Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stronghold 3 Review

Stronghold 3, developed by Firefly Studios and published by 7Sixty.
The Good: Multifaceted economy and production, robust castle construction, two campaigns, multiplayer, map editor, online leaderboards, you can make candles!
The Not So Good: Very few innovations, atrociously challenging and no difficulty settings, excruciating slow pace, imprecise mouse input, repetitive mission objectives, occasional bugs, light on content
What say you? Little more than a visual update of the classic series with many new issues: 4/8

This review also appears at

UPDATE, 11/23/11: Patches have fixed the mouse input issue, added difficulty settings, and allowed the user to adjust the game speed. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
While most strategy games has you go on the offensive, sometimes it’s fun to play the defender, carefully preparing your protection to fend off the unwelcome visitors. The ever-growing tower defense game cashes in on this concept, but I would argue that its origin was seen in the original Stronghold, an entertaining combination of harvesting resources, building castles, and dumping hot oil on unsuspecting enemies (I still remember the game addressing you by name, and reminding you when it was getting late). This solid first outing was followed by a series of increasingly disappointing sequels, but the “reset” button has been pressed in the newest iteration: Stronghold 3. Hoping to add more polished gameplay with updated graphics, does Stronghold 3 revive a series on the defensive?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Stronghold 3 transitions to 3-D with mixed results. The highlight of the graphics is the physics-driven destruction: castle walls plausibly fall towards the ground, which is much more effective than scripted degradation. This goes a long way to making some impressive combat where chaos reigns supreme. The buildings aren't the best thanks to some bland, low-resolution textures, and the terrain features too much green terrain and not enough detail. Animations are obviously repetitive but effective enough, while the units themselves are small but distinctive. Stronghold 3 features pop-in (namely grass and shadows) when zooming in, even when set to “ultra,” and objects clipping through each other (namely massed military units) is much too common. The interface hasn't changed much in ten years (in fact, the build menu is identical): while I like the concrete breakdown of your approval rating, the minimap is terribly uninformative. In addition, the using the mouse for orders is inconsistent: sometimes you need to point below a unit, sometimes above, and sometimes directly on them in order to attack, which allows units to completely ignore nearby enemies simply because you can’t figure out where to point (this adds significantly to the game difficulty). Stronghold 3 also suffers from the occasional crash to the desktop and oddity, like the inability to change the screen resolution from the main menu (it must be done while playing a mission). The sound design is nothing spectacular: appropriate battle sound effects with over-the-top and repetitive voice acting when units are selected. The music is appropriate and entertaining, however. While some aspects of Stronghold 3's graphics shine, most is a assortment of highs and lows.

ET AL.
Like previous titles in the series, Stronghold 3 features both military and economic campaigns to fulfill both sides of the castle management equation. In the eight economic scenarios, you must collect a specific number of goods within a time limit. In the seventeen military missions, you must take over enemy castles (or defend your own) within a time limit (usually). The variety leaves a lot to be desired, and the story isn't interesting enough to pay attention to. You are supplied some optional hints before you begin, which are recommended because the scenarios are outrageously difficult, typically involving extremely high resource requirements, brief time limits, and magically spawning AI at the most inopportune times. Of course, you are not offered any difficulty settings to tailor the game towards your experience level. Hey developer: who are you to say how good I will be at your game? Does everyone have the same level of skill? I would think not. And the developers seem to have completely missed the mark for me, as I was unable to beat any of the scenarios except for the first one (luckily, I edited the profile XML file so that I could play all of the missions without having to beat the previous one). In addition, Stronghold 3 does not feature time acceleration; not only does resource collection take a really long time (thanks to multi-step processes that are each executed at a snail’s pace), but you could be wasting your time since you might not pass the scenario anyway. Stronghold 3 does feature a neat online leaderboard, complete with a map displaying where each score originated around the globe, for the lucky few that have experienced success.

Beyond the twenty-five campaign scenarios lie (only) two free build maps with no objectives, (only) five historic sieges where you can attack or defend, and the ability to create your own custom maps using the editor (buried in the Steam install directory) and then play them. Stronghold 3 also comes with multiplayer for four player deathmatch; a patch expected soon will add additional game modes (king of the hill and capture the flag) and more maps (beyond the four current offerings) for up to eight players. Finally, Stronghold 3 has a decent tutorial to teach the basics of the game to newcomers.

The key to success in Stronghold 3 is to have a thriving economy. It takes lots of work to make an imposing castle! Raw materials (wood, stone, iron, and oil) must be gathered (very slowly) by peasant workers and carried back to your stockpile. Additionally, everyone must be fed, so apples, cheese, meat, and bread must be grown and processed (wheat makes flour makes bread) at different buildings. It can be difficult to determine exactly how much food is being produced and consumed, as the numbers change in real-time as items are produced; there is no access to long-term average to figure out whether you can increase the rations. Any resource deficiency can be traded for using the market (at a huge expense, though), and estates that (rarely) dot the landscape can be captured for supplemental goods. Peasants must be housed, and the game determines which house you want to construct based on (I think) the distance from the keep. Peasants cannot be reassigned in their jobs, so if you need more stone than wood, you have to completely shut down the woodcutter and hope the peasants choose the quarry instead. Upgrades are earned by having banquets, and those require even more specialized goods like venison, vegetables, honey, wine, and clothes. Tax income in the form of gold is used to purchase troops (you must also produce each weapon at a specific building from the raw goods).

In order for people to move in to your quaint castle in the woods, you should make a happy little village by supplying food, beer, and church (the three pillars of medieval society). Churches now require candles (produced by a chandler), so that’s something new to worry about. Of course, you can choose to be a total jerk and adorn your castle with torture devices and severed heads. Why? Even though the cheerfulness will obviously suffer, your minions will work harder. If you can afford the happiness hit (by lowering taxes or providing more food), you can get those peasants to produce faster. Occasional events (rain, sun, wolves, bears) can also have a daily impact on the happiness of your settlement; these are nice touches that make you scramble just when your economy is balanced. It is difficult to keep things flowing smoothly, as it’s very easy to “crash” your economy by not producing enough of something, causing people to leave, preventing you from producing that particular good even more. If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was all in Stronghold 1, outside of the candles, vegetables, and estates. I wish Stronghold 3 brought more innovation than that to the table.

