In my humble opinion the term, “retro” is starting to lose some of its meaning. Anything and everything that uses 8 or 16-bit graphics is “retro,” and the fact that some of these games use very modern concepts gets completely lost in translation. As I’m becoming a bit of a gaming Methuselah, I remember when certain mechanics that we take entirely for granted now were really cutting edge. I also remember when we weren’t looking for stellar graphics and three hundred-hour-long opuses to have fun. If you got a bunch of colored blocks bouncing around a level made from more colored blocks you were very happy. This is where Entity Researchers comes in. To me, at least, this is a truly, “retro” game. It’s not long appeared on Steam Early Access and I wanted to see whether it was up to scratch. I also decided to bring my good mate Garett Mefford along for the ride. He’s a touch younger than me and I was curious as to whether our opinions and perspectives would differ.
Entity Researchers invites us into a very dark and dystopian future where the world has been invaded by entities. Nobody quite knows where they came from but there’s a vast array of different types and none of them are friendly. The imminent threat prompted the creation of EIRI to log and research all of the various types of invaders. This research is so dangerous that researchers can’t go anywhere near the entities but instead, must remotely man special suits which in turn are sent into hazardous situations in an attempt to understand the threat better.
The entities have elemental and psychic affinities. You must be able to equip your suit in the most balanced way possible to be able to deal with all the threats that you face. You don’t want to be a bulwark against ice and water entities only to be absolutely smashed by earth and fire ones. Getting the best balance is actually a large part of the fun of the game.
To look at this title, Entity Researchers is about as old school as you can get, both visually and mechanically and I’m absolutely not complaining about this. There’s something slightly psychedelic about the whole affair. The entities are strange, the maps are basic and you are literally moving around in a human-shaped, colored blob. In this particular case, all this adds a certain class to the game. When you get used to the rather classic nature of everything that’s going on around you, you adjust quite nicely and just get on with things. This, in my humble opinion, is absolutely the way it should be.
The controls are simply a combination of mouse and keyboard and there’s nothing about them to confuse or frustrate the player. Movement is a click of a mouse button. Entity battles are little more than a few key presses. Initially, you have to scan an unknown entity to get its name, affinity, and weaknesses. When this is done it’s a case of using whichever attack you feel will polish it off most quickly. A lot of this comes down to your loadout which I will explain in a minute. For combat, you get a sliding bar with a target. Hit the target and you hit the entity; it really is that simple. If you manage to hit the target dead center you’ll score a crit and open a simple mini-game that will let you chain attacks for more damage. This simplicity makes for a really addictive experience. We get so fixated as gamers on having to have a ton of complex mechanics that sometimes just a few clicks is more rewarding than remembering lots of controls and technical combinations.
Entity Researchers is very much an incremental game. You’ll use elemental ores that you collect and refine to boost your affinities and resistances to certain elements. There are also other items that will give you stat boosts in various areas. The interesting thing here is that you can only equip so many at a time. This means that you will never be completely protected or overly strong against all of the elements that are being thrown at you. As I mentioned earlier, this is a game of balance and you need to be able to figure out what is going to work best as you go. Making yourself strong against one or two enemy types could be a really good way of getting absolutely walked over later on. This idea of thinking about ratios and percentile increases to stats and abilities is a really old-school way of playing that I totally appreciate.
I’m not going to tell you any more about the story than I already have other than this is pretty well written and expands over a series of missions. These are fun to play and give Entity Researchers much-needed shape. It’s great that this is a game about collecting and killing bad guys but if that was all it was it could get stale quickly. Being given an objective makes you want to keep coming back for more to see what’s happening next. You are also given the opportunity to jump into various hot zones. There’s no story here, you just need to research what you can and get out alive. These areas have elemental markers but that doesn’t mean that you’ll only encounter entities of that element, just that they’re in abundance there. Lastly, you have case files. These will see you hunting down a particularly strong entity and having to research that while surviving in the process. Having more than one mode of play wrapped into the same game, (as opposed to extra options,) is another great way of keeping things fresh.
Another point to be made about Entity Researchers is that this is a really good pick-up-and-play game. You can complete one or several levels and not really feel like you’re missing out on much by leaving things until later. I’m not saying you’ll get bored after a bit and this is only good in short spells, rather, that you can play a little or a lot and still get a good amount of enjoyment from the game.
Entity Researchers is going to be a lot of fun for those players that don’t expect miracles from every game they begin. If you’re looking for the next big thing in gaming you’re not going to find it here. Equally, if you’re looking for a graphical masterpiece it won’t be there for you. Saying all this, that would rather be missing the point. This is a title that is a love letter to classic gaming. If you play Entity Researchers with this mindset and no prior expectations I really think you’ll have a lot of fun with it. I’ll certainly be following this title into full release to see how it expands into a fully-fledged entity, (pardon the pun.) Really good stuff!
