Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category

This War of Mine

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

This War of Mine is to games what Schindler’s List is to movies – a depressingly beautiful experience that makes you think hard for a long time and possibly changes your life.

TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxf1seOpijE

The game is a simulation of what regular civilians, like you and me, went through during the siege of Sarajevo in the early 90’s. It’s very dark and realistic in it’s depiction of the brutalities of war, and I actually cried once while playing. The art style is phenomenal, most everything is black & white, they did a great job with the animations.

The gameplay is a rogue-like sidescroller that involves a lot of crafting, inventory management, and stealth/combat mechanics, and it’s really fun. Everything you do is a difficult decision and since the game autosaves, and you only get one save file, you either finish the game accepting the consequences of your actions or start over from the beginning. I’m still shocked at how much empathy this game can generate from me regarding the characters. Over the last couple of weeks, I have become thankful for every meal and luxury (heat/running water/wine/etc) I have had. STRONGLY recommend trying this out. This is a game I will point to in the future when I have to explain to someone why games are a form of art.

Game is available on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/282070/

P.S. You will most likely lose your first couple of games.

Really Cool Game About Diversity

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Most of the time, games for learning do a terrible job of being fun and fall flat on their face. But every now and then a gem appears that really teaches you something powerful, and it does it in a way that would otherwise not be possible without the interactivity of a game system. A co-worker of mine just shot out this really cool link for a game that teaches us some very powerful lessons on diversity:

Parable of the Polygons (http://ncase.me/polygons/)

Here’s a brief summary of what it teaches: Small individual biases can lead to a large collective bias, and it takes effort rather than simply tolerating the status quo to be able to make real change happen. The simulation is based off of the work Thomas Schelling did to demonstrate racial segregation patterns, though it can be applied to any kind of diversity. If that interests you, take 10 min and play with the simulations on the page.

Hope you enjoy it and learn as much as I did! :)

1000 hours of Civ 5 and I still love it!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Last night I hit a milestone. I spent my 1000th hour playing Civilization 5. This game has owned me hard, almost as hard as Super Smash Bros Melee did a dozen or so years ago. I spent some time reflecting on why I love the game so much, and things that I would love to see improved. Dirty secret — I have beaten Immortal a few times, but I’ve never beaten Deity! :(

I love the fact that you can play peacefully and have a full game. It is very difficult to create a fulfilling peace-based experience in a tactical turn-based strategy game with such a robust and important combat system. Admittedly, the late game suffers from the “just click Next Turn again” problem sometimes, but I feel that on the higher difficulties I really get down to the wire even when doing a diplomatic or science victory and I have to pay careful attention to managing my empire to prevent AIs from sneaking in. Cultural victory is my favorite type, and it seems to be the hardest to achieve. One of the things I dislike is that there are only a set number of things you can do to increase your Tourism modifier with other civs, and Open Borders requires both parties to agree (which will never happen in a multiplayer game). I think if Open Borders gave a different awesome benefit, such as increasing (maybe doubling?) amount of gold and science income from trade routes to that player, then it would become attractive even in multiplayer games with only humans and make culture victory more viable. Right now it’s just too easy to deny a few of the key wonders and culture spam.

The UI is really clean and does a great job of introducing the game to new players. There’s only one thing you need to remember – the button at the bottom right of your screen tells you everything you must do before your turn ends. All other actions, such as managing your citizens /specialists, are optional, albeit important for succeeding at higher difficulties. I am currently using the Enhanced UI DLC and I LOVE the way it shows you what tiles a city is working and what it will grow into just by hovering over the city name. I’m not crazy about how smooshed the condensed UI at the top looks, but it does some cool things like telling you how many turns for your next Great Person and which kind it will be.

I do wish that the espionage and diplomacy systems were expanded a bit more. I have a good bit of options in the diplomacy screen, but it would be great to have some more nuanced options like allowing Open Borders only for certain types of units (military, civilian, etc) or multiple levels of declaration of friendship that give varying benefits (trade partners, science buddies, culture sharing, etc). Also I’d love to specify the amount of time something will last instead of it being a fixed 30 turns all the time. I also think the game would benefit from not allowing flat gold trading for per-turn things (like luxuries), as that is the most optimal thing to do pretty much at all times if possible when playing vs AI. As for espionage, I want more things to do in an enemy city. Let me blow buildings up or sow discontent. Let me assassinate specialists or sabotage great people production. These kinds of things would make Constabularies and Police Stations so much more important and viable for everyone. And these kinds of activities, when discovered, would carry much harsher diplomacy penalties potentially even world-wide.

Social Policies are a huge win for me. I see nothing bad about them, and it’s fun to customize your empire. Sure, there are some balance issues (I’m looking at you, Tradition!!) but unless you are playing at the highest difficulties you can try any strategy. I also really love how the Ideology choice around the Industrial/Modern era turns the world into a 3-way world war. It’s really exciting!

