Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Insurgency: Sandstorm Gameplay Review

I'm playing Insurgency: Sandstorm, a first-person shooter by New World Interactive and Focus Home Interactive.

Primarily designed with consoles in mind, this new version of the game does offer some new features for PC gamers. More classes (with more weapons) are available, including a commander who can call in strikes (artillery, helicopter) with the help of an observer. Maps are wider with more paths to objectives, and rare vehicles are also available. Finally, there is character appearance customization, more lines of voice dialogue, and improved graphics. The qualities that made the original Insurgency great are intact: objective-based game modes, lack of persistent unlocks, one- or two-shot kills, and no aiming crosshairs. The AI isn’t fantastic but superior numbers make them challenging. While Insurgency: Sandstorm is undoubtedly improved from the first game, the relatively minor changes make this not quite an instant buy, but still a very compelling first-person shooter.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Age of Civilizations II Gameplay Review

I'm playing Age of Civilizations II, a turn-based grand strategy game by Ɓukasz Jakowski.

The game lets you control any nation starting in 1440, though the starting options can be customized. The interface features a lot of map modes, but they are difficult to scroll through and movement orders can be issued by mistake. Movement points limit the number of actions per turn, though this only becomes an issue with very large empires. Units can be recruited and moved, while buildings are placed to increase growth and research rates. The budget can be adjusted to produce more taxes, production income, or population growth. Research points are used to provide a bonus in several areas (population growth, administrative overhead, military upkeep) and unlock better buildings. Diplomatic options with other nations are standard (alliances, defensive pacts, sending insults or improving relations), and the AI is decent enough. Age of Civilizations II is more approachable than the Europa Universalis series, but its relative simplicity means there is less to do during times of peace as you wait for research to complete.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Armored Brigade Gameplay Review

I'm playing Armored Brigade, a real-time tactical strategy game by Veitikka Studios and Slitherine.

Taking place during the Cold War, the United States, USSR, both Germanys, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Poland are doing battle through fifteen pre-made scenarios. The highlight feature of the game is the battle generator: any part of four huge maps can be selected for a user-generated scenario. Then, force type (mechanized, infantry, or armored), date of the conflict (which affects weather, unit availability, and faction preparedness), and objective locations can be set. Finally, the battle size is adjusted; units involved can be chosen manually or automatically. It’s a very impressive system that not only makes it easy to generate compelling scenarios in a couple of easy steps, but also ensures long-term life for the product. The game is controlled by issuing orders to an entire platoon or company (advance, scout, move until contact, fast move, unload); this drastically reduces micromanagement. You can also tweak the formation and standard operating procedure (pathfinding, rate of fire) for the group. Units during this time period were deadly: one-shot kills (even on tanks) are common, so scouting enemy positions is very important. Supporting your ground units are artillery and air units; target reference points are placed pre-battle for artillery strikes, which calls them in significantly sooner if the bombardment is placed near an existing point. The AI is good: scouting in advance, protecting objectives, moving complimentary units together for massed attacks, and supporting with air units and artillery. This is made more impressive when you consider the AI could be playing in any part of the four 10,000 square kilometer maps and must adjust their tactics to the terrain and random objective locations. Armored Brigade is a fantastic tactical strategy game with a unique battle generator that ensures huge replay value, along with manageable mechanics and solid AI.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Swords and Soldiers 2 Shawarmageddon Gameplay Review

I'm playing Swords and Soldiers 2 Shawarmageddon, a side-scrolling real-time strategy game by Ronimo Games.

The game features a story-based campaign mode, online play, and custom games against the AI or a local opponent. The three factions provide a good mix of units and spells, or you can create a custom faction using any item combination. Gold (collected by workers from mines, or from blocks scattered around the map) is used to unlock and purchase new units and buildings, while mana (collected differently for each faction, but also in block form) is used to cast spells. Units automatically move across the map and attack, so the timing of unit production (making sure a mass of units arrive at the enemy base at the same time) and proper use of spells to support an attack determines the victor. The game is very approachable but still allows for strategic variety (which units to unlock, when to attack, save up or spend, focus on defensive structure or more units). Swords and Soldiers 2 Shawarmageddon, like the original game, widens the appeal of the real-time strategy game by offering a fast, action-packed title that’s easy to learn.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Veil of Crows Gameplay Review

I'm playing Veil of Crows, a role-playing real-time strategy game by Arrow Face Games.

The game features a campaign on several maps with varied character customization and background options (town leader, merchant, mercenary, et cetera); the game world carries over after you die and start a new character. There is also a sandbox mode for more direct tweaking. Towns produce gold through taxation, consume food, and collect resources from nearby mines, farms, and quarries. These resources can be used to construct new buildings and raise troops. Quests can be undertaken from neutral villages, while other factions in the game can be traded with or fought. Combat involves giving orders to troops using cumbersome, non-intuitive controls that use keyboard buttons instead of interface icons. The game world is an effective setting, with other factions going about their business before you intervene. The beginning of each scenario can be slow as you wait for resources to accumulate and better units to unlock, but large battles between different factions await. Overall, Veil of Crows is very reminiscent of Mount & Blade, except with RTS-style battles in place of third-person combat, and is a mostly successful pivot of that construct.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Colonists Gameplay Review

I'm playing The Colonists, a management simulation by Codebyfire and Mode 7 Games.

The game features two introductory missions, four without combat, and four with combat. You cannot skip missions and there are no randomized maps. Each scenario is designed to take a while to complete, as key resources are usually located on opposite sides of the map; this results in lots of monotonous waiting for resource transport, even at the maximum game speed. The crux of the game is the collection and distribution of resources, starting with the basics (food, logs, iron ore, clay) and working up the production chain to more sophisticated goods (bricks, books, bread, glass, arrows). Residences are used to produce energy consumed by every building, and structures can upgrade to produce higher-level goods. The buildable area can be expanded by placing watchtowers, and the combat-focused scenarios include hostile AI opponents. There is a lot of data contained in the game concerning resource input and output rates, and keeping resource delivery travel times low and making sure you are producing the correct quantity of goods is important for success. Most resources can be produced indefinitely once you find an underground mine (with a couple exceptions, like salt), but this still requires careful expansion and resource usage until you discover those key locations. There is a significant amount of waiting for resources to accumulate (especially if your network is inefficient, which it usually is due to the scripted resource locations); this results in dull, repetitive gameplay for about half of each scenario. While The Colonists has a satisfying core of resource production and distribution, the dull, drawn-out scenarios coupled with a lack of random maps restrict the enjoyment.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Oligopoly Gameplay Review

I'm playing Oligopoly, an economic strategy game by Viny Game Studio.

The game features three short campaigns (11 scenarios total) at various difficulties, plus five sandbox maps; there are no random maps to extend the content. The goal is to make money by collecting resources, transporting those resources to factories to produce goods, then selling those goods. There are some multi-step production chains in the game (iron + oil > plastic + steel + engine > mower) that add complexity and require planning. However, it is extremely difficult to turn a profit early on in each campaign scenario (the sandbox maps have infinite money), as goods do not earn enough money to offset the expensive monthly maintenance costs for the factories and mines required to make those goods. Oligopoly is a potentially interesting economic strategy game with intricate production chains ruined by poor early game balance in the campaign mode.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Forza Horizon 4 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Forza Horizon 4, an open world racing simulation by Playground Games and Microsoft Studios.

