Archive for the ‘PC’ Category

Dungeon Siege III (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Obsidian Entertainment
Published by: Square Enix
Out now
Reviewed on: 17th July, 2011.

Presentation: The graphics, effects and sound are very advanced and contribute a great deal to the game. Objects, characters and environments are rendered beautifully and the spell effects, while not the most amazing I’ve seen, are certainly exceptional.

Atmosphere: The first stumbling block is the atmosphere. You won’t feel like you’re saving the world in a truly epic tale or just a small part in something much larger. You’ll feel like you are stumbling through the same trite fantasy scenario that could have could from any book in the oversaturated market of fantasy novels. The loot tables mean that you’ll never get equipment as impressive as some from Diablo or Torchlight on top of that.

Control and Mechanics: Designed for a gamepad, this game doesn’t really have excellent mechanics. What’s worse is that keyboard mechanics cannot be reconfigured and an early patch mixed up the controls to pan the camera left or right. These problems have not been fixed at time of writing. The layout isn’t ideal for everyone, so I’d avoid it. (NOTE: Shortly after posting this, I was told that an update fixing these has gone live,  the blog post is here.)

Who should buy this: People who want a somewhat competent hack and slash game with a few interesting new features and can pick it up for no more than £10. People who just can’t get hold of Diablo II/Torchlight/Magicka/one of those free online hack and slash games.

Who should avoid it: Anyone not in the above list, but especially anyone who wants a bug-free game or an inheritor to the Dungeon Siege games.

If I have to give a score: Like early Magicka, it’s a very buggy take on the Diablo genre. Unlike Magicka, it has little innovative and less hope of speedy bugfixing. I wouldn’t recommend it to any but the most forgiving of Dungeon Siege fans. 1/4

Review

I have already written about Obsidian’s problems. I think part of their problem is they seem so relaxed about their failures, even though they promised the errors of Fallout: New Vegas or Neverwinter Nights 2 would not be repeated in their next game. Here we are and bugs abound, patches add new ones and they have an “awww, shucks” attitude to it all.

Obsidian’s sloppiness aside, it’s a game that has some strengths that do shine out: it has a very polished presentation and a few interesting twists of the usual combat. Character creation has, for better or worse, been replaced by a selection of characters. Each of these has a small set of abilities and the game is very good at making you use and learn them. You cannot just pile drive through the enemies, you have you use these skills carefully and thoughtfully at times.

Another interesting feature is the transmutation of items for gold rather than selling them. This removes the haul of items back to a seller that you’d see in most roleplaying games. These few features do not really make up for the compromises needed to make the leap to the consoles and the resultant problems arising from Obsidian’s mistakes.

First, the plot is lacklustre. Evil person gains immense power, takes over a fair, just kingdom. You are one of the few survivors and you are being hunted down. It’s almost as if they got their plot ideas from TV Tropes or something. They also make definitive statements about previous games that were ambiguous because of character design or choice (i.e. the hero of the first Dungeon Siege was female).

Consoles are limited in their capabilities compared to PCs and so the adaptation of the genre to the console format brings a few necessities that are forgiveable, but for PC players to have a fixed keyboard configuration that then messes up after a day one patch is not so forgiveable. Obsidian’s attitude towards all this when they jokingly expressed that a decent tutorial system, better controls and varied loot would “make good DLC” shows a company that increasingly needs to be taken out back with a shotgun.

So the patches aren’t going to be coming quickly. In my recent downtime, Fallout: New Vegas received a new bugfix and that’s been out for ages. I know these are the people who, at their core, made Fallout, Planescape: Torment and published the Baldur’s Gate games, but they are a shadow of their former selves even if a glimmer of their lost glory sparks now and again.

The controls are set tight and a gamepad isn’t really ever going to be the best medium for controlling the action on the screen. It’s not as if control configuration would be too much to ask but the game feels rushed once you get passed the refinement and polish of the graphics. The loot system and equipment presents a really mediocre experience with none of the weighing up strengths or weakness of varied equipment you’d find in Borderlands or Torchlight.

You’re also rushed through the tutorial of the game, which is brief and gives you no hint how the combat system really uses the special abilities. You could almost discover all this by accident after missing the brief mention of special attacks in the tutorial. You won’t feel you have real knowledge of how the inventory works in the game, nor how you really improve your skills or balance your character so you’ll end up looking at online guides or just getting around for yourself. It’s not overly hard to figure out, but a more comprehensive tutorial would be nice.

