Monday, December 18, 2017

Orbital Racer Gameplay Review

I'm playing Orbital Racer, a space racing simulation by PaweĊ‚ Dywelski and Movie Games.

The single-player-only game features checkpoint racing on twenty-four tracks in eight locations around our solar system; there are no randomized tracks, which would be seemingly easy to do in space. A career mode where race earnings can be spent on vehicle upgrades accompanies simple custom races. Handling can be done in either action or simulation mode, the latter of which has more realistic thruster-based flying and lacks powerups. The interface clearly indicates upcoming checkpoint locations for easier navigation. Powerups in the action mode are randomized and are given out every three checkpoints to all racers, which means everyone uses their weapons at the same time; a more interesting method would involve pickup locations away from the main racing line. Impact (causing damage) and EMP (causing controls to stop for several seconds) weapons come in launched missiles or dropped mines. A completely destroyed craft respawns at the last checkpoint. The AI is very good at handling both racing modes and provides a good opponent. Orbital Racer has a unique setting and simply needs some tweaks (random tracks, improved powerup distribution) to stand out.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Post Human W.A.R Gameplay Review

I'm playing Post Human W.A.R, a turn-based strategy game by Studio Chahut and Playdius.

The game focuses on online multiplayer, although there is no asynchronous multiplayer (a notable shortcoming for a potentially small community). In addition, there are three campaigns of six missions each that lack adjustable difficulty, and practice games against the AI (or a local player) on fourteen maps (but none are randomized). Units are purchased before battle: melee, ranged, flying, and support options are available that differ in health, movement, attack range, attack strength, defense strength, and special abilities. One unit is chosen by the player as the champion: if it is killed, that side automatically loses (no matter how many other units remain). This is an intriguing concept that involves how you choose who to be the champion, who you try to make the opponent think is the champion (it is kept a secret), and who you think their champion might be. Spare resources left over from unit recruitment (and later gathered from boxes scattered across each map) can be used to buff a unit’s attributes for one turn, adding to the pre-game strategy and in-game strategic options. The enemy totem can be destroyed to cause damage to opposing units each turn; this results in quicker games with less grind at the end. The AI is very good on the higher difficulty level, as are the human opponents found online. Post Human W.A.R has interesting factions and some unique gameplay elements.

Friday, December 08, 2017

SpellForce 3 Gameplay Review

I'm playing SpellForce 3, a role-playing real-time strategy game by Grimlore Games and THQ Nordic.

The game features a decent campaign with scenarios set in very detailed locations. The skirmish mode and online multiplayer both only have six maps and three races with very slight differences in build order. The interface comes with some handy features, like a larger mini-map that displays resource locations in each sector and single hotkeys used to cast spells from each hero. Resources (wood, food, stone, iron) are automatically gathered from the environment by workers assigned to a particular building; managing the limited number of workers at each building is part of the economic strategy. Upgrading the city or outpost will unlock the next tier of structures and increase the worker population. New map sectors can be captured after eliminating the creeps contained therein; while new sectors can expand resource production, items must be physically transported from one outpost to another (all done automatically), so you can destroy caravans of other factions. Heroes cast spells, gain experience through combat to unlock new spells, and have an inventory to increase stats. Regular units contain the usual assortment of infantry, cavalry, and ranged options. Units die quickly, which gives less time to use spells during combat. There is also a lot of grind at the end of games to eliminate bases, as defenses are cheap and very effective against smaller number of units. Still, SpellForce 3 has some good ideas in the economic side of the game with worker allocation and resource acquisition that, along with the occasional role-playing feature, make it stand out in the real-time strategy genre.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Harvest Life Gameplay Review

I'm playing Harvest Life, a farm management simulation by bumblebee and rokapublish.

Starting with the same farm every game, the tutorial only explains how to chop wood. There is also no manual or other in-game help or documentation, so almost all in-game tasks are left unexplained. The graphics are very rudimentary, and annoying collisions with nearby objects occur often. A limited interface (using left-click and right-click to interact with everything) leads to a lot of input confusion (feeding the cat instead of planting crops). Harvest Life only has a few repetitive tasks: cut wood and chop it during a bland mini-game, deal with crops by planting, watering, and harvesting, feed and provide water to animals while collecting their eggs and poop, and fish if you can figure out how to acquire a rod. Items can be sold (no price fluctuations) and the money used to edit the farm by placing new tiles and animals. There is a significant amount of waiting for something to happen, as there simply isn’t a lot to do. Harvest Life is an extremely repetitive, limited, boring, and confusing farming game.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith, a turn-based strategy game by Illwinter Game Design.

