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Category Archives: Simulation

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: ~5 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)

At a first glance, FTL is a kind of game that I probably wouldn’t like. Maybe using the term “roguelike” is a bit misleading, but the whole “superhard, random generated adventure” type of thing was not very appealing to me. Something about FTL just really agrees with me, though. Maybe it’s the space? Or maybe it’s the strategy.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. In FTL you control a starship as you try to outrun a rebel army and deliver important intelligence to your HQ. Except you’re not controlling the ship, per-say, but you’re instead directing crewmen to various locations to repair damage or manage systems, and directing ship power to various things like shields and weapons.

And it’s really hard. As you progress through the various sectors, enemies hit harder and have more abilities, and you start to encounter random events that are more dangerous. And on top of all this, the forward wave of the rebel army is always advancing, taking over systems as they hunt for you to stop your journey.

All this pushes you forward into more danger, though it’s not fast enough that you can’t take some time to wander around a sector and grind out events and battles for money and gear. All of this you need if you want to make it to the end.

Battles are where the bulk of the strategy comes in. You can’t control your ship’s movement, and it’s seemingly inferring that you and your foe are moving around each other even if it doesn’t look like you are, because weapon fire always comes from random directions. During combat, you need to assign power to your weapons, up to the maximum amount of power your weapon systems can handle (all of this is upgradable). You then direct the weapons to fire at specific rooms on the enemy ship, which allows you to do things like focus on taking out enemy shield systems or life support.

As a result, there’s actually a number of ways you can defeat enemy ships. An easy strategy is to beat on their shield and weapon systems until they die, without dealing much damage to you. But by using various means, you can also do things like destroy the enemy’s life support systems and wait for them to suffocate, or send over an away team to kill the enemy crew. If you defeat an enemy ship without blowing it up, you can get more salvage from them, but many of the means to do so are much higher risk then just blasting it to pieces.

That combined with various crew races with different stats, and a large variety of unlockable ship types with different powers (such as one that starts with an ion gun that’s useful for taking down enemy systems without actually damaging them, or even just taking down shields easily, as well as a drone launcher that costs a resource, but is a very consistent source of damage; or another ship that doesn’t have shields, but instead comes with a stealth system and better sensors, thus having you want to avoid combat more) makes for a wide range of various tactics as you work your way to the end of space and your army’s base, hoping to deliver the intel before you get blown to pieces.

FTL is definitely a game for a patient man, as someone who goes in without thinking will find themselves looking at the game over screen often. But even in death you tend to learn more about the game, though some of it’s random events are TOO random; I would have liked it more if some of the events were more hard-coded, so that something that punished me one playthrough was fairly consistent at being dangerous, while something that rewarded me tended to do the same. I’ve had too many cases where I got burned bad doing something that worked before. But for some people, that’s part of the fun. For the rest of you, it may be the only annoyance in what’s otherwise a very solid game.

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: 2 levels (out of 8); ~1 hour
Platform: PC (Steam)

People who are fans of space sims have had very slim pickings for the last decade, ever since Freespace 2. While the amazing X series has also come out in that period, their heavy emphasis on the sim part can turn away many people (I know I have a hard time getting into X3, though I’m looking forward to the new title~). In fact, on that point, other then some foreign developers, the space sim genre has mostly died after Freespace came out. There’s been a recent resurgence, though, which SOL: Exodus is a part of.

SOL: Exodus is the first half of a story that’s mostly your basic sci-fi fare: Some time in the future, Humans ruin Earth and move to space colonies. Then they find out that they ruined the sun, so they need to find somewhere entirely new. The colonies form a new government and send a fleet out to scout for a new planet to live on. Decades past, and the colonies of Earth, having not heard anything from the fleet they sent, start getting desperate and turn to a new religion that basically says that blowing up with the sun is a great way to die. So of course they arm themselves, and head out to stop the fleet that’s scouting for a new home since, you know, if people think they have somewhere better to go, then that kind of ruins their whole operation.

What happens after is also pretty standard: After an attack from the COD (Children of Dawn), you become the leader of the fleet, and now need to fight your way back to Earth to let folks know that they don’t HAVE to die in a supernova. And along the way, you need to shoot down any enemy ship that happens to stand (or fly, really) in your way, while helping folks escape.

And by the same token, the gameplay is very simple. Don’t take that as a ding against it, though; simple is actually what I was looking for! Your ship has your standard loadout of infinite-ammo guns, limited ammo missiles, and a secondary gun that shoots a slow-moving but powerful blast. You don’t need to manage shields, or change your weapons as you develop new tech or to meet the enemy types; you just have the same things each mission (that I played). If you get too damaged, or run out of missiles, you can dock in your mothership to be repaired and resupplied, though this dings you a bit in the end-of-mission scoring.

Missions are a good length each (Probably 20~25 minutes each in the two I played) and in those two had a good mix of objectives, with one being the tutorial where you just killed enemies until the plot progressed, and the other having you defend transports from COD fighters. Though if this is the basic formula for the game as a whole, it will likely start to get a little stale, especially with no mission checkpoints. You can also replay missions to get better scores, and there’s also higher difficulty levels to challenge yourself on as well. It seems that the higher difficulties are only unlocked after you beat the game once, though.

Completing a mission gets you an upgrade point which you can use to improve the stats of your fighter. Each mission also has a secret objective that you don’t get told about until after it’s over, which gives you a second upgrade point. And any upgrade you get also applies to replaying earlier levels, so if you’re having a hard time clearing one of the bonus objectives, you can just come back later with a powered up fighter.

All in all, SOL: Exodus is a good game to whet one’s appetite if they’re pining for the days of old, yet find games like X to be far above their skill level. Don’t go into it expecting much more then an action title.

 

Full Reviews:

IGN: Review