Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’

So I’ve played enough games now that I’m comfortable giving some quick impressions on my latest purchase. To coincide with the launch of Civilization V in 2010, Fantasy Flight Games also released a boardgame, simply called Sid Meier’s Civilization. In 2011, the game received its first expansion pack, Fame and Glory, although so far there doesn’t seem to be any hints or rumours of a second. I bought both the main game and the expansion at the same time as I figured there was no point beating around the bush, plus I have a core group of four others that I play with, so I needed the extra space F&G afforded me.

In a word: It’s good. It’s also long. Generally speaking, if we start a game at 7, we can have it done and dusted between 12-1, depending on how things are going. The first session we tried with five people, we were nowhere near finishing when it came to midnight, and two of our number had to go home. The second 5-player session we tried, again, we weren’t finished by 1am and decided to call it quits, although looking at the lay of the land, one of our number might have been able to win it in the next turn. I’ve also played two 2-player games, in the first one I got trounced, and the second one wasn’t finished because we had a late start and it was a weekday.

Yeah, that’s another thing – so far I haven’t really been playing that well. I’ve won plenty of Spartacus matches, RISK, Game of Thrones etc… but for some reason I can’t seem to get a handle on this game. It’s definitely about momentum – you need to get a second city up and running as quick as possible, and you can’t suffer any set-backs (like taking on some barbarians and losing, which can and does happen). Also, you have to play to your faction’s strength as much as possible. True to the PC game, there are multiple ways to winning – Culture (uses a track you simply have to get to the end of) Technology (be the first to research the Level V tech), Economy (You have to collect 15 coins) and Military (You have to be the first to take someone’s capital). Each faction in this game lends itself to certain tracks, and provided you get a good economy set-up going, you can open up others to you as well quite easily. If you don’t play to your faction’s strengths though, you can fall behind and/or get your ass handed to you very easily (which is what happened to me in one of the one-on-ones).

Still, this flexibility make sit a very interesting game, but you really have to commit from the off or you just meander about not really doing anything. There are a lot of rules as well, so it can be hard for people to keep it all in their head. It’s quite easy though to ‘disable’ some elements of the game from the expansion however, if you need to. If you only you could disable victory types, like I often do in the PC game (Domination all the way, baby).

The only long-term problem I see with this game is that, eventually, people are going to know what strategies they prefer, and in turn what factions they prefer playing as. I can see this leading to a situation where everyone just chooses the same factions over and over, and so in turn you know what their strategy is going to be from game-to-game. Also, if you don’t get momentum going quickly, you’re essentially a non-entity from the beginning, and that’s without any having even touched you. In other games, I’ve easily come back from a weaker position or still been able to significantly affect the outcome of the game, but in Civ there’s not as much scope for that – military conflict is dialled down because it’s only 1/4 of this game essentially, and while there are some tech/culture card effects that could be considered ‘offensive’, it’s down to whether or not you actually acquire those cards.

In the other boardgames that I’ve played so far, you’re not so … locked? I mean in Spartacus every House as its own play style, but there’s a lot of luck involved and it also depends on what assets you ultimately end up acquiring. A Batiatus player may never have more than say, two gladiators (which makes his abilities hard to use), but he could still win the game through some shrewd playing. same with Glaber and Guards, or Tullius and Slaves. Civ is a lot more ‘hands-off’ in the sense that someone could just sit there, and still win, and if no-one is in a position to do anything about it can be a bit depressing as you feel impotent.

Still, it’s a good boardgame, and I reckon we’re going to get many, many good play sessions out of it. I hope they do decide to expand on it with more releases.

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I’m rather chuffed with myself I have to say -I completed Darksiders over the weekend! Yay me!I think this is actually the first game in a long while that I’ve just sat down with the aim to complete a game, outside of the fact that I had it for review or whatever. I’m not much of completionist as you may have picked up on by now.

