Friday, September 22, 2017

Terroir Gameplay Review

I'm playing Terroir, a winery management simulation by General Interactive.

The game features randomized tiles on which to place crops in different soils (which support different types of grapes), buildings to enable additional management actions or sell wine directly, an environmental areas (like lakes and forests) that produce adjacency bonuses. During the year, the foliage must be trimmed back in order for the grapes to ripen, though too much sun will ruin them too. In addition, rot and insects can ruin crops as well. Once Fall rolls around, grapes are harvested and turned into wine using a four-step process (crushing, fermenting, pressing, and ageing in barrels) that affects the four attributes of the wine. There is initially only one option for each step (though some minor tweaking is available), but more can be unlocked well later in the game. Then, the wine can be bottled, tasted by professionals that assign a rating, and sold at a price based on that rating. Once a five-star rated wine is produced, you can play Monopoly-style chance cards that may give a positive or negative event. Starting out is very difficult: poor randomized weather can ruin a year’s crop, there is a lot of initial guessing as to the optimal attributes for each wine, there is only one option for each processing step in the beginning, starting wines don’t make much money, and loans can only be taken out if you are well established with a high renown rating. But once the money starts rolling in, the game becomes more enjoyable with lots of crops to attend to, more buildings to construct, more worker actions, and more options to process the wine. Still, the general process is repetitive from year to year. Terroir is a unique game in its setting, but reversed difficulty (harder at first and easier as things progress) and repetitive gameplay make it difficult to recommend overall.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! Gameplay Review

I'm playing Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, a restaurant management simulation by Vertigo Gaming.

In addition to growing your own restaurant by purchasing new foods and adding unlocked cosmetic decorations, the game features a large number of established restaurants to try with a variety of menu items (180 different foods to prepare are in the game). Also, you can play cooperatively with a second player (one on the keyboard, another on the mouse or gamepad), which is very enjoyable and makes handling more hectic scenarios easier. The goal is to prepare orders by pressing keys in a specific order; some entrees (and all sides) can be prepped ahead of time in holding stations to complete orders more quickly, but food does eventually expire. The simple, intuitive gameplay gives way to chaos, as many complex orders come in at once. Chores (like refilling the drink machine, cleaning the toilet, or taking out the garbage) also must be completed, adding to the disorder. The game is very addictive, and once specific key combinations become memorized, fulfilling orders becomes fun and majestic. Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is a very enjoyable sequel, adding new strategic options through the holding stations, lots of new foods and restaurants to prepare them in, and rewarding cooperative gameplay.

Friday, September 15, 2017

NASCAR Heat 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing NASCAR Heat 2, a racing simulation by Monster Games and 704Games.

This year’s iteration includes all three major NASCAR series (Monster Energy, Xfinity, and Camping World Trucks); the lower two series are essentially slower versions of the Monster Energy cars with different vehicle models and drivers. 2017 race rules are in effect, with stage racing and the new points system. Beyond simple quick races, there are single championships for each series (including just playing the 10-race playoffs) and a career mode where you start out in the Truck series and work your way up. Challenges give scenarios on specific tracks with specific drivers and objectives, but there is no countdown timer for when control becomes manual, leading to a lot of crashes until the timing is memorized. A split-screen mode and online multiplayer are also available, but there are no tutorials or racing line to learn each track. NASCAR Heat 2 is clearly designed with consoles in mind, with simplified handling and abbreviated controls; in-game information is hard to come by, as gaps to the car in front or how many laps of fuel are remaining are impossible to find. In addition, race starts and pit stops are automated and cannot be manually controlled. The spotter is very inconsistent, sometimes ignoring surrounding cars or giving useless information. Car handling is very tight off the corner (possibly because I am accelerating too early), but can be slightly adjusted using the setup options. Damage (minor contact sometimes causes damage, but flipping over may not) and cautions (Single car wreck? Yellow. Multi-car wreck involving the player? No flag) are inconsistent. The AI isn’t quite up to par: while it doesn’t do anything outrageously terrible, computer drivers routinely ignore the player’s position when deciding to go three-wide into a corner (which happens frequently), and they recklessly dive into corners when given a little room at speeds far too fast than normal. NASCAR Heat 2 is an arcade racing game through and through, exchanging accessibility for realism and showing cracks in several areas.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tooth and Tail Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tooth and Tail, a real-time strategy game by Pocketwatch Games.

