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  1. A new DLC for Borderlands 2 is out, and it has pirates, sandworms and skiffs. Since it’s a story/mini-campaign kind of thing, we’ll try and avoid major spoilers. There may be some minor ones though, depending on what you consider a spoiler. Since we’re avoiding spoilers, there won’t be much discussion of the story in this review. To summarize, it’s good and Gearbox delivers on what they promised, even if they got cute with the ending. The main quest will take a few hours to complete if you do the sidequests. If you try and speedrun it, you could probably complete it in under two hours. Captain Scarlett adds several new areas. These are quite large, and there is a lot of variety. Most are quite pretty, and one underground area is freaking beautiful. There are some problematic areas. One has a gate that blocks access to half of the map, and the gate can get stuck and refuse to open. The same level has a place where you can get stuck in the level geometry. This is especially annoying if you’re a Mechromancer with 400 Anarchy stacks. Another has horrible framerate issues (a level designer appears to have been over-generous with the lighting). In later levels invisible walls start to be a problem. Most of those feel like level design oversights rather than deliberate restrictions on player movement, especially since a loot chest is located three to fifteen feet behind one of them. There’s also a place where the player can die from fall damage. An oddity, considering Borderlands 2 doesn’t have fall damage. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong or bad with any of the levels, but like the Mechromancer DLC, this Captain Scarlett could have used more time in QA before release. This is as close as you can get to that chest. There are a few weird invisible walls like this. There’s very little reuse of assets. The Pirate enemies are not quite palette swapped bandits; they have a few unique tricks up their sleeves. A few, mostly the bigger guys, are quite nasty. The sandworms are not quite as interesting; they mostly sit there spitting at you. I didn’t encounter any interesting variants in playthrough 1, although there may be more variety in playthrough 2. Speaking of enemies, the final boss fight is pretty disappointing. He’s huge and visually interesting, but is extremely reminiscent of the fight against Tyrpticon in Transformers: War for Cybertron. Even the color palette is similar. It’s bizarre. There are new, piratey chests. Speaking of big bad guys, there is some endgame content for those of you who are level 50. Two new Invincibles, both have which have already been beaten by people on the Internet. They drop a new currency that can be used to purchase weapons that, so far, don’t appear to be worth it. Gearbox says there’s something we haven’t figured out yet. More puzzling is Gearbox’s decision to put the new Invincibles on a once a day timer. This isn’t an MMO; there’s no reason to deny the players the ability to kill the big ugly guys fool of loot. All in all, this is probably the most troubling part of the DLC. The sidequests are entertaining. There’s a whole series of them involving finding pirate treasure. Those are quite well written, and have very interesting loot. On the topic of loot, there’s some new stuff. I found about ten items with new red text. There appear to be more. Some of them have some interesting costs associated with their benefits. Most of your quest rewards are unique items, so you’ll end up with quite a few in your inventory. Gearbox knows what you want. The last major new thing are the Skiffs. They’re good. The Skiffs handle quite well. It’s honestly quite a shame we can’t use them elsewhere. Since they hover they can strafe. They can’t move vertically at all, and you will see them get stuck on wooden signs that are two feet too short to hit them. In terms of weapons, they all have a turret mounted machine gun that can be controlled by a gunner and a prow mounted weapon for the pilot. The prow weapon can be rockets, sawblades or a harpoon. The harpoon is by far the best. It fires slowly, but does massive damage, can go through multiple targets and explodes a few seconds after it hits something. It’s really a shame there isn’t a man-portable version (if there is, I haven’t found it). All in all, I would recommend Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty. There are some problems and troubling design decisions, but it has a good amount of entertaining content. This post has been promoted to an article
  2. It’s been a long time since a game truly felt like a reward to play after a hard day at work, but with the release of Borderlands 2 on September 17th, I finally got to come home excited to play something. The best comparison I can make is the feeling of going to a club and just losing yourself in the music because that same feeling is what Gearbox was able to deliver in this sequel along with a fix for everything that players had issues with in the first game. From the beginning of the game all the way through the finish, and even the replay, I was constantly experimenting and evolving my gameplay style. Nothing got stale, and every kill was more satisfying than the last whether it was by chain stabbing people as the assassin, Zero, or unloading four hundred incendiary rounds from a sub machine gun into a wave of enemies in approximately two seconds as Maya, the Siren. The game itself worked so well as a break from reality because the game never took itself too seriously. Jack, your nemesis in Borderlands 2, is “the most perfect ass” to quote a friend. He’s constantly jabbing you with the most immature insults and you tell yourself that it won’t get under your skin, but damn, you can’t ignore it. Before long you’ll find your eye twitching and your knuckles going white as you listen to Jack insult you in the most imaginative ways – Jack – “I’m wracking my brain trying to think of a name for that diamond pony I bought. I was going to call it ‘piss-for-brains’ in honor of you, but that just feels immature. Hey, maybe ‘Butt Stallion?’” Just the same though, the game doesn’t pull any punches, and anybody buying the game should be prepared to have the game rip out your heart and sauté it in your own tears especially if you played the first Borderlands. Gearbox certainly didn’t pull any punches in making this game a memorable experience whether you play alone or with a friend or three. If you normally play games alone though, I might stress that the game is easily one hundred times better with a friend because you actually have someone there to exclaim and laugh with as the ridiculous antics of Jack get progressively more homicidal. It’s simply a better experience when shared with someone else, and I think that can be said about a lot of games. Gearbox certainly did a remarkable job when it came to gauging their players’ moods, emotions, and adrenaline. The game never once ended an emotional peak incorrectly and it was a fantastically smooth ride throughout the game. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the play style, let me explain a little bit. You end up on a planet, which, for all intents and purposes, is lawless and is inhabited by bandits, hick colonists, and a whole lot of bad asses with more guns than you can imagine. Every living thing on the planet, and even most inanimate things, has a gun you can rip from its obliterated remains. As long as you have a weapon you can get a better one and that mechanic combined with a nearly infinite number of guns gives you a constantly evolving style of gameplay, which Gearbox deserves to be extremely proud of. I’ve found in my experiences that cooperative gameplay is a nesting ground for glitches, the most memorable and entertaining of which would probably be from Fable 3 if any of you have played it. Borderlands certainly didn’t have anything on that level of ridiculous, but they did have some. My partner and I did occasionally have issue reviving one another even when we were practically standing on top of each other, which often resulted in the death of one or both of us. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t happen most often in the Circles of Slaughter half way through one of the last waves of enemies. It definitely caused a lot of frustrated groans and ice cream breaks were completely necessary after those happened. The UI had its frustrations too, of course. I found that having the “dismount from vehicle” button and the “travel” button on the same key caused a lot of unintentional dismounts and often ended in my partner and me running on foot looking for a new Catch-A-Ride Station when we got to a new zone. This game was also the first game ever to actually keep me entertained and interested in every side quest. For once they weren’t just another way of grinding out levels and instead actually brought more depth to the game’s phenomenally designed NPCs. My favorite side quest involved a string of tortured souls leaving messages behind referencing a gun with an unimaginably terrible curse that I won’t spoil for you so that you can discover on your own. Just know that it’s totally worth the side quest, and you’ll probably end up throwing the gun off the highest cliff you can find. If you know what quest I’m talking about, you’ll understand why I’m going to mention the sound of the game next, which was extremely satisfying from headshots to gun fire effects. Most of all the character voice was spot on and unique for every major and minor NPC. I was also a huge fan of the smooth gradient transition from normal voice to radio voice when you walk away from an NPC who’s talking. That way you don’t have to just sit there absently while the character gives you the mission and its backstory. I’ve never enjoyed, in real life or games, when someone wastes my time and I really appreciate it when the game company takes that into consideration. I’ve got some questions though. The New-U stations are Hyperion owned and Jack is owner of Hyperion, yes? He spends the entire game trying to kill you off and any time you do actually die, you use a Hyperion New-U Station to resurrect. That just seems counter-productive to me. A lot of games play off the dying thing by having you play from a save point as if you never died, but Borderlands turned it into a mechanic that they flaunt. Personally I think that they should have just slapped a different company name on the New-U station and called it done, but they kept Hyperion on it and it confuses me. The tech trees were also stuffed with great new innovative mechanics to have fun with, but a few were less effective than others. Clearly the game is about guns, guns, and more guns, but when you have a tech tree that builds melee skills from level five and upwards I expect melee to be a viable option and a play style I can enjoy from the first point I put into the tree. Instead, melee generally becomes useful around level twenty to twenty five. Of course, it’s not really an issue in the end because you can re-spec your talents for a more than reasonable price so you can level up with guns primarily and switch over in your thirties to the melee-centric tree to at least try it out. The level design of the game was well laid out. With that said, my co-op partner and I continued to run into small collision volumes that just had no business being where they were. Suddenly when driving the Light Scout we’d just find ourselves doing random one hundred and eighty degrees spins accompanied by a crashing sound when nothing was in the road at all. We also ran into a bit of an issue with some forgotten UDK material and texture applications as you can see in the picture below. This glitch, if it really was a glitch, really seemed almost more like an easter egg homage to UDK so I’m really not that bothered by it. Overall, Borderlands 2 is the perfect response to any emotional situation you might be having. It’s a perfect way to let out aggression when you’re mad. It will make you laugh when you’re feeling down and, once you’re feeling better, you’ll continue to have a good time for as long as you want to play the game. Best of all, Borderlands 2 has tons of content and I assume the DLC will be worth waiting for. It certainly doesn’t get stale and is a perfect game if you want to invite some friends over with their laptops for a good old fashion LAN party.
  3. Have you ever wanted to be an Air Traffic Control operator? You know, directing airplanes and helicopters to their designated landing strips? Do you like games that ramp in difficulty and get harder to complete the longer you play? Well Air Control might be the game for you. Okay admit it, being an ATC operator probably isn’t as much fun as it sounds, but as a mobile game it’s a great way to kill time. The goal is simple: Direct incoming planes and helicopters to their proper landing strips without causing a mid-air collision. The more aircrafts you land, the higher your score. The longer the game lasts, the more populated the sky becomes. Sounds simple enough right? Well, it is at first as the game starts off slow and the planes will follow a path you draw with your finger. The difficulty ramps when you get different types of aircrafts that all want to land on the same airstrip but are flying at different speeds. Sadly, there are only four maps, but they are each unique in their own way. One has you landing aircrafts on a military aircraft carrier, another directing a zeppelin and other vintage planes, while the last two are more modern airport scenarios. Air Control tracks your best scores and puts them up on the leaderboard for you to see where you rank among others in the world, your country or even your city! The controls are simple and solid. Like Tetris, the gameplay is relaxing at first but becomes more hectic the longer you play. Oh and did we mention this game is addicting? Check it out on Google Play Store here.