The venerable series returns with upgrades in several areas. First, bless effects are available when setting up your pretender god. The random map generator has been improved, and the graphics for the map and interface are much clearer, upgraded for higher-resolution displays. Recruitment points are now required for obtaining units (in addition to money and resources). The non-interactive combat is now “real-time”, where simultaneous actions (like moving and shooting) can occur at the same time. The fantastic core gameplay remains: choose one of the many nations, design your pretender god, expand by attacking surrounding provinces containing magic sites, defend new territories with a garrison to keep unrest low, build forts to collect nearby resources, spread dominion with temples and preaching, construct labs to research new spells, cast local and global rituals, recruit new units and hire mercenaries, set up army formations and battle orders, equip leaders with magical items, watch automated battles, and try to survive against the very capable AI. Much like its predecessor, Dominions 5 is more like an incremental upgrade, but overall it is a fantastic, feature-filled strategy game.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

American Truck Simulator: New Mexico Gameplay Review

I'm playing American Truck Simulator: New Mexico, a driving and management simulation by SCS Software.

The first paid expansion for the game, the game now includes an entire new state to drive through, including very accurate expressway interchanges and a variety of truck stops. In addition, there are new roadside events (construction, wrecks, cops pulling people over) to gawk at during a drive through the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico in American Truck Simulation has a high level of detail and expands the game well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Mare Nostrvm Gameplay Review

I'm playing Mare Nostrvm, a turn-based naval strategy game by Turnopia and Slitherine.

The game features twenty-four historic battles scattered across nine campaigns; victory is (thankfully) not required in order to advance to the next mission. Skirmish battles are also available against the AI, and online multiplayer utilizes Slitherine’s PBEM system. The interface badly needs a “next unit” button to find ships that can be issued orders in large, chaotic battles. Fourteen ship types can be equipped with a variety of weapons for firing upon and boarding the enemy. Ships must be near their commander to receive orders, requiring some organization during each conflict. Movement orders are placed on the map, along with choosing to ram or grapple and board the enemy ships (the decision of which should be based on the attributes and orientations of the ships involved). Ships will automatically fire on nearby enemies. The AI is skilled at the game, providing a competent opponent. Though repetitive and lacking some interface features, Mare Nostrvm is effective at displaying the chaos of ancient naval battles.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Command: Shifting Sands Gameplay Review

I'm playing Command: Shifting Sands, a real-time military strategy game by Warfare Sims and Slitherine.

The game functions as either an expansion to the original game that was released in 2013 or a standalone title, albeit without the ability to use the editor or enjoy the plentiful scenarios from Steam Workshop. Shifting Sands includes 17 scenarios of varying difficulties and complexities set in the Middle East, most of which are well designed with variety and surprises, and crafted a notch above the typical user-made mission. Command: Shifting Sands serves as a good introduction to the game mechanics of the series if you don’t feel like spending the exorbitant price on the entire game (though you probably should anyway).

Friday, October 27, 2017

Battlevoid: Sector Siege Gameplay Review

I'm playing Battlevoid: Sector Siege, a real-time strategy game by Bugbyte .

The games features a campaign mode with connected scenarios on randomly generated maps, but none of the researched upgrades or ship designs carry over from mission to mission, so it’s really just a series of skirmishes. There is cross-platform play where you can save and continue on another device, which is a nice feature. Before each mission, the crew composition can be set, which determines research rates, population caps, and build speeds. The interface is clearly designed for a mobile device, with inconsistent tool-tips and a lack of useful information: for example, the game should indicate when units have all weapon slots filled when in building mode, and it should more clearly display how often a component has been upgraded. Each map is covered with plentiful capture points that provide cash (to purchase things) and upgrade points (for upgrades), but scouting is tedious because ships move very, very slowly. Ships and defenses can be purchased, and all must be customized with weapons and other items like drones and defenses; designs can be saved for use later in the same scenario. In addition, there are researched upgrades that are applied to all ships, and specific upgrades for each component that can be added to a ship. Having both of these options is confusing and unnecessary, as choosing one or the other (I prefer the research route) would have sufficed. Units will auto-attack nearby enemies, but can be instructed to focus on specific subsystems. Enemy ships can also be boarded. Every mission lasts too long due to the slow speed of the ships and the high number of enemy units. Because of the pacing issues, interface shortcomings, perplexing research options, and lack of campaign continuity, Battlevoid: Sector Siege is not a successful adaptation of the series to the real-time strategy genre.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Real Farm Gameplay Review

I'm playing Real Farm, an agricultural simulation by Triangle Studios and SOEDESCO Publishing.

