Saturday, June 29, 2013

Survivor Squad Gameplay Review

I'm playing Survivor Squad, a top-down action strategy survival game by Endless Loop Studios.

A campaign mode features randomized levels connected on a map. Your objective in each city is to kill infected and gather the resources required to survive (food, gas) and craft new items. Characters level up with experience and gain new abilities. Two alternate game modes offer a limited budget or an endless series of randomly generated buildings. The interface requires a small amount of micromanagement, as units will automatically attack when stationary but not always while moving. You must also manually select the active weapon, and collecting items can be tedious. Some of the items are intriguing to use, and while most of the infected are easy to dispatch, there is some enemy variety that requires different strategies. Levels are short and action-filled. Fog of war depends on the direction your allies face, and the last few enemy locations are revealed to reduce end-level tedium. Overall, Survivor Squad is an enjoyable top-down shooter, with resource management, item crafting, and randomly generated levels that increase replay value.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

7 Grand Steps: What Ancients Begat Impressions

The game involves following a family dynasty through the ages as you make important discoveries. Tokens are used to move along the game board away from crocodiles (just like in real life); these are generated by partnering with AI players. Beads are collected to advance technology and make a new discoveries. Your first steps are to find a mate (some are more intelligent and more compatible than others) and then make children to inherit the family legacy. Tokens can be given to your offspring to increase their stats in specific areas; in this way, the talents of the parents are passed on to their young. Semi-random story tales and legend events reduce repetition a tad, but the game is drawn-out and involves the same basic couple of actions over and over again. That said, there is strategy involved in when to generate tokens and which tokens to use to maximize education and legend frequency. Despite its monotony, 7 Grand Steps is certainly a unique game, and that originality helps it to stand out in the computerized board game genre.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Folk Tale Alpha Preview

I'm playing the alpha of Folk Tale, a role-playing fantasy city builder by Games Foundry.

At the moment, a campaign tutorial is all the game offers, but it gives a good look at what the core gameplay is like. Pre-ordering the game gives alpha access for $20, and Folk Tale is planned for release in 2014.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Expeditions: Conquistador Gameplay Review

I'm playing Expeditions: Conquistador, a tactical role-playing game by Logic Artists and bitComposer Entertainment.

You are a Spanish conquistador, exploring portions of Latin America in the 16th Century. Your character has several stats that determine initial combat conditions, negotiation ease, medicine cost, hunting results, movement speed, and the morale of your party, the members of which you choose before your expedition begins. Each character has a class (doctor, hunter, scout, soldier, scholar) and attributes that determine their skills in the tropical wilderness. The campaign map must be explored to uncover resources and activate quests; most events have dialogue interactions that can determine the outcome. Resources are used to provide your troops with weapons and food; you can also trade goods or manufacture traps and barricades for combat. As you camp for the night, you assign one task (guard, patrol, hunt for food, manufacture medicines, preserve meat, construct objects, treat patients) to each character, and events may trigger based on your decisions. Characters can be promoted using experience gained by doing quests and completing battles, granting new abilities and improved stats. Tactical combat is turn-based, and is more interesting when characters have advanced abilities. Overall, Expeditions: Conquistador is a solid tactical role-playing game in a unique setting.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

GRID 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing GRID 2, a racing game by Codemasters.

The game centers around a career mode that follows the growth of a world racing series; you’ll undertake events in different locations, earning fame to unlock more events, sponsors, and cars. Finishing in the top three (but not necessarily winning outright) is required to advance to the next stage. GRID 2 also has online play for up to 12 drivers, and experience can be spent to unlock car upgrades. There are multiple racing modes, from traditional lapped races to the “live routes” mode that dynamically alters the layout as the race progresses. You can also put the pedal to the metal in endurance, eliminator, drift, touge, checkpoint, and overtake modes, along with some timed events. The short race spans (even “endurance” races are only five minutes long) as designed for short attention spans. The graphics look very nice, and the various track locations have distinctive visuals. The cars cover the range of track-based vehicles, from muscle cars to touring vehicles and roadsters. However, GRID 2 does have some day-one DLC that adds additional content, so apparently paying full-price for the game is not enough anymore. The controls are typical for a racing game and designed around a gamepad. The AI is decent enough and a good challenge on harder difficulty settings. GRID 2 is definitely an arcade racer, as the short events, lack of a cockpit view, missing qualifying session, minimal car damage, and absent car setups all favor accessibility over realism. That said, GRID 2 is an appealing arcade racer that does what it does well.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rising Storm Gameplay Review

I'm playing Rising Storm, a World War II first person shooter by Tripwire Interactive.

