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.