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Category Archives: Snap Judgement

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: ~6 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)

Among the countless game franchises that exist in the industry, there are few that have the same level of fan love (and nostalgia) as X-Com. Notorious for being brutally hard, even with a bug that locked the game on Easy, X-Com has earned a place in the hearts of many gamers. People who make it clear how they feel about any use of the brand (I wonder where they were for Enforcer and Interceptor, though…). So, it comes to no surprise that there was quite the outcry about 2K’s other XCOM reboot (exasperated by the fact that their PR teams entirely bungled presenting what that game even IS), and why there was tempered relief about news from Firaxis that they were also making a new XCOM strategy game.

To put it simply, Firaxis did a great job at taking what made the original X-Com tick, and then modernizing it for today’s audiences. Soldiers are SLIGHTLY sturdier (though not by much; a good comparison would be to the default armour soldiers got in Apocalypse), they can take cover on the battlefield for defense bonuses, Action Points have been simplified into discrete actions, equipment management has been streamlined, and more. It lets you get down to the business of killing aliens without distractions.

Distractions you can’t afford to have. You need all these improvements because otherwise your soldiers will be coming home in a bag. Right from the start, the game throws your mostly untrained soldiers against vicious aliens who have way more firepower then you. And before you can get your research up to bring you on par with that, the game has already stepped up the stakes, sending much more powerful aliens, more often. It’s always a game of catching up.

It’s also a game of trade-offs. Everything from the powers you can choose when a soldier levels up to what missions you can take are a matter of managing trade-offs. The most up-front is the typical alien abduction missions. When these trigger, you get a choice of 3 locations that are under attack, and you can only save one. Each location offers various rewards for taking that mission, but the most important one is that the panic level of the country to choose to help will go down, but the panic of the other countries will go up. And if a country’s panic level gets too high, they’ll choose to leave the XCOM program entirely. If half of the countries in the XCOM program pull out, the operation shuts down entirely, and it’s game over.

Even your base is a sequence of trade-offs. You only have one base in XCOM, unlike previous games (though you can house your interceptors in generic hangars all over the world), and so space is limited. As well, the game provides incentives to build the base in certain ways, as like facilities put next to each other give an increased effect.

Now, one trade-off that Firaxis made is that your squad starts off at only 4 soldiers, and can be upgraded to a maximum of 6 soldiers, well under the maximum size of a team from X-Com. But with the higher average survivbility and firepower of your team in XCOM, it evens out. Speaking of your soldiers, at the start of the game you get your typical rookie, but when they get promoted to Squaddie, they get assigned one of 4 classes: Heavy (LMG and rockets), Assault (shotguns, rifles and front-line fighting), Sniper (sniper rifles and long-range fighting) and Support (buff and healing). Each class has their own set of talents, typically a choice of two at any given rank.

For example, an Assault can choose to either take bonus defense for each enemy they can see, or take bonus critical chance for each enemy they can see. Or a Sniper can choose to have the ability to move and shoot with their rifles (they can’t normally), or have the ability to take advantage of any ally’s line of sight in order to engage an enemy. The abilities trade off of each other at each rank very well, and generally make for an interesting choice.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an X-Com game without research. And there’s a good amount of it, all of which having great writeups to go alongside. Typically things that involve “We could have studied this for years, but we don’t have the time, so, uh… here!” And of course, once you research stuff, you also have the ability to produce it as well. In XCOM, they streamlined the resources a fair bit, having things generally require only alien alloys, fragments from their weapons, or Elerium (though some special things may need intact UFO power sources or nav computers). Most of these only come from alien UFOs, making those missions a high priority, and also introducing even more trade-offs. Do you want to spend your limited number of alloys on making new laser weapons, or on making the new armour? Thankfully the game gives you back all of a soldier’s gear should they perish (at least, if you’re not playing on Impossible), but it still means you have to work with limited gear.

And as mentioned, even with improved gear, your forces are fragile. It’s tough to go out there on a mission and have that soldier you spent so many missions building up get eviscerated by a chryssalid, or blasted by some Muton’s plasma rifle. Especially if it was because you stretched yourself a little too far. And to help drive the point home, they even have a memorial board (complete with bagpipe music) set up in the barracks so you can see all your soldiers who died during the war.

