Game reviews

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mud_everywhere

Most driving games are about speed. The idea is that if you’re not going fast, you’re not having fun. Fair enough. That’s a pretty safe approach. So speed is the basic currency in a driving game.

But what Spintires presupposes is, what if it’s not? The foundation for Spintires, literally and figuratively, is mud. The developers at Oovee have built an offroad diving game around the physics of sucking squelching goddamnable tire-drinking mud. At first, I thought the name Spintires was dumb. I kept wanting to write it “Sprintires”, but that makes even less sense in the context of this game. In this game, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on a patch of paved road. Spintires is about roads that sometimes aren’t even roads. Oh, wait, I’ve been driving along some sort of wash or gully and someplace where there aren’t any trees for whatever reason. Let’s see, on the map, it looks like this leads to, uh, someplace I haven’t explored, so I have no idea. Let’s see what’s up there.

After the jump, where we’re going, we don’t need roads. Continue reading →

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divinity_main_small

I was just looking for a spell scroll, perhaps something that would shoot a fireball or drop a boulder from the sky, when I accidentally click and dragged a barrel of oil that I had in my character’s inventory. (Why was my fighter dragging a barrel of combustible liquid around? Oh, that’s right. I had accidentally put it into his pockets during a routine loot grab and hadn’t bothered to get rid of it.) Plop! My fighter tossed the barrel out into the middle of the undead pack that was trying to eat my party’s brains. Wait a minute! This could work. My fighter bashed the barrel open with a mighty swing of his axe, spilling oil on the ground. My ranger used a scroll of fire immunity on the fighter, then my wizard tossed a flaming bolt at the puddle. Whoosh! The undead went up in a satisfying blaze while my protected warrior laughed.

After the jump, what can you say about a game that’s like one big Easter egg for role-playing game fans? Continue reading →

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Reign_of_Missiles_review

I bought A Reign of Missiles, a solitaire game, a year or so ago based on a tip from a friend. It didn’t make much an impression at the time, but I admired its attempt to model a very specific situation. Namely, the reaction of Israel to rocket attacks launched out of the Gaza Strip in 2012. That’s not an easy thing to game for various reasons, among them that it’s a very current event, a very divisive current event, and a not very gameworthy divisive current event. But A Reign of Missiles enjoys the unique luxury of small projects no one has heard of. I don’t intend that as an insult. Indie flags fly like no other flags.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated over the past month, and now that it has once again re-ignited into an exchange of rockets from Hamas and air strikes from Israel and ground forces poised to raise the stakes even further, I returned to A Reign of Missiles for a closer look (i.e. I actually cut out the counters and played it a few times). What can we learn about the conflict between Israel and Hamas from playing this solitaire tabletop game?

After the jump, are you kidding? Continue reading →

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Caverna_review

Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola is a classic boardgame for many reasons. It’s easy to learn, yet it’s wildly varied. It’s charming enough to play with your family, yet it’s brutal enough to play with your buddies. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with solid pieces, hearty boards, cute cards, and a distinct autumnal palette. Quick, what color is Agricola? You know you said orange.

However, Agricola has worked its way to the back of my closet with the rest of my infrequently played games. And I know precisely why. It suffers from what I call “the reed problem”. Caverna, the latest game from Rosenberg and an obvious follow-up to Agricola, handily sidesteps the reed problem, and furthermore fixes a lot of Agricola’s shortcomings. I fear that my copy of Agricola will never make its way to the front of the closet.

After the jump, a much needed de-reeding. Continue reading →

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Wildstar_review

I don’t feel much pull when I play Wildstar. When I level up and get another point to make one of my skills cool down a quarter second faster or do a half percentage point more damage, Wildstar is far more excited about it than I am. I almost feel bad for it. It proclaims it loudly and with a huge message and with a special announcement button I can press to see what new things I’ve unlocked. It’s usually just the point I can spend, but sometimes it’s cosmetic gloves or maybe a new dungeon somewhere. I usually open the window just to dismiss it.

I don’t feel much pull when I enter a new area and scoop up a bunch of quests, every single one of them like the quests that came before, involving me going somewhere to kill a bunch of creatures or to click lit-up interactive hotspots, just like I did in the last area, just like I’ll do in the next area. I don’t feel much pull as I slot new gear with slightly higher stats, or when I collect ore from an ore node, or when I turn in a quest, or when I skirt around a mob’s activation radius, or when I sell my vendor trash, or when I’m sitting waiting for a tank to join our instance because I’ve already spent an hour on this dungeon and I’m not about to give up just because the guy playing the tank ragequit and left the rest of us hanging.

