Friday, December 28, 2012

Waking Mars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Waking Mars, an ecosystem management platform game by Tiger Style Games.

The objective in each section of caves beneath the surface of Mars is to establish a functional ecosystem by planting seeds and growing complimentary exotic plants. Controls are intuitive, adapted to the PC (WASD to move and the mouse to aim). The cave sections are somewhat open-ended in where you can plant, and you can certainly create a non-sustaining or overly hostile ecosystem. Waking Mars also occasionally relies on more traditional platform level design (jumping, shooting) that are less interesting overall. Your health can be impacted by hostile plants or other obstacles. Overall, Waking Mars is an innovative game that offers something different than a typical platformer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Goodfolks Gameplay Review

I'm playing Goodfolks, a farming time management game by Hammerware.

The game involves running a farm: growing and harvesting food to make money and support your workers and animals. You are given several objectives, typically producing a specific resource or performing some other action on your farm. The land is divided up into tiles; first, you choose which crop to plant on each tile and then assign workers to clear the fields, plant seeds, and harvest the goods. You must click directly on resources when they are produced to add them to your inventory; you can easily miss items when your farm grows to several screens across. Workers and animals must be provided with food, which provide energy and happiness. There are some decisions to be made regarding which crops to plant and which tasks to assign workers to: sometimes you’ll need food, sometimes you’ll need to fulfill objectives, and sometimes you can use stockpiled resources to produce better-yielding crops. The interface is decent, highlighting idle and hungry workers, as well as available task locations. The game has a relaxed pace and offers a fast-forward option. Goodfolks isn’t the most original game idea and lacks advanced depth and tough decisions, but it is well executed for a casual time management game.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hairy Tales Gameplay Review

I'm playing Hairy Tales, an action puzzle game by Arges Systems.

The game features three environments with about twenty-five levels a piece (plus a tutorial), and you can skip any level that’s too difficult for your feeble brain. There are three goals in each level: you must clear corruption, collect mushrooms, and reach the exit. The in-game character will always run in a straight line, so you must place and rotate arrows, fences, and teleporters in their path to redirect them in the appropriate direction. You cannot rotate your view, which makes it difficult to see fence placement orientation. Rocks and trees are obstacles that cannot be moved, magic stones must be obtained before removing corruption, and enemies might be present that must be dealt with using various collectable items. You are allowed to adjust your layout while the character is moving, and you only have to collect or clear items once during your three lives (so you can purposely fail and clear the remaining items after a reset). The solutions are not as flexible as I would like, but the ability to fail and preserve what you have collected (and skip any level entirely) makes Hairy Tales more forgiving.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Eador: Genesis Impressions

I played Eador: Genesis, a turn-based fantasy strategy game, but the video recording did not work (twice). Nevertheless, imagine watching the game as you read my impressions:

The game was actually released in Russia in 2009, but only now has gotten widespread distribution with an English translation. Eador: Genesis is essentially a mix of Civilization, Disciples, and Master of Magic. A campaign with scripted objectives is present, along with single player games against multiple opponents utilizing randomized maps. Multiplayer is also available in hosteat and LAN modes. The interface isn’t terribly outdated, although some information is buried several menus deep and the low resolution graphics restrict the amount of data that can be displayed at one time. Hero units lead armies throughout the world, conquering new provinces and (hopefully) defeating other factions as well. Various buildings can be constructed in your stronghold province, unlocking specific units or upgrades. Your hero can also purchase weapons and items you have unlocked through constructed buildings, improving their stats. Troops of varying levels are also recruited based on which structures you have chosen to build. Heroes and their units gain experience during battle and can level up, giving you a choice of a permanent bonus to their attributes. Spells can also be researched and used in battle. Each province can be explored (which can activate tactical battle quests) or improved to bring in resources. Because of the randomized nature of the map generation, neighboring provinces can contain overly powerful defenders that can stunt your initial growth. The tactical battles are somewhat interesting with hex-based unit movement, spells, and special abilities coming into play. The AI is decent though not spectacular. Overall, Eador: Genesis is an enjoyable, feature-filled amalgamation of various turn-based fantasy themes at a very reasonable price.

Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord Gameplay Review

I'm playing Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord, a fantasy turn-based strategy game by Leszek Sliwko.

This sequel is turn-based, using an alternating system. There are two campaigns, each offering branching missions (you choose which is next) and units that carry over to the next scenario. The missions are quite challenging on the “fair” difficulty setting, offering scripted encounters against lots of enemy units. You can recruit new units between missions and upgrade existing ones based on the experience they have earned during battle. Beyond the campaign, Age of Fear 2 has online multiplayer (though you have to know your opponent’s IP address in advance, as there is no matchmaking) and offers the campaign missions as single battles you can play from either side. You cannot create true skirmish battles on randomly generated or predesigned terrain using units of your choosing. Age of Fear 2 also lacks an interactive tutorial, although the text-based help is decent enough. Age of Fear 2 is available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computer systems. The interface offers an icon-based list that displays units that can still move, allowing access to special abilities from said list. Age of Fear 2 does not support the mouse wheel for zooming in, nor does it have a minimap. Age of Fear 2 does feature an impressive array of units of varying skills and abilities, beyond simple health, attack, and defense ratings. Items can also be equipped by heroes when they are awarded after a skirmish. Each turn allows a unit to move then attack (if possible). Dice rolls and the attack and defensive values are used to determine damage success (a clearly displayed percentage available before you issue an order), so there is luck involved in the combat. Since the odds are almost always severely against you, a couple of poor dice rolls can mean the difference between success and victory. Age of Fear 2 features innovative moving restrictions that allow you to shield ranged or hero units from the enemy by placing stout protectors in between; this raises the tactical bar of the title and makes the combat more interesting. The AI continues to be solid overall as well. Still, Age of Fear 2 is not really a true sequel (more like an expansion pack), since it offers few upgrades (new campaigns, new units) for owners of the first title. That said, this incremental upgrade retains originality due to the movement-shielding mechanic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Minion Master Gameplay Review

I'm playing Minion Master, a card-based board game game by BitFlip Games.

The game features both single player and multiplayer games for up to six players, taking place on a number of board layouts that can be increased with the level editor. While Minion Master comes with several pre-designed decks, you can build your own; the interface is poorly done, lacking advanced sorting and search options. Cards either summon a new minion (unit) onto the board, or grant a bonus to a one or several units. Minions include fantasy (archer, dragon, knight, sorcerer) and horror (spider, zombie, werewolf, shaman) themes, and vary in attack, range, movement, defense, and health attributes. Minions also have different combat styles (area attack, line attack, trample) and automated tactics (attack close or strong enemies). You have some limited orders over your units (attack specific enemies or defend certain positions), which was initially disconcerting but actually works out well because of the number of minions involved and the tedium that would be required if you had to move all of them each turn. As it stands, Minion Master is a fast-paced game with simultaneous turn resolution to quicken the games even more. You earn mana each turn by discarding cards, and must spend it all the same turn, which makes decisions more immediate and interesting. The AI seems to be solid enough to be a compelling opponent. The cards and tactics of Minion Master are just varied enough to make the game appeal to fans of card-based board games.

Friday, December 07, 2012

AirBuccaneers Gameplay Review

I'm playing AirBuccaneers, an airship combat game by LudoCraft.

