Game reviews

Sumer time and the living ain’t easy, because someone else got to the goat pen first

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I don’t normally play, much less review, early access games. There are far too many finished games I have yet to try. So why would I faff about with someone’s beta? Just let me know when you’re finished. I’ll wait. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in the meantime.

Oh, look, what’s this? A review of an early access game called Sumer? What gives? Continue reading →

You’ll find Dynasty Feud at the deserted intersection of complicated and quick

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Unfortunately, this game shares half a name with Duck Dynasty and half a name with Family Feud. And screenshots can’t do much to highlight what’s special about it. You’d look at it and think it’s wacky couch multiplayer no different than something like Move or Die. Chase each other around, jumping, punching, jumping, punching, jumping, punching.

This is what people do when they don’t have a Super Smash Bros. Continue reading →

Caladrius Blaze is a real bodice ripper

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Steam is lousy with shmups. Shoot-em-ups. Bullet hells. Call them what you will. Most are as forgettable as any other. Unless they’re made by Cave, a developer that puts some kind of magic pixie shmup dust in their games. Otherwise, if you’ve seen one shmup, you’ve seen them all.

But I keep coming back to Caladrius Blaze. Continue reading →

For such a little game, One Deck Dungeon is a real handful

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Okay, a skeleton requires a magic 2 and a magic 4 to get past its armor, as well as the inherent strength 10 for being on the third level of the dungeon. Once I’ve covered those boxes with dice, then I need two strength 3s, one strength 5, one strength 6, one agility 5, and one magic 5. In other words, once you’ve magically blasted away a skeleton’s defenses, you mostly punch it really hard. Its only special ability is that it runs down the timer if I don’t fully defeat it. For some reason, this represents a skeleton being “Undying”. That’s what the card says. Just go with it.

So let’s get down to the anatomy of a skeleton murder. Continue reading →

Tormentor X Punisher fucking does this

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I had some stuff here about the glut of twin-stick shooter rogue-likes with retro graphics, the legacy of Doom, gameplay filler, and even a bit about female protagonists. But I deleted it all. Because this is a review of Tormenter X Punisher, in which you go to planet Fuck You to shoot hundreds of demon things and get a high score.

Unlike some dude burbling on in an attempt to write about this lean retro tantrum of game design, Tormenter X Punisher knows exactly what it’s doing. Continue reading →

This Danger Zone review will not reference Top Gun or even Kenny Loggins

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From the screenshots, you might expect Danger Zone will inherit the mantle Criterion shrugged off as they made their crashing games less about crashing and more about racing. If I recall correctly, that was somewhere around Burnout 2. But it was great while it lasted. Now, at last, someone appreciates what Burnout could have — should have! — been.

Or not. Continue reading →

Horizon Zero Dawn violates the Hippocratic Oath of game design

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Horizon: Zero Dawn is far better than it should be, given that it’s the developer’s Guerilla Games’ first time making an open-world game. Previously, Sony has shackled these guys to whatever Playstation is currently missing its Halo. Hence the long line of Playstation-exclusive Killzones. But it’s clear from playing Horizon that Guerilla has done their homework, studying what it takes to make an open-world work.

And then they apparently dropped out of class. Continue reading →

In Afghanistan ’11, history and game design go up to 11

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My favorite strategy games are also historical essays. Paradox’s Victoria II considers how the rise of wealth corresponded with the demand for social reform in the industrial era. Joel Toppen’s boardgame, Comancheria, examines the cycle of brutalities European expansion and Native American culture inflicted on each other. Stardock’s Corporate/Political Machine explores how perception trumps reality. Afghanistan ’11 is about what we learned from Vietnam.

