2019: the catch-up post

Merry Christmas!!!

I’ve got a touch of time over the holiday period so I’m going to try and cover all the games I’ve played in 2019 but missed on the blog, starting with:

Beyond Divinity

Release date:              2004
Purchase date:           17 June 2018
Complete date:           Not yet
Platform:                     PC
Time spent:                 Approx 100 hrs
Developer:                   Larian Studios
Publisher:                    HIP Interactive (NA) and Digital Jesters (EU)

Beyond Divinity is the sequel to Divine Divinity, which I covered hereBeyond Divinity is a far more linear experience with little exploration.  It is basically the same engine and system as Beyond Divinity, except that you control two PCs instead of one, so you’ll be “pausing” quite a lot.  The net result is that you’re playing Diablo with the combat system of Baldur’s Gate.

It works quite well actually, except for one, tiny problem.

It’s.  Too.  Long.

TOO.  FUCKING.  LONG.

There is one game that has managed to clock in at over 100 hours and keep me engaged, and this isn’t it.  I’m going to finish this game, but I have officially gone through the stages of interest, to boredom, to unmitigated hatred.

I hate this game and everything associated with it.  It does not help that I’ve played it so close to finishing Divine Divinity, I’ve now spent over 220 hours with the Divine Divinity engine and that’s more than I would wish on anyone.

Last word – only play this if you’re willing to stop after the first act.  At that point you’ll have seen most of what the game has to offer that isn’t a watered-down version of other RPGs.

Choices

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Release date:              2015
Purchase date:           Approx Sept 2019
Complete date:           Not yet
Platform:                     iOS
Time spent:                 Approx 10 hrs
Developer:                   Tinman Games

Choices is an iOS game recommended to me on the Apple store.  It’s interactive fiction, where you choose your responses in a “choose your own adventure” path.  It has a number of different stories, the one I chose is “And the sun went out“, an intriguing little concept with a hard sci-fi-ish feel to it about the sun periodically going dark, and you dealng with the impending collapse of humanity as you try franticly to “fix” the sun.

But it doesn’t go anywhere.  The story meanders pointlessly with you achieving very little and seems to be focusing on a ham-fisted romance between you and Ms pointless sidekick, and some sort of mystery aztec “sacrifice people” cult.

Which is a shame becasue the mystery cult, the romance and everything else are far less interesting than the premise set up in the title – “why is the Sun going out?”.  I’m near the end of this thing (I hope) and I have no idea, and I don’t think the writers do either.

I will say that the interactive fiction elements work fairly well – at the end of each chapter you are told what % of players have wound up landing at your juncture of the story, and it’s a neat little mechanic that emphasises that there are a lot of different branching paths that feel materially different (even if in practice they are not).

Nowhere near as good as Out There Chronicles, mind you.

Update 2020 – I’m not finishing this game.  Life’s too short.

Last word – don’t bother. 

The Silent Age

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Release date:              2012 (episode 1), 2014 (episode 2)
Purchase date:           Approx April 2019
Complete date:           Approx April 2019
Platform:                     iOS (also available on PC)
Time spent:                 Approx 10 hrs
Developer:                   House on Fire

The Silent Age is a pretty nifty point-and-click I played on iOS (so “touch and click” if you prefer).  It’s a modern point-and-click which means that there are no “defeat the dragon with bunny slippers” weird-arse logic solutions, but there is also virtually no challenge.

Luckily the story is really good, and keeps moving at a fair pace to keep you interested.

The concept is that you are a janitor in a mysterious sci-fi-tech company, and find yourself wrapped up in a calendestine plot involving apocalypse, murder and time-travel.  Unlike Choices, it’s a premise that lives up to its promise.

Last word – fun (if very easy) point-and-click for the phone

Civilization IV

Release date:              2006 and 
Purchase date:           Approx April 2017
Complete date:           November 2019
Platform:                     PC
Time spent:                 Approx 80 hrs
Developer:                   Firaxis Games

Civ IV is the best Civ game so far.