The most noticeable new feature is week-long seasons as you venture around the United Kingdom. Multiplayer options are integrated into the game, offering team or competitive races with online players, clubs, and special events that occur every hour. Your in-game character gains money and experience with every race (even without winning), unlocking randomized prizes (like new clothing or cars) and additional events. The map is chock full of race options once you complete the introductory sequence: road racing, dirt racing, off-road cross-country events, street races, drag racing, and drifting. Races can be customized to adjust the race length and allow specific car types (such as hatchbacks, cars from the 70s, or a specific manufacturer). In addition to the races, speed traps, huge jumps, barns hiding classic cars, and signs to smash for bonuses also dot the landscape. The cars are plentiful and can be customized with skins, upgrades, tuning, horns, and license plates. Undesirable vehicles can be auctioned off to other players. The car handling is very forgivable and focused on tight racing with the capable AI; this is quite fine for an arcade racing title such as this, but those looking for a realistic simulation should look elsewhere. The graphics are top-notch and perform very well, though the engine sounds could be improved. Forza Horizon 4 is a fantastic open-world racing title thanks to its content-rich setting, multitude of customizable race types, large roster of cars, and easy-to-handle driving physics.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Monday, October 01, 2018

ValeGuard Gameplay Review

I'm playing ValeGuard, a defensive strategy game by Lost Tower Games.

The game features a campaign that consists of a series of semi-random scenarios where you must construct defenses and and army to fend off enemies that will appear after a set period of time; once you lose, you have to start over from the beginning so there is only one saved game slot. Workers are assigned to collect resources, construct buildings, make weapons, or constitute your army. Town size can be increased by building houses with wells nearby, and food must be produced every four turns to support your population. Random events, such as merchants that will trade resources for gold and monsters that attack before the end of the scenario, mix things up mid-game. Combat is performed in real-time, where units are given move and attack orders and use special abilities. Units will attack nearby enemies to reduce micromanagement. The AI is basic but only needs to be in a defensive game. Ultimately, ValeGuard is a game of resource management, assigning the correct number of workers to collect and produce the right goods in order to have enough troops and defenses to fend off the final attack. While the mechanics are somewhat repetitive, there is flexibility regarding which weapons and resources to focus on. Overall, ValeGuard is an enjoyable defensive strategy game with a management slant.

Friday, September 21, 2018

NASCAR Heat 3 Gameplay Review

I'm playing NASCAR Heat 3, a racing simulation by Monster Games and 704 Games.

New features in this year’s version start with a dirt touring series that includes eight tracks (and a dirt road course). The career mode (which starts out in the new dirt series) adds the ability to be an owner/driver, allowing the player to hire staff and choose racing cars to perform research on. Online multiplayer adds tournaments, while the new Charlotte “roval” and Phoenix redesign are included. A racing line is provided to learn each track, but only in practice mode. Also, there are nine pre-made car setups for each track that range between “tight,” “balanced,” and “loose.” The short racing challenges round out the features. As in previous versions, NASCAR Heat 3 handles somewhere between an arcade game and a simulation, which strikes the balance the developers are looking for in a console-driven release. The cars are relatively easy to drive, and the AI is very aggressive and less idiotic as in last year’s game. The sound design is not great (the collision effect is especially weak) and the game still lacks game options during a race (like saving progress for later or seeing what the controls are). Still, NASCAR Heat 3 is an improvement over last year, and is slowly approaching a solid arcade-sim racing game overall.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Megaquarium Gameplay Review

I'm playing Megaquarium, a management simulation by Twice Circled.

The game features a campaign mode with scenarios that include varied starting and victory conditions; also included is a flexible sandbox mode. The goal is to expand the aquarium by placing new tanks filled with fish and other aquatic creatures; each animal has different attributes and desires (such as water temperature, grass, or caves) that must be balanced in each ecosystem. Different machines, such as filters, skimmers, heaters, and lights, can be attached to tanks to achieve the levels required by its inhabitants. Staff members will automatically feed the fish, repair broken equipment, and keep the aquarium clean. Money is earned by having popular animals on display and by selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. Animals also provide research points used to unlock new animals and equipment. The game is very approachable while still requiring some careful balancing so animal needs don’t interfere. While the game can get repetitive and there is some waiting for new things to finish researching, the variety of animals and freeform expansion options buoy interest. Megaquarium is a well-executed management game.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Victory At Sea Pacific Gameplay Review

I'm playing Victory At Sea Pacific, a real-time strategy game by Evil Twin Artworks.

The game features three campaigns but two are initially locked. In addition, the first campaign contains a mandatory tutorial that cannot be skipped, even if it’s not your first time playing. The campaign allows for free-form movement of fleets around the Pacific to achieve objectives but lacks a skirmish mode. Fleets can be instructed to attack, defend, move, recon, raid, or resupply. The game takes place in real-time and any conflicts can be skipped. “War bonds” earned during missions can be used to purchase new ships, and experience points will unlock additional vessels. Tactical battles involve movement orders, speed adjustments, firing guns, and launching aircraft. Units will attack and maneuver automatically if issued general “attack” commands, reducing micromanagement. Units can also be organized into squadrons that act as a single entity. Specific systems can be damaged during combat, and the AI provides decent opposition. Victory At Sea Pacific is a neat idea thanks to its persistent, non-linear campaign but lacks some ancillary features to fully round out the package.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Frozen Synapse 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Frozen Synapse 2, a turn-based tactical strategy game by Mode 7 Games.

The single player game mode is the new city mode, where factions vie for control and all are battling a common enemy. Money, earned by completing story-based missions or contracts for a faction, is used to purchase new units. Units are divided into squads that can roam around the city, and regenerate when killed. Missions take place inside (or adjacent to) procedurally-generated buildings that offer good variety in tactics. Some levels lack satellite coverage (hiding enemy movement) or contain locked windows or doors that must be opened in specific areas. The city game is a fun enhancement to the core gameplay, as the different alliances and mission types provide variety each play through. The tactical game has received improvements as well, starting with a large roster of new unit types (including riot shield, scoped rifle, knife, smoke and toxic grenades, mines, flamethrower, minigun, and turret). These new units open up more tactical possibilities in each game. Units can be instructed to focus on a certain portion of the map, and a “focus diamond” can be played for increased accuracy. Large levels can be traversed in fewer turns using the “long turn” option. Keeping units still, behind cover, and aiming in the correct direction still results in the best outcomes. The computer opponents are smart (most of the time) and provide good adversaries. Of course, online play is also available using simultaneous turn resolution and turns that can be submitted at your leisure. All of the previous game modes are available (extermination, charge, disputed, secure, hostage), plus quicker one-turn challenges. Frozen Synapse 2 has enough significant content through the robust city mode, vastly improved procedurally generated levels, and interesting new units to justify its existence.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Aggressors: Ancient Rome Gameplay Review

I'm playing Aggressors: Ancient Rome, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Kubat Software and Slitherine.

