Game reviews

Doom_chainsaw

Tom: If I’m going to keep playing Doom — which I had probably better if we’re going to write this review — it will be almost solely based on the campaign progression. Crazy weapon upgrades? Incentivized indiscriminate slaughter? Navigating and exploring using maps? Challenges throughout? The gratifying chaos of pinata monsters popping out candy? Where have I been doing this lately? Ah, right, the latest Ratchet & Clank. There is no shooter that isn’t better by borrowing from Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, even if they don’t admit or realize they’re doing it. Have the Bethesda folks been citing Ratchet & Clank as an inspiration for Doom? I kind of doubt it.

Nick: This is the Doom I always thought I remembered. Thumping drums, melee kills, double-jumps, and chainsaw ammo pinatas. Nevermind that none of that was actually in Doom. Somehow id Software and Bethesda found a way to add all this stuff and trick me into thinking it was always in the series. There was an assault rifle with a zoom scope in the original Doom, right? However they did it, they brewed up some damn fine shooting here.

After the jump, now with extra punching! Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Twilight_Struggle_review

There’s an old saw about how when you get exactly what you want it might not end up being what you expected. If that ever happens to you, let me know if it’s true. Until then, I’m going to go with the digital release of Twilight Struggle as being the closest thing we’ve got.

I’ve been saying for a while that board wargames have long since outstripped their computer counterparts in design, aesthetics, innovation, and any other positive adjective you can think of, depending on whether or not you ascribe a positive connotation to the word, “detail.” Boardgame ports, on the other hand, have a history of leaving somethingsometimes many things — to be desired. So when a company releases what many people consider the best wargame ever designed, and the PC port actually comes out almost perfect, and it’s about the Cold War of all things, there shouldn’t be much to say, except for “Praise Reagan!” Right? Right??

After the jump, haters gotta hate Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Stellaris_map

The central concept in Stellaris — that a galactic emperor isn’t a god — doesn’t work. It’s a concept Paradox has explored to great effect, especially with Crusader Kings and Victoria (minus the galactic part, of course). Some things are outside the control of a ruler. He does not get to tell each point of population which tile to harvest. He does not get to gobble up territory indiscriminately. He does not get to move sliders willy-nilly. History, Paradox’s favorite subject, is not a strategy game. It is an exercise in limitations. It is about people trying to hold power against the demands of social unrest, religious freedom, petty rivalries, Popes, capitalists, natives making a fuss about self-determination, evolving political philosophies, progress, entropy. To their immense credit, Paradox’s strategy games are the same thing. They are among my favorite historical essays.

After the jump, what does this have to do with sci-fi? Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Uncharted_1_review

There’s no reason to expect much from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The developer, Naughty Dog, is commercially successful but creatively middling (their Jak titles have ranged from pretty decent to pretty bad). The game seems to be an unabashed rip-off of Tomb Raider, with the difference being that the main character is a dude, which out-Tomb-Raiders Tomb Raider for unabashedly ripping off Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prospects are not good.

After the jump, then you actually play Uncharted Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Uncharted_2_review

Late in Uncharted 2, all the gunplay and Tomb Raidering and calculated snappy banter about Chloe’s ass suddenly stop. The hero strolls through a serene village. Along the way, he can pet the livestock, play with children, and watch the women go about their work. They don’t speak English and he doesn’t speak their language. There is no direct communication, and the game knows better than to provide subtitles. It’s pure character. A village, its people, and this newcomer, all bemused at each other. It’s an example of how expressive Uncharted can be when it trusts its characters.

After the jump, the rest of Uncharted 2 Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Uncharted_3_review

As a shooter, Uncharted 3 is solid, if not mostly the same as its ever been. I can do without the fisticuff QTEs, which play like a bargain bin version of the fighting from Batman: Arkham City. It’s especially silly how you have to keep fighting the same big guy over and over, as if Uncharted 3 needs to keep saying, “Hey, remember how cool this bit was in Raider of the Lost Ark?” Uncharted 3 says that a lot. But the gunplay is good, and it provides a solid foundation for the mostly typical multiplayer support. You get lots of options for leveling up, customizing your characters, and playing various types of cooperative and competitive games. There’s even a competitive/cooperative mode in which two teams of two players take turns playing the heroes and playing special thugs amid all the AI thugs.