All in all, XCOM is a worthy entry into this long line of games. If you have a hankering for saving the Earth from the hordes of brutal aliens, then XCOM is certainly a game for you. I’ve also been hearing that, as the game was also developed for consoles, that handling the game using a 360 controller also works very well, and in fact makes some of the controls a little less awkward. I’ve found a few times that the game gets confused about where exactly I’m pointing my cursor at, though it usually fixes itself if you scroll up or down the layers.

The story is a little thin, but that’s only in comparison to modern strategy games. And not even in comparison to past Firaxis titles. It’s far more then you got from X-Com in the past, and works perfectly well enough to let it be YOUR story. The tale of how you and a rag-tag group of soldiers saved the planet from impossible odds… or died trying.

 

 

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: ~11 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)

So, if you already read my previous Snap Judgement on Torchlight II, things have not changed a whole lot between the beta and the final release of Torchlight II.

The main difference between the beta and the final release is that they changed the skill system from instead being a tree of sorts to being a flat set of 7 active skills and 3 passive skills per tree. They still don’t require points put in earlier skills, instead being gated by level. The only main difference is that active skills how have “tiers” that you unlock every 5 points you put into them that give various extra improvements to the skill, such as adding damage reflection, increasing attack range, or setting hit enemies on fire. However, like I mentioned in the beta, I’m still not sure how I feel any more about this kind of talent system, but in the end it works well enough for the purposes of the game. The addition of the tier structure also makes points more then just tiny improvements.

My strongest impression now that I’m 11 hours into the official release, is that the game REALLY feels like Diablo 2. The story is very similar and the areas you are in for each act (up to 3, at least) are very similar. But also changed enough to fit their own internal narrative. I can’t fault them for this, though; Torchlight was made  by Diablo vets, after all. And they do a great job at realizing their idea of the loot-driven action RPG.

Another major difference between Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3, besides TL2 being based on Diablo 2, is that TL2 doesn’t care about if you want to mod or hack your game and get items easier then you would normally (or super busted items that aren’t even in the game at all). In fact, there’s even achievements for running the game with a bunch of mods installed, and the game will have Steam Workshop support for mods as well. If you really care about the sanctity of your random drop system, you may find this irritating if you go and play online with random people.

All-in-all, I found Torchlight 2 to be well realized game, and still want to put a ton of time into it, even after 11 hours already.

 

(For the record, though, I’m definitely expecting Act 4 to be set in some kind of volcano.)

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: ~2 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)

Orcs Must Die! 2 is basically more Orcs Must Die!. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but if you were hankering for more wisecracking tower-defense with the lovable warmage, then this game is right for you. If you DIDN’T like his dumb goofiness… then you probably will continue to not like it.

The big change from OMD! and OMD!2 is the addition of co-op mode, which is a MASSIVE improvement over the original. While Orcs Must Die! was a fun game, it came out against Dungeon Defenders, a similar game that still benefits from constant content infusions, as well as having co-op modes by default.

Co-op in OMD!2 is a two-person affair, hence the addition of a new player character. When starting the game, you are prompted to choose a character, who is then tied to that “account”, so to speak. This is because both characters have different starting traps and equipment, and different unlocks.

Basic gameplay is much the same. Orcs come out of a portal, and are trying to escape out into the open. Or, at least, that’s what the first act is about, since apparently the warmage’s skills were not so much in demand after OMD!, so he’s resorted to being a miner to make ends meet. There’s some new equipment (or, at least, new to me since I never did get around to fully beating the original), though I wasn’t very keen on them starting the warmage off with a shotgun instead of the crossbow from the original game. Unlocking the bow is easy, but I missed it for the first few maps.

The upgrading system was also overhauled in OMD!2. While each stage still gives you up to 5 skulls based on performance, there’s also bonus skulls given for… a variety of reasons. And skulls that can drop from killed orcs. This means that if you just can’t get a better ranking on a map, you can still improve your weapons and traps by just replaying previous maps. However, you don’t reget the skulls from performance on a replay, of course.

Your traps and weapons all have a single upgradable bonus, which ranges from increasing damage to decreasing costs, and your choice of two mutually exclusive bonuses. Once you’ve bought one of the mutually exclusive bonuses, you unlock them both Some also have a special unique bonus that changes the way that trap works, be it allowing it to be placed on a ceiling, or what have you.