The single player game features historical play around the Mediterranean or randomly generated maps with good customization options but potentially unbalanced starting positions. A scenario editor and mod support are also available. The interface could be improved; specifically, the strategic overview that lists on-map objects and the political maps desperately need the ability to zoom in. Resources are collected from the map: mines, wood, and farms near cities automatically add their bounty nationwide. Cities can only produce specific units, and adding a new unit to a city’s production roster requires an investment of resources (on top of the cost of actually making the unit), leading to interesting strategic decisions and less unit spam. Buildings outside of cities (such as the blacksmith, temple, and stable) can buff resource production or allow for the recruitment of advanced units. Cities, buildings, and units can also be improved to increase stats. Units fall under the typical categories of settler, infantry, cavalry, and naval forces, but more sophisticated versions can be researched. Government type and state decisions can alter your approach. Diplomacy comes with a good number of options, but there is no feedback whether some options will be accepted (and why they were not). Luckily, trade deals can be open-ended: you can request a specific resource and the partner will come back with an appropriate counter offer. Due to the time period, combat is relatively common, and the AI does a good job producing troops, attacking vulnerable units, and working well as a trade partner and ally. While Aggressors: Ancient Rome is more simplified than some other 4X games, it does not lack significant strategic decisions and its faster, combat-oriented pace is appealing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dustwind Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dustwind, a real-time tactical strategy game by Dustwind Studios and Z-Software.

The game is primarily designed for online play, but you can compete against bots or in solo missions. Game modes include cooperative missions, last team standing, team deathmatch, free for all, capture the flag, and assault/defense. The small roster of maps is exhausted quickly, but there is a map editor. Custom character design is interesting, where points are assigned to increase player stats or equip weapons. Dustwind is played from an isometric perspective, using clicking to move. Since there is no moving and shooting, the “S” key is used to halt and engage. Some of the controls are a bit cumbersome and peering into buildings can be tricky, but it’s mostly hassle free to navigate around the maps. Units will auto-engage enemies, which takes some of the tedious micromanagement away. Stealth should always be used to hide from the opposition, while crouching increases accuracy. Med packs, grenades, mines, turrets, barricades, and lockpicks can also be used. Firefights are typically quick and deadly, keeping the action constant. AI opponents and allies are not terrible. Dustwind isn’t for everyone, but should appeal to fans of classic tactical games.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Forged Battalion Gameplay Review

I'm playing Forged Battalion, a real-time strategy game by Petroglyph and Team17.

The game features a lazy and tedious campaign with a bland story that simply features more enemy factions simultaneously fighting as you progress. The skirmish modes (both online and against the AI) only has fifteen maps and no procedural map generation, though more are available on Steam Workshop. Experience points earned by playing any game mode are used to unlock new weapons and create custom units with different weapons and armor. Only four units are available for each chassis (infantry, light vehicle, heavy vehicle, aircraft) and more advanced units can only be built when high-level structures have been placed, which helps to balance out those who have unlocked more items. Forged Battalion is a simplified real-time strategy game, though that does make it more approachable: constructing units is fast and efficient with the handy keyboard shortcuts, and placing additional factories speeds up production at your main hub. Structures can only be placed near existing ones unless an outpost is captured, making enemy building placement predictable. The limited unit roster and building selection does result in a repetitive build order, with the same options executed every game. The AI is barely passable and only mounts a challenge when they outnumber you. A disappointing campaign, limited content, and oversimplified mechanics subdue the custom unit creation features of Forged Battalion.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Madden NFL 19 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Madden NFL 19, an American football simulation by Electronic Arts.

The first PC version of Madden in 11 years, this edition is likely not as mod friendly as in the past, but performance on the PC is smooth and flexible. The game features an underwhelming “longshot” story mode, one-off exhibition games with generally lag-free online play, an “ultimate team” mode where player cards are purchased using in-game cash or real money to assemble a team, and a franchise mode with weekly gameplay strategy training, free agency, draft, player experience upgrades, and flexible game simulation options (including my favorite: you can play only important game events like 3rd downs and red zone trips). Madden NFL 19 comes with three game styles: simulation, high-scoring arcade, and a competitive mode that favors user input for jukes, stiff arms, and the like. The AI skill level can also be adjusted, from “fair” to “clearly cheating”. Controls involve a host of buttons to adjust pre-play hot routes, defensive line shifts, jukes, aggressive catches, power moves, dive tackles, and lots of others. While the commentary gets repetitive quickly, Madden NFL 19 has some nice details like occasionally very detailed comments and player-specific celebrations. The AI provides a good opponent if you’d prefer not to match up against random humans online. While Madden NFL 19 is not wholly different for players of recent console versions, its reappearance on the PC is welcome and it’s still an enjoyable game to play with an acceptable list of features.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Circle Empires Gameplay Review

I'm playing Circle Empires, a real-time strategy game by Luminous and Iceberg Interactive.

The game features procedurally generated maps that varies the resources and enemies in each region, the quantity of which depends on the difficulty level. Leaders provide different starting resources and bonuses when capturing a new territory. The main game mode involves finding and killing an enemy boss, but a full conquest mode and games against AI empires are also available. Food, wood, and gold are collected and used to recruit new units, build defensive structures, or unlock upgrades. Circle Empires has a good roster of available units, and the composition of your army largely depends on which resources dominate the map you are playing on. Unit control can become cumbersome as units overlap; friendly units will also occasionally ignore enemies that are located in the same circle, and the game could use an attack move order. Circle Empires becomes very challenging on higher difficulty levels due to the large initial enemy count. Despite limited shortcomings involving the user interface, Circle Empires is an approachable real-time strategy game that has high replay value thanks to its randomized map layouts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Graveball Gameplay Review

I'm playing Graveball, an action sports game by Goin’ Yumbo and 3D Realms.

The game focuses on online 3v3 matches: while there is a practice mode against AI bots, the game lacks a league or career mode and game customization options (such as game length or rules tweaks). The goal is to keep the ball in the end zone for two seconds or shoot the ball through a ring. Opponents can be attacked and killed, turning into ghosts that move quickly and invisibly around the map and can respawn anywhere. You can also commit suicide to turn into a ghost and quickly traverse the arena and sneak up on the opposition. Additional options include throwing weapons, jumping and diving to avoid attacks, and sprinting. It is sometimes hard to tell what’s going on (likely on purpose), and Graveball never features any lulls against the competent AI. While Graveball is an action-packed, albeit chaotic, sports game, the reliance on an online community and deficiency in single player features potentially hurt long-term enjoyment.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Train Sim World Gameplay Review

I'm playing Train Sim World, a locomotive simulation by Dovetail Games.

