All posts by Grant Chen

I’m an independent game designer currently working as a localization writer. I graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Industrial Arts and a focus in digital media. I make an effort to appreciate game design of all types, ranging from 5-hour strategy board games to minute-long mobile games.

Might and Magic X: Legacy Review – PC/Steam

If you grew up playing computer games, there’s a chance you might have played the venerable Might and Magic games. Not the Heroes of Might and Magic series of strategy games; the old-school brutal first-person dungeon crawlers in a fantasy world with a dash of science fiction. The last game in the main Might and Magic series came out in 2002, and ever since it’s been nothing but spinoffs, until now. Might and Magic X: Legacy returns to the realm of first-person, role-playing, but can it please the old guard without driving off a new audience?

Let’s start with the basics. You start off by creating a party of four characters. For each character, you get to select from four races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Orc. Each of these four races has access to three unique classes, which gives you a starting total of twelve classes to pick from. As they level and grow stronger you can raise their stats and skills, specializing them in different ways. People who love character customization will have no complaints here. You can set out with your standard tank/healer/damage/magic combo (and for new players, I recommend this as a solid place to start), but they can grow into flexible characters capable of covering multiple roles and filling in for each other if one characters needs to take a few turns to heal up or cast valuable buff spells.

As for the moment to moment play, the real focus of this game is on exploration and combat. Let’s cover exploration first. The whole world exists on a grid, and your whole party moves as a single unit one tile at a time. As you move around, you uncover more of the map, and it’s very satisfying to uncover every single tile in an area and declare it fully-explored. The exploration has been made a bit more forgiving for people new to this Might and Magic series. In the old games, if you explored in the wrong direction, you could find yourself face to face with monsters far stronger than you were capable of fighting. The early parts of Might and Magic X take great care to ensure that you only fight enemies you’re expected to be capable of beating.

However, don’t take that to mean that these fights will be easy. This is Might and Magic, after all! Most RPGs will throw easy cannon fodder at you where you can just mash an attack button and come out on top. Might and Magic demands that you rise to the challenge. Your foes will hit you with all sorts of status effects; poison, paralysis, dreaded petrification, and more. Or they’ll get multiple attacks a turn. Really, every monster can be assumed to be deadly in its own way, and you’ve got to deal with it. If you’re used to never using consumable items or casting spells unless it’s absolutely necessary, you’re in for a surprise. It’s always absolutely necessary. Combat makes up the majority of the game, and it’s a deeply satisfying tactical experience. You might not start off strong, but once you level up and enhance your party, it’s the best feeling in the world to crush enemies in an area that you once feared and celebrate on a pile of your vanquished foes. At least, until you travel to more dangerous hunting grounds.

As far as story goes, it’s a weak point of the game, but it’s not an important part of the experience. The game takes place after Might and Magic Heroes VI, which I admit is a disappointment to me. The original Might and Magic games took place in a different world with elements of science fiction like robots and aliens. The world of Ashan is a relatively traditional fantasy world. It would have been nice to return to the world of Xeen, but I can understand that it might be too weird for newcomers. The game starts off with an overly long video recapping the events of Might and Magic Heroes 6, then the story becomes more or less secondary through the rest of the game. I don’t mind the lack of story, since the game’s real focus is combat and exploration, but I do wish the opening video were shorter and more to the point.

Moving onto other aesthetic elements, the game’s graphics are uninspired. I find myself more willing to forgive it for this shortcoming because there’s a strong retro aesthetic to the game (It even includes an option for retro pixilation in the graphics settings!), but that’s a reason for technical limits, not a general design issue. Monsters, towns, and people are given enough art direction to look like what they’re supposed to, but nothing really jumps out at me. As fun as slaying monsters is, it would be more fun to slay cool-looking monsters. The same could be said for the sound design. It’s present, but nothing really jumps out at me. At the very least, the sound and graphics are inoffensive, and that’s better than being actively grating.

