Friday, November 30, 2012

Miner Wars 2081 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Miner Wars 2081, a space adventure game by Keen Software House.

The campaign involves thirty-one scripted, action-heavy missions where you must fight the enemies that lie between you and an objective in impressively detailed levels. Missions are unfairly difficult (you are always greatly outnumbered by equally-powerful ships) and the save checkpoints are infrequent enough to be noticeable (long load times add to the frustration). You can play any of the missions cooperatively online, although this functionality has been hit-or-miss for me. Deathmatch is also possible, although I never observed anyone partaking in competitive games. The game’s physics are responsive (unrealistically quick deceleration) and the controls are intuitive using the mouse and keyboard. The HUD labels nearby ships and objects and displays a path towards the next objective, but lacks a futuristic sheen. The different ship types can fire a variety of weapons (mines, bombs, machine guns, missiles) and drones to attack the enemy. You can also drill into any of the game’s destructible asteroids and harvest rare resources, or take direct control of mounted turrets if needed. Ship armor and health depletes very quickly (thanks to numerous, deadly accurate enemy units), and ammunition stocks and oxygen supplies need to be replenished frequently (more often than there are pick-ups, of course). The persistent destructible levels honestly do little to enhance the fairly standard action-oriented gameplay: you don’t notice the asteroids slowly degrading when being repeatedly destroyed by the overwhelming force of the enemy. The linear mission design, unfair difficulty, and repetitive battles of Miner Wars 2081 make the game an also-ran in the realm of space adventure titles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Good Life Gameplay Review

I'm playing The Good Life, a boating management game by immersionFX and Iceberg Interactive.

In the game, you make money transporting tourists around tropical islands and collecting rent on purchased equipment. You are competing against a number of NPC opponents to accrue the most reputation, primarily earned by accepting bids from potential customers and delivering them quickly to their desired destination. Bid prices are automatically calculated based on reputation, so there isn’t any bargaining process to enhance the gameplay. There is a time limit for each task, which is usually easily attainable, and actually traversing between islands is a boring process. Controls are very typical for a boating game, though the map doesn’t make it obvious enough where the destination is located. In addition to moving tourists around, you can partake in diving quests, take photos or rescue civilians (by simply clicking), and avoid pirates and storms. Money earned through your taxi service can be spent on new boats (of the motor, sail, and yacht varieties) or real estate, both of which bring in additional income over time. Still, the occasional tedious side mission or bar purchase does little to break up the monotony of shuttling tourists around the islands of The Good Life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blood, Grain, and Steel Gameplay Review

I'm playing Blood, Grain, and Steel, a turn-based strategy game by David Walters Development.

The campaign game takes place on a strategic map where you move armies around, with tactical battles when units invade enemy territory. The goal is to take the enemy fortress (the two sides (red and blue) are identical), capturing territories along the way that produce grain each turn. Grain is used to purchase units for the battles, and it can be transferred between a province and an army, a sort of innovative manual resupply system that works vey well. You pick your units before each battle, so you can alter your strategy every skirmish (you don’t have to use three soldiers if you did last battle). The size of your army depends on the amount of grain you have in store (and unit use grain each turn as well), so keeping your armies well supplied is a must, especially after battles when they are depleted. Battles are slow, since only a single unit can move and attack each turn. Unit types include the standard soldier, fast rider, powerful-but-fragile infiltrator, captain paladin, ranged catapult, or supply depot. You lose the battle if the enemy destroys all of your supply depots, all of your paladins, or if you run out of grain because of the per-turn supply requirement (which allows you to effectively starve a stationary defender). Blood, Grain, and Steel uses a specific set of tables to calculate damage between units based on the units involved and the terrain of the conflict. Memorizing (or printing them out) is key to victory, as is analyzing the potential movement radii of each unit on the map. The AI, although inconsistent at times, does flank vulnerable units and understands the game rules fairly well. While Blood, Grain, and Steel has a very intriguing use of supply and some distinctive tactical battles with the varied unit types, most of the game is fairly bland. However, the game could appeal to strategy fans looking for a lighter take on the genre.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scourge of War: Chancellorsville Gameplay Review

I'm playing Scourge of War: Chancellorsville, a real-time historical tactical strategy game by NorbSoftDev, Matrix Games, and Slitherine.

This is a standalone expansion to Gettysburg and includes twenty scenarios covering the battles, each averaging an hour in length. All of the skirmishes have historical orders of battle and take place on one of three huge (25 square miles), detailed maps. The new battlefields have been supposedly optimized to improve performance, although I did not observe any noticeable improvement. Scourge of War: Chancellorsville also includes six multiplayer scenarios and a sandbox battle mode for essentially infinite replay value. The very enjoyable tactical combat remains, and the intriguing courier message order system and near-commander camera restriction (both optional) offer a level of unparalleled realism. Still, Scourge of War: Chancellorsville lacks some needed improvements: feedback for the courier system remains murky, and the AI still exhibits questionable and erratic pathfinding. The admittedly robust new roster of battles definitely offers significant value, and the package as a whole is recommended to newcomers to the series, but the $30 price tag may be tough to stomach as an expansion to previous Scourge of War products.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cargo Commander Gameplay Review

I'm playing Cargo Commander, a platform game by Serious Brew and Digital Tribe.

