When You’re Going Through Hell, Twilight 2000 RPG Campaign Log: Session 2, Part 1 @FreeLeaguePub
So to bring a close to the saga of my review and ongoing campaign log for Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG, we met for our second session in late April. Here’s what happened since you tuned in the last time.
The continuing story as told by Kyle Van Schoen (Ice)…
It didn’t take long to wear out our welcome, and it seems the villagers got tired of feeding our asses. So they put us to work to earn our keep. Doc (Trish) went to help the local medic. Wheelz (Nadya) managed to get Maestro (Roger) to stay and watch our stuff while she worked on the car like she’d promised. Brick (Jack), Scope (Aleksy), and I were dragged off by Copper D to some nowhere on the outskirts of town to help clear land to farm. There, we found a family in wait and, after much gesturing, we began hauling rocks and rubble out of the way.
It didn’t take too long before I noticed that Brick and I had an audience; the farmer’s daughter, a sheepish young woman, was watching us intently. Brick either didn’t notice or didn’t care, too intent on what he was smoking and muttering something about this not being his job. So I did what anyone in my position would do, I gave her a nod and a wink and picked up a second rock, ‘cause you just gotta make it look effortless despite doing twice the work and then you can reel ‘em in. Before too long I had her undivided attention, until I walked into the disapproving gaze of her father, who shouted something at me and Brick in Polish and gesticulated something about just doing the job. He sent the womenfolk away, and so there was no more need to get flashy anyway. It evened out as Brick picked up the pace, and we worked through the rest of the day uneventfully.
When we got back, we learned that the car Wheelz was working on was worse for wear than we thought and she had to raid the other spare part we’d salvaged to get it going. Oh well, at least we still got the still out of the deal. After dinner, town leader Hirek strongly suggested we get on our way. Maestro was eager to reconnect with US troops before we got too isolated so we decided to hit the road then and there and take advantage of the cover of night. We’d learned something about a bunch of religious fanatics called the Shepherd’s Flock and didn’t want to stick around another week until Easter to see what that was about. Best not to let moss grow under our feet anyway…
I was sleeping in the truck when Wheelz and Maestro took us off road, so I had no idea where we were when we set up camp. Something about a roadblock. No bother, I have no idea where we are anyway – just that it’s sure as Hell not L.A. I was keeping watch while Scope set up camp and Wheelz and Doc slept. Brick was drumming up some shit for the still when he cried wolf, but apparently he just wanted someone to sing his praises after he cut its heart out because by the time we took note it was stone cold dead. Whatever. Brick dragged its carcass back to camp and unceremoniously dropped it at our feet for breakfast, like we were supposed to get our bitch asses in the kitchen and cook him up his grub. Scope complied and set to skinning, butchering and cooking the mongrel after he finished setting up camp.
We were just laying low for a bit when later on in the day, Maestro hailed a small hunting party – perhaps he wanted to talk trash about the Ruskies or something and I guess they seemed harmless enough. No one had anything to barter, but they stayed to cook some meat over our fire and gossip-gab for a bit so it wasn’t all bad. No sign of our troops, and the sheeple-cultists are apparently all over. Time to pack up camp and go. We drove through the rest of Palm Sunday uneventfully, but the tide turned as we dawned on Monday morning.
Maestro was driving so Wheelz could sleep, and barely along the road, the truck sputtered and gasped one last heaving cough before it passed out in the path. Scope spotted some Ruskie off atop a hill and we poured out of the truck at the ready right before the first blast hit. It was like a star fell from the sky and landed right beside us. I know it was a howitzer blast, but still – it was far bigger than any scrap Moondog and us had ever gotten into back home. So here I was, skirting death and taking cover in the trees as we scattered. Maestro and Scope headed out of sight towards the far side of the blast radius after Scope took a pot shot at the dude he’d first seen on the far hill. Brick joined me diving behind a big rock. Wheelz refused to leave the truck despite the continuous blasting while Doc erupted out of there as if she were on fire and took off for the nearest trees.
It was pandelerium… We could’ve been killed or even worse. The trees erupted in gunfire at anyone caught with their pants at their ankles out in the open and the howitzer kept blasting away at the truck from God only knows where. The trees murmured in Russian, I caught something about radioing in directions amidst swearing that would have made my grandmother pale. In the midst of the fray, I pushed my SAW too far to try to shoot at some movement in the trees when it seized up. Brick was shot and was down and out. I don’t remember much after that except someone nearly shot my fool head off and I was taken back to California, but not in a good way, more of a West Side Story vibe. Yeah I switched to the carbine and got a few shots off, but nothing really solid.
Wheelz was obviously pissed about the truck and was taking on the world redneck style, crouched behind a rock with a shotgun. She just needed a good jug of moonshine and she’d have been set. She did manage to take out someone in the trees though, and ran off to follow up on the guys who’d been shooting at Brick and me. I have no idea what Doc, Scope and Maestro were up to – they were off in another part of Hell from all that I could tell. Hopefully things were going better over there but I doubt it. When the sky opened up and the last howitzer-flung star finally took out the truck, I thought Wheelz was going to come unhinged. Things grew quiet and we emerged from the wreckage to assess the damage.