Stronghold 3 gives you all the tools needed to construct your temple of solitude while storming others. Walls, gates, towers, bastions, traps, moats, ditch, oil, logs, and flaming arrows are all there, and you are given a good amount of freedom in constructing your castle, and connecting walls, gates, and towers is straightforward. Military units are created by manufacturing the weapons and then outfitting spare peasants with those tools of death. Typical medieval choices are present: bows, crossbows, spears, pikes, maces, swords, and armor. Units are controlled using typical RTS-style commands: group selection, stances (aggressive, defensive, and stand ground), and movement orders (attack, move, dig moats, use ladders, and, of course, launch cows). Formations are poorly implemented: square and line groups will not move at the same speed, negating the point of placing units in formation in the first place. Your AI opponents are good enough, attacking vulnerable portions of a castle and then using appropriate units most (but not all) of the time. You’ll mostly be battling the clock and resource requirements, though.

IN CLOSING
Unfortunately, Stronghold 3 doesn’t add anything significant to the series. Candles are required for churches, honor is needed for upgrades, and estates can be captured (when they are rarely placed) around the map to secure some additional resources, but the remainder of the game is virtually identical to previous efforts. While this will appease fans of the series, you would also like to see something dramatic and pioneering in a sequel beyond a simple graphical upgrade. Stronghold 3 centers on collecting raw materials so you can make food, buildings, defenses, and weapons to repel enemy attacks while keeping your population happy. The relationships consist of several steps (like wheat to flour to bread) produced in different buildings, but they are easy enough to grasp. A variety of defensive structures and military units are available, and the open-ended nature of castle design is appreciated. The direct relationship between your economy and military makes providing a solid fiscal footing important, which is generally impossible given the high, unwavering difficulty of the game coupled with the ease at which you can completely destroy your economy. The multiple campaigns highlight either the production or combative portions of the game, and the objectives are repetitive and, frankly, insane. You can't adjust the difficulty to your liking, and thus you must obey the stringent, unrealistic requirements bestowed upon you by the developers. If you are not completely efficient, you'll have to retry missions time and time again. The ancillary features are brief: two free-build maps, five historic sieges, and multiplayer that may feature non-deathmatch modes in the future. The game is also rife with curiosities such as infrequent crashes and imprecise mouse-driven attack orders that really compound the difficulty. Personally, I'd just rather spend $6 on Stronghold than pay eight times that for disturbingly similar content and difficulty issues.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars Review

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars, developed by 3DIVISION and Games Farm and published by bitComposer Games and Kalypso Media.
The Good: Accessible controls, robust multiplayer modes
The Not So Good: Brief missions with repetitive mission objectives, subpar AI, lacks realistic simulation options, no dynamic campaign
What say you? This thoroughly arcade flight simulation has a disappointing campaign but decent multiplayer: 5/8

This review also appears at

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Once a hallmark of PC development, the flight simulation has seen better days. Since Microsoft shut down their development house, few notable titles have been released, and those that have (such as Cliffs of Dover) have failed to live up to expectations. Enter Air Conflicts - Secret Wars from developers 3DIVISION and Games Farm, the former being the author of arcade flight simulation Attack on Pearl Harbor (a game that, not surprisingly, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars has a lot of similarities to). The game is primarily set during World War II, but introduces some planes from The Great War, jet aircraft, and rockets, so that you know for sure it’s not trying to be totally authentic. Will Air Conflicts - Secret Wars soar like the majestic eagle, or stay grounded like the stinky ostrich?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars are mixed. This game will inevitable gain comparisons to IL-2 Sturmovik, a game that’s (can you believe it?) ten years old. Sadly, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars pales in comparison to that historic, ancient title on the graphics front. The plane models are detailed and authentic, as expected in any flight simulation, though damage is less precise: smoke and little bits flying off the body when shot, but nothing too meticulous. Machine gun fire have pleasing tracers that fill the sky, though the explosions are only passable. The biggest area that needs improvement is the terrain: bland desert, forest, and snowy environments have poor textures with cookie-cutter urban environments dotting the landscape. Weather effects are underwhelming, and flying into the sun causes a really annoying red tint to fill the screen. On the sound front, the weapon effects are appropriate and dramatic music fills the air as you aim your sights at the enemy. Air Conflicts - Secret Wars lacks radio chatter and the voice acting is forced. Overall, the presentation of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is below the $30 asking price.

ET AL.
You are a mercenary pilot, daughter of a famous flying ace, soaring through World War II for fun and/or profit. Flashbacks to your father’s Word War I escapades makes things slightly more varied as you traverse through the game’s seven locations, each containing seven missions each. This might sound like a lengthy campaign, but each mission typically takes less than ten minutes to complete and your objectives are repeated over and over again: fly here, kill these units, find this place, escort him for a while. Some of the missions in the campaign are stealth-based, where you must avoid white circles indicated on your radar display; these are more annoying than challenging. I quickly lost interest in finding out where the campaign went next. The missions are very easy on any difficulty setting, even when you are commonly outnumbered. In addition, you unlock the next mission in a set order: Air Conflicts - Secret Wars lacks a dynamic campaign that would make it feel like you were contributing to a larger conflict. You cannot save your progress mid-mission (although there are occasional checkpoints if you die), but since the missions are never very long, it’s not really that big of an issue. If you encounter an especially annoying mission, you can skip two scenarios during the campaign.

In addition to the repetitive campaign, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars features a skirmish dogfighting mode where you can take on the enemy AI by yourself, attaining a specific number of kills or surviving for a period of time. Far more interesting is multiplayer, which is the most complete feature of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars. There are four games modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a mode where you try to destroy ten enemy tanks while protecting your own) in twenty-four locations, all of which are fairly entertaining. The game host can set a time limit, types of permitted aircraft, and weather conditions. You can only have up to eight pilots at a time, which is probably why I found multiplayer to be almost entirely lag-free, if you can connect to the player-hosted servers. You can also join a game in progress, a welcome feature that means less waiting for online flight combat. However, the pervasive high plane health that plagues the campaign also impacts multiplayer: getting one or two kills in a five-minute session is usually the best score.

Several control methods are available for piloting your winged craft of doom. I prefer using the mouse for more precise aiming, but you can also use the keyboard (yuck), a gamepad, or a joystick. Controls are what you would expect for an arcade flight simulator: a non-complicated method with no dials to fiddle with, just movement and speed options. Your weapons include traditional machine guns and bombs with more exotic rockets (an important part of World War II?). The machine guns do overheat, but do so slowly: unless you continually hold down the “fire” button for thirty seconds, you’ll never have to worry about it. You are also given adrenaline, which slows down time so that you can aim more carefully, and a radio-based location thing that pulses faster when you get closer to an objective. The heads-up display (which you can disable) gives you a lead indicator for enemy planes to make engaging the opposition easier, and lower difficulty levels actually include automatic aiming: get anywhere near the lead indicator with your reticule and your guns snap to the correct position. Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is clearly aimed at a novice crowd, at least until you amp up the difficult and disable the visual help.

