Monday, September 28, 2009

Raven Squad Review

Raven Squad, developed by Atomic Motion and published by Evolved Games and SouthPeak Games.
The Good: Seamless transition between RTS and FPS modes
The Not So Good: Rudimentary and dull strategy mode, shooting lacks innovation, lackluster AI needs detailed squad commands, short campaign with linear missions that's not challenging at all, LAN-only multiplayer, generally horrible presentation
What say you? A generic first person shooter and a limited real time strategy game combine very poorly: 3/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Remember the '80s? You know, full of crappy action movies like Rambo, Commando, and...uh...Commando (and Rambo). Get to the choppa! And all that jazz. It's a wonder nobody has capitalized on using that ever-popular tropical jungle setting for a campy action title. That is until now! Raven Squad lets you lead two groups of commandos (to I guess it should really be called Raven Squads) in to the jungle, possibly involving Jesse Ventura. The game attempts to combine the action of first person shooters and the planning of real time strategy games into a cohesive package of awesomeness. Though we have mostly seen use of role-playing elements in other genres, a FPS-RTS combination is almost unique. How does it all work out?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Raven Squad are not so great. I suspect some concessions are made because of the transition between a first person camera and an overhead view, but the closer view really suffers from poorly detailed textures. The jungle environment does not lend itself towards a variety of visuals, and the setting has been done better in games such as Far Cry; each new level looks just like the previous one. The character models also could move more fluidly, as the stiff animations are very apparent during death. Worse off is the sound design, with insufferable voice acting and a musical score that is distressingly reminiscent of Joint Operations. Raven Squad does not impress in any area, graphics and sound included.

ET AL.
Welcome to the jungle. We have fun and games. Although Raven Squad is mostly devoid of both, and here’s why. First off, the twelve-mission campaign is extremely short: each level clocks in at around fifteen minutes long, which makes the entire game about three hours from start to finish. Most people will be able to easily finish Raven Squad in one sitting. The game is also limited to LAN-only cooperative multiplayer, if you have any friends who were silly enough to also purchase this game. This would have been a notable inclusion if true online capabilities were present. As a result of these poor features, Raven Squad has no replay value. At least Raven Squad lets you save your progress anywhere, removing some of the console port stink.

Gameplay in Raven Squad comes in two flavors: first person shooting and real time strategy. The FPS mode is very conventional and offers nothing in the way of innovation. Firing down the scope is just as accurate as shooting from the hip, so the action is certainly on the arcade side of things. The game also has some weird default controls: Q to switch weapons? F keys for commands? Raven Squad was clearly designed for the consoles, as exemplified by the constant use of XBOX controller buttons in the menus. You will be able to control six different characters organized into two squads, each of which as a specific role as determined by their weaponry. They all have cute names: Paladin has a rifle and machine gun, Thor is equipped with a shotgun and rocket launcher, Special Agent Oso (yes, his name is really Oso…he’s o-so special!) has a submachine gun and grenades, Shadow is a sniper, Flash has flashbang grenades (get it? ha!), and Zombie has a scoped M16 with smoke grenades. You can’t customize the loadouts at all, and you must remember which character has which weapons on the fly to fight most effectively; there are icons for each character, but they only display one of the two weapons.

The real time strategy portion of Raven Squad is useful as a minimap, but that’s it. You can easily find ammunition, health, and all enemy locations, which makes the game trivially easy. You are limited to one-button context-sensitive commands: move, attack, or use. A command is issued to the entire squad of three, rendering their different abilities useless. While it is easy to move behind cover (similar to Dawn of War II), the fact that you can’t give individual commands and the AI is too dumb to figure out how to move as a unit with varied abilities really limits your strategic options. Units aren't effective at all killing enemy units, so it's just quicker to jump back into FPS mode to take them down. You also can't box select units, meaning you have to constantly tab back and forth between squads. The RTS elements are very lightweight indeed.

As I alluded to earlier, the AI is both dumb and heavily scripted (which serious cuts down on replay value). In addition, they are some of the most inaccurate highly trained marksmen ever seen: you really need to individually control at least one member in order to eliminate enemy units in a timely manner. The levels are very linear, offering nothing in the form of varied approaches in strategy. There is a lot of conveniently placed rocks and crates for cover and invisible walls you can’t pass. Yes, highly trained operatives are blocked by crates. Squads always stick together, two feet from each other, at all times; having some sort of individual command structure would allieviate some of the stupidity of Raven Squad, but you can’t ignore the completely useless nature of your AI teammates.

IN CLOSING
Raven Squad is one of those games that could have been innovative and great, but falls way short of the mark. The combination of real time strategy and first person shooting works well…in theory, but Raven Squad lacks the execution to make it a good game. The FPS half of Raven Squad is generic action we’ve seen in any shooter; add in an obtuse default control scheme (Q to switch weapons? really?) meant for a console controller, and nothing there impresses. The strategy portion of Raven Squad is severely underdeveloped: the fact that you are restricted to context-sensitive, one-button commands says a lot. The AI is so incompetent that you simply cannot play the entire game from the overhead view: units will rarely engage enemy units unless specifically told to do so. Really, the RTS mode is only for scouting enemy locations (and, since the view shows everything, it makes the game extraordinarily easy). The linear level designs leave nothing to the imagination. Controlling two squads effectively is impossible, as nobody can be left on their own. Constantly switching back and forth between squads is annoying and not fun. The graphics are sub par, and Raven Squad is also laughably short: three hours and that’s it. Cooperative multiplayer can only be done over a LAN, so there’s no reason to play this game after you’ve finished it, assuming you ignored my advice and played it in the first place. Raven Squad clearly shows what happens when good ideas go terribly, terribly wrong.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winter Sports 2009 Review

Winter Sports 2009, developed by RTL and published by Meridian4.
The Good: Ten events with several variations, several game modes
The Not So Good: Repetitive limited control schemes, questionable physics in all events, lacks online play
What say you? The monotonous roster of events limits this arcade Olympic title: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Nothing says the end of summer like...Winter Sports 2009?! Yeah, so I might be just a little bit out of season doing this review, but I have no control over when stuff magically appears on Gamer’s Gate (or do I?). The 2009 version of Winter Sports is the sequel to the Winter Sports 2008 that came out near the tail end of 2007 (confused yet?)
I’m sure that everyone is high on Winter Olympics fever (the only prescription is more cowbell), considering the last Games were played…in…(looks at Wikipedia)…2006. But, hey, the next ones are a scant five months away: let the hype machine begin!