  4. Overview Well, Black Ops is back with vengeance in its sequel, Black Ops II, and it would seem that Treyarch actually had some new tricks up their sleeves. Black Ops II, to my knowledge anyway, is the first in the series to bring choice and alternate story routes to your gameplay experience. It would seem the company is trying to make a break from its usual one track story and actually putting some serious effort into diversity this time around. If you haven’t played one of the other seventeen Call of Duty games and this was a first for you, then you actually managed to step in on one of the good ones. Call of Duty, your fairly typical first person shooter is a game mashed FULL of guns and gadgets. As of the first Black Ops in the franchise there are three modes that allow you a fairly wide range of entertainment: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombie Mode. In each mode your goal is fairly straight forward, shoot the enemy (preferably in the head!), with a couple of variations in multiplayer mode such as “confirm you shot them by picking up their dog tags”, or “shoot them so that you can blow something else up down the road”. Almost any way you play it, there’s shooting of some kind unless you’re of the rare “knifing” persuasion. In Call of Duty, FPS also stands for “First Person Stabber”, which multiplayer actually allows some variety in for Black Ops II. Ever wanted to stab someone with a golden knife and NOT be at the top of an ancient sacrificial Aztec pyramid? Perfect, because Black Ops II has you covered! Either way, the game is great for any gun fanatic out there, old or new, and even those that want to use some future weapons that spew over nine thousand bullets a second. Campaign Our story begins with a short music video montage of the backstory for a character named Raul Menendez who is our villain for this short action packed hell-ride (sooooo much fire!). At a young age it would seem Menendez tried to rescue his sister from a burning building and somewhat succeeded, though his sister is in pretty bad shape. Before I go any further, here would be a good place to mention that you should be extremely careful with the “graphic content” option given to the player by Treyarch. You don’t really get a choice with introduction, but if that churns anything in your stomach, I seriously recommend turning graphic content off, because it was a rather disturbing ride in the beginning and the end of the story with it on. Anyway, getting back on track, it turns out that the warehouse Menendez and his sister were trying to escape from was actually burned down intentionally by an American for the insurance money and thus an evil mastermind is born with hatred against rich people. Hooray! No racism this game! Mostly anyway…It would seem that you do spend an inordinate amount of time killing Cubans, in the future or the past. Personally, I would never have guessed that the best equipped elite mercenary of the future would hail from Cuba, but you learn something new every day. The story is split across three characters with missions in the near future of 2025 and the past ranging from Vietnam through the 1980s. While you’re busy dredging up backstory in the 1900s, you switch back and forth between Alex Mason, the brainwashed CIA operative from the first Black Ops, and Frank Woods, his partner; however, the majority of time is spent in the year 2025 as David Mason, son of Alex Mason hunting down the monster, Raul Menendez who always seems to be one step ahead of you. This is, of course, when you get to play with all the fun new gadgets. Gadgets are a bit of a plot item in the newest Black Ops: winged gliders, harriers, drone support of multiple kinds, and even smaller stuff like mountainside traversal grapple partner swings (what?). I’m not even mentioning guns here or their attachments, like the introduction of the Storm PSR sniper rifle which fires through solid objects the longer you hold down the power button, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Another innovation this time around would be the introduction of Strike Force mode, which allows the player to take the position of a Commander on the field with a limited number of troops and a specific objective and time limit. Now, I always play the campaigns of Call of Duty on Veteran for my own amusement, but I don’t know what I was doing wrong with Strike Force. The instant my guys got on the field and somewhere near an objective they got absolutely destroyed and I lost every Strike Force mission I went in on. Maybe it was because of Veteran mode, or maybe because I’m just terrible at it, but either way it was different, difficult, and even a bit clunky for Treyarch’s release standards. You can’t just keep trying at them either. The number of troops you have is limited to the number of missions you’ve done, but the Strike Force content also disappears after a specified number of missions are completed. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing the first time around (like me!) and you lose all your troops, which just keep coming in to get mowed down unless you quit the mission early or win, then you have little to no chance of completing any of them, which really disappointed me. Zombies Zombie mode has evolved once again and I must say I’m a fan! Masochistic survival mode is still there, and shinier than ever, but is it really getting a story that’s more comprehensive than a three page comic book? Yes! In a loose homage to Scooby Doo and the gang, grab some machine guns and jump aboard a bus to look for clues as to why the zombie apocalypse is really happening! This new system allows some players to stay in one area while others ride a rusty bus to a totally different mini-area for alternate supplies and different “parts”. These “parts” are a piece of the new crafting aspect and allows the player(s) to MacGyver defenses and access-ways of many kinds all over the maps. Of course, the whole thing still works off of points, so make you shoot every last zombie you find to make bank! I would even say the level designers have figured out a way to make the maps more claustrophobic and scary with the addition on the brown mist that surrounds each area. Stepping into the fog gets the player an intimate experience with a creature reminiscent of the head-crabs from Half-Life and isn’t recommended unless you’re in the bus. Environments are also mutable, and even change without player intervention at times. Too many rides on the bus gets the roof torn open, staying in the initial starting zone gets the floor cracked open and spewing Hell-fire, that sort of stuff. Multiplayer The general format of Call of Duty multiplayer hasn’t changed too drastically, and there are plenty of new guns, new maps, new weapon attachments, and all of the other shiny bits and baubles. They’ve now included a mini Adobe Photoshop to edit your emblem to perfection, the ability to camouflage your tactical knife (always important!) and, of course, the ability to leave a calling card on your enemy. Gone are the days of Halo’s tea bags I guess. Even taunting has gotten a face lift as of 2025. Call of Duty has, once again, flip flopped on the subject of dedicated servers, and, while this isn’t a super exciting bit about multiplayer intended to amp you up and get you ready to go with Black Ops II’s new multiplayer, it’s important to mention. Dedicated, or mod, servers allow players themselves to administer a server and to modify it as they see fit. Treyarch has decided that this breeches the integrity and security of the ranking system, which, to the rest of us means: you have to play and level up our way or it’s not fair to everyone else. I see the argument, but I personally found the most joy and innovation in the client modified servers I played on in older games in the franchise, which I will miss dearly. Furthermore, the server files are being locked away too which prevent people from renting or buying their own servers to host Black Ops II. This has been most unpopular with PC gamers looking to control a clan server. I have heard from several people who feel that Treyarch has alienated them and their preferred play style. These people are players who would have otherwise been looking forward to the newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, but now boycott it. My own experience went something like this: upon entering my first multiplayer bout on Xbox Live, I was greeted by the whiney prepubescent complaining I am always met with when I’m on the chat system. Of course I had joined a match half way through, so going through now and muting people would simply be wasting my team’s time. Telling myself that I just have to get through this, I finished one round and then started to do my tradition of muting everyone except for my party, and, as I tried, an option popped up that made me ecstatic. “Do you want to mute all players except party members?” Dropping my jaw in amazement I quickly hit yes and was rewarded to see a bunch of tiny mute symbols next to nearly everyone’s name! It’s probably a sad reflection on me that this is the first thing I got really excited about in the game, however it’s something I know a lot of the more mature Xbox Live players hate dealing with. The rest of the games I played were pretty routine. 1. Start Round 2. Run with team around first corner 3. Get face blown off by rifle of some kind 4. Respawn 5. Run around corner 6. Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 until death in step 3 is no longer caused by rifle, but by air strike and promptly remove step 5 from rotation until end of game. I can tell you though, from looking at the stats of three of the twenty some odd people on the map, that it IS possible to have fun and do well. How much time and effort you want to put in to getting that good and having fun is up to you though. Plus, this stuff’s getting easier with the addition of my favorite attachment, the “target finder” that puts a giant red diamond around your enemy when you look down your scope.
  5. Overview: Guild Wars 2 is probably the first MMORPG that stands solidly outside the shadow of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. I know, I know, it’s been said a lot about a bunch of MMOs, but this just may be fact.The game has made itself distinct in several ways including its fluid art style, the society it’s drawn, and too many game mechanic innovations to count accurately. It has one slight failing though, and that is the level design. In certain locations of the game, the buildings can be found clipping into one another rather blatantly. Other cases of level design laziness come into realization in the form of poorly placed art assets and collision walls. Other than that, the game has had a fairly solid launch. There have been no unintended server failures, severe server lags, absurd exploits, serious story failures, or any other kind of immersion breaking failures. In fact, the game has run very smoothly with only minor hiccups that have been taken care of as quickly as possible. If you’re looking for an MMO with a relatively troll free environment, innovative and streamlined game mechanics, plus tons of story content and replay-ability, get Guild Wars 2 and enjoy your subscription free game! Full Review: Guild Wars 2 is a PC based MMO that seems to have focused on stream lining the process of leveling and making the entire process from level one to eighty fun and enjoyable, rather than one that requires lengthy grinds between isolated pockets of interesting experiences. In short, the game is engaging from start to finish. Unlike most MMOs, I found that Guild Wars II actually has a substantial story that is in the forefront of the gameplay, which gives the entire game more continuity. Dodging all of the more customizable and subtle aspects of the game for a moment, let’s talk about what the actual gameplay is for those of you who don’t know. The player picks one of eight methods of fighting that vary between melee and spell casting bases. Once the player has decided his or her style of choice, they set off into an absolutely massive world where they will fight alone and with groups of people against varying enemies while progressing steadily through a story of your own devising. In order to make this experience highly entertaining, there are a number of deeply customizable options that you can play with starting with the races. There are five races each of which is split into three sub-sections that allow players to have fifteen distinct beginning quest chains. I was generally happy with the new twist on the races because they aren’t your traditional dwarves, elves, and gnomes in at least appearance, but there are a lot of similarities culturally speaking. The Charr, giant Hyena/Cat creatures have split themselves into different legions which have individual ways of doing business. All of them, however, are prideful and filled with bloodlust. The Humans are at odds with the Charr diplomatically, though they’ve been recently drawn together out of necessity to fight a looming evil which I will talk about shortly. The humans grow their roots in a culture that has been pushed to the brink of extinction by the Charr who want their ancestral homes back now that they’ve finally organized themselves somewhat. The human’s only bastion is a land called Kryta that they defend to the last man. Here I feel it necessary to share an example of just how zealous they can be. The land previously taken by the Charr was only won after the Human King realized all was lost. The King cursed all remaining humans in the land to never rest until every last Charr shared their fate. Personally, I like the Humans and the Charr the most out of all five races mostly because of the fact that the time was taken to interrelate the two. It seems real and very likely, much like how countries that hated one another had to team up in World War II to avoid a much greater threat. While all this goes on other races look on scornfully, but have their own internal shortcomings. Enter the Norn who are essentially massive human beings. Striding chest, shoulders, and head above all other races from the frozen North, the Norn praise animals as their deities and, honestly, they’re the least interesting set of stories to me. Basically their people are endangered by the looming evil because their spirit realm is threatened and certain factions within the Norn are being empowered by the evil. Yes, they’re culturally different, but I feel slightly robbed because they’re the more Scandinavian version of the Human race. Every other race has a distinct model besides the Norn. The Sylvari are on the top of my innovative list for the races in this game. Instead of the traditional elf type that is in nearly every MMO, we introduce the plant people. All of their culture revolves around plants that have grown their own individual consciousness. My one issue is that because the artists did so well at making them look plant-like, I occasionally get tricked into losing my character in their very exotic forest straight out of AVATAR. I really enjoy their architecture as well. Elevators are giant seed pods that spin to propel you to a landing site, their stairs are giant cupped leaves, and their homes vary from repurposed trees to mushrooms. The problem I have is that, again, the architecture looks so natural that I end