Monday, 1 December 2014

Review: Sid Meier's Civilization - Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is the latest spinoff from the very successful Sid Meier's Civilization series. In the spirit of the great game Alpha Centauri (1999), it's Civilization you love and know, but now set upon an alien world with new-age colonists. Developer Firaxis seems to be listening to the fans wanting an Alpha Centauri successor title and now they offer up Beyond Earth.

Earth has reached a turning point, my guess being over population, and has decided to send a select amount of colonists to another world in hopes of a better future. Before the game begins, players may customize the game map and difficulty and then proceed to further customize their colonists and starting bonuses. Bonuses include sponsors, colonist types and advanced technology. There is a noticeable split between colonists who thrive by science, harmony, war and/or commerce.

Players may choose their own path throughout the game, but the three main victory paths are through harmony, purity and supremacy affinities. Harmony play seeks to understand and evolve with the new planet and its inhabitants, while purity and supremacy take on combative and dominating roles. The paths each have special military units and upgrading these units leads to major gains over opponents.

Actually, now that I think about it, the AI seemed pretty aloof. None of the other colonists accepted an alliance or mutual pact, the majority of them asked for excess resources in exchange for favors, I never actually cashed the favors in. The poor AI diplomacy never effected me in a bad way and maybe it was keeping the more militant factions happy, but I was warned many times against haphazardly blasting the native fauna away.

It's a very pretty game
City building hasn't really changed much since the original Civilization games. Buildings are built using production points and science is gained through science points; certain buildings need to be maintained by an additional energy cost resource. Health is also a factor regarding cities as low health cities do not grow or prosper. A balance between resources, health, energy cost and security should see cities thrive and enable players to build national wonders, which give large bonuses across your whole civilization.

Science is now a circular tree with main branches and leaves. Science tends to favor one of the three major affinities throughout the game and unlocks special units, upgraded buildings and new wonders. Some colonists tend to favor a strong science path, weak in the beginning, but strong at the end of the game, others favor constant military advancement and aggression.

New additions to the series include a virtue tree, a multi-tiered quests and a world satellite system. The virtue tree unlocks even more bonuses for your colonists, virtues are gained through a variety of means, but are often gained through advancing your culture level. Quests are more engaging and definitely longer to complete, offering genuine reward and consequences for your decisions. The world satellite system covers a grid over the entire planet, hostile and friendly satellites grant bonuses to production or even sub-orbital bombardment.

Workers building the economy
As always victory can be achieve in a host of different ways, each affinity has a favored victory path, either military dominating rivals or outsmarting them. The AI doesn't seem very dangerous even on medium difficulty, so I suggest players start on the harder difficulties for a decent challenge. Multiplayer is also available, so a human opponent or a few friends can make the game a bit more interesting.

I had a great time playing this game, slowly learning and expanding my new civilization. Coming into contact with other colonists and fleecing them of energy, science and technology using spies. My only complaint is that the AI didn't really start to band together to beat me down once I started to pull ahead of them. Hopefully the AI will improve with future updates and I'm looking forward to what other addons Firaxis will release in the future.

Beyond Earth is probably one of the best games I've played recently. It has lived up to expectations of a worthy Alpha Centauri successor, while also adding new features improving the core gameplay experience. Amazingly I also didn't encounter a single bug during my playthrough, a rare feat for a modern game to have so much polish.

Gamers familiar with the Civilization series should feel right at home and newcomers shouldn't have any trouble considering it has an (optional) intrusively hand-holding advisor and tutorial system.


-Get your ass to mars!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: Alien Isolation (PC)

Alien: Isolation is a pretty interesting beast, to say the least. Recently, Alien franchise games have been huge stinkers, either not staying true to the source material or having generally poor gameplay. Developer Creative Assembly and publisher SEGA have gone a little left-field with their new Alien inspired survival horror offering; Creative Assembly being best know for their Total War strategy series.

