Monday, December 22, 2014

Elite: Dangerous Gameplay Review

I'm playing Elite: Dangerous, a space adventure game by Frontier Developments.

Featuring online play where you can fight or team up with others located on the same server, an Internet connection is required to play, even for the single player mode. A number of combat scenarios and very basic tutorials are available within the game, although consulting third-party documentation is strongly recommended. An extremely large, true-scale, procedurally generated Milky Way (with 400 billion star systems) awaits exploration, populated with different factions and realistic supply-and-demand economics. There is no campaign or story mode, but Elite; Dangerous lacks artificial restrictions in exploring the massive sandbox galaxy. Control using the keyboard, gamepad, or a joystick are available, and the graphics and sound design are both top-notch. The slick interface displays nearby contacts, a galaxy map with route planning and color-coded trade routes, and ship attributes. Space stations provide services such as fuel, weapons and other ship components, new ships, and trading opportunities. A variety of missions are also available; in addition, mining, exploration, piracy, bounty hunting, and trade can be undertaken. Ships are geared towards combat, trade, or transport; the flight model has slow yaw (on purpose) and an optimal turning speed. Adjusting the power usage between shields, weapons, and the engine can optimize the ship capabilities, and heat management and silent running options are also available. The frame shift drive provides faster-than-light travel within and between star systems; ships can be interdicted and unidentified signal sources can be investigated. Combat relies on beam and projectile weapons; individual ship systems can be targeted, but usually overall damage is the deciding factor in a dogfight. Death results in getting the starting ship for free, or the last loadout at an appropriate cost. With well-rounded gameplay and several career options set in an immersive, impressive setting, Elite: Dangerous is a first-class space adventure game.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Metrocide Gameplay Review

I'm playing Metrocide, a top-down arcade stealth shooter by Flat Earth Games.

The goal: earn enough money by completing assassination missions to earn a ticket out of town. The game features permadeath and the inability to save your progress. The missions are very repetitive, but more tactical options open up as more weapons and items are purchased from vending machines. Numerous cops, civilians, cameras, vigilantes, and drones roam the streets, so executing the target must be done carefully. Bodies in conspicuous locations can be moved to open sewers or rivers, and the cop level can be lowered with a monetary investment. The difficulty of Metrocide is very high, but solid, if repetitive, stealth gameplay is contained herein.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dungeonmans Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dungeonmans, a roguelike role-playing game by Adventurepro Games.

A roguelike with turn-based gameplay, randomized maps, and permadeath, Dungeonmans also features an academy that features persistent upgrades with more playthroughs. Choosing a class enables different abilities, although activating abilities of more than one class at a time is possible through experience. A bevy of randomized items can be picked up in dungeons or purchased in towns. Enemies are less varied but still numerous and they offer different challenges along the way. Dungeonmans offers very solid roguelike mechanics with a modern interface and overarching persistent upgrades.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Approaching Infinity Gameplay Review

I'm playing Approaching Infinity, a roguelike space adventure by Ibology and Shrapnel Games.

The turn-based game features quest-based victory conditions, although a game can be played until death. Each sector consists of a number of planets, stars, asteroids, space stations, NPC ships, alien embassies, and collectable items; landing on a planet provides another randomized map to explore. Items can be sold for profit or used to craft new items (weapons, shields, armor, sensors, engines). The rudimentary, low-resolution graphics and awkward interface makes navigating the game difficult, though the amount of replay value due to the randomized content is high. Approaching Infinity capably applies roguelike mechanics to a space setting, but its presentation could be more inviting.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon Gameplay Review

I'm playing Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, a turn-based strategy game by Flashback Games Studio, The Lordz Games Studio and Slitherine.

The game pits the Imperium against the Orks in a series of somewhat branching campaigns, where units carry over between missions. The singular objective of capturing victory locations is repeated in each scenario. Thirty standalone missions are also available (but no random maps), along with online asynchronous multiplayer. Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon features an impressive roster of units, including infantry, walkers, vehicles, tanks, and artillery. Each unit can move and attack each turn; additional orders include rest, reinforcement, and transport use. Combat odds are displayed before committing to an attack. The AI is passable, attacking vulnerable units but never surprising with outstanding tactics. In the end, Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon feels more like a modification of Panzer Corps rather than a unique interpretation of the tabletop miniature series.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Foresight Gameplay Review

I'm playing Foresight, a real-time strategy game by Strides Interactive and KISS Ltd.