For the most part, the sorceress isn’t really any different from the warmage. She starts off with a freeze trap instead of a slow trap, and ACID instead of arrows, and her starting weapon has an alt-fire that mind-controls orcs, but other then some other unique traps in her unlock inventory, she gets a lot of the same things as the warmage. Her dancing isn’t anywhere near as good as the warmage’s, either.

So, as mentioned, if you really enjoyed the original Orcs Must Die!, then this sequel is just about everything that was needed from the original title. If you didn’t check out OMD!, but are not AGAINST tower-defense style games, then OMD!2 is something you might want to check out anyway, as knowledge of the original is unnecessary to enjoy the sequel.

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: ~3 hours
Platform: PC

Whoa, a review of a beta? Hey, why not.

With the release of Diablo 3 being SLIGHTLY ahead of Runic’s schedule, they decided to get ahead of the game and do a beta weekend for their upcoming sequel from 18 to 21 May. Since I’ve already preordered the game, I decided to get in on it to check it out!

Torchlight 2 starts off with wanting to improve on the things that people had an issue with in the original game. Firstly, they actually have a co-op mode! 6 player, in fact. You can play either off-line, over a LAN, or through an online game. You can also make online servers that anyone can join, much like the old Diablo 2 Battle.net system functioned. Players can drop in and out on the fly, and it seems like there’s a bit of scaling to handle additional players. And the best part? Loot is generated per-player, so the drops you see are for you and you alone.

The story of Torchlight 2 carries on a little bit after the end of Torchlight 1, where the big baddy has been released, and is now making a swath of destruction across the land. You, as one of 4 new classes; Embermage (elemental caster), Engineer (melee/gunner tank-ish that can summon drones for damage or healing), Berserker (dual-wield melee), and Outlander (gunner). Though the weapon niches is very fluid, as it seems all classes can equip everything, though each class has a skill that increases the effect of the class’ “favoured” weapons, while other skills require certain weapons to be equipped.

On the subject of weapons, Torchlight 2 has a wide range of different weapon categories, from your typical swords and axes to more unusual ones like a variety of guns (pistols, shotguns, and CANNONS) and the normal pool of magical weapons like staves and wands. The cannon, by the way, is pretty ridiculous. I got a unique one on one of my characters, and it was like a super powerful shotgun, utterly obliterating every enemy that happened to stand in front of my character. This is, actually, a good attribute of most weapons; it seems that the good majority of weapons have some passive AoE on them, be it partial damage or full damage, to help with handling the massive swarms of enemies that your typical Diablo-like has.

But not everything they’ve done was modernization changes. At the same time that Diablo is streamlining the character management to get rid of cruft that is no longer really necessary in the genre, Torchlight 2 still embraces the old idea of statpoints on level up and talent points. At each level, you gain 5 points to distribute across your 4 stats: Strength (increases weapon damage), Dexterity (Crit and dodge rate), Focus (MP and elemental damage), and Vitality (Health and block). Equipment also requires certain amounts of various stats to be able to be used, however Runic also throws in a nice touch to this and also gives these pieces of equipment a minimum level that lets you bypass the stat requirement.

Like Torchlight 1, the skill system isn’t really so much a “tree” per say, since there’s no requirement to put points in previous skills to get later ones, which is a great improvement over Diablo 2’s system. However, I’m still not sure I like the idea of getting skill points each level to toss into powers to level them up anymore. That said, there is still not a large number of skills, and depending on how you want to build your character, you can even ignore most of the skills entirely, helping you further. For example, the Engineer’s three skill trees include one based on two-handed weapons, one based on summoning drones, and one based on one-handed weapon/shield tanking. This means that if you’re planning to be a Sword and Board tanker, you have an entire tree of skills that you will be ignoring entirely.

That said, the Outlander’s 3 trees are all things that you could theoretically use no matter what guns you’re using, but you can ignore parts of each tree if you’re using different types of guns (for example, many of the Outlander’s weapon skills only work with pistols, bows, crossbows, and shotguns, so if you want to use cannons or rifles, you can’t make use of those skills at all).

