Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guns of Icarus Online Gameplay Review

I'm playing Guns of Icarus Online, a team-based online airship combat game by Muse Games.

The game features a handful of maps, each with obstacles such as clouds and grounded objects so you can hide from and sneak up on your opponents. Guns of Icarus Online features three classes for your airman: pilot, gunner, and engineer. You can choose three abilities in your class, and one from each of the other classes; this allows you to focus on a role but provide assistance if needed in other areas. There are several ship layouts (small, speedy, weapons-filled, balanced) and the captain can customize the ship’s weapons. Learning the ship layouts is part of the game: you run around in first person, manning guns and repairing systems, which increases immersion significantly. The game has a strong focus on teamwork, as one person cannot physically do everything on their own. The pilot at the helm is in charge of steering while controlling speed and altitude. He can also spot enemies (it is difficult to tell who is on which team) and give orders to assist the other players. The gunner is in charge of the weapons, which include rocket launchers, flak cannons, mortars, flamethrowers, and gatling guns. The engineer can also come over and temporarily buff weapons (or any other system) to increase performance. The engineer must also extinguish fires and repair the ship’s armor, engines, and balloon. The chaos of battle is exhilarating, as each person scampers around the ship, fulfilling their role and taking down enemy ships. Guns of Icarus Online is a brilliant idea executed well enough to have an engrossing team-play environment.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hotline Miami Gameplay Review

I'm playing Hotline Miami, a top-down puzzling shooter by Dennaton Games and Devolver Digital.

While the game certainly plays out as a typical top-down shooter, the map layouts and overwhelming odds means there are some puzzle-like attributes as well, as you formulate and execute your strategy for each chapter. The game features fifteen multi-story buildings you must clear of all enemy units, each with predictable (or semi-random) AI patterns and doors you can use to ambush the enemy. There is an odd story that is described between missions. Hotline Miami does not save your progress during a mission if you exit the game, which is really disappointing since it is quite difficult. Enemies spawn with a variety of weapons (knifes, pipes, bats, pistols, shotguns, rifles, bottles, swords, and more), and all of these can be thrown as part of your tactics. Since each non-melee weapon has limited ammunition, you’ll be switching items often. Melee kills do not warn nearby enemies of your nefarious deeds (the bloody, dead bodies aren’t enough of a giveaway, apparently), so usually you’ll go for silent kills until you can funnel the remaining opponents through a narrow doorway. Before each mission, you can choose a mask (additional masks are unlocked throughout the game) that grants a subtle bonus, like faster movement speed or lethal doors. The controls use the WASD keys to move and mouse to aim, a fine combination that would have been better with the inclusion of mouse sensitivity settings. The retro graphics are memorable and the gore adds a level of disturbing brutality. The soundtrack is very well done and marries well with the neon hues and fast pace of the game. Hotline Miami has very high difficulty since everyone is a one-shot kill (including yourself) and you are usually outnumbered fifteen-to-one. Still, the game doesn’t feel unfair, as there is always some way to dispose of the enemies, and the level design makes more than one plan plausible. However, the boss battles are tedious and out of place, slowing the pace of the game considerably. Overall, Hotline Miami is a great mix of top-down shooting and careful planning, though its high difficulty may discourage some.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Elemental: Fallen Enchantress Gameplay Review

I'm playing Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, a fantasy role-playing 4X strategy game by Stardock Entertainment.