With all that said, the core gameplay of Might and Magic X is still deeply satisfying. There haven’t been many games in this style in a long while (outside of the Etrian Odyssey series), so if you enjoy these kinds of games, it’s definitely a must-have. If you’re more of a newcomer to old school dungeon crawling, I recommend playing with an open mind and embracing the challenging combat. There’s a lot to love in Might and Magic X: Legacy.

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LEGO Marvel Super Heroes Review – Wii U

Lego Marvel Super Heroes is an open-world sandbox game from Travelers’ Tales (TT Games). If you played Lego City Undercover or Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, you have a rough idea of what to expect. The story is simple, and serves as a good excuse to bring in every villain and hero they possibly can: Silver Surfer crashes on Earth and his board breaks up into pieces, called Cosmic Bricks. Dr. Doom wants to gather these Cosmic Bricks and make a super weapon out of them, and allies with Loki, Magneto, Venom, and loads of other classic Marvel villains to bring this plan to fruition. The only way to beat a huge villain crossover is, of course, with a huge hero crossover, and there’s the basic premise of the game.

The game follows the general Lego formula: You have an open world where you run around a Lego Marvel version of New York City. The story directs you around the city as the plot advances, though you’re free to explore wherever you like. Over the course of the game, you unlock more playable character, and a great selling point for any good Lego game. There are over a hundred and fifty playable characters to unlock with loads of crazy super powers. These powers are useful for fighting baddies, of which there are plenty, but many areas in the game are also built to highlight a particular character’s powers, so there are a lot of opportunities for characters to shine. Captain America can throw his shield to hit distant objects, Mister Fantastic can stretch and slip through grates, and Hulk Smash.

The moment to moment gameplay is largely the same as any other Lego game. When you enter a level, you fight your way through it until you get to the end. It’s basic beat ’em up gameplay where you just beat down hordes upon hordes of minions as you make your way to the villain responsible for one nefarious deed or another. Along the way, you can smash destructible objects into bricks, which you can collect for points, and I often found myself going out of my way specifically to destroy as much as I could, just for the fun of it. Admittedly, there’s no real depth of play here. It’s video game comfort food, and there isn’t much challenge. The boss fights are often unique and clever, but this isn’t the kind of game you turn to for anything other than a way to unwind.

The presentation is, of course, great. This might be the most gorgeous Lego game yet. I have to admit it’s a bit weird seeing fantastic special effects and a relatively realistic-looking city next to the simple and smooth shapes of all the Lego people, but I got used to it fast. The writing is loaded with jokes (all family-friendly, of course). There are a lot of references to Marvel stories in other media (shawarma, anyone?), and a Lego version of Stan Lee can be found in every level. In fact, he can be collected.

Taken on its own merits, Lego Marvel Super Heroes is a fun game with a mountain of content and light-hearted comedy that can make you smile. I prefer more depth to my combat, but I recognize that the Lego games aren’t really meant to be about that, and I’m not their primary audience anyway. This is a game you play to see silly Marvel characters fight other Marvel characters and listen to jokes. If you’re looking for a deeper play experience, you should look elsewhere, but if you just want to sit down and have a good time, this game is a good place for it.

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XCOM: Enemy Within Review – PC

I’d like to start this off with this note: This review is written primarily for people familiar with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If you’re interested in buying the Enemy Within expansion pack, I recommend playing Enemy Unknown until you’re comfortable with it, then buying Enemy Within. If you’re already comfortable with Enemy Unknown, buy Enemy Within. Enemy Within is a fantastic expansion, but it does add a lot of complexity. Enemy Unknown is known for being a tough game, so if you’re just buying the game, start playing that. Don’t jump into the deep end just yet.

Let’s start with the flashiest stuff. The biggest change to the game is the addition of Meld, a new resource that lets you genetically enhance your soldiers or augment them with cybernetics. Genetically enhanced soldiers gain superhuman traits like the ability to camouflage their skin to match the environment or leap onto rooftops. Cybernetically augmented soldiers have their class replaced with a new one, the MEC trooper. They wear enormous suits of powered armor that transform them into walking tanks that wield huge guns that destroy cover.