The game features a story-based campaign mode with usually unbalanced scenarios (the AI enemies are given more initial resources and/or superior units). Multiplayer skirmish games are also available online or against the AI, with randomized maps and limited to only six different units per side (enabling a layer of strategy). The controls are minimal and done through your hero unit, whom can place structures to collect resources or build units automatically and place rally points for units to follow. Only one resource is used in the game (food), and since units are recruited and replaced automatically, a careful balance of placing new structures while expanding the economy with additional farms must be found. Tooth and Tail has a satisfying selection of animal units, including basic infantry, ranged artillery, flying medics, toxic grenades (from skunks, naturally), and poison snakes. Defensive structures are also available. Games are very quick (usually around five minutes), and the AI plays well. Tooth and Tail offers a streamlined real-time strategy game that does not sacrifice too much depth for approachability, and has some neat innovations for the genre.

Oriental Empires Gameplay Review

I'm playing Oriental Empires, a 4X turn-based strategy game by Shining Pixel Studios and Iceberg Interactive.

The game features a campaign mode with historic starting locations on a large map of China, a later start date with impending war, and randomized maps based on the topography of the region. In addition to games against the AI, online multiplayer is available for up to fifteen players. The interface provides a handy list for easy access to cities, units, and events, but does not expand vertically when necessary. The game also relies on different “city” and “map” views that actually don’t look any different, requiring constant tedious switching back and forth. Settlers are sent out to found new cities, and farms are built to grow the population (most income is gained from taxes, so having a large population is key); some factions are herders that automatically use the surrounding land. Additional city options include roads, removing pesky trees, and placing special buildings to extract tradable resources or lower unrest. Each city can also recruit units and build special military, trade, or defensive structures; both units and buildings have very high upkeep and should only be called upon sparingly. Map-based encounters can be scouted by a leader and provide bonuses, while roaming bandits must also be dealt with. Keeping unrest low is very important as rebellions are a very real threat; this can be done by placing the occasional structure and reducing the number of farms and roads being built. New technologies can be researched, and diplomatic options are basic (mutual defense, attack this faction). Combat is automated, but unit behaviors (attack, flank, retreat) and formations can be adjusted before the battle begins. The AI is generally competent, but doesn’t expand far enough away from existing cities. Oriental Empires, while clearly using the same foundation as other 4X games, adds enough regional flavor and other changes to the usual formula to stand out.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Age of Fear 3: The Legend Gameplay Review

I'm playing Age of Fear 3: The Legend, a turn-based fantasy strategy game by The Age of Fear Team.

The game features two lengthy, challenging campaigns of scripted missions against numerous enemy units. In addition, multiplayer skirmish battles on a small number of maps (no randomized maps) are available on a LAN or against the AI; team rosters are customized before each match. There are a lot of units to choose from scattered across several races, with many interesting abilities to take advantage of during battle. Age of Fear 3 retains the gameplay of its predecessors: turn-based on maps devoid of hexes, where units can block the movement of enemies to shield heroes and support units. The AI is strong, able to cope with the multitude of unit abilities and provide a competent opponent. While the gameplay of Age of Fear 3: The Legend is not significantly different from the previous games in the series and the game engine has remained the same for six years, the long campaigns and huge variety of units and abilities do provide value in this new edition.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

F1 2017 Gameplay Review

I'm playing F1 2017, a racing simulation by Codemasters.

This latest version of the franchise includes rules and tracks from 2017, eleven classic cars from the 90’s and 2000’s, four shorter versions of existing tracks, a nighttime Monaco event, female drivers, an AI difficulty slider, and additional pitting assists. The detailed career mode includes all of the fine features of last year, plus more car upgrades, practice programs, and engine management. In addition, invitational events are included as a part of the career mode that provide short, objective-based scenarios (like overtaking a certain number of cars, or checkpoint races). A championships mode includes a large variety of compelling multi-race events with alternate rules (like field inversion or multi-heat races). An online event mode provides race scenarios to conquer as well. The inclusion of the varied championship mode races, and small enhancements across many areas, offer reasonable, though not significant, improvements for a yearly franchise.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Super Blood Hockey Gameplay Review

I'm playing Super Blood Hockey, an arcade sports game by Loren Lemcke.

The game features several game modes (exhibition, an eight-team tournament, and a challenge mode with alternate game rules like 12v12) with the ability to adjust game length (2-minute periods seem best), player speed, and puck attributes. Players are placed in three classes: enforcer (best at checking and fighting), sniper (skating and shooting), and playmaker (balanced, but good at faceoffs). The graphics and soundtrack do well to evoke a retro theme. Controls are simple (one button each to change player, check, pass, and shoot), and there is no button overlap, which could lead to potential input confusion when switching between offense and defense. Skater handling is done well, and the lack of a “sprint” button leads to a lot of breakaways, making for more exciting games. Fights work like penalties: the loser surrenders a player from the game for a couple of minutes (due to them convulsing on the ice, of course). The AI is a capable opponent (both friendly players and the opposing team), and it can be challenging to win consistently. Super Blood Hockey is a very enjoyable arcade sports title that benefits from fluid, approachable controls and an emphasis on action-packed, fast-paced gameplay.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

StellarHub Gameplay Review

I'm playing StellarHub, a space station management simulation by Casualogic.