The game features three ten-mission single player campaigns and twelve maps for a skirmish mode that can be played online or against the AI. Most maps feature sectors connected by wormholes to introduce chokepoints. Foresight features only a handful of buildings (resource collectors, ship builders, and overpowered turrets) and units (scouts, fighters, bombers, and carriers) to choose from. Officers can be hired to lead fleets of ships, which increases the population cap in exchange for making the units somewhat autonomous. Units are produced rather quickly, which impacts game balance. Units will automatically gather resources and attack nearby enemies, reducing micromanagement. However, the AI isn’t quite smart enough to handle fleet automation. The enemy AI is nothing special either, launching poorly organized, intermittent groups of ships. Although the use of fleets is intriguing, the gameplay of Foresight has been hindered by lackluster AI, a lack of strategic depth, and issues with game balance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WARMACHINE: Tactics Gameplay Review

I'm (not) playing WARMACHINE: Tactics, a turn-based strategy game by Privateer Press.

A single-player campaign consists of twenty missions that must be unlocked in a linear order. There are no difficulty settings and the lazy scenario design relies on superior enemy numbers. In addition, progress cannot be saved during a scenario and resumed later. Only three maps are available for skirmish and multiplayer matches. Despite being a turn-based title, there is no support for asynchronous online matches where both players do not need to be online at the same time. There are no victory locations or turn limits during skirmish games (the only objective is to defeat the enemy leader), so nothing prevents players from playing defensively and causing unresolvable stalemates. A poor interface allows for imprecise unit selection, mistaken orders, and infrequent explanations of game mechanics. The interface is coupled with an absolutely terrible camera and poor game performance. Units are allowed to make one move and one attack per turn (unless running is involved); if a unit has multiple weapons of the same type (melee or ranged), one attack can be made by each weapon. For heroes and their robots, focus points can be used to improve weapon accuracy and damage, and some units have access to powerful spells. The AI is stupidly aggressive, moving units far ahead of support, exposing units to attack, and never staying behind cover. While WARMACHINE: Tactics may be a solid board game, much is lost in the translation to the personal computer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Death Skid Marks Gameplay Review

I'm playing Death Skid Marks, a roguelike car combat game by Studio Whisky Tango.

The goal is to reach a concert with a ticket for each passenger in the car, fighting off all enemies along the way. Achieving specific tasks (kills, running other cars off the road) earns money that can be spent on a variety of things in the shop, such as new weapons or upgrades for the car or passengers. Each passenger can carry one weapon and one (usually single-use) item, and the driver cannot attack. Passengers will automatically melee attack adjacent enemies, but ranged weapons must be manually aimed using the mouse. Deceased passengers will need to be replaced down the road. Death Skid Marks is a unique blend of car combat action and roguelike elements.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hell Gameplay Review

I'm playing Hell, a fantasy turn-based strategy game by Hunted Cow Studios and Slitherine.

A modification of the Battle Academy 2 game engine, Hell features two ten-mission campaigns (one for good, one for evil) where you can access any scenario at any time. Unlike other Battle Academy 2 offspring, Hell does not feature randomized maps or single-player skirmish games; nine maps are offered for online play using Slitherine’s handy play by e-mail system. Melee and ranged units have a variety of special abilities and/or spells that can buff or damage other units. Combat involves placing units around the enemy to enable flanking and support bonuses; this decreases morale (called “willpower” here) and increases damage. The AI is very inconsistent (which may explain the lack of single-player skirmish games), occasionally surrounding your vulnerable units but usually sending ineffective piecemeal attacks; generally, the game has to supply the AI enemy with more units to compensate for lacking tactics. While Hell is an inspired adaptation of the Battle Academy 2 engine, the title lacks randomized AI skirmishes and a competent computer opponent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Merchants of Kaidan Gameplay Review

I'm playing Merchants of Kaidan, a trading simulation by Forever Entertainment.