After the jump, the next tank who joins us sucks, so I end up giving up anyway. Continue reading →

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Dead_Rising_3_review

Part of the point of zombies is their overwhelming numerical superiority. For this reason, Dead Rising 3 is an amazing piece of technology. It crams its streets gloriously full of zombies. The breadth of its shambling mobs has always been a strength of the Dead Rising games. In 2006, the first one harnessed the power of Microsoft’s then next-gen console system to cram a mall full of zombies. It was mind-blowing at the time. So many zombies! There was a sense that this is what George Romero wanted us to experience. This was the zombie apocalypse, in full scale compared to the 1:72 toy scale in other games. It took 25 years after Dawn of the Dead, after years of videogames dribbling zombies at us in coffee clutch sized clusters, but we had finally come home.

During the carefully staged opening of Dead Rising 3, you stand on a carefully staged precipice above a carefully staged ruined highway crammed with zombies. There’s gotta be five hundred of them down there. It’s mind-blowing. And it’s a constant. The opening is carefully staged, but it’s not a trick. This is the number of zombies loitering around the city. I killed over 25,000 of them by the time I’d played through the story, not because I’m particularly efficient at zombie killing, but because there are just so many of them. You can’t swing a sledgehammer without adding a few dozen to your total. In that regard, in terms of embracing zombies as a multitude, Dead Rising 3 is the greatest of the Dead Rising games.

But in every other way, it is the weakest of the Dead Rising games.

After the jump, one less reason to get an Xbox One. Continue reading →

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Watch_Dogs_review

The parts of Watch Dogs that are terrible are the parts that make a good game great. Characters, theme, meaningful gameplay connected with meaningful storylines, clever self-aware writers working closely with game designers, internal consistency, vision. These are many of the things that define the Bioshock 2s, the Grand Theft Auto Vs, the Metro Last Lights, the Tomb Raiders. These are the things that can elevate videogaming as a medium.

Watch Dogs has none of these things. It is an elaborate trifle, a AAA time fritterer, a playground with skyhigh production values mired in a bog, a dessert tray without an accompanying meal. It is mostly hollow, almost entirely meaningless, and only accidentally relevant. And I’m having a grand time with it.

After the jump, confused Grand Theft Auto V fanboi. Age: 46. Occupation: game critic. Income: $32,700. Continue reading →

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OOTP15_review

One of my favorite Out of the Park stories of late is that of an internet poster who felt his father could have made the major leagues as a pitcher, were it not for college-age life choices which derailed that outcome. This individual created his father as a 19-year-old pitching prospect in a fictional version of the 1979 major leagues. Despite nagging injuries, his virtual father went on to win nine Cy Young awards and made ten All-Star teams. His career nearly overlapped with that of his son (drafted by the same team, by chance), before retiring and becoming a coach.

After the jump, Out of the Park Baseball is once again the holodeck of baseball. Continue reading →

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tropico5_review

Tropico 5 is a tin-pot dictator – careening from crisis to crisis, trying to assert its authority, while always in the shadow of the previous regime. Like the miniature tyrants it tries to spoof, Tropico 5 is more ridiculous than impressive. That bluster and charm hides insecurity. It’s a game that knows it’s the ruler of a tiny empire because there isn’t anyone else to rule in its place.

After the jump, Tropico 5 has always been the leader! There was never a Tropico 4! Continue reading →

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MK8_01

“But do you think it’s better than Sonic Racing All-Stars Transformed? Whatever that one is called? You know, the one with Sonic.”

He thinks for a minute. I don’t have to think. I already know the answer. But he’s thinking.

“I mean, yeah, I can understand that you like Mario Kart 8,” I continue. “But better than Sonic Transformed All-Stars Racing?”

He’s still thinking.

After the jump, here I am, discussing the comparative merits of kiddie racing games. Continue reading →

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EH_1

The conventional wisdom about Eldritch Horror is that it’s more streamlined than its predecessor Arkham Horror, which was Fantasy Flight’s sprawling, finicky, shoggoth-esque co-op monstrosity of investigators rolling dice to make combat checks and evasion checks and counting how many monsters are out and, oh look, we’ve just lost horribly to some Ancient One or another because we’re at ten, no, nine monsters on the board so let’s keep going, oops, no, ten, I forgot to count the sky box. And it is. Eldritch Horror is far more streamlined, partly because Fantasy Flight hasn’t yet turned it into a mule for their inevitable add-ons.

