Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reprisal Review

Here’s a bit of ‘inside baseball’ for you guys, this is three step guide to how I play/lose almost any RTS game: Step 1) Build as many of the cheapest units as possible. Step 2) Point them vaguely in the direction of my opponent. Step 3) See what happens. Tactical viability aside, I just find something massively cathartic about seeing waves of troops wash over an enemy’s base like a crashing tide, a tactic that very few games actively encourage. With that in mind, I can’t help but feel Reprisal and I were somehow always meant to be together.

The game has you play as a nearly forgotten shamman, with only a small number of devout followers to your name. Your mission is to spread your influence across the land and reclaim your former godly powers, mainly through violent conquest of any tribes not smart enough to bow down before you. A subtle commentary on organised religion? Hell if I know. I was too busying jamming out to its classy chip tunes and lappin’ up the gorgeous pixel art to care.

In a homage to the classic “Hands-Off” RTS Populous, the game eschews the traditional array of movement and construction commands you’d normally expect from such a game. In fact, Beyond the obligatory “go here” order, there’s only two flavours of edict you can give your worshipers at all; either “Everyone, go build houses wherever the hell you feel like!” or “Everyone, go steal the houses the other tribe’s built!”. That’s right, no collecting wood, constructing sufficient pylons, managing build queues or even reluctantly typing “gg” every time you get your ass handed to you; It really is a binary choice between build stuff or steal stuff en masse. I’ll admit, having all the usual commands taken away made me feel a bit naked at first, but after a while I actually found it quite liberating not having to keep a million variables in my head all the time. Now there was only one thing I had to focus my immeasurable intellect on: landscaping.

Yes, you heard me right: Landscaping. You see, In order to you aid you your people’s genocide of anyone who chose the wrong god, you have an extensive range of mystical abilities, the most important of which allows you to instantly raise and lower sections of land at will. Using this, you can quickly turn rugged inhospitable mountain land or boundless oceans into flat fertile soil that’s easy for your people to colonise. After a while of messing around with this power, I very quickly realised that this game could just as aptly be called ‘Multiply or Die’. It works like this: The more of that all-important flatland your bros have, the bigger their settlements will be, which in turn go on to produce more (and stronger) bros, who then go on to build/steal other houses and produce more bros than before and so on and so on.

It’s a really interesting dynamic that turns traditional RTS logic on its head. For once you don’t really have to worry about what your building or where you build it; you little worshiper dudes take care of that bit for you. Instead, your job is to simply make that stuff happen as fast as possible. Seriously there’s no time to wait; right from the beginning you’ve just gotta throw caution to the wind and get terraforming like crazy! And you better not stop for anything, ‘cus what works for you, works for your enemies too. The more troops they’ve got, the faster they can steal from you, which in turn gives them more units, which lets lets them steal even faster than before etc etc. It’s not so much an AI you’re fighting against in Reprisal; It’s more like pure, brutal mathematics. I guess that might be considered a bit of a faux pas for hardcore strategy fans looking for something a little more advanced, but I for one found it quite relaxing for a change. It’s nice to turn the higher brain functions down a notch and let your reflexes do the talking sometimes, you know?

There is of course a bit more to this game than a simple land grab; alongside your terraforming powers you’ve a full repertoire of all the standard god-like abilities such as tornados, thunderstorms, fireballs, and uh, fireball thunderstorms (?). With a bit of quick thinking there’s all sorts of clever tactics you can pull off with ‘em that’ll either aid your followers in warfare or, even better, stunt the growth of vile blasphemers before they’ve had a chance to build up any forces of their own. I think my personal favourite stratagem was calling in a tsunami and wiping out anything living at sea level, all while my chosen few were chillin’ safely in their mountain-top fortress. It’s hardly Sun Tzu I know, but the charming simplicity of Reprisal’s mechanics still never fail to put a smile on my face even when it all inevitably backfires (sometimes I forget to build the mountain….).

I should mention however that game doesn’t really explain how to do most of the stuff I just described, or how just about anything in the game works at all for that matter! The ‘tutorial’ ends rather abruptly, leaving you to deal with the game’s incredibly steep difficulty curve (mostly thanks to the the AI’s patchett for cheating in later stages) without so much as a tooltip to go on. But at least you’re given plenty of time to learn the ropes though, as the game’s 30 or so levels should –unless you happen to have Korean levels of APM— last you a good two or three hours before you either conquer the known worlds or manage to develop Repetitive Strain Injury from all that frenzied clicking.

