Game reviews

, | Game reviews
BE_04

The beginning of Beyond Earth is all very exciting. I mean the very beginning before the beginning. Before the game has even started. Before I’ve even landed on the planet. I choose my faction first. I’ll be the Franco-Iberians, who earn free technologies every so often as their culture develops. For colonists, I naturally choose artists, who boost culture. Inside the spaceship with the colonists, I’ll carry the machinery that will give me a free worker for a headstart developing the landing area near my starting colony. As for the type of spacecraft, that’s a tough decision. I eventually go with a continental surveyor that shows me all the coastlines on the map. I find a certain comfort in knowing the exact shape of my new world. It’s what the artists would want.

In any other Civilization — in case it’s not clear from the full title of Civilization: Beyond Earth, this is absolutely a Civilization game, and more specifically a Civilization V game — I would have just chosen a faction. France. Rome. Polynesia. But Beyond Earth lets me build my ark/spaceship step-by-step. It gives me a multistep sense of agency in how the early stages will play out. It keeps me busy making choices before I’m even playing. That’s ultimately what Beyond Earth is all about. Making choices. Constant, unrelenting, obsequious, nagging choices that will come together to create something massive, slow, and tedious.

After the jump, a series of interesting decisions. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Driveclub_01

I’d really rather not be here, writing this review right now. I’d just as soon wait until Driveclub, a fantastic variation on the usual driving games, achieves the state it deserves to be in, a state I have every reasonable expectation it will eventually reach, a state I’ve enjoyed firsthand before the launch. But after a certain amount of time, a launch issue is no longer just a launch issue. For Driveclub, nearly two weeks after its release, that time has come.

After the jump, I come not to praise Driveclub. Continue reading →

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Alien_Isolation_review

It’s a bad sign that the weakest parts of Alien: Isolation are the parts with the alien. You’d think getting that right would be a priority. Instead, the best parts of the game involve running around space corridors and turning space handles and flipping space switches and pressing space buttons and getting through space doors and turning on space generators. But then an alien comes along and forces you to play something else entirely.

After the jump, why couldn’t Alien: Isolation be a little more isolated? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Forza_Horizon_2_review

Like all Forza games, Forza Horizon 2 has a dynamically color-coded line that tells you where to drive and when to brake. If I turn the line off, I’m at a major disadvantage to everyone else playing Horizon 2, some of whom I’m asked to compete against after every race. “Would you like to race against a rival?” the game asks me after I’ve finished a race, suggesting a specific player. It’s challenging me to beat a time on the track I just raced, but without any information about what tools were used by the guy who set that time. How many times did he rewind?, for instance. Which driving assists was he using?

After the jump, red line stop, green line go, yellow line go very fast Continue reading →

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Destiny_review

I don’t get Destiny. Which is okay, since I don’t think Bungie gets it either, and they’re the folks who made it. It resembles a lot of other games that do what Destiny is trying to do better than Destiny. Sometimes I’m embarrassed for Destiny. It’s like your friend who decides he’s going to wear a cowboy hat because he saw someone famous wear a cowboy hat. “Dude,” you want to tell your friend, but probably don’t, “you can’t just wear a cowboy hat.”

Destiny, you can’t just have meaningless loot drops. You can’t just use the same level over and over and over again. You can’t just make up the endgame as you go. You can’t just stick Peter Dinklage in a sound booth and press record. You can’t just put all your lore on the website. You can’t just dole everything out between long loading screens of a dopey spaceship that exists for no reason other than to adorn the loading screens. You can’t just pretend a gamepad should drive a mouse cursor. You can’t just expect players to do their own matchmaking. You can’t just rip off Borderlands and World of Warcraft without better understanding what makes those games work. You can’t just figure your gunplay is enough to elevate this above Firefall or Defiance.

After the jump, I might be wrong about that last one. Continue reading →

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AOW_GR_review

Halflings? Halflings? Really? The race that no one wants to be because you might as well be an elf for the charisma bonus? The most human of non-human races, which is quite an accomplishment next to half-elves? Those homebodies who so rarely go on adventures that when one of them finally does, you can barely get three whole movies out of the tale? That’s what developer Triumph Studios is going to offer as the cornerstone of Golden Realms, the DLC for their arguably incomplete fantasy strategy opus, Age of Wonders III? Halflings?