Multiplayer is the real let down, however. There is no ability to form PC-only parties or get a group of friends around to play. This is a console game and you can have one extra player, who plays a kind of sidekick. The second character won’t get saved or be used as anything other than player one’s sidekick, and can often feel a little redundant. This is not attributable to error in creation, but error in design. It was not going to work so why did they make it this way?

My final line on this game is that this is the sort of game that can fill a bored weekend for a single-player experience if you pick it up for a few quid in a bargain bin, but you’re not going to see it in one for a while (on the other hand, seeing how quickly Brink fell in price…). There’s no real reason to recommend it unless you are a devotee of the Black Isle cult of Obsidian or a really committed Dungeon Siege fan. If you are the former, you probably will have switched off at my criticisms of Obsidian anyway, if you are the latter, play the demo first. If you are anyone else, give this game a wide berth.

Dungeon Siege III is out now and available at retail or digital distribution for around £29.99.

Capsized (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Alientrap Games Inc.
Published by: Alientrap Games Inc.
Out now
Reviewed on: 26th May, 2011.

Presentation: Stunningly beautiful, especially given its independent origins. The graphics display a complex and rich alien world that has been rendered by hand so lovingly that the visuals sometimes make it hard to see the gameplay. The effects and music are likewise really well done and I cannot criticise the immaculate presentation of the game.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is akin to other indie games centred of a strange alien environment such as CreaVures or Aquaria, except with a much more aggressive approach to dealing with problems. It has an FPS influence in the controls and is a lot more combat-focussed.

Control and Mechanics: A gamepad can be used in a way similar to a dual-stick shooter, but normally a keyboard mouse combination typical of mainstream FPS games is used.

Who should buy this: Those who want a beautiful, well-made and very robust side-scrolling shooter with a lot of gameplay options and game modes. Those who like both FPS and 2D platform games and want some combination of the two. Those who don’t mind sudden increases in difficulty.

Who should avoid it: Those who don’t like the FPS control system. Those who want more innovation in their games. Those who want something that stays more casual.

If I have to give a score: A beautiful, well thought-out game that does nothing new but has everything it takes from elsewhere polished to a sheen and will provide a lot of replay value 3/4.

Review

Capsized is, on one level, the same sort of game as Plain Sight in that it is a good indie game that I don’t think will get continued long-term play. Most people will pick this up and really enjoy it, because it’s a great game, but put it down after a few months of play. It was a shame when this happened to Plain Sight because that was being expanded after release and has nothing to offer casual players except mediocre bots. Capsized has a sizable single-player element that saves it from this unfortunate fate.

The premise is simple enough: you have crash landed on an alien world with only your space suit and a basic laser gun to protect you from the beautiful, but hostile, environment as you attempt to save your crew mates and search for an escape. The first thing you’ll notice about the game beyond the clichéd premise is the world really is beautiful. It’s hand-drawn and high-resolution, and it really pays off. One criticism I’ve seen in other reviews is that the beautiful green haze of the world makes it harder to see the action as it’s going on, but I’ve found this criticism odd. True, sometimes it is very hard to see where the enemies are, but they are creatures from this alien environment, native to it; your character bumbles in so contrasted to the rest of the world. This strikes me as an intended feature, not a bug and I don’t really fault it for that.

Besides the visuals, the music really does deserve praise too. It has a sense of mystery and wonder to it and the overall effect seems to capture something of the spirit of 16-bit era games from the Amiga. This helps evoke the overall sense of the sublime, but terrifying, experience of a beautiful alien world.

What really counts, though, is gameplay and the game stands solidly there. There is nothing new here, no innovative mechanics, your character moves about to tough-to-reach ledges via tricks like a jetpack or a grappling hook that can also be used to pull obstacles; you are ambushed by enemies and fight them off via a selection of futuristic weapons like short-range, area affect weapons or sniping laser beams.

The main campaign follows through a set of levels about finding and rescuing crew before finding out how to escape. It’s not too interesting a plot, but it serves the function of offering a nail upon which to hang gameplay. The game itself is immensely enjoyable and offers a variety of different challenges and levels for you to traverse.