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Winter Sports 2009 has an inconsistent mix of graphics. The venues can be nicely detailed, but since there is only one per event, the visuals tend to get repetitive. Character animations range from fluid to robotic: the snowboarding effects are clearly the worst of the bunch with jarring jumping between motions. The effects are most noticeable with drops of water during the bobsled/luge/skeleton events: it looks nice so the developers felt it was necessary to over use them. Winter Sports 2009 doesn’t look terrible, but there are frequent moments of inconsistency that lowers the overall quality. The sound is worse off, with a repetitive collection of commentary and effects. I wouldn’t say that Winter Sports 2009 has a budget presentation, per se, but it’s not much better than that standard.

ET AL.
In Winter Sports 2009, you, yes, you, get to take place in Generic Event Featuring People From Different Countries That Is Totally Not The Olympics. The career mode consists of fifteen cups of assorted but pre-determined events. Now, you could argue the unrealism associated with being adept at all Olympic disciplines, but we’ll let that slide for now. Doing well earns experience points that you can assign to any discipline, although I have not see any noticeable difference in game performance by maxing out my figure skating skills. The campaign offers up specific objectives to attain during an event; it is the most original aspect of the game, as they usually aren’t limited to simply finishing well. The competition mode offers up a series of five, nine, sixteen, or a custom list of events; the specific events in the non-custom options seem to always be the same. And you can always enter a single event if you are pressed for time (especially since progress is not saved between events in a competition). You can also choose the difficulty level (which ranges from “pushover” to “requires perfection”) and venue, which has no noticeable effect on gameplay. Finally, you can play nice with others, but only on the same computer as Winter Sports 2009 lacks online competition of any kind. Overall, I was pleased with the features of Winter Sports 2009: there is a good selection of ways to compete and the campaign offers up a nice deviation, though the game could use more unpredictability in event order and online play is a must.

Now, the events. What initially seems like a nice assortment of ten distinct events devolves into one of two actions: timing or driving (or both at the same time). Snowboarding has you steering your character and pressing spacebar when you reach the edge of the half-pipe. Then, you enter a quick time event where you must press specific keys in order to complete tricks. Pressing the keyboard arrow keys in a circular pattern is essentially impossible, so I hope you brought an analog gamepad. This is disappointingly limited, as you can’t choose your own tricks (like in Tony Hawk Pro Skater) and thus removes any strategy whatsoever. The speed skating event is purely button pressing: you must time your pressed with on-screen cues that make absolutely no sense: am I supposed to press when the blue arrow is full or what? I am still confused by speed skating. Figure skating is the same as playing Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band: press the right key at the right time and land that triple axel. More innovation or user input, like choosing your own tricks (either in real-time or beforehand) would make figure skating more interesting.

Alpine skiing and all of the sledding events (bobsleigh, luge, skeleton) are identical: shut up and drive. You start by mashing a key or timing it to maximum power, and then navigate your way down the mountain or track. The sledding events place an optimal path to follow, and doing so maximizes your speed, while the skiing events just place the flags you must navigate between. There are downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, and Slalom events to choose from, but they are all the same other than the length (I guess that goes for real life as well). Ski jumping involves balancing (steering) yourself as you hurtle down the ramp and jumping at the right time: it’s pretty difficult to get the timing down exactly as they want you to.

The two events that are the most unique are biathlon and curling. Biathlon is a lot like speed skating, in that you must alternate between button presses in order to move, but at least there are shooting elements that use the mouse to break up the monotony. Curling involves aiming and choosing a power level, usefully illustrated with a picture of the rink (or whatever it’s called) so you know pretty well how far it’s going to go. Once it’s gone, you can sweep, but I have yet to figure out the purpose of sweeping, as you seem to have to do it constantly in order to make it reach the target. This is the most strategically deep game in Winter Sports 2009 as it doesn’t rely on pressing lots of buttons. Of course, it’s no better than dedicated curling games, and with the rest of the respective events contained in Winter Sports 2009, there’s no real reason to get this. If the events were more along the lines of biathlon and curling with unique mechanics, than I could justify paying for the game, but as it stands, this is clearly not the case.

IN CLOSING
Winter Sports 2009 is a mixed bag, and unfortunately for Olympics fans, the mix is generally on the negative side. The game does have some nice game modes: a career spanning fifteen cups, a campaign with specific challenges, and competitions of multiple linked events. The experience points earned in the career mode don’t offer any discernable performance boost, and the competitions don’t seem to be randomized, so replay value is sadly low. The game also lacks online multiplayer, although you can play on the same PC against your friends. The real problems with Winter Sports 2009 surface when you play an event more than once: it’s all quite repetitive. Almost all of the events have one of two control schemes: pressing specific buttons at the right time (snowboard, speed skating, figure skating) or driving (alpine skiing, ski jumping, bobsled, luge, skeleton). Variety comes in the form of biathlon and curling, but only two events to break up the monotony of pressing buttons and driving down the same track isn’t much in the form of variety. Some of the events don’t even make sense as feedback is limited (speed skating specifically), and the physics are generally horrible (snowboard specifically). Winter Sports 2009 doesn’t have a single event that isn’t done better somewhere else. Once is enough for almost all events, as the mechanics repeat themselves ad nauseum. Thus, only people who really have a hankering for winter competition will want to check out this title.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Majesty 2 Review