So in conclusion, after 1000+ hours of playing Civ 5 I am still hooked. It is my favorite turn-based strategy game of all time, even replacing the previous reigning champion Master of Orion II which was my favorite for 17 years (since 1996!). Kudos to you Firaxis, your game is awesome! :)

Dear Dragon Age, Can I Have My Life Back?

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Yes, I admit it. I am one of the multitude of people who have been completely enraptured by the brilliance that is Dragon Age: Origins. Or maybe I should say enslaved? I beat it over a month ago, yet I am still playing it in most of my spare time. The game is so chock full of content that even when you win for the first time you have only experienced half of everything possible!

On the surface, the game just seems like a mildly beefed up version of Neverwinter Nights or Baldur’s Gate. Better graphics, more cutscenes, a new set of non-D&D classes, etc. But once you peel back that layer of first impressions and start to experience the guts of the game, you will be sucked into an epic, movie-quality story where your emotions are on a roller-coaster ride and you feel a very real vested interest in the outcome. I CRIED at the end of the game. As in, real tears streaming down my face! The full waterworks! ME!!! I’m usually just a gaming drone, trying to analyze the game system to get in the developers brain and then consequently min/max and find the most efficient way of defeating the game to earn my achievements or complete my goals. But not this game! Oh no, I lost myself in the tale that was woven around every decision I made. It helped that I made a character similar to myself, and that I made all the in-game decisions that I would make in real life. By the end, I was so deeply entrenched in this fantasy world in which I had forged myself into a legend through my actions that I cared more about what happened in the story more than whether or not I would get an extra +1 spellpower by equipping this staff or those robes.

And the story is just one of the many wonderful features this game possesses. Every one of the major companion characters (and there are 9 of them that can travel with you for a majority of the game) is incredibly complex. Just like the game itself, each of them seems like a blatant fantasy game stereotype when you are first introduced. But after just a small amount of time with them, they each begin to unfold into something you didn’t quite expect. The nuances of their personalities shine through in their dialogue with you and each other as well as their approval and disapproval of the choices you make. Just like most people I know in real life, these companions are strange compilations of traits that often contradict themselves and offer a deep richness not usually found in games. I grew to care about them even though I knew that their personalities were made of nothing but 0’s and 1’s, and when they disapproved of my decisions I felt genuinely bad!

The game is very dark and very mature, but it’s not all death and serious topics. There are some very humorous parts, things I would chuckle about for days. In particular, Shale the golem (part of the downloadable content called The Stone Prisoner) is an absolute hoot! I can’t tell you how many times I cracked up from some snarky comment spoken in that ridiculous golem voice with a british accent. Shale takes pride in being a cold-hearted killer of “squishier” beings like humans. My favorite line?

Leliana: You aren’t all stone, Shale. There is a person inside of you.
Shale: If so, it is because I ate him.

I still laugh about that one. If you take Shale with you through your adventures (which I highly recommend) you will be treated to all sorts of hilarious dialogues and one-liners.

Bioware also deserves some serious kudos for being brave and including GLBT content in the game. The fact that 2 of the 4 romanceable companions are bisexual and willing to engage in same-sex relationships speaks highly of Bioware‘s maturity and the progressive attitudes of the content creators. While I think the love-making cutscenes are generally cheesy and I couldn’t help but laugh at every single one of them, I am proud that they decided to include the possibility of gay romances without forcing it on the player. Like The Sims, it is up to the player to decide whether he or she wishes to engage in that kind of content.

I could probably write an entire book dissecting all the aspects of this game that I want to talk about–the equipment system, the achievements, the codex entries, the side quests, the talents & spells, the modding tools, etc. But then how would I have time to go experience the rest of the content I haven’t finished? :) This is a game that you do NOT want to miss out on. If you haven’t already purchased it, go out and buy it right now, or download it from Direct2Drive or some other online service. Be sure to get the PC version, as the game is best played with a mouse. I’ve tried it on the Xbox 360 and the controls feel completely clunky in comparison.

Hats off to you Bioware. You have stolen my life yet again. I would classify this as the best storyline I have ever experienced in a game. Ever. I’ll be playing this for quite some time to come. Oh well… off to kill more darkspawn!