Story driven games like Darksiders pull me through the most, but then I’m liable to get bored if the game mechanics are too boring or grindy, which was in danger of happening here but the key difference I think is that I had a purpose. You may remember I was in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago seeing the sequel, and in preparation for that I actually read up on the first game. Kind of spoiled the ending for myself, but it actually sounded like a decent, iconic moment for a videogame, and so as soon as I got back I bought it from ShopTo.net (GAME were out of stock), and the sometime last week I think I started playing it – doing a couple of hours every night before marathoning it during the Easter Weekend to finish it off.

It’s weird – knowing the ending beforehand gave me an end goal, a reason to put up with the oddities, the repetitions, and the rushed plot devices that littered the game, and when I got to that scene I wanted to see (which I probably could have easily looked up on YouTube), I had a real sense of achievement. More so perhaps than if I didn’t know what was coming. It was definitely worth it, and I don’t mean to make Darksiders sounds rubbish, because it really isn’t. Other people I talked to said the first hour or so was really boring, and I could kind of see that but again I knew what the game was about, and I knew where I was headed so it was easier to bear – perhaps foreknowledge really isn’t such a bad thing after all.

It’s a shame really that the second game isn’t going to continue on from that ending – it’s very much a “Can’t wait to see what happens next” moment, but given that the first game was a tentative first step into a new IP, the second is going to expand on the universe and the lore more, and then probably bring it all together for the third game where they’ll continue on from there. Assuming THQ survives long enough to help Vigil get a third game.

It’s like I said in my preview though – parallel stories are a dangerous thing, and I hope it doesn’t prove to be too tenuous a link to the original game – but it does have to account for the time of the other three horseman whilst War was incarcerated for 100 years at the beginning of the game. One of the game’s leads mentioned to me in an interview that they’d gone into the first game very much with a sequel in mind, and you can see that with the amount of loose ends they leave.

I doubt I’ll pre-order it though – too much potential to disappoint right now for me to commit financially for it, plus I’d like to get it for review if possible, but being freelance now there are even less guarantees.

Hope you all enjoyed your Easter.

This is what being type-cast must feel like. Despite working for a website called Strategy Informer – a site who’s history and content historically originated from an obvious source, I seem to be the only guy who handles the strategy genre at the moment. They’ve been others, don’t get me wrong – if you look at a list of all the strategy games we’ve reviewed recently, there’s some other people in there as well, although one of them has moved onto PR now. Others though generally have to be coerced into it, as few these days seem to want to take up strategy projects willingly. Take this one, for example:

It’s a hardcore political-grand strategy game, one of Paradox’s titles. No one’s going to claim it – it’s just going to sit there until I get around to doing it myself because that’s always what happens with games like these. In fact, Susana Graham, Paradox’s Head of Marketing and a very lovely person, once told me that all the good strategy/PC writers (amongst the larger outlets anyway) were starting to move onto other things, and not being replaced, and I can readily see her point. On the UK side, thankfully there’ still a lot of ‘old-school’ games journalists, who have more of an appreciation of PC and Strategy gaming floating about, but even magazines like GamesTM, or popular websites like Videogamer.com lack full time staff with proper experience of these kind of things.

To be fair, this is mainly a problem the smaller or middle-of-the-road publishers (like Paradox, 1C, Kalypso etc…) have to deal with. AAA franchises get a lot more attention. Our news guy Simon, for example, is a Blizzard-nut and so did our Starcraft II review, and we have a fair few freelancers on our books who could easily handle the likes of Total War, or Command & Conquer (If we’re ever going to see that again), even Civilization. But for the rest, it’s usually me who picks them up.

Can’t complain too much – having an identifiable niche and good contacts amongst the key people in that niche is a plus to a resume, and could even be a deal-maker for the right outlet (you could almost say there’s a lack of decent PC writers in general these days, but that’s a point as fluid as the whole “PC Gaming is DEAD” phrase). I don’t mind being the ‘go-to’ guy for that sort of thing, although it does mean I play a lot of strategy games at the moment. You talk about Game fatigue in a general sense, but it can apply to specific genres as well if you play them enough. Still, it does become a problem when I end up with a game even I don’t really like. Supreme Ruler above, a game I did recently called Pride of Nations…  they’re not bad games, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very stats and management based, with a focus on the micro as opposed to macro/action. Thos games are hard to wrap one’s head around, and to be honest I’m not that much of a fan. Heart of Iron and Victoria, two key franchises from Paradox, are about my limit when it comes to grand-strategy.