up running in a circle around a home that houses a person I need to talk to simply because I don’t know it’s a house at all. Ultimately, they’re very clever and I think the artists and designers should be very proud of their work with this race. Their plight is that their “Dream” is infected by the impending evil much like the Norn. Predictably, they have a sect of Sylvari who believe the Dream was actually meant to be a Nightmare because they believe the world to be depressing and evil at heart. Finally we have the Asura, which really seem, to me, like Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, just hairless. These creatures are VERY egotistical inventors who are just as likely to cause their own destruction as their salvation. Again, with so much playing to get done I didn’t get very far with their story, but they have an internal struggle with a part of their race that just likes to blow stuff up. I didn’t get very far because, personally, I couldn’t take the “made up smart language” they all use. A sample dialogue would be along the lines of: “Fizzburt, did you remember to hydrolize the quantum flatualtor-mechanofrump?” “Of course, Gretch. What kind of amateur would I be if I forgot to hydrolize the quantum flatulator-mechanofrump? I’ll tell you what kind I’d be. I’d be the kind that fails her first simple Servobot examination.” “How dare you!?” Anyway, a lot of my friends find it hilarious. So, no negativity intended if that’s your thing. The environment of the Asurans is very impressive as well. It is very geometric, but artistically colored and rich in detail. Now, this great evil(s) they’ve devised for this, so far rather innovative, game are dragons in combination with the undead, which, honestly, felt like a bit of a cop-out. Dragons basically turn corpses or the living into zombies which are intelligent to the extent that they can call for help and can use advanced battle tactics. These are not to be confused with ghosts of course which also exist in the game. One small caveat I can mention is the one dragon I’ve seen so far was cleverly modeled. It appeared as an obsidian skeleton with purple flames emanating from the inside so as to fill up the remainder of the model’s body. I can’t really say the fight itself was particularly clever or difficult though. The engagement went as follows: The NPC guards in the area bring down the dragon with siege engines. The dragon stands in one place while a group of players run in and attack its feet. Occasionally the dragon would take off momentarily and land again in the exact same place. Anyone under the foot when landing got squished. As far as I could tell, that was the extent to the game mechanics involved with that fight. It was rather dull to be honest. Dungeons were put together in a way I haven’t really experienced before in my years of playing MMOs. Instead of being a random den of bad guys that needs clearing out like most other MMOs, these dungeons are critical points in the game and are actually scripted events that continue your leveling story. However, there’s one more surprise, there is a second mode that you can play called exploratory mode which is unlocked after a few more levels. This allows you to go back and experience an entirely new set of events that pop up because of what you did in the story version of the dungeon. The story web for this game is extremely intricate and would take months to experience every caveat the Guild Wars 2 team has to offer. This, of course, means tons of replayability for the future when you just feel like experiencing something new. This picture displays the most major storyline events which might give you an idea of how complex the whole story is. Keep in mind that the lines linking events in this chart have dozens of subplot points and choices allowing even further story customization. Taking a break from all of the complex story though, I thought it might be good to mention that the voice acting was done very well, and the character emotion animations were also excellent just in case that it affects your choice to buy the game. I also really enjoyed the background music for each section, and I especially think that the musical queues were well crafted. I know very little if anything about music and its creation, but sections of story that felt particularly epic were accompanied by appropriate music, and moments of achievement were just as satisfying as opening a crucial chest in nearly every Zelda game. Impact sounds of weapons slashing, clashing, bashing, or mashing are very satisfying and really gives you the feeling of eviscerating an opponent. Some of the magical sound effects were slightly more repetitive and I’m not sure why, though they still sounded authentic. As far as innovations go, the game was absolutely stuffed with them. Firstly, everything was very much streamlined and user-friendly. The new local area quest hubs made it so that massive groups of people didn’t crowding around a single person making it impossible to pick up or turn in the mission. In fact, I found Guild Wars 2 to have a relatively troll free environment and I might’ve figured out why. Because there is no subscription payment every month, the Guild Wars 2 team is less worried about retaining the monthly payments and far more likely to kick or ban people from the game. It’s just a theory though. The game wasn’t flawless of course even though being relatively troll free is a big plus. While progressing through the game, I often felt like I was under level by the time I finished off an area. There are several workarounds for this though. Pretty much everything in the game gives you experience, even partially completing achievements, crafting skills, exploring, or doing one of the dozens of events in available in every zone. If that bores you, just going to another zone and level there because there are multiple areas for each level bracket allowing the player to experience even more content. Also, as long as you’re leveling in the appropriate areas, the difficulty of leveling from seventy nine to eighty is the same difficulty as leveling from one to two. The pace of leveling is very reasonable and you’re never stuck in one location for long. I will give special props to the environmental concepts and designs. They were well executed and I was never bored traveling from one location to another especially when you never knew if you were going to be fighting on a lush green field, swimming under water with giant sharks, or climbing mountains in the frozen north. The lack of creature diversity in those areas was a little bit of a downer though. I felt especially cheated when they used the same models for undead and “marked” beings as the player base models. Yes, they did use some modified models for abominations and champions, but overall it was a bit of a letdown. The biggest eyesore in this game, for me anyway, was the absurd level of art asset clipping that occurred when the designers made some portions of the city levels. Buildings blatantly overlap one another and certain pieces were placed where they were not intended to go. I’ve seen similar mistakes in beginning level design classes where students get lazy with trying to find the correct art asset in the UDK or Unity static mesh library and just slap any old mesh there instead. Some examples are sets of stairs leading into walls, wall corners disappearing into other static meshes, etc. These flaws haven’t been obstructive or anything to the pacing of the game, but the mistakes seem very amateur and they stand out simply because the team did such an excellent job with the rest of the game. This post has been promoted to an article
  6. The first add-on to be released by Bethesda, Dawnguard packs a massive amount of new content to explore. Vampire slayers, the Dawnguard seek to eliminate the vampire threat that has risen to power in the northwest part of Skyrim. Vampires are appearing in large number and attacking the holds of Skyrim. The vampires on the other hand, hope to find a way to destroy the sun because of their weakness to it. Hearing a rumor from a guard in any hold, alerts the player that the Dawnguard is forming. Following the rumor leads the player to Fort Dawnguard, where the quest begins. Isran, the leader of the Dawnguard, asks the hero to search the Dimhollow crypt. Upon completing your search, you find a woman whom you later discover is a vampire, and Lord Harkon’s daughter, Serena. On her back is a large scroll, obviously an Elder Scroll. She asks you to bring her to her father, the leader of the vampires. Once you have safely returned Serena to her father’s castle, a choice must be made. Will you remain loyal to the Dawnguard, or will you join the vampire’s crusade, becoming one as well? A lot of content is added to the world of Skyrim with the Dawnguard add-on. Nearly 40 quests make up the storylines between following Lord Harkon, or remaining loyal to the Dawnguard. Over 80 NPC’s have been added to facilitate the new content over 24 new areas to explore. In addition to the NPC’s added, you can have demonhounds(vampire) or dogs(Dawnguard) join you as followers on your quests. New spells can be discovered for the conjuration and restoration trees, as well as three new shouts to learn. And between the Dawnguard and vampire factions, a multitude of new items can be found and made. Dawnguard is able to add most of the new content to every aspect of Skyrim. The new items, books, potions, etc., will appear all over the world of Skyrim, as if they were there from the beginning. This includes new loading screens, dialogues for NPC’s, and new enemies to fight. Leaving weapons on the ground can lead to a guard telling you that it is dangerous to leave them there, or a merchant asking if they could take left items for resale. There are also perks added for both the abilities to turn into vampires or werewolves. Similar to the skill trees, these perks enhance either forms to make them even more deadly. Between the two story lines, following the vampires and the Dawnguard, you can expect nearly 20 hours of additional content. This of course can change depending on how quickly the player rushes through quest. Alongside the storyline, the player can run into side quests that can be well worth completing. Finding Arvak’s skull or speaking to a distraught soul will allow the player to complete a quest in which they can learn to summon an undead horse, Arvak. Also, the hero can learn new dragon shouts such as Soul Tear, which casts Soul Trap, drains the target of its health, and if it dies within two seconds, raises the target to fight for you for 60 seconds. Other things to look forward to involve the Aetherium Forge, which three unique items can be made: a staff that can summon a Dwarven sphere or spider for 60 seconds, a crown that allows for two stone powers to be active at once, and a shield that causes enemies to become ethereal for 60 seconds when bashed. As well as unique enemies like Durnehviir, a very old dragon whom you can eventually be able to summon into battle. Similar to Odahviing, Durnehviir is actually a bit more useful in that he summons more like a conjuration spell, meaning he can be used in most indoor areas provided there is enough room for him. Dawnguard will want to be replayed in order to see both faction’s side of the story, and see the differences that take place. Fresh new content such as vampire and Dawnguard armor can be found all over Skyrim. Players who haven’t finished Skryim can download Dawnguard, and start seeing changes right away. Unlike the DLC available for other games, Bethesda’s first official add-on will keep you busy for hours on end.
  7. A small add-on in comparison to the Dawnguard DLC, Hearthfire still gives plenty of new options for the player to consider. Inspired by the popularity of Minecraft, Hearthfire gives players the ability to build their own home, protect it from enemies, hire staff, and adopt children. While it doesn’t include any new quests, Hearthfire introduces new options, and expands content currently available. Building your mansion provides an addicting experience which seamlessly blends into the world of Tamriel as if it were there from the beginning. Usually an add-on introduces new content; however, to access the new content, the player is confined to a new area. This is one of the features I’ve always enjoyed with Elder Scrolls games, the smooth blending of new content with the old. Hearthfire adds clothing and toys for the kids you can potentially adopt, in addition to new furnishings for your homes. Like in Minecraft, players with OCD will enjoy building and furnishing their mansions. Fortunately, building a mansion does not require training a skill to make the items required. Apart from some obscure materials for random decorations, iron will be wanted in large supply. Most of what is needed to build the mansion can be found surrounding the land purchased. There are two mineral veins that can be mined to provide the quarried stone and clay you will need. Sawn logs are also now available for purchase from lumber mills, such as the one in Riverwood. Building your mansion consists of two parts, exterior and interior. After building the main hall, three expansions can be added. Each one of these expansions have specific features that can be chosen: an enchanter’s tower, library, kitchen, armory, trophy room, storage room, alchemy lab, greenhouse, and living quarters. What this means is that only certain features can be built upon each expansion, which narrows the choices that can be made. While it may seem repetitive to some, Minecraft enthusiasts will enjoy building the interior. Furniture and decorations can’t be placed in precise locations, but are unique to the feature the player chose when making the exterior. The living quarters allow beds and bedroom furniture to be built, which is required for adopting children. The armory allows for many manikins and weapon racks which can be used to display armor and weapons sets. The trophy room requires many unique items such as a troll skull for a troll statue, or horker tusks to mount a horker’s head on your wall. A fairly simple process in the game, adoption is quite misleading by today’s real world standards. Helping a child will open up the dialogue to adopt, or you can go through an orphanage such as the one in Riften. As long as a home of yours has a children’s bedroom with furniture you will be able to adopt the child. In addition to bringing your family to your mansion, you can also hire a steward. The steward provides a multitude of different functions in addition to being called upon as a follower. A steward is able to add livestock to your estate, they can hire a bard or caravan driver for you, and they can assist with furnishing your home. They can be asked to buy materials required to make furnishings in your home, as well as furnishing your home for you. A steward will remain loyal to you, and can only be removed by being killed. While Hearthfire didn’t add any story or exploration content, it did add about 10-15 hours of content to explore including gathering materials and furnishing the inside of your home. Unless you are looking to settle down in Skyrim, you shouldn’t expect too much adventuring with this add-on, but for those who enjoy world-building games like Minecraft, will find some familiarity with Hearthfire.
