June 18, 2012
I’m relatively inexperienced with the PC scene, but thanks to the Humble Indie Bundles, I’ve been dipping my toes the water more often. With the fourth and fifth HIBs in my possession, I recently decided to jump into Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony. Developed and published by Final Form Games (a studio consisting primarily of just three dudes!) and released last year, it’s an homage to the shoot ‘em ups of the 16-bit era wrapped around an alternate-historical story.
It’s the early 1600s and thanks to unmentioned advancements in technology, the British have colonized Mars instead of North America. Unfortunately, a combined force of Spanish and Martian soldiers is causing trouble for the British settlers and it’s against this backdrop that a personal story is told involving many real life figures. The game is brief so there isn’t much in the way of narrative, but the interesting setting and alternate-historical story is a neat addition to a smooth game.
As I mentioned, the developers of Jamestown must have some reverence for the shoot ‘em ups of the 16-bit era. The graphics appear as if they’re straight out of an arcade cabinet circa the early 1990s. Also, it was around this time that bullet bell shooters were beginning to arrive on the scene and Jamestown clearly fits into this subgenre.
Jamestown starts off simply but eventually cranks up the difficulty when hundreds of bullets are on the screen at any given moment. These types of shooters generally require catlike reflexes and lots of pattern memorization but thankfully, Jamestown isn’t too gnarly. I found it to be paced very well, subtly cranking up the difficulty as stages progressed until the final encounter which tested my skills in different ways.
The gameplay “hook” for Jamestown is a move called the Vaunt. After filling a gauge, I could Vaunt, at which point a shield would temporarily eradicate any nearby bullets. As long as I could keep the gauge full by collecting coins, I’d also have increased damage and a 2x points multiplier.
Although the game proper is brief (easily completed in one sitting), there are plenty of incentives to keep playing. With the story finished, it can be replayed in Farce Mode which exchanges the serious text in the cutscenes to something more whimsical. There’s also a second mode of challenges that have super specific goals. But my two most favorite aspects about Jamestown were the ability to play it using an Xbox 360 controller and the local multiplayer for up to four people.
With an Xbox 360 controller in my hand and my laptop hooked up to my TV via HDMI, I was in hog heaven. Jamestown is a finely-tuned shoot ‘em up; blasting enemies, dodging bullets, and collecting coins were all intrinsically satisfying experiences and its lax difficulty (or tough depending on how hard you want it) meant that I could get involved in the game, without pulling my hair out. Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony is a fantastic game – kudos to Final Form Games.
April 18, 2012
In the aftermath of Double Fine’s outrageous success on Kickstarter, the service has received a lot of attention from smaller developers and the press. Since their achievement, other companies have turned to Kickstarter as a means of funding their projects and Wasteland 2 is the latest success story.
The original Wasteland was a post-apocalyptic role-playing game released for computers in 1988. Prior to reading about the similarly stupendous success of the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter, I had never even heard of the game. In the related marketing for Wasteland 2, Wasteland is billed as the original post-apocalyptic RPG, a precursor to the Fallout series of games. In fact, Wasteland served as an inspiration for Fallout.
It’s not necessarily the success of Wasteland 2’s Kickstarter that prompted me to write; although how Kickstarter, direct funding from consumers, and video games can interplay (catch the reference?) piques my interest, especially considering I’m studying business. No, instead it’s the following image.
There are multiple things about this image that I find enthralling. I think the setting is the biggest facet of my adoration. The post-apocalypse is theoretically an ugly place, especially in the wake of an atomic holocaust if that’s the cause. What I see in this image though is the overgrowth of plants; being in a city setting makes it all the more unusual and appealing to me. When I begin to think about exploring this place, I can’t stop imagining what I’d find, and what the rest of this city, and world for that matter, are like.
The lush, plant-ridden settings is a key factor in why I love Final Fantasy XII so much, and a big reason why I’m enjoying my time with Xenoblade Chronicles. Those games featured very open environments inducing exploration, and I wonder if Wasteland 2 will be the same.
I really like the scorpion mech too. Styling it after a scorpion, gives it such a menacing look. I wouldn’t want to come upon it as an enemy, that’s for sure. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole thinking of the scorpion mech’s construction and what mechs are like in this time, and really, what the world is like too.
A colorful, vibrant, but not overly so, setting is something that immediately turns me onto a game and it’s why I might try Wasteland 2 simply upon seeing this image. I just wish I had helped fund it now.
November 1, 2011
Batman: Arkham City is the follow-up to one of 2009s most popular and critically acclaimed games: Batman: Arkham Asylum. The combat is nearly identical to Arkham Asylum’s while the environment is many times larger. Throw in a captivating story with a ton of post-game content, and I think 2011 is going to be a repeat of 2009.