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars features sixteen planes from World War I, World War II, and beyond. The fighters, bombers, fighter-bombers, and jets are differentiated according to firepower, speed, agility, and endurance (health, I think). The arcade flight model makes any of the planes very easy to fly: while you can see differences in turning radius and speed, I never found any a challenge to operate, and it’s impossible to stall unless you decrease the throttle significantly or fly straight up in the air. There is a small amount of red-out when pulling G’s, but nothing to significantly obscure your view. While Air Conflicts - Secret Wars does offer a “simulation” mode, I’d be hard-pressed to say what, exactly, it does, other than making you stall more. In either case, your plane takes an incredible amount of damage, even on the toughest setting. This might be a good thing, however, as the enemy anti-air guns are insanely accurate. The AI is poor on any difficulty setting: while they will engage you on occasion, they fly slowly and rarely perform evasive maneuvers as you fill them with led. The allied units aren’t any better and provide little assistance; for example, escorted units simply fly in circles (instead of fleeing towards base, as the objectives clearly state), waiting for you to destroy all of the enemy aircraft yourself.

IN CLOSING
Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is an average arcade combat flight title, and that's all it is. Those whom crave more accuracy in their flight sims will be very disappointed that no options exist to tailor to their specific desires. I would rather have the game appeal to both crowds by offering accessible controls, or more realistic handling if desired. There is a “simulation” control option, but the only thing I think it does is make you stall more. As it stands, you get planes that can withstand a tremendous amount of damage, simplified flight physics, and unintelligent AI opponents that love to fly slowly so you can destroy them easily. This is independent of the difficulty setting: even on ace, the game never makes things even close to being challenging. Artistic freedom is also employed in the weapons: World War II planes are outfitted with rockets and jet engines, plus adrenaline that slows time down so you can pinpoint your attacks. Despite consisting of almost 50 missions, the campaign features short, repetitive missions that get tiresome very quickly. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the comprehensive multiplayer features: there are multiple game modes on twenty-four maps, and you can join a match in progress at any time. While Air Conflicts - Secret Wars will definitely not appeal to the simulation crowd, the relaxed aeronautics finds a niche in the arcade realm of flight simulations if you love online action.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Orcs Must Die! Review

Orcs Must Die!, developed and published by Robot Entertainment.
The Good: Significant number of traps, item use restriction requires planning, challenging map layouts with multiple paths and trap placement freedom, small penalty for death
The Not So Good: Becomes repetitive, inconsistent difficulty, no cooperative play, can't save progress mid-level, more varied personal weapons would be nice
What say you? This third-person tower defense game thrives on its item variety and strategy: 6/8

This review also appears at

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
A popular fantasy antagonist is the orc: stinky, green, ugly creatures bent on the destruction of humanity. Oh who will defend the women and children against the incoming horde? Some wimpy elves and midgets with a magic ring? Hardly. The orcs must die, and it's up to you, equipped with a healthy collection of traps strewn about your castle, to dispose of them on a personal level. The title “Orcs Must Die!” leaves little to vague interpretation: place the traps and shoot the orcs in the head. How does this third-person take on the tower defense genre stack up?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Orcs Must Die! features some nice graphics for an indie game. The character models are quite detailed and animated nicely, from your hero to the roster of enemy units. The game is bloody without being overly gory, striking a nice balance. The levels are a little bland, as all of the maps take place in gray castles differentiated only by slight ambient color changes and the occasional vat of fire or acid. Your weapons and items are easy to discern based on visuals, and they are also animated well (burning orcs when using the fire crossbow is a nice visual...not for them, of course). The game features a fitting soundtrack and sound effects, though it tries too hard to be funny with the various lines the main character and enemy say (though I did find a couple of them humorous). Overall, I found the presentation of Orcs Must Die! to be quite solid with little room for improvement.

ET AL.
In Orcs Must Die!, you are defending rifts to the human world that are conveniently placed in maze-like castles. The game consists of nearly twenty-five levels, and each successful completion unlocks a new weapon or device, a good carrot to dangle in front of players. Uneven difficulty is present: commonly, there are hard levels followed by much easier ones. A single level takes about ten minutes to complete, depending on the number of waves of enemies that will try to enter the rift. Unfortunately, you can’t save your progress in the middle of a level, a problem for people who tend to be interrupted during play time. Orcs Must Die! lacks cooperative play, but it does offer online scoreboards as motivation to go back and improve your plans in previous levels.

Orcs Must Die! works like a tower defense game, except you are also present in the level, able to assist your items in eliminating the orc threat with third-person shooting. Your arsenal is a bit limited: you are given ranged and melee weapons of various kinds (arrows, fire, electricity), but the game lacks interesting magic spells to vary your strategy much. You can push enemies into vats of lava or acid using the wind spell, but more diverse options are not present. You can spend points to upgrade certain abilities during each map, and each weapon has a primary and secondary ability, but I would like a little more variety borrowed from your favorite role-playing game.

Your primary role is to pick off orcs that sneak by your defenses, but you can also use your abilities in tandem with the innovative and varied selection of traps you can place in your castles. There are many items to choose from (once you unlock them during the campaign): explosives, close-range spikes, longer-range arrows, speed modifiers, things that get orcs airborne, crushing devices, and so on, that attach to the ground, walls, or ceiling. Points given at the beginning of each map and earned for killing orcs are spent on placing more traps, and you can also upgrade traps between maps using points derived from your score. You'll quickly find your favorite items (the arrow wall, for me) and use them every level while completely ignoring other items that are either useless or more expensive. Interestingly, Orcs Must Die! restricts how many items you can use at a time, so you really have to think about which traps work together the best on each map layout based on environmental items and hallway width. Orcs Must Die! is also one of the least restrictive tower defense games, letting you place things pretty much anywhere. A poorly executed plan will quickly become apparent as you panic to shoot the orcs that have made it way too close to the rift.