  8. Continuing where I left off in the first part of this series, I am now more than 100 hours into this game including the add-ons, Dawnguard and Hearthfire. Very few games today can do what Skyrim has done, and so it should be commended. Including the DLC, the investment of $85 is worth every penny. Many games today fail at living up to their hype, making an unequal balance between their hype, cost, and time invested. The first week after release, a game’s hype falls dramatically usually due to a campaign being too short, or not rewarding the player effectively. Every game has a downfall, but because of Skyrim’s length and depth, it took longer to discover it. Quests were an interesting mix, the open-world formula made it easy to forget about the main storyline. Part of the reason is because each quest, or series of quests, has its own revolving stories; investigating a burned down house leads to killing a master vampire, joining either the Stormcloaks or the Imperials leads to capturing the opposing faction’s capital city, etc. For obvious reasons, the main quest of discovering that you are the Dragonborn and what that means is the most powerful. After meeting the Greybeards and attempting to retrieve an old horn for them, you learn of the long forgotten group, “The Blades”, who were actually dragon slayers. And along with this, dragons aren’t just returning, but are coming back to life. Alduin, an ancient dragon is able to resurrect other dragons, and while anyone can kill a dragon, only a Dragonborn can absorb the soul of a dragon, preventing them from being able to return from the dead. Not only do the various quests make the Skyrim world exciting and unique, the variety of character types makes each experience a little different. Picking up the role of a powerful mage, I focused heavily into destruction magic. I wanted to kill first and ask questions later. This is where I found the “Stagger” perk incredibly handy. When dual-casting a spell, overcharging it into a more powerful version, staggers any opponent for a moment. With reduced magicka costs to my spells, my goal was to make sure the enemy was dead before I ran out of magic. While my focus was on destruction magic, there are supplemental skill trees that are worth investing into. Enchanting is essential no matter the play style, eventually being able to enchant an item with two different stats made it possible for me to be able to cast any spell from any two schools of magic for free. This combination with stagger made the game extremely easy. I could now stagger any opponent, casting master level destruction spells for free. Increasing the difficulty helped balance the game more, but proved how powerful this setup became. Blacksmithing for a magic user is pointless, but I wanted to see Dragon Armor on my character. While a thief or warrior would benefit from upgrading armors or weapons, a mage’s only consideration is its use of doubling an item’s value. Lockpicking includes a perk which increases your chance of finding a magical item by 50%, in addition to the prior perk which increases gold find, I was able to find gear upgrades faster than working blacksmithing to learn how to make them. For those of us obsessed with money, the speech skill has many benefits including being able to increase merchant’s bartering gold by 1500, or persuading guards to look the other way. The first is especially useful as I would bankrupt every merchant I could find, selling the loot from my latest run. The latter is quite handy for the achievement of obtaining 1000 gold bounty in all nine holds. Along with selling everything, I enjoyed the perk in pickpocketing that increased my carry limit by 100. Having a party member carry items for me, I often spent more time selling than fighting. It was surprising to watch NPC’s interact with each other. Vilkas can train you in two-handed weapon combat, but you can also discover this listening to him teach another companion how to fight with a two-handed weapon. While what is said wouldn’t help you be a better fighter (in the game), in a real world setting the logic rings true. “Balance is key with two-handed weapons; you need to be able to counter the weight of the swing.” The story is rich and powerful, and I found myself surprised many times. Knowing how Elder Scrolls games go, I knew there had to be something revolving around the use of a scroll, but it wasn’t until the dragon resurrection that I realized what was going on. This story and the free-exploration formula is why Skyrim did so well for weeks after its release, in addition to the fame for being an Elder Scrolls game. From developing your character with near limitless choices, brilliant design and direction, and the amazing story, it is no wonder why this game did so well. I highly recommend it.
  9. The Elder Scrolls has always been a series worth looking into. Each installment to the franchise sets new standards for other current-generation video games. Bethesda Game Studios has created a unique niche in the RPG genre through character customization, style of play, but most importantly through the specific details that go into every part of every game. This trend continues with Skyrim, the fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series. Starting the game up for the first time, you appear amongst a group of prisoners. Your wrists are bound, and you can’t move, aside from looking around. While it is unique to the Elder Scrolls games, the prisoner starting point is also becoming a tired theme. It sets up the story for Skyrim, but a thought that would be an interesting change would be to lead up to being arrested. We know of an ambush that was meant for the Stormcloak soldiers, so why not have a “teaser trailer” for the opening cinematic that depicts this scenario. Ending up with the same result, but there’d be a bit more story being told. Creating your character takes place just before the executions of the prisoners. Upon first glance, the graphics engine expresses its power through the use of shadows. Your character’s facial features show an extreme level of detail through the use of the sun’s light source. Individual bumps from eye brows, cheeks, etc., each cast their own unique shadow, which is something to marvel at for being drawn at run-time. Even though you don’t look at your character’s face through the majority of the game, this level of detail will continue throughout the rest of your adventure. Fortunately, a dragon out of legend appears and attacks Helgen Keep, and you barely escape with one of two soldiers. There is a plot choice here, you can choose to flee with either the Imperial or Stormcloak soldier. Whichever choice you make leads you to the same town of Riverwood where, depending on your previous choice, you can find sanctuary in one of two homes belonging to the family of whichever soldier you followed. Upon facing the dragon at Helgen Keep, the controller vibrates beautifully in-sync with its roar, landings, take-offs, and breath attacks. This synchronization between visuals, sounds, and feelings enhance the game’s presence ten-fold. The ripple of reality between real-life and the game’s world is cleverly disguised. This harmony of syncing continues when fighting three mammoths and their giant protector as you “hear” and “feel” just how close behind they are as you run your socks off in the opposite direction. Similar to previous installments, leveling up individual skills generally comes with using them. To be an all-powerful wizard, you need to use magic, and you need to use the strongest magic. Your skill in the arcane arts will increase faster with higher rank spells as opposed to saving magicka by casting lower ranked spells. With each skill level, a portion of experience is awarded to your character. While leveling up, you can choose to increase your magicka, health, or stamina, in addition to using a specialization point in a number of skill trees. In addition to the near-limitless character customization options, Skyrim’s NPC’s are also well-developed. Every NPC has an audible voice, but more importantly will talk to your character even though you are just passing by. They may even scold you as you accidentally kick their cooking kettle around their store. Likewise, overhearing conversations with other NPC’s can unlock side quests. Overhearing a group of Redguard Alik’r being asked to leave Whiterun leads to them asking you for help. They are searching for a woman that is a Redguard like them, and are willing to pay for locating her. Upon finding her, you can choose to help her, or find the mercenaries and tell them where she is hiding. Partying with NPC’s is also more interesting than in other games. In a quest with Farkas he tells you to meet him at Dustman’s Cairn to find shards of a legendary axe, Wuuthrad, for the Companions guild. Farkas actually walks, and leaves town on his own. Rather than “magically teleporting,” you can follow him all the way to Dustman’s Cairn, typically these kinds of things for the consoles can be very taxing to their resources. It bogs them down as memory is used to chart the NPC’s course, but somehow this is unnoticeable to the player! Like the NPC’s of Skyrim, there are many items to be found throughout the game as well. And a sort of OCD can be created with your obsession of customization. Some armor for example can be the same stat wise, but have different skins for their art assets, thus creating a slightly different look for your character and companions that you can “dress” up. Along with items you can use or wear, there are also many decoration items that are mostly useless, unless you want to pick how the inside of your house looks. Pots and kettles can be placed on a fire to look as if they were meant to be there, or you can place ornate jars on desks or tables and even place flowers in them. It takes a little bit of finesse, but for those who get picky about customization, it’s there for you to enjoy. Along with decorating your house, you can also populate your bookshelves! Books are more than just decoration however, the lore and mythology found in books, which can lead to random side and miscellaneous quests, have their own uniquely created content inside. In some cases, revealing how to get passed a door’s puzzle to open it, or to provide a small, permanent boost to skills, which makes every book worthwhile to open. Skyrim is a large world set within a larger world of Tamriel, which is slowly being revealed to us through the Elder Scrolls series. I eagerly await the DLC, Dawnguard and Hearthfire, as well as future Elder Scrolls games. Skyrim provides tremendous graphics, an engaging and unique story, as well as game play that will last for literally days on end. Having spent more than 20-hours on just one character alone, there is still much more to explore and do. I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. If you haven’t checked out Skyrim yet, it is well worth your dollar to do so.
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  11. It can be difficult to create a compelling “match-three” game in this day and age, seeing as how there are so many different titles out there that rely on those mechanics. However, Chemical Cubes does an excellent job of crafting a frantic, well-paced experience that ties together well into the “match-three” genre. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_JFjzBk-8s The game is fairly straightforward upon initialization — you select your difficulty and commence a playthrough. Once play begins, the cubes mentioned in the title align in continuous columns, scrolling from left to right towards. Depending on the difficulty chosen, you will either have 3, 4, or 5 rows of cubes in each column (3 being the easiest). The objective is to tap on a cube and move it to another cube’s location, with the end goal being that you create columns of the same color. Combos can be acquired by creating successive columns with the same color, further multiplied by not receiving any “strikes” (which are caused by passing a column that has mixed colors). If you continue to succeed, two new colors will be added over time which exponentially increases the difficulty and truly tests your matching skills. There are a few things that make Chemical Cubes unique within its mechanics: The first is that you can swap cubes regardless of where they are located on screen; The second is that, upon passing a column without matching colors, the game will slow down long enough to allow the user enough time to recover. If the player receives three “strikes,” the game ends and goes back to the main menu. Upon completion of each playthrough, you are given a high-score, although you are only competing against yourself. Still, it is enjoyable to see how far you can get. Chemical Cubes has a simple yet brazen art style, where background colors and particle effects run rampant behind the basic shapes and colors of gameplay objects. This allows the player to more readily understand the action on-screen and focus on moving cubes around efficiently. The design is well executed, although it would be nice to have some “juiciness” when creating combos outside of a text notification and multiplier number. My favorite part of the game is how the frenetic background track pulses its techno-dub mix while you are busy matching. It contributes to the fun and wild atmosphere that the game creates for the player. The only issue I have with the track is that, well, it’s the only track in the game. At the very least, a different track for Easy, Medium, and Hard would have sufficed. The game itself plays incredibly well and is simple enough for anyone to understand. However, if your phone has a smaller screen it could be difficult to play on Hard, as the precision required for moving cubes is more difficult to find given how small they become. This title is great for a quick bit of messing around, if for nothing other than to give your brain a little rattle and listen to a perfectly ridiculous bass track. I would heartily recommend picking up Chemical Cubes and experiencing the cube-matching madness for yourself. Chemical Cubes on Half Empty Studios’ Website