These are powerful options, but you’re going to need a supply of Meld. This substance is found in canisters in every abduction and UFO crash site map. However, there’s a catch. Each map contains two canisters of Meld, but the Meld is on a self-destruct timer. If you don’t reach it in time, you lose it. This simple new mini-objective on each map changes play in XCOM enormously. The best approach in Enemy Unknown is usually extremely cautious advancement, crawling around the map at a slow pace, and taking your time to fight on your own terms. In Enemy Within, that strategy won’t cut it if you want to grab all the Meld you can get. For XCOM veterans who were starting to get bored with the optimal approach, Meld encourages riskier plays. The slow and careful approach is, of course, still open, but now it has actual downsides.

This new faster and more aggressive approach to play is especially helpful when dealing with EXALT, a new group of human antagonists. Unlike the aliens, who target humanity in general, EXALT is dedicated specifically to ruining XCOM’s day. Occasionally, a cell of EXALT operatives will steal your money, destroy days of research, or broadcast propaganda to raise a country’s panic level. When they do this, the cell becomes exposed, and you can send one of your soldiers after them to get intelligence on the location of the main EXALT base. After a few days, you’ll get a mission to help that soldier escape with a clue about the location to EXALT’s home base.

During these missions, you often have to fight wave after wave of EXALT operatives, and this is where things get really different. In most situations, you only fight aliens in small groups, and aliens wander the map or stay in just a few places. EXALT, on the other hand, is out to get you. A mission can involve wave after wave of EXALT operatives doing their burst to murder your squad, and if you fight them like they’re aliens, they’re going to succeed. Playing defensively might work against aliens, but against your fellow man, you need to be aggressive. Whatever operatives you kill, more are going to be on their way, and if you can’t keep their numbers down, you’ll be overwhelmed.

Where Meld exists to shake up the battlescape where your soldiers fight the enemy, EXALT exists to shake up the geoscape where you manage your base. If you’re sitting on a surplus of money and saving up for something big, or sitting comfortably on high but not quite maxed out panic levels, EXALT is likely to screw up your day unless you go aggressive. You can pay to conduct a global scan that’ll reveal all EXALT cells on the global map for a short time, and once revealed, those cells can’t hurt you. On top of that, you can send in a soldier as a covert operative to disrupt them and gather intel, just as if they completed an operation against you. Once you’ve gathered enough intel, of course, you can launch an attack on EXALT’s main base and put them out of commission. That, of course, is extremely satisfying, and it manages to turn even the game’s broader strategic layer into an exercise in being proactive and taking the fight to the enemy. My only real complaint about EXALT is that once you put an end to EXALT, you’re likely just in the mid-game, and the rest of the game plays out much like the base game, except for the more aggressive play style.

On top of these brand new systems, the game’s also added a hefty amount of new content on top of what was already there. Loads of new maps have been added to the game, resulting in a much more diverse set of locations for battle. I didn’t see any of the old and familiar maps for months of in-game time, which kept me on my toes, since I had no idea what was ever going to lie ahead. New UFO crash site maps are especially welcome. In the old game, they always crashed into the woods. This time, UFOs can splash down in more diverse areas. The most notable of these was smashed into an office skyscraper where I had to make my way through the wreckage of burning cubicles. However, as a special treat for long-time XCOM fans who have been playing since the title was spelled X-Com, there’s a rural farm crash site map. That really brought a smile to my face. At least, until I shot a rocket into a wall and accidentally triggered an additional spawn of aliens I wasn’t ready to fight. But hey. That’s XCOM, baby.

There’s also been a load of new gear, making the Foundry especially valuable. Needle grenades have a huge blast radius, but their blasts don’t penetrate cover. Ghost grenades let you cloak your squad and let you stealth around. Reaper rounds give your conventional weapons a little extra oomph in the early game at the cost of long-range accuracy. I could go on and on. On top of this, the new Tactical Rigging project in the Foundry lets you carry two pieces of gear on every soldier, much like the Support class’s old Deep Pockets upgrade. There’s a lot to play with here, and Tactical Rigging lets you experiment with your new options while letting you keep your old standby equipment.