Orcs Must Die! is challenging without being too unfair, although, as I mentioned earlier, the game suffers from an inconsistent ramping up of difficulty. There are plenty of enemy types you will encounter: the basic melee unit, ranged fighters, flying monsters, large bosses, and fast (annoying) crawlers. The AI is obviously not too smart (on purpose), running over traps where they could easily go around them, but the map design allows for them to take multiple paths to the rift, so you must divide your attention, leaving other areas of the map open to assault. You can't sit back and let your traps do all of your work, so you'll constantly be taking shots at the enemy as they march through your fortress. The minimap helps in identifying areas of concern as you attempt to destroy everyone. Your character does take damage, but the penalty for death is thankfully small: you lose some cash and respawn instantly at the rift. This isn’t enough to lose a level for you, which is a smart design decision. You can reheal at the rift, but the penalty for death is small enough where it’s almost better just to die and take the small resource hit instead of walking all the way back there. While Orcs Must Die! does throw new items at you every new level, you've seen pretty much all of the game's tricks after the first set of levels, and only true fans of the genre will stick through until the end.

IN CLOSING
Orcs Must Die! is a nice variation on the tower defense genre. The game is highlighted by its varied arsenal of destruction: there is an impressive number of traps to place around each castle level, and the design of the fortress plays a large role in determining which traps you'll take in to battle. Since you are restricted in how many items you can use during each level, forethought is required before you even start placing things: which objects work best together on this level? Orcs Must Die! also gives you a good amount of freedom in placing your items as well, letting the player make the call. I would like to see more magic introduced into the player's arsenal, however, as you're only given basic ranged and melee combat options. The enemies require different approaches, with the flying, fast, and big types being the most problematic. The game's twenty-five levels suffer from some imbalance, as a really difficult level is followed by an exceedingly easy one. Still, the layouts are quite varied and usually offer multiple paths towards the goal that demand some advanced thinking and quick reactions to defend. I do prefer Orcs Must Die! over its direct competition Sanctum, thanks to its more varied arsenal of items and more complex map layouts. The repetitive nature of the genre does creep in after the first set of levels, even though you earn a new toy after every completion to keep you motivated. You can aim for the high score list and attempt to create the most efficient death creations, so Orcs Must Die! does have some replay value for fans of the tower defense genre. In the end, Orcs Must Die! is a slick combination of tower defense and shooting that falls victim to the repetitive shortcomings of the genre.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Off-Road Drive Review

Off-Road Drive, developed by 1C-Avalon and published by 1C Company.
The Good: Unique realistic take on off-road navigation, tough tracks with frequent obstacles, numerous locations and cars with minor tuning options
The Not So Good: Complex control scheme, tutorial gives incorrect instructions, no difficulty settings, iffy multiplayer hosting
What say you? This challenging and authentic off-road racing game offers realistic, measured driving: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
In addition to popular track-based racing like F1, a whole different world of off-road adventures exist, highlighted in games like the DiRT series. However, even then the races take place on roads and never really venture “off road.” To rectify this injustice, Off-Road Drive features off-road driving. Weird, I know! But now, it’s deep water, loose mud, and gigantic rocks, substances that were never really meant to be driven over. So it’s just you, your trusty 4x4, and the clock in a race to scale the highest mountain, wettest sand, and that spectator that’s looking at you funny.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Off-Road Drive are pretty good. First, the various tracks look like real-world environments, complete with plenty of detail: trees, rocks, hills, and high-resolution ground textures. There are some nice effects as well: mud gets squashed down by your tires (which changes the properties of the track) and thrown up on the screen, covering your vehicle in the process. Each of the cars are nicely detailed as well, with accurate (for fake cars) exteriors and interiors and animated drivers trying their best to navigate through the hazardous landscape. I will say that the default camera angle, because of the rough terrain, made me a little motion sick with how much it was bouncing around. The crowd that is standing dangerously close to an out-of-control motor vehicle cheers you on as you run head-on into another rock, completing the satisfying racing environment. The sound effects are decent, dominated by the generic and borderline-annoying music. Also included are seemingly accurate engine effects, environmental sounds, and some voiced instructions for the tutorial. Based on the strength of the graphics design, Off-Road Drive holds up to its $35 price tag with the presentation.

ET AL.
Off-Road Drive has you traversing the world’s most rocks/wet/hilly terrain in search for the fastest time to the finish. The career mode is quite extensive: six locations contain three or four championships of three races each, so you can spend a considerable amount of time checking off all the events. There are three types of races: timed sprints, points-based trophy runs, and sectional trials. In addition to the career mode, multiplayer is also present in Off-Road Drive, offering ten or so maps for each race type. You can adjust the number of laps, types of cars allowed, collisions, and number of players (up to four). I should report that I was not able to host any games, getting instantly kicked back to the main menu. As you will see, Off-Road Drive is a complex game, so there is a tutorial to teach you the basics. Unfortunately, the tutorial routinely says the wrong controls (like “LT” is accelerate, even when it’s “RT”), even on default settings. The on-screen prompts during the races are more helpful, but it’s difficult to recover when you start out on the wrong foot.

Off-Road Drive is far, far more than turn, accelerate, and brake. In fact, I’d wager to say Off-Road Drive is the most complex racing game I've ever encountered, playing more like a flight simulation than a traditional car-based title. In fact, Off-Road Drive is so complex that the game runs out of buttons on a gamepad, requiring the use of a modifier button to access some features. While you are carefully driving through the game, you’ll use more traditional options like four-wheel drive, lower gears, and the hand brake. However, you can also lock the wheel and axle differential, bleed or inflate the tire, and use the winch by selecting a tree and adjusting the power to prevent the tension from snapping the wire. One thing you should not use is automatic transmission: it does a terrible job shifting at the right times and using the correct gears. Figuring out when to use these tools is part of the challenge, made a little easier by on-screen suggestions at specific points in the race.

Off-Road Drive has twenty cars that unlock as you complete events, including sport utility vehicles, trucks, and buggies. They are distinguished according to torque, acceleration, handling, and off-road capability. You are given more tuning options to further tweak their attributes as well: different visual skins, suspensions to balance handling and off-road, and tires for hard, loose, or muddy terrain. The tracks throw all sorts of crazy challenges at you, from loose mud to deep water to sand to hills to rocks you are supposed to drive over. I assure you that you’ll get stuck. A lot. Heck, I got stuck in the tutorial. Since the races are timed events, you want to finish quickly, but not too quickly that you can’t drive over the barriers in your way. You must also stay on the racing line: there are time penalties, ironically, for going off the road. The AI is pretty slow (it's extrapolated from a single ghost car) and doesn’t mount a huge challenge unless you get stuck a lot; the lack of difficulty settings makes the track the only real obstacle.

