Game reviews

, | Game reviews
VV_4

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who recognized the brilliance of Sacred 2 and those who don’t like to think when they’re playing an action RPG. In Sacred 2’s German variation on the Diablo formula, you assembled intricate character builds. You might have had to actually read a manual and take notes to know what you were doing (keep in mind this was back in 2008). Then your Teutonic clockwork assemblage roamed around an open world, maybe following the main quest marker but maybe not. It didn’t really matter. All that mattered was leveling up. Sacred 2 was an action RPG for gearheads. Later, Path of Exile from New Zealand would come along to re-fill the niche with its Antipodean clockwork.

Victor Vran, another German take on the Diablo formula, is actually Bulgarian, but close enough. There’s enough wide-ranging intricacy in Victor Vran to warm the clockwork cockles of a Sacred 2 fan’s heart. But Victor Vran lives very comfortably in a post-Diablo III world. Whereas Sacred 2 was fussy and elaborate, Victor Vran is accessible and splashy, brimming with personality and broad variety. “Dumbed down” you might say if you’re impatient with people who don’t like to think when they’re playing an action RPG. “Also for them” if you aren’t.

After the jump, a cerebral action RPG for dummies. Continue reading →

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Guild_of_Dungeoneering_review

I love the idea of Guild of Dungeoneering. As developer Gambrinous explains on their site, it’s an exploration game where “you lay out the dungeon but can’t control the hero”. A turn-based rogue-like in the same vein as free will RTS Majesty? Someone out there has my number. Yes, please!

And from the moment I booted it up, I’ve been chronically infected with the earworm soundtrack (“This is the guild of Dungeoneering…something something never fearing!”) and won over by the precious pencil-on-graph-paper aesthetic. The clever gameplay got its hook into me quickly enough. Dungeon spelunking as deck-building, with sleek card-based battles and longer term unlockables. Imagine Card Hunter minus the grinding and drawn-out tactical battles, but cuter and with that soundtrack I can’t stop humming. Come for the presentation, stay for the slick gameplay.

So, after the jump, what could go wrong? Continue reading →

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Marco_Polo_review_1

From the moment I started playing Voyages of Marco Polo, I knew I would like it. And the more I play — I’ve played at least 20 games in the short period of time it’s been out — the more it climbs its way into my favorite games of all time. Today, it may very well be among the top five. It does about a dozen things I look for in a boardgame and it does them all spectacularly well. How do I love thee, Voyages of Marco Polo? Let me count the ways.

After the jump, look out, China! Here I come! Continue reading →

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Splendor_review

I first heard about Splendor in connection to its Spiel des Jahres nomination last year. “I got this new game called Splendor,” my friend told me, displaying a box that promised adventures in jewelry. “It’s up for the Spiel des Jahres!”

So we played it exactly once and were slightly dismayed to discover a little math puzzle. We shouldn’t have been surprised, since “spiel des jahres” is German or Portuguese or something for “boardgame themes are pointless exercises in appeasing people with no imagination, but we’ll barely attempt them to disguise the fact that we’re just making math puzzles”. I am paraphrasing, since I don’t actually know German or Portuguese. The shorter translation is “Eurogame”. Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and Ticket to Ride — all games I’ve owned, played, and no longer own — have all won top Spiel des Jahres honors.

After the jump, so why am I playing an iPad port of Splendor? Continue reading →

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Arkham_Knight_review_1

As a videogame power fantasy, Arkham Knight is a heady brew. It makes me feel powerful, it makes me feel smart, and it adoringly invokes a pop culture icon and multi-billion dollar franchise that even the stuffiest of non-comic book readers can groove to. We live in a post-Dark Knight world where the Nolan brothers — who, for all I know, are drawing from some Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman thing I’ve never read — have represented the Batman/Joker dynamic as a dialectic straight out of Greek tragedy. Never mind this silly “have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight” nonsense, plucked from a vat of colorful acid. This is Apollo and Dionysus. It is order and entropy, superego and id, lawful neutral and chaotic neutral. Forget mere good and evil. That stuff is easy. This is what D&D nerds in junior high school parsed when it took everyone else until they were gathered together in college dorms. Take it where you can get it. Gary Gygax, Jim Morrison, Nietzsche, Bob Kane.

After the jump, a videogame that goes beyond good and evil. Continue reading →

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Homeland

“Tom’s the terrorist,” Tony declares loudly, slapping the table and leaning back in his chair as if he’s just issued a legally binding decree and there’s nothing more to be said. “He’s totally the fucking terrorist,” he says anyway.

“Why would you say that? I’m suggesting something that’s perfectly reasonable because you can’t possibly know the intel cards that have been played. Maybe you’re the terrorist.”

I mean, he’s right. I am the terrorist. But there’s no way he could know that, is there?

