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Category Archives: Strategy

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: ~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: ~1 hour
Platform: PC (Steam)

Krater is an interesting type of action RPG, coming out at a time where the genre seems to be getting a resurgence of sorts. You can think of it as a cross between Diablo and Fallout, but leaning much more towards the Fallout side.

Oh, and it’s Swedish, to boot.

Krater is set around a world that basically destroyed itself in nuclear war. The only real known “safe” haven in this post-apocalyptic Sweden is a massive crater known as… Krater. Well, maybe they had other things on their mind. The bottom of Krater is a lush land of resources, which draws explorers and settlers there to try and make a better life for themselves.

You, the player, act as a sort of commander for a team of freelancers who have come to Krater to make their fortunes through following typical Western RPG style quests. You can command up to 3 characters, which is what makes for the twist here. You have your typical selection of classes; the healer, the tank, the ranged DPS, and the melee DPS. But there’s also another rub here, where your characters are all hires that have their own sets of skills from a pool that each class has.

This is all because characters are pretty expendable. Or, well. They can be. Each time a character is knocked out, they suffer injuries that may or may not affect their stats, but if they’re not treated the character could permanently die. To support this, characters have a range of quality levels (your typical MMO set of grey -> white -> green -> blue -> purple -> ???), each having a different recruitment cost and level cap.

Equipment also follows the same pattern. Each character has only two equipment slots, though, one for their weapon and one for an additional ability. However, they also can unlock slots that you can fit permanent upgrades to stats and their powers as they level up. This also means that lower tier characters can’t get many of these slots, since they can’t increase to the appropriate levels. Crafting is also available to help you make weapons and upgrades if you aren’t getting them from drops.

That said, though, Krater is not without it’s problems. The game likes to crater itself every now and then, but it’s getting better because they are doing frequent updates. It does, though, give the impression that the game is now doing a paid beta, even though it did just come off of an extensive regular beta. In addition, there are some hiccups with the UI. Sometimes I’ve needed to press a command button twice to make it actually activate, which can be trouble in a pitched battle.

A last complaint is just one I have in general with RPGs, and that I just don’t like 3-man parties when you have a range of “classes” available. Especially when the game is built around the Trinity of Tank/Heal/DPS. I just feel that it cuts off too much of what the game offers the player.

All said, though, Fatshark has promised to make regular updates (and in fact have made a few at the time of this writing), which includes fixes and new features (such as new NPCs that can upgrade characters to higher quality levels). I expect that they’ll fix up the problems over time, and expand the game further. They’ve already announced that one of the upcoming patches will activate an online co-op, which I’m looking forward to.

If you don’t mind quirky in your post-apocalyptic RPGs, and can stand a bit of klunkiness from the UI, then Krater is definitely a game to check out.

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: ~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.

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: 4 levels (out of 21); ~1 hour
Platform: PC (Steam)

 

No, it’s not that. Though it was definitely the first thing I thought of when I saw the title.

 

So, I haven’t really been a big fan of tower defence titles, though it’s not because I think they’re bad. Most of them are just really the same game, so if there’s ones I like, well, there’s not really a reason to play many others, after all! And with it seeming like there’s a new TD title every other week, I just have no interest in them generally.

What grabbed me at first about Unstoppable Gorg was, in fact, the name. Because of the video I linked above. After that fact, though, the game is draped in a hilarious 50s sci-fi story of alien invasion, complete with grainy newsreel footage of spacecraft with obvious wires and sparklers. And it’s utterly ridiculous, to boot. It’s pulled off with pizzazz.

Now, for the gameplay. The thing that is setting Unstoppable Gorg from other TD titles is that each map is centred around an object, and you place your towers in orbit around it. The rings don’t rotate on their own, normally, though. You can move your towers around the orbit to have them in rage of the enemy as their attack pattern shifts. Since they’re coming through space, there’s no terrain to stop them or create choke points, after all!

Enemies were your standard fare for TD titles, from what I played. You got your generic drones, your zippy ones that don’t attack, your slow tanks, ones that attack from further ranges, and so on. It’s enough variety for the type of game it is.

Likewise, your own towers are fairly standard fare, ranging from towers that generate resources and research (which can be used between levels to improve your towers’ upgrade cap), to rapid firing but weak cannons, to long-range missiles, to short-range powerful cannons.

In addition to the story mode, doing well in a level also unlocks a challenge mode for that map. The challenges range from locking certain rings, preventing their movement, to having some rings automatically rotate, to having the defence target only have 1 hit point. They exist to give players, well, a challenge on top of the normal levels, which can be pretty hard themselves.

And in addition to the challenges, there’s also an Arcade mode which is just an infinite wave survival challenge. You can choose from the satellite types you have unlocked so far to use, and the only way to get money is to clear waves or destroy enemy ships. Enemy ships are also generally limited to ones you have seen (when I played I got a ship I hadn’t seen yet, but I think it was supposed to be in the next level, since I had access to the weapons from that level).

While down at it’s core, Unstoppable Gorg is your pretty standard tower defence title, it has enough of a spin on the formula to make it interesting, even in such a saturated market. Also, the fact that they got guys to record such ridiculous FMV for the story? That’s worth the 10$ right there.

 

Full Reviews:

Giant Bomb: Quick Look

GameSpot: Review