Safe House Review

Congratulations

Labs Games promises a marriage between Papers, Please, Sim Tower, and the adventures of James Bond in Safe House. It sounds like a fascinating concept to take a bit of the bureaucratic paper shuffling puzzles and themes from Papers, Please and put those within a building management simulation. That idea grabbed me when I first read about it. It could be very interesting to play the part of a CIA safe house manager in the fictional city of Kazataire.

From midnight each in-game night until ten in the morning I had to decide who to let in the front door of the “book store,” which deliveries to let in around back, who gets interrogated, and what missions my spies and soldiers would take. The side-on cutout view of the building looks like Fallout Shelter’s vault and the base of operations in XCom.

If you complete your management tasks correctly, and if your soldiers and spies complete theirs, you’ll earn cash to upgrade the safe house with different rooms that give you new tasks. Those new rooms can also be upgraded over time. Slowly transforming your safe house from an empty office building into a busy money-generating operation for the CIA.

The description for the game calls the tasks in each room puzzles, and they end up being the bulk of what you’re doing with your time in Safe House, so it’s important that they’re interesting to complete. Unfortunately, while there are a variety of those tasks to do, they lack the fun and polish other games apply to make those types of puzzles interesting. Sure, it sounds different to assemble the ingredients for an improvised explosive device in your safe house’s bomb making room, but the actual experience is just reading a list of random components and then clicking on each one in the correct order until you’ve assembled three bombs. The challenge here is that some of the ingredients have similar-sounding names so it can take a few moments to tell Trolite from Tritolone and Tritolite.

Bomb making instructions

In the infirmary a patient will materialize out of thin air. Here you would consult the instructions that tell you how to infuse the patient with the correct type of blood and a type of medicine to treat whatever problem they have. Each patient has three ingredients they’re allergic to, so you have another list to read with similar-sounding names until you find just the right one. If you give the agents that show up in the infirmary correctly typed blood, and the right medications, they disappear from the room the same way that patients you’ve failed will pass on.

The only difference between success and failure with any of these tasks is the dollar amount that appears briefly on-screen. The game never tells you what you did wrong with the tasks you fail, it just deducts the cash that you would have gotten from your safe house’s bank balance. The bombs you make don’t get used in the game. The patients you treat aren’t your agents that were harmed on missions, they’re just random nobodies.

When you deal with the spies that come in the front door, and you correctly identify the ones to let in, they don’t actually go into your safe house. They just depart with the same animation that spies you misidentify or kick out use to leave. Strangely, they disappear a few steps out of the door. That’s the most animation you’ll see in a typical night of managing your safe house.

There could be some way to make theses tasks less repetitive and more rewarding, but every job in the game is just as tedious. I want to see the results of the actions in the game. If I let the wrong person in the front door it’d be interesting to have them run through your safe house and steal a document or let a prisoner go, or mess with your dossier so that you can’t see some key piece of information for that day. Cascading failures make games like this interesting. In Fallout Shelter when something goes wrong it’s up to your survivors to fend off attacks or repair broken systems that your vault needs to function. The spies and soldiers you hire in Safe House move about in their room or barracks a little but they don’t ever walk around outside it or have any interaction with the other rooms.

There aren’t enough consequences to your actions in Safe House. Sure a monetary penalty is bad, but it’s not bad enough, and the experience of Safe House is playing these same droll mini-games over and over again until the night is over and you move on to the next day where you have the option to make new rooms or upgrade old ones and recruit or send agents and soldiers on missions.

Good lord

There’s a stereotypical 1960’s look and sound to games about spies that this game feels like it is leaning towards but doesn’t quite make it there. The audio is complete with the smoothest muzak from an elevator and a few audio brief notes to alert you to your success or failure and when it is time to see which one of the safe house’s rooms needs your attention for the next task.

From a small development team, I didn’t expect much in terms of graphical prowess, but the faces on the polygonal characters in your safe house just don’t make sense. The person that works at the loading dock has a permanent joker grin that looks straight out of the Batman animated series. When you get a barracks for soldiers or spy lounge you’ll see 2D character portraits for those characters that look a little bit like they’re from Penny Arcade before that comic turned into an unreadable mess thanks to PA’s creators being complete shitheads, but that style doesn’t really match the style of Safe House. The upgrades to the different rooms change each one a little bit, but that’s the only change you’ll see over time once each room in the building is occupied.