After the jump, so what’s the bad news? Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Into_the_Stars_review

Do you feel that FTL goes by too quickly? Do you wish it was a more drawn-out experience with minigames, twitch-based JRPG combat, full-blown 3D graphics in wide-open space with a z-axis and no easy way to look around? Do you long for crewmembers who are entries on a spreadsheet? Do you crave a DIY economy at the onset of every game? Do you harbor a secret desire that a city builder would stowaway in the cargo hold and occasionally peek out to badger you? Do you want your progress to vanish without a trace after every game?

If so, Into the Stars is the game for you!

After the jump, into the airlock Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Offworld_Trading_Company_review

M.U.L.E. was Dani Bunten’s ingenious commodities-driven deathmatch bidding arena. I didn’t play it when it came out in 1983, because it wasn’t on the Apple II. I didn’t even know what it was back then. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally tried it with some friends. In the same room, of course. That’s how all games worked back then. I figured we’d try it, although I thought we were in for the strategy game equivalent of Pong. No one wants to play Pong ever again, just like no one wants to gin his own cotton, read Beowulf on a long flight, or hang up a poster of the Bayeux Tapestry in his living room. Pong is a musty relic with no modern relevance beyond its role in videogame history. That’s what I figured was going on with M.U.L.E.

But it turned out M.U.L.E. was (and still is) an amazing game. Sure, it’s ugly. Good graphics hadn’t been invented back in 1983. But Bunten managed a simple — not simplistic! — player-driven cutthroat economy based on real estate, commodities, and auctions. God, I’m making it sound boring, I know. But it’s really not. It’s really, really not. M.U.L.E. is freakishly before-its-time game design, as if someone had made the movie Casablanca at the moment the daguerreotype had been invented. The only reason you’re not playing M.U.L.E. today, in some form or another, is because the videogame industry — really, it was more of a scene at that point — was about to explode based on Doom’s appeal to adolescent male power fantasies learned from action movies. It would take a while before the rest of the world discovered what we were up to, and by that time, Sid Meier and Will Wright had carved out their own niche where Dani Bunten’s work would have been.

But M.U.L.E. is a nearly unrivaled work of game design genius that will hold up if you gather four friends around a single screen. Sure, some of it is dated. You play it with joysticks, for Pete’s sake. We don’t even have those anymore! But the design is timeless.

After the jump, if it kicks like a M.U.L.E… Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
The_Next_World_review

I don’t mind that The Next World bills itself as a strategy visual novel, but has precious little strategy, or even that it makes what little strategy it has surprisingly opaque. I don’t mind that it uses the sort of simple artwork you’d find in an indie comic book or a JRPG with a meager budget. Frankly, I don’t even mind that the writing is mediocre, on par with your garden-variety young adult fiction. “Nice wheels,” exclaims one of the survivors when she sees a salvaged scout rover roll up. Just that morning, she lived through a crash that killed hundreds of her spaceship’s crew and stranded the survivors on a barren planet without a breathable atmosphere with nothing but the air in their EVA suits. Odds are she’ll be dead before the night is over. So, nice wheels. Not “sweet ride”, or “bitchin’ buggy”, or “let’s live our lives a quarter mile at a time”? Nice wheels. Like I said, no worse than your usual young adult fiction or Mass Effect game. You can romance her later if you want. Just pick the “flirt” option.

I don’t mind these things because The Next World tells a story that makes me wonder what’s going to happen next. It opens with the desperate survivors of a crash milling about on the sand of a strange land, struggling with who to put in charge, how to survive, what this place is, and how they got there. To The Next World’s credit, the answers aren’t Jack, by finding a bunker, limbo, and something something Dharma Initiative something EMP blast something. For all its similarities to a certain TV show, this story has a sense of focus, and a plot that methodically unfolds, one beat at a time, with a clear sense of direction. These are no randomly spun out episodes. This isn’t an emergent narrative. This is a game that’s far too brittle for the King of Dragon Pass comparisons I’ve seen. What happens next is something the writers have wanted to tell me all along. This is, after all, a visual novel.

After the jump, then why haven’t I found out what happens next? Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Booty_review

Someone has gotten up to make a phone call real quick. Someone else is looking up a rule. Do you need to roll equal to or greater than? He could have sworn it was on this page, but he’s not seeing it. The two guys across the table are talking about the Star Wars movie again. I can’t believe they don’t know what a luggabeast is called, so I get into the conversation. When the guy making the phone call comes back to take his turn, he just sits there and stares at his cards. Why isn’t he taking his turn? I eventually realize that they’re looking at me expectantly.