But these are kind of minor things. There are people who are upset that Diablo 3 is streamlining this, even if I think they’re a bit silly. In that case, Torchlight 2 is the game for them, bringing back the sensibilities of the Diablo 2 era, while modernizing the engine. And also loot. Lots and lots of loot. Speaking of loot, another thing I really like about loot in Torchlight 2 is that items on the ground will only say what type of equipment and rarity it is (ie Shortsword, Ring Mail, etc), and then it’ll say what the full item type is in your inventory. As well, entirely unidentified items are a bit uncommon, because you can identify items by being of a certain level automatically, though Unique rarity items always require the use of an identification scroll.

Overall, if you are a big fan of the action RPG/loot gathering style of game (IE Diablo clones), then Torchlight 2 is definitely right up your alley. The game is currently available for preorder on both Steam and at Runic directly. Preordering through Steam gives a copy of the original game for free, while preordering directly through Runic gives beta access to Cryptic’s upcoming MMO, Neverwinter. Steam also currently has a special where you can get 4 copies of the game for the price of 3, to give away to your friends (which also gives 4 copies of Torchlight 1), so you can all play together when the game comes out (hopefully) sometime this summer!

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: ~3 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)

I really like to use sniper weapons in video games, so Sniper Elite V2 turned out to be right up my alley. It’s a game based entirely on crawling through your typical FPS levels, and either avoiding or sniping anyone in your way. Sure you have some other weapons as well, but why would you use them if you’re playing the game “right”?

Sniper Elite V2 is set during WW2, with your character being tasked with tracking down a number of V2 missile scientists and take them out to stall or stop progress. This brings you to a number of locations, from bombed out German towns to factories. The missions are pretty linear, but do have some variety in how you can move through them. For example, I replayed one of the first ones earlier, and discovered that there were more ways that I could crawl through the streets instead of needing to snipe all the patrols on the streets.

I sniped them anyway because it’s fun, though.

See, when you get a critical hit on an enemy from far enough away, you’re treated to a slow-motion view of your bullet as it travels, and then x-ray views of the enemy as it punches through the body, hitting everything in the path. And what it will track as being hit is pretty detailed; if you hit with a trajectory that would put a bullet through the top of the head and down into the spine, it’ll actually model hitting everything along the way. Hell, the bullet leaving the body on the other side can even hit other enemies, and won’t always come out at the same angle.

And it does model a LOT. Blowing out hips, punching through the intestines, piercing the skull.  Hell, it’ll even model shooting a grenade and having it explode, or even shooting someone in the nuts. Because, I don’t know. Maybe you want to do that.

Making fancy or skillful shots also awards you with points, which the game tallies up and puts on a leaderboard after you complete the mission, so it’s worth your while to try and long-range headshot or grenadeshot anyone you come across. You can even make use of some additional tools you can bring into a mission to help you with that, like tripwires, mines, and explosive bags you can shoot to detonate.

Sniper Elite V2 also has a number of different weapons to choose from, including a pretty wide range of sniper rifles, each with different scope magnifications, bullet speeds, and round counts. And the game also has a number of difficulty levels which add varying degrees of bullet physics, including wind speed and bullet drop. Easier difficulties give you indicators when you use a time slowing ability, though, to help you manage these factors.

However, even on easier difficulties, your character is really fragile, and won’t survive long in a firefight. Which is fine, since even though you can also use a variety of pistols and SMGs, you are playing a sniper game.

Overall, if you aren’t looking for a fast-paced shooter, and prefer taking your time to line up the perfect shot, then Sniper Elite V2 is probably right up your alley.

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: ~70 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

I’m not meaning this in a negative manner, but Jeff Vogel REALLY likes Exile.

Maybe I should back up a moment. Avernum: Escape From the Pit is a remake of Spiderweb’s Avernum, which came out in 1999. Avernum was itself a remake of Exile, which was released in 1995. All of these titles are large world, story-driven RPGs, all made by a man who might as well be the grandfather of indie games. Jeff Vogel was making independent games before indie was even a thing, selling shareware (remember that?). The original Exile and Avernum are getting to be at the point where they just won’t work on modern computers anymore, which prompted a desire to remake the original trilogy once more.