The game features a number of different worlds with varying difficulties and layouts (plus a randomized sandbox mode). Raw resources (oxygen, power, ore, and minerals) are extracted from the map, and then can be converted into more sophisticated goods (metal and plastic, leading to spare parts and ammunition) in a processing plant. In addition, crops and animals can be farmed and then processed (into food, medicine, vaccines, or alcohol) as well. Additional building options include research labs to unlock new structures, trade ports to bring in new crew or sell manufactured goods, and defensive structures to protect against asteroids and pirates. Each member of the crew can be assigned one job and gain experience by completing their work; some have previous experience in particular fields that will result in less accidents during the day. Crew members are mostly automated, but require some micromanagement when they become sick as they must be manually ordered to report to the medbay. StellarHub offers choices on what to do after the fairly inflexible initial build (due to the limited starting resources), and has enough random events (disease, asteroid impacts, pirates) to break up the potential monotony of choosing research, placing new structures and assigning jobs to newcomers. The result is a compelling, challenging space station management simulation.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sudden Strike 4 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Sudden Strike 4, a real-time strategy game by Kite Games and Kalypso Media.

The game features three campaigns of seven missions each for the Soviets, Allies, and Germans; there are also two-mission Dunkirk campaigns for the Germans and Allies. Each mission has a more difficult “challenge” version with less support or an additional side objective. Choosing a leader doctrine before each map grants different buffs for infantry, armored, or support units. While using the typical structure of a real-time strategy campaign (attack here, then defend here), the missions are usually balanced well enough, providing challenge while remaining mostly fair. Skirmish and online modes are more disappointing: only four maps supporting 4v4 matches that involve a huge clash in the first minute of each match, followed by combat between two or three units at a time, due to a combination of the fast overall pace of the game and the slow speed that reinforcements can be brought in. Units include infantry, tanks, and artillery units that can be ordered into formations by holding down the right-mouse button. While medics and repair trucks will automatically heal surrounding units, Sudden Strike 4 is hindered by very inconsistent pathfinding: units routinely collide with other units (getting temporarily stuck), and while they sometimes engage enemy units within range, sometimes they do not, resulting in a need for constant micromanagement of your units. Because of the fast pace of the game, this can be an impossible task. The best feature of the game is occupying buildings with infantry: each structure has a specified number of windows that can be fired from, providing a layer of convincing realism. While the campaign scenarios are generally entertaining, the pathfinding issues (compounded by the fast pace) and underwhelming skirmish mode make Sudden Strike 4 come up a bit short.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Casus Belli: Battle Of Annihilation Gameplay Review

I'm playing Casus Belli: Battle Of Annihilation, a turn-based strategy game by Viny Game Studios.

Similar in approach to Advance Wars, the game features twelve maps of varied sizes, all of which provide significant resource advantages to the blue player (the AI by default, but it can be switched). This eliminates any balance for hot seat games, and the lack of a map editor (no random maps, either) means no alterations can be made to make things more fair. Locations around each map can be captured to provide resources (towns) or produce units (one land, air, or sea unit per location each turn). Units can move and attack each turn, and certain units perform better against specific enemies. The AI is a capable opponent, capturing locations and engaging with appropriate units, which makes any resource advantage seem unnecessary. While Casus Belli: Battle Of Annihilation offers approachable, simplified turn-based gameplay, the map design and lack of other features hold the game back.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Strategy & Tactics: Dark Ages Gameplay Review

I'm playing Strategy & Tactics: Dark Ages, a turn-based strategy game by HeroCraft.

The game features a small number of scenarios (eight); while the missions have plentiful secondary objectives that add some replay value, the general plan in each is fairly scripted based on the fixed starting conditions. Most scenarios give a huge economic, territory, and military advantage to the opponent; there is no skirmish mode where each faction is given equal footing to begin with. The benefits for the AI cannot be adjusted, as there are no difficulty settings. The only resource in the game is silver, accumulated each turn by occupying provinces around the map and spent on new infantry, cavalry, and archery units. Heroes whom lead each army can only perform one action per turn (move, attack, or recruit), which adds some strategic choices to the game. While combat is completely automated, units can be placed in formations before the battle begins, which does make a difference in attack and defense attributes. Because of the low unit cap (only seven heroes are allowed, and each hero can only recruit a specific number of units), it can be impossible to quickly finish a scenario even after it’s clear you will be victorious. Strategy & Tactics: Dark Ages is an approachable turn-based strategy game hindered by its small assortment of unbalanced, tedious scenarios.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Community Inc Gameplay Review

I'm playing Community Inc, a city building simulation by T4 Interactive and tinyBuild.