Majesty 2, developed by 1C:Ino-Co and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Kingdom management through building and bribery, well developed heroes with good AI, online multiplayer
The Not So Good: Light on content and depth, repetitive strategy, no random maps or editing tools
What say you? This superficial sequel lacks innovation and variety: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Classic real time strategy games aren’t exactly realistic. I mean, would the battlefield commander have intricate control over every single unit under his command? Of course not, which is part of the reason a lot of contemporary RTS titles put units into squads where you give general directives to a subordinate officer. Taking the formula a step further was the classic title Majesty, which actually gave you no direct control over units, instead allowing you to bribe them into completing missions. Real world economics at work! Well, the series is back under the tutelage of another developer, 1C:Ino-Co (responsible for Elven Legacy), and hopes to recapture that unique energy and update it for the masses.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Not surprisingly, Majesty 2 has similar graphics to Elven Legacy, mainly because it’s developed by the same people. The bright graphics fit the theme of Majesty 2 well, complimenting the fantasy setting. There is a minor amount of variety in environments, as some levels take place in “plains” as opposed to “forests,” but the range is not as grand as I would like it to be. Everything in the game world is quite small, and Majesty 2 prevents you from zooming in too far; this may be an intentional limitation, as the textures might not be up to par. The effects could use some work, especially magic, and the animations are erratic, leading to some inadvertently comedic death sequences. The interface is pretty good, as the game displays the health, level, and current task (collecting treasure, going on a mission, fleeing) for each hero at all times. The overly dramatic voice acting, especially from the narrator, can get annoying after a while; the game seemed to be much more subdued in the original Russian audio tracks. Majesty 2 does not look or sound terrible, but it also does not differentiate itself from the mass of other fantasy settings.

ET AL.
Majesty 2 comes with a sixteen mission campaign, which sounds like its lengthy enough, but it’s not that long when you consider that you will most likely be playing with accelerated time waiting for something to happen. I think the most disappointing missing feature of Majesty 2 is the lack of randomized map layouts. There is no mystery with enemy and creep locations when you play a map for a second time, and considering the lack of an editor and the small suite of maps available, this would be a common occurrence. The six single missions could have been randomized, but are not, and multiplayer offerings, while fun in a competitive environment, have eight maps for varied team and free-for-all modes. Again, multiplayer could have greatly benefitted from randomized maps, but I suspect people getting Majesty 2 purely for the multiplayer will be amused for at least some time since online matches are far less scripted.

The first thing you’ll need to do in Majesty 2 is construct a majestic kingdom of majesty. Buildings are divided between economic structures like the marketplace and bazaar, defensive towers, unit-creation buildings, and temples for access to higher level units. Your options are really quite limited with only five economic buildings, and apparently the people of Ardania have never heard of walls to keep rats, bears, and skeletons out. Establishing a good economy is trivially easy: just place all of the economic buildings (which can be done immediately in most scenarios with your starting funds), search for a trading post, and watch the money flow in. Majesty 2 also needs much better defensive options, as simply placing puny little towers makes defending your sprawling kingdom essentially impossible. The economic and defensive aspects of the game certainly leave a lot to be desired. You also can’t build everywhere, as there seems to be a lot of invisible places blocking things (paths, I think). This is probably why you do not have access to walls and gates. Personally, Stronghold offers much more compelling resource management and more interesting defensive options.

The best part of Majesty 2 is the hero units, the part of the game that borrows heavily from role-playing games. Once you construct the appropriate guild, you’ll have access to a range of different units designed for specific roles: rangers for scouting, dwarves for whatever they do, and wizards for magic magicness. You can even recruit units from previous campaign scenarios that have been promoted to lord status (you can choose one new lord after each completed mission). Each hero has their own equipment (weapons, armor, potions) and increases in skill and learns new abilities through combat experience. Once you have researched it, you can create a party to take advantage of the strengths of each hero. This is the most complete aspect of the game that plays like any good role playing game should.

Unlike, well, pretty much every other computer game, you actually do not have direct control over your units. Instead, you get things done the old fashioned way: bribery. You place quest flags for exploring, attacking, defending, or avoiding enemies, and assign a monetary reward for competition. Your AI heroes will then decide which is most interesting and most profitable and go on their way. Luckily, the hero AI is pretty intelligent: they flee when hurt and choose the quests that are most appropriate for them. The enemy AI is less intelligent, but they are mindless creeps, so it’s OK. You can have some direct influence through the spells you can research (for healing or attacking, mostly), but most of the game is out of your hands and it feels like you are managing instead of controlling, for better or for worse. Majesty 2 would have failed miserably if the AI was poor, so thankfully this is not the case. You must budget quests correctly since there are no refunds, so there is an interesting game of management here that partially offsets the lack of true resource management in the game (but only partially). Unfortunately, you can use the same build order each game and every scenario plays out the same since the building list is small and you have access to the same general units each time. The lack of randomized maps hurt, too, since you know exactly where you will encounter pesky enemy units. You can thankfully accelerate time, since there is a lot of waiting for quests to finish and funds to accumulate once you get your basic town layout finished (which happens rather quickly). While Majesty 2 retains the goods of the original title, the limited resource management, disappointing defensive options, and short campaign make for an ultimately disappointing game.

IN CLOSING
Majesty 2 takes the original formula and adds…nothing new. For extreme fans of the first title, this is no problem, as repeating the same mechanics will maintain the unique approach of the original. However, Majesty 2 feels like an incomplete game, where the developers decided to replicate the original game, update with shinier graphics, and make some money. The content leaves a lot to be desired: a sixteen mission campaign is repetitive, the six single missions are not randomized at all, and the lack of an editor is distressing. The semi-random maps of the original game are no longer present, a distressing limitation that seriously cuts down on replay value. Multiplayer offerings are equally limited, with only eight maps to go online with, but can be fun if you get a good group of combatants together. Majesty 2’s lack of variety extends to the basic gameplay, as the same strategy will function in any scenario, as there is no advanced resource collection at all: just build some marketplaces and do some trade for extra income. Only if your kingdom is razed to the ground does money become an issue. There are upgrades for pretty much every building, but the lack of a sophisticated economics model leaves a lot to be desired. The units of the game are nicely varied with equipment and experience, but no more than a traditional role-playing game. The city management of Majesty 2 is simplistic, and the role-playing portion makes you feel like you are simply watching Majesty 2 instead of playing it. The one thing that Majesty 2 has going for it, the unique bribery ordering system, does make it stand out, but no more than the original game did almost 10 years ago. I prefer Stronghold for a more varied and similar experience at a fraction of the price.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity Review

