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Clustertruck & Lichtspeer

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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Clustertruck & Lichtspeer.

TranscriptEdit

As many of you know, I like it a bit hard. This is something also well known to my escort service and my accountant. But I particularly like my games a bit hard. I put it down to my school days, and having to navigate the shower room after games, running the gauntlet of kicks to the bollocks, and nervous, experimental jets of spunk. But there are a couple of different ways hardness can manifest in the trousers of a videogame.

The Dark Souls method, as is well-documented, is to blatt you in the face with a rake, that takes off all your health, the instant you arrive, in order to organically train you to nimbly dodge the rake, so that it can gently brush part of your foot on the backswing and take off all your health, regardless. And then there's the kind of difficulty that sneaks up on you, like the proverbial frog in the slowly heating boiler, that considerable experimentation has proved doesn't actually work. Which can be a much more insidious form of difficulty, because it lets you in the door with a condescending smile, and waits until you've gotten comfortable with a plate of digestive biscuits, before it quietly locks the soundproof doors and produces what looks like a tool used in vehicle maintainence.

And this week I've played two Steam games that subscribe to this philosophy of difficulty, starting with Cluster Truck, which is one of those kinds of games of the Porrasturvat school, where 90% of the design document was just the words "LICENSE A PHYSICS ENGINE" in very big letters. It's a first-person game where you are a dude, or a dudette, or a walrus, or whatever you'd care to imagine, with the ability to accelerate to a speed somewhere in the region of "The Clappers", and your job is to get to the exit of each level without touching the ground; as the only things you're allowed to touch are a large number of trucks, moving vaguely in the direction you're heading. There's not much in the way of story to give that context, but it reminds me of a game I used to play when I was a kid -- and bear with me, because I know this sounds pretty crazy; when I pretended the floor -- right? -- was made out of lava, of all things, and would kill me if I stepped on it. I know! I was such a kooky, random little bastard, back in the day; I'm surprised my parents didn't lock me in a straitjacket and have me sectioned... a lot earlier than they actually did.

Anyway, the standard response to the summary of Cluster Truck is: "Is that it?" And frankly: "Yes." There's an emphasis on speed, and competing with the times of other players, but the top ten on the scoreboard are all inevitably 0.1 of a second. And you know what, guys? If you're gonna hack the board, at least come up with something believable. You're like the guy who turned up to the dick-measuring contest with a Cumberland sausage ineptly stapled to his foreskin. The developers valiantly attempt to expand gameplay with a series of unlockable gadgets and abilities, none of which are of much use, compared to the jetpack and the slow-motion, which are among the first ones you can get. But fair's fair; the 80-odd levels of the game wring about as much potential as there is out of the concept of jumping all over a convoy of trucks as they navigate a Mario 64 level; we start out on straighforward country roads, and by the end, are hopping across trucks on a giant, rotating cylinder in an abysmal hellscape. And while--as the levels get harder--the chaotic nature of all the moving parts means that you're relying on a lucky quirk of the physics more than accquired skill, failures barely have time to register as you restart the level with a single click of the mouse... or a violent and blood-stained thud of the mouse, after frustration builds up. But try not to lose composure; that's how you get sectioned.

As for if I'd reccomend the game: I dunno. I certainly got absorbed, in the way one does during hate sex. On harder levels, the frustration grows as you restart again and again, until everything becomes an annoyance; the trucks, the levels, the room around you, your red-headed stepchildren. When I started writing this review, I was genuinely going to go off on one about how you die if you touch ceilings and walls, as well as the floor. What, have we got "Truck-exempt Brittle Bone Disease"? You don't lose "The Floor is Lava" just because you knocked over the standing lamp; at least, not 'til your Dad gets home. But I had a nice, cleansing poo, and calmed down. Cluster Truck's so basic that recommending it feels like recommending the sensation of immersing your hands in a bag of dry rice. There; I hope that informs your purchase decision.

Let's move on to our second game, Lichtspeer, which is not--as one might reasonably expect--a game about violating the personal space of Albert Speer, architect of the Nazi regime. Although you might be vaguely in the right ballpark, 'cause it is a game based loosely around Germanic mythology. Of which I mean there are a lot of characters with beards, and someone used find-and-replace to switch all uses of the word "the" to the word "das". And I think strudel gets mentioned at one point.

You are the chosen warrior of a huge, bearded god of war who has grown bored, possibly because they're looking for decent indie games to play on Steam in late September. You are granted a magical pink spear to thrust deep into the flesh of hundreds of burly enemies for His divine amusement, in a way that has not at all become ever-so-slightly suspect now that I am coming to write it down. It's a 2D game with a somewhat arcade-y feel, where your character nails his feet to the floor and must repel oncoming hordes of monsters by chucking spears; adjusting the angle and power of each throw as necessary. So, sort of like tower defence meets Worms, except the tower is you, and the only worms will be the ones feasting on the blanket of corpses you leave in your wake.

Just like Cluster Truck, Lichtspeer gets as much mileage as it can out of a simple core concept. Some enemies are slow, some are fast. Some are high up, some have specific weak spots, and some of them are walruses. And on that note, if your Dad used to dress up as a walrus and beat you with a fish, while playing "I Am the Walrus", so that you'd get conditioned to react with fear and disgust every time you hear that song, it still wouldn't make you as poorly-disposed to walruses as this fucking game will. I was having fun at first; nice, simple core gameplay, and the sight of your spear gracefully arcing across the room into a kobold's eye socket couldn't've given me more satisfaction if it'd been my own thrusting, pink phallus going on a grey-matter safari. But then the insidious difficulty creep began, and I started to find some of the design questionable. I don't like how you can't use your special powers during boss fights, because boss fights are supposed to be tests of all the skills we've learned, so changing the rules for them is like basing the final grade on the student's penmanship, and how they look in a swimsuit.

Also, if you miss a spear three times in a row, your patron deity gets cross and you're stunned for a moment, and that's not going to help a struggling player bounce back, is it? It's like the moment of invincibility after you get hit in Sonic the Hedgehog, except instead of invincibility, it decks you in the face, and forces you to apologise to all the nice monsters for wasting their time. I almost felt like the game resented me for playing it. I get that, Lichtspeer. I feel the same way sometimes, about people I invite over, when they stay past my bedtime and scoff all the biscuits, and still refuse to sit under the pendulum!

AddendaEdit

  • Truck off and die: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • You shouldn't lick Albert Speer anyway because of all the inmates of Spandau he was only third tastiest after Donitz and Hess.
  • I'm pretty sure you don't even get walruses in Germany.
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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