There are all sorts of software bugs within Safe House that get in the way of completing the campaign. Sometimes creating identification in the forgery room would fail for no apparent reason. The mission success reports often misspell words like “scientists,” “carriage,” and “comfortable.” I found about a dozen or so other issues I had with the game, none of these reset my progress but they all added up to a general sense that this game could use a lot more attention from the developer before it shipped.

The most disappointing part of Safe House is that it has an inkling of a story inside it about colonialism and American interventions on the behalf of business interests, with multiple endings, but it never earns the dramatic turns it takes. One time when Safe House turns in this direction your interrogation room that you thought was just for interviews is revealed to be a torture facility once it is fully upgraded. Your in-game avatar is shocked, other characters reveal who they actually are, and things change in the game. It could have been a very interesting turn of events if the game had an engrossing story from the start, but it never made me care about those characters.

Safe House has multiple endings, but after going through hours of repetitive tasks I didn’t want to play through the tutorial at the start of the game, and then 5 more hours of the gameplay Safe House had to offer, just to see each ending.

The premise of operating a CIA safe house is fascinating, there was clearly some thought put into style and sound design, but Safe House lacks the depth of other games that specialize in building a city or a tower, managing people, or old spy movies. The lack of polish is entirely excusable from a one-person developer, but the gameplay couldn’t live up to the concept. Papers, Please, Sim Tower, and James Bond are three ideas that probably can’t work together, but I really wish they had.

1 out of 5 Panic Rooms for Safe House. It’s $10 on Steam for Windows.

Happier times

Washinton D.C. is Shutting Down The City’s Largest Shelter to Make Way for Rich People

This shelter doesn’t sound spectacular, but the space provided opportunities for the 239 families living there to have fun activities that won’t be possible elsewhere. Splinter’s Emma Roller:

…over the past seven years, the families and organizations that operate within the shelter have created a makeshift community of their own. This is what happens when poor families living on public land are pushed out the back door, while powerful corporate interests are invited in for dinner.

It is being bulldozed to make room for their pitch to Amazon and luxury condo developers:

One of the city’s proposed sites for Amazon’s new headquarters is in the Capitol Hill East neighborhood—directly on top of where D.C. General stands today. “Hill East, a quiet, traditional rowhouse community, sits at the eastern edge of the District, walkable to some of the most exciting and historic neighborhoods in the area,” the Obviously DC website reads.

[…]

In April, the families at D.C. General noticed that signs had been put up along the fence bordering the shelter complex. The signs were from three construction and development companies, promoting their work on the site’s demolition and remodeling. One of the posters showed a slick mock-up of what the new site would look like, with crisp brick buildings, wide boulevards, a bike share station, and a fountain. None of the construction companies returned requests for comment, but one of them, McCullough Construction LLC, touts itself on its website as being “synonymous with luxury condos.”

The Steam Link is Getting Usurped by Apps

Valve is releasing Steam Link apps for iOS and Android sometime during the week of the 21st of May. They’ll stream games to your device or TV from a host computer just like the Steam Link box does. Valve says that these apps will support a few different types of controllers including Apple’s MFI standard, but I’m not sure how they have Steam Controller support working without attaching the full-size USB type A dongle, unless they intend for people to use a series of adapters.

The physical Steam Link box could still end up being useful by working with even more types of controllers, as well as running general purpose software using the Steam Link SDK.

Valve is also putting out an app to watch any videos purchased on Steam, because that’s a thing people do?

It’s a shame that game streaming is exclusively the domain of stores like Valve’s Steam and Nvidia’s streaming built-into their Geforce graphics cards. Although the latter has some open source support via the unofficial community-developed Moonlight project, neither option is perfect. Steam streaming is often broken for many games outside of Steam, and Nvidia only officially streams to their Shield tablet and set-top-box devices. If you’re using an AMD or intel video chipset they aren’t supported by Nvidia, either.

I’m not sure if there’s any room for a commercial third-party solution when Nvidia and Valve’s solutions work almost well enough, so it might have to be a community-developed open source project.

Parappa The Rapper on PS4 is Actually a PSP Emulator

I’ll probably never use it, because I don’t jailbreak modern consoles, but it’s an impressive discovery by KiiWii on the GBA Temp forums  (via Wololo) that the Parappa The Rapper remaster for the PlayStation 4 is actually a PlayStation Portable emulator with special features. Those features let the developers replace the textures in an emulated game with upgraded assets that look better at the higher resolutions of the PS4.

Very few PSP games actually work in this emulator, it’s just fun to look behind the curtain of one of these remastered games and find out how the remastered sausage is made.