A couple of scenarios vary starting conditions as you trade your way around the empire. Cities can offer workers to join your convoy, cart upgrades, and training. Eventually, you can join a guild, invest in income-producing mines, or hire additional advisors. Traveling on the game map triggers significant random events that can severely hinder your trading efforts. Merchants of Kaidan has unfair profit margins (buy prices are well above sell prices) and seemingly random purchasing locations (food isn’t cheapest in villages, and tools aren’t cheaper in cities, for example), which makes trade extraordinarily difficult. In addition, prices shift without justification, so there is no way to rely on specific trading routes. In the end, Merchants of Kaidan is far too challenging, due to random and senseless pricing, to recommend.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Daedalus - No Escape Gameplay Review

I'm playing Daedalus - No Escape, a top-down arena shooter by Patrice Meneguzzi.

The game offers both single player skirmish games against competent AI opponents or online multiplayer across four game modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, last man standing, capture the flag). Along with a pleasing number of maps, Daedalus - No Escape includes a map editor for community-created designs. The top-down perspective takes some adjustment for those used to first-person views; the control scheme follows traditional mechanics. Weapons must be picked up quickly upon respawning, as the default gun is generally terrible; there is a good selection of arms that aren’t completely balanced (some are clearly better than others). The fast pace feels reminiscient of Unreal Tournament or Quake, and fans of those titles might find some joy in fragging from a different perspective.

Friday, November 14, 2014

This War of Mine Gameplay Review

I'm playing This War of Mine, a civilian survival adventure game by 11 bit studios.

A team of three survivors must collect resources and craft items in order to survive in a war-torn city. Beds, chairs, heaters, and workshops to make bandages, water, cooked food, alcohol, medicine, or weapons can be constructed using resources collected overnight; upgrading a workshop unlocks more options. Scavenging is done at night by one of the team; they enter buildings of varying levels of hostility to collect parts for making things, food, medicine, weapons, or other resources and items vital to the team’s survival. The game involves interesting decisions regarding which resources to collect at night and what to spend the resources on, although the gameplay does become repetitive after a while. Still, This War of Mine is a unique take on the survival game in an intriguing setting.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Enforcer: Police Crime Action Gameplay Review

I'm playing Enforcer: Police Crime Action, a third-person police simulation by Odin Game Studio and Excalibur Publishing.

Taking place in a small mountain town, the game progresses in real-time as you patrol the streets, gain experience, and spend your off-duty time sleeping, eating, and taking showers. The control scheme cannot be changed to utilize more intuitive buttons to turn on sirens, order suspects to comply, or interact with objects. Missions are dynamically generated, involving vehicle checks for speed, drunk drivers, or illegally parked vehicles, or driving to a highlighted location and shooting bad guys. Injured suspects are taken away in an ambulance, arrested folk in a police van, and cars by the tow truck. Warrants can be requested to enter buildings, and cones can be placed to halt vehicles. The AI is as you’d expect in a budget-priced title. While the rough edges are obvious and the missions become repetitive, Enforcer: Police Crime Action does offer an open-ended take on the life of a police officer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dungeon of the Endless Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dungeon of the Endless, a tower defense roguelike by Amplitude Studios.

Featuring randomly generated levels and permadeath, the goal of each floor in the dungeon is to explore and find the exit, and then carry a crystal to to the exit while chaos ensues. The game can be played alone or online cooperatively with up to four others. The squad of heroes each have different abilities (both passive and active), stats, and equipment; heroes will automatically engage any enemies they encounter, drastically reducing micromanagement. Four resources are collected and used: industry builds things like resource producers and turrets, science researches new things to build, food reheals and levels-up heroes, and dust is used to power rooms. A powered room will never spawn enemies, so laying out a secure, defended path to the exit is key. Once dust resources become scarce in the higher floors, the game devolves into constant monster hunting instead of strategic turret placement. Still, Dungeon of the Endless is a refreshing combination of roguelike and tower defense.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager Gameplay Review

I'm playing Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager, a management simulation by Polar Motion and Slitherine.

The turn-based game offers campaigns to the moon and sandbox modes for the United States, Russia, and an international alliance. Online multiplayer is also supported using Slitherine’s asynchronous hosting system. The interface lacks tool-tips, does not indicate previously completed missions, and can make it difficult to find specific information quickly. Prestige points earned from attaining milestones increases the budget used to start a variety of programs, research rockets and payloads (probes, crew craft, spacesuits), and pay salaries. Personnel can be assigned to research specific components and increase reliability, or assigned to advanced training to increase their stats. Building upgrades are purchased to support more people, and random events can mix things up. Tense mission briefings incorporate technical issues, solved by assigning the best people to important roles. While the interface is lacking, the historical nature and flexibility (in terms of what can be done next) of Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager make it a solid management simulation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Ultimate General: Gettysburg Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ultimate General: Gettysburg, a real-time military tactics by Game-Labs.