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, developed and published by Dejobaan Games.
The Good: Unique, lots of well designed maps that have numerous pathways, simple controls, fair level of challenge, really weird sense of humor, you get to flip people off
The Not So Good: Repetitive, no multiplayer, lacks a level editor
What say you? A novel premise and fine execution makes this action game exceptionally distinctive: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
One of the more idiotic extreme sports is base jumping. I mean, you are inches away from cliffs or buildings that will severely injure, if not kill, you if the wind picks up. At least with skydiving there’s nothing to run in to other than the ground, and likewise with bungee jumping. Personally, I am partial to street luge (being a racing fan), and I am perturbed at its removal from the X Games (although the emphasis on personal-favorite rally racing is appreciated). Anyway, that brings us to the awesomely-named AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, and in the interest of making my review longer, I will be referring to this game by its full name. Copy and paste FTW! This is the latest game from eccentric developer Dejobaan Games, responsible for Epidemic Groove (which I liked) and The Wonderful End of the World, a game I skipped due to its overt similarities to Katamari Damacy. If there’s no way I’m going to leap off buildings in a single bound in real life, I might as well try it in the computer realm.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity retains the futuristic, neon setting of Dejobaan’s previous titles. The map designs are pretty basic, with only simple architecture and low-detail textures that clearly can’t compete with a high-budget game like Mirror’s Edge. The ads are occasionally funny, though. The game uses some effects that will actually cause some performance problems for older systems or laptops with on-board graphics cards (which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t really be used for gaming anyway…man up, people!). I will say that AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity is quite friendly to alt-tabbing out while writing a review, so it has that going for it, which is nice. The sound effects consist of audio warnings for pulling off stunts, verbal scoring, and background music that I enjoyed: exactly what is to be expected in an indie title. While AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity isn’t the greatest-looking game in the world, but the visuals never negatively impact the gameplay.

ET AL.
In AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (which, let me say, is an awesome name for a game), you’ll jump off buildings and attempt to fall close to structures while not killing yourself. The game spans eighty levels that can be unlocked in a semi-non-linear manner (you can choose levels adjacent to completed ones in the giant rotating thingy of cubes); performing well earns teeth that are used to unlock new content. Not only are there eight or so levels, but you can also earn new abilities and weird stuff like meditative videos and instructions on how to bake cookies. The level selection “menu” (giant rotating thingy of cubes) doesn’t clearly indicate the score attained on each level without selecting it first: a minor annoyance. AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity also lacks multiplayer: a sad limitation, considering two (or more) people jumping at once with the ability to interfere with each other would be really fun (maybe for AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). And despite the robust collection of eighty levels, there is no level editor to make your own nefarious, dangerous creations.

Jump. Steer to avoid buildings. Get close to buildings to earn kisses. Stay close to earn hugs. That is how you play AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, using incomplete sentences. The sense of speed and impending peril is great, as the game requires true skill to avoid the tops of buildings (and an automatic failure, because you are dead). Smacking the side of a building turns you around for a second or so, just enough time to become a human pancake (with tangy red syrup!). You are eventually given additional controls (once you unlock them): you can give thumbs up to fans (indicated with blue arrows) as you pass by with the left mouse button, or flip off protestors (red arrows) with the right mouse button. The middle mouse button is reserved to spraying graffiti on color-coded structures, and caffeine can slow time down for those especially tricky times. There are also scoring plates for extra points, used to distract you with their pretty colors. When you get near the landing areas, deploy your parachute with spacebar (the game helpfully reminds you) and collect your teeth! Every once in a while, the game throws something different at you like wind or a mountain (or the teleporter…spoiler alert!), but most of the time you are navigating through an urban-like landscape of skyscrapers, and gameplay does tend to get repetitive. Thankfully, most levels only last a minute (usually less), so you can play a couple of levels and then take a break if you so choose. The game is difficult, but not unfairly so: it just requires subtle adjustments in precision to fit through that gap with the scoring plate. I really like the level design: there is (almost) always more than one path to the bottom, and you have to make quick decisions (because you are traveling at terminal velocity) as to which way to fall. AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity could have failed epically if the levels weren’t interesting, but thankfully they are varied just enough to keep you wanting more. The maps are also short in duration (almost always less than a minute), so retries aren’t painful exercises in tedium. This is a very addictive game, where you just know you could have done that last level slightly better, so you do it again...20 more times.

IN CLOSING
AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity is a great action game thanks to its distinctive premise, robust map designs, and challenging difficulty. The game takes base jumping and places it in a futuristic setting with tall buildings and asks you to navigate close, but not too close, to them as you hurtle towards the surface. The controls are very straightforward, and the addition of gestures to spectators, tagging skyscrapers, and slowing time elevates the game beyond simple steering. The game does tend to get repetitive after a couple of plays, but the eighty maps do show some variety and each individual map typically lasts less than a minute, so the game rarely becomes tedious. Better is the fact that the map designs of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity offer multiple pathways and freedom to find your own way to the bottom; there is always a higher scoring opportunity flashing by. It is difficult to earn five star ratings, but not unfairly so: with practice, you can get the subtle changes down and navigate the maps with relative ease. A fun sense of humor permeates throughout AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, showing that this is clearly not a serious game. The lack of a level editor and multiplayer are minor shortcomings, as you’ll be busy unlocking more maps and improving previous scores. You’ll know in the first minute of playing whether AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity is right for you, and if it’s not, you are clearly a communist. The high-speed precision of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity demonstrates the game’s unmatched gameplay experience.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Section 8 Review

Section 8, developed by TimeGate Studios and published by SouthPeak Games.
The Good: Spawning anywhere elegantly solves camping, fully customizable loadouts with no experience-based limitations, deployable turrets and vehicles reward competent teammates, dynamic side missions always give you something to do, jetpacks and lock-on targeting promote varied combat, overdrive sprinting reduces cross-map transit time, low weapon damage promotes battle tactics
The Not So Good: Damn you Games for Windows Live, squads are pointless
What say you? Numerous positive innovations makes this online first person shooter really stand out: 8/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
TimeGate Studios is one of my favorite developers. Why? They are responsible for my favorite real-time strategy game of all time: Kohan II. It was innovative with a blend of clear-cut resource management, squad customization, and random maps. Plus, I was good at it. Since then, though, the studio has regressed, churning out a couple of lackluster F.E.A.R. expansions that really stunk. But now they have an IP of their own and hope to improve the online first person shooter for the better with a number of innovative features, like allowing you to spawn anywhere and completely customize your weapons and abilities instead of being restricted to childish classes. How will this online shooter stack up against the stiff competition offered by Enemy Territory, Battlefield 2, and Tribes?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Section 8 uses the Unreal Engine 3 and the visuals are quite comparable Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (which, incidentally, came out almost two years ago). Other than the neat and distinctive burn-in effect, there is nothing too impressive or innovative about the graphics. The character models are OK, although they look repetitive as everyone is issued identical armored suits. Large battles look convincingly chaotic thanks to tracers screaming across the landscape. Speaking of landscapes, Section 8 has a decent variety of settings, although the military architecture tends to repeat from map to map. Really, there’s nothing to set Section 8 apart from any other futuristic shooter: you could place screenshots of this game next to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Frontlines: Fuel of War and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The sounds of battle are convincing but not unique: weapon effects, explosions, and the occasional automatic voice commands from your allies. The voice acting is passable, with an over emphasis on action. The musical score is enjoyable enough and only intrudes during the main menu. Overall, the graphics and sound of Section 8 are simply average.

