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.