“Oh, is it my turn?”

A cardinal sin in a boardgame is wasting my time. A $200 game that isn’t very good is one thing. But a game that recreates what I do in line at the supermarket, in my dentist’s office, and when the 405 is jammed up? Indefensible. Games should not be about waiting. Ideally, a game will always keep everyone involved. One of my favorite solutions to the “oh is it my turn?” problem is Booty.

After the jump, Booty call, y’all Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
TotH1

Everybody gets old — the question is, how do you realize it? I realized I was old when I stopped being surprised by things that would have shocked me in my twenties. Russia ruled by a madman? No longer shocking. US soon to be ruled by a madman? No longer shocking. Game touted as Computer Squad Leader ends up being disappointing? Well…

After the jump, okay, I can still be surprised by some things. Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Grim_Dawn_review

When making an action RPG, the most important task — important above all else! — is to get the moment-to-moment hack-and-slash right. It has to be gratifyingly chaotic, splashy but not too confusing. The camera can’t be zoomed out so far that you can’t appreciate your character and her gear, but neither can it be zoomed in so far that you can’t see monsters coming. It’s a difficult balancing act. No one does it better than Blizzard, which is hardly surprising given how much practice they’ve had.

If you can’t get this stuff right, there’s no reason to continue development. Just throw in the towel and make some free-to-play thing for the Apple Store about waiting for crops to grow. But if you get that stuff right, if you tune and tweak and cajole and code and flex videocards and wring every ounce of sweat from your animators and carefully calculate the line between too much and too little — if you do all that — then you’re half way there. Next comes the really hard part.

After the jump, the Iron way Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Gremlins_Inc_review

That will be your first reaction to Gremlins Inc, a videogame boardgame that’s looks awfully, well, busy. Busy would be the kind way to put it. Mess is more likely what you’ll think. It’s what I thought. What a chaotic tangle of tiny pictures and arrows! Is that some sort of artwork lurking behind it all? What is that back there? A gremlin warren? Is there a way to see text labels for all these icons? Or even just a legend?

After the jump, wet and fed after midnight? Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
Mystery_boardgame_review_featured

Chapter One: The Mysterious Hallway

The Gashlycrumb Tinies, or After the Outing by Edward Gorey was published in 1963. Neville was born shortly thereafter. He then spent some time growing. At some point in the process, before it had advanced significantly, he happened upon a poster of The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It was divided into 26 panels. Each panel was a letter of the alphabet and each letter was a child and each child was in the process of his or her demise. The poster was framed in someone’s hallway. He couldn’t recall whose. He couldn’t even recall how old he was. But he was old enough to be fascinated and confused by the terrible fates of these children, laid out in a grid of pen-and-ink snapshots. Why was Yorick’s head knocked in? Did someone find Fanny’s dessicated body in the swamp? What did it look like? So Una fell down the drain, but then what? Was she drowned? Suffocated? Simply lost? How can someone be devoured by mice? Rats, sure. But mice? What does ennui mean?

Neville then spent some more time growing. These questions receded into the back of his mind, mostly forgotten because whoever’s hallway that was, it wasn’t someplace he frequented.

After the jump, Chapter Two: The Fortuitous Discovery Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+
, | Game reviews
PvZ_Garden_Warfare_2_review

The (unfair) narrative about Star Wars: Battlefront is that it’s a multiplayer-only shooter, like the Battlefield series by the same developer. Which is news to me. I’ve played plenty of single-player and plenty of local splitscreen with a friend. One of the hooks for me is that when I beat a map on the hard difficulty setting, I’m no longer limited to the designated loadouts. Now I can bring in whatever equipment I want to help me beat it on expert. Here I come with my choice of thermal detonators, jump packs, personal shields, and bowcasters. It’s a great incentive to play the higher difficulty levels and a perfectly cromulent single-player and splitscreen pursuit.

Wait. Hold on just a minute. I’ve beaten Hoth on hard. But before I can go charging back in with thermal detonators, jump packs, personal shields, and bowcasters, it turns out I have to unlock them first by leveling up. The thermal detonator is easy. I unlocked that so long ago maybe I didn’t even have to unlock it. But the bowcaster? I can’t use that until I’m level 32. And that will never — I repeat, never — happen until I’ve spent many hours playing online against random strangers.

Okay, maybe it’s multiplayer only, after all.

After the jump, hell and shooters are other people. Continue reading →

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+