Game reviews

, | Game reviews
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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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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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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divinity_main_small

I was just looking for a spell scroll, perhaps something that would shoot a fireball or drop a boulder from the sky, when I accidentally click and dragged a barrel of oil that I had in my character’s inventory. (Why was my fighter dragging a barrel of combustible liquid around? Oh, that’s right. I had accidentally put it into his pockets during a routine loot grab and hadn’t bothered to get rid of it.) Plop! My fighter tossed the barrel out into the middle of the undead pack that was trying to eat my party’s brains. Wait a minute! This could work. My fighter bashed the barrel open with a mighty swing of his axe, spilling oil on the ground. My ranger used a scroll of fire immunity on the fighter, then my wizard tossed a flaming bolt at the puddle. Whoosh! The undead went up in a satisfying blaze while my protected warrior laughed.

After the jump, what can you say about a game that’s like one big Easter egg for role-playing game fans? Continue reading →

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Reign_of_Missiles_review

I bought A Reign of Missiles, a solitaire game, a year or so ago based on a tip from a friend. It didn’t make much an impression at the time, but I admired its attempt to model a very specific situation. Namely, the reaction of Israel to rocket attacks launched out of the Gaza Strip in 2012. That’s not an easy thing to game for various reasons, among them that it’s a very current event, a very divisive current event, and a not very gameworthy divisive current event. But A Reign of Missiles enjoys the unique luxury of small projects no one has heard of. I don’t intend that as an insult. Indie flags fly like no other flags.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated over the past month, and now that it has once again re-ignited into an exchange of rockets from Hamas and air strikes from Israel and ground forces poised to raise the stakes even further, I returned to A Reign of Missiles for a closer look (i.e. I actually cut out the counters and played it a few times). What can we learn about the conflict between Israel and Hamas from playing this solitaire tabletop game?

After the jump, are you kidding? Continue reading →

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Caverna_review

Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola is a classic boardgame for many reasons. It’s easy to learn, yet it’s wildly varied. It’s charming enough to play with your family, yet it’s brutal enough to play with your buddies. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with solid pieces, hearty boards, cute cards, and a distinct autumnal palette. Quick, what color is Agricola? You know you said orange.

However, Agricola has worked its way to the back of my closet with the rest of my infrequently played games. And I know precisely why. It suffers from what I call “the reed problem”. Caverna, the latest game from Rosenberg and an obvious follow-up to Agricola, handily sidesteps the reed problem, and furthermore fixes a lot of Agricola’s shortcomings. I fear that my copy of Agricola will never make its way to the front of the closet.

After the jump, a much needed de-reeding. Continue reading →

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Wildstar_review

I don’t feel much pull when I play Wildstar. When I level up and get another point to make one of my skills cool down a quarter second faster or do a half percentage point more damage, Wildstar is far more excited about it than I am. I almost feel bad for it. It proclaims it loudly and with a huge message and with a special announcement button I can press to see what new things I’ve unlocked. It’s usually just the point I can spend, but sometimes it’s cosmetic gloves or maybe a new dungeon somewhere. I usually open the window just to dismiss it.

I don’t feel much pull when I enter a new area and scoop up a bunch of quests, every single one of them like the quests that came before, involving me going somewhere to kill a bunch of creatures or to click lit-up interactive hotspots, just like I did in the last area, just like I’ll do in the next area. I don’t feel much pull as I slot new gear with slightly higher stats, or when I collect ore from an ore node, or when I turn in a quest, or when I skirt around a mob’s activation radius, or when I sell my vendor trash, or when I’m sitting waiting for a tank to join our instance because I’ve already spent an hour on this dungeon and I’m not about to give up just because the guy playing the tank ragequit and left the rest of us hanging.

After the jump, the next tank who joins us sucks, so I end up giving up anyway. Continue reading →

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Dead_Rising_3_review

Part of the point of zombies is their overwhelming numerical superiority. For this reason, Dead Rising 3 is an amazing piece of technology. It crams its streets gloriously full of zombies. The breadth of its shambling mobs has always been a strength of the Dead Rising games. In 2006, the first one harnessed the power of Microsoft’s then next-gen console system to cram a mall full of zombies. It was mind-blowing at the time. So many zombies! There was a sense that this is what George Romero wanted us to experience. This was the zombie apocalypse, in full scale compared to the 1:72 toy scale in other games. It took 25 years after Dawn of the Dead, after years of videogames dribbling zombies at us in coffee clutch sized clusters, but we had finally come home.

During the carefully staged opening of Dead Rising 3, you stand on a carefully staged precipice above a carefully staged ruined highway crammed with zombies. There’s gotta be five hundred of them down there. It’s mind-blowing. And it’s a constant. The opening is carefully staged, but it’s not a trick. This is the number of zombies loitering around the city. I killed over 25,000 of them by the time I’d played through the story, not because I’m particularly efficient at zombie killing, but because there are just so many of them. You can’t swing a sledgehammer without adding a few dozen to your total. In that regard, in terms of embracing zombies as a multitude, Dead Rising 3 is the greatest of the Dead Rising games.

But in every other way, it is the weakest of the Dead Rising games.

After the jump, one less reason to get an Xbox One. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Watch_Dogs_review

The parts of Watch Dogs that are terrible are the parts that make a good game great. Characters, theme, meaningful gameplay connected with meaningful storylines, clever self-aware writers working closely with game designers, internal consistency, vision. These are many of the things that define the Bioshock 2s, the Grand Theft Auto Vs, the Metro Last Lights, the Tomb Raiders. These are the things that can elevate videogaming as a medium.

Watch Dogs has none of these things. It is an elaborate trifle, a AAA time fritterer, a playground with skyhigh production values mired in a bog, a dessert tray without an accompanying meal. It is mostly hollow, almost entirely meaningless, and only accidentally relevant. And I’m having a grand time with it.

After the jump, confused Grand Theft Auto V fanboi. Age: 46. Occupation: game critic. Income: $32,700. Continue reading →

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