The truck was no more. The stuff we’d stashed in the truck was no more. Everyone was pissy. Wheelz stole off to get some sleep. Brick was spread flat on his back unable to move. He seemed better with Doc’s expert assistance once she regained her composure from seeing him downed. She flat out refused to leave him for all that he probably would have wanted it that way or done the same for any of us. I took off to see what the Ruskies had on them since no one else seemed to want to get on it. They’re cold dead, or most of them anyway, like seriously it’s time to take their stuff. #thuglifeforever… Anyway, there wasn’t much worth taking except some food and water, though I did take Wheelz a clean-ish blanket.
After all that, Scope worked on getting a stretcher together to haul Brick’s ass outta there while Doc slept. Maestro kept watch for all that he seemed to be dozing on and off. Wheelz mourned the death of her truck, digging around its burnt metal carcass to haul out a couple of souvenirs. I got my SAW unjammed and tied up the last of the Ruskies, an efreitor or some kind of corporal, with a torn-up fallen comrade’s blood-soaked blanket. I asked him a bit about their group and the howitzer. He was more or less cooperative and said that he and his comrades were everywhere and the howitzer was in the far woods north of where we had passed through. I took most of his stuff but tossed him his blanket and 1 days’ food and water, and told him to get outta my sight, cause it’s not worth having some fool’s revenge wrath on your head later and he was just doing his job like the rest of us. He thanked me and obliged.
Wheelz packed up a bunch of stuff, I’m not really sure what all, shouted a string of what could only be profanities in Polish at Maestro pointing to where the truck had been, and stormed off alone. We watched her go in silence before we began rummaging through all the crap I’d looted to pick out a couple of things and hit the road ourselves. It was a quiet trek to the west for the rest of the afternoon with Scope and I hauling Brick’s ass on the stretcher and Maestro limping along with Doc. The evening greeted us with a scream in the near distance and smoke rising through a gap in the trees. Must be Americans; no one else around these parts typically screams in English, and Doc and Maestro were biting at the bit to check it out.
Turns out a pretty solid group of US soldiers had been ambushed by bandits and had fallen to some sort of roadside bomb. Most of them were dead already but three were still moving, and Doc grabbed Scope and rushed in to assist. Doc insisted on staying so I nabbed the blanket and snuck off to catch some shuteye after the long day. I wasn’t in the mood to help a bunch of nobodys; I was cold and tired and it was late. Maestro muttered something about it was gonna be alright, he was getting the fire going, but I was done and just clutched the blanket closer and shut out what remained of the Hellscape we were thrust into.
I woke to more gunfire. Seems another Russian patrol had caught us with our pants down at our ankles. Again. Scope had been off in La La Land looking for his gun instead of keeping watch and they’d closed in on him. The leader sent up a flare; it was only a matter of time until more Hell rained down on us in some form or another and we couldn’t afford to stick around to find out what.
But we couldn’t get away fast enough. I tried to SAW a couple of guys in the woods at the back and pushed it too far, my gun locked up with a resounding thud as if something had snapped inside of it. Scope took out a couple of dudes with some amazing slick shots to the arms but the rest of them were on us like shit on a shingle before we knew it. Bayonet kept knocking me down and trying to stab me after he’d downed Doc. And the others chased down Scope and Maestro like the dogs we all were. We were captured and hauled off to some God-forsaken corner of The Universe, wherever-the-Hell we are now.
Heretic’s Fork Review: Punish Sinners Like it’s Your Job (It Is)
Welcome to your new corporate job. It’s Hell. No, really. In Heretic’s Fork, Punish sinners, chat with your co-workers, and don’t forget to check your email before you clock out!
Heretic’s Fork is a 2023 video game by 9FingerGames and published with Ravenage Games. 9FingerGames is a one-man studio run by Stevie Andrea that is also responsible for titles such as Zapling Bygone. While only out since September, Heretic’s Fork has already garnered several accolades. These include selection for Fear Fest 2023 and The Mini Indie Showcase as well as making Rock Paper Shotgun’s Bestest Bests list.
Heretic’s Fork is a deck-building, tower defense, bullet-hell (ha) game where you take on hordes of souls trying to escape Hell. To begin, you choose an employee to help you in your task. Each employee has a special ability (and variants) that do everything from nothing to stat buffs to adding whole new mechanics. For example the starting character, Intern Ruby, gives no bonuses. But, Gilbo Gibbins introduces a luck-based wheel that encourages you to gamble your cards away for potentially big rewards (and risks).
As the game progresses, you build and upgrade structures to bolster your defenses against the increasingly difficult hordes of sinners. You also have a deck, through which you upgrade your stats and gain special abilities. With rogue-like elements, you are able to unlock new cards and characters by completing goals, using coins, or finding secrets. This leaves a lot to uncover as you work your way through the circles of Hell. While your screen quickly becomes bullet hell, your structures are more or less automated and do all the sinner punishing for you. The real strategy comes in what cards (and structures) you play, upgrade, and get rid of as the game progresses.