The game features randomly generated maps on which to create a thriving village able to export expensive manufactured goods. The interface provides some useful information, but it makes it difficult to designate and switch the profession of the villagers (I had to print out a hard copy spreadsheet for each game to keep things straight). In addition, you cannot queue crafted items you do not have the resources for (and there are no repeated or infinite queues), which makes planning for the future difficult. Basic resources (wood, stone, plant material) must be manually designated for removal (including food from plantations). Using these resources, tools, food, furniture, and weapons can be crafted, and buildings for livestock, housing, trade, and storage can be placed. Citizens will level up with experience, unlocking additional jobs and more efficient work ethics. Newcomers also arrive with traits that make them more suited for specific occupations. Other factions can be traded with or fought against, and random events (sometimes good but usually bad) arrive at inconvenient times. Due to some interface shortcomings and tedious gameplay mechanics, Community Inc comes up short of being a fulfilling city builder.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Kingdoms and Castles Gameplay Review

I'm playing Kingdoms and Castles, a city building simulation by Lion Shield.

The game plays out on randomly generated maps at several difficulty levels (which adjusts the length of the growing season and the frequency of enemy invasions), but lacks a tutorial. The interface could be better: while tool-tips are plentiful, it is hard to find specific buildings. Basic resources (wood, stone, iron) are gathered from the map, while food must be grown at farms and orchards. More advanced structures require manufactured goods like charcoal and tools. Eventually, defenses and various services must be constructed to keep the villagers happy and safe. It can be easy to outgrow production, so steady growth is key to prevent an economic collapse. Overall, Kingdoms and Castles is an acceptable simplified city builder.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Epic Little War Game Gameplay Review

I'm playing Epic Little War Game, a turn-based strategy game by Rubicon Development.

The game features a series of scripted missions in a campaign that routinely gives superior numbers and defenses to the AI. Online and skirmish games are also present, with lots of maps available plus the ability to generate randomized ones (although you cannot customize the size of the map or the number of players while making it). The AI also gets a significant money advantage in skirmish games on any difficulty level beyond “easy”. Epic Little War Game tries to achieve a level of humor through its presentation, but I found it to be repetitive and unfunny. The interface is decent but lacks a “next” or “idle” unit indicator beyond the colored hex beneath each unit. The goal is to eliminate the enemy headquarters, using oil to purchase things and power to keep things running. Buildings include unit-producing structures and defensive turrets, allowing for infantry, vehicle, air, and sea attacks. Units can both move and shoot each turn (including moving, shooting, and moving again). Skirmish games become a race towards the center, building oil derricks along the way and placing unit-producing structures close to the enemy base because of extremely slow unit movement. Games also tend to drag due to high building health against most units and potent automated defenses; in addition, units that actually can destroy buildings can be easily and cheaply countered by a defender. There are some favored units (grenadiers and artillery) that offer powerful splash damage against all targets. The AI opponent is better in the campaign mode, constructing appropriate counter units, but utilizes the same general strategy in skirmish games (and loves power plants to a fault). While the randomized maps and simplified mechanics of Epic Little War Game are appealing, the slow gameplay, limited strategic options, spotty AI, and repetitive attempts at humor grow weary with successive play throughs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Aven Colony Gameplay Review

I'm playing Aven Colony, a space colony building simulation by Mothership Entertainment and Team17 Digital.

The game features nine scenarios with numerous specific, helpful objectives to complete on the way towards ultimate victory; the same nine areas are used for the sandbox mode, as there are no randomized maps. The interface has a lot of information to display, and it does so through its plentiful overlays and data tables (with keyboard shortcuts to access specific screens). It can be difficult to tell the difference between minable resource locations and simple decorations. The basic resources to gather are food (grown at farms), water (extracted from the ground), electricity (made at power plants), and nanites (used to build stuff, converted from mined minerals). You’ll also have to keep an eye on the air quality (improved by placing filters), storage space, housing, and citizen happiness (place bars to get them drunk!). Structures must be placed within the range of a construction drone (other drones can fight alien infections or provide police protection), and tunnels connect all the buildings. Excess resources can be traded, additional technologies can be researched, and elections occur every so often (so you must keep happiness up). You can also explore the area outside the colony, although it’s simply ordering a ship on a static map to different waypoints. Aven Colony strikes a pleasing balance of difficulty, providing the user with enough tasks to keep busy and requiring constant supervision to maintain the delicate balance of the colony. The result is a compelling management game that only needs additional maps to further replay value.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Solar Settlers Gameplay Review

I'm playing Solar Settlers, a card-based space exploration strategy game by BrainGoodGames.