  12. We’ve all been there, right? It’s getting late. You’re driving down a lonely stretch of countryside, trying to find that one road that isn’t on the map. The deeper you get into the territory, the more uneasy it feels, seeing stray roads that lead who knows where, and you wonder if you should have just turned around and gone home on the main stretch. But what if you did go down one of those unusual roads? Such is the idea behind the first episode of Kentucky Route Zero, a “magical realist adventure” from the minds at Cardboard Computer where, on a quiet evening in the back country of Kentucky, a weathered but good-natured delivery driver named Conway rolls up in his antique of a pickup with his straw-hat-wearing dog at an odd oil and gas station in the middle of nowhere, asking an old blind man directions to a “5 Dogwood Drive.” He is informed that the address in question is on “the Zero,” a mysterious highway conspicuously absent from his map. After getting directions to someone who knows how to find it, Conway gets his first taste of how strange and extraordinary his journey is about to get, which quickly escalates into Twilight Zone territory. Realist is the key word here. At first glance this is a contradiction of terms from the description of the game provided by Cardboard Computer, which puts it as realism rather than surrealism. But the story you experience in this first episode of a multipart journey has a few surprises, and that is the heart of the genius at work in this game. At the beginning you are asked by the old blind man at the gas station if you heard about a wreck that occurred only hours before that spread glass all over the highway, and you are immediately tempted to connect this to Conway and his delivery truck, and that he might be dead. However, one of the best aspects of Kentucky Route Zero is its ability to throw you little curveballs against what feels like veiled fact. This brings us back to the realist nature of the game, one that isn’t hampered by complex puzzles and confusing pathways but is, like Dear Esther, a more pure story experience that does require a little bit of puzzle-solving but nothing requiring rocket science. It is through this puzzle-solving that we get to see parts of the game that we would otherwise miss. From the get-go, fans of old-school adventures and minimalist storylines (not to mention minimalist graphics) will immediately be drawn into the world of Kentucky Route Zero, brought to life by its classic style of 3D animation that hearkens back to the days of games like Another World and Flashback. Blocky, polygonal character models sport a somewhat caricaturized but effective appearance against a backdrop of much higher detail, where structures and scene details are well thought out and placed. The art direction goes a step further in its atmospheric expression by introducing certain blink-and-you-miss-them visual elements when you turn off Conway’s lantern. But the game isn’t just a series of interconnected scenes, as are common in traditional adventure games. The game also lets you drive Conway’s delivery truck to whatever route you need to get to via a black and white overworld, which is in the form of a road atlas with the truck represented by a single wheel that spins as you move. Certain landmarks that show up along this view aside from the main story path can be also visited, but remain text-based in their description and interaction. For instance, you come upon an old white church where loud singing is heard. Upon choosing the appropriate dialogue options, you find that the church singing was nothing more than a reel-to-reel tape player squelching old hymns to nothing but an empty space. Sites like this are found by what feels like accidentally on purpose, where you feel you were somehow guided there without really looking for them. While the world is largely contemporary and realistic, even the oil and gas station at the beginning of the game manages to make it fantastical and surrealist, reminding us that photorealism is just a sub-category of quality visuals. What secrets are within the old barn? Unfortunately, not everything is executed in a manner that keeps us steeped in intrigue. Interaction with characters comes in the way of several unique dialogue choices with each new situation that serve as an opportunity for the player to give Conway a bit of their own personality. With each odd situation (and 100% of them are odd), we are treated to some quirky responses and situations that don’t entirely make sense. While that helps the intrigue, the dialogue is very flat and boring, “on the nose” as screenwriters would say. While the developers wanted a minimalist approach, they could have done more with the dialogue to give it some pep. Characters do not speak with any kind of vernacular speech as would be especially noticeable in the American south. One could theoretically read this kind of thing into the characters, but the dialogue and even the art direction fails to meet the player half-way and thus we tend to find ourselves wishing it had that something extra. Despite this, the dialogue does do a good job of informing the player of their surroundings and its lore, even though it never even comes close to asking the question of why Conway would go through all this just for a routine delivery. This isn’t to say that the characters themselves aren’t interesting, as the developers did a good job of giving us characters we can endear ourselves to. Conway proves to be a likeable character from the start, having kindly taken in an old and weathered dog on its last legs as a traveling companion. The amiable old blind man comments on the beautiful sunset despite facing the wrong direction. Even the bland-talking TV repairwoman gets some feeling out of the player as she tells of her parents breaking themselves in the old mine. All of this is accompanied by an almost tangible and ambient silence that makes you feel like you’re in Kentucky with these characters. Conway’s journey is also tinged with occasional music motifs by game composer Ben Babbit. In addition, the game includes a host of bluegrass and classic gospel hymns performed by the Bedquilt Ramblers. Kentucky Route Zero is a game of ambience and adventure, where minimalism is used in almost all the right ways to make this experience as real and engrossing as possible. Although players who are looking for well-scripted and path-altering dialogue between characters will be disappointed, the rest of the game more than makes up for the lack of personality and emotional depth that may very well be present in subsequent entries of the series. When all is said and done, this is a fantastic ride into uncharted territory with a surprise ending that makes us rev up for more. Rating: 7.8/10 This post has been promoted to an article
  13. The pure ambiance is the star of the game that I played this week, Anodyne, by indie game creators Sean Hogan and Jonathon Kittaka. In this Zelda-clone you play as Young, a white-haired boy who gets to wander through his own subconscious fighting and exploring the environment with your trusty broom. Sounds a bit crazy, I know, and I was pretty skeptical at first myself but the experience was very rewarding if a bit slow moving. The best aspect to this whole experience was the sound; in certain games the soundtrack is implemented so well with the rest of the design that it becomes the most prominent feature of the title and this game is a perfect example of this. As I played through the 16-bit levels and dungeons I was immediately reminded of the foreboding feeling I used to get while playing Resident Evil: Directors Cut on my PlayStation, slowly creeping along on the edge of my seat wondering what is coming up around the next corner. Seriously, story aside, this game has a creep-factor that is off the charts. The actual story line felt a bit lacking in my own opinion, it took me a really long time to care about what was going on in Young’s head. It was like a trip through Link’s nightmares while he is lying on the psychologist’s couch back in his “Awakening” days. Difficult to immerse yourself in but grows on you the more time that you spend swinging your broom at enemies and dust piles. The placement of simple puzzles that you have to complete in order to progress through different areas and the story itself were done really well, there was a nice sense of balanced challenges along the way. Sticking to the formula of exploration + defeating bad guys + puzzle solving=endgame that the Zelda series popularized, Anodyne tells a story of saving the world through the dreams of one of the world’s inhabitants. There are neat references and quips scattered throughout the game on signs, rocks, and in conversation with NPCs that work to lighten up an otherwise dark narrative and many poke fun at games from a similar time-period and genre. This aspect left a confused imprint on my experience as the sound and level design worked so hard to allow complete immersion and then I would read a rock that said something about me “Talking to a stone because I don’t have any friends,” sometimes the experience was just pure sarcastic nonsense. Having something to collect or accomplish always helps an environment maintain meaning in a game such as this and it exists here in Anodyne in the form of cards that you must collect to unlock different gates. There are fifty total cards spread all over the various areas and each of the gates that you must open have a number on them that denotes how many cards you need in order to open the gate. This was a neat feature and inspired the player to spend some serious exploration time in the dungeons and the general areas. While this experience will really resonate with fans of the Zelda series, the story is not nearly as engaging as the archetypal rescue-the-princess formula. You will still save the world in Anodyne, it is just a rather deep and depressing trip to see it all the way to the end.
  14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN79nNefnlA There are not many games that capture an atmosphere and play to its strengths in the way that The Bridge does. The hand-drawn world is fairly evocative of M.C. Escher’s creations, although the puzzle designs and elaborate backgrounds do well to distinguish The Bridge with its own style. Created by a two-man team of artist Mario Castañeda and designer/programmer Ty Taylor, The Bridge introduces players to a number of mind-bending 2D logic puzzles that will leave players challenged by their interpretations of space and rewarded after the completion of each level. Where the game truly succeeds is in its unification of a radical art style and a unique design philosophy. The game gradually progresses players through its four different chapters that span 24 levels. Introductory mechanics are relatively simple, but newer additions add a higher yet still accessible degree of difficulty as the game goes on. Gamers of all types should be able to enjoy The Bridge, despite some difficulty spikes later on in the main portion of the game. Levels do not take long to complete once the solution has been figured out and the variety of problems to be solved keep each area feeling fresh. The Bridge has never made me so happy to be confused — I enjoyed the myriad of ways you need to think outside the box in order to complete a level, especially when accompanied by a slew of gorgeous art pieces. As great as the design and art style are, one of the few negative aspects of the game is in regards to the slow pace of the gameplay. This is mostly symptomatic of the design and is easily forgivable for many levels in the game. However, there are times in which the player will know how to finish a puzzle but has to patiently navigate their way to the end. I also encountered a few issues where restarting or rewinding became time-intensive, but that will vary based on the player’s ability to solve The Bridge’s puzzles. Overall, The Bridge presents players with a challenging series of puzzles chock full of eye candy. Even inexperienced gamers will be able to take on the game and come away successful, and completing each puzzle feels mentally satisfying. The atmosphere, sound, and puzzle design are all incredibly engaging and stimulating. The Bridge also offers replayability in the form of “mirrored” levels after completion of the initial 24 puzzles, adding new mechanics and a layer of complexity that will keep players engaged for hours. I would highly recommend the game to anyone looking for a unique take on art in games and the puzzle genre as a whole. OVERALL: 9/10 The Bridge is available now on Steam for $14.99, a bargain for the content included in the game. The Bridge on Steam Official Site of The Bridge
  15. Connection. A simple word that defines human interaction. The emotions that go along with such an act are perhaps what we are all searching for at some point in our lives. These feeling can manifest themselves in all parts of existence and serve to bring us closer to one another, emotionally , spiritually and physically. Bientot l’ete is a game about connection. A French phrase meaning “It’s nearly summer”, Bientot l’ete focuses on a man or a woman depending on the player’s choice with the environment being a cafe on the shore of a beach. It can be inferred through the two different sight modes that this is merely a virtual world which is another layer of abstraction that serves to allude to the depth of thought developer Tale of Tales is trying to impress on the player. After the initial gender choice you are transported onto the aforementioned beach with no objective. As you begin to explore you will inevitably come across cryptic phrases scattered near the waves. They have little to no meaning until you stumble across the only building in the game, a cafe. Upon entering you have the choice to wait for a random person to connect or you can simply play against the computer. Only after making this choice do you realize you will be playing a game of chess. “Playing” is a generous way to describe it. The game play is a series of responses with/to the various phrases you have found on the beach. How much a player can let themselves be immersed in these existential questions and answers is directly equivalent to how much they will enjoy the game. “I chase the image of your body lost in the darkness of the sea.” and “Sometimes I believe that to love is to see. To see you.” are just a few examples. Personally I thought this was interesting and brought back some memories in my life but never became very compelling to do. There is a cigarette and glass of wine you can partake in if you choose which serves to set the mood of the encounter. If this sounds incredibly abstract, it’s because it is. Visually the game is colorful and expresses this through its succession of day and night. Looking out across the beach during a sunset may be the best metaphor for describing what this game aims to do: that quiet and distant light over the solemn waves rekindling a far-off memory of a past relationship. The existential ponderings that Bientot l’ete raises only serve to bring about more questions without answers. Although it struggles to be a game it succeeds in evoking an emotion, doing what a piece of art is intended. But as the French would say: C’est la vie. 3/5
