Sunday, September 30, 2012

Skylight Gameplay Review

I'm playing Skylight, a procedurally generated jumping game by Moment Studio.

The randomly generated levels Skylight provides adds replay value, although the general layout patterns and steadily increasing difficulty stay the same; a bonus mode is unlocked when you complete the base game. The controls are typical for a first/third person game (WASD to move and the mouse to look), and you can toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. The goal is to bounce on each platform, navigating between them without falling. Landing on each platform produces a note, but the frequency of these sounds is not high enough to make memorable, user-generated music while you play. Piano notes bounce higher, cracked platforms can crumble, and glowing platforms grant an additional life. As you climb, the sky becomes darker and a head-mounted flashlight is used to see where to jump, adding to the high difficulty of the game. I found Skylight to be quite challenging; partially due to my ineptitude but also due, I think, to inexact, slightly inconsistent jumping physics. However, those interested in a challenging, casual, randomly generated jumping game will find their $2.50 well spent.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Blue Libra 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Blue Libra 2 , a real-time strategy game by Orator Games.

The game features a thirty-three level campaign where each mission clocks in under ten minutes in length. Each level has a scripted layout and you can’t repeat previously completed missions. A difficulty level can be chosen at the beginning of the campaign, but cannot be altered once you start. Between missions, you can unlock research options that award more command points, faster production, increased attack or defense ratings, or enhanced range. There is no single player skirmish beyond the campaign, although Blue Libra 2 features online multiplayer, but only if you know your opponent’s IP address in advance. The interface is clearly designed for touch screens, but it works well enough with a mouse. Unit paths are drawn on the screen, and splitting groups is accomplished by drawing while holding the shift button. Units are automatically placed in fleets for easier management, and rally points can be assigned to quickly move units as they are built. Units are built automatically as soon as the planet-specific resources are available, which also reduces micromanagement. Your planets and mothership can be upgraded, which increases damage and production speed, but prevents buildings units for a significant amount of time. Planets provide more units and asteroids automatically ship resources to nearby worlds. Units have specific roles on the field of battle and automatically engage any enemy unit in range. Game balance is almost ruined by the static defensive emplacements that cause too many damage and are captured too slowly. The AI is a competent foe, sending appropriately-sized fleets to vulnerable planets. While Blue Libra 2 is relatively simplistic, it is a fast-paced, streamlined, manageable, approachable, and challenging real-time strategy game.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, a skateboarding game by Robomodo and Activision.

This game is a remake of Tony Hawk 1 and 2, the latter of which originally came out for the PC in 2000. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD features some notable skaters, though fewer than the original versions and with no create-a-skater mode to expand the content. The game centers around the career mode, although there are also pointless single session and free ride modes, in addition to some more exotic rules unlocked during the career. There are seven levels culled from the original games, unlocked by completing objectives in each map. Unfortunately, unlocked maps are per-skater only, which is annoying but new things open up pretty quickly. The trick shop allows you to use money earned by completing objectives to purchase new moves. Most notably, the PC version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD does not feature any multiplayer: no LAN, nothing online, not even split screen. This is a very disappointing limitation that’s partially justified in the PC version’s lower price. The game also lacks the park editor, another missing feature of the original series. The controls are as they were: grinding, grabbing, ollies, and flipping are all a button press away. The game seems to progress at a slower pace, as I was unable to string together more than about two aerial tricks in a row; I am unsure whether this is due to slower skater speeds or sluggish animations (or poor skill on my part, of course). The level objectives involve attaining score levels, grabbing the elusive DVD, collecting the word “SKATE” and other objects, and performing specific tricks in precise areas. The map shows all of the locations of the collectables, which takes exploration out of the game if you want it to. While Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD runs at a fixed HD resolution of 720p, clipping and inconsistent collision physics and animations make it feel like an older game. The levels themselves look almost identical to their twelve-year-old counterparts, with no added effects to make the presentation more contemporary, and the soundtrack features a mix of old and new songs. While Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD does bring back nostalgic feelings about the original titles, it is a cheap (both in terms of price and quality) replica of those classic games. The lack of multiplayer and tedious unlocking of new content are significant shortcomings, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD feels archaic when compared against more recent Tony Hawk skating games. It is a mostly faithful remake of the first two games in the series, but it's missing several features found in the originals and adds nothing new to the formula to compensate.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Alea Jacta Est Gameplay Review

I'm playing Alea Jacta Est, a grand strategy game by AGEOD

The game covers an interesting period of history: the Roman Civil Wars. Each of the six scenarios (a satisfying amount of content) has two or three fighting factions, with the objective to earn the most victory points by killing enemy units and holding important cities. Compared to AGEOD’s last effort, Pride of Nations, Alea Jacta Est has a more manageable scale and much shorter turn resolution. The tutorial just teaches the basics and instructs the user to read the manual for more information, and multiplayer can only be played by e-mail. The interface is very familiar to any veteran of AGEOD games, receiving no major enhancements. As before, units are organized into large groups containing several to many individual units, and each element is very detailed in its attributes. Leading each group is a commander that also has very detailed attributes that affect movement and performance in battle. Taxes are spent recruiting new units onto the field, and a range of decisions can be made to influence specific territories. Supply lines must be kept, and combat is completely automated but detailed. The AI seems to play the game decently well and is aggressive when needed, while defending when appropriate. While Alea Jacta Est plays very similarly to other AGEOD games, those with an interest in the time period will find their money well spent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

March to the Moon Gameplay Review

I'm playing March to the Moon, a role-playing action shooter by Califer Games.

