Saturday, June 28, 2014

GRID Autosport Gameplay Review

I'm playing GRID Autosport, a racing simulation by Codemasters.

The game focuses on five racing disciplines: touring, endurance (up to 40-minute-long night races, but only eight minutes by default and no pit stops), open wheel, tuner, and street. The career mode allows you to change between each discipline at will, and you can create custom cups with all features unlocked. Online play through RaceNet features clubs and challenges, and a local split-screen mode with several party modes (destruction derby, eliminator, and checkpoint races) is also available. GRID Autosport does away with “silly” race modes like passing slow cars or random live routes, focusing on more traditional races and timed events. With a large number of vehicles in each discipline, 100 track routes spread out over 22 locations, the reintroduction of practice and qualifying sessions, and two (albeit low-resolution) cockpit views, GRID Autosport is going for a more realistic feel. The handling strikes a nice balance between sim and arcade, tending more towards the former with distinct attributes for each car class. Vehicle upgrades and assists are also available. The damage model is more responsive to running into things at high speed (but still not completely realistic), and the handy flashback feature allows you to retry the last few seconds of track action. The AI is challenging, aggressive (without spinning you out), occasionally mistake-prone, doesn’t “rubber band”, and adjusts behavior based on the car type. Overall, GRID Autosport is a grand improvement over GRID 2.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rise of Nations: Extended Edition Gameplay Review

I'm playing Rise of Nations: Extended Edition, a real-time strategy game by SkyBox Labs, Big Huge Games, and Microsoft Studios.

This remake of the classic game includes the base game and expansion, slightly better visuals, multiplayer through Steam, and Twitch integration. The original features remain intact, starting with tons of custom game options and action-packed gameplay on randomized maps. The multi-layered mechanics lead to many strategic options through resource collection, expansion, research, upgrades, trade, wonders, and military units. The interface, though not improved, is still strong with easily accessible data and plenty of hotkeys. The Risk-like campaigns and very capable AI round out the package. While the new features aren’t tremendous and some multiplayer matches suffer from connection issues depending on the host, Rise of Nations is as good as you remember and belongs in the library of every computer strategist.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Super Toy Cars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Super Toy Cars, an arcade racing game by Eclipse Games.

The game features almost fifty levels spread across twelve levels in a career mode where winnings can be spent unlocking new cars and upgrades; a first place finish in every race is not required to proceed onward. An intuitive track editor, with sharing through Steam Workshop, is also available. Five modes are available: race, eliminate (where last place leaves every fifteen seconds), evade (eliminate mode with tons of mines), and two timed events. Controls include boost that is earned through airtime and power-ups that can be thrown or placed. The game has touchy auto-reset when you venture even a slight amount off-track, and the physics can become wacky during collisions. The AI does make mistakes and provides good competition, provided you are in evenly-matched cars. While not the most polished arcade racing game, Super Toy Cars does provide light, action-packed racing and compelling features such as online play and a track editor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Legions of Ashworld Gameplay Review

I'm playing Legions of Ashworld, a turn-based strategy game by Jugilus.

The game features one campaign on a single map, reducing replay value. In the game, you need to recruit neutral leaders to join your cause and take on the overwhelming enemies. The interface allows for easy access to your units, and while movement is a bit cumbersome, the graphics are certainly distinctive. New troops and supplies can be purchased with money earned through taxes; supplies are necessary for units to recover battle and marching aptitude during times of rest. Magic items can be purchased, sites can be searched for goods, and roaming animals can be hunted for additional supplies. Battles are automated and take several days depending on the quantity of units involved. The skewed difficulty of Legions of Ashworld, giving far too many units to the enemy, and the lack of replay value make it a tough game to recommend.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Xenonauts Gameplay Review

I'm playing Xenonauts, a strategic planetary defense simulator by Goldhawk Interactive.

Much like its inspiration X-COM: UFO Defense, the game involves running an international alien defense system. Half of the game takes place in real-time on a global map, divided into regions that provide funding to your operation based on how effective you are at providing defense. You can place bases around the world and add radar stations, hangars for fighter jets, laboratories for research, workshops for building new items, medical centers for rehealing, and garages for vehicles. Once a UFO is sighted, you can send a number of jets towards them. The controls for the air battles are cumbersome and inexact; simply autoresolving battles is usually a better option. Once a UFO is shot down, you can call in an airstrike or take your team for a tactical battle. The turn-based battles has you exploring a handful of different semi-randomized environments for the downed UFO and any aliens that might be along the way. Movement points can be used to shoot, toss grenades, heal, or reaction fire during the alien turn. Spotting aliens and preserving line of sight is important for victory, although losses are inevitable. The tactical battles are challenging, but more because your units usually die in only one shot rather than advanced AI: some enemies wander around aimlessly or simply hide in the UFO, waiting for you to smoke and grenade them. In the end, Xenonauts is an addictive remake hindered a bit by occasionally pedestrian AI.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Space Run Gameplay Review

I'm playing Space Run, a ship design and tower defense strategy game by Passtech Games and Focus Home Interactive.