Oh, and the soldier promotions have been changed up as well. Deep Pockets was changed to allow an additional use of limited use items (since Tactical Rigging renders the old one redundant), for example. A lot of skills that never saw much use were made a lot more attractive, so there are fewer obvious choices when customizing your soldiers. The Assault class skill Close and Personal, for example, now makes it so that the first shot you take on a target within 4 tiles doesn’t count as an action (though it can’t be combined with Run and Gun). The old version just gave a bonus to crit chance against extremely close targets.  A very few skills were given an outright nerf. Squad Sight snipers, for example, can no longer land critical hits on enemies beyond their normal range of fire (unless using Headshot). While a little disappointing, I think everyone who played a lot of Enemy Unknown can agree that Squad Sight snipers are overpowered. This new change encourages them to stay closer to their squad instead of staying in their deployment zone and sniping everything without ever putting themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, one of the two new aliens added to the game is there specifically for that purpose. Seekers are flying robotic drones that cloak themselves as soon as they’re discovered, then strangle isolated soldiers. If you spot Seekers and your Sniper is five turns of running away from the rest of your soldiers, things probably won’t end well for your Sniper. Seekers also love to wait until you get into a fight with other aliens before ambushing someone. I’ve never lost a soldier to Seeker strangling, but a soldier that has a Seeker clamp onto them can’t move or shoot, and has a few turns before they die from it. You can shoot the Seeker off, but a soldier needs the rest of the turn to catch their breath, which can complicate a firefight in progress.

The other new alien is the Mechtoid. Like the name implies,.it’s a Sectoid in a huge mech suit. Mechtoids are effectively early-game Sectopods. These guys don’t change the game up too much directly, but they do allow Sectoids to remain a reasonable threat through the course of the entire game, instead of Sectoids just never spawning again after the early months. Sectoids also start spawning in Council missions alongside Thin Men now, so be prepared to see a lot more of them. Considering that Sectoids are the classic gray alien design, it feels appropriate for them to always be present in some fashion.

Enemy Within also offers a number of other lesser changes that bring some solid improvements to the game. There’s now a button you can click to unequip gear from all your soldiers, so you don’t have to go through and look for the guy who’s wearing your sixth set of Titan armor. There’s a new option to allow soldiers to speak the language of their home countries (as long as it’s a language the game was previously localized to). The infamous “teleporting alien” bug has been annihilated once and for all. New Second Wave options have been added, including Training Roulette, which gives soldiers access to random upgrades when promoted. Oh, and Save Scum, which regenerates the random number seed, so players can reload the game if a shot they really need fails. I’m also fond of Aiming Angles, which grants a bonus to aim if a soldier is closer to flanking an enemy.

XCOM: Enemy Within adds a huge amount of new content to the game, and its changes encourage a much more proactive and aggressive play style. For long-time players of Enemy Unknown, this is a welcome change, since playing the game and taking extreme caution can become dry and clinical. If you liked the base game, get this as soon as you can.
Good luck, commander.

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Hexodius Review – PC/Steam

Hexodius is a game that sounds promising at first glance. It’s a twin-stick shooter dungeon crawler. It’s a cool combination, and one that worked well for Gauntlet or (if you think it counts as a shooter), Binding of Isaac. Unfortunately, Hexodius fails to recognize what makes these games work.

The key to a good twin-stick shooter is frantic action coupled with a compelling score system. Geometry Wars is the unseated champion of what a good shooter should be like. This kind of experience is pretty intense, so the bursts of play need to be short and sweet so players don’t get tired out. On the dungeon crawler side, you need a big place to explore, and that’s going to take some time. If a game like this is going to succeed, it needs solid pacing and variety.

That’s where Hexodius falls short. This is a game the developers really intended for people to play in longer stretches of time, giving the game a big map to explore, throwing in a shop system, and writing a story about a killer AI. To stop this AI, you’ll have to go through stage after stage, and each stage has the exact three same objectives: An escort mission, a target destruction mission, and your basic “Destroy every enemy” mission. This gets old quickly. Sure, you have boss fights to mix things up here and there, but ultimately, you’re just doing the exact same thing over and over. To make things worse, the enemies in general are slow and never really put any pressure on you, which is a grave sin in a twin stick shooter. I should be constantly on the run and trying to clear an escape path through the enemy waves. On an alarming number of occasions, I found myself just sitting in one place and just shooting the enemies as they came at me.

