Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eador: Masters of the Broken World Gameplay Review

I'm playing Eador: Masters of the Broken World, a role-playing turn-based fantasy strategy game by Snowbird Games.

The game features a campaign mode where you choose from a set of maps to dominate, slowly expanding out from your initial stronghold, capturing provinces to accumulate more resources and purchase better units. You can also choose from custom games on randomized maps and online multiplayer. Map layouts commonly place outrageously strong neutral units adjacent to your starting location, so methodical grinding of your hero through exploration and location battles within provinces must be accomplished before slow expansion can begin in earnest. Your stronghold can be improved by constructing buildings which provide new units, income, happiness, spells, resources, or weapons; basic buildings can also be placed in provinces. Troops are lead by heroes, both of which gain experience during battle that unlocks new abilities. Heroes can explore provinces, hire troops, visit locations for tactical battles, study new spells, or visit stores to purchase or repair weapons. Tactical battles resolve conflicts on the map, and the terrain, along with units that have special abilities, can make the battles more interesting. The strategic AI quality seems to be competent enough, expanding quicker than the player is able to, and the tactical AI does engage fragile units and only occasionally throws units into certain death. The interface is improved over Eador: Genesis thanks to a higher screen resolution and more efficient presentation, which (along with the online multiplayer) is the primary improvement this version offers over its predecessor. While not a perfect game thanks to frustrating, tedious early-game imbalance, Eador does offer some intriguing features and mechanics for the fantasy strategy enthusiast.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Monaco Gameplay Review

I'm playing Monaco, a cooperative top-down heist action game by Pocketwatch Games.

The game features over thirty levels in two campaigns. Each level is short (a couple of minutes), and your score is determined by the time it takes to achieve all of the objectives, plus a time penalty for not collecting all of the gold scattered across each map. The game is designed for online cooperative play, as the scenarios (especially later in the campaigns) are quite difficult for just one person in solo mode (you really need simultaneous special abilities of multiple classes). Classes include the ability to pick locks faster, spot distant enemies, collect nearby loot, melee attack, dig through walls, use disguises, create computer viruses, and distract enemies. You can also equip smoke bombs, shotguns, crossbows, C4, wrenches, and bandages to assist your burglary. Controls use the WASD keys to move and the mouse to aim (gamepads are also supported); moving towards an object interacts it. The AI enemies are basic and usually follow predictable patterns, but most of the levels involve lots of interesting puzzle solving with disguises, line of sight, security systems, computers, and carefully-placed obstacles and objectives. The difficulty is high in later levels for an uncoordinated team or solo criminal, but the rewarding cooperative gameplay makes Monaco a notable title.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Shootmania Storm Gameplay Review

I'm playing Shootmania Storm, a online first person shooter by NADEO and UbiSoft.

Shootmania Storm features a number of game modes, from last-man-standing free-for-alls to team domination to 1v3 survival to 1v1 jousts to checkpoint races, and allows for end-users to create their own. Customization also extends to the map editor, which uses an intuitive, approachable tile-based system quite similar to Trackmania. Shootmania Storm uses minimal controls (just move, shoot, and an action); binding “jump” and “sprint” to the same button is initially confusing, but your action is determined by the type of terrain you are standing on. There is also only one default weapon (a rocket launcher) that recharges automatically; alternative items (a grenade launcher or a sniper rifle) are granted by standing on specific tiles or by playing certain game modes. This allows for more skill-based results with no worrying about reloading or choosing the best weapon. The slow, steady, automated reloading also greatly increases the tactics, creating ballet of electric carnage. With no randomization in bullet placement and a balanced amount of armor points for fair engagements, the non-gory action of Shootmania Storm is appealing for those looking for a more thoughtful, skill-based online shooter.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Defiance Gameplay Review

I'm playing Defiance, a massively multiplayer online third-person shooter by Trion Worlds.

The game takes place in San Francisco after an alien invasion, and ties in with the Syfy television series of the same name. There is a story-driven campaign with main missions, but you can also earn items and experience by completing side missions, challenges, and dynamic missions (like raiding fallen spacecrafts or rescuing allies under Mutant attack). Most missions take place in the main game world, so you can unknowingly assist allies by dispatching nearby enemy units. Defiance also features cooperative missions and competitive multiplayer (team deathmatch or a capture-the-flag mode) in instanced, isolated locations that are easy to jump in to once a server is filled (you can complete missions or explore while you wait). Like most MMO games, Defiance features decent character customization with several classes that determine your initial weapon loadout, and you get better with weapons you use over time. The interface is minimal, driven by hotkeys for items, a quick menu for matchmaking, a map with clear waypoints (as long as they aren’t clustered) and fast travel, and a circular menu designed for a gamepad. Controls are very typical for a shooter without cover (WASD to move, with separate buttons to aim, sprint, jump, crouch, and dive roll). Your loadout includes primary and secondary weapons, a grenade, a shield, and a vehicle that can spawn anywhere when needed. Weapons run the gamut from rocket launchers to machine guns to sniper rifles to shotguns, and you can break down unneeded items into resources or sell them to a vendor. New items can be looted from missions or purchased using real-world money. Your character is also given an ability (increased movement speed, cloaking, decoys, or more damage) and perks to enhance your characteristics. The combat is fast paced, and the AI enemies magically spawn and are very dumb, never putting up a challenge unless they severely outnumber you or have vastly superior weapons. You can self-revive (or have a nearby teammate do it), so death is rarely an issue. There isn’t much in Defiance that hasn’t been done before in countless other MMO games as the game lacks a truly unique standout feature, resulting in a solid but forgettable experience overall.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Cities in Motion 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Cities in Motion 2, a mass transit planning game by Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive.

Campaign and sandbox modes return, and both include a series of objectives to assist your transit development. This sequel does not feature any real cities like its predecessor, although cities do change over time based on the efficiency of your transit system. New cities can be created using the included map editor, however. Multiplayer, including cooperative, competitive, and team-based modes, a major new addition to the game. The interface is notably less efficient this time around: it takes one or two more clicks to perform the same actions as before. While customer feedback is more direct and useful, the map data is less clear, the minimap is too small, the stop and vehicle icons are too tiny, and screen-edge scrolling has been removed. All transit lines now must start and end at a depot, adding a more realistic but less flexible rule into the game. Purchased vehicles are automatically assigned to a line emanating from its depot (a nice touch), and lines can be given custom time tables to determine when and how often vehicles leave the depot for passengers. You can also place roads to alleviate congestion (although most of the cities are too tightly packed to allow for their placement), and assign a range of ticket prices to different parts of the city. However, placing tram track and trolley wires is a tedious exercise done one block at a time. Overall, the shortcomings of the interface and new features that add little meaningful substance result in a less enjoyable sequel.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Door Kickers Alpha Preview

I'm playing the alpha of Door Kickers, a tactical strategy game by KillHouse Games.

The game features pausable action in real time, with a number of missions where you must clear the enemies, rescue hostages, or defuse a bomb. Randomized enemy locations increase replay value, and a mission generator and campaign mode are planned for release. Movement orders are issued by clicking and dragging the path, and stationary units can be ordered to face specific directions. Units can also be instructed to use flashbangs, reload, or operate a spy camera under a door. SWAT team members will automatically engage enemy units, but the inherently unbalanced nature of the scenarios requires caution. Future plans include the inclusion of “go” codes for coordination, door breaching, and snipers. I would like to have the ability to mirror around corners, designate enemies to target or ignore, and to face a direction other than forward during movement. The game is planned for release in late 2013.