IN CLOSING
If you’re looking for an authentic off-roading experience, look no further than Off-Road Drive. The advanced driving starts with the controls: you’ll need to handle four-wheel drive, wheel and axle differential, low gears, inflating tires, and when all else fails, the trusty winch. This is not a simple point-A-to-point-B racing game, that’s for sure: the challenging tracks feature a variety of tough conditions that you must navigate, introducing a strong element of strategy into your driving. The AI is pretty weak (the challenge comes from the tracks themselves), and since the game lacks difficulty settings, unless you get yourself stuck and rely on the winch too much, victory (or at least a good finish) is assured. The lengthy career mode takes place across the globe and features three different race types against the clock and AI ghost car. Twenty cars are gradually unlocked, offering different handling characteristics and minor tuning options. Multiplayer is also present, although I was never able to host a match. Learning the multifaceted control scheme is tough enough, but the tutorial constantly references the wrong commands (even on default settings), potentially confusing new drivers. Finally, the graphics are nice and put you in the mood for some off-road excitement. I think $35 is a bit steep for people who are only marginally interested in the game, but those looking for a different take on driving will find an appealing product.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dawn of Fantasy Review

Dawn of Fantasy, developed by Reverie World Studios and published by 505 Games.
The Good: Three game modes, can attack others online, large battles, competent AI, editor
The Not So Good: Unnecessarily drawn-out building and resource collection, shallow city management and diplomacy, generic fantasy units, bland quests, underdeveloped online features, terrible lack of thorough in-game documentation, bugs
What say you? An arduous pace and a lack of innovative strategy and city management makes this MMO one to forget: 3/8

This review also appears at

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
When the Moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love with steer the stars. This is the Dawn of...Fantasy? Yes, as I await a lawsuit by the RIAA for unauthorized use of song lyrics, it's time to delve into a new real time strategy game set in a fantasy kingdom, complete with humans, ugly green humans, and pointy-eared humans with long, flowing hair. But what's this, Dawn of Fantasy has added the ever-expanding “MMO” tag to my RTS? Indeed, as you expand your kingdom online, you can engage other human-type folk in epic battles of epic epicness. Epic! Does this permutation of strategy gaming serve notice as an original product?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The 3-D graphics of Dawn of Fantasy are decidedly mixed. The environments look great, with plenty of detail in the trees, grass, water, fog, snow, rocks, and forts that adorn the countryside. The units are worse off, with a mix of detailed models (notably horses) and blocks ones (the people riding the horses) with rough animations. Battles are large and can be impressive in their scale, with plenty of bloodshed to go around. The game doesn't zoom out far enough, however, so it can be hard to manage your troops. In addition, game performance is very inconsistent: it's usually smooth, but hiccups are common and definitely noticeable. The woes don't stop there: there is significant clipping between units (with your military moving right through each other), looping sound when loading a level, and various bugs, from randomly not saving quest progress to disappearing orders to your view not moving to where you clicked on the minimap. It all adds up to a unpolished experience that needs additional massaging in the future. The sound design is average: I found the voice acting to be better than I had expected, battle sounds to be repetitive, and music to be generically fitting to the fantasy setting. While Dawn of Fantasy does hit some high points in terms of graphical design, overall it falls short of true notoriety.

ET AL.
Dawn of Fantasy is a real-time strategy game taken online for massively multiplayer online enjoyment, featuring the ever-enduring struggle between Humans, Orcs, and Elves, three races that have never been featured in any fantasy game. Being an online game, you first have to initialize your client and check a list of files for integrity, a long process when patches must be downloaded. The main portion of the game takes place in the online kingdom, where you found a city and build new structures, hire troops, go on quests, and engage both human and AI enemy armies and towns. The first step is to pick two town traits, specializations that will accentuate the production of resources or troops in your village. Despite being online, a majority of the online kingdom is played solo: none of the quests can be completed cooperatively. While you can attack other players’ towns and troops, you can’t take control of their villages even if you successfully siege them, only receiving a token bonus of resources for all of your hard work. Thus, the persistent online world of Dawn of Fantasy remains static as nothing changes hands. The quests are repetitive attack or build tasks; just accept everything and you’ll slowly build up your town using the rewards for completing each quest.

There are two other game modes in Dawn of Fantasy. The first is kingdom wars, played offline against the AI, where you start with a city or two (depending on the size of the map you have selected) and must recruit troops, move armies, and take over hostile cities. In each city, you can tweak the production of the game’s resources, trade items, and heal or upgrade troops. Once you have a large enough army, you can march out into the wilderness and attack enemy towns, setting up camp outside the city limits to build siege weapons or recruit mercenaries. For neutral villages, shallow diplomatic options are available: monetary gifts, trade agreements, and alliances. The only real strategic decisions in this mode are how many troops to bring and where to bring them. The third game option is a skirmish mode that has you attack or defend a castle, given a set of troops you can partially choose before the assault begins. These encounters become repetitive after your first battle, since most castle sieges work the same way.

Dawn of Fantasy makes it exceedingly difficult to learn how to play. There is no manual and no tutorial, and the vague in-game documentation doesn't address half of the game mechanics. Despite the relatively straightforward nature of the game, I still expect a full explanation of how things work. The game does, however, include a scenario editor with scripting abilities so you can create your own maps and missions.

There are four main resources in Dawn of Fantasy: food, wood, gold, and stone. These are gathered by sending peasants to specific points on the map, and they will (very slowly) gather them up. Resource collection can be influenced by the weather: for example, crops aren’t gathered during the winter, so you must rely on hunting animals instead. While this might have been interesting in theory, in practice it just means more micromanagement. The buildings are generic and lack innovation: resource structures, unit producers, trade posts, and research facilities that are found in pretty much every strategy game. There are only superficial decisions to make regarding which building or upgrade to invest in next. The biggest problem with Dawn of Fantasy is time: it takes entirely too long to gather resources and build things. What is too long, you say? I’m gathering gold at the rate of 0.6 per minute, and it costs 412 gold to build a barracks. So, it will take around ten real hours to afford to build it, and then another eight real hours to actually construct it. That’s how long I’m waiting to get troops (not to mention the additional resource cost and build time for each squad of units). Who is going to tolerate that? Not me: I actually would like to play, instead of waiting almost an entire day for no reason. Does waiting make the game more strategic? No. Does waiting make the game more fun? No. Does waiting make the game more immersive? No. What it does is make me hit the “exit game” button more quickly, and play something else (or go on a vacation) while I wait for my workers to collect gold and build things. I doubt a lot of people will choose to go back. Dawn of Fantasy practically begs you to log in for a couple of minutes, queue up a building, go on one quest, and then leave for the rest of the day. You really need to have more than one kingdom running at a time to cut down on the boredom. There’s been many times I simply can’t do anything because I have to wait hours for resources and/or buildings that I need to make the armies to finish the quests. There’s a reason that we’ve never seen a strategy game where it takes half a week of real time to build a military unit.

