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.