Game reviews

, | Game reviews
Soma_review

If you haven’t played Soma, I’m jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. I hope you didn’t read any reviews. Possibly including this one. All you should know going in is that it’s by indie horror developer Frictional Games and that it’s something about an underwater base. Oops. I wish you didn’t even know that second bit. But, really, there’s no avoiding it. Whether it’s the screenshots or the “set below the waves of the Atlantic ocean” in the product description, that particular cat is well and truly out of the bag.

After the jump– wait, should I even click past the jump? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Clockwork_Wars_review

A tech tree should be a game’s skeleton, giving it its shape. And since a tech tree is variable, it should create distinct shapes. These choices will make this kind of game; those choices will make that kind of game. A tech tree is a way to let a game design itself as it’s played. A latticework of possibilities, different every time. Clockwork Wars is my favorite example of a tech tree in a boardgame.

After the jump, wait, there are tech trees in boardgames? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Firewatch_3_review

We should know by now what videogames can and can’t do as a medium. When they’re not aping movies, they can tell riveting environmental stories in contained settings with gratifying payoffs (Gone Home, Bioshocks 1 and 2, Portal). In the context of gameplay, they can use animation, voice acting, and writing to establish effective relationships among characters (Uncharted, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Grand Theft Auto V). They can create a sense of mystery (Myst and a hundred other games).

What they can’t do is what Firewatch is attempting.

After the jump, putting the watch in Firewatch. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
The_Witness_reach

I’m looking at a puzzle. I’m considering how to solve it. I’m pretty sure there’s no way to solve it. Literally no way to solve it. It simply can’t work. It’s nonsense. It’s clearly impossible. You might as well ask me to make two plus two equal five. But then something clicks, suddenly and decisively. A Copernican shift introduces itself into a simple set of inviolable rules. The center has moved and now everything turns into something else entirely. It feels like a miracle of geometry, of logic, like oh, hey, a fourth dimension has opened up where a wall used to be. Maybe Newtonain shift is a better way to put it. What seemed impossible is now as simple as letting gravity take an apple.

These are the best parts of The Witness. And, to be fair, they’re fairly frequent. Regular even. But to what end?

After the jump, ssentiW ehT, dnalsi na, nalp a, man a. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Onirim_bad_dreams_rising

“What about this one?”

My sister is holding up a little square box, about the size of a cocktail napkin, the thickness of a paperback dictionary. The motif is black and blue, with cutely crude hand-drawn artwork. The silhouette of a cat-eared demon peers over a title in block letters: ONIRIM. Is that a real word? I think it’s Hebrew.

After the jump, well, what about that one? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Leaving_Earth_review

Leaving Earth is one of the reasons I have no desire to make games. Sometimes a game design comes along that’s smart, unique, and exciting. Sometimes a game design comes along that convinces me to leave it to the professionals to do the hard work of thinking up this stuff. Sometimes a game design comes along that makes me think, “Oh man, I never would have thought to do it that way!” Joe Fatula’s Leaving Earth, a boardgame about the race into space in the 60s and 70s, is one such game.

After the jump, we choose to leave Earth not because it is easy. Continue reading →

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Fallout_4_supermutant_suicide

Fallout 4 is a Fallout about restoring civilization. It is not just a Fallout about a wayward family member, a water purifier, a GECK, a dam, or your favorite faction. Sure, those things might be in here (Fallout 4 directly repeats some of Fallout 3’s plot points). But this Fallout is unique among Fallouts for how it’s about restoring civilization to the wasteland. About worldbuilding. World rebuilding, to be more precise.

You might think you’ve restored civilizations in previous Fallouts. And, yes, depending on choices you made at the end of the game, maybe you did. But it wasn’t gameplay. Restoring civilization was a coda. A postscript. An oh-by-the-way, like those “where are they now?” title cards at the end of movies based on true stories. The new civilization was a slideshow and a block of text immediately preceding the credits.