Speaking of military units, Dawn of Fantasy does feature some massive battles thanks to the use of squad-based groups: a single goblin raider, for example, actually consists of 30 units on the screen, amplifying the amount of carnage seen during battle. There is hardly any difference between the three races, as everyone has access to the basic unit types: melee, cavalry, ranged, and siege. Dawn of Fantasy uses the classic melee-beats-cavalry-beats-ranged-beats-melee balancing (I hope I have that right), so it’s pretty easy to figure out whom to attack with what. Units gain experience over time, and their health or attack can be upgraded. You are given some basic options for formations, mainly spacing for your infantry units to lessen the impact of ranged fire. Combat has some issues, of course. It can take a couple of seconds to units to notice nearby enemy units before engaging them, a problem when so many units are in a gigantic group and it’s difficult to give specific attack instructions. Also, pathfinding is very inconsistent: you can have two units leave from the same location going to the same destination and take completely different routes. While the game does provide a handy listing of all your military groups along the left-hand side of the screen, peasants disappear occasionally for some reason and they cannot find resource locations that are out of their field of view (so you must move them near a gold mine before ordering them to mine gold). The AI seems to be OK, although it’s hard to tell when most of the land battles involve a huge mass of units clipping into each other and the sieges are equally as messy. Still, I found the AI to be competent in storming a castle and engaging my troops with appropriate counters, so there are no obvious shortcomings here.

IN CLOSING
Dawn of Fantasy plays like a poor-man’s version of Stronghold. The addition of online components is only mildly interesting: you can attack other armies and towns, but you can’t keep the towns and the game clearly focuses on single-player quests and town expansion. I can’t emphasize enough how slow the game is, with resource collection and building construction literally taking hours, if not days, of real time; I suppose you are meant to undertake quests (or sleep) while the house takes fifteen minutes, the blacksmith takes six hours, and wood is gathered at the rate of one log per minute. When it takes several real-world days to be able to afford your first units, people are certain to lose interest. Sure, this makes the game technically have more longevity, but that doesn’t make it better. The three races (Humans, Orcs, and Elves) are indistinct and vary little in their overall strategy: each side has access to the usual types of units (melee, ranged, cavalry, and siege) that gain experience over time. The AI seems decent enough and the battles are quite large, but lack complex strategy. The military-driven kingdom wars mode and siege-heavy skirmish games are both forgettable alternatives to the online kingdoms. Dawn of Fantasy is also hard on new players, as there is no tutorial, no manual, and poor in-game documentation that barely covers the game’s mechanics. The graphics are impressive when zoomed out, but the textures and model animations fall short when viewing the battle up close. In addition, Dawn of Fantasy suffers from an unpolished presentation, with performance issues and other assorted bugs. Dawn of Fantasy also lacks a unique feature to grab your attention: there is frankly no reason to join the war in Generic Fantasy World #322. The exceeding slow pace, common units and buildings, and superfluous online features hinder Dawn of Fantasy’s appeal in the strategy market.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Game of Thrones: Genesis Review

A Game of Thrones: Genesis, developed by Cyanide Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive.
The Good: Multiple victory conditions that rely on prestige, easy access to a number of fighting and peaceful units that allow for strategic variety, competent AI, helpful interface
The Not So Good: Unique mechanics are too numerous and largely confusing with a hectic pace that complicates unit management and town control, uninspired campaign, sub-par generic graphics
What say you? A real-time strategy game where war takes a back seat to covert actions and territory control, if you can manage all the options: 5/8

This review also appears at

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Apparently, there is this really popular series of fantasy novels by author George R. R. R. R. R. Martin. I had, of course, never heard of it until it appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly seventy-three times (supplanting the usual cover rotation of Twilight, True Blood, and The Hunger Games), but it is popular enough to spawn an HBO series. Plus, if Sean Bean gets beheaded, it must not be all bad, right? Of course, it was just a matter of time before the series became adapted in computer form, and thus we have A Game of Thrones: Genesis. After a series of vague screenshots and really uninformative trailers, this strategy game hopes to do what strategy games do best: strategize! So come along with me, mount a dragon, and see what A Game of Thrones: Genesis has to offer.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
For a game with a well-known license, the graphics of A Game of Thrones: Genesis are bland and unimpressive. A distinctive fantasy setting does not come through, and it feels like A Game of Thrones: Genesis started as a generic fantasy strategy game and then acquired the license far along in development. Nobody walking by the game would say, “oh, that’s Game of Thrones, isn’t it?”. The terrain varies between green and brown, with some nice coastal and mountain features, but all of the towns and castles are identical in appearance. The units are very small and usually can’t be identified based on appearance (I have to rely on the icon flags); the game doesn’t allow you to zoom in very far, and all battles lack a majestic feel because of this. The combat itself is bland anyway, with sporadic animations when units engage each other. While the graphics fall short, the interface is good: all of your units are listed along the left-hand side of the screen, and right-clicking on an object always performs the appropriate action for that unit. The only thing I would add is a subtle indication of idle units, but other than that, it’s easy to find your units. Like the graphics, the sound design lacks the level of quality you’d expect from a licensed game: the voice acting and the music are both generic at best. I would have expected a better atmosphere in A Game of Thrones: Genesis, but the game certainly does not deliver.

