Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saviors Gameplay Review

I'm playing Saviors, a vertical shoot-em-up by Sharpened Edge Studios.

The story mode features eighteen levels of increasing difficulty; experience gained while shooting bad guys earns perks (such as increases to firing speed or hull strength) and new weapons. Survival and arcade modes offer slightly different rules and scoring, and two-person cooperative play is available on the same machine. The controls are very basic: move and shoot. One button will fire the primary weapons, one for the secondary weapons, and another to toggle firing modes, directing some of the bullets either to the side or towards the front. Damage is only received if enemy fire impacts the center of your ship, and the game displays where enemies will appear next for easier planning. The game can be difficult with lots of powerful enemies as you strive for that high score, earning multipliers and triggering many explosions. While there is nothing “bad” about Saviors, it also fails to offer anything innovative to the shoot-em-up genre.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kaiser Earth Gameplay Review

I'm playing Kaiser Earth, a strategy game by Evil Mountain.

The game charges you with protecting the Earth from alien attack by building a ship and engaging hostile foes. Allowing more peaceful immigrants to land on Earth can produce bonuses and result in re-election, while undertaking missions more favorable for a particular company will result in more ship parts during construction. Ship design consists of placing parts on a grid; most components can increase or decrease the effects of adjacent items, so careful design is important. Weapons, shields, armor, engines, and boosters are all available and have a range of semi-randomly generated attributes like hit points, ramming power, fire velocity, and reload time. Ship components lost during battle must be replaced, so maintaining good relations with the corporations by completing missions is desirable. The battles themselves take place in real-time, but you issue commands while paused. You can specify which direction weapons fire, shield orientation, and the trajectory of your ship (a cumbersome, inexact method), or you can set items to automatically engage nearby enemies. The battles are satisfying, especially when a well-crafted ship design proves effective during combat. The battle AI isn’t the best: finding enemy ships that are moving seemingly at random can be difficult, as there is no organization in their attack patterns. Still, the modular ship design of Kaiser Earth, coupled with action-filled battles and the campaign decisions, makes it an agreeable strategy title.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Camp Keepalive Gameplay Review

I'm playing Camp Keepalive, a turn-based strategy game by Twofold Secret.

Utilizing a unique, inspired theme, your job to is control camp counselors and rescue campers from enemies roaming in the forest. While Camp Keepalive does not have any randomly generated levels, there is a good selection of maps (though no level editor), and randomized camper and enemy spawning and movement increases replay value. Some scenarios also have alternate win conditions. Four counselors with different abilities (like calling nearby campers, placing more traps, instantly killing enemies, or attracting enemies by becoming “amourous”) are used at once time, and badges earned by rescuing campers before all of the counselors die unlock additional content. All counselors must take a turn with a limited number of actions, and each game takes place in phases where enemies and campers spawn and move between counselor actions. While enemies (like scary clowns, serial killers, and slime monsters) follow a pattern, campers move randomly until escorted by a counselor, increasing the tension over time as more regions of the map become hostile. Creative mechanics and a memorable theme make Camp Keepalive an intriguing turn-based strategy title.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Race The Sun Gameplay Review

I'm playing Race The Sun, an arcade racing game by Flippfly.

Procedurally-generated levels are constructed every twenty-four hours, allowing for both leaderboard scorekeeping and variety from day to day. A level editor is also available to craft your own creations, and layouts can be shared from within the game. Attaining interesting objectives will unlock new abilities that can be attached to your ship. A cooperative relay mode allows others to continue the game where you left off. While you attempt to avoid a large variety of moving and stationary objects before the sun sets, collecting triangles will add to your score and increase your multiplier, while brushing an obstacle will reduce the score bonus. Slamming into something instantly ends your game, so careful piloting is a must. Jumps and boosts (a speed burst that raises the sun level) accompany the solid obstacles. Race The Sun is a very challenging game, with fast ship movement and relatively slow turning. Overall, the title is well executed and is an enjoyable diversion.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Space Hulk Gameplay Review

I'm playing Space Hulk, a urn-based strategy game by Full Control.