The game is a collection of the base release plus three expansions, for a total of four routes with eight trains: Leipzig, London, New York, and Pennsylvania. A total of twenty-five scenarios are included, which last from 20 minutes to several hours. There is no time acceleration in the game, so a three-hour scenario lasts three real hours. In addition, if a scenario is finished ahead of schedule, you still have to wait at the station until the full time expires. Very simple tutorials are included for each train, and help is not extended to the scenarios: the game won’t tell you why the train is not moving, for example. Beyond the scenarios, there are many services that can be completed, but you can’t customize them and they usually involve the entire lengthy route, just at different times of day. Controls are performed using the mouse to click on the actual levers inside each train, keyboard shortcuts, or a gamepad. Each train is similar (throttle, brake, reverser) but also different enough to allow for confusion when changing models. While there is track switching, adding or releasing cars, using the turntable, and (of course) blowing the horn, most of the scenarios simply involve following the speed limit, stopping at certain places, and watching the scenery pass. The in-game map lacks any sort of detail to immerse you into the game, just showing the route and surrounding trains. Train Sim World is a seemingly accurate simulation, but a lack of time acceleration, no scenario flexibility, abbreviated help, and less content compared to other, more established simulations keeps the game at the station.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Radiis Gameplay Review

I'm playing Radiis, a turn-based strategy game by Urban Goose Games.

The game features a campaign with pre-designed maps that teaches the basics of the gameplay. While the skirmish mode does offer randomized maps, there is also a map editor and content can be shared through Steam Workshop. The objective is to secure most of the map’s hexes by placing buildings to capture surrounding territory. Population in each hex grows over time (to a maximum determined by the tile type), earning more money to spend on more buildings. Buildings can also be purchased using points earned by capturing unclaimed territory and destroying enemy structures. The building roster offers several options for expansion, with structures that provide population growth, destroy enemy buildings, or remove opposing population from the area. The AI is very competent at the game, using solid strategies that require some thinking to defeat. Radiis utilizes simple mechanics but still contains interesting decisions regarding which buildings to use and when.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dig or Die Gameplay Review

I'm playing Dig or Die, a sandbox survival game by Gaddy Games.

The game supports both single player and online multiplayer where the goal is to build a rocket to escape the planet. Each procedurally generated world features the same regions where you can find specific resources and enemies. Crafting is set up in tiers, and unlocking the next set of items requires visiting a particular area and finding the necessary resources. Nightly attacks come from all of the enemy types you have previously engaged, requiring the construction of a base with turrets and one or two entrances to funnel the hostiles in one at a time. Building and water physics means rainfall and stressed bridges must be managed. With a focus on base defense, Dig or Die features all of the hallmarks of a satisfying sandbox survival game.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


I'm playing MOTHERGUNSHIP, a roguelike first-person shooter by Terrible Posture Games and Grip Digital.

Sharing a lot of similarities with the developer’s previous game Tower of Guns, the game centers around shooting lots of enemies in randomly generated levels. Apart from the main story missions, there are side missions for extra parts and experience, and eventually endless and sandbox modes are unlocked. Guns can be created from parts purchased in each mission; the designing process is easy using connectors, barrels, and enhancements to attach things. More powerful weapons require more frequent energy recharging, so there is strategy involved in which barrels to place together on the same gun. Each mission has a limited number of gun parts that can be initially brought in to create the initial gun, and dying results in losing those parts. The procedurally generated levels are interesting and can drastically affect the difficulty of each mission. Occasionally, there are special rooms to purchase new parts or that have different rules. The AI is dumb but overwhelming in numbers, making for a difficult game overall. Each room does not need to be cleared to advance, however. The game’s fast pace (with quick movement and multiple jumps) and relatively short missions makes replaying after death more palatable. MOTHERGUNSHIP is a very challenging first-person shooter high in replay value thanks to procedurally generated levels and extremely flexible weapon design.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War Gameplay Review

I'm playing Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Proxy Studios and Slitherine.

Featuring both single player games and online matches on randomized maps, the goal is to either defeat all other factions or complete the main quest line. The four factions (Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Necrons, and Orks) have subtle differences between them (units, resource usage, expansion rules). Cities expand into surrounding tiles to increase building slots and provide resource production bonuses for food, ore, energy, research, and influence. Maps typically include interesting choke points, artefacts and outposts to capture for bonuses, and very dangerous creeps that will decimate starting armies that don’t stick together. Units, especially heroes, can be equipped with some interesting experience-based abilities, but all factions include “basic” and “more powerful” versions of infantry, vehicle, and hero units. Only one unit is allowed per tile, so the more powerful variants are desirable once unlocked through research. Research options are varied and tough to choose between, while diplomatic options are non-existent (everyone hates everyone). The AI plays the game well enough, attacking when (and where) you are vulnerable, pulling back when needed, and expanding into appropriate regions. Coupled with the hostile nature of the game world, the game can be a challenge. Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War takes the formula of Pandora: First Contact and applies it to a different setting, adjusting just enough game mechanics to make it stand out on its own.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Wreckfest Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wreckfest, an arcade racing game by Bugbear Entertainment and THQ Nordic.

The game features a lengthy multi-tiered career mode with lots of varied events at each level. In addition, there are single events and online racing. Money and experience points used to unlock and purchase new cars and parts can be earned in any game mode. The handling strikes a terrific balance between arcade and simulation: the vehicles require skill to drive but are more forgiving than more realistic simulations. Handling can also be tuned in a straightforward manner, making adjustments to the suspension, gear ratio, differential, and brake balance. Adjustable aids (anti-lock brakes, traction control, automatic gearbox) can also be utilized. The most noticeable feature of Wreckfest is the damage model: soft body damage looks fantastic, and raceways are typically littered with debris after every race. The smooth game engine runs very well and looks great. Very competent AI drivers put on a great race and will put you in the wall if given the chance, but will also make mistakes and wreck each other. Wreckfest is a fantastic arcade racing game that delivers enjoyable handling, challenging yet fallible computer opponents, solid online play, and varied racing modes on numerous tracks to go along with its detailed car damage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lumines Remastered Gameplay Review

I'm playing Lumines Remastered, a puzzle game by Resonair and Enhance.

New features are limited to shuffled mode and additional vibration settings, while online multiplayer has been removed. There are plentiful game modes included: the “normal” challenge mode with basic, shuffle, and endless options, a mode where you can choose the skins used, a seemingly pointless time-limited time attack mode, a very difficult puzzle mode where you have to create a shape within a time limit, a very difficult mission mode with specific objectives to accomplish within a time limit, a very difficult versus CPU mode, and local competitive multiplayer. The basic gameplay involves making squares of the same color by dropping and rotating blocks. As the timeline passes, blocks will disappear, and more blocks removed in the same sweep will increase the score. A “chain” block (with a cross on it) removes any adjacent blocks of the same color. The mechanics are easy to learn but hard to master, as the game is quite challenging across all modes. While this Remastered edition adds very little, Lumines is a very good, very challenging puzzle game.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World Evolution Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jurassic World Evolution, a theme park management simulation by Frontier Developments.