ET AL.
Section 8 has been deployed on some planet to defend against the rebel force that has taken over something. The single player campaign is not the highlight of the game: although it incorporates the multiplayer aspects of the game well, the linear nature of the levels are more limited. Fortunately, the outdoor environments lend themselves to varied avenues of attack, but once you play through it once, that’s enough. Since you can respawn as many times as you’d like in a campaign mission, difficulty is more a matter of how tolerant you are of respawning over and over again. You can play a skirmish “instant action” game with and against the AI, although you are better off playing online since empty spots will be filled with bots anyway. The only point of doing offline action is to play one man army mode, which pits you against an entire team of AI bots: tough stuff.

Multiplayer games feature 16, 24, and 32 player map sizes and the game scales well The map designs are all the same: three or four buildings with open terrain in the middle. Each server is fixed at a certain maximum player population, so the game doesn’t dynamically adjust like Battlefield 2. In total, there are eight maps, although with size variations (smaller maps use portions of the larger ones) the number increases to eighteen. All of the maps use the control point mechanic popular among team-based shooters. There are options for almost competent AI allies: they can fill out the server, or all be placed on one side in equal (co-op mode) or greater (swarm mode) numbers. The AI in general does a decent job obtaining objectives, but isn’t aware of your presence fast enough, although the increased armor at higher difficulty levels make them a formidable foe. Games for Windows LIVE! almost brings the multiplayer aspect of the game screeching to a halt; I have no idea why developers continue to insist on using it. The game doesn’t log you on automatically and the server browser takes a good ten seconds to list all of the games: crap. The first week of release there were problems with stats being recorded correctly (that have been resolved); I didn't realize the intrinsic motivation of stat tracking until it didn't work correctly and I felt less motivated to play the game since all of my l33t skillz won't be recorded. The game automatically places you into squads, although they serve absolutely no purpose: there are no quick commands and certainly no coordination on public servers. and since you can spawn anywhere, the usefulness of a squad leader's position is minimized. The one thing Games for Windows LIVE! does bring to the table is voice chat. Yay.

While pre-scripted classes are nothing new, Section 8 gives you the freedom to fully customize your loadout, choosing any two weapons (an assault rifle, machine gun, missile launcher, pistol, shotgun, and sniper rifle), any two items (an explosives pack, grenades, knife, sensor radar, mortar, repair tool, and sensor jammer), and ten points to distribute amongst your attributes (armor, damage, anti-air, lock-on, repair, shields, the jetpack, detection, and recoil). This high degree of freedom is fantastic and leads to plenty of unique strategies you simply won’t see in other online shooters. It was quite easy to replace all six templates with custom choices, and I wish there were more slots available. You can opt for a long range sniper equipped with a mortar and sensor blocker, a paratrooper that is resistant to anti-air turrets, or an assault loadout focused on close quarters damage: the choices are many. There is a good weapon for every situation, from the long range sniper rifle to the medium range assault rifle. I actually use the pistol, the first game in a long time I can remember ever using it in a shooter, as it’s quite effective at close range. There is no single item that is useless, although there are ones I simply do not use myself (the knife and sensor pack, to name a couple). Importantly, Section 8 does not restrict any of the content, allowing new players to equip everything experienced players can (one of my primary complaints of Battlefield 2142). Section 8 uses a marvelous system for letting the user determine how to play.

Probably the feature that’s gotten the most press in Section 8 is “burning in,” which allows you to spawn anywhere on the map. Yes, no more predictable restrictions that promote significant spawn camping, and a much larger variety of strategies to complete objectives. It’s a great system that gives the player the strategic decision, rather than leaving it up to chance or not giving a choice at all. There are anti-air turrets (both static and deployable) that make life more difficult for those who did not equip the proper modules to prevent people from constantly dropping right on your base. I like to equip my paratrooper loadout (with maximum anti-air protection) and spawn right next to the anti-air turret range (indicated with a circle on the map), and then move towards the base once I have applied by brakes (as you have some control to fine-tune your landing spot once slowed). People won’t like enemies spawning directly behind them and knifing them in the back, but that’s what you get, sniper. Deal with it!

While you will be primarily capturing bases (by hacking control points), eventually dynamic combat missions will be generated that earn a significant amount of points for your team. Triggered using feat points earned for siege, assault, recon, and support actions by your team members, DCMs are a terrific way of changing up the gameplay and they give you something to do other than capture a couple of map locations. Missions include obtaining a briefcase and returning it to a location, escorting a commando or VIP, driving a convoy to a waypoint, defending an outpost, or planting a bomb. Not only do you get points for completing them, but you also earn some points (about half) for stopping the other team. Frantic fire fights routinely break out around outposts, convoys, and VIPs as each team strives to complete their objectives. Section 8 becomes a chaotic mix of people doing different missions, and you are never bored while playing thanks to the dynamic combat missions.