This is a semi-sequel offered for free to early adopters of the first Elemental game, War of Magic. It’s obviously similar in approach (a 4X game with role-playing elements) but much better overall thanks to streamlined mechanics, added content, and a more accessible interface, among other things. Starting a new game offers good hero customization and rules options; victory conditions include conquest, diplomacy, researching the top spell, or completing the final quest. While the tutorial is terribly short, there is extensive in-game help with short movies describing each game mechanic. The interface features plentiful tool-tips, a handy city and unit list, and event icons that need accompanying sound effects. Fallen Enchantress also has more varied graphics than War of Magic, although the ground textures are still blurry. The cloth map is a good way to play the game faster and figure out what all of the locations are. Founding a city is now restricted to locations that have grain, although you can construct an outpost near resource sites scattered around the map. Each city can specialize in population, defenses, or research, and will get a different selection of buildings based on your choice. On-map resources can be reaped by nearby settlements, so there is some planning in where to place your towns, rather than resorting to city spam. The technology tree has been streamlined and offers several paths in civics, warfare, and magic. Spell variety has also been drastically increased, and the spellbook is much more organized, placing magic into unit, city, strategic, and tactical categories. Diplomatic options remain the same, with specific values to assist you in getting the deal you want. The world of Fallen Enchantress is full of roaming monsters and loot, both of which can be farmed for experience, money, and items. There are also many quests to undertake, but they lack variety and usually involve defeating some powerful enemy. You will also encounter other champions you can recruit (for a price); all heroes level up with combat experience (unlocking a choice of skills) and suffer injuries when defeated in battle. Improved equipment can be purchased for your heroes once researched, increasing their stats. Fallen Enchantress also has many more default units to choose from, so you don’t feel like you have to customize a new soldier every time research is completed. Tactical combat is improved because of more interesting spells and unit abilities, but still a little bland. The multithreaded AI is strong and efficient and provides a capable foe. Though still complex and requiring trail-and-error to discover optimal strategies, Fallen Enchantress is much improved over its predecessor War of Magic and features a pleasant combination of role-playing and 4X conventions with enough variety to keep the game fresh.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome Gameplay Review

I'm playing Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome, a the latest DLC for the fantastic character-driven grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive.

This mini-expansion focuses on the Byzantine Empire by providing more events for rulers controlling that specific country. In addition, each Orthodox nation now has its own patriarch (like a Pope), so you can more easily influence religious favors (excommunication, for instance). The final major addition of Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome is a standing army: you can now have permanent troops and only have to pay for their reinforcement. The remainder of the improvements advertised for Legacy of Rome are actually included for free with the latest patch (1.07) for the base game. Most significant of these is the introduction of factions: organized pockets of rebellion in your lands. Instead of each vassal revolting separately, they can now become organized by supporting the same goal (a different succession rule, an elective monarchy, lower crown authority, granting a specific title, or independence). This results in more powerful rebellions you must contend with. Coupled with the standing armies, you are now limited to recruiting troops only from your direct vassals. On a more personal level, there are new self-improvement ambitions (increasing a specific trails through events) and you can now have one plot and one ambition simultaneously. Combat now emphasizes a new series of commander traits that give bonuses for battles on specific terrain types (flat, rough, mountainous, desert), so a little more thought must be done in assigning your leaders. But again, most of the improvements are free for owners of the original game, so the actual amount of exclusive content in Legacy of Rome is quite low. Unless you really love the Byzantine Empire, or really want to have standing armies, Legacy of Rome isn’t worth even a modest monetary investment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ravaged Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ravaged, a vehicle-focused online first person shooter game by 2 Dawn Games and Reverb Publishing.

This team-based shooter is online-only, as it does not have any single player content or a tutorial to teach the nuances of the combat. There are two game modes (capture the flag and conquest) that take place on eight maps of varied sizes. Each of the two factions get slight different weapons and vehicles, the latter of which include ATVs, buggies, trucks, 4x4s, tanks, and helicopters. Some require skill to pilot successfully (especially the helicopter) and all handle plausibly well. You cannot drive and shoot simultaneously in most vehicles, which emphasizes team play. There are five classes in Ravaged: the scout (with a light machine gun), assault (with a rifle), explosives (with a grenade or rocket launcher), sniper (a choice between a rifle or crossbow), and the heavy (with a machine gun). Using the rifles is straightforward, but the rockets experience significant gravitational drop that makes them require more skill to operate effectively. All classes get a secondary weapon, a melee weapon, and another item like grenades or mines. Ravaged doesn’t make you unlock weapons as there is no persistence or progression in the game (just old fashioned murder). You cannot “lone wolf” in Ravaged (again, placing emphasis on team play), as the rocket launcher is necessary to take out vehicles, but that class is useless against infantry. In addition, you can spawn on your squad leader to get in the action more quickly, so teamwork is definitely highlighted. Ravaged is fast-paced, thanks to speedy vehicles and low soldier health that makes for quick, deadly engagements. When the maps are populated, the gameplay of Ravaged makes for a refreshingly chaotic experience. Ravaged has found a nice middle ground between the “twitchy” Quake/UT shooters and the slower-paced Battlefield games, filling a comfortable niche between the two extremes.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Retro City Rampage Gameplay Review

