Friday, September 21, 2018

NASCAR Heat 3 Gameplay Review

I'm playing NASCAR Heat 3, a racing simulation by Monster Games and 704 Games.


New features in this year’s version start with a dirt touring series that includes eight tracks (and a dirt road course). The career mode (which starts out in the new dirt series) adds the ability to be an owner/driver, allowing the player to hire staff and choose racing cars to perform research on. Online multiplayer adds tournaments, while the new Charlotte “roval” and Phoenix redesign are included. A racing line is provided to learn each track, but only in practice mode. Also, there are nine pre-made car setups for each track that range between “tight,” “balanced,” and “loose.” The short racing challenges round out the features. As in previous versions, NASCAR Heat 3 handles somewhere between an arcade game and a simulation, which strikes the balance the developers are looking for in a console-driven release. The cars are relatively easy to drive, and the AI is very aggressive and less idiotic as in last year’s game. The sound design is not great (the collision effect is especially weak) and the game still lacks game options during a race (like saving progress for later or seeing what the controls are). Still, NASCAR Heat 3 is an improvement over last year, and is slowly approaching a solid arcade-sim racing game overall.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Megaquarium Gameplay Review

I'm playing Megaquarium, a management simulation by Twice Circled.


The game features a campaign mode with scenarios that include varied starting and victory conditions; also included is a flexible sandbox mode. The goal is to expand the aquarium by placing new tanks filled with fish and other aquatic creatures; each animal has different attributes and desires (such as water temperature, grass, or caves) that must be balanced in each ecosystem. Different machines, such as filters, skimmers, heaters, and lights, can be attached to tanks to achieve the levels required by its inhabitants. Staff members will automatically feed the fish, repair broken equipment, and keep the aquarium clean. Money is earned by having popular animals on display and by selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. Animals also provide research points used to unlock new animals and equipment. The game is very approachable while still requiring some careful balancing so animal needs don’t interfere. While the game can get repetitive and there is some waiting for new things to finish researching, the variety of animals and freeform expansion options buoy interest. Megaquarium is a well-executed management game.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Victory At Sea Pacific Gameplay Review

I'm playing Victory At Sea Pacific, a real-time strategy game by Evil Twin Artworks.


The game features three campaigns but two are initially locked. In addition, the first campaign contains a mandatory tutorial that cannot be skipped, even if it’s not your first time playing. The campaign allows for free-form movement of fleets around the Pacific to achieve objectives but lacks a skirmish mode. Fleets can be instructed to attack, defend, move, recon, raid, or resupply. The game takes place in real-time and any conflicts can be skipped. “War bonds” earned during missions can be used to purchase new ships, and experience points will unlock additional vessels. Tactical battles involve movement orders, speed adjustments, firing guns, and launching aircraft. Units will attack and maneuver automatically if issued general “attack” commands, reducing micromanagement. Units can also be organized into squadrons that act as a single entity. Specific systems can be damaged during combat, and the AI provides decent opposition. Victory At Sea Pacific is a neat idea thanks to its persistent, non-linear campaign but lacks some ancillary features to fully round out the package.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Frozen Synapse 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Frozen Synapse 2, a turn-based tactical strategy game by Mode 7 Games.


The single player game mode is the new city mode, where factions vie for control and all are battling a common enemy. Money, earned by completing story-based missions or contracts for a faction, is used to purchase new units. Units are divided into squads that can roam around the city, and regenerate when killed. Missions take place inside (or adjacent to) procedurally-generated buildings that offer good variety in tactics. Some levels lack satellite coverage (hiding enemy movement) or contain locked windows or doors that must be opened in specific areas. The city game is a fun enhancement to the core gameplay, as the different alliances and mission types provide variety each play through. The tactical game has received improvements as well, starting with a large roster of new unit types (including riot shield, scoped rifle, knife, smoke and toxic grenades, mines, flamethrower, minigun, and turret). These new units open up more tactical possibilities in each game. Units can be instructed to focus on a certain portion of the map, and a “focus diamond” can be played for increased accuracy. Large levels can be traversed in fewer turns using the “long turn” option. Keeping units still, behind cover, and aiming in the correct direction still results in the best outcomes. The computer opponents are smart (most of the time) and provide good adversaries. Of course, online play is also available using simultaneous turn resolution and turns that can be submitted at your leisure. All of the previous game modes are available (extermination, charge, disputed, secure, hostage), plus quicker one-turn challenges. Frozen Synapse 2 has enough significant content through the robust city mode, vastly improved procedurally generated levels, and interesting new units to justify its existence.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Aggressors: Ancient Rome Gameplay Review

I'm playing Aggressors: Ancient Rome, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Kubat Software and Slitherine.


The single player game features historical play around the Mediterranean or randomly generated maps with good customization options but potentially unbalanced starting positions. A scenario editor and mod support are also available. The interface could be improved; specifically, the strategic overview that lists on-map objects and the political maps desperately need the ability to zoom in. Resources are collected from the map: mines, wood, and farms near cities automatically add their bounty nationwide. Cities can only produce specific units, and adding a new unit to a city’s production roster requires an investment of resources (on top of the cost of actually making the unit), leading to interesting strategic decisions and less unit spam. Buildings outside of cities (such as the blacksmith, temple, and stable) can buff resource production or allow for the recruitment of advanced units. Cities, buildings, and units can also be improved to increase stats. Units fall under the typical categories of settler, infantry, cavalry, and naval forces, but more sophisticated versions can be researched. Government type and state decisions can alter your approach. Diplomacy comes with a good number of options, but there is no feedback whether some options will be accepted (and why they were not). Luckily, trade deals can be open-ended: you can request a specific resource and the partner will come back with an appropriate counter offer. Due to the time period, combat is relatively common, and the AI does a good job producing troops, attacking vulnerable units, and working well as a trade partner and ally. While Aggressors: Ancient Rome is more simplified than some other 4X games, it does not lack significant strategic decisions and its faster, combat-oriented pace is appealing.