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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bounty Train Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bounty Train, a locomotive management action game by Corbie Games and Daedalic Entertainment.

The game features a campaign mode that offers story-based missions and a more freeform sandbox mode. Access to new cities on the map of the Eastern United States is gained by purchasing them; money is primarily earned by transporting passengers, mail, and goods to specific locations, though goods can also be shuttled between destinations for a tidy sum. Money can also be used to upgrade your train, purchase guns, and hire characters to defend against attacks. The tactical battles are similar to FTL, and they become more interesting when special abilities have been unlocked through experience. Although the game can get repetitive (modest profits make for a lot of grinding), the setting and premise of Bounty Train is engaging.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Dawn of Andromeda Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dawn of Andromeda, a real-time 4X space strategy game by Grey Wolf Entertainment and Iceberg Interactive.

The game features a number of scenarios on pre-designed maps and custom games in randomized galaxies. Each race has slightly different attributes that may alter the general strategy of each match. The interface is a mess: ship and planet lists are both full-screen, making it entirely too difficult to select and issue orders quickly. In addition, there are too many pop-up notifications (the frequency of which cannot be customized), no main screen indication of idle ships (and the ship list says vessels are idle when in fact they may be colonizing or mining), and auto-exploration of two separate ships is uncoordinated. Step one is to explore the galaxy with scouts, revealing colonizable planets, items that can be surveyed (like in Stellaris!), and mining locations. Planet management is almost entirely automated: simply choose which fields (food, population cap, research, defenses, production) to invest extra cash into, and the stats improve on their own. Characters can be assigned to the council for empire-wide bonuses (like in Stellaris!) or to specific worlds as a governor. Policies can be adapted as well. Technologies, artifacts, and foreigners can be studied (like in Stellaris!) through research, and trade of valuable goods can bring in extra money. Diplomatic options are typical, but features vague feedback on why a deal was not accepted. The AI is passable, but combat is uninteresting once war is declared. Dawn of Andromeda is held back by its woeful interface and features stolen from better games.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943, a real-time strategy game by Graviteam and Strategy First.

The game features three campaigns (one short and two main ones, one for each side) set in the sands of Tunisia. Units are moved around on the campaign map, which then spawns battles (which cannot be automatically simulated) when opposing units get too close. Quick battles can be made by placing units in the battle editor, and smaller tutorial scenarios are also included. The interface is identical to Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front: a lot of information with tons of icons and a bit unwieldy. Basic orders can be given to individuals and groups of units (move, fast move, covert move, march, recon, attack, assault, and defend), or further customized with formation density, smoke use, and other attributes. Specific tactical behaviors can also be issued (hold fire, unload units, fire in a direction), but the AI does a pretty good job micromanaging the units, choosing appropriate targets and finding cover when necessary. The command level system prevents spamming of commands. Like its predecessor, the game is very realistic: weapon ranges, armor penetration, vehicle damage, line of sight (including out of windows in each vehicle), communication methods (wire, radio), and troop morale produce a very plausible battlefield. That said, Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943 is more like an expansion to last year’s Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front, with the same interface, game mechanics, and realism of the previous title, only set in a different location.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Shock Tactics Gameplay Review

I'm playing Shock Tactics, a turn-based tactical strategy game by Point Blank Games and EuroVideo Medien.

Essentially a clone of XCOM, the single-player game features leading a team of troops across an alien world, engaging hostile troops along the way. Base building involves spending resources earned by completing missions to unlock new equipment, level up soldiers, and heal more quickly between sorties. Missions typically do not allow any friendly troops to die (they can be rescued by other units, however); doing so results in immediate campaign failure, a devastating victory condition when random numbers and lots of enemies with superior weapons are present, The turn-based combat is typical for the genre: action points are used to move and shoot, or sprint across the terrain. Special abilities can also be used, and cover is needed to survive. Most game maps have large open areas with no cover and enemies are usually dug in in defensive positions behind cover. Luckily, the AI is really stupid and will constantly get out of cover and move around for no apparent reason; simply placing your stationary troops on “overwatch” behind cover is usually enough to win each match, Because of that, there is a lack of actual tactics in Shock Tactics, and you would be better served simply playing XCOM or Xenonauts instead.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Man O' War: Corsair Gameplay Review

I'm playing Man O' War: Corsair, a naval adventure game by Evil Twin Artworks.