The branching campaign offers several choices for the next scenario, from a pool of over eighty, based on the results of the previous battle. Consisting of three phases per day for up to four days, objective points must be captured. While a single battle does not last more than thirty minutes, the game lacks time acceleration for those slow periods. Once branches are encountered in the campaign, they are available as single custom battles; the game also support online multiplayer. The interface uses intuitive fluid arrow-drawing for unit movement orders. While pressing “M” will toggle contour lines, it can be difficult to quickly ascertain elevation, line of sight, unit facing, and morale; since the game is in real-time, this can be problematic during hectic conflicts. Historical units (infantry, skirmishers, artillery, cavalry, and command units) are present on the battlefield. Units will automatically engage appropriate nearby enemies and rotate on their own, reducing the micromanagement considerably. The AI can exhibit nine different personalities, although it never becomes competent enough to win consistently, even on the most difficult levels. Due to issues quickly determining important things like line-of-sight, morale, and elevation, Ultimate General: Gettysburg is a good, but not great, start for a tactical strategy series.

Monday, November 03, 2014

NS2: Combat Gameplay Review

I'm playing NS2: Combat, a first-person shooter by Faultline Games and Unknown Worlds Entertainment.

Shipping with five maps, this mod of a mod places the focus on multiplayer, although somewhat capable bots are available to practice against. The goal is to destroy the single enemy base. NS2: Combat features the same classes, weapons, and items as Natural Selection 2, but with no commander, individual players get to choose the upgrades themselves using experience points earned from kills and helping your teammates. This is the major difference between the original game and this modification, and the result is a slightly faster pace and more individual decisions on upgrades; the remainder of the game plays the same. NS2: Combat still relies on teamwork for success, although the need for a capable commander is obviously removed. This standalone offspring of Natural Selection 2 exchanges the strategic depth of the original for a faster pace and individually-directed upgrade choices, a trade that is generally unnecessary due to the lack of drastic gameplay or tactical changes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad Gameplay Review

I'm playing IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, a combat flight simulator by 777 Studios and 1C Game Studios.

Set during the winter snow of Russia during World War II, the campaign consists of five chapters where you must pass six randomly-generated missions in order to advance to the next set. The mission type options (intercept, escort, ground attack, ground support, or bombing) depend on the aircraft you have chosen from the roster of four for each side (two additional planes can be purchased for $40). While all of the aircraft are available from the start, successfully completing missions will unlock new skins and weapons. Despite featuring a fairly user friendly interface that can be turned off for increased realism, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad has no guided tutorials that explain the controls and lacks a manual. Quick missions, more scripted encounters, and online multiplayer are also available. The game relies on seemingly authentic plane handling and adjustable realism (manual engine and fuel control can be enabled, for example). Lethal weapons coupled with limited ammunition means you need to pick your shots, and the damage can be impressive when fire and missing wings are involved. The AI does an adequate job, although they do occasionally miss targets, run into allies, or shoot the player. While not a complete return to glory, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is a solid entry in the combat flight simulator series.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pike and Shot Gameplay Review

I'm playing Pike and Shot, a turn-based strategy game by Byzantine Games, The Lordz Games Studio, and Slitherine.

The game features three campaigns covering the Thirty Years War, English Civil War, and Italian Wars, plus randomized skirmishes on computer-generated maps and online multiplayer using Slitherine’s PBEM system. The interface (like a lot of the game) is essentially identical to Battle Academy 2; a number of foot, horse, and artillery units are available for both ranged and melee combat. Once a unit engages another in melee combat, it does not stop until one side routs, a game mechanic which reduces tactical flexibility. The inability to ignore “priority” enemy units or routed units and engage others nearby also makes it more difficult to flank your opponent. Casualties are very low; morale always determines the victor. While Pike and Shot takes a solid game engine to a new setting, the unique game rules produce slow and restrictive gameplay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Door Kickers Gameplay Review

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

The game features over seventy stand-alone missions with varied objectives (clear hostiles, rescue hostages, defuse the bomb, arrest suspects, stop an execution, protect a VIP), a random mission generator, and several campaigns with linked missions. Steam Workshop support is included so players can exchange mods and custom maps made using the editor. Completing missions (successfully or not) awards experience points that unlock new classes and weapons; soldiers will gain better stats through combat experience. The interface is streamlined: soldier paths are drawn using the mouse and contextual actions can be made at doorways (use camera, flashbang, breach). Coordinating attacks through doorways can be a bit tricky on occasion, although “go” codes can be used to execute simultaneous actions. Door Kickers offers up some very challenging scenarios with solid gameplay and the potential for long-term support thanks to the map editor and randomized missions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Heavy Bullets Gameplay Review

I'm playing Heavy Bullets, a roguelike first-person shooter by Terri Vellmann and Devolver Digital.

