Game reviews

BD_review

73 hours into Bravely Default and I have more questions than I have answers. Not about the battle system, it’s an elegant affair with plenty of flexibility to let you either prevail or hang yourself. Not about the story, something about crystals and renewing them many, many times. No, my questions all revolve around one thing and one thing only: what job goes best with what job.

After the jump, I’ve been lookin’ real hard and I’m tryin’ to find a job. Continue reading →

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Infamous_Second_Son

A new generation of hardware should usher in a new generation of not just better looking worlds, but more expansive ones. Infamous: Second Son certainly fits the bill in terms of looking pretty. But it’s a disappointing step backwards in terms of building giant, immersive worlds. The fact that this is an open world game makes this shortcoming all the more stinging. To quote the Talking Heads, “Lights on, nobody home.”

After the jump, it’s a small world after all. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
AOW3_review

Age of Wonders III is almost great. This fantasy strategy game has nearly everything a fantasy strategy game needs, including some things other fantasy strategy games don’t have. Clever combos of races and classes that make you want to keep starting new games. A broad tree of skills and spells that makes you want to keep starting new games again. Distinct and detailed armies that make battles a joy. Superb tactical combat that makes battles even more of a joy. A wonderfully competent AI. Let me repeat that one because it bears repeating: A wonderfully competent AI. Invaluable heroes who develop unique roles as a game progresses. A fantastic terrain model that provides beautiful evocative worlds with meaningful gameplay effects. A welcome flexibility in terms of how you can play. It’s nearly a complete package that rivals Warlock, Dominions 4, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, and Eador for the superlative ways you can get your elf on.

But it’s missing one important thing.

After the jump, the ultimate feature. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Music_of_Diablo

When you watch someone play Diablo III, you see visual noise. Flailing around, colors, effects, little numbers flying out of everything. But playing Diablo III — actually being in that visual noise and making it all happen — is a whole other matter. The little blue smudges are my mana generating locust swarms. The slightly bigger blue smudges are my mana generating toads. The red blobs are zombie dogs, and they’re red because they’re healing me with their bites. The green pools are acid I’m vomiting onto the bad guys. The yellow circles are incoming mortar fire and I need to be sure not to stand there. The blue sparky patterns are electricity. Duh. That large yellow blob is my target, but first I have to clear out the non-yellow blobs. My friend’s barbarian is in there somewhere and I know it’s relatively safe to stand behind him. I can see him mainly when he does his spinning whirlwind. Barbarians love their whirlwind. Show me a barbarian not using whirlwind and I’ll slow you a clown without big shoes.

After the jump, a funny thing happened on the way to Malthael. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
City_of_Horror_review

City of Horror isn’t really much of a game. The rules are surprisingly simple for a board with so many pieces, most of them being zombies on little plastic stands. It only lasts four turns, which means you will only ever make four moves. The modular board doesn’t seem to have any sense of balance or tuning. “Eh, just use whichever side you want,” it says about each tile, as if it knows the board itself is one of the least interesting things going on here, despite being gussied up with zombie apocalypse artwork. Useful artwork, by the way. The discard pile is an overturned garbage truck. The pile of antidote tokens goes on an ambulance. The zombie markers pile up behind a barricade until you put them into play.

But none of this is as important as the people sitting around the table. How you play the board doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you play these people.

After the jump, you don’t see them screwing each other over for a victory point. Continue reading →

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thief screenshot

For all its big heist ambitions, Thief is all about the long con. It looks good from the start, with just enough shiny bits and nods to the original series to draw you in. But stick with it until the end and you’ll have nothing to show for your time but dreams gone bust.

After the jump, someone switched briefcases and now all I have is a bunch of cut up telephone books! Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Betrayer_review

There’s something to be said about a game that doesn’t explain itself, and that instead relies on you to figure out the gameplay as part of its mystery. That something is often, “screw this game!”. We’re used to tutorials breaking down for us one step at a time how to move, fire, change weapons, and bunny hop (WASD, left click, the mouse wheel, and space bar, respectively). All the other stuff will fall into place just as obviously.

But one of the early hooks in Betrayer is that it doesn’t explain itself. The mystery of what’s going on and how to play sustains Betrayer early on. This isn’t quite a corridor shooter and it isn’t quite an open world. It isn’t quite an adventure game and it isn’t quite a period piece. It isn’t quite Silent Hill and it isn’t quite FEAR.

But even more than the mystery — or perhaps part of it — there’s one thing that really sustains Betrayer.