Epic Sues 14 Year Old Fortnite Cheater

Sarah Jeong has an article up about Epic suing a 14 year old cheater in their free-to-play game Fortnite.

It’s absolutely twisted that a business can sue anyone for cheating in a video game. It’s slightly more understandable to get litigious with people making and selling cheats, but then Epic should really just strengthen their anti-cheating software and review system.

Epic should alter Fortnite to give players tools to understand cheating and report it when it happens. Of course they’d need to hire people to review reports. Maybe they’re doing that as well, we don’t know, but suing people for cheating in an online multiplayer game is boneheaded.

Jeong also talks about Epic using YouTube’s copyright infringement reporting tool to take down the cheater’s videos. That shouldn’t be possible. It’s absolutely a broken system that developers and publishers can make videos disappear via copyright notices just because they don’t like the content of the video. If YouTube doesn’t want videos about game cheating on their site then video game cheating should be in their stated policies.

The Oculus Go

Adi Robertson has a review up of the $200 Oculus Go, a VR HMD with a built-in old-ass (seriously, it’s from 2016) smartphone chipset for people without a Samsung phone:

The Oculus Go improves on the Gear VR in one big way: you don’t need a high-end Samsung phone to use it, so the headset is convenient for people with iPhones or other Android phones. It also fixes a lot of minor annoyances that make using the Gear VR unpleasant. Its stretchy head strap has a comfortable split-backed design, and its velcro straps slide through plastic guides that make them easy to adjust. (If you have long hair, the split back also works better with buns and ponytails.) The headset doesn’t have a wheel for adjusting focus, but it comes with a spacer insert for people with glasses, and you can buy the headset with prescription lenses.

I’m glad that VR is continuing to remove the tethers that make it cumbersome to use, but I’ll never buy anything from Oculus/Facebook. The Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) branded headsets sound much more interesting to me. Lower quality tracking with good screens at a lower cost compared to the big boy Vive and Rift.

One more note, the website for this headset has this text:

Screen Shot 2018 05 02 at 11 22 43 PM

At first glance I thought to myself “Huh, this thing has surround sound? Why wasn’t it mentioned in the review?” which, of course it doesn’t. Give me a break.

May 1st is The Real Labor Day

Alex Pareene explains the first of May:

International Workers Day is as American a holiday as there is. It commemorates, in part, the Haymarket Riot, a bloody 1886 clash between striking workers and Chicago police that was among the most consequential battles in both American labor history and the international fight for the eight-hour workday. A few years later, the International Workers Conference called for a worldwide strike in support of the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890, and from then on, May 1 was recognized annually…

Tim Angus’ Unique Electric Guitar

The first time I ever saw a 3D printer in-person was at a robotics conference for software developers in Florida. That thing printed out a tiny little model of an intricate water jug and I was in awe.

Imagine the look on my face when I woke up this morning and saw that ioquake3 developer Tim Angus had designed every 3D-printed part in this electric guitar.

Here’s how Tim describes the project:

When I was a teenager I made an electric guitar, because I couldn’t afford a real PRS. I fitted a Roland GK2A midi pickup to it, by taking it to bits and cramming it all into the body of the guitar, since at the time Roland didn’t make the internal version. I was never completely happy with it and for one reason or another I removed it after a few years, but after I got hold of a 3D printer, I realised I could do a much better job…

If you want to keep up with the other problems that he solves with his ingenuity and a 3D printer, check out Tim Angus’ YouTube channel and follow his official Twitter account.

Portable Frustration With Bennett Foddy

Getting Over It is Incompatable with all of my devices

I’ve already written about how much I love Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, but I hadn’t written about the iOS version which has gotten much better over time and today there is an Android version on Google’s app store if you’d like to learn to master your frustration on a portable device. They’re both $5 and highly recommended. Although you might want to have a case on your device if something happens while you’re playing.

Campo Santo Got Valvo’d

I love adventure games. Well, I love modern adventure games. They come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a type that’s a sub-genre of the Walking Simulator style of adventure in which you get your narrative-focused Gone Home’s and your Tacoma’s and the occasional Firewatch.

The news is that the developer of Firewatch, Campo Santo, is getting acquired by Valve. The good news is that they will continue to work on things they’ve been working on. This news won’t stop Firewatch from coming to Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch sometime this year. They’re also promising improvements to Firewatch on every other platform in the process of optimizing it for Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch.

Campo Santo’s progresso on the new gameo In the Valley of Gods will also continue, that was announced late last year. Except now it’ll be a Valve thing, which is good for Valve because my understanding is that many of Valve’s writers have left.