After the jump, it’s not the size of the race that counts. Continue reading →

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DOW_gentlemen_zombie_killers

In Sarah Northway’s zombie apocalypse strategy game, Rebuild, you manage a colony of survivors through hunger, bandits, zombies, despair, and strife. On the way to the end of the game, you might uncover story beats. Many of these give you choices with important gameplay implications.

One of the most memorable was the option to abandon the colony. To basically betray the characters you were controlling, the very game you were playing, in an attempt to secure a solitary victory. You had to lie about going on foraging missions when you were instead looking for a rumored cabin the woods. Then you had to secretly hoard food for yourself. Sometimes you even had to kill characters who figured out what you were doing. If you pulled it off, the colony fell to the zombies but you, the main character, lived happily ever after. You might have even gotten a high score.

After the jump, why can’t they make a boardgame like that? Continue reading →

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PA_WWC

Remember what it used to be like in the days of the big publishers who forced developers to release games before they were ready? They did this because they didn’t care about games, about fans, about the industry as a whole, about me, about you. They only cared about profits. They took breaks from counting their money to hold meetings in conference rooms where they showed charts that explained how much money they would make if a game came out on a certain date, usually just before a fiscal quarter ended or in time for the holiday shopping seasons. The people in the meetings didn’t actually play games because they were too busy counting money, plus they were above such frivolity. They might as well have been selling shoes or plumbing fixtures or alt rock albums they didn’t even listen to. And then crowdfunding came along and game developers who loved videogames got to do what was best for the games, for the fans, for the industry as a whole, for me, for you. And we all lived happily ever after.

After the jump, I ruin the fairy tale. Continue reading →

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80_Days_review

You can always rediscover an old path and wander over it, but the best you can do then is to say ‘Ah, yes, I know this turning!’ — or remind yourself that, while you remember that unforgettable valley, the valley no longer remembers you.

— aviator Beryl Markham, from her memoir, West with the Night

After the jump, some unforgettable valleys I remember. Continue reading →

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Counterspy_review

I’ve spent the better part of an hour trying to come up with a spy movie analogy to Counterspy’s style over substance but so far I have nothing. This is why Tom should write this review. Best I could come up with was Mission Impossible 2 where Coppola’s tense moodiness was traded in for John Woo’s stylish hyperviolence. But then I remember Tom Cruise climbing that mountain with nothing but chalk and grit and the fact that if it wasn’t for that movie, Dougray Scott would have been cast as Wolverine thereby plunging us into a dystopian future worse than anything Days of Future Past could come up with.

See, Tom really should write this. So yeah, Counterspy. It’s flashy, but then what?

After the jump, the spy who bugged me… Continue reading →

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D3_PS4_review_1

When I used to regularly play videogames on a LAN, Diablo and Diablo II were cornerstones of our LAN gaming. I’d have a single copy spawned across as many as six computers. We’d each have characters we were leveling, and I often had to shuffle character files around to different computers.

“I’m the level 30 amazon who is on that computer that he’s using, so I need her over here on this computer.”

“Okay, what was the character name and I’ll find the file.”

“Uh, I don’t know.”

It was part of the charm of gathering locally to play videogames, along with maintaining six computers. It was another era. But the Diablo was a big part of what made it worthwhile. These days, we play boardgames when we gather locally. These days, you have to use the adverb “locally” when you talk about physically gathering. These days, get off my lawn.

After the jump, wait, come back! I was about to talk about Diablo III on the PS4! Continue reading →

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Thunder_Alley_review_1

I can’t say I don’t like NASCAR racing because, frankly, I don’t care enough about it one way or the other. I mean, rednecks, cars turning left, the South, har har, and all that. But I honestly have no idea what the deal is. I wouldn’t know Dale Earnhardt from Mario Andretti. I couldn’t care less about NASCAR. So why am I playing a NASCAR boardgame?

After the jump, days of Thunder Alley. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
stoplight

My truck is idling at a stoplight. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto V or Watch Dogs, so I can’t just nose my way between lanes and drive through the red light. In Euro Truck Simulator 2, obeying the rules is part of the gameplay. The fine I’d incur for running a red light isn’t worth the time I’d save. This game is an exercise in structure and restraint. I realize that’s not why a lot of people play games — they have enough structure and restraint in their actual lives — but not all games are power fantasies for your id. So here I am, waiting for the light to change and not minding one whit.

After the jump, Woody Allen would be jealous. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
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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