As we head towards the holidays, we’re picking out three new releases that stood out from the crowd for us. Join us as we talk about Call of the Sea, Heroes of Hammerwatch (Ultimate Edition) and the Eldfjall Island expansion for Lonely Mountains: Downhill.
Call of the Sea (PC)
A tropical paradise, a mystery with a dark touch and a loving connection between two people – Call of the Sea from developer Out of the Blue is a narrative-driven puzzle adventure well worth checking out. Published by Raw Fury, Call of the Sea reminded me a little of Wired’s Close to the Sun – another title with an engrossing narrative and gorgeous visuals and puzzles to tackle while you try and understand the larger mystery that’s behind the place you’re visiting.
Call of the Sea doesn’t start out that way though. It starts with a loving husband who sets out to find a cure for his sick wife. Her condition is rare, and a mysterious island is claimed to hold the key to her recovery. Her husband Harry goes missing during his quest, so despite her sickness his wife Norah follows in his footsteps.
While you gradually unlock more and more story bits through clues and notes that you find, it’s hard not to notice the beautiful visuals in the game. With an art style that makes everything look like it was painted by hand, Call of the Sea is lush and alive with color. The game unfolds at a relatively slow pace as well, so there’s plenty of chance to admire the sights while you’re out exploring.
You’ll run into puzzles that halt your progress every now and then, and while some are simple logic puzzles others will require you to explore your surroundings to find objects and/or clues that help you with a puzzle first. Norah also keeps a sketch pad handy, which will offer you clues when you uncover important information – a bit like how some of the puzzles in Uncharted work. Some of the bits and pieces you find mainly serve to unveil some of the mystery behind what happened as well, so it’s worth it to take your time and explore.
Eventually, the story descends into darker territory as well, and the visuals change accordingly. Without giving anything away, it’s an engrossing and well-delivered narrative with a strong human side as well as a touch of the supernatural, and I really enjoyed the 7 or so hours it took me to complete it. Although its beautiful visuals had our PC struggling to keep up a few times, an optimization patch post-release will hopefully improve that side as well. Overall, a unique and extremely worthwhile interactive mystery if you like puzzle adventures with a good narrative.
Heroes of Hammerwatch Ultimate Edition (PS4)
It may not be a household name, but the Ultimate Edition of Crackshell’s Heroes of Hammerwatch has been one of the top-rated games of the year for the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It’s now also available for the PlayStation 4 (and backwards compatible with PS5) as well, so it’s high time we took a closer look at this one.
Those Xbox and Switch versions weren’t the first versions of the game either, as it’s been around on PC since 2018 as a sequel/spin-off for another indie darling: Hammerwatch. Inspired by the likes of Diablo, both games have been well-received and it’s great to have it on PS4 now as well – especially as an ultimate edition which contains all of the previously released DLC content.
Heroes of Hammerwatch resembles Hammerwatch in a few ways, but adds a few mechanics while taking a few others away. As its core, that means that this is a rogue-lite with base/town-building mechanics rather than a dungeon crawler. Character progression is also handled differently, since you can now level up in an RPG style rather than just purchase upgrades for your abilities. On the other side, Heroes of Hammerwatch doesn’t contain the fun local multiplayer mode that Hammerwatch offered, instead letting you play cooperatively online with up to three other players.
The visuals, as well as the combat, are reminiscent of the first game though – even though the level layout changes with each run due to procedurally generated maps. The game uses a pixel art visual style and the music more of that retro-flavored goodness as well, so if you enjoyed Hammerwatch you’ll certainly want to pick this one up as well. The rogue-lite elements (which let you hold on to your character’s progression) make this even more addictive, though I wish local co-op was an option too.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill – Eldfjall Island (multi)
By now Lonely Mountains: Downhill has been out for more than a year, but it’s lost none of its charm and has held on to its fairly permanent hard drive spot ever since its release. A few weeks ago, Megagon Industries and Thunderful released a brand now DLC package for the game entitled Eldfjall Island, so that was a great reason to get back in the bike saddle.
What makes Lonely Mountains so much fun isn’t just the fact that it has tight controls that allow you to rush down a hill at high speeds on a little BMX bike, or even that it has a unique audiovisual style. It’s not even the fact that, with its built-in challenges and online leaderboards, you’re compelled to come back time after time to push yourself to do better.
It’s the excellent level design that is at the heart of the experience, as you quickly discover that there’s a wealth of routes you can take in each one of the courses. You can stick to the main path, but take a little risk and you can steer between a few trees to shave off a few second. Or will you make that dangerous jump to beat that target time, while risking a bad crash that pushes you past the maximum number of crashes that are allowed?
There’s a sheer infinite number of ways to tackle these mountains, and while the Eldfjall Island DLC doesn’t add any new gameplay mechanics it does provide you with a brand new location and new trails to play. Set around an active volcano, it’s something quite different from the initial trails in Lonely Mountains, which are quite serene to look at. Here, there are lava streams, and ash is falling around you, so you have a sense that you should probably hurry before things get worse. It looks great, and plays just as well as the rest of Lonely Mountains, so if you enjoyed the game then you should definitely check out the new DLC as well.