Most shooters start the player off with some kind of assault rifle, maybe a sub-machine gun if the designers are feeling stingy, plus a dinky little side-arm that never actually sees any use. Not so Red Faction: Guerrilla. In this game, right after the introductory cutscene, you’re given a humongous sledgehammer and a satchel of remote-detonated explosives. Then you’re set loose on the Martian landscape to do as you will. That is a fair representation of this game is all about.
You’ll find that most of your time on Mars will be spent wrecking stuff. Of the two starter weapons, the sledgehammer is the more reliable but it’s always satisfying to bring down a building with lots of enemies inside with explosives, especially when you become skilled at identifying structurally weak spots to slap them on. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is your arsenal. You also get the grinder, a bulky machine that fires razor-edged metal disks, the thermobaric rocket launcher that is really good at filling an enclosed space with a big explosion, a nano-rifle which infects the target with nanites that dissolve it, and, if you’re lucky, the awe-inspiring singularity bomb, which creates a miniature black hole.
Continue reading Red Faction: Guerrilla
For a game that now claims membership of the Civilization family, Colonization lacks the breadth, depth, variety and sheer richness of its more famous cousins and is the poorer game for it. For one thing, it covers only a narrow slice of history, from 1492 to 1792 to be exact and despite its generic name, it covers only the colonization of the Americas. Folks who might have wanted a game that covers the colonization of Africa or Asia for example will have to walk away disappointed. For another thing, while there are many paths to prosperity, there is only one route to victory: successfully declaring independence from your mother nation and defeating their forces on the battlefield.
You start the game with a motley group of colonists out to make a new life in the New World. Unlike the Civilization games, you get a naval unit as part of your initial force, so you’re expected to spend some time exploring to find the best spot for your first settlement. Again, unlike Civilization, you’ll inevitably find that while the New World is indeed a vast land filled with riches, the best spots are already occupied by the native indians, so there is potential from conflict right from the beginning.
Continue reading A Game: Colonization
There’s no denying that Kerberos Productions has their priorities right: in a space-based 4X game, the big draw are the ships and Sword of the Stars, with all of its expansions added in, delivers that in spades. Want to build a missile boat with launch tubes dotting its entire surface? You can do that. How about an impactor ship that can fire powerful long-range rail cannons but whose arc of fire is limited to enemies directly in front of it? You can do that too. As of the A Murder of Crows expansion, you can even build drone carriers if fielding a swarm of carrier-based fighters is your thing.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Sword of the Stars is best understood as a space-based version of the Total War games. While the turn-based strategic layer is present, it’s extremely streamlined and designed to be able to be played quickly in order to facilitate multi-player sessions. A campaign game takes place in a randomly generated galaxy and you’re given a huge variety of options on what your galaxy looks like, including total number of stars, average distance between stars and the overall shape of the galaxy. The galaxy itself is in true 3D, which can be hard to make sense of since you’re going to have to constantly pan and rotate the galactic map. If that’s a problem, simply choose a disc-shaped flat galaxy to make things more or less 2D.
Continue reading A Game: Sword of the Stars (Ultimate) + Argos Naval Yards
Once upon a time, the Grand Theft Auto series was held up as the gold standard of open world games. True, the series never actually invented the genre, and if you want to be pedantic about it, early games like Elite were way more open and far larger in scope than any of the GTA titles. But it’s inarguable that the concept only really took off with the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001, so much so that similar games like Crackdown, Saint’s Row and Mercenaries were known as GTA clones.
In many ways, the open world genre can be regarded as the apogee of video games. It is after all the ultimate realization of the fantasy of entering a fictional and yet realistic world with its own set of internally consistent rules, densely populated with autonomous AI-controlled agents that you can interact with, and being set completely free to do as you will with the sandbox you’re given. So it is especially sad that despite its illustrous pedigree, Grand Theft Auto IV isn’t much of an open world game and at times even risks forgetting that it is a game at all.
Continue reading A Game: Grand Theft Auto IV (PC)
While I’m been away from my PC over the past week, I’ve been indulging my gaming habit with this gem of a game on my PSP. It’s essentially a shrunk down version of Midnight Club: Los Angeles for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 but it still packs an astonishing amount of content and will likely delight any racing fan for a good long while. It delivers seriously intense racing experiences, a very satisfying sense of progression over time and despite being somewhat repetitive and frustratingly difficult at times, a tremendous sense of achievement when you’ve finally won some of the harder races.
Midnight Club LA Remix is essentially an open world racer in which you drive around a complete and beautifully detailed city to find races to participate in, earning reputation, unlocking rewards and making money along the way. One of the things I liked best about the game is how much it felt like an RPG. Starting as a virtual unknown in a old and clunky car, you’ll painstakingly progress towards the flashiest and sleekest Mercedes and Lamborghinis. Unlike the Grand Theft Auto series, Remix uses actual cars and motorcycles from real world brands, so there’s that additional sense of realism.
Continue reading A Game: Midnight Club LA Remix (PSP)
One of the most important lessons any aspiring designer can learn is to heed Sid Meier’s dictum that a good game is a series of interesting decisions. This is precisely what the dark fantasy-themed Fall from Heaven 2 is all about. There is no point in the game where a particular path of action becomes so overbearingly obvious as to make the choice a non-decision. While the ultimate objective remains, as in any 4X game, to achieve complete dominance over the other factions, there are many different paths to this end and countless means within each path to advance along it.
Fall from Heaven 2 of course benefits from being a mod of Civilization 4 which provides it with a sound base to work on, but the new mechanics, factions, units, religions and events it adds makes it a worthy game more than capable of standing on its own. The cornucopia of choices begins with choosing one of a total of 21 available factions. Each faction generally has two different leaders available. Then there’s a total of 7 religions to pick from, each of which offers synergies different enough to drastically alter your playstyle. Next, you’ll want to think about which victory condition to shoot for. In addition to the ones already in Civilization 4, the Alpha Centauri victory is replaced by the Tower of Mastery victory inspired by the venerable Master of Magic game and there’s a religious Altar of Luonnatar victory condition.
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In a way, Empire is what Creative Assembly’s Total War series has always been building towards. Epic doesn’t even begin to describe its scope. Three distinct theatres, a dizzying multitude of major and minor factions, a greatly expanded strategic layer involving tech trees and multiple towns in each region, the ability to play naval battles in real-time mode for the first time and last but far from least, a spiffy new graphics engine so detailed and shiny that you can see the guns and buttons of your each of your soldiers gleaming in full HDR bloom.
Empire covers a relatively thin slice of history, but what glorious history it is! The French and American Revolutions, the rise of gunpowder and the apogee of the Age of Sail, the Age of Enlightenment and the beginnings of the globalized world. No one is ever going to mistake the Total War series as a replacement for a real history textbook, but this is as close as you’re going to get in a mass market video game. Total War fans already know the drill, but here it is anyway for those who have managed to miss out on it for the past 10 years.
Continue reading A Game: Empire Total War