Batman: Arkham City’s combat is mostly unchanged from Batman: Arkham Asylum. It revolves around Batman pummeling bad guys with his fists and gadgets and doing it exceptionally well. He leaps from goon to goon, even when they’re incredibly far apart and the blows he delivers are impactful, especially the final hit when dealing with a group of hoodlums. I didn’t make good use of every option available to Batman, but I really, really liked the melee combat. I’ve heard it called the best melee combat in video games and I’d have to agree.
The fights get tougher when different enemy types are introduced. There are a few larger than normal enemies that take a whooping and there are a few that require special tactics such as attacking from behind, but Batman’s biggest threat, aside from a few bosses, are enemies with guns. In a way, Arkham City has two modes of combat. The first is the all-out melee combat where I took on any comers, while the second revolved around stealth.
If I didn’t act stealthily around bad guys with guns and they noticed me, it was basically game over. Batman can take a walloping from run-of-the-mill bad guys, but guns shred him up. When I encountered a group of well equipped thugs, I took them out quietly, and this was as fun as tackling a large group. As I took more enemies out, they would freak out, giving me direct feedback on how I was doing. What I liked most about this sort of combat however was my forced reliance on my environment and gadgets. If I didn’t take these two aspects into consideration, thugs with guns would be much tougher.
After the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham City is still fed up with the villains that plague them. Through a curious chain of events, the most crime-ridden area of Gotham City is condemned and turned into Arkham City, a massive jail essentially. Dr. Hugo Strange is a key figure and as one might guess, up to something sinister.
Strange captures Bruce Wayne as he’s criticizing Arkham City and announcing his bid to run for mayor of Gotham City. Unfortunate for Strange, Batman is now inside Arkham City, but he’s not alone. Catwoman plays a large role in the game, but it’s strange how she is implemented. The ability to play as Catwoman is really a piece of downloadable content and included with any new copy of Batman: Arkham City. But everyone else will miss out unless they buy the DLC. Not infuriating, but whatever.
Her story is woven into the game at four points, and at natural breaks in Batman’s story. Her plot intertwines with Batman’s and I generally liked the break from Batman. She plays very similar to Batman, but she doesn’t have the same gadgets. She doesn’t have a lot of them either; only three compared to Batman’s dozen. Her fights were predominately just that, fights; I rarely took enemies out stealthily as her.
Batman and Catwoman meet many familiar and not so familiar villains from Batman lore. Batman has run-ins with a few major players like The Penguin and Mister Freeze, but The Joker is his main foe. What happens is very peculiar though. For most of the game, they are seeking the same thing and they operate as frenemies, but the way their relationship eventually plays out is intense.
I was really captivated by Arkham City’s story. Every time I’d finish a story thread, something interesting would happen and make me want to continue. Unlike a lot of games, I rarely wanted to stop playing it, and when I wasn’t busy with the story, I had a fairly large open world environment to explore.
Scattered about Arkham City were hundreds of riddles and trophies The Riddler left behind; literally hundreds, nearly five hundred in total. I almost feel like it’s too many, but then again, I’ve spent as much time with the game after I beat it as I did to beat it. Most of his items are trophies and these require clever uses of Batman’s gadgets. There are also riddles which require me to take a picture of something, but I had a hard time with these considering the large environment. His items would be tagged on the map after beating up certain thugs and this was very welcome.
When not going after Hugo Strange, The Joker, or The Riddler, I had a decent amount of side quests to tackle. These were mostly tasked to Batman by his enemies, which seemed odd. I mean Batman had incentives to undertake them, but if I simply told you Batman was assisting Bane without elaborating, you’d probably be confused. In the same vein, Batman never kills his enemies, which in some circumstances, is frustrating. I understand he doesn’t want to take a life, but locking someone up in a simple cage seems shortsighted.
Besides the standard game mode (in which I could fully explore Arkham City post-game and tidy things up as Batman or Catwoman) I could undertake the Riddler’s Revenge mode. This mode contained a lot of maps where I was tasked with beating up groups of thugs and getting ranked on how well I did, or taking a group of thugs out silently, and in a few specific ways. There is a lot of stuff to do in this game!
Batman: Arkham City is an improvement over Batman: Arkham Asylum. The combat system has changed little in two years, but it’s still so great. I really liked the story and was surprised by a few things that happened; I’ll definitely remember the ending. My biggest takeaway from Batman: Arkham City is the amount of content it contains. I’ve spent a lot of time with the game these past two weeks, and it’s one of the only games I’ve ever completed and then jumped right back into… for another dozen or so hours. Having strayed from many of this year’s new releases I can’t say with authority, but I believe Batman: Arkham City is one of the year’s best games. Batman: Arkham City was developed by London based Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and soon the PC. I played the Xbox 360 version.