Section 8 also comes with a couple of features designed to take advantage of future technology. Everyone is equipped with shields that absorb damage, making combat a drawn-out process. Jetpacks are also utilized, although they are used in short bursts rather than for long gains of altitude seen in Tribes. Also, you are given a fast sprint called “overdrive” that is activated after five-or-so seconds of forward sprinting: it’s a great way to get across the map quickly. The most controversial feature of Section 8 is lock-on: zooming in with your radar and pressing “E” will lock on to the enemy. The main issue with lock-on is equating it to despised auto-aim seen in inferior console games, but since there are several ways to counter lock-on (the sensor blocker, using cover, modules) and it only lasts a couple of seconds, I find negative arguments to lack merit. Plus, it’s a great way to counter annoying bunny-hopping seen in a plethora of first person shooters. If you don’t like it, equip a sensor blocker! The final tool at your disposal are deployables: sensor arrays, turrets (anti-air, anti-personnel, and anti-tank), and supply depots you can call in anywhere on the map that isn’t covered by enemy anti-air turrets. These aren’t very resistant to damage and can be easily destroyed, but since they are meant for support rather than solitary defense, people expecting something they can plant and leave are using them incorrectly. You can also call in walkers and tanks, which provide a nice amount of firepower and armor, but aren’t invincible if countered with rocket launchers and turrets. The vehicles are locked for the purchaser, so there is no more waiting for vehicles or having others steal yours (or the one you were waiting for). The combat in Section 8 is well-balanced: there is always some weakness to each loadout, since you only have ten points to distribute among nine modules. The skirmishes are also drawn-out, thanks to high armor and shields and low damage weapons: even the sniper rifle takes three or four shots to down an enemy. Those accustomed to Call of Duty-style instant kills won’t like Section 8, but I value what the developers have done, giving you time to try different tactics, which elevates the gameplay above simple reflexes. Teamwork, proper loadouts, strategy, and tactics prevail over lightning-fast reaction times, something older gamers will no doubt appreciate.

IN CLOSING
I played a disturbingly large amount of Section 8 during the closed and open betas (when I probably should have been reviewing other games), and for good reason: the game is an excellent online first person shooter. Section 8 adds a number of well-developed features that are either unique or inspired (stolen) by other games into a cohesive package of fun. The basic package is there: average but capable graphics, multiplayer features with online stat tracking that occasionally functions (thanks a lot, Games for Windows LIVE!), and a forgettable single player campaign. Section 8’s unique draw start with spawning: you can start anywhere, preferably out of the range of enemy anti-air turrets, and this eliminates annoying spawn camping. Overdrive (really fast sprinting) lets you traverse the map quickly if you did spawn in the wrong place. You are also given total control of your weapons, equipment, and abilities: instead of being confined to infantile pre-made classes, you can determine how you want to play and which toys to play with. Not restricting beginners is also a great decision that puts everyone on the same level playing field in terms of military hardware. The dynamic combat missions, triggered by in-game feats, always give you something to do in addition to simply capturing control points: you will rarely be doing the same thing for more than a minute, which drastically reduces the tedium associated with repetitive objectives. I enjoy the more drawn-out combat Section 8 has to offer: it gives you time to try different tactics using your equipment and jetpack to avoid enemy fire. One-shot-kill kiddies from Call of Duty won’t like it, but I appreciate the balance of action and tactics. Players can also earn the ability to call in deployables for defensive support, in addition to walkers and tanks for more offensive actions. In short (too late!), Section 8 is a fantastic mix of ideas that produces a product fans of online shooters will enjoy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mad Skills Motocross Review

Mad Skills Motocross, developed and published by Turborilla.
The Good: Robust track editor, simple control scheme, challenging layouts and AI opponents, decent amount of content, varied objectives, plausible physics, multi-platform
The Not So Good: Not innovative, peculiarly limited special abilities, lacks online play, slightly expensive, unimpressive graphics and sound design
What say you? It’s like Excitebike, but newer: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Remember Exictebike? Of course you do, and if you don’t, I totally just linked to it. The 2-D motorcycle racing game was innovative for its simple mechanics and track editor, and the basic premise has been recaptured (ripped off) in Mad Skills Motocross. We’ve seen more puzzle-oriented titles like Trials 2 Second Edition before, but Mad Skills Motocross places more emphasis on speed and action. Does it recall the excitement of previous titles without being too much of a retread?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Mad Skills Motocross are passable for a 2-D racing game. The backgrounds are only hardly diverse and the track surfaces don’t change much. The 2-D rider is well animated for the most part, although the most dramatic crashes produce some questionable-looking results. Still, nothing approaches the high graphical quality of Trials 2 Second Edition, so we are left wanting more. The sound design is minimal, with only a basic assortment of effects with generic background music. I was left unenthusiastic but not annoyed by the quality of the graphics and sound of Mad Skills Motocross.

ET AL.
Mad Skills Motocross, like Exictebike (this will not be the last time I make this comparison), is a motorcycle racing game that takes place on a 2-D track, and you must navigate a series of jumps, ramps, and bumps and reach the finish line in an expedient manner. The game has four divisions of eleven races each, plus a special turbocharged series once you successfully complete the career mode. You will mostly be up against a single AI opponent, but sometimes (two to three times per division) there will be alternate objectives like a backflip or wheelie requirement. This does a nice job changing up the game from just being who finishes first. The game is available on the three major PC platforms (Windows, Linux, and Mac, for those scoring at home), but the game lacks online play or multiplayer of any kind, so competitions against humans is an sad impossibility. The price is also high for the content: $25 is more than the typical budget pricing level, and I would feel a lot better if Mad Skills Motocross was more along the lines of $15 or even $10.

The strongest feature of Mad Skills Motocross is the editor that allows you to create the course of your dreams (or nightmares! *insert evil laughter*). By mouse-selecting a section of track, you can change it to a ramp, curve, or “wavy” portion. You can also adjust the height, angle, frequency, offset, tension, or angle (depending on which part we’re talking about) for more precise creations. It can be difficult to smooth out transitions between sections, especially when you start dealing with ramps of different heights. The amount of freedom Mad Skills Motocross grants you is nice, but it can be tricky to get an even layout. You can also add elements to the design, like jumps, nitro, gliding sections, and jetpacks, and even add the alternate objectives I described earlier (you were paying attention, weren’t you?). The editor is probably the draw for most gamers, and it’s powerful and easy enough to use.