The goal is to colonize a randomized map within the eight turn limit. Colonists can explore new tiles around the map, collecting resources in a location once. Hydrogen is used to move, oxygen to keep colonists alive between turns, and metal to build stuff. Locations can also be developed using cards, which will grant new abilities (such as different resources, a production ability at the end of each turn, increased military value to allow for exploration further out, or habitat space). There is definitely strategy involved on where to move, when to move, which order to move in, which cards to use, which resources to spend,  which tiles to develop, and how to settle the system (focusing on the interior or expanding outward). Solar Settlers is an intriguing turn-based strategy game that is challenging, features randomized maps, and allows for layered strategies to attain victory.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Behold the Kickmen Gameplay Review

I'm playing Behold the Kickmen, an arcade sports game by Size Five Games.

The game features a career mode (where all the team names end in “United”) where you spend money, earned by scoring goals after making passes and tackles, on team-wide upgrades in skill. Quick custom games against the AI are also possible, though there is no multiplayer. Controls are performed better with a gamepad. Players move significantly slower with the ball, placing an emphasis on passing (though players can sprint for a limited time). Both kicks and tackles can be aimed, and tapping the tackle button again when near the ball will take possession. Dashing left or right is also available, though you are not able to manually switch players (which makes the game more challenging and exciting overall). This is not a serious depiction of the sport: there are no throw-ins, goalies barely get in the way, you score more points by kicking further out, extra time is added by running over clocks scattered on the field, and offsides penalties are given randomly (well, that part is realistic). The AI is just good enough to provide a decent opponent while adhering to the silly nature of the game. Although Behold the Kickmen is not the best arcade soccer game available, it does offer good gameplay mechanics befitting of its casual approach to the sport.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gettysburg: The Tide Turns Gameplay Review

I'm playing Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, a turn-based strategy game by Shenandoah Studio and Slitherine.

The game features scenarios covering the entire three-day battle, each day individually, the intense fighting of the second day, and Pickett’s Charge. The Confederates must capture locations on top of Cemetery Ridge, while the Union must inflict more casualties. The battles can be fought against the usually capable AI (the computer opponent does sometimes move unnecessarily as a defender), locally against another player, or online using Slitherine’s nifty play-by-e-mail system. The interface has a stylish map, and makes it fairly easy to find units. Each turn represents an hour, and units are activated for movement in a completely random order each turn. In addition, combat happens randomly as well (although the side with initiative can cause combat to happen anytime they wish), which adds a layer of uncertainty to the game that is not found in more traditional I-go-you-go wargames. Units include infantry, cavalry, and artillery units in their historical orders of battle. Consolidating large units together, the game never feels unwieldy to control and is appropriate for all experience levels. Combat consists of several phases (cavalry screening, artillery bombardment, attacking withdrawal, firing, retreat, and pursuit); splitting fire between two adjacent targets reduces the effectiveness of an attacking unit, and this is a good abstraction of the effectiveness of flanking maneuvers. Units lose strength when attacked (denoted by easy-to-see icons for each unit), and are removed from the game when depleted.Thanks to the approachable nature of the game and the unpredictability of the randomized turn order, Gettysburg: The Tide Turns is an entertaining turn-based strategy game.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Megacity Builder Gameplay Review

I'm playing Megacity Builder, a city building simulation by Andrew Rowe.

The game features a campaign mode where you manage a nation by constructing cities (each on its own randomly generated maps) that produce different goods; single map games and scripted scenarios are also available. The interface is very laborious: it doesn’t keep the last action selected (which makes placing repetitive things, especially roads and power lines, annoying), it is difficult to de-select things if you select them accidentally (there is no keyboard shortcut, just a build menu button), left-click is used to both place objects and scroll the map leading to lots of mistakes and heavy use of the “undo” button, it is hard to precisely place objects using the mouse pointer, there is no clock to keep track of time for budgetary reasons, and the full-screen budget immediately interrupts what you are doing. Most of the game is typical for a city builder: place residential and commercial areas, connect the road, water, and power lines, and construct services like police, fire, gyms, pools, and schools. There is no traffic simulation in the game, but you can export goods produced in each town for a profit, which gives another source of income and goes beyond simply making industries for jobs. Megacity Builder has some interesting ideas with manufacturing, trade, and having multiple cities to control that work together, but it is severely held back by its awkward interface.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dead Purge: Outbreak Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dead Purge: Outbreak, a first-person shooter by Microlith Games.