I’m Still Addicted to Puzzle Quest

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

So am I the only person that still whips out Puzzle Quest every couple of months to beat it all over again? I’m working on my 4th run through now, this time with the last character I haven’t tried – the Knight. There’s something incredibly fun and addictive about the game that never gets old even though I know the whole storyline. Let’s look at the features I love:

  • Multiple character types to select from, each with unique powers and several possible choices for gender/looks.
  • Addicting and clever battle system based on Bejeweled.
  • Decent storyline, a bit stereotypical and overdone, but the unique battle system makes it feel fresh somehow.
  • Lots of side quests and activities outside of the main quest – build up your citadel, gather Runes, forge Rune Items, capture and train Mounts, capture enemies and research their spells, and conquer cities to add to your empire.
  • Leveling system for the player, with standard RPG stats and such. It’s addictive like crack. Just… one… more… level!!!…
  • Tons of pre-made items to purchase and equip, though I generally find I stick with the same kinds no matter what my character is.
  • No death condition. Instead you just retry battles

I could have added that there is a multiplayer element to the game – you can battle other people with the character you have created – but I’m not really fond of it. It feels like it was tacked on because they could. I suppose that’s better than excluding it since I’m sure there are others out there who enjoy that part of the game, but I am not one of them.

I think the DS version is my favorite. I’ve played it on Xbox 360, PC, and DS, and by far the DS version was the most fun because I could take it with me. Puzzle Quest is perfect when I have 5 min waiting at a restaurant for my friends to arrive or when I’m in sitting at the doctor’s office for my appointment. The ability for the DS to pause the game and hibernate by shutting the lid without losing progress is invaluable. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve been engrossed in the middle of a battle when I hear my named called and have to instantly flip the lid down to greet someone or go do what I was there for in the first place. Man that would piss me off if I lost my progress whenever that happened.

I am a huge fan of both casual and hardcore games. I like casual games because they are usually more forgiving on time-requirements – I can play for 5 minutes or 5 hours, and either the gameplay sessions are individually small enough that I can complete them in that time or it’s easy to save and come back later. I like hardcore games because I’m constantly searching for that immersive experience in which to emotionally invest myself. Puzzle Quest satisfies both of these urges for me. It’s also a great introduction into hardcore games for any casual players you know. My sister LOVES Bejeweled, and while she normally has no interest in video games (which for some reason she doesn’t count Bejeweled as one) she was really interested in Puzzle Quest when she saw me in a battle. It makes a great gift for a birthday or holiday – the game is priced very reasonably so you could buy several copies for the price of a regular hardcore game.

Overall, the game is clean, fun, and really expansive given its premise. Puzzle Quest is addictive and unique and polished, which is probably why I still play it a year after I bought it. Kudos to Infinite Interactive and D3 for making a brilliant game I can’t put down!

Indie Review – Puzzle Farter

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Introduction

Puzzle Farter is a 2D platformer created by Pet Tomato in which you have to help a character with a goldfish for a head navigate through each level to reach the exit door. How do you do it? By propelling him through the air with gravity-defying flatulence.

That’s right. You fart to fly.

I’d love to say that I am above immature fart jokes and the fact that you pass gas to pass levels didn’t factor into selecting this game to review, but then I’d be a liar. There’s a lot of crude potty humor in games out there, but most of it is done poorly. Puzzle Farter does it right. I’ve played dozens of times already, and I still snicker every now and then when my character cuts a big one trying to launch himself to a high platform. The game humorously incorporates toilet humor in a thematic manner that fits in the game world without making it overly gross or disgusting.

Puzzle Farter - Main Menu

Puzzle Farter - Main Menu


Gameplay

Juvenile theme aside, the game itself is expertly-crafted. The physics have been tweaked to perfection, and the controls are simple enough for anyone to grasp quickly but still allow for a large range of motion. Press up once to jump normally, then press up again while in the air and hold to fly. Right and left arrows dictate horizontal movement whether on the ground or airborne. That’s it! There are no special attacks, no key combinations, no complicated instructions to think about. Just move, jump, and fly. You only get a few seconds of total flight time before you run out of gas (literally) and fall to the ground, so you can’t fly endlessly. Your supply recharges quickly however, allowing you to get back in the air almost immediately after touching the ground.

Along the way you’ll be required to navigate through a maze of platforms that get increasingly complex. You’ll encounter five different enemies that will up the challenge quite a bit as well. Touching an enemy or something it attacks with results in losing a health point. You get three health per life and three lives per game, though there are some extra life power ups scattered throughout the levels. If you lose a life on a level, you have to start that level over. This structure forces players to get through every level with no more than 3 hits, while allowing them many more than 3 cumulative hits over the course of the entire game.

Puzzle Farter - Gameplay

Puzzle Farter - Gameplay


Level Design

Puzzle Farter really shines when you examine its levels. The first couple levels are built in tutorials–there aren’t any enemies so you can take all the time you need to get the hang of the flying mechanic without fear of failure. The levels then slowly introduce easier enemies first in simple-to-avoid positions, followed by more and more complicated level and enemy setups. Soon you’ll be dodging fish on stilts and spiked sea anemones while flying up through a maze of paper airplanes thrown by kitties in jars. The difficulty curve ramps up very smoothly and the challenges increase proportionally to your skill level as you progress. That’s not to say you’ll likely beat all 50 levels on your first attempt, however. Getting through the entire game is no small feat, and once you do that Pet Tomato has another 50 levels waiting for you in the “New Levels” selection at the beginning of the game. They should have been called “Brutal Levels” as these will really put your methane-powered acrobatics to the test.