Set in the Warhammer universe, the game features a single player campaign where you sail between ports populated by Skaven, Orks, Dwarves, Elves, and the like, with lots of AI ships wandering about. Most money is made by undertaking quests, which typically involve attacking a specific ship or taking something to another port; quests become repetitive very quickly. You can also trade goods for a source of minor income; items manufactured by a specific port are clearly indicated, making it easier to buy low and sell high. Money can be spent on repairing, upgrading, or purchasing new ships, hiring crew (whom level up and unlock new skills), or equipping people with better weapons. Combat is typical for the setting: sail with the wind to go fast (helpfully indicated in green on the compass) and fire cannons off the side of the ship (the range of which is helpfully indicated with a giant red arrow). Ammunition types can be changed (grape shot for enemy crew, chain shot for sails), and other ships can be boarded for hand-to-hand and ranged combat. Combat is usually very enjoyable, and the AI provides a typically capable opponent. The Warhammer setting doesn’t offer a lot more than a traditional age of sail adventure game (Orks and crazy looking ships notwithstanding) and the title has nothing to do with its tabletop namesake, but Man O' War: Corsair is still a strangely compelling game despite the occasional bugs.

Forts Gameplay Review

I'm playing Forts, a physics-based real-time strategy game by EarthWork Games.

The objective is to destroy the enemy fort. The game features a campaign mode that serves as a tutorial and contains somewhat scripted scenarios, a skirmish mode that lacks random maps, a more freeform sandbox mode, and online multplayer. Once the enemy reactor is destroyed, you win. Each structure may be made out of wood or armor, with doors and ropes offering other options. Metal (collected from mines) and energy (collected from wind turbines) are used to build everything in the game, including defensive shields and sandbags. The workshop, factory, and upgrade center unlock new weapons. Those weapons include machine guns (primarily used for defense), mortars, snipers, missiles, cannons, and lasers. Since machine guns automatically fire at incoming projectiles, getting past the line of defense is tough (snipers are intended to take out machine gun emplacements). Offensive weapons must be manually fired in real time, which takes away from base building too much; you also cannot set a weapon to continually fire at a specific power and trajectory, increasing the micromanagement. Any damage can be repaired by simply holding down the “R” key and moving the mouse around; this process is too quick and results in rapid recovery before a fatal blow can be levelled. Thus, most games drag out far too long. The physics are plausible and the AI is generally a skilled opponent. Forts is a fine concept, but a number of shortcomings in gameplay (defensive advantages, repetitive aiming, fast repair) hold back ultimate enjoyment.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

FlatOut 4: Total Insanity Gameplay Review

I'm playing FlatOut 4: Total Insanity, an arcade racing game by Kylotonn and Strategy First.

The game features a career mode with car purchases and upgrades; third-place finishes in each cup (a series of races on specific tracks) is required to unlock the next set. The FlatOut mode includes a mix of non-traditional game modes, and quick play and multiplayer modes are also available. In addition to traditional races, FlatOut 4 features assault races (with powerups), carnage races (where you score is based on damage caused), a variety of physics-based stunts (including long jump, high jump, golf, and curling), and destruction derby arena modes (including capture the flag). Causing destruction will award nitro, which can be used for quick bursts of acceleration. It is sometimes difficult to tell what is considered a “solid” object and what is not (Telephone poles? Destructible. Trees? Not). The handling is a bit loose, and there is occasionally questionable physics when hitting objects, causing spins that result in poor finishes. The AI is good enough for an arcade racer, piloting through each track appropriately and being aggressive with human drivers and other AIs. While not approaching the high mark set by FlatOut 2, FlatOut 4 is certainly a competent arcade racer and successfully eliminates the odorous smell left by FlatOut 3.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

After the Empire Gameplay Review

I'm playing After the Empire, a space strategy simulation by Goatee Games.