The single-player-only game features a career mode with a simple tutorial and a free play mode where you start out with basic equipment. The interface is terrible across the board: the camera is erratic, the mouse sensitivity cannot be adjusted, the keyboard controls cannot be changed and there is not a list of even what they are (only gamepad controls are listed in the options screen), the map is too small, and it can be difficult to get into equipment. While the equipment have good models, the graphics feature poor road textures at a distance and graphical glitches like glowing lines spanning across fields. The game world is small, with only occasional cars and nobody else working the fields (including workers you can hire). Gameplay consists of driving across the same fields over and over again using different attachments to plow, cultivate, sow, fertilize, water, and harvest crops. You can raise animals, but this offers only a small amount of variety. You can also take jobs at other farms, but they are the same jobs available otherwise. Vehicle handling is poor: every vehicle accelerates and brakes at the same rate, and getting stuck on small objects is too easy. Real Farm doesn’t offer anything new or different, and what it does offer is significantly worse than the competition.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Brass Gameplay Review

I'm playing Brass, a turn-based strategy game by Cublo Games and PHALANX.

Featuring both offline and online play, the goal is this board game adaptation is to accumulate victory points by (primarily) activating industries. Cotton mills and ports are activated by selling cotton at a port, while coal mines and iron works are activated once all of their resources have been used by other buildings or upgrades. Shipyards are automatically activated once built but require upgrades before they can be constructed. Money (the income of which is increased as industries become activated) is used to construct buildings in specific locations on the map, but only if a card displaying the city or type of industry is in hand. Canals, and later railroads, are used to connect cities, allow for more construction, and transport goods. Upgrading buildings will produce more victory points when activated, and loans can be taken as well. Halfway through each game, canals and level 1 buildings disappear, leading to a second scramble to develop. It takes several games to understand all the nuances of Brass, but the game does support multiple strategies for victory. The AI is good at the game as well, providing a very capable opponent. There are some stability issues with the game locking up during AI turns and crashing upon exiting, but overall Brass is a decent computer adaptation of the board game.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stronghold 2: Steam Edition Gameplay Review

I'm playing Stronghold 2: Steam Edition, a defensive strategy game by Firefly Studios.

Free for owners of the Stronghold Collection (or available as a slightly cheaper standalone), this new edition of the classic game includes Steam-based multiplayer, Steam Workshop support for sharing maps, six new maps, and improved graphics. The defensively-focused gameplay of the Stronghold series remains intact, with both peaceful and combative scenarios available. The update is a nice way of keeping the game relevant and functional.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ogre Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ogre, a turn-based strategy game by Steve Jackson Games and Auroch Digital.

The game features a ten-mission campaign of scenarios pitting a traditional army of infantry and armored units against a powerful enemy Ogre (essentially a super tank). Skirmish matches are also available online and against the AI, but there is only one map (with six different setups of starting units), though there is a scenario editor. There are not difficulty settings that would add (or remove) enemy units in single player mode or apply a unit handicap online. The interface is very basic, with tedious movement and arduous stacked unit selection. The game features both “classic” and “advanced” rules, the latter of which adds in stacking, combined attacks, and overrunning units. Gameplay consists of a movement phase and an attack phase, where targets and attackers are chosen to alter the combat odds. The AI is inconsistent, usually playing well using combined attacks and staying at range, but sometimes stopping for no apparent reason. While a very faithful adaptation of the classic strategy game, Ogre doesn’t offer enough enhancements in its digital form, such as a large selection of maps and a smooth interface, to appeal to many beyond those devoted to the series.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dungeons 3 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dungeons 3, a dungeon management game by Realmforge Studios and Kalypso Media.