Beyond that, there are several extra gameplay modes that extend the life of the game. True to the FPS influence, there are multiplayer modes and bot matches as well as others, including single-player modes.

My main criticism of the game comes from the relative simplicity of the enemy AI in this game. Neither the bot matches nor the main game were particularly advanced in their use of AI, alien enemies would often stand there blasting at where I was as I finding a way to sneak attack and the bots didn’t offer any real challenge compared to human opponents. More than that, some traps in the game were just downright unfair and couldn’t be realistically detected before already eating at your life bar. Besides that, there was also the controls which would benefit from compatibility with a wider variety of controllers (but as this is also an Xbox 360 game, it doesn’t surprise me) and to be a bit more responsive.

These are all minor criticisms, though. For the very low price it is being sold at on Steam, this is a solid game that offers a vast, stunning world and more than repays the original investment in fun and may even merit a return for the occasional evening of gaming. A solid shooter platformer with a beautiful visual layout.

Capsized is out now and available on Steam for £5.99

Terraria (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Re-Logic
Published by: Re-Logic
Out now
Reviewed on: 20th May, 2011.

Presentation: Simple 2D sprites very much in the style of early SNES games. The music is more advanced, but still points back to the days of the late 16-bit console war era.

Atmosphere: Very similar to Minecraft in this regard, but with more of an emphasis on dungeon crawling and exploration than on building or crafting. It’s another indie game with a distinct retro feel to it to boot.

Control and Mechanics: Mouse for interaction, keyboard for movement. It’s made more complicated by the fact that, as with Minecraft, you can’t actually bind a mouse button to jump (which I always do in FPS games) as those are reserved for interaction-based functions. I was also disappointed by the lack of mass crafting options (have to repeatedly click to make hundreds of bottles from glass rather than ctrl-click to make ten or something).

UPDATE: Mass crafting has been added in version 1.0.2: simply by holding the right mouse button on the object you wish to craft, it will craft rapidly until you run out of resources.

Who should buy this: Anyone who loved a lot of the building and exploring ethos of Minecraft while lamenting the glacial progress and thin on the ground updates. Anyone who wants more variety and regular updates than Minecraft offered. Those who preferred the exploration and dungeoneering over the building aspects of Minecraft.

Who should avoid it: Those who dislike sandbox-style games. Those who dislike the 2D nature of the game. Those who preferred the ability to create impressive structures in Minecraft over the exploration and dungeoneering.

If I have to give a score: It’s lacking a few things Minecraft has, but it does deliver on many of the things MC should have had ages ago and it promises continual free updates and has a strong spirit of sandbox adventure, building and crafting. I recommend it before Minecraft. 3/4

Review

I really need to start with, despite all the assurances otherwise, I cannot but believe this game is following in Minecraft’s footsteps. I really wish Re-Logic would admit that; not because I believe their game represents any sort of theft, but because I already see in this basic first release of Terraria much more love, attention and a better grasp of game design than I’ve seen from Mojang. A friend of mine once said that Notch wasn’t a real game designer, that he stumbled on a good idea that worked, but didn’t really have the ethic or creativity to make a truly great sandbox game. I don’t really want to start any fires, but I believe he’s right and I also think that Re-Logic do have a much stronger grasp of their game and what they intend to do with it. With that said, this review will effectively take the form of a comparison of these two games.

I will put it bluntly, I would recommend this before I recommend Minecraft to someone.  Not because I think Minecraft is a bad game, I love the game, it’s just I burnt out on it very quickly. I bought it during the alpha phase and it was cheap, lots of fun and had the promise of free content updates. Nothing much got added but then the beta rolled around and…

… Nothing much got added. Not only that, but I got this sense that Notch got a bit greedy. For people buying during the beta, there was no longer the promise that all future content would be free. Not that they were missing out on much, because now the full game appears to rolling up in a few months and very little has changed from that game I played in mid-2010.

My rant about Minecraft could fill an article itself, but I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk about Terraria. It’s just hard to talk about it without drawing the inevitable comparisons that are there to make. What essentially makes Terraria a better game at this point is the fact that I believe Re-Logic on the point of free content updates.