I'm playing Retro City Rampage, a nostalgic open-world combat parody by Vblank Entertainment.

The game takes its cue from Grand Theft Auto, mixing in inspired mini-games and plenty of references to gaming and the 80's and 90's. The story mode is where the main part of the content is located, with over sixty varied missions that offer driving, shooting, and more esoteric activities like swimming and rhythmic exercises (among many others); between missions, you can taxi people around or play arcade adaptations of popular indie games. Shops can be used to purchase weapons, alter your appearance, or upgrade your vehicle. Also included in the story mode (or accessible from the main menu) are over forty arcade challenges that offer objective, weapon-specific, and story-based goals with online leaderboards. There is also a generally pointless free roaming mode that loses direction without missions to complete. Controls are terrible: the WASD and arrow keys are used for movement and shooting, a clear adaptation of a dual-stick system. It does not work well with needlessly cramped inputs and you cannot change any of the control settings; using the mouse to shoot would have offered a vast improvement in this area. Weapons include standard (pistol, shotgun, submachine gun) and exotic (the proton pack from Ghostbusters) options, and the vehicles, though occasionally difficult to control, are varied in their characteristics. You can also find power-ups to increase running speed or cloak from those pesky police officers. The game usually has a breakneck pace and offers the next mission in quick succession, always keeping you busy and wondering what wacky adventures await. Despite shortcomings in the control scheme, Retro City Rampage offers a lot of content (for the price), varied missions, and humorous references to expand upon the classic open-world formula.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Worms Revolution Gameplay Review

I'm playing Worms Revolution, a turn-based strategy game by Team 17.

The latest entry in the venerable franchise starts with thirty-two scripted campaign scenarios, including a slow, laborious mandatory eight-mission tutorial, and twenty puzzles where you must eliminate all of the enemy combatants with one unit. There are also deathmatch, fort, and classic modes (with none of the new features) that can be played against the AI or online. As before, your worms can be customized in appearance, and the map editor allows you to create custom layouts if the random maps aren’t good enough. New features in Worms Revolution include water that flows down hill, a worms receive damage if submerged. In addition, objects that can poison, flood, or explode when destroyed are present; they can also be moved around (using two of the new utilities in the game) for added variety and strategy. Also new are classes: in addition to the standard soldier, you have a scientist that heals the team, a fast-but-fragile scout, and the slow-but-robust heavy. New weapons are available that take advantage of the new features (like water bombs and UFOs to teleport objects), while the classics also remain (like the iconic holy hand grenade). The AI is deadly accurate at anything above brain-dead difficulty, so you must be precise with your shots. The sound design is noticeably improved, and while the worms and weapons have gone 3-D, the map textures are blurry and low-resolution. Still, Worms Revolution offers a slight step forward for the franchise at a reasonable price, as the new water, objects, and worm classes add just enough to justify purchasing the game.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

War of the Roses Gameplay Review

I'm playing War of the Roses, a medieval third-person combat game by Fatshark and Paradox Interactive