In recent times the survival horror game has experienced a mini-renaissance, probably due to the fact indie developers love to dabble in the genre, and, generally speaking, horror games are cheaper to make than big budget FPSes. Creative Assembly had just released Rome 2: Total War that was vilified by both fans and critics. Unfazed by this setback, Creative Assembly launched right into Alien: Isolation development and SEGA didn't seem to mind...One can only guess that some pretty passionate development leads were behind this project.

It's a really great looking game

Everyone knows what an Alien is right? HR Geiger invention, death on two legs, bursts out of your chest and wreaks havoc on your ship. -Space Herpes-. The original Alien movie directed by Ridley Scott is a classic horror movie with the tag line: In space nobody can hear you scream. The movie features Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley as she struggles against the Alien's predation of her small crew. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you probably should, it's a classic. Alien:Isolation is a direct sequel leading off from the first movie and features Ellen's daughter, Amanda.

The game begins with an introduction to Amanda, a capable engineer for the Weyland-Yutani corporation, and her ongoing search for her mother. The player is also introduced to Samuels, who informs Amanda that a possible lead to the Nostromo has been located on Sevastapol station. Sevastapol is a near-derelict backwater of a station, but Amanda is driven to find news of her mother's disappearance.

The first things players should notice is the amazing design elements. I was almost left speechless at how authentic the room aesthetic and lighting were compared to the film; an almost literal translation of the 70s movie. The second being the background music being barely noticeable, taking a backseat to the sound effects such as knocking a wrench or moving through an electronic door. I must of spent the first 15 minutes of the game exploring the first ship, the Torrens, drinking in the atmosphere.

The majority of the game is set on Sevastapol station, a huge transfer station in the middle of nowhere. Amanda must stealthily find her way through the station surviving all possible threats, first learning about the events aboard Sevastapol and finally trying to survive the terrible place. Sections of the game are locked by large door clamps that require either special tools or an upgraded blowtorch.

Even space suit vision looks good.
Along the way Amanda finds a tracking device which is quite handy, giving you an edge on any lurking danger. Most encounters can be bypassed via air duct, floor grating or simply good timing. Amanda does get access to weapons, but ammunition is limited and doesn't really count for much until later in the game.

The synonymous Alien is often hot on your tail throughout the game. Ducking into airducts and stalking around the place until it either sees you or stumbles into where you're hiding; the alien has an uncanny knack for doing this. Most hostiles tend to see you and go straight for you, generally resulting in a scary scene and your death. Hostiles are also attracted to noises, lights, npcs and a running player. The player has access to a number of items used to distract or dissuade pursuit, by the end of the game you'll become a master of utilising makeshift devices to slip through areas safely.

Now for the bad news, for the first couple of hours this game is solid, any fan of the Alien franchise couldn't ask for more, but after the first 10 hours the game began to wear me down. All the gushing and ooh-ahhing of the first few hours gave way to: Is it over yet? The alien dodging becomes more of a nuisance and each natural ending is either waylaid or over extended and subsequently sidetracked. Sidetracked and dismayed is how I started to feel, instead of being engaged, challenged and enthralled.

I've never played a game that flitted so much hard won design work with an overextended and ultimately meaningless ending. I wish someone in the design meeting put their foot down and said: "This is the end, lets do either a crescendo finale or a neatly wrapped box". Instead the game meanders, and ultimately ends up being chore-after-chore while dodging the alien bloodhound.

This game is a great facsimile of the original movie's atmosphere and deserves kudos for its design, sound and animations. But if you eat too much chocolate you're bound to get sick and Alien:Isolation is too much chocolate.

Alien:Isolation also come with DLCs featuring survival mode challenges and mini-stories based on the original Alien movie.


-There's movement all over the place!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: UnReal World

UnReal World (PC, v3.17) 

How long would you last if dropped into a Nordic wildland? What if you carried basic supplies: a knife, fur coat and axe? UnReal World challenges you to a game of survival, a game of meager beginnings turning into masterful accomplishments. Choose to become the cunning hunter, expert trapper, shrewd trader or lazy fisherman; use your wits and skills to tame the hostile land.