Between levels, you can purchase upgrades. Here, I thought, would be a point where the game distinguishes itself, but that turned out to not be the case. Here, the game features an enormous variety of upgrades, but to be honest, you don’t really need any of them. Few of the upgrades really do anything that you have a real need for, and I rapidly stopped caring about them. This could have been the killer feature that could bring some excitement to Hexodius, but it just became another example of unfulfilled potential.

As far as aesthetics go, there isn’t much to write about. The graphics and special effects are serviceable. You’ve got a snow world, a lava world, and your basic video game environments. More irritating is the plot. Like the rest of the game, it’s barebones. I don’t expect Chris Avellone-quality writing, and I can forgive it for being an afterthought, but when you start repeating the same flavor text to describe each type of mission when there are only three types of missions and dozens of stages, it’s hard to draw a generous conclusion.

Hexodius is a neat idea, but that’s all there is to it. If the experience were shorter and more exciting, we might have something here. The Binding of Isaac is arguably a twin stick shooter, and there are mountains of text offering it praise. There just isn’t enough content to justify the game’s length. It’s just another dime a dozen example of a good idea that just couldn’t be executed with the care it needed.


Chainsaw Warrior Review – PC/Steam

Games Workshop is famous for its Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games, but that wasn’t always the case. A long time ago, they made board games. These titles are mainly forgotten these days, but one of them finally made a comeback: Chainsaw Warrior. As far as titles (in a literal sense of the word) go, you can’t get much better than that. Chainsaw Warrior is a solo board game where you must save New York from extra-dimensional invaders, and the PC version is a direct translation of that game.

At the start of the game, you’re treated to a motion comic explaining the background, then you’re taken to character creation. Character creation is almost entirely random. You roll for your Health (How many hits you can take before you die), Endurance (How much venom or radiation you can absorb before you die), Hand to Hand (Your ability to fight in melee), Marksman (Your accuracy with ranged weapons), Reflexes (Your ability to avoid explosive traps and shoot enemies before they close into melee), a random Skill (That can bestow unique traits or raise one of your other stats), and Equipment Points. The equipment points are the only part in character creation where you actually make choices. You start off with one weapon, the laser lance, but you can spend your equipment points to buy other weapons, armor, and equipment. Pro tip: Always buy a chainsaw. It’s right there in the title. Once character creation is over, the real game begins.

The goal of Chainsaw Warrior is to slay Darkness, a monster who’s about to destroy New York. To reach him, though, you need to go through two decks of 54 cards each, which contain monsters, traps, and other obstacles. Darkness himself is shuffled somewhere into the second deck. You have one hour to take him out before New York is annihilated, so you’re on a time limit. Every turn you take subtracts 30 seconds from the timer, so really, you have 120 turns to go through both decks and hunt down Darkness. Now, I mentioned before that you start off with a laser lance. This is the only weapon that can harm Darkness. If you run out of ammo for the laser lance, you’re hit with a time penalty as you have to leave to resupply. Other events can also force you to lose turns, so while you have an idea of how much time you have, you can’t ever be too sure.

Now, let’s get to the moment to moment play of Chainsaw Warrior. You click on the deck of encounters. The top card flips over. If it’s a monster, you can choose to shoot it. If you do that, pick a gun and roll some dice. If you hit, the creature dies. If you fail, or if you choose not to take the shot, the enemy closes into melee, then the monster gets to roll dice and you get to roll dice. The monster adds their hand to hand, and you add your hand to hand. If you win, the monster dies. If not, you get hurt, and fighting continues. As you can see, the combat isn’t too involved. You just flip a card, choose to take a shot, and then fight in melee. Monsters die in a single hit. You go through them pretty quickly, thankfully, but it’s very uninvolved. There aren’t just monsters, though. Traps can force you to lose time unless you had the foresight to pick specific gear at the start of the game, and sometimes, rooms are clear, or there’ll be free equipment to grab. There’s also the dreaded Chasm obstacle card, which forces you to reshuffle the discard back into the deck and start the building over, unless you happened to have the right gear.