The story of Exile/Avernum has always been one of it’s stronger points. The world of Avernum is one where an oppressive Empire has a magic portal to a hellish underworld where they throw prisoners of all shapes, be they violent, petty, or political. Down in the darkness, these people have banded together to make a life for themselves against all the odds, dreaming of the chance to retake the surface.

In Avernum 1, the story is mainly one of survival, as your band was just thrown through the portal and you need to make a life for yourself. You start off by making a group of 4 characters. While there’s “classes” available to choose from, all they actually do is award prepackaged stats. As you progress through the game, all characters can do all things if you want to, but you don’t have unlimited points in which to do so. Unless you want to use the included save editor, that is (another Exile/Avernum staple). With regards to dialog, you have choices available to you as to how you want your characters to act, but it’s not as in-depth as say Skyrim or Mass Effect. But it doesn’t need to be.

System-wise, Avernum: Escape From the Pit uses a modified version of the one from Avadon, Spiderweb’s previous title. The biggest changes are your party and the magic system. In Avadon, spells and special abilities all work on a cooldown system, whereas Avernum returns to a MP system. This can make fights easier since you can have healers casting each turn, but by the same token it also makes battles feel better, and feel better balanced.

Avernum also features touched up versions of the original skill and stat art from Phil Foglio, which adds a huge amount of charm to the game. Skills are also better constructed then they were in Exile and the original Avernum, having been built around the same system as Avadon. The only change is that Escape From the Pit also includes an additional set of “feats” you can pick at each level to give more generic bonuses and customization.

Another major improvement over the original Exile and Avernum is the inclusion of an actual quest log to help you at least track WHAT quests you have, even if it doesn’t track progress to a detailed degree. It’s still incredibly helpful.

Overall, if you are a fan of RPGs, it serves you well to go and get a copy of Avernum. Jeff Vogel and Spiderweb Software have honed their art to a fine point, and still manage to put out quality product to support themselves independently for all these years. And for that, I salute them.

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: ~60 minutes
Platform: PC (Good Old Games)

As legends come and go, the tale of the Legend of Grimrock (I seriously have to keep checking myself to make sure I wrote that right), sounds like a familiar one. In some fantasy kingdom, the king is a jerk and decides to sentence criminals to exploring a strange dungeon within the mountain of Grimrock. If they can make it out alive, they get their freedom. And no one has made it out alive yet…

Legend of Grimrock is a throwback to olden dungeon crawlers like Swords and Serpents and others I never played a whole lot of because damn Swords and Serpents was hard. You create a party of 4 from among 4 races (Humans, Minotaur, Lizardman, Insectoid) and 3 classes (Fighter, Rogue, Mage). Your party travels through the dungeon as a 2×2 square, which you can re-position on the fly during combat. Regular weapons can only be used by guys in the front two positions, while the rear two positions need either long-range weapons like spears and bows, or magic.

With your “heroes” made, you’re off to delve into the depths of Mount Grimrock. Exploring the dungeon is pretty simple, though the fact that it has both rotate and strafe buttons right next to each other has tripped me up a few times, causing me to accidentally fall into pits or just ramming into a wall.

Combat is also fairly simple. You right-click on the weapon you want a character to use and he’ll swing, hopefully hitting the enemy. As mentioned, weapons have ranges, so only melee weapons in the front row can hit an enemy, though the Rogue class can use the skill points it earns from levelling up to obtain an ability to use melee weapons from the rear row as well. When a weapon is used, it activates a “cooldown” until that party member can attack again. Since you can swap party positions on the fly, you can make use of this to move melee characters into and out of the front rank if you don’t have long-range weapons and have them attack as you wait on cooldowns.

And there’s more then just the monsters out to get you, as well. The dungeon itself is full of traps and puzzles, with hidden rooms and secret passages all over the place. Watching the area and looking for the hidden buttons, or recognizing the signs of a hidden switch like an oddly empty torch holder will get you far and find you loot you wouldn’t get normally until later.

Of course, you can take advantage of these same traps yourself, tricking monsters into falling down pits or locking them behind a door while you catch your breath. The game has 3 difficulty levels to let you choose just how challenging you want encounters to be, and even on Normal some of the fights can be pretty rough while you’re lacking for gear.

If you really enjoy an involved dungeon crawl with puzzle elements, then Legend of Grimrock is definitely something you should look at. It’s available on Steam and Good Old Games, but GoG does offer a number of bonuses such as printable graph paper if you want to go really old-school and turn off the game’s automap.