Featuring a campaign that has a lot of the same hit-or-miss (mostly miss) humor as before, the game thankfully introduces random skirmish maps that can be used offline or online for vastly increased replay value. In addition, the interface is improved with an actual mouse pointer and better unit selection. The gameplay structure is the same as before: find the gold nuggets, place rooms to house units and produce resources, hire new units, and place defenses. However, new to the game is a research tree, which uses evil points accumulated by capturing locations on the Overworld map, forcing you to venture out of the dungeon in order to unlock the more advanced dungeon options required to win each scenario. While the flow of each game is the same, the random maps help immensely in creating a slightly different feel each time. The newest entry in the Dungeons series fixes the major problems from the last iteration by adding in random maps and improving the interface, finally making it a compelling management game.

Field of Glory II Gameplay Review

I'm playing Field of Glory II, a turn-based strategy gane by Byzantine Games and Slitherine.

Utilizing gameplay similar to predecessors Pike and Shot and Sengoku Jidai but with vastly improved graphics, Field of Glory II has an impressive arsenal of features with randomized maps in all modes (except for historic battles) and tons of units and armies. Campaigns are connected scenarios (three, five, or seven) with minor decisions between missions; mission success is required to move on to the next battle in the series. In addition, there are completely randomized quick battles, custom battles with more options in scenario size, epic historical battles, and online PBEM multiplayer. The difficulty setting only affects the player’s army size and doesn’t make the AI any less formidable. The in-game tutorial is poor with annoying pop-ups and lacks specific instructions. The interface is familiar to anyone who has played a Battle Academy 2-engine game, though the new “move entire command” order is extremely useful for large battles. Colors on the unit flags indicate morale, but are difficult to see if the unit is turned sideways. Units are fitting for the era, including foot soldiers, archers, cavalry, elephants, chariots, and artillery. Generals improve unit movement within their command range. Units that are engaged in close combat cannot stop until one side breaks morale; thus, the general strategy is to lower morale with ranged units, then flank units from multiple sides once they are fixed in close combat. Certain troop types perform better against others, while terrain must also be considered. The AI is very capable, knowing how and when to use units. Easily the best game by the developer, Field of Glory II is an extremely satisfying turn-based strategy game with improved graphics, a better interface, tons of content (with randomized battles and lots of different armies), fairly intuitive rules, and proficient AI.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Road Redemption Gameplay Review

I'm playing Road Redemption, a combat racing game by Pixel Dash Studios and EQ-Games.

The game features a campaign mode with missions that have one of three objectives: finish in the top three, kill a specified number of enemies, or beat the clock to the finish line. The scenarios become repetitive (the same handful of tracks are recycled each play through), but with permedeath and lots of enemies to contend with, the challenge level is high. Between missions, cash can be spent on upgrades or to recover health or nitro, and permanent upgrades can be enabled when you die. Beyond the typical racing game controls, additional buttons are used to use nitro,  attack to either side, switch between the classes of weapons (melee, sword, explosive, guns), defend against attacks, and kick other bikers off the road. There is strategy involved in choosing which weapon to use: swords are poor against helmets but good against shields, while explosives are great for vehicles and tight crowds. Eliminating an enemy grants cash, experience points, nitro, and a small health increase. Being able to quickly switch between weapons while avoiding being surrounded by enemies while keeping an eye on the road is key, something that becomes increasingly more difficult as the campaign wears on. Although the game gets repetitive, the high difficulty level and generally satisfying combat produces a fairly entertaining combat racing game.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Rusted Warfare Gameplay Review

I'm playing Rusted Warfare, a real-time strategy game by Corroding Games.

The game features a number of single-player modes: scripted missions, balanced skirmishes, and endless survival matches. In addition, maps can be edited in the game, and cross-platform multiplayer is available allowing players on Windows, Linux, and Android systems to play together. The interface is very basic and lacks some features, like infinite queues (or even queueing up things in advance without paying for them) and auto-explore. Rusted Warfare only features one resource (cash), extracted from specific locations on the map (or produced at a lesser rate anywhere). Cash is used to build factories (land, air, sea, and mech), defensive turrets, repair structures, and shields. Cash is also used to upgrade structures to higher tiers so they can produce more advanced units. The AI is a decent competitor. Rusted Warfare doesn’t offer anything innovative to the genre, instead producing some combination of Red Alert and Supreme Commander; shallow economics and simple unit countering (along with extremely tedious end-game clean-up) limit potential strategies. That said, the price is very reasonable and cross-platform multiplayer is a nice feature. But overall, the limitations of Rusted Warfare hold it back just enough from being a satisfying take on the classic real-time strategy game.

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.