The game is multiplayer-only, lacking a training mode, a decent tutorial, and a meaningful written manual. There is no limit to the number of players that can man a ship, which allows for varied boarding and defending strategies, and there are a handful of ship types that alter the speed and available weapon mounts. Experience earned during matches can unlock new perks and clothes, based on the role you play the most (though there are no specific classes). Respawning allows you to fly to any ship on the battlefield and join the fight quickly. It can be difficult to tell the red-and-blue teams apart, especially against a lit background. The pilot controls the ship, placing the gunners in prime position for an attack, using boost for quicker movement. The ship controls are poor at giving feedback (current speed and direction inputs) and imprecise overall. Cannons have a large firing delay and lack an aiming cursor, which makes successfully hitting an enemy ship very rewarding though less satisfying due to the imprecise nature of the mechanics. Three ammunition types are available, appropriate for different ranges. AirBuccaneers lets you board enemy ships, and each sailor has weapons for offensive and defensive purposes. You can also repair or buff, although your options here are limited and feedback (much like piloting) is poor. Overall, AirBuccaneers lacks compelling gameplay unless you are operating a cannon or driving the ship, but the boarding elements add some intrigue. I like the spawning technique, lack of classes or ship population limits, and the skill-based aiming of AirBuccaneers, but find that it’s more difficult on novices and has less to do during flight when compared against competing airship combat games.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Drox Operative Gameplay Review

I'm playing Drox Operative, a space action role-playing game by Soldak Entertainment.

Instead of playing a 4X strategy game, in Drox Operative, you are a mercenary that can choose sides and align with the victor. Victory conditions includes allying with any surviving races, accumulating a significant amount of money, or destroying lots of monsters to increase your notoriety. Each race has different starting bonuses for their ships, and the difficulty level can be adjusted by changing the level of the enemy units. Each universe is randomly generated, with planets linked by wormholes and jump gates. Once you win a sector, you get a reward (lots of loot) and dive in to the next one. Drox Operative also supports cooperative multiplayer: a great feature. Controls, like most action role-playing games, are mouse-driven: the left mouse button is used to move (although you can use WASD, which I found to be easier), attack, or select items, the right-mouse button fires a specific weapon of your choosing, and moving the mouse over an enemy will target them. The interface gives a lot of information through extensive tool-tips, and all of the informational screens (character stats, inventory, map, relations) are one keypress away. Defeating enemies rewards items, of which there are plenty to choose from and mount onto your ship. These include weapons (lasers, missiles, mines, EMPs) and items that increase your shields, armor, speed, or power load. You are restricted in the items you can use by their level (you must upgrade your ship’s capabilities to support more advanced items), size (light, medium, heavy), and power consumption, and cargo bays can hold items you’d like to sell to the various factions. Aligning with the best faction is accomplished by completing quests (of which there are several types), trading, and destroying nearby monsters. The monsters are very basic in behavior (they attack when you are near), but the faction AI plays the 4X game well and makes the game world interesting to interact with. The penalty for death is minimal (just a small XP decrease) as well. Overall, Drox Operative is a fine adaptation of the action role-playing game to a space 4X setting, providing varied quests, interesting diplomacy, randomly generated worlds, lots of items to equip, and multiple victory conditions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Miasmata Gameplay Review

I'm playing Miasmata, an exploration and survival adventure game by IonFx.

Shipwrecked on a mysterious island, your goal is to find the cure to a disease by exploring the large, detailed island. The game is presented in a non-linear, relaxed fashion, giving you plenty of time to wander off on your own in any direction without restriction. Progress is automatically saved any time you light a candle, fire, or lantern, or sleep in a bed. Controls use the left-mouse button to pick up objects (items are dropped by crouching and looking down), and your character can hold up to three different plants in his left hand and one object (torch, stick, rock, knife) in his right (no option for a backpack to carry plants, which is weird). Miasmata utilizes a player movement momentum system that makes it far too easy to slide down hills, even gradual slopes. Plants are scattered around the island, which can be analyzed and manufactured into medicines that combat illness and enhance attributes (strength, endurance, perception). Miasmata also features a mapping system where you must sight two known landmarks (buildings, statues) to find your current location or locate new, unknown landmarks. While this system is innovative and somewhat realistic, it also means you can’t wander too far from previously spotted landmarks without getting lost. Exploring away from landmarks won’t reveal any new information (or even tell you where you currently are located), though pre-drawn maps can be discovered (usually at camps located along paths) to fill in some gaps. You also have to worry about a monster that gets progressively more dangerous as time marches on; you must either hide or run when it comes near. Miasmata is certainly something different, appropriate for those players looking for a relaxed exploration adventure with a couple of minor issues.