xbox One, Windows PC, Mac and Linux later this year.

Sublevel Zero
Developer: Sig Trap Games
Format(s): Windows PC, Mac and Linux

Descent was one of my favourite games in the pre-Windows 95 era of the PC. It was the first fully 3D game I ever played on my Pentium 100 powered machine, which blew my mind when I first encountered it. It also did nasty things to my stomach when I first experienced it as it was quite nauseating trying to take on enemies in a cavern that were shooting at you from below! So when I saw Sublevel Zero at EGX Rezzed 2015 I knew I'd become quite attached to it.

Sublevel Zero takes its cues from both the Descent series of games and Forsaken - both excellent inspirations to draw from. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the player takes control of a small single man spacecraft that is highly manoeuvrable and also armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons. The view of the play is from within the cockpit of the spacecraft, making for some very claustrophobic experiences as the player has to wend their way around a series of tunnels in a maze like complex. It is this view that causes some nausea for some, but once that's overcome the disorientation fades and you become more accustomed to how the ship moves.

What Sig Trap Games have created here is effectively an update to the games it drew inspiration from. It contains a procedurally-generated environment and also has a perma-death gameplay mechanic that makes it akin to a rogue-like title. There are no mid-point saves to Sublevel Zero, which can be frustrating for some, but it's possible to return to the action almost immediately, making death a lot less punitive.

I really enjoyed my time with Sublevel Zero and am looking forward to its full release later this year. It is due to appear on Windows PC, Mac and Linux via Steam.

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