If this sounds like the game relies heavily on randomness, you’re absolutely right, and that can be extremely frustrating. There’s a lot of gear to pick from, and on the hardest difficulty, you don’t even get to choose your gear. It’s just randomly rolled. While the game does technically offer you decisions, most of them are no-brainers – if you see a zombie and you have a chainsaw, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t bust out the chainsaw. There’s no way of knowing what tools you’re actually going to need going into the game, so the gear you pick might end up being crucial to your success or completely useless.

The game isn’t entirely without merit. It’s possible to enjoy it, and for a while, I did, but it’s not the kind of experience suited for playing on a PC. It’s the kind of thing you launch on your phone while you’re waiting for someone. In fact, the PC version is a port of the phone version (which is a port of the board game version, because recursion is fun). The UI in the game is obviously designed for a phone, as every element on the screen is much larger than it really needs to be. To attack with a chainsaw, for example, you have to open the item menu, and then select the chainsaw, then confirm. There’s no quick context-sensitive menu that pops up all of your hand to hand combat options when you choose to engage in hand to hand.

Chainsaw Warrior is an authentic port of the board game, and clearly a labor of love. The game even includes several cards that didn’t come with the original game, but were only included with issues of Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine. However, the original game design just isn’t suited for a PC experience. It’s only five dollars, and you can have a fun time with it, but it’s also five dollars on Android and iOS devices. In that environment, the game becomes much, much better. My advice is to skip the PC version, but give the mobile version of the game some serious consideration. It’s a decent way to spend a few isolated pockets of time.


Total War: Rome II Review – PC/Steam

Total War: Rome 2 (Or Rome 2: Total War to the purists) is the latest offering from Creative Assembly’s Total War series, and it’s one that’s been long coming. The original Rome: Total War came out nine years ago in 2004. It was my introduction to the Total War series, and always held a soft spot in my heart. Still, that was a long time ago, and while I’ll draw a few comparisons to the original, I’m going to assume most people are newcomers.

Rome: Total War 2 is a strategy game that puts you in charge of a good chunk of Rome. You must manage Rome’s relationships with its neighbors, wrestle with its internal politics, invest in public works, and manage the empire’s well-being at large. This is all handled in turns, so you can take your time as the decades pass. This mode of play is going to be familiar to fans of historical sims or other historical strategy games, but the defining feature of the Total War series lies in, as the name implies, war.

When your units on the greater turn-based strategic map run into enemy units, they get into a fight. Most strategy games choose to be more abstract with numbers, where a single soldier model represents a unit of soldiers. Not this series. One soldier is one soldier, and that means that battles get absolutely enormous. Expect to see literally thousands of soldiers in brutal clashes. The units you control in this game are entire groups of soldiers. You can order them to march in a particular formation, spreading their ranks in a wider pattern to try to catch more enemies, or marching in file so they’re harder to break through. The game does a fantastic job of carrying across a sense of historical authenticity in its presentation, and the battles do a lot to get you in the right mood.

A major point of the battle system that can take a little to get used to is that soldiers don’t fight to the complete annihilation of one side. If you want to win a fight, you need to break the enemy’s will. The battles feature a morale system, and if a unit of soldiers starts to run low on morale, they’ll make a run for it. You can try to bring superior units to a head to head fight, but to get really good at the combat in this game you’re going to have to fight dirty. Outnumber them. Hit them from a blind spot. Pelt them with ranged attacks from some position they can’t even see. If you’ve played your cards right, the enemy might break completely as soon as the first blow lands.

I could go on and on about the combat system, but that’s just one part of the game. What’s combat without something to fight over? You’re walking in Rome’s sandals (by default, at least), but you’ve got tons and tons of neighbors, and while you’re the biggest muscle in the region, that won’t mean a thing if you somehow manage to anger every single power in the Mediterranean, especially since there are over a hundred of them. A lot of the drama in the game comes from making deals and alliances with some neighbors while striking at others, then getting acquainted with new neighbors as you expand, and, of course, dealing with Rome itself.