This single player game has eight levels in each of four acts, each of which has scripted enemy encounters that reduces replay value. March to the Moon does have impressive customization options: twelve classes (like flame, alchemy, and runes) with nine active and passive abilities each are available, which gives a lot of freedom in choosing your particular skills. There are some repeated themes in the abilities (a basic attack, area attack, improved weapon damage), but some unique abilities are also seen in each class. Eventually, you can pick an additional class, creating a unique character exhibiting different strategies each time you play. The controls for the top-down game are intuitive, and the constantly scrolling screen keeps you moving. Mana must be managed, so tactical use of your most powerful spells is important. The varied enemies (rats, bats, orcs, snakes, robots, and powerful bosses) each have scripted behaviors, but come in high quantities to keep the action constant and the pace flowing. Difficulty can be very high, especially if you choose uncomplimentary abilities. Overall, March to the Moon provides solid value at a $3 price point for fans of a challenging top-down shooter with extensive role-playing skill options.

Monday, September 17, 2012

F1 2012 Gameplay Review

I'm playing F1 2012, a racing game by Codemasters.

Since I previously reviewed last year’s version of the game, this video will primarily concentrate on what’s new. First, the twenty-four drivers and twenty tracks of the 2012 season (including newcomer Circuit of the Americas and returning circuits Bahrain and Hockenheim, with Turkey being removed) are included. The game strives, and succeeds, to be more approachable, with a new Young Driver Test tutorial mode that is done well, and narrated strategy information videos accompany each track. The new champions mode offers multi-lap challenges to pass a specific past champion, and the season challenge cuts the number of events in half while giving you a rival driver you can swap rides with if you defeat him on the track. The multiplayer options remain the same, but the removal of Games for Windows LIVE is welcome. The races offer no noticeable changes to the AI, damage model, or handling, not that any were needed. The improved weather system soaks specific areas of each track, which can produce some interesting racing and important decisions regarding tires. The outstandingly detailed graphics remain and perform quite smoothly. The new game modes are meaningful additions, but owners of last year's F1 effort will find it hard to justify spending $50. Those drivers new to the series, however, will find a rich, approachable simulation well worth the asking price.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tryst Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tryst, a real-time strategy game by Blue Giant Interactive.

The game is more straightforward and more polished but less innovative than the developer’s previous RTS title APOX. The game’s focus is on multiplayer, but there is a three-hour campaign to learn some of the mechanics. The skirmish mode, which can be played against AI bots or online, gives standard customization options, but there are only a few maps and two races. While the humans are very typical in their approach, the alien race allows you to combine some units on the battlefield to produce a more powerful variant, allowing you to change your strategy quickly without having to fully invest in new troops. Tryst has a very fast pace, where you must capture resource points to afford new units and structures. Each map includes annoying environmental hazards, like hostile plants and lava, that cannot be destroyed. Buildings are placed to unlock new units, for defense, or to increase the population cap. The flexible research tree provides several bonuses for each unit in the game, which allows you to tailor your upgrades to the specific units you use the most. All units will run out of ammunition, so you must capture an energy resource location near the enemy base to have any chance at a successful assault. Resource buildings are way too easy to capture, done so quickly even with a single unit. Conversely, the enemy headquarters is way too hard to destroy; even if you have an insurmountable lead in resource and unit production, it is exceedingly difficult to take out an opponent, due to high HQ health and manual ammunition resupply. Tryst is very susceptible to stalemates, which needlessly increases the amount of time it takes to determine a victor. The AI is competent enough at the game, as I was unable to tell the difference between human and computer opponents during online matches. Overall, Tryst is an approachable real-time strategy game that features a number of questionable design decisions that reduce its appeal.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

FTL: Faster Than Light Gameplay Review

I'm playing FTL: Faster Than Light, a spaceship management roguelike by Subset Games.