The game takes place over five islands (plus a sixth sandbox location from the original Jurassic Park movie), each of which presents different challenges (storms, limited space, an initial deficit). Fulfilling contracts for the security, entertainment, and science branches grants extra cash and will also unlock story-based missions and other bonuses. However, completing too many contacts for a single branch will cause the other factions to sabotage your park. The interface provides a map with a list of all buildings and dinosaurs, plus management views for weather and transportation, but does not utilize enough hotkeys for buildings and requires too many clicks to reach some information (such as the genome library). Creating a dinosaur involves several steps: sending an expedition team to dig fossils, extracting DNA, and incubating the eggs. Dinosaurs are kept inside fenced enclosures, which much be stocked with food, water, and the correct balance of trees and grassland for the specific inhabitants. Each dinosaur has a detailed range of tolerable conditions, and will attack the fences if their comfort dips too low. The ranger station can take pictures of your creations or medicate sick animals, while the ACU helicopter will tranquilize and move problematic dinos. Both of these vehicles can be controlled directly, which is a fun prospect initially, but the novelty wears off and you’ll want to designate the tasks eventually. Guests do not have the level of detail that the dinosaurs do: simply place enough food, shopping, and hotel buildings (location doesn’t matter), and you’ll easily attain a maximum guest rating. Money is easy to come by as long as the dinosaurs aren’t running amok, which happens frequently once the game decides to increase the difficulty by causing dinosaurs that have all of their needs fulfilled to attack the park for no reason. In addition, most of the maps are very cramped and there is significant waiting for money to accumulate and tasks to finish (and no time acceleration to speed things up). Ultimately, Jurassic World Evolution has a wonderful setting and solid pedigree but is limited by tedious and repetitive gameplay.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bus Simulator 18 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bus Simulator 18, a bus driving simulation by stillalive studios and Astragon Entertainment.

The game takes place in a single town of relatively small size (it only takes a couple of minutes to drive from one end to the other). Money earned by driving routes can be used to purchase new buses and hire employees to drive routes for you. Or, you can go online and drive for other users’ companies, a neat feature. The driving is faithful: if all of the realism options are turned on, you must unlock the doors, turn on the ignition, turn on all of the lights, and put the bus into drive before each excursion. Speed limit signs are rare, and European priority roads take some acclimation for an American used to traffic lights and 4-way stops. The AI traffic will yield if you signal to merge back in from a stop, and they seem to give right-of-way as well. In addition to opening the doors for customers, you must give change to people whom purchase tickets (an enjoyable aspect of the game). You may also have to clean up garbage or tell riders to turn their hippie music down. Conversations between passengers repeat themselves quickly. Despite the limited driving area, Bus Simulator 18 is an effective game highlighted by solid driving and online multiplayer.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Flashing Lights Early Access Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the early access version of Flashing Lights, an emergency services simulation by Nils Jakrins' Team and Excalibur Games.

Taking place in a fairly sizable open world, the game can be played alone or cooperatively online. Three different occupations can be chosen: police, fireman, or EMT. Currently, missions are limited: the police can only ram a target car (in addition to issuing parking tickets), firemen can put out blazes or rescue people trapped in vehicles, and medics inspect victims and transport them to the hospital. Hopefully, additional content and improvements will be added to Flashing Lights during development, as the potential is there for an enjoyable cooperative game.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Antigraviator Gameplay Review

I'm playing Antigraviator, an arcade racing game by Cybernetic Walrus and Iceberg Interactive.

The game features a single player campaign where money earned during each race can be used to unlock new parts. However, you must place first to unlock the next set of races, which is a very tough proposition. Additionally, there is local split-screen multiplayer, online multiplayer with rankings and leaderboards, and single races against the AI. Beyond traditional lap-based events, there are "deathraces" where last place is eliminated each circuit, and a "countdown" mode where passing through checkpoints adds time. There are only 12 different tracks in four settings, but the tracks don't impact the racing too much. Controls are typical, with air braking to get around tight turns and collecting pickups for boost. Antigraviator advertises "no speed limit", but there is clearly a top speed as the car slows down after boosting. Traps (missiles, ice, mines, et cetera) are available at various locations around each track (indicated on the map). The first person to smash the B button gets to use it immediately, which is a terrible game mechanic devoid of strategy: there is no saving traps for just the right moment. Racing favors being in the lead too much (as you can collect the boost pickups first and widen your lead), and the AI racers stick to the racing line and slam into each other and you continually. Antigraviator has the potential to be a compelling arcade racer, but its lack of tactics in using traps and favoritism towards being in the lead places it off the podium.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Football, Tactics & Glory Gameplay Review

I'm playing Football, Tactics & Glory, a turn-based sports strategy game by Creoteam.

The game features a single player campaign mode where you lead a team from the amateurs to the premier league, signing new players and upgrading facilities along the way. There is also hotseat and online multiplayer, but no single games against the AI. There is good mod support with Steam Workshop integration. Players have four stats (accuracy, passing, defense, and control) that determine how high their random dice rolls go; skills are also available to use during games in special situations. Players gain experience during matches that can be used to unlock new classes (sweeper, full back) with additional game attributes. Each match is turn-based: a team gets three moves before control is passed to the opponent. Players can move, dribble, pass, shoot, hold the ball (which increases control), tackle, press (to make it easier for a second player to tackle), swap positions, cross, or break in. Free kicks, corner kicks, and penalty kicks allow for limited player positioning before the play starts. A lot of the game’s strategy involves initial placement of players on the field, and then using their abilities to move the ball into the net. This results in a lot of formation changes and counters to those changes during the course of a game, at least when humans are involved: while the AI is good at the game, it never alters its formation during a match, causing a successful plan to be able to be repeated. Two things prevent Football, Tactics & Glory from being a great game: the lack of single games against the AI, and the static formation usage by the computer opponent.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Airport Simulator 2019 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Airport Simulator 2019, an airport management simulation by Toplitz Productions.

The game mainly involves driving vehicles (buses, cargo loaders, baggage transports, fuel trucks) around an airport. Paths are drawn on the ground to assist in navigation, and cruise control is available to rest weary “W” keys. The driving physics are simplistic and all vehicles are easy to handle. AI drivers will come to a halt when you get too close, but will run into stopped vehicles you may have parked in odd locations. Each incoming flight has a number of steps that must be completed, either by you or staff you have hired. Staff members will level up with experience, and additional vehicles can be purchased to handle more complex flight tasks. Time acceleration is available to skip to the next event. Airport Simulator 2019 is extremely repetitive and limited in scope to just driving vehicles and assigning staff, but doesn’t have any huge areas of concern like many simulations do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Safe House Gameplay Review

I'm playing Safe House, a spy management game by Labs Games.

The story mode tells the tale of American operatives in a central African country, while an endless mode is more freeform. The game suffers from terrible interface: scrolling across the safe house is very slow even on the fastest setting, the game does not recenter the display so you can see the entire building after an interaction (requiring constant, needless scrolling and zooming out), and mouse input is frustratingly lagged where sometimes a single click is registered but sometimes you need to double click. Money is earned by successfully completing mini-games across various rooms that are placed in the building. Most of these games involve finding words on a list: checking a valid code from a list, picking the right medicine from a list, checking names on a list, picking bomb ingredients from a list, putting together a fake passport (not involving a list!), responding to a phrase with a specific word, and a simple shift cipher. These are relatively entertaining but ultimately repetitive. Agents can also be given missions during each day, but these involve no mini-games or interaction at all, just a percentage chance of success based on stats. In the end, Safe House has some potentially interesting but ultimately repetitive mini-games surrounded by an inelegant interface.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

MachiaVillain Gameplay Review

I'm playing MachiaVillain, a haunted house management simulation by Wild Factor and Good Shepherd Entertainment.