But why is it such an important thing to get content updates? Well, it helps keep the game feeling fresh and alive. Sure, I can build my own town in Minecraft, but where are the people to populate it? Terraria has an NPC system in place already and that can easily be expanded to add more people later. I started building a vast underground fortress in Minecraft but gave up when I released I couldn’t give any real function to all but a few of the hundreds of rooms I had planned. Sure, Minecraft has dungeon crawling within it, but where are the boss monsters or the secrets? Terraria’s 2D nature does make building more limited and if Notch really knuckled down then Minecraft could really become a great game beyond what Terraria could achieve, but he won’t and it won’t. Terraria could fall into this pattern too, and if so I would recant a lot of this, but Minecraft has already fallen foul of that.

Either way, the game starts you out at the dawn of day one on a generated world with a guide NPC to give you the basics, some basic tools (no tool degradation or chopping trees with you bare hands) and leaves you to it. You need to chop wood and/or mine you get the resources together for a shelter and weapons and quickly because, while the day produces the passive but still dangerous slimes, the night has zombies and demons that actively hunt you. Already, the Minecraft influence is clear, but as your power and village expands, you attract people who perform a variety of roles in your growing community. There are a few already and the game’s currency remains limited in usefulness but that is set to expand as more updates are released.

Terraria places a greater emphasis on dungeon raids and there are several styles of dungeons, each with their own tricks and traps. There are things like the deep hell areas that have special items and a wide range of interesting monsters to discover or the spreading corruption that produces abstract, demonic entities with names like the Eater of Worlds. Compare this, if you will, to Minecraft’s relatively empty and useless Nether that is always promised expanded usefulness but never gets more than minor alterations.

What Minecraft definitely has that Terraria cannot do is intrinsic to the medium of the game. Building monuments and great buildings in Minecraft is so much better because you have the extra dimension with which to work. I found a tower was all I really needed in Terraria because zombies never jumped up to the next floor to get me or my citizens when they broke the doors down (a rare event caused by the presence of a blood moon) and a set of houses alongside each other didn’t really work as well in the 2D format or even look as nice as my central tower.

That’s certainly why Terraria simply has less potential than Minecraft, it could never achieve what Minecraft could have done in the right hands, but it has so much more variety in terms of dungeon crawling and crafting. It even has a magic system which is something completely absent from Minecraft. It does generate smaller worlds but allows you to transfer characters from world to world in order to increase the variety. If you loved Minecraft for the exploration and discovery, you’ll find this game excels at those.

Overall, I would recommend this game to most people interested in the genre before Minecraft because of this increased variety in these areas. If someone wanted building and creating impressive structures, Minecraft does beat Terraria, but doesn’t compete with what some other games have to offer. Besides that, the updates on Terraria may surprise me with what the game is actually capable of achieving, but I would be happy with just increased content.

Terraria is out now and available via Steam for £5.99

Portal 2 (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Valve Corporation
Published by: Electronic Arts
Out now
Reviewed on: 5th May, 2011.

Presentation: Graphically, it’s been fairly polished since the days of the original Portal, but the visual style remains true to what the first game gave us.

Atmosphere: Again, as with Portal, the atmosphere follows its predecessor and remains true to its spirit. This isn’t, in the least, a bad thing as it allows the game to take the thematic content of the original and expand on the storyline and puzzles.

Control and Mechanics: Compared to Portal, the controls aren’t much different and the mechanics are pretty much what you’d expect from the original. In an age of overly complex controls for FPS games, it is refreshing to see something more basic.

Who should buy this: Those who are fans of innovative physics-based puzzle games, those who really loved the original, those who don’t mind a lack of replay value.

Who should avoid it: Those who expect it to be a better experience than Portal, those who can wait for a drop from the somewhat steep release price, those who don’t like the fact that Valve seem to want to milk whatever extra cash they can.

If I have to give a score: The first Portal was a 4 and while this is a great game, and a worthy successor with new content and tasty future DLC, the game isn’t a Portal beater, but it never needs to be and it is a great game 3/4.

Review

Portal 2 is a great game with which I can only find two faults. One of those is relatively minor and the other is something beyond the gaming experience itself. First, as with Team Fortress 2, there is a system of microtransactions (for the co-op game) that one normally finds in F2P games. Secondly, while this should in no way detract from the fact that Portal 2 is a great game, it really doesn’t compare to the effect the original had upon its release and bears the burden of comparison.