I did a detailed analysis of Civilization III, where I commented that (1) I originally intended to play Civ III for only 30 minutes but played it for hours and hours; and (2) they had really tried (but failed) to fix the end-phase of the game.

I’m pleased to say that (1) I have not learned from my mistakes, and my “30 minute session” of Civ IV ran to about 80hrs; and (2) Civ IV fixes the end game.

There’s a lot of factors I could talk about with Civ IV, but let’s focus on how they fixed the end game:

  • significantly improved the AI self-management, which makes the end-game much easier to play.  In Civ III you could only win by micro-management.  Fortunately that is no longer the case
  • hobbled massive empires by imposing crippling inefficiencies based on empire size.  You are probably better off with 5 cities than 20.
  • made space-race victories easier to achieve than military victories.

The end result is that Civ IV both makes empire management easier, and removes the incentives that would lead you to create unmanageably large empires in the first place.

Oh there’s plenty of other new mechanics too, religion for example.  Although they’re obviously so terrified of doing anything offensive with religion that they are also terrified of doing anything interesting with it.  Religions are not all the same – I’m not suggesting any are superior, but to suggest that Christianity and Buddhism are identical ignores (for example) the impact on of the proselytizing ethos upon European imperialism, but also robs the choice of religion from having any meaningful impact.

Last word – a fantastic entry in the grand-daddy of “four-X” games.  Quite approachable too.

Civilization IV – Warlords; and Beyond the Sword

Release date:              2005 and 2007 (respectively)
Purchase date:           Approx April 2017
Complete date:           November and December 2019
Platform:                     PC
Time spent:                 Approx 20 hrs each
Developer:                   Firaxis Games

Civ IV has two expansions – Warlords and Beyond the Sword.

Warlords makes military conquests a litle more attractive by adding “Great Generals” as a unit, allowing enemies to capitulate and become “vassal states” (thereby avoiding the tedious “grind a lost cause into the dust” phase of conquest) and a few other minor tweaks focussed on warfare.  Beyond the Sword (despite the name) does much the same thing by greatly increasing the power of espionage, as well as introducing a number of new units and technologies that particularly focus on the musket-era – that is, I suspect, where the title comes from.  It also adds some depth to the diplomatic aspects of the game by (in particular) adding a wide range of resolutions you can impose on all players, and allowing resolutions to be passed much earlier in the game than in vanilla Civ IV.

Last word – worthy expansions that add a few interesting new factors once you’ve got the basics of Civ IV down pat.

Civilization IV – Colonization

Release date:              2008
Purchase date:           Approx April 2017
Complete date:          December 2019
Platform:                     PC
Time spent:                 Approx 40 hrs each
Developer:                   Firaxis Games

This should just be called “Colonization”.  It’s a remake of the 90s Sid Meier Colonization game using the Civ IV engine.  It takes the implied “America is the best” angle from Civ and runs full-hog with it.

You play one of four colonies (English, French, Dutch or Spanish).  Your task is to establish your new colony, declare independence and then defeat the Royal Force sent to destroy you.  Oddly, once you win, you will raise the American flag regardless of your nationality – because why wouldn’t you.

Jokes aside, it’s quite a good game, though it took me a while to figure out how to beat it.  There is a much stronger emphasis on economics than in Civ IV, with a fair degree of micro-management required.  Civ IV is handy although not as useful  as you would expect, it’s a very different game with entirely different units, economies and no tech tree.

Screenshot (52)
Ok, we get it.  Central government = bad; colony = good

It’s tempting to say that it’s better than Civ IV because of the tougher challenge curve, but on balance I will say that Civ IV is superior because it has greater variety, caused by the multiple paths to victory.  Colonization really just boils down to making as many military units as you can – no diplomatic victories, no space-race, not even domination victories.  Just defeat an invasion and that’s it.

Still a lot of fun though.

Last word – An entirely different game to Civ IV with an even greater emphasis on economic management and no tech tree.  That description does not do it justice, however – it’s a great chalenge with a variety of buildings/units to play with, and a lot of fun.