Mad Skills Motocross features a decent physics engine that produces plausible results…most of the time. During high-speed wrecks (which occur most of the time), things can become more unpredictable, and there are some jumps that I felt I should have landed, but these are minor and occasional issues at best. The control scheme is very straightforward, utilizing only the arrow keys and the space bar for a special action. This is where Mad Skills Motocross’s unique feature, the special action, appears and it’s sadly limited. With a simple press of the space bar, you can jump, enable a rocket, or glide towards the ground, but it’s an either/or feature, as you can only have one active at a time and you have no choice as to which one it is. The game only grants usage of the last power unlocked, and you will use this one until the next one becomes available. This is a disappointing limitation: there could have been some strategy involved in selecting which ability is best for the next track. The AI you race against is quite skilled, though somewhat fallible at pre-scripted (it seems) portions of the track. Since you never come into contact with the AI drivers, it’s more of a clock than a real opponent. Because of this, the races aren’t terribly exciting since you simply have to finish first (barring the occasional objective levels). The levels have some pleasingly difficult layouts, but strategy is usually limited to simply straightening out enough when you land, thanks to the single special ability that can’t be changed. Mad Skills Motocross doesn’t require the nervous precision of Trials 2 Second Edition and it isn’t as action-packed as a real motorcycle racer. The unique feature is so controlled that it loses most of its appeal, so Mad Skills Motocross ends up being a shadow of a 25-year-old game.

IN CLOSING
Mad Skills Motocross plays very similarly to Exictebike (the reason why I keep mentioning it), which ultimately is its downfall. The game needs a key feature to differentiate it from the competition, and Mad Skills Motocross doesn’t. The best feature of the game, the track editor, is powerful yet the interface is somewhat cumbersome and some editing elements are confusing to use and produce some strange results (namely ramps). The tracks that are included with the game run the gamut from “really easy” to “pleasingly difficult” are require adept use of the controls, positioning yourself for perfect landings in order to keep up with the skilled AI opponents. Most of the races are quick, so you can rapidly finish the game’s content if you are accomplished at this sort of game. I like the use of objectives other than simply finishing first, making you pull off funky stunts over the course of a layout. Still, you can’t get past the fact that Mad Skills Motocross feels like a duplicate of a classic title. The game lacks online play and doesn’t offer any feature to show at least some innovation in the past 25 years: Mad Skills Motocross simply doesn’t stand out. The only real unique feature, the special abilities, is only available one at a time and you don’t get to choose which one to use: a silly limitation. I suspect only people who really need a more modernized version of Exictebike (and don’t have a Wii for the virtual console) will fork over the above-budget-level cash required to experience Mad Skills Motocross.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Texas Cheat 'Em Review

Texas Cheat 'Em, developed by Wideload Games and published by D3Publisher.
The Good: Cheating elements make for unpredictable and strategic gameplay, perfect for multiplayer, active AI opponents
The Not So Good: Mini-games are too repetitive and involve reflexes and luck rather than skill, unpopulated multiplayer servers
What say you? Rampant cheating makes poker just as fun: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
I've reviewed my fair share of poker games, from good to nude. Most of these have centered around the extremely popular No Limit Texas Hold 'Em rules used in the World Series of Poker, airing approximately 1,342 times a day on ESPN2. While cheating is obviously discouraged in the real tournament (something about being fair, or something), Texas Cheat 'Em wants you to cheat, early and often. This game removes the boredom and inactivity of normal poker and introduces a realm of constantly changing cards and other questionable activities. Do these actions accentuate the gameplay, or just make it more pointless?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Neither the graphics nor the sound in Texas Cheat 'Em are notable. The game is in 2-D and your opponents are simple portraits that are never animated. There are some subtle effects with some of the cheats, but none of these beyond what a layman could make in Paint. Compared to a 3-D accelerated game such as STACKED (which came out more than three years ago), Texas Cheat 'Em is clearly behind the curve and offers nothing beyond what a free online environment would provide. This goes for the sound as well: a minimal bunch of effects and forgettable background music. In short, I am not impressed.

ET AL.
Texas Cheat 'Em features Texas Hold ‘Em poker, but with cheating! Single player features include a career mode of four circuits consisting of four events each. You unlock additional venues with wins (which grant no in-game bonuses or changes) and earn money that can be used in the multiplayer portion of the game. Each event has a goal you must meet: earning a certain amount of chips, eliminating a specific competitor, or being ahead after a pre-determined number of hands. The combination of varied goals and earning money for multiplayer makes the career mode both interesting and purposeful. In addition, Texas Cheat 'Em lets you play a practice game with custom rules: location, difficulty, game length, and buy-in. There are no bonuses to be gained here, though. Texas Cheat 'Em also features a number of tutorials that teach the basics of the game through non-interactive screens, from basic poker rules to the changes made here. Texas Cheat 'Em is really designed for multiplayer, and the game does have a server browser where you can search for games with specific buy-ins and seats (in addition to listing all games at once). Unfortunately, Texas Cheat 'Em is not very popular, as I have yet to see anyone else playing. Finally, Texas Cheat 'Em has superficial features like leader boards and achievements to round out the package.

Like traditional poker, Texas Cheat 'Em lets you bet on your hand. However, all bets are done simultaneously and you only need to call the maximum bet as there are no re-raises. This is meant (I guess) to speed up gameplay, and it works just as well because the strategy lost in re-raising bets is gained back again in the cheating portion of the game. In addition, the top three hands win at least some money, which encourages aggressive playing even when you only have a marginally decent hand to start with. Now, the cheating: it’s actually interesting. Everyone starts out with the same number of cheat points that can be used to affect cards: seeing, changing, or swapping an opponent, the community, or yourself. You can also invest in stealing chips, automatically winning, or bluffing. Since everyone has the same ability to alter the cards, Texas Cheat 'Em quickly becomes a game of out-maneuvering your opponents, as any good strategy game is. There are also numerous viable strategies you can use: should I change the community, mess with the chip leader, or defend against attacks? The various actions make for some interesting game outcomes. There are certainly some cheats that I used more often (all of the community ones) and some I never use at all (swapping cards, because of the uncertainty of what you will get). The cheats are balanced well and the variety is certainly intact. Success in cheating depends on successful completion of a mini-game, and this is one aspect of Texas Cheat 'Em that I wish was more skill-based. You are normally given a timing game, such as a roulette wheel, slot machine, or strength tester. I much prefer the blackjack game or even the high/low game (think Card Sharks) as they rely on actual thinking and strategy rather than quick reflexes. I’m sure the developers could come up with some more skill-based events rather than relying solely on luck and timing. Changing the difficult makes the mini-games more difficult (a smaller window of success) and more frustrating overall. Still, I like the added dimension that cheating brings to the poker equation and Texas Cheat 'Em is just as strategic as the vanilla game.

