The greatest arms race of all time has nothing to do with superpowers and nuclear weapons, or even anything man-made. It is instead a natural process that has played out around the world over literally millions of years. Sometimes with actual arms. Literal arms. You know, the things that stick out of your shoulders that were once flippers. Continue reading →
When do you give yourself permission to look up a hint while playing an adventure game? You can’t do it each time a difficult puzzle gets in your way, because you’ll deprive yourself of the endorphin rush when you come back the next morning and solve that doozy on your own. Puzzles are weird that way. Even when you put them down, something in your brain keeps doing the work.
But you also can’t never look up a hint, unless the game just “clicks” with you, like Myst did for me in college, when I finished it over the course of a single day, hint-free. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that, and yes, I am bragging about it.
Here’s my personal hints policy: Continue reading →
Since the dawn of time, pinball machines have been all about the high scores. When you play, you’re trying to get a higher score than you’ve ever gotten. Otherwise, your time is wasted. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed the laid back zen of that ball doing its thing. Because now you have nothing to show for your efforts but a pocket a few quarters lighter. Or, in the case of virtual pinball, less time to spend leveling up a Diablo III character.
The Pinball FX developers at Zen Studios are about to ruin all that. Continue reading →
There is a place in my neighborhood that serves a killer salad: bleu cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, and red wine vinaigrette. That’s it. Each flavor complements the other, in just the right proportion. The greens are excellent. It is primarily a cocktail bar, but the staff clearly understands taste. There is nothing in any of their dishes or drinks that isn’t there for a very good reason: because it makes it better.
There is another place around here that serves salads they call “famous.” They’re basically a huge stack of those everything nachos you can get at upscale sports bars but without the nacho chips. They have a million ingredients, which might lead to clashing flavors except the ingredients are all so bland you don’t notice. They are basically a way for you to stuff your face with a salad because that’s what you like to do.
Point salad games can be one of these two things. Guess which one Great Western Trail is. Continue reading →
Given that there are so many good boardgame ports available, it’s a pretty lousy time to sell a lousy boardgame port. It doesn’t help when the boardgame being ported is nothing to write home about. It certainly doesn’t help when it wants you to buy pointlessly expensive maps, not to mention actual gameplay mechanics. This sure is demanding for such an inconsequential game. It barely even qualifies as beer n’ pretzels. How about suds n’ crumbs?
Well designed games shine whether you are playing them or just watching. The consistency of theme, presentation, and mechanics that make playing a good game such a joy translates — in the best games — into an eloquent dance that you can appreciate as an observer. If you’re really familiar with the game, you can pick up patterns, see the swings, watch the crescendos and decrescendos, almost like listening to a symphony. A good design realizes that every piece of the game needs to fit together, like strings and brass and woodwinds, but each piece needs to bring something different, like strings and brass and woodwinds. It’s hard to design something that fits its pieces together so distinctly and neatly, which is why so many games just add as many pieces as they can, hoping some of them work together. Dice and cards and plastic pieces and a tableau and victory points here and there and oh look! — a mancala. Good luck getting the conductor to harmonize that.
Consider a wilderness, lightly populated by natives. They have pagan sites dedicated to local nature gods. They worship a river or mountain or clouds or nighttime or something. Some sort of quaint animism. Now here come European explorers from across the sea. They set up small towns. The towns coalesce into entrenched cities. Culture spreads. The holy sites are abandoned and the natives are assimilated. The wilderness is now tamed. Settled. European. Probably Christian.
When writing about Agents of Mayhem, it’s tempting to call out the obvious similarities and influences. The amped up cartoon charm of Overwatch. The infinitely customizable character classes of Diablo III. The gratifying doo-dad hunting of Crackdown. The intricate combat and character interaction of League of Legends nee Defense of the Ancients. The cheery superhero team spirit of The Avengers. The breezy vulgarity of Archer. The purple hues of Saints Row.
But none of that tells the whole story. None of that gets at why Agents of Mayhem stands mightily on its own. This is not just an open-world Overwatch. This is not just Saints Row with superheroes. This is a masterpiece that’s been waiting for 30 years to bust out from the collection of talent at Volition. For a number of reasons, it demands a place among the best of the best. Twelve reasons, to be precise. Continue reading →
If Rapture: World Conquest feels like a port of a mobile game, that’s because it is a port of a mobile game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But this facile little iteration on the usual “grow your armies and throw them up against the other growing armies” genre is about what you’d expect. It’s got swipe-n’-drag written all over the interface and the big fat buttons around the margins are built for tapping. You can see the micropayment hooks dangling from the edges of the design. You can’t turn off the cheap classical music soundtrack, probably because there’s no meaningful sound underneath it. But you want to know the game’s biggest crime? Continue reading →
If Painkiller was a 3D Realms game made with Unity trying to be a rogue-like with a bright Serious Sam aesthetic, it would be Immortal Redneck. Surprisingly, it would also be really good. Definitely better than you’d expect from something with the word “redneck” in the title. Continue reading →
After the obligatory “press this button to do this, dummy” tutorial, Hover drops you into a bright city, stacked absurdly vertical and mildly bustling with activity. Have at it. No agenda. Just get out there. Feel free to tick off the list of activities in the corner of the screen. Or not. Your choice. Of course a game about anarchists skaterpunking sans skates through a plasticky neon dystopia would be this free form. You can run right up to the top or indulge your completionist neurosis in the starting area, which is far more cheerful than you’d expect for a place called “Garbage Village”. Everything in Hover is the opposite of grim. Continue reading →
Sometimes you just want to blow spaceships up. I mean, sure, it’s fun to shuffle colonists between mines and farms, do a little diplomacy with a picture of an alien, pore over a tech tree’s fork in the road between neutronium beams or quantum fusion, make the adjustments to boost a -2Cr income to a +4Cr income, and decide which planet is going to build the Interstellar Moon Mall wonder of the universe. But when it’s all over, what you remember are the attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and the c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. Continue reading →
I’m not convinced Domina is an actual game. The AI basically plays it for me. I’m sitting in the shade watching. I click the occasional decision, and it might not even be a decision of much consequence. But that’s fine. I shouldn’t have to mess with meaningful decisions. I’m just some rich ancient Roman gladiator manager living a life of luxury and maybe corruption. Corruption seems to take effort, but I guess it can also happen when I get a multiple choice question. Do I a) accept the bribe or b) reject the bribe? I don’t really need 50 ducats or whatever they are, so I just clicked one of the options to get the screen out of the way. “Who can be bothered?” is the theme of the game. I’m guessing “domina” is Latin for “Who can be bothered?” Continue reading →
You know that part in a heist movie where the heisters are poring over a map figuring out how to get into the bank vault? “What if we cut the power to the basement?” one of them suggests. “No, that won’t work,” another says, “because it will trigger the alarm system.” “Okay, then we’re going to have to shut down the alarm system from outside.” “But that will initiate a lockdown and we’ll be trapped.” “Hey,” says another, “what about this sewer line that runs under the bank?” They’ve found the way in! Time to see if they can pull it off.
That’s Cryptark. Continue reading →
If you’re interested in big-budget score-based shootering, Epic re-released Bulletstorm this year. Remember Bulletstorm, which was like The Club, but with marketing? The re-release even has a new set of challenges to flex the gameplay a little. Knock yourself out. But if you’d rather emphasize “score-based” over “big budget” and “marketing”, Desync is your better bet. Continue reading →