Okay so here’s the part where I have to make a little confession: As this game is a free browser based title, I was initially planning to ending this review with something along the lines of “this game is a really cool time sink, but only worth playing ‘cus it’s free”. However, upon the fifth or so time I found myself booting up Reprisal since starting to write this thing, I began to realise that sentiment is complete and utter bull. Sure, it might not be the deepest strategy game out there, and it’s extremely derivative of the games it’s homaging and all, but you know what? It’s also immensely rewarding, it looks great, it sounds great and, dare I say it? It’s bloody good fun! Without a doubt, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t check this thing out some time, even if all you do with it is chill out at the menu screen’s jaunty tunes.

Reprisal can currently be played for free over on the official site.

Good
High quality music/graphics,
Very satisfying,
Interesting twist on the RTS formula,
Large amount of content (for a free game).

Bad
Short tutorial,
Cheating AI towards the end.

A Virus Named Tom Review

Ah, a good ol’ pipe rearranger puzzle game, everyone knows how these work right? Either that, or I’m getting super old….. Okay, just to be sure, let’s break it down real quick: You’ve got this grid right, and on that grid there’s a ‘Source’ and an ‘Exit’, and your job is to placing (or just rotating in the case of this game) a variety of pipe segments that link the two together, usually to the pace of  some terribly harsh time limit that’ll make you curse up a storm on more than one occasion.

A Virus Named Tom’s neat little twist on this age-old design is twofold: firstly, there’s no ‘Exit’ to link up with, instead you’re expected to connect ‘Source’ to every pipe piece on the grid in one continuous path. And secondly, to make that happen you’ve got to move your little virus dude (the titular Tom) around the grid while dodging the patrolling anti-virus ‘spiders’, each of whom can take a massive chunk out of your limited time upon contact and likely cause the aforementioned cursing.

Your only weapon against this anti-viral onslaught is the Glitch, a trap you can place on the grid that temporarily stuns the spiders, or even destroys them entirely should another spider be unfortunate enough to collide with ’em before the effect wears off. Early on that’s about as complicated as it gets, but over time further gameplay mechanics are introduced, such as hidden grid squares, immovable pipes and multiple ‘Sources’, that’ll force you to develop new approaches for each puzzle.

There is of course the customary whacky narrative holding this puzzler’s premise together: The contractually insane Dr X, creator of the Jetsons-esque sci-fi utopia “The City of Tomorrow”, seeks to use Tom to sabotage several of his greatest inventions, all as an act of vengeance against his former employers: the monolithic Mega-Tech Corporation! In all honesty, the storyline is wafer-thin and bares almost zero relevance to the actual gameplay. But still, l just couldn’t help but give the odd wry smile and occasional chuckle to every little comedy skit or angry email from the Mega-Tech executives. Without a doubt this game oozes with character and charm, a testament to what a small team can really do with limited resources and a bit o’ love.

But even without all that charisma backing it up, the excellent gameplay alone is more than capable of making this title worth talking about. While I would call anything about it particularly original, I simply can’t understate how extraordinarily well crafted each and every puzzle feels. Many are deceptively simple at first, but you’ll quickly discover they each require a hefty amount of logical thought as well as a good dose of dexterity to see them through. More importantly though, none of them ever felt overwhelming as such; the answer never seemed like some sort of impossibly out of reach goal. The solution was always there waiting for me just over the horizon, all I had to do was work/think my ass off to get to it!

I guess I could call it challenging, but I feel like the word “challenge” has become a bit of a dirty word thanks to the rise of (brilliant) hardcore Indies like Super Meat Boy, Dustforce and their many assorted kin. A Virus Named Tom ain’t like that, it isn’t shouting “YO, I BET YOU CAN’T DO THIS TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE THING LOSER!” at your face every five seconds. No, it’s more like a gentle taunt of “Hey, I made this puzzle for you! Think you can beat it?”. I know that’s probably a very strange analogy to make, but it’s a good illustration of how jarring it feels to finally play an Indie game that doesn’t seem like it hates your guts.


Even at a stretch, I can only really find one issue that might present a problem when this thing exits Beta, and it’s an issue that just about every puzzle game ever has had to contend with: Longevity. While the game offers 50 excellent single player levels, bare in mind that the first 20 or so of those can be dusted off in one sitting, and the only replay value this game offers is a chance to redo each puzzle a bit faster than you did last time; not exactly my idea of fun. Although the 2-4 player co-op and competitive modes add another 50 or so levels on top of that (and are great fun to boot!) that lack of online compatibility severely limits how many people will even bother trying it. I mean really? Going ‘outside’ to someone else’s house? Who even does that anymore!