The goal is to lure people to your mansion and eat them. Minions with randomized attributes and abilities are available to collect resources, build structures, put out fires, clean up blood, and manufacture food, research, or processed goods (like steel plates or planks of wood). There are only six different rooms to construct, and each has a limited number of structures that can be placed in them; in addition, most items beyond the basics require a lot of resources, meaning adding new items to your mansion becomes very infrequent after the initial setup. Workers must be kept happy with plenty of specific foods (some monsters like bones, while others prefer brains or blood). In order to attract visitors to your evil abode, letters must be written and sent out to potential victims. Combat is the weakest part of the game: units move too fast in the slowest real-time mode, so constant pausing to issue commands is required. Also, it can be impossible to target specific victims if they are closely spaced; this results in simply not seeing a victim obscured by other objects until it’s too late and they run off. Killing victims outside or letting ones escape will increase suspicion; once the value crosses a certain threshold, heroes and mobs will come to attack you. Following the rules of killing (kill all victims only when alone, kill the virgin last, don’t hurt the dog) also grants crypt points used to unlock new monster types and recruit new workers. MachiaVillain is a great idea that mostly works, but it is a bit repetitive due to the limited, expensive room items and inelegant combat.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Starship Corporation Gameplay Review

I'm playing Starship Corporation, a spaceship design company simulation by Coronado Games and Iceberg Interactive.

The game features a campaign mode, which is mostly the sandbox mode with fixed starting conditions. The same map is used each time, along with the same missions, resulting in low replay value. Running your corporation consists of accepting contracts, designing ships appropriate for those contracts, and testing them out. Ships can be moved around the galaxy map to research new areas, mine asteroids, perform roadwork, or engage in combat against pirates. Ship design involves placing rooms (the bridge, navigation, sensors, engines, power, cooling, weapons, shields, storage, crew quarters, mining equipment, medical bays) and connecting them with hatches and corridors. New items can be researched for an up-front fee or paid for monthly. Design is essentially free-form, although some rooms must be placed along the outer hull. Generally, it is very difficult to physically fit all of the components required by a contract while staying under budget. After the design is complete, a real-time “crew management” phase tests your ship in a variety of different scenarios. The efficiency of your design (namely, how long it takes the crew to get from room to room) determines your rating and whether it is sufficient to fulfill the contract. The interface makes it tedious to place rooms and interact with your crew, although the verbose error messages during the design phase are useful. While Starship Corporation is a great idea with high levels of detail in certain areas, tedious construction, tough building requirements, and a lack of polish hold the title back.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Battle Fleet Ground Assault Gameplay Review

I'm playing Battle Fleet Ground Assault, a turn-based strategy game by Mythical City Games.

The game features a campaign mode where units are moved around to capture territory during World War II. Also available are custom battles with randomly generated maps (though the map dimensions do not adjust for the force size) and user-selected unit rosters, plus online multiplayer. One tank moves at a time (based on XP), and each unit can move, then attack or move again. The major new feature of Battle Fleet Ground Assault (compared to its predecessor) is line of sight: units can hide behind buildings, trees, and terrain, making targeting impossible until they are spotted. Much like in Battle Fleet 2, shots are performed by adjusting the angle and power; while angle indicators are , range rings are widely space, leaving for a lot of error and educated guessing. The AI is deadly accurate (even on the easiest difficulty setting where the AI misses more, it can occasionally perform a salvo of precise shots at long distance), making the campaign and quick battles frustrating unless you are skilled enough to land ~80% of your shots. Because of this, the best strategy is to hide your units as much as possible to gain the upper hand and shoot first. Online play does not suffer from the same outrageously skilled computer opponents, though people with game experience can estimate ranges well. Apart from line of sight and taking place on land with tanks, Battle Fleet Ground Assault is the same as Battle Fleet 2, with approachable gameplay but unmistakably cheating AI opponents.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Murderous Pursuits Gameplay Review

I'm playing Murderous Pursuits, a stealth action game by Blazing Griffin.

Taking inspiration from The Ship and Assassin’s Creed, the game features capable AI bots and online multiplayer matchmaking with no server browser. Most favor wins, earned by killing your quarry or stunning your hunter. Proximity indicators show the direction of your target and whether hunters are nearby; the displays are imprise enough to not give away too much information if you are not paying attention to your surroundings. All weapons are one-shot kills, placing more emphasis on detection rather than aiming skill. As you move, exposure level increases, which can be brought back down by standing in vignettes (large dashed areas scattered around each map, also utilized to blend in with the NPCs). Additional favor can be earned by killing with low exposure levels or swapping weapons out for new implements. Infrequent guards are placed around the maps that will arrest anyone who brandishes a weapon, instantly causing them to be exposed. Two abilities (from a list of five) can be chosen prior to each game: counter attacks, remove exposure, reveal nearby targets, humiliate a target (for bonus favor but instant exposure), or stun everyone nearby. Murderous Pursuits progresses at a much faster pace than The Ship, with needs replaced by a more intuitive exposure system that still allows for trailing a target and sneaking up on them for an attack. There are some occasional issues with lag (who clicked first?) and aiming when people are placed close to each other, but overall Murderous Pursuits is quite enjoyable and more accessible than its predecessor.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation Gameplay Review

I'm playing Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation, a survival management game by Suncrash.

Taking place on randomized maps, the game involves constructing a village and defending against demon attacks. A variety of structures can be built from different raw and processed materials; production can be automated to maintain minimum levels of specific goods. Items, such as weapons, bricks, and armor, can be crafted using the appropriate workbench. Each survivor has a preferred job (research, fighting, building things, et cetera) and can gain improved skills in their area of expertise. Weapons, armor, and other items can also be equipped, and it is important to fulfill survivor needs for food, water, and sleep. An extensive technology tree allows for research in base items, crafting, weapons, the occult, and rituals. Missions on the world map offer resources or new survivors. Combat can involve using cover and flanking the enemy demons, whom become much stronger over time. Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is a challenging survival management game with nice variety in research options and base components.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Frostpunk Gameplay Review

I'm playing Frostpunk, a city survival management game by 11 bit studios.

The game features a finite main story-based campaign (the length of which depends on how quickly you progress through the story) with the same map and same scripted events each time through. With only two other side scenarios and no sandbox mode, replay value is very low, especially for a city builder. Lowering discontent and raising hope is the overall goal, performed by placing buildings, extracting resources, and keeping everyone alive. Coal, wood, and steel can be collected from the environment and (later) specific buildings. Food must also be collected and processed. Buildings can only be placed next to streets that radiate outward from the central generator. Most of the game involves deciding where to assign your limited workforce. Cold ambient temperatures require heating structures to keep people from getting sick, though medical facilities can be utilized. Laws can be enacted periodically, and an extensive research tree unlocks new buildings or improves existing ones. The surrounding area can also be scouted for resources, new settlers, and to advance the story. The game is very challenging, as the conditions are harsh and the people are finicky. Frostpunk is a compelling city builder with a strong emphasis on survival in a unique setting but little reason to experience the highly scripted campaign more than once.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BATTLETECH Gameplay Review

I'm playing BATTLETECH, a turn-based mech strategy game by Harebrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive.