October 24, 2011
Originally released on the PC in 2009, Eufloria is a real-time strategy video game developed by Alex May and Rudolf Kremers, with Brian Grainger composing the soundtrack. I’m writing about it now because it was published on PSN earlier in the month by Omni Systems Limited. Eufloria’s visuals and soundtrack are minimalist and relaxing, contrasting the seemingly violent nature of the gameplay. I controlled seedlings and moved them from asteroid to asteroid conquering them and any enemies in my way. After a little research however (see: Wikipedia) I found out the game is based on a scientific theory of planting trees in space.
I played the demo for Eufloria and was immediately struck by the art design. All that was noticeable was a few round asteroids populated by small red flying seedlings and a tree or two. This was all set on fluorescent light bulb-like background, not space. The soundtrack gelled with the art design; it was sparse and calming with an occasional pickup in tempo and volume.
There were a handful of stages in the demo and I always began with at least one asteroid under my control already. My objective was to branch out and spread my seedlings far and wide. To get more seedlings I planted trees on the asteroids, which required ten seedlings, but these trees produced seedlings. These stages contained at most about ten asteroids so it wasn’t tough work, I’d just amass a large cadre of seedlings and move them around.
I did encounter enemies in the form of diseases. They looked just like my seedlings, only gray. They operated the same way so they had asteroids under their control to. To overcome my enemies I’d gather a large group of seedlings and overwhelm them by sheer number. This was a simple solution but it didn’t require much strategy. The final stage in the demo was tougher and led me to believe I wouldn’t always be able to win by numbers. Something I didn’t consider was the stats of each asteroid. They had unique strengths revolving around energy, strength, and speed.
It wasn’t hard to grasp what I needed to do in Eufloria so I was dismayed by how slowly the game moved, even with the speedup button enabled. Then again, I didn’t implement much strategy, opting to steamroll my enemies. That probably wouldn’t be a viable solution for the entirety of Eufloria, hopefully at least. I was impressed with the relaxed nature of the visuals and the soundtrack, and I enjoyed the simple strategy gameplay, but I’ve had my fill of Eufloria.
October 20, 2011
It’s been ages since I’ve played a Need for Speed game, Need for Speed: Carbon from 2006 was the last one I played through. Although I’ve been absent from the series for half a decade, I’ve kept informed and like some of the ideas Electronic Arts has implemented. Most notably, I think the autolog feature, which compares your friend’s scores immediately after a race, is quite cool. The series has diversified itself over the past few years, with EA creating a simulation style offshoot, Shift, while continuing to release a more traditional Need for Speed experience.
The upcoming Need for Speed: The Run, falls into the latter category. Portraying a cannonball run sort of race, the main character in the game wants to receive the huge payout for winning. He has to race from San Francisco to New York City and the thought of a video game around this concept is very appealing to me.
I played the demo which consisted of two races. The first was in the deserts of Nevada and tasked me with passing ten opponents before the end of the race. I failed the first time, but grew more accustomed to the game my second time. I had two choices for a car, a Lamborghini or a Porsche; preferring the stats of the Lamborghini I chose it.
The second race took place in the snowy mountains of Colorado. It was just me and another racer in this stage and it was easy to see why. The road was covered in snow and ice, resembling a racetrack for snowboarders rather than racecar drivers. The people shooting flares into the mountainside creating avalanches didn’t help the situation either. It was exhilarating to slide around at one hundred-plus miles per hour and dodge falling debris nonetheless.
Both races were fun but I really liked the over-the-top nature of the second race. The concept of a cannonball run race video game seems like a no-brainer and I wonder if this is the first example. I’m intrigued by the concept and want to see where the races take place. Need for Speed: The Run was developed by EA Black Box and will be published by EA on November 15, 2011 for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC. Different versions of the game were also developed for the Wii, 3DS, and iOS platforms.
October 10, 2011
Ensemble Studios was an influential video game developer throughout the 1990s and 2000s. They worked almost entirely on real-time strategy games and on the PC to boot, so I haven’t had any exposure to them. They were shuttered by Microsoft a few years ago and as is the case with many shuttered developers, a few smaller studios form afterwards. Robot Entertainment is one of those studios and they have a new game called Orcs Must Die!
If it’s not clear from the title, a lot of orcs die in the game, and the character I played as (the war mage) did let’s say ninety percent of the killing. The impression I got from the intro cutscene was the war mage was inept, but I found that to be far from the case. He had many tools at his disposal even in the demo and placing familiar booby traps and watching orcs run through them was entertaining.