Featuring randomly generated levels and permadeath over eight levels, the game is fast paced with quick movement and low health for both enemies and the player. A handful of different enemy types are found, offering various challenges in the neon-colored maps. The revolver only holds eight bullets, which must be picked up and manually reloaded after they are used, adding tension. A large variety of items can be purchased using coins dropped by enemies: potions to heal, buffs for speed or collection radii, or alternative weapons like knives and rockets. Coins can also be stored at a bank for future playthroughs, or you can opt for life insurance or a last will to preserve items for next time. Heavy Bullets offers a very effective combination of fast-paced first-person shooting with roguelike elements to produce a compelling gaming experience.

Monday, October 13, 2014

TinyKeep Gameplay Review

I'm playing TinyKeep, an action roguelike by Phigames and Digital Tribe Games.

With procedurally-generated dungeons and permadeath, TinyKeep features limited controls that can’t be changed, a limited fixed viewing perspective, and an unclear minimap. Combat is a repetitive mix of blocking and attacking. Other prisoners can be freed, and they can either help or attack the protagonist. Taps and hazards can be used against the rudimentary AI. The unnecessary physics engine can make for funny deaths, but usually just places things in the way of fluid movement. Coins dropped from killed enemies can be spent on random buffs, and the game is difficult until a lot of these random buffs are unlocked. TinyKeep is a limited roguelike that strips down the successful formula too much.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Front Page Sports Football Gameplay Review

I'm playing Front Page Sports Football, a sports management game by Cyanide Studio.

The game includes official or randomly-generated leagues, the former of which includes the 2014 teams and players from the NFL (albeit with the names changed to protect the innocent). You can customize your team name and colors, but not that of any other team; you also cannot rename players or player ratings. Finances and drafting are as you’d expect. Your depth chart and roster can be adjusted, using confusingly-colored overall rating cues to determine the best players. Training between games can increase stats in specific areas or team performance on specific plays, a neat idea. Custom playbooks can be designed, although the interface makes this a tedious process. Lengthy simulation times coupled with the inability to save or pause during a match elongate the season. The game gives you sixteen plays (out of eighty in your playbook) to choose from during any down. The in-game experience is lacking: you can’t decide what to do on fourth down (the game automatically kicks or punts for you), you can’t onside kick, you can’t go for two points after a touchdown, the substitutions can’t be manually adjusted, the clock stoppage rules are wrong (and there’s no two-minute warning), and penalty yardage is frequently incorrect. The game also suffers from a multitude of bugs, from occasionally locking up when starting a game to refusing to simulate random games during a season. Front Page Sports Football is a title that was released too early and it has too many problems to recommend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Ancient Space Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ancient Space, a real-time strategy game by Creative Forge and Paradox Interactive.

The single-player-only game features a campaign with outrageous difficulty (even on the lowest setting) due to the sheer number of enemy ships in each scenario; you cannot skip missions and single scenarios are locked until you defeat them. Units and attributes can be upgraded between missions, and officers can activate special abilities during a mission. The three “skirmish” modes aren’t really actual skirmishes, simply placing you against superior enemy numbers just like in the campaign. The interface becomes problematic: while a nifty list displays your entire fleet, the unit icons are too small and selecting appropriate ships quickly to respond to an incoming threat is difficult. Confusing camera controls and inconsistent mouse wheel zooming also complicate things. Fixed space station locations can be captured to accumulate resources and increase the population cap, and then outfit with a defensive or support structure. Resources can be spent to unlock new technology tiers, although the roster of units is limited and units are only effective against specific sizes. The AI benefits from sheer numbers, rarely throwing a well-organized assault at you; friendly units also have issues engaging nearby enemies after their current target is destroyed. Ancient Space offers low value due to the lack of a true skirmish mode, limitations of the interface and AI, unwavering unit counters, limited base construction options, and the repetitively unfair design of the linear campaign.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Meridian: New World Gameplay Review

I'm playing Meridian: New World, a real-time strategy game by Elder Games and Headup Games.