This is a multiplayer-only standalone expansion to Red Orchestra 2, set in the Pacific Theatre (it actually includes the RO2’s multiplayer for free). The maps offer interesting designs, and “action” or “realism” (lower health) settings are available for the 64-player servers across three game modes. The tragic issues with the AI in Red Orchestra 2 have been eliminated by not having any single player content (although online bots are still available). The two sides are asymmetrical: while the American troops have more powerful weapons (like automatic guns and flamethrowers), the Japanese have knee mortars, mined grenades, bayonets, and a banzai charge that causes suppression. The realistic core mechanics are retained, with suppression, morale, ballistics, and cover modeled accurately. Overall, Rising Storm is a much more polished experience than Red Orchestra 2 was at release and fans of brutally realistic online shooters shan't be disappointed.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods Gameplay Review

I'm playing Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods, a role-playing grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive.

This expansion adds a new start date (867) and the ability to play as pagans. Pagan nations have a number of new rules: raids, provincial conquest and invasions, forced gavelkind succession, and special events like human sacrifice. All nations now can also spawn adventurers, existing characters that go after specific targets like a claim on a province. Everyone also gets an overhauled technology system: points are generated according to nobility character stats and buildings placed in your provinces. Lastly, rebellions are now given a leader with an objective. Overall, the new features of The Old Gods add just enough variety to the existing game to justify the $15 investment if you plan to focus on the pagan nations and the earlier start date.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Gameplay Review

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

Legendary Heroes is a standalone expansion that, like the original Fallen Enchantress, is free to early adopters of Elemental. The game features two new factions, a special ability for every faction, some new game customization options (production pace and world difficulty), and huge map sizes. The user interface has gotten some minor tweaks as well. You can now produce extra resources when a city is idle, extra unused food accelerated growth, and too many cities increases unrest. Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes also features new monsters, quests, weapons (with special abilities), and spells. Champions are now recruited by accumulating fame (by completing quests) rather than finding them on the map, which is a better system that involves less luck. Heroes also choose a specialization with different tech trees for ability upgrades that are earned with battle experience: another good enhancement. The tactical map count has increased, and the AI has been improved, producing more balanced games. Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes offers a couple of major enhancements (the recruitment of champions and hero skill tree) and a host of minor changes that result in an improved game, recommended for new players to the series and (obviously) those who get the expansion for free. Those who already have Fallen Enchantress (or the original version of Elemental), however, won’t likely find enough to justify purchasing this standalone title, even at a discounted price.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Wargame: AirLand Battle Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wargame: AirLand Battle, a real-time strategy game by Eugen Systems and Focus Home Interactive.

The new dynamic campaign features both turn-based strategic and real-time tactical modes (similar to the Total War series) across four campaigns (one of which is a tutorial) of varied difficulties and lengths; progress is saved automatically after each battle, but you cannot save during a fight and resume later. You can play each scenario against a generally passive AI or online against one human opponent (no cooperative play, though), given objective provinces that must be captured within a time limit. Political points earned by capturing provinces can be used to call in new battalions or use special abilities (recon, delay enemy reinforcements). Units are grouped into pre-designed battalions that become available on a specific day, recruited in locations based on their attributes (for example, marine battalions can spawn in coastal provinces). Each battalion has an initiative value that determines the number of points you have to deploy units at the start of a tactical battle, and a morale rating that determines the victory point requirement for the enemy. Units are permanently destroyed but gain experience over time. There are no quick battle resolutions, so each tactical battle must be played out manually. Events (some with decisions) occasionally happen as you advance through the campaign mode. While the new dynamic campaigns are much more interesting than the scripted affairs of the original game, the shortcomings in the AI make for a less entertaining experience for a single player.

Skirmish games can be played against the AI (up to eight players this time, an improvement), and competitive multiplayer can handle up to twenty players simultaneously. Customizing your unit deck is easier thanks to a revamped interface, command stars for unlocking units have been removed (eliminating an obstacle for new players), and you can choose specializations (a specific country or unit role) for additional bonuses. More experienced units can be added to your roster (rather than purchased during a game), recruited for the same cost but at a lower total count. The interface is largely the same, although more unit detail is given. Organized formations are still missing, grouped units do not move at the same speed, and I’d like to have the option to make units use roads by default. The terrain is better but not great: it’s still mostly flat, terraced farmland, although the occasional hill or mountain is present. Spawn points located in the middle of a map (oddly placed tunnels) are confusing and unrealistic. Wargame: AirLand Battle effectively doubles the number of available units (to over 750) and covers all of the options you could need on the field of battle, including the addition of planes. Detailed attributes and system-specific damage are notable, supply and recon remain important, and infantry have a vastly expanded role thanks to urban environments. The skirmish AI is more capable (certainly better than the conservative AI in the campaign), as computer players seem to execute specific unit-based strategies that vary from game to game. While the price is high for what is essentially an expansion, the inclusion of dynamic campaigns and a host of minor features make Wargame: AirLand Battle a definite improvement over its predecessor.