Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rush Bros. Gameplay Review

I'm playing Rush Bros., a music-based competitive platform game by XYLA Entertainment.

The game invovles two players racing through each level towards the finish line, competing for the fastest time. Rush Bros. has both split-screen multiplayer and online matchmaking, although the latter option never found any opponents for me; luckily, a single player mode where you compete against previous high scores is available. The game has thirty levels with some varied and innovative design elements alongside more traditional spikes and jumps, but you must unlock the levels in order; if you get stuck, you cannot proceed to a subsequent, easier layout. Rush Bros. allows you to import custom music, but the results are disappointing: there is no musical effect on level design or enemy behavior, and only subtle background pulses (seen most obviously during the menus) accompany the beats. The control scheme works better on a gamepad, and grabbing and jumping on walls is fairly straightforward. You can also collect power-ups that increase movement speed or grant the ability to double-jump. The difficulty of the game is inconsistent, as a tough level is typically followed by a number of easier adventures. The game works the best when it is fast paced and on the easier side, where two opponents could have close calls in reaching the finish line first. The inability to play any level of your choosing coupled with the minimal musical integration make Rush Bros. just another platform game, albeit with a racing twist.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Crusader Kings II: The Republic Gameplay Review

I'm playing Crusader Kings II: The Republic, an expansion for the role-playing grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive.

This time around, you get to control one of the merchant republics spawned during the time period (Venice, Genoa, Pisa, the Hanseatic League). The rules are slightly different: your main concern is placing and defending trade posts, which can be constructed in any coastal province (for a higher cost the further away you are from your home province). Much like traditional holdings, these can be upgraded to pull in more trade or tax income, and linking them together provides a bonus. Trade posts owned by your league but not by your family can be captured through plots, and trade posts owned by other leagues can be destroyed by winning an embargo war: basically, you bribe a large country to fight the war on your behalf (since merchant republics have mediocre army levies), if you have significantly good relations. Succession in the merchant republic is elective, and you can invest money to improve your chances. Alliances can still be made through marriage, but a high cash price must be paid to align with any female noble. At a $10 price point, The Republic offers enough unique changes, and a different focus, from the base Crusader Kings II formula to make the expansion a good choice for fans of the game.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Drip Drip Gameplay Review

I'm playing Drip Drip, a click management game by Imminent Games.

The campaign features a series of cities where you must stop leaks by collecting water. The interface has a significant number of shortcomings that makes playing the game more difficult: notifications display on the minimap but not the main screen, drips are not shown on the minimap, objects don’t de-select consistently, selecting objects near each other is difficult, unresponsive edge-of-screen scrolling makes multi-screen levels irritating, and there are no hot keys for selecting idle units. Water is caught using an unnecessary variety of containers that must be manually dumped out nearby windows. Puddles can create water damage, which then must be repaired (with a hammer) and swept up (with a broom). The pace of the game is very frantic as the storm rains increase in frequency. You also have to worry about various entities (ghosts, UFOs, lightning) that will try to destroy your items. Items level up with use, making their movement around the map faster. In the end, Drip Drip is a hectic click management game ruined by an insufficient, imprecise interface.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bounders and Cads Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bounders and Cads, a turn-based board game by Wax Lyrical Games.

The game is for two to four players in single-player mode against the AI or hotseat (no online play, though). Each turn you roll and move around the tiled board, purchasing properties, entrances to those properties, and upgrades. A single road tile is shared by several buildings (and a single building can have multiple entrances), so the first player to place an entrance on a contested tile will reap the benefits. However, you must land on a tile to take action (you can’t improve buildings away from your current location) and you can only perform one action per tile per lap, so the game progresses very slowly. Other tiles have chance cards (a randomized event like losing a turn or getting money) or action cards (forcing a player to roll a specific number or switch places). Action cards can only be played if you roll lightning bolts (instead of a number), which happens so infrequently that action cards are almost meaningless. Bounders and Cads suffers from other balance issues as well: the large map requires many tedious laps to build enough upgrades to matter, and too much money is earned for passing “start”. There is also very little strategy since you get all your money back when you sell property to pay a debt: just buy everything you can at every opportunity. Games also lack excitement due to constant passing by empty or unimproved properties. The AI plays a solid game, making good decisions regarding whom to use action cards against. Overall, Bounders and Cads lacks the balance and exciting pace required to expand upon one unique game mechanic.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Zigfrak Gameplay Review

I'm playing Zigfrak, a role-playing space adventure game by Entheogen Studios.