But Fallout 4 is a game where you’re going to rebuild society as you play. In fact, you don’t have a choice. You’re going to be a hero who make the ruined world a better place, like it or not. This isn’t the kind of choice-and-consequence Fallout that will let you play the villain. You won’t blow up Megaton. Your choices will be a) pet the puppy or b) cuddle the puppy. The worst you can do is pet the puppy sarcastically. Besides, everyone plays a good guy on their first playthrough, right? You’ll find a couple of evil choices at the end. If you want to groove on the rubble, as per reformed hippie Jerry Rubin’s description of what would happen in an aftermath, you’re not going to do it directly. It will be a coda, a postscript, an oh-by-the-way. Up until then, when it really matters, you will work for a better world. Fallout 4 is a game about gameplay about rebuilding.

After the jump, the four things that keep Fallout 4 from being the game it’s trying to be. Continue reading →

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Chaos_Reborn_review

I think Chaos Reborn might be broken. It told me my elf had a 90% chance to kill the other guy’s rat. So I took the shot and didn’t kill his rat. You can see the problem here, right? What kind of game makes a promise like that and then breaks it? I had a 90% chance. I was sure to hit. But I didn’t? Seriously? What are the odds?

After the jump, math has no place in games. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Anno_2205_01

I need some iridium so I can put finance calculators on the tidal power stations I had to build for all my new synthcell incubators.

That word soup, which makes complete sense to me, is Anno 2205 in a nutshell. A chain of interconnected sci-fi gobbledygook that you must link together: iridium, finance calculators, tidal power stations, synthcell incubators. Not “you must” in the sense of “the player must blah blah blah” as a tedious description of a game. “You must reach the end of the level in Super Mario Bros” or “You must repair the water filter in Fallout” or “You must gather ten bear hides in World of Warcraft”. But “you must” in the sense that you are driven to do it. You feel a need to do it. It has a pull on you. It is incumbent upon you. You must do it in the same way you must do the bidding of some mysterious master when you’re in his thrall. You must link together an interconnected chain of sci-fi gobbledygook. And you must do it for hours on end. Beware the allure of Ubisoft’s Anno series, more powerful than ever in Anno 2205.

After the jump, you have been warned. Proceed at your own risk. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
DI30_01

For a game I don’t like, I sure do play Disney Infinity a lot. Most of my playtime is a quixotic attempt to find something compelling, effective, or even just plain ol’ fun in this heap of mismatched stuff. There’s certainly a lot in here. Surely some of it must be good. So here’s me tilting at the windmills of bad game design with a bowl on my head and a Han Solo toy on my Disney Infinity base.

After the jump, I don’t really have a bowl on my head. That was an obscure Don Quixote reference. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Prison_Architect_01

Prison Architect is the game I never knew I wanted. Some of the best games are games I never knew I wanted until I played them. And then I thought, “Of course! This is a game I should have been playing all along, but I just didn’t know it.” That’s pretty much what happens within the first hour of booting up Prison Architect. You’re all, like, oh yeah, a game about running a prison is a fantastic idea. It’s a feeling that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t go away.

After the jump, doing serious time. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Run_Fight_or_Die

A friend of mine called Run, Fight, or Die “trashy”. Since I like the game, my initial reaction was to disagree. But, really, he wasn’t wrong. There’s a very B-movie vibe to the game, from the lurid cartoony blood-splattered art style to the heap of sickly grey miniatures to the overbright plastic dice to the sometimes loosey-goosey rules. But is all that such a bad thing for a quick game about zombies? Shouldn’t it be a little trashy? A little grindhouse? And is that necessarily a contradiction to Run, Fight, or Die also being a smart design, focused on pacing, interactivity, and variety?

After the jump, trashy doesn’t have to mean dumb. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Skyhill_review

You have to get down from the top of Skyhill, a 100-story skyscraper. Why 100 stories? Because no self-respecting skyscraper would come in under 100 floors. Skyhill is two floors fewer than the Empire State Building. Ten floors fewer than the Twin Towers. 63 floors fewer than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. 100 is also a nice round number for a rogue-like. You start on the hundredth floor and have to go down through 99 more, each comprised of a simple cutaway view of three rooms with highlighted hotspots where loot might be found by simply clicking on the screen. Let’s get started. Oh, but first, you’ll want to click the fast-forward arrows at the top of the screen. There’s no reason to draw out the walking animations for 99 sets of stairs; the combat is going to draw out the animation plenty anyway.

After the jump, the walk. Continue reading →

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