The game features randomized maps populated by factions with different religions, cultures, and ideals. A significant portion of the strategy involves the initial faction customization options, ensuring to choose complementary attributes. Taking place in either real-time or turn-based modes, most of After the Empire is automated (namely ship and building construction), so a lot of the interaction involves choosing the next territory to invade and where to focus defenses. Construction can be focused on specific buildings in each territory, while tax rates and government policies can be altered. The AI plays the game using the same rules you do, and does a good job maximizing bonuses to increase production and income. After the Empire plays more like a simulation than a traditional strategy game, since most of the important decisions are made before a game has begun and a lot of the mechanics are automated. That said, it can be engaging once you comes to grips with the interface and simulation rules.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Day of Infamy Gameplay Review

I'm playing Day of Infamy, a first-person shooter by New World Interactive.

The games features cooperative missions, battles involving assault and defense, and location capture on ten very detailed maps online or against occasionally competent AI bots. Each side comes with the same classes: officers who use radiomen to call in airstrikes, assault troops with submachine guns, support troops with machine guns, flamethrowers, engineers with explosives, machine gunners with heavy weapons that must be used with the bipod on the ground or a surface, snipers, and regular riflemen. Weapons appear to be well balanced, with each option useful in a different situation. As in Insurgency, supply points are awarded in a single match to unlock attachments and more equipment, but reset each new game to give everyone even footing. Gameplay is much like Insurgency as well: a fast pace and quick deaths. Bolt-action rifles, small magazines, and long reload times do make Day of Infamy play more intensely than its predecessor, however. In the end, Day of Infamy does differentiate itself from Insurgency thanks to the map quality, class variety, and World War II-era weapons.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Old Time Hockey Gameplay Review

I'm playing Old Time Hockey, an arcade sports game by V7 Entertainment.

The game features a story mode that follows a local hockey team’s tale of redemption. Each match has objectives requirements (either learning controls or achieving specific statistics) that are ridiculously difficult to meet; this results in extremely frustrating matches that must be replayed over and over until you luck out and roll easier semi-random objectives. In addition, the advanced control scheme doesn’t unlock until you have progressed far enough in the campaign, restricting your options in the exhibition mode. An easy solution would be to remove mandatory objectives and simply reward any achievements with experience points (a mechanic already in the game). The game also lacks custom seasons and online multiplayer. The control scheme (designed for a gamepad) involves somewhat complicated procedures for shooting, passing, defensive maneuvers (hook, slash, check, block), and fighting; more simplified control schemes are also available (though the story mode requires the advanced controls to be used). Player movement in the game is satisfying, and the hockey itself is entertaining to play. Line changes are automated, and penalties are rare. Momentum may be gained by leveling the opponent three times in a row or gaining a power play, which allows for more powerful shots and hits. The friendly players lack intelligence on defense, although this is possibly by design. Despite the generally solid gameplay, frustrating mandatory campaign objectives cast a dark shadow over the rest of the title.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Afghanistan '11 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Afghanistan '11, a turn-based strategy game by Every Single Soldier and Slitherine.

The game features a series of campaign missions based on real-life events and a skirmish mode on randomized maps. The objective is to win the hearts and minds of the local population by destroying hostile units (militia and the Taliban), clearing IEDs, visiting villages, connecting towns to the road network, and providing UN aid. Units can be purchased using political points, including basic infantry, special forces (which can train units and scout rough terrain), MRAPs to transport infantry, the Buffalo to build stuff (roads, waterworks, FOBs), the Husky to detect IEDs, supply trucks to transport goods, and a variety of helicopters for fast but expensive movement. Each unit has a specific amount of action points available each turn, which are used to move and perform orders. Ending a turn outside of a friendly base of FOB spends food or fuel; units without these precious items are immobilized and destroyed. Entering a village with an infantry unit may gain intel on the position of enemy units, while recon drones, airstrikes, and emergency supplies may be deployed. FOBs can be constructed in strategic locations in order to extend supply lines and serve as a launching point for future offensives. Combat is straightforward with easy-to-decipher winning percentages displayed before the fight begins. Elections can provide useful bonuses if the “right” candidate wins. Afghanistan '11 is unique because of the asymmetrical nature of the gameplay, and the different ways of approaching each scenario give some strategic variety and replay value.

