Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Skulls of the Shogun: Bone-A-Fide Edition Gameplay Review

I'm playing Skulls of the Shogun: Bone-A-Fide Edition, a turn-based strategy game by 17-BIT.



The game features a humorous story-driven campaign with scripted encounters; you can also challenge humans on the same computer, online in real-time, or using an asynchronous server. You are allowed to issue orders to five units per turn (move and attack) on free-form (no hexes) maps. After you select a unit, a clear movement radius circle is displayed; units that do not move fully before attacking can use remaining movement points to retreat. The user interface is done well, with easy next unit access and flags that show remaining hit points. There are three different unit types with varied attributes: infantry, cavalry, and archers. Shrines can abe haunted to summon monks (or additional units), and their spells use rice collected from captured paddies. The skulls of defeated enemy units can be eaten to heal, and eating three skulls gives an extra action. Adjacent unit will block enemy movement, and units can be knocked back over ledges into chasms. The AI plays the game well enough to provide a challenge, especially if they are given more units to use. Matches (especially skirmish and online) feature too many units for only five moves per side, making it far too easy to exploit enemy weaknesses; games would have been much more tactically interesting with fewer initial units. Still, Skulls of the Shogun is a fine simplified introduction into the world of turn-based strategy games, offering clear mechanics in a memorable setting.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Europa Universalis IV Beta Gameplay Preview

I played the beta of Europa Universalis IV, a real-time grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive. Recording video is not allowed for this preview period, so please enjoy my antiquated non-moving words!

Europa Universalis IV features some significant changes to the previous game in the well-regarded grand strategy series. Most countries now have different national ideas and events that make each play a bit differently, and missions give reasonable intermediate objects to achieve. Multiplayer games can be joined in progress, and plans call for persistent online servers supporting many players that can join the world when they like. The interface has been enhanced with many small changes, the most notable being placing all pertinent information in related tabs on the country information panel. Other new interface features include a construction mode for units and buildings, auto-repairing fleets that patrol trade routes, units that can automatically engage rebels, and suggestions on how to combat negative conditions (like rebels).

One of the biggest changes is the transition to administrative, diplomatic, and military power points that are spent on research, national ideas, stability, diplomacy, constructing buildings, inflation, military leaders, and many other actions. The amount of power accumulated each month can be boosted by your monarch (who can have a huge impact on technology and ideas, both positive and negative, based on their ratings) and advisors (that latter option effectively converts income into power points). Merchants, diplomats, colonists, and missionaries are now named characters (similar to Crusader Kings 2, minus the detail) and are sent on tasks instead of being spent like currency. This means you must prioritize jobs for the limited number of envoys you have available.

Trade is another overhauled aspect of Europa Universalis IV. Centers of trade are now “trade nodes”, geographic areas where merchants can be sent to compete for trade income. You can also send merchants to trade routes in order to direct more trade to the nodes in your country. You should also devote a fleet (or two) to defending nearby naval trade routes to further increase your coffers. Once your merchants are set up, however, only minor tweaks are needed to maintain your trade empire. Budgets are now only monthly, and loans are less troublesome to take out (although they do increase inflation).

Diplomatic relationship values are now two-way (like in Crusader Kings 2) with specific descriptions of why the value is what it is. New diplomatic options include temporary coalitions against a single enemy, basing your fleet (for protecting trade) in friendly nations, and enforcing peace in a war (you’ll join the side of the defender if a white peace is not immediately signed). The old espionage actions are now jobs for your diplomats, and new peace options are present, as is the ability to set rival nations. You also suffer a penalty for having too many diplomatic agreements at a given time. Aggressive expansion (replacing “badboy”) will result in neighboring countries to have a lower opinion of you, eventually resulting in war. Low national stability and taking too much non-core territory can spawn rebels; newly acquired provinces can become core provinces by spending administrative power. And the various religions come with subtle differences.

Combat has also been tweaked: shattered armies retreat several provinces and remain stationary while morale is recovered, which eliminates annoying “ping-pong”ing during war. Battles now produce much more definitive results, causing shorter, less annoying wars.

Europa Universalis IV is scheduled for release on August 14th.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

NASCAR The Game: 2013 Gameplay Review


I'm playing NASCAR The Game: 2013, a stock car racing game by Eutechnyx.


The game features a career mode with full race weekends where sponsors give you cash for meeting objectives, which is then spent on upgrades to make your car more competitive. Race settings, including difficulty, length, and fuel usage, can be changed before each event. NASCAR The Game: 2013 also features online multiplayer that wildly varies in quality depending on the peer-to-peer host. You can also spend time with single events, head-to-head qualifying challenges against real drivers, race-specific highlight recreations, and custom paint jobs. Handing can be altered using the complete setup options, and various assists (steering, braking) can be enabled. NASCAR The Game: 2013 also allows you to rewind the last several seconds of each race to correct a user misstep. The game does automatically control your car during cautions and pit stops, but this allows you to use the nifty pitting interface. The interface can also (optionally) display nearby cars and real-time speed suggestions (slow, brake) for upcoming turns. Car damage is completely unrealistic even on the highest settings: cars rarely wreck out of a race, and vehicles can flip multiple times and be fully repaired in seconds on pit road. AI drivers are very aggressive when they are given an opening, although they will try to avoid human drivers and do not cause many cautions themselves. The graphics are mostly well-done with detailed tracks, cars (including cockpits), and effects (although some low-resolution artifacts from the original console game remain), and the audio features some famous names and helpful spotter feedback. While NASCAR The Game: 2013 does have some non-simulation elements (auto-control during pitting, car damage), it is a feature-rich, entertaining mixture of racing and approachability.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Full Mojo Rampage Alpha Preview

I'm playing the alpha of Full Mojo Rampage, an action role-playing game with procedurally-generated levels, permadeath, and a voodoo theme by Over the Top Games.