  16. //A matter of perspective By: Jordan Happach The way we view the world is the culmination of our experiences and feelings which we have grown and become attached to as we grow older. As we see patterns over the course of our lives, we develop a lens through which we look at everything. This is called a world view. Something similar exists in the language of video games as we become complacent and expect a game world to function very similarly to the real one. This paradigm is shattered with Antichamber. The core of the game is focused around defying the expectations and general rules of the physical world. It is a puzzle game with the emphasis placed on traversal though rooms with mind-bending non-Euclidian design. In laymen’s terms this means what you see is not necessarily what exists. Objects and walls may appear or disappear out from underneath the player seemingly out of nowhere but there is always a defined path and a way back to your original location with the helpful main map menu accessible at any time. It is a crucial feature of the game, which would be extremely frustrating if not unplayable without. As the player makes their way through the environments, which are generally white with key primary colors to direct their attention to certain area, they will come across weapons’ which build upon each other in their functionality. The projectiles are cubes which the player uses to solve the various puzzles in the game. From creating bridges to unlocking doors, blocks are the answer to the games sometimes backwards appearing solutions. The end result can be gratifying but also hard fought and finicky specifically with the platforming which is needed at different points. There is no narrative and barely even a premise throughout the game aside from insightful signs along the way that could have a much more transcendent meaning apart from just helping the player get past a specific room. In general, there is a very minimalistic look and feel to everything in the game which lets the player focus on the mechanics and helps them understand when the world has altered it’s state, even if they do not know how or why. Without saying too much, it’s a shame the game doesn’t make good on a more meaningful ending either. Overall there is a trial and error nature to the game. This is by design but can also leave the player feeling that some things are unexplained. Personally I found it a mix of excitement and aggravation depending on the situation. Ultimately, the way one approaches this game is subject to how willing one is to give in to the rules of the world, however nonsensical they may at first seem. As with all things in life and in this case the game, it’s a matter of perspective. 3/5
  17. Driftmoon is a quaint little RPG released by Finnish developer Instant Kingdom. This title has been in the works for a long time, the website claims seven years, and it was part of Steam’s Greenlight program for the summer of 2011. Since then, there has been a demo available which the user community has been very supportive of and there are already a ton of mods available for those that want to continue their time in the world of Driftmoon. Everything from simple aesthetic alterations to complete missions and side-quests are available and the game just officially launched at the end of February 2013 in its final form. The magical story that IK has put together is amazingly immersive and a blast to play for old-school RPG fans like me; give me a sword, a bow, and some magic and I will defend/save whatever kingdom you have programmed. Now, when I say quaint and little, I do mean that, Driftmoon’s main campaign takes only about ten or eleven hours to play through but there are enough side-quests available in the game’s various locations to keep you occupied for about twice that time. You play as a young man whose world is flipped upside down when he returns to his home village, Northrop, only to have his own mother push him into a well. It turns out that this was the only way to save you from the evil descending upon the people of Northrop in the form of angry magic-capable lizards known as the Rakan who are searching for the broken pieces of an Amulet of Life. These “lizard wizards” are being used by an evil king from the past, Ixal, who is also the creator of the amulet. As you embark upon the main mission to locate all the pieces of said amulet and purify it so that it will never be used for evil purposes again, there are plenty of memorable characters you meet along the way that have as much riding on Ixal’s final defeat as you. A firefly by the name of Fizz, an uppity panther queen whose attitude about your current actions was her most memorable trait, and your own brother, who spends part of the game as an actual person and the later part as a skeleton are a few of the personalities that assist you throughout the story. The story itself is really, really in-depth and fleshed out, the time I spent reading notes, books, and old newspaper articles was relative to ten hours spent in a much bigger example of the genre such as Bioware’s Dragon Age or Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. I even noticed many passive and obvious references to established fantasy worlds like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. The combat system was a bit watered down compared to some other RPGs but it worked well with the scope of the rest of the project and the story was more than enough to make up for the lack of action in this title. You have the option to carry a melee weapon, bow, and eventually a magic staff but this serves as your melee weapon, there are no magical spells to hurl at enemies so no pure mage gameplay here. Each enemy vanquished as well as completion of the various quests provide experience points to level up your character, I ended the game at level twenty-two and I liked that I was able to level up right into the end-game. The only issue that I had with the game was the camera angle, it is a top-down perspective which is very normal in a game like this, but the levels were sometimes difficult to traverse in this restrictive viewpoint. Speaking of the levels themselves, I loved the visual style of this game! It was perfect for the story that was being told; the color palette and environments could be described as absolutely enchanting and were possibly my favorite aspect of this experience. Overall, I enjoyed my time in the world of Driftmoon, I got it for fifteen bucks at desura.com, through their app that is very similar to Steam or the GameStop app and I am perfectly okay with spending that money on a game like this, the editor and availability of so many mods work to extrapolate the value. If you are a fantasy fan of any level and you long for the warm fuzzy feeling that you used to get when you booted up Baldur’s Gate, try out Driftmoon, it is a move in the right direction for Instant Kingdom and I will be watching hopefully for more of their releases in the future. Title: Driftmoon Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux Release Date: February 25, 2013 Where to find this title: InstantKingdom.com, GOG.com, Desura.com, and GamersGate.com
  18. Spelunky fans looking for a similar experience may want to sit up and take notice of this one. 99 Levels to Hell is a recently released action-platformer with light rogue-like elements by B-evil and Zaxis Games. The main idea is simple: Jump and shoot your way through 100 randomly-generated levels and 10 bosses. But, as you’ll quickly learn, that is much easier said than done. As I mentioned, 99 Levels to Hell will be pretty familiar to anyone who has played Spelunky before. Each level is randomly generated with an entrance and an exit. Before you can use the exit you’ll have to find a key somewhere on the level. Each level is also populated with monsters, traps, various power ups, and gold that can be spent in certain rooms that are randomly scattered around. Each level can be completed in just a few minutes, and if you stick around too long invincible ghosts will spawn and hunt you down. The rogue-like elements come in the form of permadeath. Once you die, that’s it. Every 10 levels you fight a boss and move on to a new area of the dungeon with more challenging enemies and traps. Every 10 levels also serves as a form of checkpoint system, so you can start a new game further along, but this will make things more difficult because there has been less time to collect items and get health upgrades before moving on to these more challenging levels. At the start of each playthough you’ll have a chance to pick a character, each with different starting weapons and stats. More characters can be unlocked by finding and saving them in rooms throughout the dungeon. Each character starts with a certain number of health points, some bombs used to get to otherwise unreachable areas, and a weapon that varies between characters. The Magician, for example, starts with a shotgun, while the Major starts with a machinegun. As you explore the levels you may find various new items in the form of weapons, orbs, and spells. Item variety is pretty good. Weapons range from various rods that shoot magic bolts like fire or ice, to a cannon that fires projectiles that do heavy damage on a direct hit but also bounce and roll around momentarily. Orbs circle your character and have different effects. Some are obvious, like how the Fire Orb shoots fireballs whenever you shoot your gun. Others will need to be figured out, like how the Red Orb restores a health point to you if it kills an enemy. Spells occupy your third item slot and are very powerful items that can generally only be used every so often. Some outright kill all enemies on the screen. Others are more support-based, like restoring health or giving you extra time to explore the level before the ghosts appear. After they are used, spells must be recharged by killing enemies. Occasionally you’ll find rooms that you can enter. There are casinos where you can spend money (Or even health, in some cases) to gamble with slot machines. Stores allow you to buy or upgrade items. Elevators allow you to go up or down levels. There is another type of room that provides some insight into the story, and occasionally these rooms will have a cage that can be destroyed to unlock a new character. The core gameplay of 99 Levels to Hell is simple and pretty easy to get into, but also fun and challenging. The weapons, orbs, and spells can be very satisfying, and the way they interact can create interesting combos. Enemies tend to explode into chunks of gore when killed. Both the platforming and shooting are pretty solid, and the controls are good regardless of if you are using a keyboard and mouse or a controller. On the other hand, this being a light rogue-like with randomly generated levels can lead to some frustrating moments outside of your control. For the most part the game is very challenging yet fair, but I have had some playthroughs where I just never found any good items. I have had a few times where I exited a room right into a monster, thus putting me in a situation where I took unavoidable damage. A handful of times the level generated in such a way that reaching the exit was actually impossible. After a while you’ll also discover that the levels aren’t quite as random as advertised. It seems like the developers created a bunch of templates that rearrange levels in random ways, so eventually you’ll start to see some pretty similar layouts. The aesthetic is a bit mismatched too. I actually like the cartoony art direction, even though the animations aren’t as smooth as they could have been, but the music and narration is darker and creepier than the actual visuals would suggest it should be. I’m still on the fence in regards to how well the two blend together. There are some performance issues here and there, too. The game’s initial load time is pretty long, to the point that I thought something went horribly wrong the first time I booted the game up. A few times I encountered bizarre drops below 30 FPS that could only be fixed by restarting my PC. The frame rate problems were very few and far between though; I’ve put about 10 hours into this game so far and it only happened twice. Overall I really enjoyed 99 Levels to Hell. The core gameplay can be very fun in short bursts, and the randomized nature of item drops makes replaying the game over and over again satisfying. Unlocking new characters can change up your playthroughs quite a bit because of their different starting items. At $10, or your regional equivalent, 99 Levels to Hell offers a lot of fun and replayability in a fairly cheap package. Many of the issues I had with the game were rather minor, and not bad enough to detract from the game as a whole. You can find 99 Levels to Hell on GOG.com, Desura, and IndieCity. It’s also struggling in the limbo that is Steam Greenlight, so remember to go give it a thumbs-up to help it get on Steam.
  19. I must admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for Puppy Games and their work. I’ve been a fan of them since Titan Attacks! first made its way onto Steam a while back, and, with the recent Steam release of Ultratron, I now own all four of their titles. Their games are just so genuinely charming, featuring a unique mix of old school gameplay with an interesting graphics style I’ve often heard referred to as “neo-retro.” With the exception of Revenge of the Titans, each offering by Puppy Games is essentially a spiritual successor to some classic game or another, and in Ultratron‘s case that game is Robotron. Like the arcade classic that inspired it, Ultratron‘s core gameplay is very simple: You are in an arena and must survive waves of evil robots that spawn from the sides of the screen. Dead enemies drop coins you can pick up that give you money, and between waves you have a chance to purchase various upgrades. Like in many of their other games, the upgrade system is surprisingly pretty extensive. You have your typical stuff like buying extra health and upgrading the power of your gun, but other upgrades can be quite drastic. A major emphasis of the upgrade system is buying friendly drones that follow you around and automatically attack enemies. These pets have their own upgrades, like increasing their targeting speed, fire rate, range, and other aspects. Other upgrades give you interesting new weapon options in the form of plasma grenades or the ability to nullify a fatal hit by using one of your screen-clearing smart bombs. It can’t be stressed enough how damn charming everything made by Puppy Games is. The “neo-retro” graphics are very aesthetically pleasing. Their titles have this 8-bit look to them, but the graphics are very clean and crisp with lots of bright neon lights and colors. The music and sound assets are great. The character designs are also quite adorable. The pets even have hearts floating above their heads as they follow you around. You can tell that a lot of effort went into creating the visual design of Ultratron and everything else by the company. That’s more or less the game in a nutshell. It is a very simple game, but also extremely fun and pretty challenging. There are around 40 levels and 4 bosses, and like many arcade classics it is designed to be played over and over again to try and get better high scores. I don’t really care about high scores, but I do enjoy Ultratron enough to keep coming back to it. For the next few days the game will be $5 on Steam before going back up to its normal price of $10. You can also find it on Puppy Games’ official website, puppygames.net. While you are at it, check out Revenge of the Titans, Titan Attacks!, and Droid Assault for more retro-inspired fun.