At the moment, as well as writing up everything from the Ubisoft showcase yesterday (good stuff), I’ve got a review of Storm: Frontline Nation to do (Supreme Ruler, less content, but more fun) and a preview of Sengoku (Crusader Kings set in the Shogunate era of Japan). Not only that, but I hear Tropico 4 code has just come in  as well… although that one might actually get taken by someone, who know. Oh well, I like to think of it this way – I could be doing Le Tour De France  or Cars 2.

I suppose there are worst things than being type-cast – enjoy your weekend! I’m going to be too busy to enjoy mine.

I don’t like soap operas – I find them a bit mind numbing and boring, but I imagine the feelings people who do like them get are similar to what I get witnessing (or reading up on) the kind of drama that can take place within the videogames industry. I’m not talking about the serious stuff – studio closures, corporate evil, poor games… those things shouldn’t really be laughed at (well, not straight away anyway). But everything else? That’s fair game.

Take Operation Flashpoint: Red River for example, a game whose review I’m currently just finishing up for publishing tomorrow. Codemasters (developer AND publisher in this instance) have kind of made a big thing about trying to distance themselves from the term ‘simulation’ going as far to allegedly ban that term during the development of the game (their words). I can take a few guesses as to why, and those guesses just make the whole thing seem rather amusing.

What you may not know is that the original Operation Flashpoint, called Cold War Crises, was actually developed by a company called Bohemia Interactive, and published by Codemasters. At some point, the two companies had a falling out. Bohemia went their own way and started creating the Armed Assault (ArmA) series, which I gather are generally considered as the ‘official’ descendants to the original game, whilst Codemasters started developing their own Operation Flashpoint games since they owned the rights to the name. Dragon Rising was the first, which was released back 2009 (despite some protest from Bohemia, who while not being able to stop them using the name, tried to stop them marketing it as the official sequel), and now in 2011 we have Red River.

Of course, this is made all the more amusing by the fact that Red River is definitely more simulation than not, although to be fair perhaps ‘realism’ is the correct buzzword. Regardless, it’s definitely not COD, nor Battlefield, so that really only leave ArmA as its closest competitor – something which they out-right denied when we interviewed them. I tell you, what soap could compete with this? I can’t really find out what exactly caused the two companies to fall out, but I read up on the overall situation when I was reviewing Dragon Rising. I actually want to try out the ArmA games as their hyper-realism intrigues me – ArmA II especially is supposed to be really good.

It reminds me another similar situation I came across, back in the ‘early’ days of my game writing. I had to review a PC title called Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge, which by the way was one of the worst games I’d ever played (to my shame, I still ended up giving it a 6 since I hadn’t really developed the balls to go lower than that at the time). The engine was shoddy for the times (not just in terms of being low-tech – there have been plenty of great low-tech games, you only need to look at Paradox), localisation was done poorly, it was confusing… I’d say it still gives me nightmares to this day, but that would just be hyperbole for dramatic effect.

Anyway, the history behind the games development goes somewhat to possibly explain it’s state. Originally, Hired Guns was actually going to be the next game in the Jagged Alliance turn based action/strategy series. I personally haven’t played any of the earlier games, but I got the feeling it was a bit of an iconic franchise, with many trade mark elements that made it very unique. The IP was held by Strategy First Interactive, and they’d contracted a company called Game Factory Interactive to create what at the time was going to be Jagged Alliance 3D – Essentially a 3D re-make of the second game.

As the years went on there were set-backs and miscommunications, with Strategy First trying to fulfil their grand future vision for the series, and GFI just trying to keep costs down. Eventually, Strategy First had had enough and so pulled the IP rights for the game, and so GFI were left with a half made product that lacked an IP. So, the game was finished, edits were made, and we were left with Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge. You can go here to read a more comprehensive account of what happened(scroll up to the bit about Jagged Alliance 3/3D), although with the caveat that it’s a Wikipedia article.

I tell you, this stuff is better than crack. Although, not better than a actually decent TV series…

THIS. IS. SPARTA!