With a campaign lacking innovation and feature-limited skirmish games for singles only, the game has an outdated interface that prevents selecting idle or combat units, seeing what types of units are actually selected, zooming the view in or out, and changing the keyboard commands. The main resource is slowly mined from the map by workers; power and food are required to run a handful of structures and raise the population cap, respectively. A small variety (two per building) of infantry, light vehicles, heavy vehicles, and flying units can be produced, along with defensive turrets and laboratory upgrades for units. Friendly units are very aggressive in engaging nearby (and not-so-nearby) enemies, though the skirmish AI could be better at expanding. Overall, Meridian: New World lacks the strategic variety required for long-term enjoyment.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Wrack Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wrack, an arcade first-person shooter by Final Boss Entertainment.

The game includes a ten-level campaign, quick play access to any level, and competitive time attack and score attack modes. The game lacks cooperative online play, but user-made levels and mods are supported. The game has a quick pace, with fast movement and relatively quick enemy disposal using the game’s five weapons (sword, pistol, shotgun, pulse gun, and bazooka). The enemies feature simple AI and are mostly there to explode into bloody bits. Low health and ammunition, coupled with numerous well-equipped enemies, give Wrack its high difficulty. The limited number of weapons and levels prevents Wrack from being a more compelling arcade shooter.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stronghold Crusader 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Stronghold Crusader 2, a defensive strategy game by Firefly Studios.

The game features a good amount of content: a tutorial, learning campaigns, a skirmish trail, custom skirmish games, a free build sandbox mode, and the ability to import user-made maps. Stronghold Crusader 2 also supports multiplayer deathmatch games online. The interface has two nifty features: a popularity display with adjustable sliders to make your castle more appealing, and separate rally points for each type of unit. Collecting resources for food, weapons, and construction is simple (and lacks depth) because of the lack of sophisticated production chains. Ordering units is also a simple affair. While Stronghold Crusader 2 isn’t a bad game (like Stronghold 3 was), it offers little that wasn’t already present in previous games in the series.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lords of the Black Sun Gameplay Review

I'm playing Lords of the Black Sun, a turn-based 4X space strategy game by Arkavi Studios and Iceberg Interactive.

Featuring several races with different bonuses, the game starts out with bland, repetitive, and slow exploration. Annoying pirates are entirely too powerful at the start of each game. Unit designs can be customized with researched components; new units and buildings are ordered at your colonies. Tax rates and domestic policies can be adjusted, and trade can be undertaken with other races. Research through the semi-random technology tree is very slow and diplomatic options are typical, although there are several options in espionage. Turn-based battles resolve conflict in space with no reaction fire or countering. In the end, Lords of the Black Sun offers nothing that hasn’t been featured in better 4X games, except for its tiring, tedious pace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Endless Legend Gameplay Review

I'm playing Endless Legend, a turn-based fantasy 4X strategy game by Amplitude Studios and Iceberg Interactive.

Featuring single-player or online skirmish games, there are extensive new game customization options, including multiple victory conditions and varied factions to command. The slick interface makes most pertinent information easy to find. A major innovation of Endless Legend is only allowing one city to be build in each map region; this greatly reduces city spam. The population of each city can be assigned to collect one of the game’s basic resources; strategic and luxury resources required for weapons and other items can also be mined. A large array of buildings can be placed to boost local resource production. Each region also includes a minor faction that can be pacified and assimilated through bribery, quests, or combat. Each faction has access to three of the five unit types (infantry, ranged, support, cavalry, flying); the other two can be gained through minor faction assimilation. Units and heroes can be equipped with weapons and items to boost their stats. Additional features include quests, ruins to explore, roaming creeps to exterminate, an empire plan to allow for bonuses every twenty turns, a non-linear technology tree, trade routes, a marketplace to buy and sell, and basic diplomacy between powers. The AI plays the game well enough, taking advantage of weak nations when given the opportunity. The multiple unique features and mechanics of Endless Legend make it an exemplary fantasy 4X game.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front Gameplay Review

I'm playing Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front, a turn-based strategy game by Slitherine.