But at this point I feel like I’m just splitting hairs for the sake of it. Even as someone who’s not super keen on traditional puzzle games like this, I still found the Beta version of A Virus Named Tom extremely engaging, almost literally having to pry myself away from it so I could write this preview. For all intents and purposes it appears to be a highly entertaining title wrapped in a loveable aesthetic and executed with a degree of fineness that only in my wildest dreams could be considered a norm in the Indie scene. In short, If the current build I’ve been playing is anything to go by, the future for this game is very bright indeed.

A Virus Named Tom can currently be pre-ordered at a 50% discount ($5) via Steam or Desura, granting you instant access to the rather spiffy Beta build. ETA for the final version is Spring 2012 for the PC version and TBA for PS3/Mac/XBLA/Linux/OnLive.

Crashtastic Preview

I don’t care what anyone else says; Lego was the best toy ever, no contest. Well ok, I guess Transformers were pretty badass too, but come on man! Lego! It let you make whatever the hell you wanted to; your own creation, build with only love, care and your own two hands. And best of all, you could then watch that sucker crumble into teeny-tiny pieces after you ‘accidentally’ crashed it into something (surely I’m not the only kid that did this?).

While many games in the past have tried to capture the same sense of childish glee that Lego provides, I think Crashtastic is one of the few to hit it so squarely on the head. The game tasks you with using a simple yet robust creation tool and an assortment of bars, springs, wheels and rockets to build a vehicle of questionable structural integrity. Then, after deciding how much thrust you wanna give those rockets (you *did* cover it in rockets right?), you get to see how well your sweet new ride fairs in a series of small performance trials, which all inevitably end with “Deathtrap Mk3’s” individual components violently propelled across all corners of the map.

These mini-challenges range from simple tasks such as traveling a set distance or at a certain speed, all the way up to more advanced assignments like navigating an assault course or surviving a head on collision without your little mannequin pilot dude falling off his seat. The idea is that you’ll continue to tinker with your design for maximum performance at each individual task, or maybe even build a one-off that’s perfectly suited for one particular challenge (pro tip: for head-on collision ones, just build something that can move out of the way!).

While at first I was a little sceptical about playing what looked like yet another ‘physics based puzzle game’, I just can’t deny that the core concepts and mechanics of Crashtastic are incredibly strong. Despite my rather limited imagination, I still had an absolute whale of a time trying out all sorts of crazy abstract designs, and then watching on in a mixture of horror and morbid delight as my creation disintegrates into shattered fragments at the slightest provocation.

My only real gripe is how little feedback (i.e. none) the game gives you on how and/or why these (beautiful) disasters end up happening in the first place, which can make honing your design to be a bit less accident-prone rather difficult. Are there too many rockets*? Are there not enough rockets**? Is the undercarriage too close to the ground? Do I need to fashion some kind of quasi-shock absorbers? Should I not be building my designs around the idea of constantly placing the pilot in mortal danger?  There’s really no way to tell what the actual issue is most of the time, so you just end up tweaking until the problem finally goes away, often only to be replaced with yet another new indescifrable and/or catastrophic design flaw.

*Impossible.
** Always true.

But that stuff aside; the current direction of Crashtastic is very promising, and all it really lacks at the moment is more content to mess around with. Give it a bigger range of challenges and few extra types of building blocks, then this’ll be a game I can heartily recommend to any other Lego die hards out there without a moment’s hesitation. Sure, It might be a little limited right now, but I think Crashtastic will definitely be one worth revisiting further down the line!

You can currently pre-order Crashtastic for ~£5 ($7.99) on the official site, granting you instant access to the ongoing Alpha test (PC only).

Orion: Dino Beatdown Reivew

In this world of strife and chaos, where petty differences have locked mankind into an endless cycle of conflict, there is but one constant, one undeniable fact that transcends human ignorance and unites us all as one race. The fact that dinosaurs, are really, really, AWESOME. And hey, you know what else kicks ass? Crazy sci-fi guns. Also awesome? Jetpacks. So with that in mind, imagine my awe when I first laid eyes on ORION: Dino Beatdown; it’s dinosaurs, crazy sci-fi guns *and* jetpacks, together at last! The ultimate tag-team has arrived! Alone they are strong, but when this Holy Trinity of Rad™ is finally united under one banner, they become…… quite naff apparently.