The Hex

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Release date:              2018
Purchase date:           Approx Nov 2018
Complete date:          Approx Nov 2018
Platform:                     PC
Time spent:                 Approx 12 hrs
Developer:                   Daniel Mullins

I really wish I’d reviewed this closer to when I played it, because I’m not going to do this justice.

The Hex is an indie game by Daniel Mullins, who also made “Pony Island” – a game I’ve never played but is apparently well regarded.  It is a game about games in the way that, say, Scream is a horror movie about horror movies.

The game centres on a murder mystery that occurs in a hotel catering to former video game characters, who have backgrounds as diverse as “2D fighitng game”, to “fantasy RPG hero”, to “90s cutesy platformer” to “nameless faceless Doom-guy”.  To solve the mystery you’ll go through each of the characters games, meaning that you will play the each of the various genres, with plenty of comments about video games and the video game industry along the way.  Naturally as it covers so many genres some mechanics work better than others, and it’s fair to say that none are really strong enough to warrant their own game.  Luckily that’s not a problem – you won’t play any of the genres for long enough for that to become an issue, and this is not a game that’s really about the mechanics, but the meta-commentary.

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I can’t talk about it much more without giving it away.  Suffice to say – give it a go.  If you are a gamer, especially one who likes to think about the industry, then you will enjoy this.

Last word – Unique meta-commentary game about games for gamers.  Recommended, you can get it here.  There’s also a version which sells the game + soundtrack as a bundle

Blood Bowl (PSP)

Release date:              2009 (2010 on PSP)
Purchase date:           Approx 2015
Complete date:          Approx July-Nov 2019
Platform:                     PSP
Time spent:                 Approx 20 hrs
Developer:                   Cyanide 

Blood Bowl is a Games Workshop fantasy grid-iron (aka American Football) 2-player boardgame.  There have been several attempts to turn it into a videogame, with varying degrees of success.  This version is from 2009 and ported to the PSP.  The poor port-work shows, there’s a few crashes and bugs, although not frequent enough to be more than an annoyance.

I bought this years ago, but couldn’t get into it until I eventually dusted off my physical copy of Blood Bowl, re-read the rules and then played a game with a friend of mine.

It’s not a bad translation, and it works really well in portable format.  I played a lot of games of this on the bus.  There’s two problems with it though:

  • there is effectively no tutorial.  If you do not know how to play Blood Bowl, do not bother playing this game; and
  • the AI never uses re-rolls or “bribe the ref” options.  This makes the AI a bit weak early on in your campaign, and very weak later in the campaign.

I haven’t finished it becasue my PSP charger has gone missing.  But after about 20hrs of gameplay the AI deficiencies mean that the game is no longer a challenge and quite repedative.

Last word – a fun (if annoyingly buggy) experience that will be a lot of fun to Blood Bowl fans for approx 20hrs of gameplay, and utterly impenetrable to anyone else.

Strider (PSP)

Release date:              1989 (2013 for PSP)
Purchase date:           Approx 2015
Complete date:          Approx July 2019
Platform:                     PSP
Time spent:                 Approx 15 hrs
Developer:                   Capcom

The classic arcade game, available on PSP via the Capcom Classics Collection.

I never played this to the arcade so I can’t compare it, but I can say that this was a lot of fun.  A great example of taking some very simple mechanics (jump/slash platforming) and then expanding upon it in a wide variety of imaginative ways.

It’s quite hard, as one would expect from the era.  And the difficulty curve spikes suddenly in a few places.  But overall, it’s a classic of its type that stands up today.

Last word – excellent late 80s arcade platformer that demonstrates how interesting a simple concept can become with the right variety of enemies, locations and set pieces.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins (PSP)

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Release date:              1985 (2013 for PSP)
Purchase date:           Approx 2015
Complete date:          Approx March-April 2019
Platform:                     PSP
Time spent:                 Approx 15 hrs
Developer:                   Capcom

My parents once took me camping, and the local store had this arcade game that I was fascinated by –  Ghosts ‘n Goblins.  It’s another late 80s arcade platformer, particularly famous for featuring a knight who could run around in his underwear.