Let me expand on one of these points first before I write about what makes the game worth playing. The microtransaction system here is fairly trivial compared to TF2. Team Fortress 2 has in-game chests you can open with real money to get, potentially, items that have in-game effects like a gun that fires faster (albeit normally with a trade-off). This means that not only are people with cash to burn getting edges via paying extra cash, but that the game has microtransaction elements within the game itself that make themselves overt when I’m just trying to play the game.

Portal 2 avoids this extreme by making the available items aesthetic-only, there are no super-powered portal guns or extra-high jump boots, just things like hats, extra gestures, and so on. What it also does is restrict the acquisition and advertisement of these items to the item shop. There are no in-game chests that you’ll come across or anything like that, though it should be noted that there were not in Team Fortress 2 originally.

Call me cynical, but this effort to keep a paying customer paying also finds its way into design changes in elements returning from the first game: logos, cubes, the beloved companion cube and even the two main characters themselves undergo design changes that will no doubt trickle their way into merchandise. It’s an unhealthy obsession Valve have there and I really wish they would seek professional help, it’s not as if they need the extra cash all that much.

But that brief rant aside, the game is great. First of all, it takes the tried and tested formula of the first game and builds upon that solid foundation. A lot of the same old tricks are there at first, but the game blossoms with new features like liquefied moon rock that allows you to make a portal on an otherwise unusable surface or a bridges made of hard light that can travel through portals. These features are really what expands and adds depth to the  game, making it move beyond the first game.

Besides that, there is the expanded plot and that takes a more prominent role here. One of the original game’s endearing features was the vast amounts of discussion about what the game’s plot hinted at, whether Chell was a clone, what of the things GlaDOS said were true or false, whether the companion cube was sentient or not. This game expands that effect by allowing a much greater access to information about the origins and nature of GlaDOS or Aperture Science and its insane founder. Like the first game though, it leaves enough gaps for player speculation to fill.

With a nicely expanded setting and interesting new quirks to the puzzles, the single-player does a good service to the original, but the game also sports the co-op mode. This involves a sort of story-mode progression that takes place after the single-player playthrough (though can be accessed from the start, albeit with potential spoilers). Two bots are each equipped with a portal gun and forced to work out a variety of puzzles together.

This is where a lot of the fun of the game lies, but the very nature of the game means that the puzzles aren’t going to repeatedly offer you a challenge, once you’ve worked them out you can’t just run through them again for the same challenge. What this also means is you cannot really play this through with someone who has already beaten the game entirely as you won’t be able to work out the game by yourself, just watch as they direct you in what to do.

Which leads me to my last point of criticism, one thing that added replay value to the first game was the challenge mode. This curiously missing from the second game and it would be interesting to see how the game would implement a two-player challenge mode. Further, it would be great to see expanded multiplayer games with the portal concept, like a team-based game perhaps based on getting and taking the companion cube to a certain spot or setting up traps for enemy team members. The first (free) DLC for this game promises new replay value and a return of the challenge maps (and, hopefully, advanced maps). This is something the first game had and is noticeably lacking from the second game.

All-in-all, it depends what expectations you take to the game. It’s great, there’s no denying that though I could easily see a few people thinking the price tag is a bit steep and the item shop is a bit of a silly move that strikes me as pointless. Making me pay extra for minor content in a game whose price tag is already a little on the high side isn’t going to work, Valve. If you are not an early adopter type and can hold off for a better price, do so and this game will not disappoint you. It’s just that it always ends up compared to its predecessor, which came out of nowhere and hit like a thunderbolt. It isn’t going to wow most of you like Portal did, but do not let that spoil a great game.

Portal 2 is out now and available via Steam or boxed retail. Price is £29.99 on Steam.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: 11 bit studios
Published by: 11 bit studios
Out now
Reviewed on: 21st April, 2011.

Presentation: The graphics and sound effects are very fitting to the setting and it looks very polished for an indie title. I particularly liked the good use of contrast on route-planning maps with the enemies coming up bright red against the blue backdrop and the interesting choice of setting (the cities of Baghdad and Tokyo) means the mission visuals don’t get boring quickly.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is dark with the overall narrative seemingly describing a tale in retrospect (i.e. a cutscene ending with “I know, I was there”). It’s a little more plot heavy that these sorts of games tend to be, the atmosphere is tense, even if the soldiers under your command have a bit of a jockish attitude.