After the jump, the more things change, the more things change. Continue reading →

Freedom: Underground Railroad is the little engine that couldn’t quite

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Compared to the 1970s, 1980s, or even 1990s, game designers today must feel like they have an incredible armamentarium for expressing theme. Whether it’s through worker placement, card mechanics, resource management, auctions, tableau-building, or even a mancala, there are now so many ways to make little meeples or whatnot go on cardboard adventures that it’s almost like having a whole new ludographic vocabulary. And designers are taking advantage of it, with tremendous new games being released it seems every month.

Then there’s Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Continue reading →

The nimble Monster Slayers flies without being glib

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When you’re really good at a strategy game — a boardgame, a card game, Civilization, chess — there’s a whole other kind of pacing than when you’re learning it, or just casually letting it unfold, or playing it as one of a half dozen other strategy games currently rattling around in your brain. The dilettante considers each move because he doesn’t know the game well enough to hurtle through it. When you master a game, your brain works as if it has muscle memory. In a given amount of time, someone who knows a game well can play twice as many games as someone who doesn’t. Maybe three times as many.

But even I can play a whole bunch of Monster Slayers in very little time. Continue reading →

If Disney World had a shooter, it would be Ghost Recon: Wildlands

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Ghost Recon Wildlands is what it would be like if Disney World had a section called Shootland. A swathe of geography dedicated to the theme of shooting guns, expensive looking, consisting of simple and contrived thrills interspersed with waiting in line, built to impress in a compressed burst rather than entertain over the long run. Great place to visit, sure.

But not much of a game. Continue reading →

Black Orchestra is no evening at the Pops

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The last twenty years of boardgame design have taught us that there is a lot more to do with dice and cardboard than rolling to see whether or not you end up on Park Place. But to some extent this progress has enforced a sort of orthodoxy: games have to have brisk pacing, constant interactivity, and victory conditions that give first-time players a decent chance of winning, or they get quickly relegated to the shelf in favor of the latest hotness (unless they have cool miniatures, in which case apparently all faults are forgiven).

So what if a game gave you none of these, and on top of it, had a somber theme that would probably put off half the people to glance at the box? How about if it also condemned you a lot of solitary mucking about without a clear way to achieve your objective, only to have a chance to win come and go so fast you didn’t even get to plan for it, after which you settled into the despair of knowing your best chance to win has come and gone, and thought about all the ways that you could have seized that opportunity? Or instead, you planned carefully and cleverly for an opportunity that never happened? Welcome to Black Orchestra, a fantastic game that breaks many of the rules of Euro game design that we’ve swallowed without question for twenty years.

Quite literally, welcome to the resistance. Continue reading →

Pixel Privateers nearly sinks under the weight of all that loot

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So much loot! More loot after every mission. Loot left over after the last mission. Loot I forgot I had. Panels and panels of colorful little icons, some green, some blue, some a couple of shades of purple, and some that eye-catching orange/yellow. There are even some reds. Reds! The rarest of the rare. Epic, even! No, wait, I think orange/yellow is epic. Red is an artifact, which transcends rarity because rarities are adjectives and an artifact is a noun. Loot, loot, loot! Normally all this treasure would be a cause for celebration.

In Pixel Privateers, an otherwise really good game, it’s cause for a sigh. Continue reading →

Let go and let gravity in Steep’s opulent winter wonderland

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Once when my little sister was nervous about flying, I tried to reassure her by explaining that when planes land, they’re literally falling. Planes generate lift by moving forward, with the amount of lift proportional to their speed (I might have even used the word “Bernoulli” while explaining this; I can be a bit of a show-off). If a plane doesn’t have enough speed, it stops generating lift. That’s called stalling. So when a pilot lands an airplane, he doesn’t fire up the engines and point the nose at the runway. That’s called crashing. Instead, he reduces speed until the plane isn’t generating enough lift to stay airborne. Now the plane is falling. Ideally gradually. And ideally onto a surface amenable to airplanes, like a runway. But falling nevertheless. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Falling.

“That’s not reassuring,” she noted. Probably because falling and crashing are synonyms more than falling and landing are synonyms. Continue reading →