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Monthly Archives: February 2012

I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!

Amount Played for Review: ~110 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

One of the things that always made it hard for me to get into “open world” (universe?) space games is that there’s usually a lot of complexity even in how the game is controlled, let alone complexity of interacting with things. So while I like the concept of the genre a lot, getting into one is incredibly difficult for me. Starpoint Gemini seems to be a game designed to work around this, to a degree.

That said, it’s got it’s own set of complexities, which isn’t helped very much by the tutorial. I won’t say that the tutorial was poorly written, but it seemed buggy, locked out the controls at arbitrary periods, and took way longer then it should have. And still seemed to only gloss over many of the aspects of the game. I walked away understanding how to play, but I felt like I could have learned much more about it.

Starpoint Gemini is based around two campaigns, though I’ve only tried the main campaign. Much like your typical Elite-like, there is an overarching plot, but you can just go off and be a trader or pirate or whatever floats your boat. The amount I played doesn’t give an idea of how well the game supports these styles of play, but I was able to tell that they’re at least possible.

In the main campaign, you’re the captain of a ship that was part of a war between the Earth government and the colonies of Gemini. At the end of the war, the Earth forces basically blow up the warp gate between the places, causing weird space-time anomalies. One of which absorbed your ship, trapping you outside of time for 20 years. During this time, everything around you went to hell as the colonies broke up into various factions, not having had a common enemy to fight.

I think the story could have worked a bit better if it was more then just 20 years having passed, since everyone keeps referring to your “top of the line” ship from ONLY 20 years ago as outdated junk. That said, the length is basically arbitrary, and it’s meant to leave you as the character in the same place as you the player; lost in a universe that’s not your own.

Unlike other Elite-likes, Starpoint Gemini doesn’t play as a space sim, but instead plays more like the old Starfleet Command games. Action is on a primarily flat plane, though enemies and objects can be above and below you. There’s some control issues, though, as movement is by either clicking “vaguely” on the screen where you want to go or by using the A and D keys to start turns. It makes for awkward movements during combat, since the camera seemingly only focuses straight forward if you’re not targeting anything, or on whatever you’re targeting.

Speaking of combat, it has all of the features one would expect from this kind of game, though the scale is slightly different as you are typically piloting a capital ship instead of a fighter. You can target enemy subsystems to disable them, or manoeuvre around enemies to strike their weakened shields or to keep your stronger shields facing their weapons. And of course, keeping your own weapon fields of fire on the enemy.

There’s more then just combat, too, since not only is there trading available, but there’s also the typical things like mining asteroids, hunting down derelict ships, or scanning anomalies, in addition to the various jobs people can send you on. And doing just about anything seems to grant XP to your character. Your level doesn’t seem to give anything passive, but does give you points you can use to purchase and upgrade various active abilities. These include things from boosting your weapon damage or shield strength, to activating point-defense countermeasures, to making use of various special ship equipment such as stealth and repair drones.

As a sandbox space game, Starpoint Gemini seems to hit the right notes, though it’s very rough around the edges. Maybe some of the issues I came across will be resolved in later patches, since there were some crashes or oddities in how things worked, but overall it seemed decently put together. Not a bad choice for someone looking for something different in the space simulation genre.

I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!

Amount Played for Review: ~90 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

Jagged Alliance is a long and storied game series, that even with all it’s problems manages to grab my attention. Something about the kind of game it is always fascinates me, even if the game itself has problems.

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is a remake of Jagged Alliance 2, using modern technologies and design. Though the game does still have it’s own deep rooted problems because of the nature of what it is in the first place. I’ll get to that point later.

The largest change between Jagged Alliance 2 and Back in Action is the change of the battles from being turn-based to real-time. The change turns out to be kind of awkward, though, as in the time I was playing my mercs would often get confused about how they were positioned and whether that was actually a mean bad guy barrelling down on them with an axe.

However, they do include a “Command Mode” system where you can pause time and give orders to your mercs that way. It even allows for you to sync some actions together, such as making some mercs wait to open fire until all of your team is in position. The problem is that it doesn’t activate auto-fire, whereas an attack command in real-time mode does. There arn’t time units or anything to worry about in Command Mode, so you just might as well add more then enough fire commands to kill the target.