The game features a single player campaign with extensive tutorials and space stations that serve as mission hubs, eventually (once you reach level ten) giving out the occasional randomly generated scenario. Missions usually involve jumping somewhere, shooting enemy ships, and activating something. Experienced gained over time unlocks the ability to equip higher-level weaponry. Controls use the mouse to select and steer, plus keyboard controls to fire all weapons (spacebar), dock (enter), and switch between available enemies (tab). There is also a role-playing-style toolbar where you can bind specific number and function keys to deploy weapons and abilities. The inventory could be better organized; it’s tedious to find items that are better than those currently equipped. Zigfrak has a ton of weapons of different types (pulse, ballistic, rocket, mine, rail, beam, drone) and properties (fire damage, radioactive, wave, nuclear), in addition to the ammunition required for each type. The game automatically switches to another compatible ammo type when one is depleted: a nice feature. You can also upgrade ship engines, shields, overshields, fuel, and craft items using templates and components. While the focus of the game is on combat, you can mine resources, though trade is not a viable career choice. AI ships know how to use their special abilities and provide a good challenge, though you are almost always unfairly outnumbered. Zigfrak doesn’t have any overly compelling unique features, but it is a solid indie space adventure title that lacks exciting combat and branching career options.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Primal Fears Gameplay Review

I'm playing Primal Fears, a cooperative isometric horror action game by DnS Development.

In the game, you can (if you have any) invite a few Steam friends (no matchmaking otherwise) to fight an insect invasion through seven fairly extensive, but linear, levels that are unlocked with experience. Each level is broken down into several parts; finding an object (like explosives or a keycard) will open the next area. Checkpoint-only saves are somewhat frequent, and high scores are uploaded to the online leaderboard. Controls are typical (WASD to move, mouse to aim), although the angled movement through an isometric game worlds looks unnatural. Weapons are varied (assault rifle, shotgun, flamethrower, grenades, and melee weapons like axes and swords), all of which can be slowly upgraded (clip size, damage, firing rate) using money rewarded by killing enemies. Difficulty is achieved by spawning lots of enemies simultaneously; health pickups are infrequent enough where death is a possibility, especially on any difficulty setting above “easy”. Primal Fears features slightly annoying physics, as “sticky” collisions with objects can impede your progress. The insect AI, as you might expect, is very basic, charging straight towards you in almost all situations. In the end, Primal Fears lacks anything innovative for the swarm-based cooperative shooter.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Uprising 44: The Silent Shadows Gameplay Review

I'm playing Uprising 44: The Silent Shadows, a third-person shooter with portions of real-time strategy by DMD Enterprise and Immanitas Entertainment.

The game revolves around the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, when Polish nationalists fought back against the German invaders. The single-player, linear, scripted campaign tells the story of some of the combatants, and offers very infrequent checkpoint saves and the inability to change game options during a mission (or at all, in the case of keyboard controls). The off-center third-person view requires some adjustment, although the 3-D character models do look decent. The compass displays waypoints frequently, but also indicates all nearby enemy units, whether you have spotted them or not, removing a lot of the challenge of the game. Regenerating health behind impenetrable cover also decreases the difficulty significantly. The weapon selection is limited and typical (pistol, submachine gun, rifle), and has high weapon kickback to discourage constant fire; it takes exactly two shots to kill an enemy soldier. The cover system is useful, but most levels have unrealistic objects scattered in each room to provide said cover. Allied units can be issued simple orders (move, fire, take cover), but will forget their commands after about ten seconds. The enemy AI isn’t much better, sticking to scripted locations, predetermined patrol paths, or running straight towards you. The real-time strategy segements give you a binocular view and control of several (around five) units, issuing very simple orders (move, fire, take cover) and calling in off-map support using an awkward control scheme; the result offers no tactical satisfaction through a lack of depth. Uprising 44: The Silent Shadows has a linear campaign, unfulfilling RTS gameplay, poor AI, a limited level of challenge, and lacks common features needed for an intriguing title. An enhanced edition is planned for release in March (to coincide with a retail version).

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Teleglitch Gameplay Review

I'm playing Teleglitch, a roguelike top-down shooter.

You are granted only one life and the game doesn’t save your progress at any time, contributing to Teleglitch’s brutal difficulty. Each level is semi-randomly generated: the same room pieces appear, but in a different order with different enemies and items. Each level is quite extensive and allows for a good amount of exploration. The retro graphics are done well, although the low resolution can make it difficult to differentiate between objects when the action becomes intense. The fog of war is memorable, however, as it blacks out anything beyond your line of sight. The controls work well on the PC: WASD to move and the mouse to aim (holding right-click to shoot can get tiresome, however). There is a large selection of weapons and items to pick up, and you can combine items to make interesting blends; these are scripted but still fun to build. Ammunition is scarce, as is health and armor. The enemies exhibit simple behaviors that are effective in numbers, and their quick movement makes aiming more difficult. The retro graphics, weapon combination system, semi-random level layouts, and high difficulty make Teleglitch stand out amongst top-down shooters.