  20. Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation has just recently released Signal Ops, a retro multi-FPS stealth game that allows you to do all kinds of neat super-spy stuff like assassinate targets, steal information, plant incriminating evidence, and sabotage enemy hardware all from the safety of a multi-monitored control room. What Space Bullet has done here is implemented a rare way to interact with some familiar gameplay mechanics that we all have seen in a few prominent game genres and set the whole experience in a charming little world that doesn’t take itself too seriously. On uproxx.com the game was described as “James Bond meets Deus Ex” and I could not agree more with this label mash-up. After a few delays to polish up their product, Signal Ops was officially released on April 2nd 2013 at GoG.com. My favorite aspect of this game was the art direction. It was truly a painter’s delight if you take the time to soak in the details. While not anywhere near the more high-end graphics of some games that utilize the very popular first-person perspective, the ambience and atmosphere were definitely augmented by the look of this game. Environmental lighting looked cool and really worked to showcase some of the more detailed and open areas of the game. For a game that incorporates so much stealth in the gameplay, I feel that there could have been more overall contrast between dark and lit areas. It was somewhat difficult at times to differentiate where my agents were hidden and where they were exposed but that is my only complaint about the visual side of this title. The sound design was functional but nothing spectacular. There were moments when I thought the ambient mechanical sounds were a bit loud and obtrusive; however, that did not happen often. The writing of this game was superb and there was a dark sense of humor about the whole experience that fit perfectly in the game. There were mock-motivation posters around some of the interiors that cracked me up, a sign that states “Basic Training Tutorial….. Do it or Die!” is a perfect example of what I mean. Dialogue was also very quirky with serious activities and consequences being discussed in a snarky, comical tone. After stumbling through one of tutorials, the quest-giver says “Ahh… the uncomfortable sting of failure…… I am not surprised.” This writing style definitely added to the experience and I caught myself laughing out loud at some individual lines. The espionage-focused gameplay had some flaws in my opinion. I liked the multi-perspective views that allowed you to see each mission from the view of all four agents; however, the screens were sometimes so small that it made missions harder than they should have been. Combine this with the difficulty of telling the difference between light and shadow areas, and some missions seemed downright impossible. Strategically moving multiple units opens up a lot of fun gameplay options but I found that the importance of the radio location ended up overshadowing everything else going on. You have to closely manage both the radio and a power source to keep it juiced up and in many of the missions, this was the biggest challenge. I like the realism this part brings to the game, but it quickly became a repetitive game of “where-to-put-my-radio-so-I-can-see” over and over again. Lastly, some clunky keyboard controls and a lackluster tutorial that had me more confused than enlightened dampened my initial excitement for the title. Right now, Signal Ops is available on GoG.com for $14.99 and I would rather see it for $9.99 but there is good quality to be found here if you spring for it. Title: Signal Ops Platforms: PC Release Date: April 2nd, 2013 Available at GoG.com
  21. A quick disclaimer before I begin: despite being a fan of 4X strategy games, I’ve never played Eador: Genesis. This means that I can’t really pull up the original game as a reference point when judging Masters of the Broken World. From what I’ve read, Masters of the Broken World is less of a sequel and more just Genesis with a new coat of paint and some redesigned mechanics anyway. Eador: Masters of the Broken World is a new fantasy 4X strategy game by Snowbird Games. The basic concept of Eador is that the world is broken into many shards floating in space. You play as a sort of godlike being, one of many Masters, who is trying to rebuild the world by conquering the shards and reuniting them. To do this, you travel to a shard, establish a stronghold, and start conquering provinces by any means necessary until you rule the shard. This is the basic format of the game’s campaign. You pick shards to invade, with each shard giving you access to new structures and various buffs once you conquer it. In this way, the campaign is almost like playing a bunch of custom skirmish maps, except you gradually gain more unit and building options as you progress. There is also a karma system that changes what other Masters think of you. Your karma is generally based on the sort of units you favor (each unit has a different moral leaning) and your actions both on a shard and in the pre-invasion screen. Each game will start you off with a single province, your stronghold. This is the center of your empire, and losing it results in defeat on that shard. It is here where you build structures, recruit hero units, and form armies. Structures are divided into various districts, each with four tiers. One important thing to always remember is that there is a limit on certain types of structures. For example, there are around a dozen rank 1 unit structures, but you can only have four in any given game. This means that the game forces you to pick and choose what you feel would be the best choices for the current shard. Even still, the sheer number of building options can get rather overwhelming later in the campaign. It doesn’t help that the UI can be rather confusing and unresponsive at times. I’ve had times where the UI just wouldn’t register my input at first. It can be difficult to figure out prerequisites at a glance, and the advanced view can be even worse. The main focus of your armies is the hero units. You must recruit a hero to move units around the map, much like in many games of this type. Your heroes gain experience, can use various spells and abilities, and can be equipped with items and weapons. The heroes themselves are very powerful units in battle, and can be resurrected for a price should they fall. The four hero types are Warriors, Scouts, Mages, and Commanders, and each type caters to a vastly different play style. As you recruit heroes, the price of recruiting another one gradually goes up, particularly if you already have a hero of that type. This encourages you to have a good mix of different hero types to perform different roles. There can be a ton of things to consider in any given province of Eador. There are various structures you can build in provinces to modify income, allow heroes to recruit units and study spells, improve the population’s mood, and more. While the only primary resources in the game are gold and gems, many provinces have secondary resources like lumber, horses, iron, and so on. These resources aren’t spent like gold and gems, but rather modify the income from those provinces and provide discounts to the hiring of certain units and construction of some buildings. Random events can also cause various positive or negative effects on a province, like a serious forest fire wiping out a large chunk of a province’s lumber supply and screwing with your income. Each province also has locations that can be visited by your heroes, and more locations can be discovered by having your hero spend a turn “exploring.” These locations vary from shops where you can buy powerful items or special units, to battles that provide experience and loot. Exploring a province doesn’t just feed experience to your army either; it also has an effect on the province itself. Sometimes you’ll discover secondary resources or random events that change the province’s income. Exploring the province also increasing population growth, and once a province is 100% explored then you’ll get an income bonus. My main complaint with the exploration mechanic is that it can take forever to explore a province, unless you are using a moderately experienced Scout. This is especially annoying in the early stages of a game, where many of your early turns will be exploring provinces to find weaker enemy encounters to level your hero. This means that the game can get tedious and downright boring in the early stages, when you just don’t have the income and forces to expand too rapidly. I can be here for a while talking about all the various factors in the overworld map of Eador, but that is only part of the game. The other part is the actual combat, which takes place in a hex-based grid. Much like the world map, the combat system has quite a bit of depth to it that must be learned. Units have morale and stamina that affect their performance, there are various terrain types to consider, many units have unique passive and active abilities, etc. The tactical combat is quite fun and satisfying, and the AI is actually pretty good. The AI will use terrain to their advantage, attempt to target your weaker support units, and even focus their attention on wounded units. However, like many things about this game, there are various gameplay and technical issues that need to be addressed. Even with the recent patch that sped things up, some animations can take a while to perform. The audio, animation, and damage numbers are also all out of sync. It is pretty common to see units die before the damage numbers and attack animations have finished, resulting in units slashing at the air or taking damage from a unit that died before its own attack animation went through. It can also be difficult to tell what type of terrain a unit is currently sitting on. That’s really the problem I have with the game: It is full of rough mechanics and glaring technical issues. I already mentioned the rather awkward UI, various issues with the combat system, and the tedium of the early stages of a game, but late game can also be rather tedious too. By this point you’ve pretty much done everything you can leveling up your heroes and improving your kingdom. Now you just have to conquer the enemy, be it a faceless local lord or another godlike Master such as yourself. Sieges against an enemy stronghold can take more than a dozen turns, assuming you don’t have siege weapons. Problem is, it can be a while before you get said siege weapons in the campaign, making the endgame of your early campaign missions seriously drag on. Another annoyance is the general lack of information in some parts of the game. Not all of the mechanics are explained all that well, and looking through the manual didn’t help. The screen before combat is also mostly pointless fluff with very little true information. Telling me that the enemy force contains three giant slugs tells me nothing about what giant slugs are and if my army can take them on. It gets worse when you consider that units also level up, though the Scout has the ability to determine what level the enemies are before you enter the encounter. Sometimes a screen will pop up with your hero saying something vague like “Looks like we can win without casualties” or “If we win this, I’d be surprised,” but these only appear some of the time and are often misleading. If rough mechanics where the only thing wrong with Eador, I wouldn’t mind giving it a recommendation. This game can be pretty engrossing and downright addictive at times. However, I’ve also encountered numerous technical issues as well. The game is obviously poorly optimized, with a very inconsistent frame rate. This isn’t an isolated issue either, I’ve heard reports of people with PCs far better than mine getting choppy frame rates and bad performance. Occasionally, the AI will lock up during their turns, forcing you to exit the game and reload your last save. Even when the AI isn’t locking up, in larger maps they can take upwards of a minute to perform their turns. I’ve not encountered them personally, but I’ve read quite a few posts on the GOG and Steam forums about the game not starting or crashing with an error message. I’ve consistently encountered a glitch where the game won’t display the name of my Scout hero during battles, replacing it instead with “hero.4.name.” I’ve also encountered, and heard reports of, enemy units with glitched out stats that make them far harder to fight than they should, or even accounts of buffs and debuffs not working correctly. There have been several instances where the game just wouldn’t let me click certain buttons, forcing me to restart. In one bizarre situation the game actually took control away from my army, like the game got stuck on auto-combat even when I had it turned off. I don’t play multiplayer in these sorts of games, but I’ve heard from others that the multiplayer component is pretty much broken right now. It wasn’t working at all on launch apparently, and even with the recent patch it is still full of issues. If you really wanted to play Eador with others then this might be a huge problem for you, though given how slow a game of Eador goes I can’t really imagine this game working well in a multiplayer setting anyway. Because of these numerous technical issues, I have a hard time fully recommending Eador: Masters of the Broken World, at least in its current state. The game is far from being unplayable, but the technical issues are common enough that it can really hurt your experience. It’s so frustrating because I really want to say that this is a good game that is worth your money, but I simply can’t do that right now. Despite my complaints, I have managed to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of Eador. When everything is working right, Eador can be quite addicting despite its rough mechanics. If Eador‘s faults were just these rough mechanics then I would probably say go for it. Eador has the foundation of a solid strategy game, and I can see a ton of potential in this title, but as of right now I’d recommend waiting until the first time it goes on sale on Steam or GOG. Hopefully everything will be ironed out by then. I may come back to this one after a few more patches with my updated impressions. You can find Eador: Masters of the Broken World on GOG.com and Steam for $20 or your regional equivalent.
  22. Shooting ships in space will always be a fun concept. Who doesn’t get excited when thinking of climbing into the cockpit of a massive space fighter, armed to the teeth, and blasting through the hulls of enemy invaders with searing lasers and unforgiving photon torpedoes? We’ve loved it since Asteroids, and it has only gotten better with new technology. Technology like giant robotic armor suits, such as those offered in the new score-fest space shooter from Born Ready, Strike Suit Infinity. You play the role of a pilot specializing in an advanced starship that has the ability to turn into a Strike Suit with amped up power and precision aiming. With each level you clear waves of enemy ships that become more difficult as the game goes on. Early rounds start with basic interceptors and fighters whizzing about your head, soon progressing to heavier challenges like Frigates, Capital Ships and Transports which give you extra rewards like weapons and upgrade credits. These things often take you to opposite sides of the battle space, so fast kills and immaculate aiming are your best friends. A view down cannon fodder alley. But it’s that part of the game that might steer people away from enjoying the game even in the early rounds. Those who are familiar with its mission-based predecessor Strike Suit Zero will have no transition to make here. For new players, a gamepad is a big must. Controlling the Strike Suit is daunting at first and requires some time in the training module to properly calibrate your thinking. While movement is fairly fluid and responsive, aiming at enemy ships with anything but the fast unlinked Plasma Gun will prove to be a challenge. Enemies zip around you with blazing expertise, requiring you to follow their weaving and looping like a hotshot. Homing missiles help greatly in this matter, but there are times where aiming in the standard starship could use a more intuitive method of locking onto an enemy. But that won’t stop you from getting enough kills to build up your Flux meter, a gauge which fuels your ability to switch to Strike Mode, giving you auto aiming and pin-point accurate homing missile clusters, all at vastly increased power. Blow away enemies with auto cannons, lock onto multiple targets with a homing salvo, and even dodge enemy missiles with the Dash move. Yet the disadvantage is a decreased intuitiveness in the way the suit moves, requiring a totally different control scheme to do so. This puzzling change bears no continuity with the standard control set you use when not in Strike Mode, which could have easily remained the same. When you fly a transformer in space, nobody messes with you. Any difficulty this presents, however, is offset by your ally ships which warp in at the beginning of every round to aid you in your fight. Any allies left alive at the end of the round will give you a bonus credit towards hiring more ships to join your effort. These range from basic speedy interceptors to hulking Capital ships packed with firepower. The goodness doesn’t stop there, as the game gives you the option of upgrading these things to better swat the enemy. The more fighters you have the better chances of going after the more challenging ships such as the Frigate or the elusive Transport ship, which warps out of the battle space at unpredictable intervals. Sometimes the transport would hang around and let me chase it, other times it would escape before I could even reach it, leaving me to wonder if it was even worth it to go after them at all. A squadron all too eager to crush the enemy. Nonetheless, you have a wide battle-field to traverse, which is a blessing all around. You have plenty of room to escape pursuers and give yourself distance from a target, which allows you a moment to admire a bit of the visuals. Animations are fluid. Ship models are sufficiently spacey but lack appealing texture. Looking down at planet Earth while doing some fancy maneuvers will give you a real sense of place, not to mention that gut-tickling feeling of motion and immersion. The frenetic nature of the gameplay, however, will not leave you much time to assess the details. Crush the capital ship for extra manliness. Yet despite all its mild shortcomings, this little shooter packs a mean wallop in a big way. It is loads of fun despite having a frustrating learning curve, and the lack of any real mission objectives does nothing to diminish the sheer enjoyment of space battles. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until the next Star Wars movie rolls out for a super bargain price, look no further than Strike Suit Infinity. It’ll blow you away.