Control and Mechanics: The controls would be fine with any use of the mouse and a single key press. A few keys are used to access menus during the game (such as purchases or special abilities) but the game pauses at this point, allowing you to make your selection at leisure. The game also pauses during tactical map mode, allowing planned movements.

Who should buy this: Anyone who likes the tower defence genre and wants a new breath of life added to it. Anyone who likes the MOBA-style game of having one directly controlled character with special abilities, but placed to the role of a support character aiding and directing troops. Anyone who wants a game that really succeeds in doing something different.

Who should avoid it: If you really don’t like tower defence, you probably won’t like this inversion of the formula (but don’t hold me to that). If you don’t like thinking on your feet or the tense, last minute changes your plans will require, you could do better elsewhere. If you want multiplayer too, this game won’t be for you.

If I have to give a score: A solid game that is strong in all areas, it is let down only by the lack of multiplayer and small number of game modes. It does do interesting things with an increasingly stale genre and it belongs on any serious gamer’s machine. 3/4

Review

Tower defence games are, alongside MOBA games like League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, one of the two genres to descend from a Warcraft 3 mod (and, arguably, the first MOBA game) commonly called DotA (shortened from Defense of the Ancients). In tower defence games, your aim is to construct defences against a set number of enemies marching along a set path or paths before they reach a certain target or do a certain amount of damage.

There have been a lot of these games popping up in the last few years. Games like Defense Grid: the Awakening or Revenge of the Titans have done interesting things with the genre but there is only so much that can be done with a genre that consists in taking out a set number of enemies along a set path with finite defence configuration possibilities. The thing that A:WE brings to the table is that it inverts the play. In this, you are the force trundling along the ground being attacked by enemy towers and weapons trying to stop you from reaching a certain goal.

The setting is that in 2018, two objects fall from the sky and land in the cities of Baghdad and Tokyo, each forming a large shield of energy that envelopes much of the two cities. Six months later, at day zero, your team enters a crack within the shield at Baghdad and it all goes downhill from there as the alien presence within the dome has grown, leaving the city inside a wasteland.

Navigating your way through the cluttered streets does give one a real sense of being in command of a tactical operation. You only have direct control over your commander unit, as in MOBA games, but can direct which routes you take through the city to optimise your attempts to reach your goal. Each level gives you medals based on the efficiency and directness of your mission completeness, which adds the temptation to occasionally take that more dangerous route for directness or hold off that repair until the last minute for efficiency. Add a healthy dose of achievements to this mix (the game has 42 on Steam) and you have a lot of replay value there.

You also have the fact that individual units can be bought and upgraded with a variety of options being available to your convoy as you progress. The layout of your troops can be adjusted to put a line of damage-absorbing units at the front or a set of heavy-hitters depending on for what the situation calls. Your command unit can scout out ahead in his combat suit to collect upgrades that give his suit to ability to do a variety of things such as repair units (the most used ability given the damage they will take). These help you through the imposing enemy forces and it really is a buzz when you take down that first dangerous foe or wipe out a line of towers.

The only criticism I do have of the game is the relatively small number of game modes. It’s the sort of game that I felt lent itself to a variety of different styles of play and would have been excellent with more mod potential and multiplayer elements, but these are lacking. For the modest price tag, especially, this criticism is a minor one, but it seems like such an obvious thing to miss out.

Overall, a great game and a fine addition to a cluttered genre that comes as a breath of fresh air. For the small price tag, it is a great addition for anyone who is a fan of the genre or just wants to try something new and original.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth is out now and available for several platforms, priced £8.99. The website is here. Be warned that the Gamers Gate version has SecuROM.

Hoard (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Big Sandwich Games
Published by: Big Sandwich Games
Out now
Reviewed on: 13th April, 2011.

Presentation: The graphics are simple, crisp and clean. It’s easy to see what is going on around you most of the time and what everything is. The music is nothing too amazing and I don’t think it fits the setting too well, but it is quite pleasant and does not get in the way.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is somewhat light-hearted, with players controlling dragons trying to claim as large a hoard of gold as possible by terrorising the surrounding human settlements as well as backstabbing and thieving from each other.