After the jump, what’s black and white and dead all over? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Ottoman_sunset

I recently sat down to play a solitaire boardgame about the Ottoman Empire in World War I, which would seem like the most random damn thing ever. I don’t have any context for a game about the Ottoman Empire. They’re the ones that had the scripted bankruptcy in one of the Europa Universalis games, right? An expansive, centuries old empire in the predominantly Arab world that couldn’t sustain itself because, uh, well I guess you had to read various histories to answer that. If I recall correctly, Paradox just hardcoded into the game that the Ottomans would fall apart because, you know, that’s how it really happened. You have to work hard in a Europa Universalis game to build up your own blob. You can’t just take someone else’s blob and run with it with impunity.

So here’s a solitaire boardgame about the last days of the Ottomans and I’m eager to play it precisely because I know nothing about the last days of the Ottomans. I have no reason to care whether I win or lose. I have no context for this. But I’m happy to have the numbers and rules show me the way, to have them create narratives to pique my interest, to cultivate in me some sort of curiosity. Let’s see what happens.

After the jump, a tabletop adventure starring Peter O’Toole, Mel Gibson, and the enormity of the Armenian genocide. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
PvZ_GW

The oddly uncute sunflower, looking like a starlet after the rigors of bad plastic surgery, scuds along the cluttered street of this boxy cartoon suburbia. She unfurls and releases a pee yellow stream of laser death. A rocket sails past her.

“Man, they fuckin’ rocket launcher can’t aim for shit,” someone observes, courtesy of Xbox Live’s $60 a year ingame voice support. He has a point. Normally, the rockets are the perfect counter against sunflowers using their pee yellow laser. Oh, here comes a linebacker zombie, either using his rush ability or lag warping into the waiting mouth of a purple chomper.

“What up, nigga!”

The color commentary is accompanied by someone else’s mic that has been open the entire match. I can hear his TV. Sometimes I hear his dog. Sometimes I hear someone — his mom? — doing dishes or something in the background. Sometimes she yells something at him and he ignores her.

After the jump, did we really need a Plants vs Zombie shooter? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Titanfall_02

Titanfall tries to be a lot of things. It tries to be a hardcore action shooter with a lightning fast engine, ironsight weapons, and a focus on map control. It tries to be attractive to casual players with quick respawns, easy bot kills, and Call of Duty-style progression. It tries to emphasize teamwork, but still remain conducive to lone-wolf play. It tries to dole out XP and unlocks quickly, but it also tries to balance between newbies and high-level players. It’s got a lot of balls in the air and it’s easy to think that at any moment, the whole crazy juggling act will come crashing down.

“Here,” Titanfall says. “Have a giant robot tank with a humongous machine gun.” What was I talking about again?

After the jump, will this shooter mech your day? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Nations_review

The problem with the march of history is that the rules change. What starts as a charming little war with spears and bows soon becomes a whole big kerfluffle about the Enlightenment and suddenly you’re having to manage airplanes on your aircraft carrier. Who needs the headache? The marvel of Nations is how it manages so much consistency across eight simple turns that span hundreds of years. What you’re doing in the Industrial Age is more or less what you were doing in antiquity, yet it still manages to capture the march of history from spears to aircraft carriers. Well, dreadnaughts, at least.

After the jump, through the ages Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Winter_slumberland

Banished is a city builder for people who haven’t played city builders and therefore don’t know what they’re missing. It doesn’t do anything that about a half dozen other city builders haven’t already done better. It’s Tropico stripped of any flavor, or Anno stripped of its elaborate economic interdependences, or Children of the Nile minus any of Tilted Mill’s insight into the genre, or Settlers without the hearty Germanic personality, or Stronghold without the castle. It’s a bare bones proof-of-concept without any larger gameplay framework, like one of those version .097 betas that might come together as a modest little game in about six months to a year.

After the jump, your town Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Loadout_07

“Is that Team Fortress?”

That’s a typical question when someone glances over your shoulder while you’re playing Loadout. It’s a fair question, and not just for the exaggerated cartoon art style of both games. Both games are frenetic team shooters that go all in for humor as a form of style. Both games are chock full of varied detailed weapon choices. Both games are free to play. So it’s a valid question to consider whether and why you’re playing Loadout instead of Team Fortress.

After the jump, which one has more hats? Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Robinson_Crusoe

A common refrain in videogame reviews is that some videogames are released in need of a patch, or maybe more testing, or extra work on stability issues, or polish, or however you express that it wasn’t quite ready for release. Robinson Crusoe is like that. It’s a really lovely little game. That isn’t quite done. It should be an object lesson in both how to make a game and how not to release a game.

After the jump, which game would take you to a deserted island? Continue reading →

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