  23. The original Anomaly was a unique twist on the increasingly popular tower defense genre. Billing itself as a “tower offense” game, in Anomaly you had to guide the convoy of attacking units through the towers, using the special abilities of your character’s suit of armor to protect the convoy and help you achieve the mission’s objective. Anomaly 2 contains everything needed to make a good sequel: more of the same core gameplay, but with enough new features and improvements to keep things interesting. In the years following the events of the first game, the alien machines (aka the towers) have returned to Earth and reduced it to a barely inhabitable wasteland stuck in a perpetual winter. It’s your job to lead your convoy in humanity’s last ditch effort to win the war with the machines and retake Earth. The writing and voice acting in Anomaly 2 are a step up from the original game, but it can still be pretty cringe-worthy in places. Luckily, that isn’t what you play this series for. For those who are unfamiliar with the Anomaly games, the basic formula works like this: At the start of each mission, you have to buy units to fill out your convoy of up to six vehicles. You then plot your route through the map to your objectives. Each mission’s map is actually quite big and allows for many potential pathways to your objectives, and because of scripted events you’ll often find yourself returning to the tactical view to re-plot your course. Once you are in the actual mission, you control a single commander in an advanced suit of armor that allows you to deploy various special abilities to protect or buff your convoy. This adds an element of twitch skill micromanagement to the game, as you’ll have to run your character all over the place to collect suit powers and deploy abilities at the proper time to maximize their effects. The Repair and Decoy abilities from the first game return, but the Smoke and Airstrike powers have been replaced with EMP and AIM. EMP allows you to temporarily disable towers, while AIM makes your convoy focus their fire on a particular tower, gaining a damage bonus in the process. One of the major new features of Anomaly 2 is the introduction of the Morph mechanic. Anomaly 2 has reduced the number of units in the game down to five, but each unit has an alternate form that it can transform into by double clicking on it. For example, the basic Assault Hound is a small tank-like unit with miniguns. The miniguns start out firing slow, weak shots that gradually build up to a constant stream of fire over the course of several seconds. In its alternate form, the Hell Hound, it becomes a mech with dual flamethrowers that it can fire at two different towers simultaneously. The Morph mechanic gives you much more flexibility. You’ll be constantly swapping modes to counter specific towers, and it also ensures that every unit will get regular usage. The larger number of units in the original game created some redundancies later on in the campaign. Once you got the tank there was little point in taking the APCs anymore since they both served similar roles–that of a heavily armored spearhead to your convoy–but the tank was just better at it. The campaign is 14 missions long and has a nice variety of objectives and scripted events that change things up and keeps the experience fresh. The game also does a great job of pacing itself and gradually introducing you to harder and more complex objectives. The early missions are simply get from A to B. Later missions have you destroying specific towers, or giving you fragile units you must escort that take up slots in your convoy. Mission 8 is particularly memorable, where you must defend a central building as waves of towers spawn from all sides. The battles can get really hectic as you must micromanage your commander and his abilities, morph your units to best counter the current situation, and even alter your routes or switch around the formation of your convoy. The campaign will last you a little over six hours or so, more if you obsess over getting all gold medals in every mission. Unfortunately the Baghdad Mayhem and Tokyo Raid score attack modes don’t make a return, instead being replaced with a new tower defense vs tower offense multiplayer mode. The multiplayer mode is a fun distraction, but there isn’t really enough content to keep you playing it for long. From what I’ve played, Anomaly 2 does a solid job of balancing the two sides and their special abilities, but it could use more maps and gameplay modes. I feel that the campaign is where the most enjoyment will be had with this game, with the multiplayer just being a side mode to occasionally dip into with friends. The graphics also got a nice upgrade in Anomaly 2. The original was always a pretty nice looking game, but this time around the particle effects and explosions are noticeably better, as is the texture quality of the units, towers, and environments. The game also plays around with your keyboard’s lighting effects if you are playing on an Alienware system, a feature that you only see in a handful of games. Anomaly 2 is a great sequel that improves upon the original in just about every way. Any fans of the original cult hit should definitely look into getting Anomaly 2. If you’ve never played an Anomaly game, this is a good place to start. It is a unique and frantic take on what is traditionally a somewhat passive genre, and there is a nice amount of content for the rather cheap price of $15. You can find Anomaly 2 on Steam, where until May 31st you can get it for 10% off if you own the first game. Alternatively, you can buy it straight from 11 Bit Studios and get a free copy of Anomaly: Korea, which as far as I know is the only way to get this mobile/tablet spin-off on PC.
  24. Reus markets itself as a 2D god game. Indeed, at first glance that’s exactly what it looks like, as the player controls four planet-shaping giants on a mission to help humans survive and thrive on a once barren wasteland. However, after putting over a dozen hours into Reus, I’d describe it as more of a puzzle/resource management game, where you are trying to figure out the optimal placement of resources in a very limited space. In any case, Reus can be a hard game to accurately describe because of how unique it truly is. Each game of Reus starts out the same: The planet is an uninhabitable wasteland and you must use your four giants to create an ecosystem that allows humanity to survive. Each giant has some sort of terraforming power that allows you to create mountains, forests, swamps, oceans, and deserts. Once you have biomes you must then place resources (minerals, plants, or animals) which in turn attract nomads that set up a village near these resources. As villages grow, they’ll start projects. These projects usually require the use of a certain number of resources, like food, tech, and/or wealth. These are generated by the resources that are within a village’s borders, which gradually expand as the village grows. Once a project is complete, it will add bonuses to the village and push it towards a certain specialization, like giving a village more wealth for each mineral within their borders or giving more food for each plant. The types of projects a village will start largely depend on the biome they are in. Deserts usually start wealth-based projects, swamps start tech-based ones, and forests food-based ones. Besides allowing a village to grow, projects also give you ambassadors. Your giants can pick up these ambassadors, unlocking new abilities. The ability that an ambassador unlocks depends on what biome they are from and what giant is carrying them. Giving a giant more ambassadors from the same biome is useful because the extra ambassadors upgrade the power associated with ambassadors from that specific biome. This creates a situation where you have to carefully consider what ambassadors to give to what giants. You’ll need to consider what abilities you’ll need in order to advance the villages the way you want them to go. You’ll also need to think about if you would rather spread out ambassadors from specific biomes to gain a wider range of abilities, or give all the ambassadors of a specific biome to one giant so you can make his abilities more powerful. While it can be tempting to just throw resources at a village to make them grow as fast as possible, there is a greed mechanic that makes this more difficult. If a village grows too quickly, they may become greedy and demand more from you or attack other villages. The growth of greed can be managed by awe and danger, which are generated by certain resources. Placing predatory animals is an easy way of generating danger, thus slowing a village’s expansion and keeping their greed at bay, but if there is too much danger it can cause the village to struggle to survive. Like most mechanics in this game, it can be a very fine balancing act that requires a lot of experimentation. The way resources interact and how you can transform and modify them is a lot more complex than I originally thought it would be. Each giant has abilities that generate a generic resource like precious minerals or fruit plants, with the actual type of resource generated depending on the biome. Using the Swamp Giant’s ability to create exotic animals will create a poison dart frog in swamps, but desert tortoises in deserts. As you can imagine, this already means that the number of resources can get a bit daunting, but things get further complex with the use of Aspects. Aspects serve two purposes. Firstly, they can increase resources generated, or modify them in different ways. Secondly, you can transform resources if there are certain Aspects attached to them. For example, adding a Leaf Aspect to blueberries allows you to make strawberries. In addition to Aspects, there are also Symbioses that give bonuses to resources that are next to certain other resources. Predatory animals typically generate more wealth or food if they are near smaller prey animals, certain plants generate more food if they are near mineral-rich ground, and so on. This level of complexity in how specific resources interact and what Aspects are needed to make each resource can be really overwhelming later in the game. The game would greatly benefit from an in-game tech tree of some sort. As it stands, all you can do is pull up a wiki, which makes it more difficult to reference things while actually playing. As you gain access to more resources, the massive number of them and how they interact can get fiddly too, as you try to figure out the most optimal arrangement of resources for a village’s specialization. It doesn’t help that villages often start on projects that make no sense considering previous projects, like a village that focused heavily on plants suddenly starting a project that requires a lot of animals. The limited space of the world makes matters even worse. I understand that this game is mainly about managing resources in a limited space, but I’d like to see larger worlds in future updates. Despite my complaints so far, I actually really enjoy Reus. The graphics style and music are incredibly charming, and despite the occasional awkwardness of the resource management, the game can be almost zen-like. For the most part it is a relatively stress-free, relaxing game. It’s satisfying to see your villages gradually grow and become bustling cities. The giants and their animations look great in action, and their idle animations add a lot to the game’s charm. They’ll occasionally lean down and just watch the villagers as they go about their daily lives, as proud parents watching their children play. While the resources and the way they interact can become very complex later on, the game’s learning curve is actually brilliant. Most of the resources are locked at the start; you “level up” by playing and completing developments. Developments are a bit like achievements, but they serve an actual gameplay purpose. As you complete developments and level up, you’ll unlock more resources and tougher developments become possible. The actual game modes themselves are designed to slowly ease you in. After the tutorial, you start with 30 minute games, where many of the more complex resource interactions won’t really come into play. Then you’ll graduate to hour-long games, and eventually two hour games, where you need to carefully consider resource placement to make the best use of Symbioses, which Aspects you need, etc. Greed, and how villages may lose their faith and attack your giants, also doesn’t become a major mechanic until the two hour games. In addition to these primary modes, there is also a free play sandbox mode where you can play as long as you like, but you won’t make progress towards new resources and developments. Reus is a really unique title that deserves your attention. I don’t think you should really go into Reus expecting a true god game along the lines of Populous, but rather a puzzle game with the façade of a god game. I’ve heard some people say that Reus lacks a real focus or objective due to the way the game is designed, but I’m not so sure I agree. It is a very charming and beautiful puzzle game that rewards you for experimenting and trying to figure out the optimal way of creating thriving villages in a limited space. If you’re looking for a relatively slower-paced, charming, and relaxing title, then Reus is definitely worth a look at only $10. You can find it on Steam and GOG.com.