The UnReal World is a heavily modified roguelike; featuring procedural generation of the world and its inhabitants; heavy graphical representation of the player, the environment and its denizens; custom music and sound effects. When compared to other roguelikes it has a much more personable feel, but - just like every other roguelike - includes a decent learning curve for newcomers and death for the hasty player. New adventurers may assuage starting difficulty by choosing easier starting scenarios offered after character generation.

The game begins with character creation, lazy players have a quick-start option, but RPGs like UnReal World rewards players who carefully mold their character's strengths and weaknesses. You may be required to do a little reading throughout character creation, modern gamers beware. Information regarding many subjects in UnReal World is available via a handy in-game manual system.

Mastering a few skills is better than being spread out.
Selecting a starting tribe is probably the single most defining choice during character creation. With over ten tribes to choose from, each having their own specialties, with each belonging to a cultural subgroup, the choice generally determines strengths and weaknesses regarding survival skills. Players may further improve skills with creation points, making them either experts in a few skills (easy), or adequate in many (harder). Skills improve slowly when used throughout the game and common skills tend to increase at a much faster rate.

After character creation players may choose a starting scenario: lost in the woods, escaped slave, hunting accident, etc. Scenarios can make starting a little easier or much harder, adding to replayability. Players may then choose a "course", or string of little quests either in a beginner tutorial format or more advanced hunting challenge. Both starting scenarios and courses may be skipped for an open play, no-frills adventure.

Overland Map, and a heavily wounded Esko
The UnReal world is a sandbox game and everyone will play the game differently. Hunt by tracking animals using both local and overview maps, meanwhile setting up camp near a river allows for fishing and transport of heavy cargo down stream. Interacting with the world consists of the usual rogue top-down view, but with native graphical support. The main view is broken up between current character location and character overview window, showing character health information and other vital statistics. The main window cycles between an overland and local map, so large areas of land can be crossed without bypassing many screens.

Skills are used to perform actions like fishing and fighting, learning the basic hotkeys are a must for repeated actions. Determining future endeavors is paramount to survival; are you going to fish for food, or build some traps, kill that wandering red-armored raider, hunt the elk that left fresh tracks in the snow, or trade some fox furs for a better knife. A wasted day when you're on the edge of starvation is very painful indeed. Prioritizing daily needs and then branching out into a more adventurous routine would be most players common direction.

Wild spirits of the land watch over you during your adventure. Performing rituals and sacrificing to the spirits may increase your chances of catching food, surviving a fight or sleeping well during the night. Spiritual well-being and knowing when to sacrifice can help your virtual survivor immeasurably. Players learn rituals by meeting local village elders, after having strange dreams, or completing parts of a chosen course.

Another major aspect of UnReal World are the four seasons. Spring, being mild and bountiful of food is considered the easiest season; with winter being the harshest season for the ill-prepared. In the beginning, players may choose to start the game in winter or any season of the year. New players are advised to start in spring or summer to give them a long lead into the next winter season. Storing supplies, movement and building a home is a lot easier in the warmer months.

Esko - You should see the other guy!
As with most roguelikes, death is permanent and generally waits around every corner. Even the most experienced hunters face being mauled by an aggressive bear or slashed in the neck by an Njerpez warrior. Death can be quite frustrating because building a moderate homestead takes quite a time investment. Thankfully, you can generate a new character and reuse the old game map, allowing you to reclaim structures previously built.

UnReal World is an expansive and wonderful game. It allows new players an easy way into the wild, but also allows experienced veterans something different or potentially suicidal from the very beginning. Tough beginnings eking out a meager survival gives way to distant traveling, trade runs, quality furs and dangerous hunts. New players should probably do a little reading before jumping in, but as the game features an in-game manual, it shouldn't put too many modern gamers off.

UnReal World is currently free and is now ver. 3.18 (available Windows, Mac and Linux) and you can download it here: under the downloads section. If you enjoy playing UnReal World, I highly recommend donating to the project to show your support and help further development.


-Njerpez Warrior: Spears you in the back of the neck and the world goes dark.