The Ugly Monster
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The Ugly Monster

Playing Every Game in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

PEGBRJE: ‘These Lands’, ‘Stars Die’ and ‘Drones, The Human Condition’

‘Triple’ header returns.

Gifs are amaze.

These Lands is a virtual reality puzzle adventure by JestyJam, an indie dev based out of the UK, alongside Astrochimp Studios. Players will find themselves marooned on an island, yet discovering the footsteps of an explorer that came here before you. By solving puzzles hidden within the island’s environment, pieces of the explorer’s findings can be unearthed and a story can be unraveled.

Because this is an exclusively VR game, I was unable to play it . I had to resort to seeing some clips online to get a better picture of the experience. It has a simple environment that is easy to explore, yet draws you in to find what exactly may be hidden underneath. Perfect for those that wish to relax on an island resort and solve some puzzles without actually being stranded on an island.

It cannot be heard, but the music is terrifying.

Stars Die is a narrative exploration game crafted by Eric Juvi. Players will dive in to a strange alternate world as Dybowski, an unknown individual looking to ‘fix’ something. What that something is, however, is unknown to all but her. The player only knows that it leads her to sailing towards a massive living structure in the middle of the ocean and running in to those that are attempting to decipher it.

Treated only to a small bit of background dialogue on Dybowski, players will explore this living island at their own pace. There are no ‘objectives’ so to speak, for even Dybowski does not give an exact reason for why they are here. She will find the habitants of this island, starting with a hazmat soldier who can give directions to the scientist’s lab, but there is no explicit requirement to go there. Stars Die simply states that players can, and then leaves them to see if they wish to do so.

Any motivation is decided by the player, be that to follow the soldier around and bug him or uncover what these scientists are doing here. There is even the option to completely ignore the others on the island to instead wander freely, uncovering the wonders of this island’s composition and interact with things at a pace fitting to the individual.

What makes this open-ended nonlinear style so impactful is that time continues to move forward, even if the player does not wish to interact with anyone. Similar to the concept explored in Oxenfree, Dybowski’s actions are not done within a vacuum. The act of simply doing nothing or wandering aimlessly is still an action, and the other characters will perform their actions regardless of the player’s attendance. One could go the entire game and ‘learn’ nothing of Dybowski’s past or the island’s true nature simply because they missed talking with the others in favour of exploration, meaning that each step one takes is a choice.

This nonlinear story telling also helps to reinforce the abstract concepts that Stars Die brings forth in which those that follow the story closely will have ideological clashes. Each person there has their own agenda and own thoughts on the matter, whereas the player can only make decisions to follow certain people and question why they feel a certain way. As much as Dybowski is the vague protagonist and rooted in the narrative, she is not really the ‘main’ character. She is more of a third party witness, one drenched in the lore of the world and directly related to it, yet feels no strong need to propel anything forward. She only needs to witness, make some judgement calls, and follow those she wishes to see to the end.

It’s hard to accurately describe a narrative that intentionally tackles concepts and ideological contrasts in such a vague and non-directed way, but Stars Die does not care about your attempts to discern its every decision. It wants you to look in to how you view the world while building one on the brink of collapse, to delve in to how you may react to certain revelations if they were presented to you.

The lo-fi art style brings out the most of the world itself. While the characters are hard to see, the backdrops spiral between breathtaking and unsettling in a dark and unrefined manner.

If you are a fan of worlds that require you to explore to understand, and even then your understanding may lack, then this is a fantastic game for you to try out. It can be finished within an hour, but it might lead you to trying to find every ending just out of curiousity.

Lasers are EVERYWHERE

Drones, The Human Condition is a twin-stick arcade shooter created by Blunt, an indie developer in the UK. Players have entered a dystopian future in which the AI has summarized human existence as a threat to the earth — it isn’t entirely wrong, but still — and needs to be contained. It is up to the player to ensure that they fail in this mission.

As the only individual possessing a gun and the will to shoot drones, players will be thrown in to thirteen bullet flying levels of insanity in which they will attempt to survive and save all the humans. Enemies will spawn in set locations, arriving guns ablaze, so anyone caught with idle feet will lose their health pools instantly.

The survival of the player is reliant on a health bar and a lives system. Bullets will deplete the health of the player until zero, which will then remove one of their lives. In exchange, the player will shut down for a bit before getting back up to exact revenge. Keeping on the move and the head swiveled, our protagonist will keep firing away until there are no drones left, which will complete the level and reward the player with some more information on how the world got here and who is behind this plot.

Each level’s excitement comes not only from the enemies that clutter the map but from what else spawns on the map, namely weapon upgrades, hazards, and humans. There will be many humans wandering aimlessly, as if unable to understand their circumstances, so collecting them will reward the player in an immediate point boost for their troubles. Items on the floor can be grabbed to alter the gun or reload the special ammunition, including floor-clearing bombs. On the hazards side, however, each map will introduce something horrific that needs to be accounted for, between electric fences, mobile platforms, and explosives. These will all destroy the player faster than enemy bullets, so constant focus is needed.

The fantastic soundtrack adds to the arcade-cabinet feel. Players dying permanently can use their tokens to try the level again, but running out means that the run is over; just like the old days. If you are a fan of arcade game aesthetics and twin-stick shooting, this chaotic title might just be to your liking.

Note: do be aware that there is a patch for the game, which involves simply moving the patch files over to the game directory. I did not play without these patch files, so I’m uncertain as to what would happen if I removed them. They also are not to be extracted, as there is a password on all the zip files so don’t worry about that.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.

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