The game features a number of missions based on the board game that must be unlocked in order, a decidedly unfair requirement in an extremely challenging game. Random dice rolls can undo good tactics, resulting in a difficult game that borders on cruel. Asynchronous cross-platform online multiplayer is available, but only using levels you have unlocked in the single-player campaign (unless you pick random). Space Hulk lacks a skirmish mode where you can play as the aliens against the AI, and a promised level editor is nowhere to be found. The gameplay is lifted directly from the board game: units are given action points to move, turn, attack, interact with doors, use ladders, automatically attack enemy units, or enhance melee defense. Alien units will appear as blips, which may contain one to three units, until scouted. “Strategy” involves placing soldiers on overwatch guarding alien spawn points, then lucking out with dice rolls: despite the protagonists’ thick armor, one melee hit from an alien will result in untimely death. Space Hulk suffers from several other issues, the most egregious of which involves unit movement animations that can’t be skipped, resulting in glacially slow turns. The game also features poor production values (including the inability to clearly differentiate between alive and dead aliens), a slow-scrolling strategic map that takes up the entire screen (right-click dragging is faster), the inability to display information about more than one squad at a time, keyboard shortcuts that cannot be modified, and a higher-than-expected price tag. In the end, Space Hulk is a mediocre, arduous adaptation of the board game.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Europa Universalis IV Gameplay Review

I'm playing Europa Universalis IV, a real-time grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive.

The game lets you take the helm of any country in the world from 1444 to 1820. Country-specific ideas, events, and bonuses make them play differently, producing varied experiences throughout the game’s long history. You can now join multiplayer games in progress, allowing you to jump in and out of simulations of the globe at your leisure; connection issues when attempting to join a server put a damper on the exciting possibilities. The game is also multi-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) at release.

The interface has been streamlined, linking related tasks on the same display and providing easier access to all of the game mechanics. Highlights include a useful construction mode for units and buildings, increased information on each display, automatic trade patrols, and help for combating problematic provinces. The game also includes a decent, though not nearly comprehensive, tutorial and a contextual hint system for learning the various buttons and icons. A very interesting addition is power: you spend administrative, diplomatic, and military points, earned by your leader and advisors, to unlock national ideas, research new technologies, construct buildings, increase stability, combat inflation, or recruit military leaders, to name a few. The quality of your king or queen significantly impacts the amount of power you receive, and consequently can stunt (or accelerate) technological and ideological growth. The system makes for intriguing decisions on where to use your limited points: should you spend it on new cores provinces, or buildings, or technologies, or something else? This type of meaningful flexibility is fantastic.

Merchants, diplomats, colonists, and missionaries are now actual named characters that are given missions (steer trade, improve relations, enhance colony growth, convert) and must be managed. Europa Universalis IV gives you lots of missions to achieve that serve as guidance through the era, in addition to national decisions and numerous buildings to improve the attributes of your nation. The economy has been streamlined to feature only monthly budgets and less crippling loans, which makes managing money easier.

The trade system has been overhauled to feature trade nodes (similar to the old centers of trade) and routes that distribute goods around the nodes. You can assign merchants to either collect trade income at a specific node, or direct trade from adjacent nodes towards the one you would profit from the most. While I prefer this innovative system over the old one, once you set up your merchants, there is little need to pay attention to trade.

Gaining a new level of technology requires a significant investment of power points, requiring careful management of those resources. The national ideas also require power, and they are divided into groups (religious, trade, exploration, defensive) and then each group is unlocked in order over time. Unlocking generic ideas will also unlock country-specific ideas that will further guide your country.

Diplomacy is a two-way street (as in Crusader Kings 2) in terms of relationship values: you can like them, but they don’t have to like you back (just like real life!). More diplomatic options are present this time around: temporary coalitions against a single target, rivals for your nation, aggressive expansion penalties, basing your fleet in friendly nations, enforcing peace between nations, and all of the old spy actions (fabricating claims and the like). You are limited in the number of diplomatic agreements you can have at one time, so one cannot simply ally and marry every nearby nation simultaneously. An overextension rating prevents large countries by causing frequent revolts, negated by forming new core provinces (which costs administrative power). Rebels can also spawn due to religious (remedied by sending missionaries) or cultural (remedied by spending diplomatic power) differences.

Combat is largely the same, although defeated armies with low morale now retreat several provinces and must remain stationary while morale recovers. This, along with slower reinforcements, produces shorter and more satisfying wars. While different religious groups get some different attributes, the differences are small and religion plays a small part in the game (usually as an excuse to go to war). The AI plays the game well enough to produce an unpredictable, plausible alternate history, although more capable opponents are online. Underwhelming religion, generally hands-off trade, and occasionally functional multiplayer aside, Europa Universalis IV streamlines parts of the game without sacrificing depth, creating a more accessible and ultimately more enjoyable grand strategy title.

Monday, August 12, 2013

CastleStorm Gameplay Review

I'm playing CastleStorm, a physics-based tower destruction game by Zen Studios.