IN CLOSING
It turns out cheating simply adds another layer of strategy, as Texas Cheat 'Em provides actual depth in the effective manner it uses cheats. I think this mechanic is more suitable for online play: since you can't read your opponent, there must be some other avenue to introduce skill instead of simple luck. The wide variety of cheats, where you can influence cards or view opponent or community hands, give you enough options to allow for a lot of different strategies, both offensive and defensive. It's a well designed and balanced system. It's too bad, then, that the mini-games are generally terrible, relying on quick reflexes almost all of the time. I would like them to be more along the lines of the Blackjack mini-game, where skill is emphasized, rather than the remainder that has you hit a keyboard button at the right time. The mini-games are also quite easy, resulting in rampant cheating and decreasing the difficulty level overall. The features are solid: a career mode where you can earn money for online multiplayer in addition to customizable events. The game is meant for multiplayer, so it's too bad that I never, ever found other people playing online. Still, the basic gameplay is executed very well, and with some more skill-based mini-games, Texas Cheat 'Em would be a very notable product.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Osmos Review

Osmos, developed and published by Hemisphere Games.
The Good: Simple controls, clever use of gravitational physics, informative yet minimal interface, three distinct game modes, procedurally randomized levels with constantly changing layouts, mostly fair difficulty, time scale changes for the impatient or careful, nice graphics and fitting musical score, quite inexpensive
The Not So Good: Requires high level of precision and patience, repetitive, lacks multiplayer
What say you? A high-quality gravity-based absorption puzzle game: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
A distinctive puzzle game is a hard thing to come by, as the genre is overpopulated with matching and click-management titles. So much so that it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of unique introductions for each and every puzzle game I review. Woe is me! The vogue things now are to combine several types of games together and to incorporate realistic physics to inject a sense of realism to the puzzling puzzles. That (I think) brings us to Osmos, a puzzle game that relies heavily on gravity as you guide your circle thing (I think we’ll call it an orb) around, absorbing smaller orbs in order to get big. It’s like Katamari in space. Or something.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Osmos is entirely in 2-D, but it has a nice minimalist presentation that highlights subtle graphics and music that should run quite smoothly on a wide range of systems (always nice for a casual game). The orbs have pleasing animations that make them appear to be living things; it almost makes you feel bad for absorbing them (almost). The backgrounds are a plain assortment of points of light, but honestly anything more detailed or varied would be distracting during gameplay. The haunting music selection is a nice arrangement of relaxed tunes fitting for the game’s setting. Sounds are subtle and effective in their occasional use. In all, Osmos has minimal graphics and sounds done right.

ET AL.
Being the nice orb-thing you are, your job in Osmos is to inappropriately touch smaller orbs and absorb them in order to increase in size. It’s survival of the fattest! This is done through three game modes, each with their own unique idiosyncrasies. The more relaxed ambient mode puts you in the middle of lots of orbs of varied sizes that are commonly given some initial speed to make things interesting. The force mode puts everything in orbit around a massive central mass (I believe it’s called “Valerie Bertinelli”) for some neat astronomical physics effects. Finally, the sentient mode introduces five AI enemies that are also competition to attain maximum size. They have a range of skills, from lackadaisical to aggressive to speedy to really tough. The forty-seven levels all play differently in terms of aggressiveness and how fast you can (or should) move, and the replay value is increased as you can randomize the initial starting positions somewhat (it’s procedural) of other objects with a simple button press (Alt+Z). For only $10, this is the amount of content I would expect, but online competitive multiplayer would be a fantastic addition (hint, hint, developer!). Maybe for Osmos 2: Uranus’s Revenge.

So maybe Osmos doesn’t sound terribly difficult: just avoid big things and make your way to the smaller objects, right? Well, not so fast, my friend! Moving expels mass, so you must make very precise and careful movements, or the target you were aiming for might become larger than you, derailing your entire plan. Luckily, the minimal interface does a terrific job clearly showing which orbs are smaller and can be absorbed successfully with blue and red shading. Moving your orb involves placing the mouse behind you (initially counter-intutive) and pressing the mouse button. Other controls allow you to influence time, letting you speed up during boring parts when you are waiting to slowly traverse to a target, or slow down during those times that require the utmost precision. Osmos is quite a strategic game, because you can't move too much or you will decrease in size: you really need to plan ahead in order to be successful. The game is challenging even without a time limit, because of the number of other orbs and the fact that the layout is constantly changing because orbs are absorbing other orbs, altering the forces. Changing the time scale is a godsend, because the game rewards patience and otherwise Osmos would be completely impossible (instead of nearly impossible). You have to be really aggressive in the beginning of a level, since other objects are combining and slowly (or not so slowly) becoming larger than you are. The game, especially in the same game mode, can become repetitive, so Osmos is best in small bunches. A single level can last quite a long time, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Still, this challenge will reward more experienced gamers looking for a different puzzle experience.

IN CLOSING
Osmos is unique and varied enough to make it a distinctive puzzle game. The control scheme is very straightforward, making the game easy to learn. Each of the three level types comes with a different approach, from a more relaxed and exacting approach to aggressive, chaotic levels. Osmos ships with forty-seven map layouts, but each can be randomly generated using a script for essentially infinite replays. The underlying strategy is quite interesting: since your overall goal involves becoming the largest object (or large enough to successfully absorb a target orb) and moving expels matter, you really have to plan ahead and make smart moves. This makes the game quite challenging despite the lack of an artificial time limit, as many layouts require precise moves. Luckily, you can accelerate time as you wait for your orb to sllloooooowwwwly move across the screen. Your AI competitors don’t make things any easier, as they are trying to become the largest object as well. Their high skill level compensates for the lack of competitive multiplayer (hello, Osmos 2?). The interface clearly indicates which orbs can be absorbed without cluttering the screen. The high difficulty might prevent some people from accessing the later levels and fully enjoying the game and the levels do become repetitive, but Osmos is still great value at an inexpensive price point. The game is definitely worth it for fans of the genre and those looking for a quality casual game.