The basic goal of Back in Action is the same as Jagged Alliance 2; the deposed leader of Arulco has hired a band of mercenaries to take back his country from the ruthless dictator that ousted him.

To do this, you need to hire mercenaries and take over key areas of Arulco in order to make money and keep the people happy. And this is kind of where the first problem comes in, which was also true in the original game. See, even the low level mercs you can hire tend to come with mid-range weapons, while enemies drop very low level ammo. And since most mercs only come with one clip for their weapons, the early game is REALLY HARD as you need to hope that you don’t run out of ammo before you can even unlock the ability to airlift anything into the country, let alone have a real source of income!

Now, Back in Action does throw the player a bit of a bone, because there is a vendor in the first mission area that sells some weapons and ammo. Not a lot, but should be enough to keep the weapons your mercs come with going until you clear the second mission area.

Speaking of mission areas, unlike Jagged Alliance 2, Back in Action’s island map isn’t separated into grid squares, though I imagine that under the hood there’s still some “grid square maps” for encounters in specific areas or random encounters in the jungle. I didn’t manage to run into a random encounter while I was playing, though.

Back in Action feels to me like a game where they wanted to make it look new, but didn’t want to go all the way to making it accessible. That said, it may not necessarily be a bad thing; people still love to play X-Com, which is also a game that likes to screw you right out of the gate. I just find it a bit frustrating to be so far behind from the get-go, personally. That said, Back in Action does seem like a good update of Jagged Alliance 2, so if some of the AI oddities can be resolved it should be a pretty good game for people who like this sort of thing.

 

Full Reviews:

Giant Bomb: Quick Look

I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!

Amount Played for Review: ~90 minutes
Platform: PC (Origin)

So, I do play more then indie games, which may not be that obvious from the reviews I’ve done so far.

It’s not that often that a game starts off with killing you, something which starts the central theme of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the first game in the series created by Curt Schilling.

Without going into the story much, the world of Reckoning is one where fate and destiny is a very real and powerful effect, and one of the races of the world that is heavily controlled by fate is effectively immortal as a result. So, of course, when a group of this race decides to wage war against the more normal races, things don’t go fairly well. To try and turn their own fates around, the besieged races develop their own system to obtain immortality.

Well, it didn’t work quite as well as they hoped, but it did do something else; it tossed you outside of fate, allowing you to affect the way things work in the world.

But enough about WHY things work. What this means in the game is fluff for a lot of the basic RPG systems you expect from a game of this type.

Amalur is a third-person action-RPG, not too much unlike Dragon Age 2. The menu aspects of the game are a little awkward, and feel too much like they were designed for the console versions of the game, but they work well enough for how often one would usually use the menus in a game like this.

Character development is split between three trees; a melee combat tree, a stealth tree, and a magic tree. The trees are mostly constructed in similar fashions, having a number of talents to improve skill with the three weapons associated with the tree, talents to unlock different combo attacks with these weapons, and then various active and passive abilities.

In addition to this is a “destiny card” system where you can activate one of a number of different cards based on your total talent point expenditures, giving different bonuses. These cards are there to help a player still be effective even if their talent choices may not give them everything they need. This is especially true for cases where players are trying to cross-class between the trees early, such as trying to play a Might/Sorcery; there’s a set of cards that gives a bonus to damage and casting, and eventually also gives bonus attacks and MP regen when you kill enemies.

In addition to that is a pretty simple skill system where you get points in various abilities that range from lockpicking to crafting. Some of these have large effects, such as Detect Hidden letting you see loot boxes you normally couldn’t and eventually providing loot radars, to just making some things easier, such as Lockpick/Dispell making it easier to open chests or Persuasion making it easier to convince people.

The other half of the game is the combat, which is very action-oriented. Players can have two weapons equipped, as well as one active special ability, and can easily swap between weapons during combat using the mouse wheel to make their own custom combos. You could, for example, use a longsword to launch an enemy into the air, and then instantly swap to the bow to pepper him as he falls back to the ground. The game is also incredibly flexible about letting players change their weapon focus, and even throws the mages a bone with a really fun chakram weapon that counts as both melee and ranged.

Players also have a “limit break” mode that they build up over time that slows down time and increases damage for a period of time, and gives bonus XP if you kill multiple enemies during it. It also looks pretty rad, and has a different animation based on what weapon you’re using.