The game does not have a scheduled release date at this time, but pre-ordering the title will grant immediate alpha build access.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dominions 4 Alpha Preview

I'm playing the alpha of Dominions 4, a turn-based strategy game by Illwinter Game Design.
The game is scheduled for release in late August of 2013. Look for my full gameplay impressions then!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Guncraft Gameplay Review

I'm playing Guncraft, a construction (and destruction)-based first person shooter by Exato Game Studios and Reverb Publishing.



The multiplayer game features several game modes (deathmatch, capture the flag, survival, cooperative onslaught, construction-based siege, and Minecraft spleef) and a good number of completely destructible maps. Guncraft also features a full suite of editors: weapons, prefabricated pieces (walls, bunkers, forts), and entire maps can all be constructed block by block and used in the game. You can also fully customize your class, choosing primary and secondary weapons, consumables, and perks. No AI bots are available to play against. Controls are a bit cumbersome, as using items and placing objects while under fire can be sluggish. Ballistics are simple, with random bullet placement replacing more realistic mechanics like weapon sway or bullet drop. Guncraft allows you to build (or destroy) blocks during a match, making new openings or creating defensive bunkers, and pilot a variety of vehicles. While Guncraft has tons of customization plus destructible levels that result in unique gameplay, a lack of polish is evident.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gun Monkeys Gameplay Review

I'm playing Gun Monkeys, an online deathmatch platform game by Size Five Games.



The game is online only, so there are no bots to practice against (although the tutorial is quite entertaining). You earn cash, based on the amount of power you have left over after each deathmatch (and lose it if you are defeated), that can be spent on perks that increase the potency of weapons and items. Gun Monkeys features procedurally-generated levels, which dramatically increases replay value while producing some funky layouts. The game doesn’t feature any aiming (you can only shoot horizontally in the direction you are facing), which makes control cumbersome. You can double-jump, wall-grab, and use ladders, so those familiar with platform mechanics will feel at home. Collecting power cubs will regenerate your supply, which gradually dwindles over time. Dying also takes a chunk out of your power, as does placing mines. You can also utilize some interesting power-up crates and explodable crates to defeat the enemy. While Gun Monkeys can be an enjoyable platform shooter with fast-paced combat, the lack of aiming and absence of bots may dissuade some.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Magrunner: Dark Pulse Impressions

I'm playing Magrunner: Dark Pulse, a first-person physics-based puzzle game by 3 AM Games, Frogwares Games, and Focus Home Interactive.



The game involves moving objects by using magnetic polarities: like-colors attract, while opposite colors repel. Magnetic fields can be applied to various objects around each level, from cubes to platforms to accelerators. The interactions can be sophisticated, as magnetic effects add up and effects may need to be timed for success. The forty puzzles involve specific, inflexible solutions that can become frustrating as you attempt to figure out the exact solution devised by the developers. Its this solution limitation that ultimately shackles the enjoyment Magrunner could have imparted.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Panzer Corps: Allied Corps Gameplay Review


I'm playing Panzer Corps: Allied Corps, a turn-based strategy game by Flashback Games Studio, The Lordz Games Studio, Slitherine, and Matrix Games.




The game is a standalone expansion to the original title, offering four campaigns (and a tutorial) that covers World War II from a Western Allies point of view. Thirty included scenarios (you can play them individually as well) with varied victory conditions provide satisfying content, and important core units carry over from mission to mission. A scenario editor can expand the content even further. Adjustable game settings include difficulty (with sliders for computer prestige, experience, and intelligence levels), weather, supply, fog of war, game rules, combat randomization, and the ability of undoing moves. Panzer Corps: Allied Corps includes Slitherine’s server-side PBEM matchmaking that handles all online combat internally. The game has a handy interface: it’s easy to find units, identify which have not moved or attacked, and locate objective locations. In addition, the map is not cluttered with statistics and the strategic map gives a good scenario overview. Typical units of the time period are included, from infantry to tanks to strategic bombers, and they are rated in several areas, including spotting, movement, ground defense, and hard attack. Units can move and attack each turn, or perform one other action like receiving supplies, gaining reinforcements, or upgrading. Prestige earned on the battlefield can be used to call in new units or reinforce existing ones. Some of the more interesting game rules include increased attack ratings for infantry in urban areas, a zone of control around each unit that prevents enemy movement, retreating when suppressed, ambushes, mass attacks from multiple angles, and rugged defense. The AI is a capable opponent that uses mixed units well. Overall, Panzer Corps: Allied Corps is an excellent approachable turn-based wargame with friendly accessibility and simplified rules without sacrificing strategic depth.