I have a soft spot for rogue-like deck building games. Heretic’s Fork is no different. I love the diversity of game play through the many structure, character, and card options. The mechanics really complement the game play choices, making each run feel unique and rewarding.
It was easy to spend hours at a time achievement hunting and exploring the hidden secrets buried in your file systems. In fact, I easily put 20 hours into Heretic’s Fork within two weeks of buying it! It also helped that it was an easy game to play on the Steam Deck, despite it not being created with the Steam Deck in mind. That being said, endless mode did stretch my Steam Deck to its limits (but my PC did just fine). It is also of note, that since September the game has been regularly updated with both paid and unpaid bonus content. It feels like every time I’m ready to move on, something new drops and I’m forced to dive back in!
If you are a fan of tower defense, rogue-like, or deckbuilding games, Heretic’s Fork is definitely worth checking out! It’s only $10 on Steam, which is well worth the price for an interesting gaming experience.
(5 / 5)
The Thing in Review, Movie 1, Movie 2 and the Board Game
The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.
The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.
Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…
The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)
I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.
But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.
I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.
(4 / 5)
On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…
So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.
As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.
The Bad and the Ugly
The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.
And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?
But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.
So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…
(3 / 5)
The Board Game
And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.
I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.
The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.
The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.
The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.
Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.
The Fine Print
Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.
(3 / 5)
And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…
More Game Reviews
If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.
Fear & Hunger (2018), a Game Review
Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen, using RPG Maker for a dungeon-crawling horror.
Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen. This RPG Maker game brings to life a dungeon-crawling horror set in a grimdark fantasy world. Published by Happy Paintings, this game remains available on Steam and Itch.io.
You are one of four adventurers tasked with uncovering the truth of a dungeon simply called Fear and Hunger. Fighting through the horrors, you must manage your hunger, health, and sanity. But with fate stacked against you, how can you hope to survive?
What I like about Fear & Hunger
Despite the plethora of RPG Maker horrors, Fear & Hunger stands out in nearly every way. While it looks like an RPG Maker game, the aesthetic provides a uniquely decrepit and haunting visual uncommon even among the horrors.
Fear & Hunger wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Any casual search on the development, even the aesthetics, will reveal these influences. However, it weaves these inspirations to add something new.
This game is excruciatingly hard and unfair in the best of ways! I tried a few runs with specific tests in mind. One was on the default experience, or “easy mode.” This mode affects how much damage monsters can take before dying but doesn’t notably affect your “luck” rolls. It’s these luck rolls that truly make the experience. Every step can lead to danger, forcing you into rolls that may cost your life.
Many factors lead to abrupt endings or benefits, making each playthrough unique. Each level has a few different potential layouts. While not procedural generation, this provides variety throughout playthroughs.
There are several options and ways to play that I enjoy indulging in, following the structural choices akin to Souls-like games. While there are no inherent right ways to play, there are easier options and tactical decisions. This truth applies to character selection. In fighting, the Knight gave me the easiest introduction. The Dark Priest requires more tactical gameplay but companionless potential if played to their unique strengths. The Barbarian can provide the easiest food resource and competent combat. Lastly, the Mercenary acts more like a rogue, so try and avoid initial confrontation.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
The most important trigger to mention is sexual assault. This game, unfortunately, includes several examples of sexual assault and abuse. While these often lead to blackout screens, the game leaves nothing to the imagination. The creator took the feedback to heart and made drastic changes to the sequel to minimize these moments. However, this doesn’t change the first Fear & Hunger.
If you get squeamish by pixelated nudity, then it’ll be hard to overlook the quantity found in Fear & Hunger. There’s more male nudity throughout the game. This point is especially the case when concerning enemies. Regardless, it remains ever-present. A game option might even turn you into a nude abomination.
As a sanity meter implies, characters can have mental breakdowns. Characters must indulge in various activities, including drug use, to survive.
What I Dislike about Fear & Hunger, or Food for Thought
Failure often leads to punishment. Where most games provide a game over, Fear & Hunger forces you to play. In these moments, the character is usually bleeding out and crawling, with little hope for salvation. I don’t exactly understand this gameplay decision. You lost to die again? There are likely ways to survive these scenarios, but some moments seem impossible and unrewarding.
I’ve heard mention that this game “hates you.” While I disagree with the wording, I will say that chance plays a heavy role in your survival. You can do everything right, but a few uncontrollable rolls can doom you to death. These dice rolls even affect when and if you get a saving book or can rest (to save), which likely means you lose progress.
Despite the innovation in gameplay mechanics, this remains an RPG Maker game. Movement remains linear, requiring the keypad to adjust to specific angles.
Fear & Hunger remain terrifying. As one delves further into the dungeon, harder choices force the character into more desperate acts. Few games truly make these decisions necessary, like Fear & Hunger. While mechanics are a bit janky, and the material does shock for the sake of shocking the viewer, it captures a darkness few games dare to cross.
(4 / 5)