Battle for Orion 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Battle for Orion 2, a real-time strategy game by Infinite Loop Games.

The game features a campaign where the AI opponents are given progressively more systems to start with, increasing the difficulty. More fair randomized skirmish matches are available, and a map editor is available for a customized experience. The interface provides a handy system summary when zoomed out, while providing an appropriate amount of automation (resource gathering, unit production, attack and defense) to ease management of a large empire in real time. Each planet in every solar system can be surrounded by modules: refineries to collect metal, factories to produce ships, relays to increase the population cap, turrets for defense, and research stations for upgrades. Different planet types offer varied module bonuses. Ships can be somewhat organized into formations and will automatically attack nearby enemies, but friendly ships don’t prioritize threats appropriately. The AI is just OK and definitely benefits from having a resource income advantage in most campaign missions. Overall, Battle for Orion 2 offers a streamlined, fast-paced strategy game that still supports multiple strategies for victory.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reflex Gameplay Review

I'm playing Reflex, a first-person shooter by Turbo Pixel Studios.

The game takes its inspiration from Quake, offering multiple game modes (1v1, 2v2, free-for-all, team deathmatch, capture the flag), mutators from Unreal Tournament (instagib, unlimited ammo, melee only), automatic map downloads through Steam Workshop, and matchmaking and a server browser. The fast-paced shooter features the usual gameplay style trappings, with double jumps, rocket jumps, and the like. Seven weapons (basic burst gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, plasma gun, rocket launcher, ion cannon, and bolt rifle) lack alternate fire modes but each serve a different role and can be effective. Health, armor, and damage bonuses can be picked up around the map. Occasionally capable bots are also present to practice against. While Reflex offers fine old-school gameplay, it doesn’t offer anything truly innovative to expand upon the formula established by Quake.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

X-Plane 11 Beta 13 Gameplay Review

I'm playing the Beta 13 of X-Plane 11, a flight simulator by Laminar Research.

Several notable new features highlight the latest release of the venerable flight simulation. First, a set of interactive tutorials (called “Flight School”) teach the basics of flight; additional tutorials covering the idiosyncrasies of each included aircraft (namely their differences in how autopilot and GPS are handled) are needed. Three new aircraft are included and all planes have 3-D cockpits and IFR support; plentiful additional planes can be downloaded and imported. Most notable is the vastly improved interface, complete with resizable and movable GPS and ATC displays. Better scenario selection options are present, and a searchable list of controls is immensely useful. Other improvements include improved regional scenery (like European roads and buildings), service vehicles are airports (that provide push back, baggage, and fuel), and improved sound design. More streamlined networking is included as well. A couple of minor bugs aside (namely ATC periodically forgetting about you and transparent taxi lines), which will most likely be fixed in future beta updates anyway, X-Plane 11 is a very worthy upgrade, more significant in scope than previous steps in the series.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Seasteader Gameplay Review

I'm playing Seasteader, a city management simulation by Cosy Goat.

The game features a campaign mode that offers different objectives (income, population) for each scenario and an open-ended sandbox mode. The interface is very basic, allowing for access to construction menus and trading values, with simple overlays for resource locations. There is a limited number of buildings to choose from that either gather resources (fish, sand, oysters, oil, fruit, cotton, corn) or process them into other things (glass, plastic, gasoline, alcohol). You will end up building the same general structures in the same order each time through, based on which specialized areas (sand or oil deposits) are available. Once you are able to export enough goods to offset your daily maintenance, expansion is easy. Eventually, entertainment structures must be built or people will start to leave. There are random missions that pop up occasionally, but they involve simply producing a set amount of a specific good. Despite the unique setting, Seasteader doesn’t offer enough gameplay variety or innovation to make it stand out.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Constellation Distantia Gameplay Review

I'm playing Constellation Distantia, a space adventure game by Skånerbotten.