In the game, you traverse large structures in space searching for cargo containers, eventually discovering a sector key to unlock an additional set of levels. The levels are generated based on their name, which allows for high replay value with online high score comparison. Gathering new cargo types unlocks new abilities and upgrades. While each set of structures will collapse after an amount of time, a “journey” mode allows you to explore with no time limit. Cargo Commander does not have any difficulty settings, so you can get stuck if you happen to choose overly challenging layouts. The control scheme uses the WASD keys to move and the mouse to aim, which works well. Your character can shoot various weapon types (nailgun, shotgun, mines) at enemies that populate each room, and you can drill almost anywhere to make your own path between structures. Each room also has its own gravity, which adds a unique sense of disorientation as you explore. You can also float in space (until you run out of oxygen), which allows you to skip around structures and enter where you choose. There are some stability problems (occasional crashes plus instances of not finding the online server, losing all of your hard-earned progress), but the unique elements of Cargo Commander make it stand out in the platformer genre. Cargo Commander maintains originality thanks to its gravity-bending, randomly generated, destructible level design.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Space Colony HD Gameplay Review

I'm playing Space Colony HD, a real-time base-building strategy game by Firefly Studios.

The game is actually a re-release of the 2003 title with enhanced graphics, a free upgrade for owners of the original. The campaign mode offers specific objectives and scripted events, and the design of your base carries over to future missions, adding a sense of persistence to the proceedings. The galaxy mode offers a number of single missions with varied starting conditions and objectives, and the sandbox mode starts you out with a bare design and no restrictions or goals. Map and campaign editors are included to expand the game, and the voiced tutorials do a decent job teaching the basics. The interface does have some areas that need improvement: the bridge screen, which displays colonist information, oxygen and power supplies, financial information, and trade controls, should have been incorporated into the main screen (now that there is plenty of room at HD resolutions). The tool-tips are also insufficient: the skill icons specifically are in desperate need of detail when you mouse over them. Your colonists can have any number of nineteen skills, which allows them to run a particular building on your base. They will also need to attend to a number of needs (food, sleep, hygiene, entertainment), some of which may be of more importance to them. Gameplay involves constructing your base to excavate resources and defend against alien attacks, while placing structures to fulfill the various needs of your habitants. More exotic resources can be used to construct enhanced items, such as robot workers or improved medicine, and alien attacks (that will destroy buildings they encounter) will need to be repelled. While Space Colony HD does feel like an old game because of the interface and sprite-based graphics, the colonist needs, varied mission objectives, and chaos during alien battles makes the game a worthy base builder, especially at a friendly price.   

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Game of Dwarves Gameplay Review

I'm playing A Game of Dwarves, an exploration and building management strategy game by Zeal Game Studio and Paradox Interactive.

The game comes with a campaign that includes set map layouts and specific objectives and a tutorial to teach the basics of the mechanics. The quests usually involve digging towards question marks, rooms that contain enemies that must be defeated to advance to the next mission. A Game of Dwarves also includes randomly-generated custom games for enhanced replay value, although the number of options are quite limited. The interface needs improvement: tool-tips are lacking pertinent information, specifically dwarf needs, tile information, food usage, happiness justification, and specific feedback (why did this dwarf die?). The multi-level layout is also very confusing: you must switch floors to build, but the entire map below your current view position is displayed. Most of the game involves collecting resources to build objects, as you must feed your dwarves while providing sleeping locations. Happiness can also be increased by placing decorations, and you can trade an overabundance of one resource for another. Dwarves come in six classes that determine their role; a digger cannot fight enemy units, so careful planning and balancing of your population is important. You do not directly interact with your dwarves, instead issuing dig, move, and build orders that an appropriate unit will execute. This method would have worked just fine, except the AI has several shortcomings that result in undesirable behavior: units exhibit erratic behavior sleeping, fleeing from hostile units, attacking hostile units, and eating. Military units love to eat and sleep as enemy units are attacking your base and killing your units, and there is no way to alter their undesirable behavior. The game’s slow pace also means lots of waiting: even on accelerated time, the frequency at which units need to eat and sleep makes for slow underground expansion, as your digging expeditions are constantly interrupted. Because of the shortcomings with the interface and automated unit behavior, A Game of Dwarves is difficult to recommend.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Natural Selection 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Natural Selection 2, an online first-person shooter / real-time strategy hybrid by Unknown Worlds Entertainment.

Natural Selection 2 is an online game (although there are tutorial videos and a solo practice mode) born from a modification, with fleshed-out mechanics and vastly improved graphics (the unit models and level detail are especially notable). The interface is informative (especially on the marine side), with on-screen icons indicating nearby structures that need to be built and friendly units under attack. The two adversaries are distinct (although some of the same themes are repeated, such as building and unit roles), offering more traditional marines and an esoteric collection of alien beings. Resource points and secondary bases scattered around each map can be captured to unlock new weapons or better lifeforms. Each side has one commander who plays from an overhead perspective (like a real-time strategy game), placing structures, queuing research, dropping supplies, and alerting players of in-game events. The aliens spawn from eggs and can only build in areas covered with green infestation, placing defensive whips, cloaking shades, healing crags, and various upgrade structures that grant new abilities. In addition to the default wall-climbing skulk, the aliens can evolve into the healing-building gorge, the flying lerk, the stealthy fade, and the tank-like onos. For the marines, their structures must be powered, researching new weapons (shotguns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers) or items (jetpacks, robotic suits), in addition to quickly warping between phase gates and placing sentry guns for defense. The end result is a very satisfying competitive game that requires teamwork and coordination; Natural Selection 2 is best when the commander is barking out orders and the other players move together towards the next objective. The strategy components add a lot more meaning to the objectives: it’s not just “stand at this flag”, rather you are trying to build your economy to afford the weapons required to take down the enemy base. The map layouts are varied enough where multiple build strategies can be used (offense, territory control, upgrades, stealth), and the game balance seems to be fair. The fast-moving aliens and slow-moving marines provide an interesting balance, especially when most shooters just feature men with guns for both sides. Those looking for a more thoughtful shooter experience need to look no further than Natural Selection 2.