The game contains three maps (with some time-of-day variations) that are small and consist of narrow pathways that make it far too easy to funnel zombies in a line. The difficulty and game length (using the same number of waves as Killing Floor 2, though without the boss) can be adjusted. The is no multiplayer available. The weapon variety is very limited, and there are no classes for special abilities. Researched upgrades can be done between games to improve accuracy and health. Health packs are useful to heal, and grenades are very powerful against the groups of zombies. There are only two enemy types in the game (walking, and crawling on the ground), and zombies can be easily lead into certain death by sprinting back and forth down the same straight path and then aiming for the head. Bullet time is stolen directly from Killing Floor 2, and the gore is not as convincing. Dead Purge: Outbreak is a direct clone of Killing Floor 2 that is worse in every area and doesn’t offer anything new or different.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Antihero Gameplay Review

I'm playing Antihero, a turn-based strategy game by Tim Conkling and Versus Evil.

The campaign serves as a tutorial, followed by a series of increasingly unfair scenarios, involving more victory conditions for you and/or better starting conditions for the opponent. For skirmish games against the AI or online play (featuring both real-time and asynchronous games), only a handful of map layouts are available, but specific business locations are randomized for more replay value. The goal is to earn a specific number of victory points, earned by blackmailing churches, bribing guilds (both of which simply involve having the maximum number of units inside), or assassinating neutral characters (plus other alternative methods depending on the map). There are two resources in the game: gold, earned from buildings and burglary, is used to purchase units, while lanterns (from different buildings) are used to purchase technology upgrades. Units include the master thief, used to scout and burgle houses, the urchin to infiltrate businesses, the thug to block paths, the gang to attack enemies, the saboteur to plant traps on buildings, the assassin to instantly kill any unit, and the truant officer to evict all urchins in an enemy building. There are multiple strategies you can employ towards victory, and ways to counter each plan as well. The AI is generally a good player (which makes the concessions it's granted in the campaign unnecessary), choosing a varied strategy each game. Antihero is an approachable turn-based strategy game with a unique setting and compelling gameplay mechanics.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Dead Exit Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dead Exit, a card-based strategy game by RadiationBurn.

The game features both a single-player solitaire mode and online multiplayer, where the goal is to stockpile a vehicle, survivors, food, and fuel before being overrun by zombies. Three moves are made each turn, placing cards inside or outside the base, on the stockpile, or the trading block. Where each card is played determines the action it triggers; there is good variety in card abilities. Cards can also be sacrificed to utilize an additional ability. Cards can be taken from the deck, but come with a zombie. Events can drastically alter each game. The game is challenging (especially on higher difficulty settings) but the multiple uses of each card means there is usually a method of dealing with each threat. Dead Exit is a fine card game with varied cards in a unique setting.

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Golf Club 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing The Golf Club 2, a sports simulation by HB Studios and Maximum Games.

This version of the game adds more customization options in the course designer (additional environment themes, multiple tees and hole locations, more scenery objects). The Golf Club 2 still supports making a fully functional course in seconds, or single holes in three clicks, though multiple tee or pin positions are not automatically generated. There are also more options in course attributes (fairway width, green slope, et cetera), and the game allows for more detailed courses for those who wish to invest the time. The interface is more polished, including hole maps and a fairly extensive tutorial system, but the commentary remains hokey at best. Online leagues (called societies) are also present, and the ability to play “with” other players using ghost balls returns. The gameplay is mostly the same, although this version supports three different club types that trade distance for accuracy and it is harder to dial-in exact distances, making for more interesting golfing. There is still no power indicator, which makes shots made less than full power (namely chips, putts, and some approach shots) difficult and requires a lot of practice to execute consistently. Mouse control is improved but still not great (backswing sensitivity can be adjusted, but the downswing animation still lags behind actual mouse movement), and clicking to swing is not supported; playing with the gamepad is preferable. Still, The Golf Club 2 is definitely an improvement over its predecessor, with its addition of new course creation options and a slicker presentation, but requires a lot of practice to master its swing mechanics.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Star Fleet Armada: Rogue Adventures Gameplay Review

I'm playing Star Fleet Armada: Rogue Adventures, a space exploration adventure game by Blue Blaze Gaming.

Taking place in randomized galaxies with an ultimate foe at the end of the stars, each of the races offers slightly different attributes and bonuses. Each solar system is chock full of planets, asteroids, nebulae, comets, stars, and anomalies that are explored through mini-games called encounters; these are short (which helps to counter their repetitive nature), not tedious, and challenging later in each game. Each encounter rewards resources that are used to trade for cash and upgrade ships. Ships can be equipped with varied components and increased in size to handle larger foes. Research points are used to unlock higher fleet stats, which are required to access encounters (and also provide buffs along the way). Pausible combat utilizes equipped items and weapons and is fairly intriguing. Diplomacy is bare (though it is not a focus of the game): races with good relations can be traded with, but there are no agreements other than shooting things. The interface looks archaic but actually presents information in a mostly intuitive manner, once you get past the initial learning curve. Despite appearances, Star Fleet Armada: Rogue Adventures adds interesting, somewhat varied mini-games and a lot of detail to a space exploration outline.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Carrier Deck Gameplay Review

I'm playing Carrier Deck, an aircraft carrier management simulation by Every Single Soldier and Slitherine.