The early days of PC gaming were truly the wild west in terms of concepts, mechanics, and just throwing whatever you could at the wall and seeing what sticks. Back in 2000, I would dig through the video game bargain bins that were inexplicably in the store my parents went to buy groceries; while this led to me playing PC hits like Warcraft 2 and Delta Force, it also led to me wasting money on some games that were too broken to play without crashing. Even though I didn’t have a PC until the turn of the millennium, many of my gaming experiences on the platform are from a vast array of titles that have melded into an unmistakable aesthetic that shapes what I view as retro. With this in mind, Newbuild-C’s throwback game Entity Researchers checks all the nostalgia-filled boxes.
In Entity Researchers, you take the role of a new hire at EIRI, a specialized unit in charge of researching, cataloging, and destroying a vast array of mysterious entities that have invaded the planet. Each entity has its own psychic and elemental abilities and weaknesses such as ice and fire or light and dark. Being that you are a mere human, in order to combat these forces EIRI sends in mechanical units to make contact with the dangerous lifeforms. Your mech can be outfitted with any combination of the 180+ items available to find, buy, or create throughout the game.
Outfitting your robotic suit is key to survival and success in Entity Researchers. You will always want the most cutting-edge parts on your mech body to get the best stat boosts, but you’ll also want to round out your elemental affinities so as to not have any glaring weak spots in your loadout. The game is kind enough to tell you the general elemental affinity of the area you are about to drop into, but just because you select a general fire elemental area doesn’t mean there won’t be some electric or earth-type entities. So it’s best to stay prepared for anything. You can also select your battle loadout, which consists of 4 move slots, with respect to the job you are about to embark on. Just like in Pokemon, it’s key to have the type advantage.
Entity Researchers is heavy on stat management to a level that is refreshingly deep. In most recent AAA RPGs, when you level up you’ll be lucky to choose where to place a stat point, but Entity Researchers asks for that and more. Not only do you choose the stats to increase, but your elemental and combat affinities also level up separately and gain experience based upon usage. Your loadout is also crucial in providing percentage boosts to certain areas giving a level of depth that totally caught me by surprise when I started the game up.
Once you settle on your loadout you’ll enter a classic isometric viewpoint dungeon to explore. The maps are completely randomized meaning you’ll be discovering different pathways, items, and enemies in each instance. Personally, I would have appreciated it if the navigation in the dungeon map functioned a bit more smoothly. If I could click on a point and have my robot suit move to that point it would be grand, because as it is you need to hold your left click down in the direction you want to go and then walk in a pretty chunky one-step-at-a-time motion. This is one of the situations in the game where the conveniences of modern games are at odds with the retro intent of the developer and ultimately it’s up to the dev to finalize what direction they want to take here before the final build.
When you encounter an enemy you’ll be taken into the battle menu for a hybrid-style turn-based fight with real-time elements. Both you and the entity get a chance to fight, but if it’s an unknown type of opponent you have a scan option where a target bounces around the battle screen and requires a button press when the crosshairs are over the entity. After a few scans you will uncover all you need to know about the entity’s strengths and weak points, so on your turns, you’ll know how to approach. You can select an attack, which brings up a bar slider that requires a bit of timing on your part. I’ve recently played the latest Mario Golf and it’s easiest to say the bar slider is similar to hitting a shot in a golf game, where a perfect shot translates to a critical hit.
While the mechanics in the battles are perfectly suitable and can feel satisfying, there is still something to be said about the presentation of the battles. The rest of the game, whether it be the dungeon or the myriad of pre-mission menus, has a bespoke vibe where it feels like every part of the art style is working towards immersing you into the world. In the battle menus the sliders, timers, and bars are all very plain and noticeably at lesser quality than the art direction everywhere else. In a game such as 1997’s Fallout, the battle menu is designed to look like the now-iconic Pipboy and feels very much in-universe to the rest of the game. Entity Researchers’ battle menu is, by all means, usable and readable, it just all feels very plain and like a missed opportunity to add more of their personal flair to a major aspect of the gameplay.
Entity Researchers very much feels like a game that has teleported into the future from the ’90s and it’s sure to appeal to a very dedicated group of CRPG enthusiasts. This style of game was just a hair before my time, but it’s interesting to play today as a sort of retrospective of the genre that it unwaveringly replicates. I know there was a whole generation of gamers that came up in this exact era of games and Entity Researchers would absolutely be their jam. It provides a total retro experience with the benefit of current development and a fresh new dark sci-fi story.