The streamlined turn-based strategy series returns with four campaigns (that can be played cooperatively online) covering the Eastern Front, a skirmish mode with randomly generated maps and scenarios, and online asynchronous multiplayer; an included editor and mod support, along with the random skirmishes, help to extend the life of the game. The simplified interface (designed with touch screens in mind, no doubt) use left-clicks to select and issue orders, such as movement, attacking, laying smoke, and assaults. Hidden units can also ambush the enemy (especially infantry units), and units gain experience with successful combat. A host of infantry, artillery, reconnaissance, and armored units are available for both the Germans and Russians. Special tactical bonuses, such as airstrikes, morale boosts, or off-map artillery, can be called in. Morale, line-of-sight, and terrain are also tactical considerations. The AI does a nice job playing the game, staying outside of the range of your units, keeping defensive units hidden, but attacking the same area with waves of units that get destroyed in quick succession. Still, the approachable mechanics and extremely high replay value, thanks to randomized skirmish games and online multiplayer, make Battle Academy 2 a distinguished turn-based strategy game, especially for novices.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cannon Brawl Gameplay Review

I'm playing Cannon Brawl, an action strategy game by Turtle Sandbox.

Fast-paced matches on destructible 2D levels, where players attempt to eliminate the enemy base, can be enjoyed in the twenty-level campaign, AI skirmish battles, or online multiplayer. Each pilot has a different ability, and your roster of five structures must be chosen before each match, adding a layer of strategy to the game. Controls use either a gamepad or the keyboard; the mouse is not supported, a significant limitation for a speedy strategy game. Resource collectors, support buildings (shields, healing, boosters), and projectile launchers (cannons, lasers, missiles) can be placed in territory captured by floating balloons. All structures must be placed manually from your dirigible, and the weapons must also fired by flying around the map, leading to frantic gameplay where building placement and unit firing occur in quick succession. Cooldown timers do decrease the pace ever so slightly, and guns can be upgraded for more powerful and more damaging ammunition. Cannon Brawl is a very quick game that supports varied strategies, appropriate for those who enjoy frenzied strategy games.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Planetary Annihilation Gameplay Review

I'm playing Planetary Annihilation, a large-scale real-time strategy game by Uber Entertainment.

The game retains the massive scale of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander. The single player Galactic War campaign mode features randomized galaxies where the player navigates across the stars, engaging enemy commanders in each system and gathering new technologies that unlock additional units. Skirmish games are also available against the AI and online. Currently, the game cannot be played offline (even in single player mode) and a match cannot be saved mid-game. A robust system editor allows custom systems of planets and moons to be created. The interface allows for quick camera movement to other planets; it also displays unit icons when zoomed out, supports continuous build modes, and actions can be queued using the shift key. Metal is collected from fixed points on each planet, while energy can be produced anywhere. It is important to maintain a positive balance of both metal and energy, or production will be less efficient. Fabricators can be used to assist in the construction of buildings and units, allowing for the use of excess resources.Vehicles, bots, air, naval, and orbital units are made at factories; more advanced (and expensive) versions can be built at advanced factories. Defensive turrets and shields can be placed, radar can display enemy positions, and teleports can allow for quick movement between planets. Games rarely stalemate, as rockets can be strapped to smaller moons to slam them into larger planets and annihilate everything in their wake, or a metallic Death Star could be constructed to vaporize and entire world. The AI is competent and provides a good challenge offline. The fast pace, huge battles, unique end-game destruction, and varied strategies supported by Planetary Annihilation make it a very satisfying large-scale real-time strategy game.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SPACECOM Gameplay Review

I'm playing SPACECOM, a real-time strategy game by Flow Combine and 11 bit.

Featuring a fourteen-mission campaign and eight standalone maps for AI skirmish or online multiplayer, the goal is to capture the enemy systems by invading resource-producing, unit-producing, and repairing systems. There are three ship types: battle fleets that attack enemy ships, invasion ships that capture systems, and siege fleets that disable a system for both sides. The fleet population cap is increased by capturing more system. Resources for fleets and defenses are automatically transported to the systems that need them. Fleets more faster through friendly territory, and attrition is experienced in enemy zones. Battles are all automated, so its simply a matter of having more ships. The mechanics of SPACECOM are easily approachable, but the limited strategies decrease replay value and long-term enjoyment.