The game features a campaign mode with scripted encounters (you’ll see the same events at the same time in each mission), a survival mode against increasingly more difficult threats, and randomized quick games. The interface allows you to control inbound and outbound aircraft, make missions to search and engage the enemy, and move aircraft around the carrier. There are some minor limitations: time-consuming and imprecise long-pressing is used to arm aircraft  (instead of right-clicking), and incoming threats could be easier to see on the display. Depending on the type of aircraft, planes and helicopters can be instructed to scan and destroy air, surface, submarine, and ground threats. Gameplay involves moving the aircraft around, rearming them for the next mission, performing repairs, and generally keeping things from running into each other. Missions must be completed in the order they are created, which makes a fast-moving incoming hostile problematic when three other missions are already in the queue. Aircraft can be armed in advance, which does reduce panic when multiple threats arrive simultaneously. Carrier Deck takes the click management game into a unique, stressful setting.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blitzkrieg 3 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Blitzkrieg 3, a real-time strategy game by Nival.

The game features three campaigns (Russia, U.S., Germany) that take place on a global map. Heavily scripted missions against superior enemy numbers typically involve capturing locations or destroying specific units, and are difficult in nature. You are given some flexibility in choosing units, as new recruits are earned following victories. Research can also be conducted between missions to improve stats. Skirmish games against the AI or online are also available, but only on five different maps. Blitzkrieg 3 has the typical units (infantry, tanks, anti-tank), plus off-map artillery and air support. Assaulting buildings with infantry is mildly interesting (units duke it out indoors), and powerful units can be countered with the appropriate opponent. Games progress at a fast pace (befitting of the game’s title) and units are generally fragile, especially infantry. The AI is decent at the game on higher difficulty settings and definitely benefits from superior numbers and its initial defensive placement on the map. In the end, Blitzkrieg 3 lacks that new, defining feature to set itself apart from all the other real-time strategy games.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

DiRT 4 Gameplay Review

I'm playing DiRT 4, a racing simulation by Codemasters and Deep Silver.

Covering three off-road disciplines (rally (including historical cars), land rush (trucks and buggies), and rallycross), the game features a flexible career mode where you don’t need to pass specific events in order to progress (as in DiRT 3) or even finish on the podium, as simply completing a championship will count towards unlocking the next set (winning gives you more money, however). Money earned during races can be spent on new cars (you can drive any car at any time, but using loaned vehicles results in giving half of the earnings to the owner), hiring staff to improve repair times and sponsor options, and shop upgrades to unlock better parts and a larger garage. Additionally, DiRT 4 features online challenges (as in DiRT Rally), real-time multiplayer in any racing form, a “joyride” mode with time and smash (run into yellow barriers) attacks, and freeform events that take advantage of the track generator. Five regions are available for rallying including tarmac, snow, gravel, and dirt surfaces; the procedurally generated tracks are extremely convincing, giving DiRT 4 a high amount of replay value. Having random tracks that nobody has seen before is also fitting for the “unknown” nature of rally driving. The game also includes two handling modes (“gamer” and “simulation”) that both perform well; I use gamer mode for rallycross and land rush mods, while preferring simulation for rally. The damage model is still disappointingly unrealistic: flipping 5 times results in body damage that can be repaired in three minutes between stages (though car performance is noticeably affected while damage is present). The AI performs well in the competitive modes, driving aggressively and producing compelling racing. DiRT 4 is a must-have racing title thanks to infinite replayability through the track generator and multiple handling modes to appeal to all aspiring drivers.

A-Train Classic Gameplay Review

I'm playing A-Train Classic, a railroad management simulation by Artdink and Degica.

Based on A-Train 3D, released for the Nintendo 3DS, the game features a large number of lengthy scenarios; you can create custom missions, but only if you complete the typically difficult objectives in three scenarios. There is a large amount of dialogue in the game (especially in the tutorial) that must be clicked through to advance; this leads to inadvertent mis-clicks and overall monotony. In addition, placing objects in the game can be imprecise (especially laying track) and results in a lot of do-overs. A-Train Classic has a fairly sophisticated simulation and gives a lot of information, but lacks truly useful data, such as where cargo and passengers need to actually go and where high demand lies. Trains, buses, trucks, and streetcars can be purchased, along with their respective stations and tracks. If multiple stations are positioned on the same path, however, all vehicles assigned to that path must visit every station (changing the order of station visits, or even simply skipping a station, is not allowed): a very strange restriction. Other tasks include purchasing land, buying businesses to increase customer use of your stations, researching projects, and buying and selling stocks. Still, odd limitations and a less than helpful interface make A-Train Classic difficult to recommend.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Life is Feudal: Forest Village Gameplay Review

I'm playing Life is Feudal: Forest Village, a city management simulation by Mindillusion and Bitbox.