The game is light on features, with only two game modes (team deathmatch and conquest) and an atrocious offline training mode that features poor organization and tips combined with awful AI. When you join a battle, the first objective is to choose a class; at first, only default loadouts are available (footman, crossbowman, longbowman, and footknight), but you can eventually design your own class when you have logged a couple of hours of game time. The customization options are strong: you can select from a wide range of primary and secondary weapons (swords, axes, clubs, spears, polearms, lances, bows, crossbows), armor, helmets, daggers, and shields with varied options. You also get to choose perks that grant offensive, defensive, support, or movement bonuses, or benefits for your squad. Controls are typical for a shooter-type game, though the mouse wheel does not switch between weapons. Melee combat is performed by holding down the left-mouse button and then swinging the mouse in the direction you wish to attack (top, bottom, left, or right). You can hold down the button indefinitely (although you move very slowly while doing so), which makes for the mechanics more unrealistic. Holding down the right-mouse button blocks in the same four directions, and lowering your visor restricts vision but offers greater protection. The result of this method of attacking is a lot of random swinging by newcomers and successful blocking by veterans; landing a victorious blow (attacking from a direction that is not being blocked and landing the swing on an unarmored part of the body) is rewarding, although luck is some part of the equation. It usually takes several hits to incapacitate an opponent, so most battles involve slowly circle-strafing your opponent, holding out your shield, and waiting for help to flank them. The combat certainly takes practice, and without a serviceable offline component, most new players will be at a distinct disadvantage to experienced players. Using ranged weapons comes with their own liabilities: the bow is inaccurate and causes little damage, while the crossbow takes a long time to reload. Mounted combat is not very popular, likely due to the map design that lacks large open areas to gallop through. If you receive damage, you may bleed, which requires using a bandage for five seconds before you bleed out. If you are knocked down, you are not out: you may be executed by a member of the opposing team (a long five-second animation, during which the execution can be interrupted) or revived by an ally as you lay helpless on the ground. The executions are brutally effective, shown from a first person perspective as your opponent stabs you in the eye. The unorganized chaos of battle is not helped by the ability to spawn on your squad leader: you can be in a tense one-on-one battle, but then another opponent magically appears nearby and unbalances the contest. I did not care for the style of combat War of the Roses has to offer, as I felt that the limited control scheme makes aiming too difficult: the third-person perspective leads to confusion since you have to use the camera angle to both aim and see. The bare functionality, slow pacing, and combat shortcomings limits the appeal of the brutal, methodical battles of War of the Roses.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

MechWarrior Online Closed Beta Preview

I'm playing the closed beta of MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play robot shooter by Piranha Games and Infinite Game Publishing.

This is the shooter half of the new MechWarrior games that are in development (the other being MechWarrior Tactics, a strategy take on the BattleTech setting), which centers on online deathmatches where you attempt to destroy hulking metallic behemoths. Step one is to choose your mech: there are four starting configurations that new players can pick from. There are a lot of mechs that can be unlocked using in-game cash, but they are too expensive to purchase unless you invest a significant amount of time in the game or pay real money. Despite the large array of available mechs, there doesn’t seem to be any hands-on customization at this point. You can add abilities to your pilot using experience points, which somewhat offsets the apparent lack of mech design. Matches are short (under ten minutes); currently only the “assault” mode, which is deathmatch with a base that can be destroyed (although this never happens before one team is completely eliminated), is available. With only one life per game, pilots will generally use the terrain to hide and strike in groups. Enemy units are spotted for the entire team, which makes covert action even more important. The controls have a learning curve: your current view is independent of which way your mech is facing, and you determine speed and must manually slow down. MechWarrior Online has several weapon classes to choose from (lasers, machine guns, missiles), and you can assign weapons into groups so they all fire at one time for maximum carnage. The damage model is impressive, with individual parts (arms, legs) receiving harm and occasionally becoming removed completely. This also disables weapons mounted to destroyed parts of your mech, which can produce strategic aiming to immobilize specific enemy systems. Heat output must also be managed, so you cannot fire you weapons constantly when under enemy fire as your mech will be disabled for a significant amount of time. The graphics and interface are also done well, immersing you into the futuristic environment. Since the game is free-to-play, you can try it out for free when the open beta begins. Overall, the game delivers solid robot destruction, although some aspects of the free-to-play model are irritating and the game has a learning curve to overcome.