Game reviews

, | Game reviews
A_Druid's_Duel_review

With only four playing pieces, how good can a game be? But developer Thoughtshelter, which is basically a fellow in Minneapolis named Kris Szafranski with a keen sense for how to balance intricacy and simplicity, has crafted an shrewd interplay of mobility, defense, and dirty tricks. These four pieces are dramatically different from each other, and since they’re druids who shapeshift into animals, they’re each technically two pieces.

After the jump, two times four is still only eight. So how good can it be? Continue reading →

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Onward_to_Venus_review

The Martin Wallace games I know are intricate affairs, challenging to learn and teach, often with some distinct or even controversial twist. Brass, A Study in Emerald, Mythotopia, A Few Acres of Snow. You wouldn’t whip them out for a casual group. No one would ever mistake them for party games or palate cleansers. They are the main event of a gaming night, or perhaps better a gaming afternoon when everyone is sharp and alert. But Onward to Venus bucks the trend of the Martin Wallace games I know. Here is a joyous, snappy, whimsical, and gloriously colorful science fiction side dish, suitable for a wide range of players and distinct enough to ensure a unique place at the table for a long time to come.

After the jump, remember when the space pirates of Titan attacked Great Britain’s factories on Ganymede? Continue reading →

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Iron_and_Steel_review

Wild West Rampage, one of the two tables in the Iron & Steel Pack for Zen Pinball 2, is Zen’s first non-licensed table in a long time. And it’s about time, too. I enjoy Star Wars and Marvel superheroes as much as the next guy, but Zen has been drinking from those wells for a very long time now. It’s nice to see them going back to reliable tables that stand on their own.

After the jump, not a lightsaber or cape in sight! Continue reading →

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majoras mask 3d moon

As much as I love the Legend of Zelda games, Majora’s Mask never clicked with me. Between the game’s central premise of repeating the same three days over and over again and the ever-present timer counting down my doom, it presented such a change from Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker that I never gave it a chance to make an impression. Thank goodness Nintendo has worked so hard to bring their back catalog of older games to the 3DS, because without the release of Majora’s Mask 3D, I would have missed out on one of the creepiest, most interesting, and most humane of the Zelda games.

After the break, time is a flat circle. Continue reading →

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Sunless_Sea_review

Imagine the biggest single thing on earth. I bet you imagined a mountain. But a sea can swallow a mountain. In fact, it already has; a sea contains many mountains. There is nothing on earth vaster than a sea. The defining characteristic of the sea is its size. We’ve known this from the very first moments we’ve seen seas. Among the earliest folly and greatest ambition of humanity is the act of setting out for the horizon of a sea, the hubris of thinking you can get to the other side of something so vast. This is the legacy of the Phoenicians, the Vikings, the Portuguese, the Spanish. For every Magellan, there were thousands of doomed mad men who we remember in enduring myths like the book of Jonah, The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and Jaws, stories that remind us that seas are hungry and ultimately far worse than malevolent: they are indifferent.

In science fiction, space stands in for what seas once were. We intuitively understand space, not because we can understand space, which is far too vast for us to understand. Instead, we understand space because we know the sea and we remember what it meant before we conquered it with ships and submarines and transcontinental flights.

After the jump, how can we know the sea in videogames? Continue reading →

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Imperial_Stars_II_review

Imperial Stars II is kind of a joke name. The first Imperial Stars isn’t a published game, but a prototype that Chris Taylor made some time ago. No, not that Chris Taylor. The other Chris Taylor. The one who made the first Fallout and, more recently, the superlative solitaire boardgame Nemo’s War. Taylor updated the Imperial Stars prototype enough that it was a whole new game deserving of a whole new title, at which point Victory Point Games published it. Imperial Stars II was born.

After the jump, when spreadsheets collide. Continue reading →

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EH_MOM_review

No one can kill a game like Fantasy Flight in their scramble for another buck. Witness Arkham Horror, an already clunky game bloated to maddening proportions of awkwardness with Fantasy Flight’s successive add-ons. If ever a game was worthy of Lovecraftian adjectives like nonEuclidean or Cyclopean, it’s Arkham Horror with all the add-ons. Trying to play will surely drive you mad.