Control and Mechanics: I thought the controls could do with a bit of improvement, personally. The controls are typical of dual-stick shooters (to which, in many ways, this game belongs), if you have a gamepad with two sticks that works then there’s no problem as long as you can use those sticks. However, without that, the keyboard/mouse control is not really suitable for someone with less dexterity in their keyboard hand and the mouse only control sacrifices some control that in multiplayer games will cost you. Their gamepad support is extremely limited with Xbox 360 controllers preferred (and I couldn’t get the emulation mode to work with any other pad I tried).

Who should buy this: Ultimately, those who like dual-stick shooter style games especially with the sort of multiplayer competitiveness found in a game like Galcon Fusion minus the long stand-offs. Those who like dual-stick shooters with a few interesting twists to the gameplay.

Who should avoid it: The game has a fair bit of variety to it for what it is so I would only really dissuade those who don’t like dual-stick style games, the backstabbing nature of online play or have difficulty due to the control’s lack of reconfigurability. Also, those who like the super reflex requirements and rapid thinking most dual-stick shooters require would best look at something like Bullet Candy or, better yet, Beat Hazard.

If I have to give a score: An enjoyable experience that stands out from the mass in its genre, has a lot of new ideas and doesn’t require the reflexes that they often require. 3/4

Review

It’s not hard recommending this game with confidence to the right sorts of people. It’s got a solid presentation with crisp graphics and a simple interface, and is simply lots of fun to play. This is especially true if you already have a group of friends with whom to play it but it does come with all the relationship-wrecking properties that all games encouraging ruthless, Machiavellian play have.

You control a dragon in an area of land where human settlements grows and these are your key to amassing the vast wealth you need to win. The aim of the game is just that: score as much as you can by amassing a hoard. The most basic way of doing this is go to a human settlement and burn it to the ground, reaping the gold from its destruction. Other alternatives are to steal that gold from other dragons as they are away from their hoard, terrorising settlements into giving you tributes, stealing gems from wizards or kidnapping princesses for ransom. All of these have their twists and problems and you’ll ultimately end up using a combination of them in order to achieve your goals.

It takes the form of a sort of dual-stick shooter: you use one stick (or alternative like a keyboard) to control your dragon’s movement and another (or the mouse) to control your fire attack. Also, as you gain sufficient gold you get to increase a variety of abilities like the duration of your fire breath, your speed, defence or the amount of gold you can carry before needing to return to your hoard.

Competing against you are other dragons, who can steal from you as well as attack you directly. Losing your health forces you back to your hoard, causing you to drop any gold you were carrying to be picked up by rival dragons or the wagons of the growing human settlements. Beyond this are knights who’ll attack if you get to near and attack your hoard to rescue princesses, thieves who’ll steal from your hoard, lowering your gold and destroying your score multiplier, archers defending their towns and wizard towers that rain magical energy on passing dragons.

Each single-player level offers three basic levels of success based on your hoard’s size when the time limit runs out. The single-player game does offer a steadily increasing difficulty and a fair bit of variety and replay value. This is good, because I imagine that it won’t be long before Hoard goes the same way as a multitude of other indie games and becomes increasingly difficult to play multiplayer due to the lack of players. This is better than a lot of others, I remember trying to review Crasher and found I really could not due to the lack of players as well as single-player content. Hoard successfully avoids this problem by offering a solid single-player experience to prop up the multiplayer.

If I have one overall criticism, it’s that I found the gamepad emulation did not work with any of the alternative gamepads I tried. This game really does require one of a small set of gamepads to work properly, principally the Xbox 360 controller and I find this lack of support for generic gamepads (which surely isn’t too hard as plenty of other games have it) is an unfortunate trend in a few indie games now. This is only a minor niggle really and as long as you have the required controller or don’t mind a keyboard/mouse combination (or a pure mouse control, but you’ll get beaten soundly in multiplayer) then this game has a lot of delights that should keep you entertained enough to more than justify the small price tag they demand.

Atom Zombie Smasher (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Blendo Games
Published by: Blendo Games
Out now
Reviewed on: 5th April, 2011.

Presentation: The plot is presented in a monochrome comicbook fashion with very simple graphics in the game itself. The people and zombies appear as golden and purple dots on a randomly generated city map. Graphically, it’s nothing too impressive, but it does seem to do the ethos of the game justice.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere seems very playful and surreal with oddball characters and scenarios presented in the comics that serve up the plot; however the gameplay itself is one of the harsh reality of seeing people as numbers on a scoreboard, killing ten civilians along with twenty zombies and leaving folk behind. It’s quite a dichotomy.