ET AL.
A Game of Thrones: Genesis has you controlling one of the houses of…Genesis?...in an attempt to ascend to the most prestigious family in all the land. The single player campaign consists of twenty missions that serve as glorified skirmish games with the occasional objective (obtaining a specific number of alliances, for example). Usually, though, it’s the same as playing a skirmish game except the sides are unbalanced (usually against your favor) and there is the occasional scripted event. The story is uninteresting and lacks the literary fervor of the source material. In the skirmish mode (house vs. house), the first house to one hundred prestige wins (which will usually happen before you eliminate all of the enemy lords and heirs, unless you take a military-heavy approach). The game supports up to eight players on fifteen maps of varying sizes, and the map layouts are generally the same theme: towns and castles that radiate out from each home base. Multiplayer is also supported using the same features as the skirmish mode, and it’s easy to find and join match lobbies online. Finally, the tutorial teaches the basic use of each unit (the first couple of campaign missions mirror these instructions), although the manual gives more strategic information on how to win the game.

A game of A Game of Thrones: Genesis consists of three phases, like a boiled-down version of a 4X game (there are a lot of similarities). The first is expansion: you don’t build any structures, but send envoys out to towns and castles to align them with your side. This gives you more income so you can afford more units. Each town has a pre-set character that determines their likelihood of forming an alliance with you or other houses that fit certain conditions (like the family that has the lowest income or fewest allies). You’ll also have to send peasants to farms to make food for your troops, but merchants that travel between mines, towns, and your home castle are automated. Having units to these tasks allows you to cut-off enemy supply lines by killing merchants and peasants, which is pretty cool.

Diplomacy is a huge part of A Game of Thrones: Genesis, and the gist of it is to guard your towns and castles from the enemy while taking over theirs, earning prestige along the way. The first house to one hundred prestige wins the game, so you can win without actually declaring total war on anyone. You can earn through four methods: forming the most town and castle alliances, killing the most enemy units, earning the most income (which usually results from having the most alliances), and controlling the most religious buildings. You can also earn small amounts of prestige by completing small, randomized missions the game throws at you. You can also lose prestige by having bastard sons discovered, attacking while at peace, or breaking alliances. To do these actions, A Game of Thrones: Genesis gives you a lot of non-military units to do your dastardly deeds. The first is the envoy, whose sole purpose is to bring neutral towns and castles under your alliance. If there is an enemy envoy already stationed there, your envoy automatically retreats all the way back to your castle, so scouting beforehand is important. If you would rather not have enemy envoys stealing your towns, you can send a noble lady or your great lord to get married in the village and form a blood alliance, which cannot be broken using envoys. However, spies can be spent to towns to form a secret alliance, which will send the income to your castle instead; you can only discover secret alliances by sending a spy to inspect a village. Spies can also be disguised as enemy units by sending them to a castle; then, the spy will act as an envoy or assassin, but then pretend they did they action the enemy ordered them to do. Rogues can be sent to towns to incite a revolt, which will eliminate the town’s income, or bribe enemy units to join your side. Assassins can eliminate a single unit, useful for taking out pesky spies or nobles. Finally, a litany of military units are found: men-at-arms, bowmen, horsemen, pikemen, and knights follow traditional rock-paper-scissors countering methods to determine a victor in battle. While more powerful (and more expensive) army units are only available during times of war, mercenaries can be recruited at any time.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis somewhat reminds me of Galactic Civilizations, where there are multiple paths towards victory, not just military might. You can choose to focus on spies, or assassins, or military units, or rogues. However, it can be difficult to keep a handle on which strategy to use: there is a counter to every strategy, but there are almost too many options at your disposal. It’s like the developers didn’t know when to stop adding new features. And since you must unlock each new unit before actually purchasing it, you cannot afford all the options, so victory may be determined by whoever got “lucky” and picked the right units to use. There were many times that I had a hard time keeping track of what was going on, which may be part of the point: you cannot keep tabs on everything, so an overwhelmed feeling is quite common. In order to keep up, you’ll need every unit to be doing something all of the time, a tall task for novice players. The spies make things so terribly confusing: you don't know which units and towns are actually yours until you use a spy to inspect them all manually one by one, and then you have to inspect them again and again just in case the enemy entered any secret alliances in the past couple of minutes. That's tedium defined. The AI is quite good, as they can manage all of the different aspects of the game in an efficient manner. I was routinely bested by the computer simply because they executed some strategy (using assassins to take out envoys, for example) that I did not notice and did not have time to counter. At least one of us can keep track of the game.

IN CLOSING
I’m glad that the developer took a renowned license resisted the urge to produce a cookie-cutter real-time strategy game, instead producing something that has a more 4X approach with multiple avenues towards victory and unique units to control. That said, the exotic nature of the game’s strategy makes for a steep learning curve that definitely takes some work to overcome. The balance of capturing towns with envoys, killing units with assassins, and secretly capturing towns and units with spies could be really interesting, if the fast pace of the game actually let you keep up with all of the units and places you have to micromanage. Keeping control of your towns by marrying off your women, using spies to uncover enemy secret alliances and go undercover as enemy units, and raising mercenaries to kill merchants and peasants would work well in a turn-based game, but in real time it’s too much to handle. You don’t have to fight the best to win (although war is usually inevitable), as there are several ways of gaining prestige in the game: controlling the most towns, and subsequently earning the most income, will also lead to victory. The AI is very good at the game, able to handle the many options and providing a great challenge to newcomers. The graphics are disappointing for a game with a distinguished theme, though the interface makes it easy to keep track of all your units. The campaign is uninspired, though skirmish matches and online multiplayer offer some longevity. The unique aspects of A Game of Thrones: Genesis are appreciated in a sea of same-old RTS games, but the unusual nature of the game, replete with too many choices, works to its strategic detriment.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Nuclear Dawn Review

Nuclear Dawn, developed and published by InterWave Studios.
The Good: Mix of shooting with light strategy, four classes with varied weaponry, neat HUD, multiplatform, balanced unlocks
The Not So Good: Very limited tactics for infantry assaulting enemy buildings, restrictive classes place you in a single role, shallow strategy component, unnecessarily drawn-out games, no AI bots (for now)
What say you? This first person shooter features a commander placing structures with a lack of flexibility and depth: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Albert Einstein famously said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but it shall be simulated in a first person shooter and real-time strategy hybrid called Nuclear Dawn.” That guy knew everything. Yes, Nuclear Dawn is another retail game born of a mod (another piece of evidence showing the importance of the mod community to PC gaming), following the path of the likes of Red Orchestra and Natural Selection. This particular title has most players shooting each other in the face, while one person on each time is the commander who can place structures to assist in destroying the enemy base. The computer gaming market is all about combining genres these days; I’m still waiting for my MMOFPSRTSRPG-adventure. Will Nuclear Dawn offer enough innovation to stand out in an ever-crowded shooter marketplace?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Nuclear Dawn features decent near-future graphics. All of the level designs are urban and maze-like, a necessity given the power-line-driven strategy model, and consist of generic metal buildings set in different climates. The characters are animated well enough but lack detail, with people encased in featureless armored suits. Both sides look identical from a distance, and I was only able to tell them apart using the game’s informative HUD. The HUD is probably the best part of the graphics, as it gives the impression of information superimposed onto your helmet’s visor, without being visually restrictive. The ammo counts are really helpful, appearing directly over your gun, and icons above friendly and spotted enemy soldiers show the interconnectivity of the future battlefield. The sound effects are commonplace: typical and forgettable weapon effects for each gun, little voice acting when units are spotted or buildings are under attack, and an annoying ear ringing when you die that gets plenty annoying. The game’s settings specifies a music volume, but I’d be hard-pressed to say when music was actually playing. Overall, Nuclear Dawn delivers a solid package for the price and indie-developer roots, highlighted by the futuristic heads-up display.