But there’s something more important at work here. Eldritch Horror is so much better than Arkham Horror for a reason much bigger than mere streamlining.

After the jump, he’s got the whole world in his claws. Continue reading →

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Transistor

Transistor starts off strong with its phenomenal soundtrack, striking visuals, lively animation, and intriguing premise. Yeah, these are the guys who did Bastion, all right. You find a second power and you assign it to a button. You find a third power and you use to modify your first power. You figure out the turn-based action queue. You’re off and running. Ashley Barrett starts singing. The city glows with color and eerie light. This is going to be good, right?

After the jump, the rest of the game happens. Continue reading →

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Splendid_Cuba

For several years, I’ve been doing about four hours of podcasting a week. I’m not going to do the math, because if there’s one thing I’m worse at than history, it’s math. But that adds up to a lot of hours of me saying things as they pop into my head. In those many hours, I’ve said a lot of stupid things. One of the stupidest things I’ve said is that nothing interesting happened in American history between The Civil War and World War I. I actually said that. But that was before I got a history lesson from a handful of superlative games, such as Phil Eklund’s Pax Porfiriana (I’m baffled more people aren’t talking about this whip-smart marriage of gameplay, economics, theming, and historical insight), Joel Toppen’s Navajo Wars (which led to me reading Hampton Sides’ expansive and intimate Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West), and most recently Javier Garcia de Gabiola’s Cuba: The Splendid Little War. It turns out America did some of her best and worst growing up in that gap between The Civil War and World War I.

After the jump, if Canada is America’s hat, Cuba is America’s untied left shoe. Continue reading →

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Hunted_1

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game about carrying capacity. You must retrieve fifteen doo-dads scattered across the land and bring them to a spot in the center, which is like a cross between Stonehenge and one of those Goodwill drop-off stations. If you had a Bag of Holding, you could just run around, collect all fifteen, and bring them to the drop-off point in the middle. But you don’t. So you have to make multiple trips. Also, the doo-dads get bigger and bigger, so you have to start making tough decisions in your Tetris inventory screen. Do you clear out room taken up by guns and stuff? Or do you just make another trip? Also also, when you die, you get reset to the last save point. If you aren’t careful (i.e. if you don’t make more trips back and forth), that might have been two or three doo-dads ago.

Oh, and as if you couldn’t guess by the title, roaming packs of killer robots will attack you on sight. And did I mention they’re invariably guarding the doo-dads? When it’s not about carry capacity, Sir, You Are Being Hunted is about reloading. The game, not your gun.

After the jump, Sir, You Are Doing a Lot of Moving While Crouched. Continue reading →

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Harpoon_1

Look at that Russian ship. Stately, majestic, deadly. If Wargame: European Escalation can do such an awesome job adding planes (read the review of Wargame: Airland Battle here), imagine what they can do with ships. Only you don’t have to. You just have to play Wargame: Red Dragon.

Developer Eugen has gone this route from land to air to sea before. Their debut RTS, Act of War, was Command & Conquer with a new take on airpower. Rather than including airplanes on the map, taking off from the airports you build and then flitting a few screens over to bomb something, Eugen modeled airpower as an offmap asset controlled on a separate panel. It was one of the many ways Act of War was better than Command & Conquer for tuning Westwood’s trademark loosey-goosey gameplay. When Eugen added ships with an expansion, things got loosey-goosey all over again. The engine couldn’t quite handle the expanse of sea alongside the intimacy of a land-based tactical RTS. The ships did that standard RTS thing where they swiveled and banged into each other and jostled each other like a mob instead of a fleet, generally making a mess of a finely tuned game. Like the aliens in Signs, RTSs rarely survive contact with water. Naval combat tends to compromise an RTS, so don’t even think about hosting the game on a water map. In fact, I can think of only two games that did a good job of integrating ships into the overall game: Rise of Nations and Age of Empires III both had a really smart approach to what happens when an RTS goes to sea. And now that Wargame: Red Dragon is out, I can still think of only two games that did a good job of integrating ships into the overall game.

After the jump, sailing takes me away. Continue reading →

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