Sorry, I have a thing for memes… it was either that or “Alice? Who the Fuck is Alice?” which isn’t even from my generation. Gots to keep my audience in mind! Anyway… yesterday my preview of Alice: Madness Returns went live on Strategy Informer. This is one that escaped my attention, mainly because it’s the sequel to a game that was released back in 2000 – so way before I even had gaming as a proper hobby, let alone a possible career path.

You can read my official preview here, if you like, but I’m not really here to talk about the game as opposed to what the game represents. I’ve always liked re-imaginings or re-interpretations of things, even original stories that take place in familiar settings, or anything that craftily links to established worked. I’ve never been able to pin down why, but I’ve always found it to be… clever, I suppose. It’s the realisation, that moment when you go “Oh right!” that I really enjoy… much like how I enjoy the twists in thrillers.

American McGee’s re-imagining of Alice isn’t the first alternate telling of that particular tale I’ve encountered either. I can’t remember if it was bought for me, or I picked it up on a whim, but I have a book called the Looking Glass Wars by a guy called Frank Beddor that’s really interesting. Alyss (Alice) is actually a princess in Wonderland, when a coup by her aunt forces her to flee into the ‘real’ world, only she’s not sure how to get back. It’s quite interesting, actually, especially Beddor’s interpretation of Wonderland and it’s key features (The Mad Hatter, for example, is actually some kind of awesome ninja/assassin bodyguard who’s main weapon is his top hat… a bit like Oddjob, I suppose.)

A nice touch is when Alyss, frustrated that no one will believe her, confides in a Reverend, who then writes it all up as Carroll’s actual tale, and there’s a point about mid book where Alyss, and even the reader, starts to doubt whether or not the few chapters at the beginning of the book were even real, or whether it was all in her head. Apparently Beddor wrote two more books after that, Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy, which I have yet to read… might go pick them up, as I haven’t had any new books in a while.

Alice: Madness Returns looks interesting though… gameplay wise it feels a little bit like Zelda, and the art style is suitably twisted and depressing. What really interests me though is the fact that the fire which killed Alice’s family (and thus led to the events of the first game), may not have been an accident, and the main story of the game revolves around you trying to figure out what happened. Judging by some of the promotional material I’ve seen, I bet she did it.

But yeah… bit of a random tangent today. I’d recommend that book to anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing, and those of you waiting for Madness Returns, it looks like it’s going to be as good as you hope it is.

Until next time…

P.S. By the way, I worked out that, in Madness Returns, Alice must by like 30 by now, or close enough. I can’t remember how old she’s supposed to be in the original tale, eight? Nine? But the first game takes place ten years after that, so 18, and now this game takes place elven years after that, making her around 29. Kinda odd, isn’t it?

Just a quick note to anyone who knows me… or cares… I’ve changed my gamertag on Xbox Live. Previously, I went under the name ‘BellXross’, but from now on you’ll see me online as ‘DigitalXentric’. I wanted to just go with the proper spelling, but XBL only allows for 15 characters, so I was 1 short, and I didn’t like any of the other variations.

Why change you ask? Well I was never quite content with BellXross (Supposed to spoken as ‘Bellcross’, but that spelling was taken). When I first got my Xbox and was setting all this up, all of the names I really wanted were either taken or too long, and eventually I just got fed up and so settled on the first things that was alright.

Bellcross is actually the main character in an anime I rather liked, called ‘Heroic Age’, so that’s where I got that. It was too geeky even for me though, and I was always kind of ‘meh’ about it, I just couldn’t be bothered to change it until now.

So, to recap, I’m now DigitalXentric on Xbox Live, so those of you who have me as a friend don’t worry if you don’t recognize me, it’s me!

Incidentally, if anyone wants to add my PSN ID, that is DigitalEccentric too, spelled properly. Please do attach a note though if you are going to add either account, as if I can’t figure out who it is from the tag alone, and there’s no note, I’m just going to assume you’re a random and probably ignore you. No offence.

So yeah, just a quick one explaining my change of circumstance. You know I almost, ALMOST, bought some stuff from the avatar marketplace. But that’s just asking for trouble.

Until next time.