ET AL.
Nuclear Dawn features an eternal struggle between two factions, fighting over the urban outposts of the near future. The two sides are indistinguishable: they play the same, with the same classes and almost identical buildings, so it’s a matter of whether your favorite color is “red” or “blue.” Game modes. The “warfare” game mode involves destroying the enemy base by any means necessary (namely a rocket launcher), and there are plans to add team deathmatch in a future update. There are six maps in the game and all follow the same general pattern: a maze with resource points scattered throughout. The game supports thirty-two players online, but Nuclear Dawn currently lacks AI bots or a practice mode of any kind (there are plans to add them in a future patch). I think I would rather have terrible bots than no bots at all, so you can at least practice the game before jumping online. There are a series of tutorial videos that explain the basics, but newcomers will take some time learning the ins and outs of each class and weapon combination. Nuclear Dawn has unlocks in the form of gizmos: they provide more advanced ammunition, which is a small enough bonus not to impact the game, but still something for veteran players to enjoy. None of the advanced ammunition types are required to succeed, and you get access to all of the weapons and classes from the start. Finally, Nuclear Dawn works on both Windows and Macintosh thanks to its use of the Source engine.

Nuclear Dawn has four classes with ten loadouts total, so there are options for any type of player here. Weapons are tied to a specific loadout in each class, so there is no Brink-level flexibility here. The stealth class can cloak (for a fairly lengthy period of time) and comes in assassin (with a submachine gun) and sniper flavors. The assault class can spot cloaked enemies and can bring an assault rifle, grenade launcher, or sniper rifle. The support class has medics, engineers, and flamethrowers. Finally, the exo class has a chaingun or rocket launcher. The classes are very restrictive, and usually you are given a terrible secondary weapon to accentuate your primary role: medics get a machine pistol, engineers get a lowly shotgun, and the rocket launcher comes with a pistol. This lack of flexibility really forces you to work with your teammates, so there are definitely no lone wolves to be seen in Nuclear Dawn.

One commander per side can place buildings using resources collected from captured points. The most interesting aspect of the strategy half of Nuclear Dawn is the use of power: it is required for all buildings to function, and it must be distributed from your main base or remote power generators using power lines that obey line of sight (meaning they must “see” another pole to transfer energy). This means you can cut off a forward base by attacking the intermediate power lines: a fascinating option. The rest of the strategy game is disappointing, though: the commander can place forward spawn points, turrets, a research building that enables more advanced classes, and resupply depots, but that’s it. The basic strategy is to slowly expand towards the enemy base and cover chokepoints and spawn points with overly powerful turrets that have high health and high lethality (an annoying combination!). Buildings play such an important role in the game, especially defensive structures, but there are only two specific units (an exo equipped with a rocket launcher, or an assault with a grenade launcher) that can deal significant damage to them. This leads to a mid-game grind as neither side can dispose of the enemy structures in a timely manner, and the buildings are cheap and easy for the commander to construct. In addition, it takes too many shots to destroy a building, so it takes a considerable amount of time to slowly advance through the enemy structures, significantly and unnecessarily increasing the length of the game well past the point at which the victor is determined. Respawn times are also quick, so as long as you have the forward spawn base protected, reinforcements will always be ready to add to the deadlock. Soldier movement and health is varied according to their class, but death for any class except the slow-moving heavy exo is pretty quick. The use of forward spawn bases reduces the amount of running necessary to traverse the map and tends to concentrate the action more, at the expense of taking much longer to determine a winner. The maze-like, multi-story map layouts also keep you on your toes, and caution is suggested when nearing the next corner. Overall, Nuclear Dawn has a definite lack of balance because of the high building health and uselessness of the classes that can destroy structures in any other role. A tank has a machine gun to deal with infantry, but the exo in Nuclear Dawn gets a pistol? I realize why this decision was made: to make people work together. But that doesn’t make it a good decision.

IN CLOSING
There are two main issues I have with Nuclear Dawn: the lack of depth in the strategic game, and the narrow class restrictions. First, the commander has really limited options at his disposal: just expand outward using power lines to connect turrets, forward spawns, and research buildings that unlock a single new weapon per class. I wasn’t expecting an extremely detailed experience, but there are simply no interesting decisions for the commander to make, other than which of the maze-like paths to follow towards the enemy base. Nuclear Dawn has good variety of options in the game’s four classes, as each class has three weapon loadouts that perform a very specific role on the battlefield, from the siege exo that takes down enemy buildings to the assault medic that throws out health packs. That said, the role restrictions are severe, overemphasizing teamwork in the game. For example, the aforementioned siege exo (the best/only solution for enemy turrets and structures) equipped with a rocket launcher has a pistol as their other weapon. Hooray. Heck, the engineer in Battlefield 3 gets a carbine rifle to compliment their rocket launcher so they can at least do something if enemy units come near. Nuclear Dawn is all about placing buildings while removing the enemy’s, so it’s shocking that only two of the game’s ten loadouts can do any type of significant damage to enemy structures. This really kills the pace of the game and leads to a lot of stalemates in the center of the map until one side can break through. Even when one side has tipped the scale, there are so many buildings with so much health that it can take ten or twenty minutes of “clean up” to advance and destroy the enemy base: tedious. I will, however, compliment the game’s engrossing and informative heads-up display, the ability to play on both Macintosh and Windows machines thanks to the Source engine, and the low importance of gaining unlocks. Still, only coordinated teams will be able to conquer the world of Nuclear Dawn, and the strategy elements will leave tacticians wanting a lot more.