After the jump, a royal playboy and an affluent politico can’t get me out of this mess. Continue reading →

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witcher3_1_0

This image is the essence of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. It’s all about giving sad people news they really didn’t want to hear. CD Projekt RED’s open-world RPG includes monster hunting, murder investigations, gang warfare, sailing, a collectible card game tournament, horse racing, and a search for a missing daughter, but this is what’s going to stick with you. The sometimes heartbreaking, almost always less-than-positive news you give people and the moments right afterwards. Someone has to do it, and it’s fallen on your shoulders to be the bearer of dark tidings.

After the jump, you’ll have to make the best of a bad situation. Continue reading →

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Massive_Chalice_03

I suspect a common complaint about Massive Chalice is that your heroes die too quickly, and you therefore can’t get attached to them in the same way you get attached to your heroes in X-com, XCOM, the XCOM add-on, and other such games. It’s a complaint I shared when I first started playing Massive Chalice. But as I played, I realized it’s the single most important element of this subversive take on the X-com formula.

After the jump, mortality rates. Continue reading →

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Swords_and_Soldiers_II_2

Sadly, I agree that conventional real time strategy games are dead, if by dead you mean there aren’t many of them being made anymore. But how dead can they be? I still play them. Company of Heroes, Rise of Nations, Age of Empires III, Sins of a Solar Empire, and even the venerable Age of Mythology (just last night I beat my buddy with a cheesy Promethean/Murmillo rush) hold up beautifully. Splendidly. Immaculately. Did we appreciate how great they were when they came out? I sure do now. How can conventional real time strategy games be dead when these games are still so good and I’m still playing them?

But there are precious few latter day equivalents to those games. Instead, we have a deluge of me-too MOBAs. These are RTSs for people who are so bad at multitasking they can only play one character at a time. They furthermore need a map that shows them where to go with wide obvious lanes leading to the enemy base. But it doesn’t have to be that way! An RTS doesn’t require a commitment to multitasking, or a map on which you can get lost. Because one of the great RTSs, which only takes five minutes to play and is accessible to even the most hapless MOBA player, just got a sequel.

After the jump, Swords & Soldiers, too! Continue reading →

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Carmageddon_Reincarnation_review

The banner ads for Carmageddon: Reincarnation read “Max is back!”. It’s awfully magnanimous of developer Stainless Games to buy ad space to congratulate George Miller for the amazing spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh, wait. The dude in Carmageddon is named Max, isn’t he? Max Damage, I see now from the character select screen. I always chose the chick, so can you blame me for getting confused? Besides, Fury Road is a stunning example of a moribund franchise kicked back into high gear with fully upgraded modern sensibilities. Too bad the same can’t be said for the totally adequate Carmageddon: Reincarnation.

After the jump, what a day. Continue reading →

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Interplanetary_review

The bright spot in the disappointing RTS Planetary Annihilation was planets reaching out into the solar system and attacking each other. Actual interplanetary warfare, slinging nuclear missiles through space, firing massive Deathstar lasers, and turning moons into sledgehammers. The solar system was your battleground. But to get to this good stuff, you had to wade through a lot of middling RTSing. So imagine my delight to discover Interplanetary, a turn-based game that dispenses entirely with the middling RTSing.

After the jump, may the best planet win. Continue reading →

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Quartermaster_General_review

No matter how many ways we game World War II and watch it in movies and dissect its possible outcomes, the central fact of World War II is that it actually happened. The fall of France, appeasement, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, Tom Hanks landing on Normandy, Johnson stealing doilies, Brad Pitt in a crippled tank fending off an SS division, BJ Blascowicz traveling through time to fix the timestream, or whatever happened in the last Wolfenstein game. I didn’t play it. Who has time to play a Wolfenstein game when you’re replaying Grand Theft Auto V on a third platform?

World War II isn’t just the most significant endeavor in all of human history, it’s also one of our favorite playgrounds. One follows from the other. Because it’s the most significant endeavor in all of human history, it’s therefore a popular sandbox. Boys love to move chits on a board or hear the pinging pin in a depleted M1 Garand magazine or thrill to the four roaring Wright engines on a B-17 or roll for research in Axis and Allies. And one of the best World War II playgrounds is the utterly brilliant, sexily sleek, and slightly subversive boardgame Quartermaster General.

After the jump, WWII for dummies, geniuses, and everyone in between. Continue reading →

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Ironcast_review

I’m at the farmer’s market on a date with Kyanna, a busty single mother with creepily childlike features. She’s most interested in talent and least interested in romance. That means I want to focus on matching blue gems instead of orange gems. And because I’ve put a point of skill into my sexuality and flirtation, I get extra affection when I match red gems and green gems. I have a teddy bear I can give her to turn all the purple gems into pink gems, which build passion that makes my matches more efficient. But until I match enough green gems, I won’t have the sentiment to use the teddy bear.

After the jump, what does this have to do with Ironcast’s steampunk mechs? Continue reading →

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