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: ~45 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

Do you like Roguelikes and only have about 10 minutes to play a game? Then Hack, Slash, Loot is certainly the title for you. Made by apparently a team of apparently 5 dudes, Hack, Slash, Loot is a very simplistic Roguelike that’s meant to be played through very quickly, be it to victory or death. And commonly death.

When you turn the game on, you get presented with a simple, yet effective menu which lets you pick a specific character and quest, or just leave it random. Characters give you a set of pre-made stats and equipment, while the Quests define the dungeons and objectives. Most of both are locked when you start the game; you just begin with a simple Warrior, Archer, and Wizard, as well as 4 generic missions. More are unlocked by playing quests (and dying); including classes such as the Knight (starts with more defenses) and the Amazon (starts with a special weapon that gives random bonuses to stats when you kill an enemy, but has very few defenses otherwise).

Hack, Slash, Loot’s gameplay is just as simplistic as it’s interface and visuals, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s not much in the way of stat management, there’s no XP, and barely much of an inventory. This makes for much faster play, overall, and even with no XP, there’s plenty of ways to get permanent bonuses (or penalties!) through various scrolls found around the world. That said, health recovery seems very rare and/or limited, which may be intentional.

Death comes easy and often in the game, but starting a new quest is fast, with as soon as you acknowledging the death message, you start a new one right away.

All that said, though, I found a few problems with the game’s interfaces. The first issue is that game tiles are not uniformly square, and are in fact actually rectangular. That, combined with the viewing angle, sometimes made manoeuvring around the dungeon difficult. I have a feeling that the interface for this game would probably work better on a tablet.

In addition, while the game can allow for you to obtain allies that help you in battle, this is actually a terrible idea as they will not only prove to be generally bad against enemies, but also block your path! And the engine won’t let you try to move to an area if it’s blocked RIGHT NOW, even if it’s likely that the path will be clear within the few turns it’ll take to get there. Thankfully, the game does allow you to backstab your allies, since it doesn’t really treat them as anything more then a monster that won’t attack you first.

That said, the interface issues were more annoyances then real problems.

With dungeons quick and easy to run, and an interface designed to make playing it easy, Hack, Slash, Loot is a good game to use as a short time waster, if you enjoy a dungeon crawler. And that it has a good sense of humour certainly helps 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: ~25 minutes
Platform: PC (Steam)

You know, it’s not that often that I buy something and later think it was kind of a bad choice. Maybe I just don’t quite get it, but Cubemen is one of these rare occurrences.

Cubemen is another Tower Defence game, except this time the gimmick is that your towers are treated as RTS soldiers. This isn’t as great of an idea as you would think it is, though, which I’ll go into detail later. When you start, there’s very little to the game. You can choose to either play a Defense game which is like your typical TD, or a Skirmish game which is not unlike the kind of competitive TD that is like Monday Night Combat. In Skirmish, you set up your units to shoot enemy towers and enemy walkers, to protect your own walkers as they shamble to the enemy’s base and take their HP away. This mode is actually the only one I played that felt like it played right.

Now, as for the gameplay. Cubemen’s gameplay is… flawed. Conceptually, having an RTS TD probably sounds pretty cool. In reality, though, it suffers from a number of downsides and design problems. The biggest downside is that it means that your towers need to actually walk to where you want them to be, under fire the whole time. Sure, they can PROBABLY shoot back as well, but in my experience they… tended to either not, or shot pretty ineffectively.

There’s a pretty barebones tutorial when the game detects that it’s your first time playing. It’s not even tied to a specific map or anything; pick any map from “easy” to “insane” and start playing, and the game will start giving some tutorial boxes to make sure you know what’s up. It doesn’t do a good job overall, though. Or, I’ll just say, the fact that I could never even get halfway through the first “easy” level left me thinking that there was something I didn’t understand.

As well, unlike most TD games, there’s no such thing as a “pause” between waves in Cubemen. They just keep coming one after another as the wave counter ticks ever higher towards your ultimate failure.

 

Maybe there’s something about the way the game plays that I didn’t understand that made it unnecessarily hard? but it also didn’t go out of it’s way to try and make itself that accessible.