Control and Mechanics: Very simple, you select your city, place your troops and rescue zones, and use your mouse to set off weapons or move troops in-game. That’s it really, a fair bit of the action is automated.

Who should buy this: Those who like the idea of a zombie apocalypse that forces you to save what you can, how you can and threatens to overwhelm you. Those who like RTS elements with simple, point-and-click controls and a fairly intuitive GUI. Those who like effectively no-win scenarios.

Who should avoid it: Those who want more of a sliding scale difficulty and a better tutorial system. Those who want variety and depth to a game. Those who don’t want to feel they’re forced to treat people as numbers and are fighting against the inevitable. Those who want more plot or atmosphere.

If I have to give a score: I didn’t regret playing this game, but I saw nothing in it that would make me keep playing and it wasn’t really pulling me in, but certainly could be fun in brief bursts. 2/4

Review

I’m going against the trend by giving this a seemingly mediocre score, but it’s a game that has a very certain aesthetic ideal in mind. I’m not saying it’s a bad game per se, it’s just that I wouldn’t even think of recommending it to someone unless they specifically wanted what the game offers.

So, what does it offer? Well, it’s a very straightforward game experience. You are the head of a rescue operation in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in a fictional nation. Each territory on the map represents a city that contains a certain number of civilians. During the daytime, a certain number of zombie get in and start feasting on the living and its your job to get a certain number out with the resources you have at your disposal. These resources start as a single rescue helicopter, but expands to include combative mercenary units from gunners to ground troops to demolitions.

Simple enough, except that as night approaches, the zombies really hit hard and you quickly find the city overwhelmed. If you are clever and resourceful, you should have your rescue targets hit early on, but it gets worse. The game is always keeping score between your rescue efforts and the spreading infection and it’s very easy to fall behind. You end up wanting not just to rescue civilians but taking down as many of the approaching zombies as possible, to keep the infection numbers down.

This is where both the most fun and, interestingly, the most brutal parts of the game come to the fore. You can have all sorts of tools at your disposal up to a fully-fledged nuclear orbital platform. For the moment, let’s say you have a piece of dynamite you can detonate, killing twenty zombies. Sure, one human would die, but said person would die anyway because the zombies were there. Okay, how about if it was five people who could get away? Sometimes you have to make those tough choices, but it’s four zombies dead for every lost human and you’re well into your target. Sometimes, it’s worth nuking an area with more human than zombie casualties just because it limits infection.

You won’t pick up on the coldness of this most times, however. Games, like art, are presenting you with fictional spaces and the plights and horrors of these affect us because we suspend disbelief: these aren’t fictional characters, these are real beings with moral rights like ours and both games and art have tools to help our suspension of disbelief. Atom Zombie Smasher has none of this and even aids dehumanising the people by showing the zombies and their victims as coloured dots on the city map.

That’s all an aside, I don’t make the same requirements of games as I do of art and any musings on the human condition are secondary concerns to actually enjoying the game. It is a fun game, it’s just it lacks replay value and the struggle of lagging behind and catching up with the zombies’ score is occasionally irritating.

The cities are procedurally generated so no two cities are alike, but after a short time, you realise that the cities aren’t very varied anyway so procedural generation doesn’t really add much in the same way it adds to a lot of Netnack’s descendants. I rarely found that changes in the city’s design were causing changes in my fundamental tactics, just minor changes in where exactly I would place dynamite charges or place these or those units.

Other random element beside the shape of the cities are things like the order mercenary units are added to your army or the weather conditions. You will get missions where the daylight is gone almost as soon as you start and where the weather works for or against the zombies. These do alter your tactics far more radically, but they are sometimes too unpredictable beforehand and you end dealing with effects that you could not have really foreseen.

The bottom line is try the demo. If you want more of what you get from that, plus a few neat extra like multiplayer and modding (most game settings are open to player modification), you’ll enjoy Atom Zombie Smasher immensely. Don’t pick up the game expecting vast replay value, because the game goes through the same rotes very quickly and differentiation between games falls by the wayside.

Atom Zombie Smasher is out now. It is available on Windows, Mac and Linux and can be acquired via their website or major digital distribution platforms. Cost is £5.99 on Steam.