Many many years later, I’ve been able to give it a shot thanks again to the Capcom Classics Collection on PSP.  But unlike Strider, it doesn’t quite stand up.

Oh it’s still a fun enough experience, but playing it in 2019 I suspect the real attraction of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins was its strong character and enemy design.  Gameplay-wise the movement is quite clunky and imprecise, and success really depends on memorisation over tactics.

It also has this annoying quirk where, once you get to the end, you’re effectively told “but our princess is in another castle” and you have to do the whole thing AGAIN except HARDER.  Why anyone thought that would be fun is beyond me.

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Yes, I really did finish it.  It took me 124 continues.

Last word – interesting late 80s arcade platformer that doesn’t quite stand up due to clunky controls and unforgiving difficulty.  Fun if you’re the sort of person who enjoys really hard games.

Alien Breed: Impact (PS3)

Release date:              2010
Purchase date:           Approx 2012
Complete date:          Approx July 2019
Platform:                     PS3
Time spent:                 Approx 20 hrs
Developer:                   Team 17

Alien Breed is a top-down shooter franchise stretching back to 1991 on the Amiga.  It asks that age old question, “How close can I get to the Alien movies before I get sued?” 

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This is the box art for the original Amiga game.  I’m not kidding.

Miraculously the answer appears to involve about 8 games between 1991 and 2010.  Alien Breed: Impact is an “upgraded version” of Alien Breed: Evolution (released in 2009), and the first of three games released in 2010 for the PS3-era consoles.

I have never played any of the Alien Breed games before, although I was aware of the original and knew it was both fairly popular, and a blatant Alien rip-off.  But then so are the genestealers from Warhammer 40,000, so apparently HR Giger’s estate is fairly lax on such things.

It’s a fun-enough game, played in 2.5D (becasue it was 2010) with a pretty good variety of weapons and items, with a strong emphasis on ammo management.  It’s fairly atmospheric, with the soundscape being as ominous as you would expect, and the creatures being appropriately terrifying despite being appearing fairly small and low-res on the screen.

No it won’t give you nightmares, but I couldn’t play it in front of my 3yo son, who understandably declared it was “scawy”.

Its weakness, however, is that it’s fairly predictable and quite repetitive.  You’ll be sent from place to place around the ship to fix various things, and you’ll be constantly prevented from reaching a room that’s right next to you because the power’s out/the door is broken/it’s on fire.  Also while it has a decent variety of enemies, they all appear basically the same (Alien rip-offs) and the locations are all much the same too (big scary spaceship #1000143).

I was glad when it was over.  I sincerely hope that the next two games in this series have something new to offer (I bought them as a set), otherwise I might just forget I own these.

Last word – a fun and atmospheric 2.5D shooter from 2010 that’s an obvious homage to 90s top-down shooters.  Let down by being a touch repetative.

Dungeons & Dragons – Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara

Bought in approx 2012

  • Finished in approx July 2019

This is two seperate games – Tower of Doom and its sequel Shadow over Mystara.  Both 90s arcade brawlers from Capcom in the same vein as Golden Axe, Captain Commando and Final Fight, with one important difference – the characters are radically different based on their D&D class, with various limited-use items & spells to fit.  The warrior can shoot arrows, the cleric can turn undead and the magic-user can cast magic missile.  Add to this branching paths, a broad range of enemies from the D&D cannon and a surprisingly deep move-set (for the genre), and you’ve got yourself a good game.

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The two games are very similar, with Shadows over Mystara adding some new classes and a few gameplay tweaks.

The biggest issue is that these games weren’t designed to be played with unlimited continues, and when you add unlimited continues all of the challenge is gone.  You wind up with this all of this strategic potential and absolutely no reason to use it, because you can beat this game by just mashing attack.  Also unlike, say, Golden Axe, you start with your full allotment of spells instead of earning them through play.  That means if you pick magic-user you can use all your spells, die, respawn, then repeat.

The end result is still fun because of the sheer variety within the game, but better suited to a two-hour blast than anything else.

Last word – Probably the best of the 90s brawler genre, although searching for relevance in the world of unlimited continues.

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