The game features thirty challenging scenarios where you must place offensive and defensive weapons on your ship as you transport cargo through enemy-filled space. As you complete each mission, money is earned that can unlock new items and upgrades for existing ones. The ship layouts allow for lots of flexibility in placing your items, and careful planning must be made to ensure that complementary pieces are constructed correctly. During each mission, you can collect resources dropped by defeated ships to place more items, and redirect some weapons to more effectively take on the enemies. There is good variety in enemy types, each of which presents different challenges. Space Run takes typical tower defense mechanics and adds flexible design in a unique setting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

HTR+ Gameplay Review

I'm playing HTR+, a slot car racing simulation by QUByte Interactive and Libredia.

The game features a number of different track layouts that are unlocked by finishing first in the previous event. There is also an easy-to-use track editor, and you can share your creations online and download those made by others. Money earned during events can be used to purchase upgrades for your car. The controls are terrible for the PC: you must hold down the mouse button and move the mouse vertically to control the speed of your car; simply using mouse movement without requiring the button to be held down would have worked much better. HTR+ could have also used triggers from a gamepad, which would be a good analog for the actual controls for slot cars. The physics are plausible, although some funky collisions are occasionally seen. Driving does require skill to slow down and not spin out, and you have to memorize each track layout because HTR+ lacks a minimap. The AI is also done well, exhibiting mistakes and providing a reasonable foe. HTR+ is a faithful replication of slot car racing sabotaged by the control scheme.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Watch_Dogs Gameplay Review

I'm playing Watch_Dogs, an open-world action adventure game by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft.

In addition to a five act main story with missions that can be approached with stealth or action (or both), there are copious amounts of side missions (like stopping crimes or infiltrating gang hideouts), mini-games (including poker, chess, and arcade shooting), and investigations where information can be gathered in specific locations. Multiplayer races, capture the flag modes, and competitions against mobile players are available; other players can also attempt to hack you at any time. The interface was clearly designed for a gamepad; the inventory wheel is completely useless with a mouse, although I do like how control prompts change based on which input device is used. The main features that differentiates Watch_Dogs from other sandbox games is hacking: the phone to access cameras, deploy road hazards, alter traffic lights, detonate fuse boxes, and embezzle funds from unsuspecting bystanders. Components can be used to craft explosives and jammers, and cash can be used to purchase guns, ammunition, and medicine. Watch_Dogs is a cover-based shooter: pressing “C” will access the nearest solid object, and the lack of hip fire forces more deliberate aiming. Focus time can be used to slow down time for improved accuracy. Cars are best handled with a gamepad. NPCs have plausible behaviors, but antagonists like the police could be more aggressive and smarter. Overall, Watch_Dogs is a good, but not great, open-world adventure game in the tradition of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville Early Access Beta Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the early access beta of Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville, a post-apocalyptic city building game by Northway Games.

The game currently features city building in randomized locations with events that impact the game world. Each survivor exhibits varied personalities, skills, perks, and traits; they are sent on missions that take place in each location on the city map. Weapons and items can be used to defend against the zombie horde or rival factions. A variety of buildings can be placed, and laboratories can be used to traverse the research tree. Trading with other factions is possible, and different policies can be set for your section of town. A campaign mode, more events, and new zombie types are planned before release.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ancient Domains of Mystery Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ancient Domains of Mystery, a roguelike role-playing game by Thomas Biskup.

Recently resuming development thanks to crowdfunding, the game now features 2D tile graphics in addition to ascii. The disappointingly non-random game world map is populated with randomized dungeons, and death, as always, is permanent. Rudimentary mouse support has been added to the game, but ADOM still relies heavily on keyboard commands (some obscure, like the comma to pick up objects) that must be committed to memory for more efficient play. Character design is pleasingly thorough, offering a customized or random race, class, talent, skills, and attributes. You can wield a number of different items and weapons, in addition to using magic and tools during your journey. New items can be found in the game world or purchased in town shops. You must also occasionally eat (corpses can be consumed) and heal over time. Further features include the ability to pray to your god, undertake quests, search for hidden treasures, and adjust the aggressiveness of your combat attacks. This newest version of Ancient Domains of Mystery is certainly more accessible thanks to improved graphics and other additional features, but the continued reliance on obscure keyboard commands for a majority of the input inhibits truly wide appeal.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar Gameplay Review

I'm playing Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar, a real-time strategy game by Longbow Games and Kasedo Games.

The game features a campaign divided into four chapters; there are lots of objectives to fulfill, but the mission design resorts to unfair difficulty by spontaneously introducing numerically superior enemy units often. There is also a somewhat customizable sandbox mode that can take place on the extensive map of Gaul or a smaller section of it. The interface has been improved with unit icons and an asset list. Cities can produce new units, construct upgrades, and collect resources from surrounding farms, mines, and logging camps through manually-designated supply routes. Units are initially recruited with no health and grow as recruits become available; troops defeated in battle will resupply automatically at their home city. Diplomacy is very simplistic, as are the tactical battles: while you can flank enemy units, usually troops are casually clashing in a gigantic blob. The AI is generally passive, especially in the skirmish games, rarely organizing an effective attack unless scripted by the scenario designer. While clearly improved in several areas, Hegemony Rome features limitations with the AI and difficulty balance.