The game features a potentially compelling campaign mode where semi-random missions are accepted; the loot and cash earned from each encounter is then used to repair and upgrade your mechs and hire new crew. Unfortunately, the campaign routinely features unbalanced missions with double (or more) the number of mechs on the enemy side, making sustained success very difficult. More fair are skirmish games online and against the AI. The interface is slick with useful information always displayed, once you learn what the icons and bars mean. Each mission is limited to four mechs, a good number to limit tedious micromanagement while still giving tactical options. Maps are hex-based but without obvious hexes and look great. Mechs take turns in phases (lighter mechs go first) and can move, sprint, jump, change facing, defend, and attack. Additional special abilities allow for sensor locking enemies or targeting multiple foes at once. Units that sprint can earn evasive points that make them more difficult to hit (a way to abstract real-time movement in a turn-based game). The game displays clear hit percentages for each weapon and possible target; each part of the mech is given individual armor and structure points, so parts can be shot off (for example, destroying the torso also removes the attached arm and all of the weapons on it). You can target specific parts of an enemy once they are knocked down, and using weapons too often may cause structural damage when the mech overheats. Cover (usually trees) can be used to lower hit chances, and line of sight to the enemy must be maintained for direct fire. The varied abilities of each pilot and mech open up different avenues to success, and the AI is a fine opponent, which makes the decision to give more units to the opposition in the campaign even more baffling. BATTLETECH is a well-executed turn-based strategy game with tactical variety and a slick presentation, but it is hindered by the unfair difficulty of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tempest Citadel Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tempest Citadel, a strategy game by Aartform Games.

Similar in approach to X-COM, the game features a campaign with scripted events but (I think) randomized maps for combat. The interface presents a lot of information but organizes it well. While the game progresses in real-time, it can be paused at any time and will automatically when important events occur. The citadel base offers building slots for housing, food production, engineering (namely building structures and performing upgrades), medicine, and research. Crew can be woken from cryogenic sleep and placed in any available job; crew will level up with experience and can be given equipment and medical augmentations. Missions will regularly appear in the game world, and you can choose which crew members partake in the action. Combat is the weakest aspect of the game, as the action happens too quickly (in real-time) and is too automated (orders can only be given to the entire fireteam, not individuals) to make any tactics matter. Resources can be scavenged after combat. Despite the shortcomings in combat, Tempest Citadel offers feature-rich base and crew management options and a decent story.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Jalopy Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jalopy, a driving adventure game by Minskworks and Excalibur Games.

The game features a tour of Eastern Europe in a rustic automobile. Each day offers a choice of routes with randomized events (weather, road hazards) to the next destination. The car must be maintained and parts (engine, air filter, carburettor, fuel tank, battery, water tank, ignition coil, tires) can be upgraded. Money can be earned by finding boxes on the side of the road, and selling the goods they contain at gas stations in each town. There is limited storage space in the trunk, so everything needed to keep the car in working order cannot be hoarded. If things get too tough, the journey can be restarted but money and items are kept. While a simplistic game, Jalopy is effective in its limited scope.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Through The Ages Gameplay Review

I'm playing Through The Ages, a turn-based board game by CGE Digital.

The game features custom games, challenges, online matches against human opponents, and a tutorial. Despite being a port of the mobile game, the interface is modified to take advantage of a mouse; I also appreciate the ability to see the same information (how many workers are in each building, for example) or perform the same task (dragging workers, double-clicking cards) multiple ways. The goal is to accumulate the most culture points by the end of the game; this is accomplished by choosing cards from the card row and playing them by spending resources. These can be new buildings or upgrades to existing buildings; structures will produce food, resources, science, or culture based on the card properties and how many workers are assigned to the structure. More advanced cards are gradually introduced as new ages arrive. Other actions include increasing population, playing a leader, developing a new technology, declaring a revolution to switch government types, playing an action card, building or upgrading military units, or playing a military tactic. In addition, a politics phase allows for preparing future game events, declaring war against another player, or forming a pact. There are typically too many things to do each turn so you must make tough decisions on what to choose. You must also keep an eye on happiness (you need more food as you grow while staffing buildings that produce happiness) and corruption (stockpiling too many resources results in a penalty). Scouring the online forums for the board game version shows that there simply isn’t one viable strategy for the game, which is the hallmark of a well-balanced strategy title. The AI plays the game very well and uses varied strategies to achieve victory. Through The Ages succeeds at the two important aspects of any digital board game adaptation: a user-friendly interface and AI competency.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Empires Apart Gameplay Review

I'm playing Empires Apart, a real-time strategy game by DESTINYbit and Slitherine.

The game features a skirmish mode either online or against the AI, annoyingly unbalanced challenge scenarios (one or two friendly units against several enemies), a survival mode, and a brief tutorial. There is no campaign mode of scripted missions, though the randomized maps for the skirmish mode do give a lot of replay value. The six factions in the game are pleasingly varied. The interface has many shortcomings: resource locations need bigger indicators on the minimap, there is no “select all military units” button, there is no “select only military units” option while box-selecting, and there are no repeating or infinite queues. All of these issues become magnified with the fast pace of the game; the inefficient interface really hinders your ability to play without getting continually frustrated. Finite resources (food, wood, stone, and gold) mean migration is necessary in longer games. Efficient resource collection (by placing nearby storage structures) and continually increasing the population cap by constructing houses allow for quick upgrades to higher technology levels. Military units each have a specific counter, and while formations and stances are available, combat usually just devolves into a giant mass of units chasing a single enemy around the map. The AI can be a challenge as it is good at collecting resources and producing new villagers, but it usually sends only a few units at a time instead of a concentrated offensive. Empires Apart is a solid real-time strategy game with fast-paced gameplay and varied factions, but it lacks the smooth, feature-filled interface required for true excellence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Golem Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Golem Gates, a card-based real-time strategy game by Laser Guided Games.

The game features a fifteen mission campaign with repetitive objectives (capture these locations, then defeat the enemy base), a challenge mode with much more interesting scenarios, a survival mode, and versus play against the AI or online that needs more maps. Playing any game mode unlocks new cards to add to your customizable deck of units, defensive structures, traps, and spells. Energy (collected from generators) is spent to play cards in any area within the vision range of a friendly unit. Since the cards are drawn at random from the deck, there is no static build order to follow; this really helps to vary the gameplay, a common problem in real-time strategy games. The game is quite difficult overall, and coming up with a strategy on the fly using only the cards you have is a welcome challenge. The interface makes playing cards and accessing units straightforward. Golem Gates is an effective combination of card game and real-time strategy game.