The game takes place on randomized maps where survival is the goal. Raw resources can be collected from the surrounding area, but more permanent buildings are preferred for long-term stability. Additional structures are used to store goods, produce food, manufacture items, and provide defenses. Explorers can be sent out from port to discover new crops and animals. Production chains are straightforward, usually involving one or two steps to produce a specific item. Town growth is only accomplished through children being born in houses with spare room (there is no immigration in the game), and keeping large stocks of food and firewood for the winter is the primary goal (along with the occasional random event). Assigning workers is straightforward using the interface, and icons usually appear to indicate troublesome conditions. You can take direct control of villagers and use their special abilities, although the appeal of this is limited. While Life is Feudal: Forest Village is not a bad game, it is very similar to Banished in many aspects, and is difficult to recommend to those familiar with that particular title.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

First Strike: Final Hour Gameplay Review

I'm playing First Strike: Final Hour, a global nuclear real-time strategy game by Blindflug Studios.

The game does not feature specific missions, instead just different playable and competing countries on the same globe setup. The terrible interface makes the game tedious to control: it is hard to tell what types of missiles are present in each territory, you can’t select some of your regions to fire simultaneously (it’s either one at a time or all at once), there is a limit to how often you can highlight territory borders to see who controls them (why??), you can’t queue build orders, and there is no list of currently controlled regions. Constantly wrestling with the controls removes any enjoyment that could have resulted from strategically deploying varied missile types, invading surrounding neutral regions, and researching new weapon types. The game also suffers from late-game monotony, as previously bombed territory can be reclaimed, resulting in a constantly shifting and annoying game of whack-a-mole. In the end, First Strike: Final Hour does not offer the accessibility to make it an enjoyable strategy game.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Steel Division: Normandy 44 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Steel Division: Normandy 44, a real-time strategy game by Eugen Systems and Paradox Interactive.

The game features three single-player campaigns of four missions each; the conflicts are large in scale, but they are presented in a linear order with no grand strategy on a large map of the region as in the later Wargame titles. Skirmish games against the AI and online contests are also available. There is a good number of detailed maps that scale according to the number of players. Before each match, you must design your battlegroup, choosing units (recon, infantry, tank, anti-tank, air, anti-air, artillery, and support) based on the division you are commanding. The two new innovations of Steel Division are compelling: three phase gameplay and the frontline. Each match is divided into three phases (A, B, and C) that determine which units in your battlegroup can be called into action (typically, more numerous and more powerful units can be brought in later). This adds another layer of strategy to battlegroup deck building. The frontline is displayed on the map (and used to determine victory points), giving a rough indication of where enemy units are. This is a much more effective mechanic for determining map control than placing a command unit in an arbitrary zone. Steel Division retains much of the game mechanics of Wargame (suppression, line of sight, supply, ballistics, units automatically attacking and finding cover), but operates at a slower overall pace and is thus more accessible. The AI is a quite capable opponent and will provide a good challenge offline. Through its approachable gameplay and various innovations, and despite a lackluster campaign mode, Steel Division: Normandy 44 improves upon the formula established by the Wargame series and is a must-play World War II real-time strategy game.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Endless Space 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Endless Space 2, a turn-based 4X space strategy game by Amplitude Studios and SEGA.

The game features customizable galaxy options, truly varied factions, and a stylish interface. Stars are connected by lanes, which allows for chokepoints to develop; arduous movement can be performed between detached constellations. Exploration ships can probe curiosities on planets, uncovering special resource bonuses or other loot. Colonization involves placing an outpost first, which eventually grows into a full colony. Planets may already be colonized by minor civilizations, whom can be traded with or assimilated into your empire. Cooperative and competitive events also appear, giving side objectives to achieve during empire growth. There are five resources in the game: food (for population growth), industry (for production), dust (cash), science (for research), and influence (for laws and diplomacy). In addition, there are strategic and luxury resources that are used for specific ship components and trade, respectively. Buildings are shared among each planet in a system, which enhance the default resource production attributes for each world. Each race in the game also gives different bonuses applied to each planet. The research tree offers many options; unlocking a scientific era (by researching a specified number of technologies in a category) grants bonus abilities. Heroes can lead a system or a fleet of ships, and unlock skills with experience. Every twenty turns, there is an election which drives a political party into power; this determines which laws are available across the empire. Diplomatic options between factions are typical. Custom ship design is straightforward (simply drag-and-drop attack, defense, or support modules where allowed) and tactical combat is automated. The AI plays the game well enough, though online play is also available. Overall, Endless Space 2 offers acceptable improvement in the series.