I played the demo version of Orcs Must Die and found the setup funny. A powerful mage has been killing orcs for a long time, preventing them from entering rifts and causing much chaos. One day this mage slipped on blood and cracked his head open, leaving this very important task to his naïve apprentice. Naturally I play as his apprentice, who happens to be a war mage, one who can use magic, swords, and crossbows.
Once the intro cutscene ended I was given control and I filled up a hot bar for quick access to my weapons and traps. I had two weapons throughout the demo that allowed me to deal with the orcs directly, a crossbow and a sword. They were both easy to use and effective, but it’d be mighty hard to hold back the orcs with these weapons alone.
The most interesting aspect of the game was my ability to set traps. The stages I played on were very linear; all three were hallways in fact, so the orcs didn’t have much of a varying path. In fact, I could see the path the orcs would take via lines making it even easier to set traps. I believe a new trap is unlocked with the completion of each stage and I had access to a few in the demo.
The first two I had access to could be placed on the ground. One was a spike strip and the other a tar pit that would slow orcs down. Another I could place on walls and it shot arrows at orcs whenever they passed. The last one I unlocked was an exploding barrel that would explode when I shot it with my crossbow. I developed a strategy early on by placing tar pits and arrow walls in the same path thereby slowing enemies down to make sure they get shot full of arrows. These traps weren’t free however, but my income was easy to come by. Each orc killed would give me some money and I could place traps on the fly.
The intial setup for Orcs Must Die! was amusing, but I don’t think there’s going to be any depth to the plot, and that’s fine because the gameplay was fun. I found it monotonous at first, but after I developed my tar pit/arrow wall strategy, a light clicked and I began thinking of other combinations. There weren’t many traps in the demo though so my experimentation went unfulfilled. But, the full game promises many more traps and weapons to utilize on the game’s 24 stages. I don’t believe the game has co-op which seems shocking to me, but I found the gameplay to be a nice blend of mindless hack ‘n’ slash gameplay and strategy. Orcs Must Die! was released last week on Xbox Live Arcade and is being released this week on the PC. It was developed by Robot Entertainment and published by Microsoft Studios on XBLA.
September 13, 2011
SkyDrift is a downloadable game released last week for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and the PC. It’s a racing game featuring airplanes and power ups, think Mario Kart and I thought it was pretty good. It was developed and published by the Hungarian studio Digital Reality; they also published Dead Block.
I played through SkyDrift’s tutorial learning how to maneuver my airplane as well as what the power ups did. It took me a few races before I really got used to controlling my airplane. I had to learn to plan my turns about a second before the actual turn. What helped was going knife-edge by turning with both analog sticks.
There was a decent blend of variety within the power ups. They were mostly focused on attacks but there were a couple of defense-oriented ones. I could hold two power ups at a time and if flew over a power up that I already had, that power up would level up and become stronger. Similar to Wipeout, if I didn’t want a power up, I could recycle it for boost. There were alternate ways to receive boost too. I got more for damaging and taking out other players or for flying close to the ground.
The demo also featured a multiplayer component but I forgot to try it out. There was only one stage in the demo, but it looked very nice. The demo ended touting a few more environments but I wonder how different the stages are visually. The soundtrack was very noticeable and it was rocking and upbeat, matching the tone of the races. There wasn’t much style to SkyDrift’s design; it seemed like everything was created realistically, but like I said, it looked very nice. I enjoy this type of racing game and SkyDrift seems like a fully featured power up-based racing game.
August 26, 2011
Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle video game. It was released for the PC earlier in the year, but just came out as a PlayStation Network game this week. It was developed and published by Fatshark, one of the teams that emerged after the dissolution of Grin.
I thought the perspective the game was told from was very interesting. The titular character Ernest Hamilton is now a grandfather and he’s babysitting his granddaughter. He tells her of his adventures when he was younger. For the player, this played out as a sepia-toned photograph slideshow, setting up the plot.
Hamilton and his professor friend had built an amazing contraption, but a thief has stolen a valuable part from it: the Fluxatron. The Professor believes he knows who the thief is, and suggests Hamilton should search the jungles of South America.
I controlled a young Hamilton as he traversed stages of platforms attempting to get a key which would unlock the exit. The pathways were linear early on in the demo, forcing me to go a specific route as I learned the ropes. The last couple of stages however were quite challenging. They were much larger and contained many obstacles; figuring these out required a multistep approach. Collecting every pickup enticed me into replaying stages too.
I enjoyed the gameplay and the control I had over Hamilton. He was not alone; I would occasionally have to take control of Sasha, his parrot to flip a switch; this added another element of puzzle solving. As I said earlier, I liked the narrative, it was fun and the characters were comedic. The music really stood out in the demo, it was very relaxing. The few stages the demo showed ranged from easy to challenging and I hope the game has a worthwhile amount of stages. I think Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle game and well worth ten dollars.