Metropolis Gameplay Review

I'm playing Metropolis, a city  management simulation by Studio by the Bay.

The game features the same base map each time and lacks intermediate objectives to suggest what to do next. The map scrolls very slowly and there is no minimap to orient yourself. Actions include the ability to buy and sell buildings, upgrade existing structures, adjust tax rates, purchase cheaper off-map housing, adjust pension rates, hire doctors and teachers and police, adjust the budget for roads and mass transit, enact a wide range of policies, buy and sell stocks in private companies, buy and sell power and water, and make choices during events. The problem lies in the game speed: at its fastest setting, one game month takes over 20 minutes of real time (and a year lasts four-and-a-half hours!). Since the budget is only updated once a month, there is an extremely long delay between performing actions and seeing the impact on the finances of your city. This is a huge issue early in the game when money is tight: you have no idea if you can afford a new policy or building long-term and must wait 20 (or 40) minutes to find out if it’s worth it. Even worse, you can’t leave the game running and come back later as frequent events automatically slow time down. While Metropolis is a good concept as there are many options to shape your city, the plodding pace of the game severely hinders enjoyment.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Surviving Mars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Surviving Mars, a space colony management simulation by Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive.

Difficulty options are determined by choosing a mission sponsor; these grant varied attributes like funding, the number of rockets available, and the customizable initial payload. The number of resources to collect is pleasingly limited (for easier management): power, water, oxygen, food, concrete, metal, rare metal, polymers, electronics, machine parts, and fuel. These are either extracted from the environment at exhaustible locations or manufactured from other goods. Drones will automatically carry resources within their range and repair broken structures; transports can also be told to shuttle resources between bases. Sectors on Mars must be scanned for resources and anomalies, which then can be surveyed for a research boost. The research tree is quite extensive and comes with interesting unlocks and bonuses. Eventually, humans can be brought to the planet, living in domes and manning the more complex factories. Needs (such as social, medical, gambling, relaxation) can be met by constructing the appropriate support facility. Random events (cable faults, dust storms, meteor showers) break up the potential monotony of a smoothly-running base. Rockets must be refueled (making fuel, and thus water, a very important resource to focus on) and sent back to Earth for new supplies and colonists. Surviving Mars focuses on the fun aspects of resource management (larger-scale production and supply chains, not micromanagment), delivering a very enjoyable space colony management game set in a compelling environment.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Northgard Gameplay Review

I'm playing Northgard, a real-time strategy game by Shiro Games.

The game features a linear campaign with different mission objectives and a skirmish mode (both online and offline against the AI) featuring random maps and varied clans that give different bonuses. Attaining victory involves conquering the map, mastering trade, defeating a powerful boss, reaching the end of the tech tree, or simply accumulating a high score. The interface is very well done, displaying lots of pertinent information without taking up a lot of space. It is easy to see how your citizens are assigned and where gaps in resource production lie. Each citizen can be assigned a job at a particular building: scouts (to explore new map areas), woodcutters, farmers, healers, fishermen, hunters, merchants, soldiers, researchers, and brewers (to raise happiness levels). You can also place houses to increase the population cap and silos to store food for the winter. Each province can only support a small number of structures, so tough decisions are made regarding what to build where. You will also have to carefully balance the economy so any particular resource does not become scarce. Beyond food and wood, krowns earned from merchants are used for upkeep and military recruitment, stone and iron and mined for unit and building upgrades, and lore is researched at specific locations. Adjacent territories can be captured once defending units are disposed of by the military; units placed in the same province as an enemy will automatically attack. Northgard strikes a good balance between automating certain tasks (resource collection and transport) and giving the user control (assigning workers ad building placement), although the game has a slow pace with noticeable waiting for new citizens or winter to pass. Northgard is a challenging, unique real-time strategy game with a focus on careful management and tough decisions.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Crest Gameplay Review

I'm playing Crest, a god game by Eat Create Sleep.

Taking place on randomized maps, the crux of the game is to create commandments to give orders to your followers. This is accomplished by choosing a group of people, selecting an action for them to do, and choosing a target for them to do it to. Issuing commandments costs precious influence points; this restricts the focus of the commandments to only the most important needs. Issuing commandments that both satisfy needs and align with the goals of each village is key to running a harmonious civilization. Commandments will eventually get associations (modified interpretations of each commandment), which can be blessed or condemned to show favor. There is a somewhat sophisticated ecosystem present on each map as well, with different animals interacting with the environment and each other. Beyond simply keeping the villagers happy, another goal of the game is to ensure the long-term survival of the ecosystem through careful balance of resources. Still, because of the limited number of commandments that you can issue, there are large periods of the game with nothing to do other than watch society collapse. Crest is an innovative, unique game that doesn't offer enough regular interaction to maintain high interest throughout.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Citystate Gameplay Review

I'm playing Citystate, a city building simulation by The Citystate Development Team.

Featuring randomized maps, the game allows you to choose a starting government (from a couple of multiple-choice questions) and design a flag. Low, medium, and high density housing can be placed, but Citystate lacks zones for any commercial properties and industries other than mining operations and farms. All roads are multi-lane highways, but zones can be three squares away and still count as being connected to the road system. Parks can be placed to increase the seemingly random land values for surrounding areas. Exploring the land for minerals (mountains for iron, desert for oil, and jungle for gold) is expensive but necessary to balance the budget through exports; each square has a percentage chance of success (clearly shown before excavating) each time you drill. Citystate allows you to sculpt the nation by choosing policy options for each legislative topic that comes up; these decisions affect ratings in each income demographic, and overall national indicators for “freedom index”, culture, and lifestyle. Citystate has a seemingly sophisticated economic simulation with trade, bonds, and tax rates, but choosing appropriate funding levels for education, health care, and security is not obvious at all. Citystate is a strange combination of detail (laws, trade, citizen demands) and oversimplifications (no commercial zones, no small roads, no government services (like power and water or fire and police) beyond a budget slider, vague feedback) that just doesn’t work.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Space Tyrant Gameplay Review

I'm playing Space Tyrant, a turn-based strategy game by Blue Wizard Digital.

The campaign features a collection of skirmish games on random maps with different victory objectives and increasing difficulty; standalone skirmish games are also available. The overall goal is to capture planets by sending a fleet to its orbit, defeating the defenders, then sieging the world. Planets will grant various bonuses (gold income to purchase ships, research points to unlock better attributes, crystals to play cards, or new commanders) when captured. Combat with opposing ships is done in real time; your vessels will automatically fire upon the enemy, but special abilities are manually triggered. Before each match, a one-use tactic can be chosen (from a randomized list of three). If combat is successful, a simple dice roll is used to siege a planet. After a planet’s defenses are reduced to zero, a random event with a decision may trigger. Commanders gain experience with combat, unlocking more ships in their fleet and better abilities. Crystals are used to play cards that may provide more ships or other bonuses. A tyranny rating ensures that you are always on the attack, as you must keep capturing planets or lose. Scenarios become more difficult with increased quantities of enemy ships to deal with. Space Tyrant is a fast-paced 4X space strategy game that is very accessible without sacrificing too much depth.