It's a “roguelike” because it's very challenging and purposely unfair, with permanent death to seal your fate. This approach makes every victory taste better, and the sting of losing a really good ship hurt even more. The game features procedurally generated maps, so you’re never quite sure what you will encounter: nebulae (that disable some ship systems), asteroid fields, plasma storms, and solar flares, just to name a few. Also included are trading ships and short quests (usually just warping to a nearby location for a resource reward) as you jump towards the exit of each sector. While you start out with a standard ship design, there are eight others that can be unlocked by completed multi-step quests. FTL does not offer the user the ability to crease custom ship layouts, though. The tutorial does a decent job teaching the basics of the game, and cooperative multiplayer could have added even more chaos to the already hectic formula. During your time commanding the ship, you'll manage the crew, weapons, and energy distribution. Your energy budget can be distributed to shields, engines, oxygen, the medical bay, weapons, cloaking, or a teleporter, all of which are housed in separate rooms on your stately vessel. In addition to the cockpit, sensors, and doors, all of these locations can be disabled by damage and fire, and your crew will have to run around repairing things, fighting aliens that have teleported in, and putting out those pesky flames. Assigning specific target rooms for your weapons is easy, although manipulating the door system can be a bit picky, an issue when you are attempting to quickly vent out the oxygen to extinguish a widespread fire. Resources earned by destroying ships and completing quests can be spent upgrading your systems, adjusting the characteristics of your ship toward the abilities of your crew and your play style. Overall, FTL is a fantastic adaptation of rouglelike conventions to a great theme that is immediately engaging with the panicked chaos of running your ship.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bust-N-Rush Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bust-N-Rush, a procedurally-generated running and jumping game from Techtonic Games.

The game offers an objective-based “quest” mode, an infinite (until you die, of course) survival mode, and a mode where you can challenge your friends if you have any. Bust-N-Rush does not have real-time direct multiplayer, but does offer a high score list for that method of comparison. The procedurally generated levels go a long way towards making this an interesting game, since you never know which obstacles will come up next. Each map has three lanes to run down with blue objects to smash, red obstacles (lava, barrels) to jump over or move around, and special items (flipping gravity, speed increase) to vary the action even more. The difficulty level adjusts how much damage you receive by touching a red object. The objectives add another layer to the game, instructing you to destroy specific objects, collect items, jump over things, or survive for a set amount of time. The simple controls are approachable and easy to manage, though I would like “run” to be on by default to decrease the constant use of the “W” key, as the game is best played when the action is fast and/or furious. While Bust-N-Rush is a very basic game, it is enjoyable in short bursts and executes its vision well.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Starvoid Gameplay Review

I'm playing Starvoid, an online real-time strategy game by Zeal Game Studios and Paradox Interactive.

The game is basically a light version of Defense of the Ancients, where you primarily control a hero and (here’s the difference) manually summon creeps to fight by your side. The game only has three maps with three game modes: capture bases, capture bases in a slightly different way, and team deathmatch. Starvoid has quick match durations, with a single game clocking in a ten minutes. The game is entirely online with no single player content to practice with. The online servers also seem to be in Europe, as the poor pings and subsequent lag is noticeable and negatively impacts the gameplay. New items and abilities can be unlocked as you play; while you level up quickly, most of the interesting content is reserved for high-level players, so you must use one of stock characters to be competitive early on. It’s disappointing that there is a significant amount of customization to be had that is needlessly locked away from beginners. There is a commander for each play style (assault, ranged, stealth, support), and you can summon one unit of two or three different types simultaneously, which really limits strategic variety. The limited unit count does reduce micromanagement, however. Eliminating an enemy commander will remove all of their summoned units from the game, so that is the primary objective. Starvoid utilizes RTS-style controls with helpful tool-tips and unit descriptions, but lacks a “select all” shortcut, which makes for some very tedious unit selection. Battles are usually a chaotic mess, and the few special abilities and units you can control really limit your options during the bland combat. In the end, Starvoid offers streamlined gameplay that doesn’t offer enough variety to hold interest for very long, especially early in the game.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Gimbal Gameplay Review

I'm playing Gimbal, a multiplayer arcade space shooter with custom ship designs by 8888888 Labs.

The game is meant to be played online, but you can play against bots that are competent enough, though they do not retreat when outnumbered or near death, and don’t fly in erratic patterns, making it easy to eliminate them from a distance. Joining a game is easy using the included browser, and there are plenty of options (respawn time, collision damage, air density) to customize a hosted match. The seven maps, with additional smaller versions, offer obstacles that do impact the game (and impact your ship, if you run into them). The objective is to destroy the enemy carrier, or eliminate the most enemies before time runs out. Money is earned by getting kills, which can be spent customizing your ship design. The ship customization is well done, with lots of parts you can place on your ship, allowing you to quickly create something that appeals to your play style. Players can get really creative with their designs as well: someone made a crazy spinning disk that fired bullets in all directions, for example. Ship damage is also intriguing, as individual parts (and the things attached to those parts) cease functioning, resulting in a progressively crippled ship. The interface shows nearby enemy ships spotted on radar, but doesn’t do a good enough job differentiating friend from foe. The combat is interesting from the overhead perspective, featuring powerful weapons and the aforementioned damage model. There is a learning curve when dealing with the game’s physics, but ship customization allows you to equate your ship with your driving style. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Gimbal, as the combat is brutal, the damage detailed, and the ship customization is meaningful and flexible.