Joking aside, I really can’t fault the concept of Dino Beatdown. 1-5 players, 3 huge maps, 3 ubiquitous classes (recon, assault, support), an HQ full of death-dealing amenities and, of course, wave after wave of angry dinosaurs hungry for some space marine flavoured chow. It doesn’t look half bad either! Lush environments, sharp textures, insane amounts of bloom lighting (I kid you not, the moon looks like a bloody supernova!); based on visuals alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game was something other than a miserable train wreck! I mean, just watch the trailer below, then try and tell me you aren’t at least a little bit pumped to go toe to toe with a T-Rex!

Sorry, but the fantasy ends here. Make no mistake; this game isn’t just bad, it’s AWFUL. Mind you, I think that trailer was subtly trying to warn you about that anyway. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my time as a gamer, it’s that when a trailer tries to tell you how ‘dynamic’ and/or ‘advanced’  the game’s A.I is going to be (this one does both!), then you can rest assured that, in reality, dem bots gonna be writ thick. Whether it’s T-Rexs lodging themselves into walls or raptors jumping to their deaths off the side of cliffs, this game leaves you with an alternative theory as to why the dinos went extinct: suicidal levels of stupidity.

So, not much of a challenge then, right? Ha! I wish! From the third wave onwards, the number of pea-brained dinos you’ll be expected to deal with skyrockets into absolutely absurd values. This unrelenting assault means your base’s energy generators will be destroyed mere moments into each wave, thus ensuring the upgrade/resupply stations they power will be functional for perhaps a second or so at a time. But even if you did manage to stock up on ordinance before they went down, those prehistoric critters can soak up an insane amount of bullets, laser beams, speeding jeeps or whatever else you throw at them in mad desperation. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard to tell if you’re doing any damage at all. They don’t so much as flinch, even after taking a rocket squarely to the face!

Players, on the other hand, aren’t quite as fortunate as their scaly opponents. For one thing, fate has somehow led them down a path that involved playing this god awful game, and secondly, they can expect to instantly die should an enemy combatant so much as casually glance in their general direction. Oh, and every time you respawn, you’ll lose any of the fairly useless guns you spent forever trying to afford, and instead revert back to an armoury of exceptionally useless guns, all of which might as well fire weaponized tickles for all the damage they do.

However, many of Dino Beatdown’s problems run a lot deeper than simple balance issues. And this isn’t just me being a nit-picky critic; some of the things in this game are just flat out WRONG. Take for instance, the simple process of buying a gun from one of the game’s shops. What sort of information would you expect the game to give you here? How much money you had available to spend perhaps? HAHA. No. For some reason that handy bit of data is absent from the shop screen.…

Hmmmm. What about a little description for each weapon then? You know, so you actually have some idea of what you’re buying? Pfffft, who needs that! A made-up military designation is more than enough info! Any “real” gamer would surely know that the C-43U THINGY is an assault rifle with a smaller clip size, but far superior recoil to the U5B WHATSIT! Hell, it’s just so damn obvious! Well, whatever. At least when you click the “buy” button, something happens, right? Noooope! You see, every button in Dino Beatdown is a total crapshoot, and the odds are most definitely not in your favour. Will it work? Will it crash the game? Will it do both? The possibilities are endless!

Seriously guys, if I had all the time in the world I’d give you a full list of all the glitches, oversights and other such unadulterated jank this game has to offer, but I suspect you get the idea already.

Normally this is the part of the review where I say something along the lines of “Well, this game mostly sucks, but at least I found [X] part of it to be pretty fun!” which is a sentiment that’s totally applicable here too! Indeed, me and my mates wrung many hours of entertainment out of Dino Beatdown,  mostly by laughing our asses off every time we discovered a new and innovative way it managed to fail at just about everything.

“Disappointed” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel right now. I mean, come on! Dinosaurs, jetpacks and frickin’ sci-fi guns! This thing should’ve been amazing! But hey, it’s not. It’s broken, it’s flawed, it’s laughable. I’m simply beyond astounded that anyone thought, for even a fraction of a second, that ORION: Dino Beatdown was ready to hit retail.

ORION: Dino Beatdown is currently available for the PC at the price of £6.99 via Steam, which is precisely £20 too much.

Good

Dinosaurs!
Jet packs!
Sci-fi guns!
The graphics are alright
…..Dinosaurs?

Bad

Half-baked gameplay
Numerous glitches and oversights
Lacks even basic functionality
Unbalanced as hell