But unlike many of Fantasy Flight’s bloated franchises, a wonderful thing happened with Arkham Horror. It got a reboot with Eldritch Horror, which shaved off the cruft, refocused the gameplay, and restored to cooperative (or solitaire!) gaming a sense of design. It felt like a company trying to make a good game rather than a company trying to make a buck milking a franchise. It felt like redemption. Ah, Eldritch Horror.

You can’t help but wonder how long it will take Fantasy Flight to destroy it.

After the jump, it begins. Continue reading →

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Grey_Goo_review

Grey Goo is something worse than bad; it is mundane. Not so much a throwback as a bland crust, the heel of a loaf of bread left on a cutting board. It is a competent husk missing any vital organs. You can practically smell the Westwood coming off the feature list, which is hardly surprising given that developer Petroglyph includes a bunch of former Westwooders. Grey Goo has a lot of the trappings of those Westwood classics: simplicity, speed, streamlining, individual soldiers and tanks jostling each other as they swarm around in a big blob. But what you can’t smell is any sense of personality or joy. In their prime, Westwood games reeked of giddy pleasure. Even when the games weren’t good, they were overflowing with an ebullient affection for the act of throwing armies into each other and watching them blow up. Polish? Pah. Watch these bazooka dudes break up this tank rush!

After the jump, we’ll always have Command and Conquer. Continue reading →

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Trails_Fusion

Trials Fusion, like the Trials games before it, is 100% accessible up to a certain point. Using its extremely simple “vocabulary” of only four verbs — lean forward or backward, accelerate or brake — you drive a motorcycle along 2D trails, trying to set the best time with the fewest wipeouts. Along the way, you can bail as many times as you want and you can take as long as you need to reach the end. But eventually, you’ll reach the end and you’ll finish the level and you’ll be free to move along to the next bit. You can try again to improve your performance and maybe beat your friends’ times. That, after all, is a big part of the Trials series. But these games aren’t going to throw any impassible trials or brick walls in your way.

Up to a certain point.

After the jump, reaching the end of the trial. Continue reading →

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DOTZDC_review

The first waves of undead advanced on Farmingdale from the suburbs and the highway. We might have overcommitted to drive them back, because now those approaches are secured with barricades and defenders, but no zombies to hold back. All quiet on the southern front. Not so on the mountain and forest approaches to the north. Hordes of undead are pouring down out of the mountains and in through the forest. Both of the villages in these areas have been overrun, the civilian defenders have been slaughtered, and the refugees have been run down and eaten. Only 20 cards into this game of Dawn of the Zeds — the National Guard will arrive as one of the last 17 cards in a deck of 62 cards — and we’re going to be hard pressed to keep the zombies at bay. This is not an auspicious beginning.

After the jump, things you’ll only see in The Director’s Cut. Continue reading →

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GTAV_PS4_review

Wait, you haven’t played Grand Theft Auto V? Seriously? I obviously haven’t done my job if you missed this review and the top pick on this list of my favorite games of 2013. But if you’ve got Playstation 4 or Xbox One, your timing is impeccable. Rockstar’s latest and greatest is ready for you and there’s no excuse for you to miss out on an absolute masterpiece of modern videogaming. It’ll even be along on the PC shortly. Oh boy, are you in for a treat.

But what if you’ve already played it on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3? Is this newest release relevant to you?

After the jump, when is it worth buying a game a second time? Continue reading →

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pokemon omega ruby

When is a retelling of a story simply a retelling or a reboot or a remake? Does the distinction even matter? If the story is the same but with more modern sensibilities, is it worth experiencing again? These are the things I think about as I tiptoe through the tall grass of the Hoenn region, waiting for my DexNav to tell me what beastie belongs to the tail sticking up out of the foliage. I’m in Hoenn again, just as we were 12 years ago when Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire first launched, but this time with the modern coat of paint afforded by last year’s Pokemon X and Y.

After the jump, shit, I’m still only in Hoenn. Continue reading →

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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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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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