Room For Improvement

One minor quibble is that it’s not immediately apparent that you can safely land on the frog enemy’s tongue. You have to avoid the tip, but the middle part of the tongue is safe. This goes against every other enemy behavior you learn in the game, and it was only after I had beaten the entirety of the first 50 levels that I accidentally discovered this fact. Boy, would that have made some of the previous levels easier.

Conclusion

Puzzle Farter is flawlessly executed and really shows off the game development expertise of the creators, especially level design. The cute, cartoony art style and fantastic sound design compliment the game perfectly. Puzzle Farter is a joy to play, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fun casual game and a good laugh.

Indie Review – Tone Matrix

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Tone Matrix is a really nifty little Flash app that lets you compose an awesome-sounding synthesized music loop in real-time using a giant grid. The x-axis represents timing. There’s 16 equal increments of time, giving you 4 beats at 4 notes per beat. The y-axis represents pitch, with each tile being a different note on a pentatonic scale. For those of you who don’t know what that is, basically it means no matter what combination of notes you play they sound good with each other. I’ll let the wikipedia link explain it in more detail if you are interested.

I know it’s more of a toy than a game, but these kinds of projects frequently lead to really nifty ideas being adapted in games. Just browsing through the comments I saw some people mentioning various games (Tetris, etc) that would benefit from an added mechanic of something like this. I know I was mesmerized by Tone Matrix for a good solid hour, and I’ll show most of my friends. It’s fun to draw a picture of something with the matrix and see what it “sounds” like. Thanks again to Scottae for sharing this.

TONE MATRIX URL: http://lab.andre-michelle.com/tonematrix

Indie Review – Gravity Bone

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Gravity Bone is an action game played from a first-person perspective where you take the role of a super spy on a few top secret missions. I say “a few” because the entirety of the game can be played in under half an hour, but it’s one of the best 30 minutes I’ve spent with a game in a long time! Kudos to the creator, Brendon Chung, for making this gem of indie gaming. It just goes to show how much one person can do with the tools that are out there.

Gravity Bone Screen Shot

Gravity Bone Screen Shot


Look & Feel

From the moment you start, Gravity Bone offers an amazing ambiance full of life. The blocky nature of the character models and animations is quickly forgotten due to the amazing textures on their faces and bodies. In fact, I almost prefer it to the “realistic” models found in a lot of other games. I spent a good amount of time just wandering around the initial area looking at the other characters from various angles. This just proves, yet again, that a game doesn’t have to have the highest-end graphics or realistic characters to be great. As a player, I am delighted to suspend my disbelief and accept the square-faced people around me as real, normal individuals in the game world. The audio and sound effects complimented the atmosphere beautifully and reminded me of a James Bond movie. The entire game has a dry sense of humor, lightly mocking itself and its genre while maintaining a surreal but serious visage to the player.

Level Design

Gravity Bone guides you through its story and goals without making you feel babied, a tribute to Brendon’s skill as a level designer. New controls, goals, and concepts are introduced smoothly and you never feel overwhelmed as you add to your repertoire of possible actions. The missions seem completely random from an objective point of view, yet somehow they integrate seamlessly inside of this brightly colored world of espionage. The story unravels at a good pace, keeping my attention at all times and even throwing a surprise twist. Maybe I should have seen it coming?… Regardless, all of you aspiring level designers should take a long time going through this game, studying the techniques Brendon uses to steer the player to specific sections without making them feel like they don’t have a choice. Even the instructions are built into the levels, appearing on signs the player encounters along the way and strategically placed to help out just when the player needs to know how to do a specific action.

Gravity Bone - Instructions signs in level.

Gravity Bone - Instructions signs in level.


Gravity Bone - More Instructions

Gravity Bone - More Instructions


Conclusion

If I have a complaint about Gravity Bone, it is only that the game is painfully short (I was serious when I said it would take you no more than 30 minutes, and that’s only if you stop and admire things like I did). But it is a bittersweet pain – every minute was packed full of action, suspense, and a nagging feeling that made me keep going. Despite the linear storyline and knowing what was going to happen, I played through the game two times just to get a broader appreciation for the environment. I sincerely hope that he’ll make a sequel. Having had this as a teaser, I’d gladly shell out some cash to experience this again in a longer format.

Get the Game

The game can be downloaded from Brendon’s website, Blendo Games, and it does not need installation or any additional files. I strongly recommend that you play it right now – you’ve got 30 min, right? Dinner can wait. You’ll be glad that you did.

Blendo Games: http://www.blendogames.com/