The world of Amalur isn’t quite as wide open as Skyrim (though the map itself may seem like it’s roughly similar in scale), as it’s a lot of interconnected sub-zones. If you have played Dragon Age: Origins, and imagine that each map was connected instead of using loading screen transitions, you would have a good idea of what the world of Amalur looks like. That said, it seems that the world is pretty densely populated with quests of all kinds, so you could be kept busy for a while.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning may not break entirely new ground, and it may not be dethroning Skyrim, but it’s still a very strong and fun game on it’s own rights, especially for those who expected a bit more from Dragon Age 2.

Just as a word of note, however. Amalur does have Steamworks support if you buy the game on Steam, but the physical edition at retail is keyed to Origin instead. If you’re one that is opposed to using EA’s service, then you may want to not pick the PC version up in stores.

 

Full Reviews:

Giant Bomb: Review

Giant Bomb: Quick Look

Joystiq: Review

I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!

Amount Played for Review: 1 case (out of 7); ~90 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

Originally released as an iOS title, the first 3 episodes of Telltale’s Law & Order game have recently been ported on PC, with the rest coming soon.

The game features a dream team of Law and Order characters, past and present, across all the series, and follows the structure of the series very closely. Gameplay, however, is a bit simplistic, though that’s somewhat to be expected given it’s originally an iOS title.

Like the show, each case is broken down into two segments; a detective mode and a prosecutor mode. They both have similar basic mechanics, but also play slightly differently. During the Detective mode, you interview persons of interest through a dialog tree system that is very reminiscent of Phoenix Wright.

By asking the right questions, and giving the right responses to some really pointed game questions (“Do you trust this answer?”), you earn Stars which are used to rank your investigation at the end. If you don’t get perfect in a scene, you’re always given the option at the end of it to replay the scene for a better score.

In the end, it just feels like it’s a really light version of a typical Telltale adventure game. Which is fair enough, since this WAS an iOS title, but it makes me wish a bit they redid things for the PC port.

After you go through the scenes and arrest a suspect as the detectives, you switch to the Order side of the series and play as one of the prosecutors. For the most part the game plays in a similar fashion since it’s about responding to dialog options, but the mechanics are a bit different.

Where detectives had stars as the only way to rank their skill, prosecutors are based on swaying the opinion of the jury, which is based on a “scales of justice” meter. As you perform well, ask the right questions, and make the correct objections, the jury sides more with your argument, making it easier to get a conviction or have a better position for a plea bargain. A problem with this mode, though (at least, it was for episode 1) is that objecting almost always sounded very mechanical, as the game would ask you if you wanted to object, play the voice clip, ask what kind of objection, and then play that clip. It usually sounded more like a robot pulling out separate voice clips.

That said, though, other then one kind of strange logical leap in the first episode, the flow of the story was so much like a Law and Order episode that I was starting to have flashbacks. And Telltale advertises the entire 7 episode season as having a single overarching plot, which makes me pretty interested since the first one is written really well. My only real complaints are that the gameplay is still very much grounded in typical iOS mechanics, and the graphics don’t look like they were redesigned for the PC. The aesthetics still work, though.

A friend also tells me that the first episode is free on the iOS store, so folks who want to give the PC version a try can demo it there as well.

I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!

Amount Played for Review: 40 waves (out of ~100); ~30 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

So, do you (still) love Space Invaders? Then Puppygames, makers of Revenge of the Titans, has a game for you.

The game starts you off with little fanfare; you press play and suddenly you’re off shooting somewhat pixelated aliens with your somewhat pixelated tank. The aesthetic is very nice, as it still has that classic design, but is also still clearly higher resolution then it appears, as it uses “sub-pixels” (in appearance) to add glow or fuzz.

Much like Space Invaders, the game is broken down into various waves, with bonus events interspersed for bonus points and the chance at upgrades. Every 20 waves is a boss fight, which unlocks access to the next world.

And speaking of upgrades, between waves you have the opportunity to spend money you get from shooting down alien ships or capturing live aliens to buy more lives and smart bombs, improve your gun’s strength, or get addons that let you shoot more things at different angles. The whole thing is very simple and straight-forward, and geared towards having you get right back into the action right away.

With everything said and done, Titan Attacks is a cheap but very fun way to spend some time. Though it’s basically a fancy arcade shooter, it’s still fun to go back to that style of games from so long ago every now and then.