The game features a very exposition-heavy, completely linear campaign with no replay value and only one saved position. The controls are initially confusing, as you are only able to pilot the shuttle jet and not the mothership. A lack of concrete distance markers makes it far too easy to inadvertently run into planets and asteroids. The gameplay consists of achieving very specific objectives in each system before moving on to the next (there are no side missions or jobs to complete), usually involving mining resources, flying to checkpoints on the map, engaging enemy vessels, restrictively trading with other ships (simply swapping resources instead of selling mined goods for a profit), and researching ship upgrades. Constellation Distantia lacks an open-world feel, and the restrictiveness of the campaign with no room for improvisation is not inviting.

Monday, February 27, 2017

911 Operator Gameplay Review

I'm playing 911 Operator, an emergency dispatch simulation by Jutsu Games and PlayWay.

The game includes both a career mode and free missions; real world cities can be easily imported into the game, a neat feature. Between missions, new equipment and personnel can be purchased. The job entails assigning police, EMT, and firefighters to emergencies around the map; scripted calls require some work in determining the location and severity of each event. 911 Operator is quite challenging, due to the limited resources and number of simultaneous events that occur. The ability to play in any city around the globe is a very appealing feature in a generally acceptable management game.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RimWorld Early Access Alpha Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the early access alpha of RimWorld, a colony management simulation by Ludeon Studios.

The current alpha (version 16) features several initial starting conditions, three AI storytellers that guide how often hostile units and events occur, a brief tutorial (though in-game hints and notifications are present), and randomized maps on which to settle. Each colonist has a very particular set of skills for cooking, medicine, research, and the like, some of which they are passionate about and will gain experience for more quickly. Colonists automatically undertake tasks (if they are allowed to perform that specific job), including resource collection, construction, crop maintenance, moving goods around, and crafting things. Colonists also exhibit complex moods based on their traits and surroundings. Each settlement can include houses, stockpiles, kitchens, dining rooms, workshops to produce goods, hospital rooms for healing the sick, power turbines to generate electricity, research labs to unlock new options, and freezers to preserve food. Hostile enemies will invade, so defenses must be constructed (the game utilizes cover); prisoners captured after a raid can be incorporated into society or harvested for organs (among other options). Overall, the game is more approachable that a lot of colony management simulations but still features rather deep mechanics in several areas.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Winds of Trade Gameplay Review

I'm playing Winds of Trade, a maritime trading simulation by Hermes Interactive.

The game features randomly generated maps that add to replay value. Adjustable difficulty settings change the frequency of pirate attacks, and varied victory conditions are also supported. Each map is dotted by colonies that produce specific goods that can be bought, transported to other colonies, and sold for a profit (hopefully). In addition, ships can be purchased, upgraded, or repaired, and captains with different buffs can be hired. Trading prices fluctuate realistically with supply and demand, though the interface could show regional prices on the colony warehouse screen for less clicking back and forth. More money can be earned by completing contracts for specific goods deliveries and purchasing stock in corporations. When pesky pirates are encountered, you can try to escape or engage in underwhelming turn-based battles. Overall, Winds of Trade is a fairly standard trading sim, although the use of random maps does give it some extended life.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

BRUT@L Gameplay Review

I'm playing BRUT@L, a roguelike role-playing game by Stormcloud Games and Rising Star Games.

Taking its inspiration from old-school ASCII-based dungeon crawlers, BRUT@L features both single-player and cooperative modes of play in its procedurally generated dungeons (rooms are scripted but arranged randomly) with permedeath. A dungeon editor is also included for more customized death traps. The interface is designed for a gamepad (consoles are clearly the priority here), which makes navigating the game more limited than necessary on the PC. The protagonist can be moved around each level, melee attack, use weapons (once crafted), block attacks, and execute a special move. Lots of items can be picked up and used to regain health,  craft potions, or enchant items. Experience gained from smashing things is used to unlock new skills. Enemies are varied and offer different challenges. BRUT@L is a fairly standard roguelike differentiated by its theme, cooperative features, and map editing capabilities.