The game features a campaign mode where you (usually) attempt to destroy an enemy castle or capture their flag. You can also play survival or skirmish modes against the AI or online. Gold earned during missions can be used to upgrade projectiles, units, spells, and abilities. You can also design a custom castle using the in-game editor, placing structures in the best defensive positions. The interface makes switching between categories using the mouse wheel a bit cumbersome, but it does use the number keys to quickly select items and aiming with the mouse is straightforward. Gameplay consists of several activities: shooting projectiles of varying abilities, spawning automated troops to attack the enemy, placing spells, or directly controlling a hero on the field of battle. This provides enough interaction to keep you busy during each scenario. Aiming does require some skill, as friendly fire is always active. In addition, destroying specific rooms in the enemy’s stronghold prevents those units and abilities; watching their careful designs crumble to the ground is satisfying. The campaign is balanced towards the easy end, but the AI does aim for important units and will irritate if given the opportunity. In the end, the mixture of tower defense, construction strategy, projectile aiming, and direct action makes for a unique title.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Papers, Please Gameplay Review

I'm playing Papers, Please, an immigration document adventure game by 3909.

You are a customs agent for a Communist country in the 1980’s, responsible with checking visitor’s documents as they enter your proud country. The story mode offers many different endings and story elements that develop as you play, plus the challenge of providing for your family by purchasing food, heat, and medicine. Endless modes, unlocked after progressing through the story, offer procedurally-generated travelers in timed, perfection, or endurance modes with varying degrees of document complexity. As you progress through the story, more complicated passports, work passes, entry tickets, ID cards, and vaccination records become required, and it’s your job to find any and all discrepancies on the documents and highlight them: date of birth, ID number, expiration date, sex, picture, weight, height, city of issue, diplomatic seal, national stamp, purpose and length of visit. Since your salary is based on the number of people processed, you have to delicately balance between thoroughness and speed: a stressful experience. While not for everyone, Papers, Please offers unique gameplay in an interesting setting.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Divinity: Dragon Commander Gameplay Review

I'm playing Divinity: Dragon Commander, a real-time strategy game by Larian Studios.

The game features a story-based or custom campaign mode similar to the Total War series, in that you order units around a large map and play out individual tactical battles. You can build structures and recruit units in each province, in addition to playing cards that grant map-based bonuses or advantages during combat. Diplomatic decisions improve relations with some of the races in the game, eventually granting new cards to play on the map. You can also research new units, unit abilities, and dragon skills. You can only directly lead one battle per turn; the rest are led by generals and the results are based on the number and quality of units involved. You can also enjoy the campaign mode online against other humans, or play a tactical skirmish battle online or against the AI. The tactical battles are similar to Supreme Commander (though simplified, with only one resource), with lots of quickly-produced units on large maps. The interface gives you fairly easy access to your troops and buildings, although the lack of infinite queues makes production more hands-on. The basic units have simple rock-paper-scissors combat resolution, and you can capture nearby buildings quickly, allowing you to produce units in enemy bases. If things get tough, you can take to the battlefield as a dragon (with a jetpack) with direct control, breathing fire on enemies and using spells on friendly units. While this is an intriguing feature, limited unit controls are present and you can’t build units or structures while flying around, an important limitation in a fast-paced game. The AI is very good, efficiently managing a large army and quickly going after vulnerable parts of your defense. While the simplified economy and mechanics lack the depth of other tactical strategy games, Divinity: Dragon Commander does offer a compelling campaign mode and approachable, chaotic battles.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Rise of the Triad Gameplay Review

I'm playing Rise of the Triad, a first-person shooter by Interceptor Entertainment and Apogee Software.

The single player campaign consists of four episodes featuring linear levels with retro features like keys, switches, secret rooms, platform sections, checkpoint-only saves, and a score. Five characters offer very minor variations in speed and endurance. Multiplayer has deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes, but lacks cooperative campaign play and fast movement speed makes for laggy online matches. Weapons are largely copied from the original game: bullet weapons (pistols, submachine guns) with infinite ammo that do not required reloading, various rockets (heat seaking, split, “drunk”), walls of flame,  electric staffs, and a magic baseball bat. You can also enter dog mode, god mode, gather tokens, and wear bulletproof or fireproof armor. The enemies exhibit some different behaviors (like diving to the side), but in general simply run straight for you while ignoring any cover along the way. The simple AI makes Rise of the Triad more of a shooting gallery where you are aiming for a high score, although I did find the game quite challenging due to the number of enemies you’ll encounter at one time. The level graphics are quite nice, though the gore is overdone. Cheesy voice acting and nostalgic music rounds out the package. While nostalgic fans of retro shooters might like this Rise of the Triad remake, some technical issues with physics and online play are discouraging.