You aren’t the only power in Rome, and you have other rivals from inside trying to steal your thunder, as well as trying to keep the citizens happy and dealing with the senate. Oh, and civil wars will likely break out from time to time, just like in real life, so you may find yourself having to cross the Rubicon and conquer Rome itself! This element of massive internal political intrigue adds more to your delicate balancing act as you expand. Sure, you might be on the cusp of putting an end to the Gaul menace, but a situation popping up back home might force you to put your plans on hold.

Rome 2 is a fantastic and engrossing experience that sets the glory of Rome before you. The UI could be a bit cleaner, but that’s a minor complaint compared to everything the game gets right. If you aren’t a history buff, it’s an educational experience and if you are, there are a lot of famous battles that you can engage in that show Creative Assembly cares deeply about the subject at hand. If you care about strategy at all, pick up Total War: Rome 2. It’s a must-have.


Game Dev Tycoon Review – PC/Steam

Game Dev Story came out three years ago, and while it caught headlines in the mobile gaming world, there was never a PC port of it. The enterprising minds over at Greenheart Games decided to take matters into their own hands and developed Game Dev Tycoon, an addictive little game about running a game development studio. While it has a few rough technical edges and it isn’t a particularly deep experience, it’s a fun time waster that gave me a few smiles.

The game starts off at the dawn of PC gaming and takes you through the next 35 years of the game industry. You’re a lone designer and programmer working out of your garage, and you want to create a game. You select a topic (Fantasy, sports, sci-fi, or what have you) and a genre (Action, RPG, simulation, etc), and you’re off. Partway through the development of a game, you’ll be presented with different priorities, such as graphics, sound, or story, and you’ll be asked what proportion of your time you want to spend on each. If you’re working on an RPG, you’ll want to put a lot of effort into dialog, but not so much artificial intelligence.

Once you ship your game, it goes off to the market to earn money. Before long, you’ll have the opportunity to move into a real office building and hire workers, and more of the game reveals itself. You can hire workers, research new topics and genres, build your own game engine, make publishing deals, and loads of other things.

Playing Game Dev Tycoon is an enjoyable experience, but you’ll want to pace yourself. While it’s a PC game, the game it was based on was a mobile game, and it’s not meant to be a thing you sit down with for hours. Game Dev Tycoon is a game where you’ll want to put in a little time while waiting for something else, during lunch breaks, or other short stretches. The core gameplay loop consists of developing a game, waiting for it to finish, and pushing it out to market then developing another game. Most of the game is sitting and watching numbers go up. It’s a good way to unwind, but it’s not something you can do for hours at a time. This would be a much better game if you could say, run it in a small resolution, set it to always be on top, and have it run idly in a corner while you did web browsing, but as it currently is, it either runs in a full screen or a large window, so you can’t do anything but play the game while the game is running.

In spite of its environmental flaws, the game does have a lot of charm. The graphics are simple, but clean, and as your business grows, you get a strong sense of that growth. Moving from a garage to an actual office gives you a real sense that you’re doing better, and once you start seeing whiteboards, rec rooms, greenscreens, and other game development facilities, it feels like a place where things are happening. As you go through the years, you can develop games for parodies of real life publishers and put them on parodies of real life game systems. Unfortunately, you can’t really divert from how history turned out. The parody of the NES is always going to blow the parody of the Sega Master System out of the water, and the parody of the Game Boy is going to sell like hotcakes. Still, it’s fun to re-live that series of events.

The writing is also surprisingly charming. For example, you get to name your games. However, I forgot to do that once, and my number one best selling title for a while ended up going by the name of “Game #17”. After the game came out and review scores came in, one of the review quotes was something along the lines of “A fantastic game, in spite of its title”. Another notable example of the witty writing happens if you’re unfortunate enough to go bankrupt. Your company suffers the “terrible fate” of being purchased by EA. A parody of it, of course, but gamers know what that means.

All in all, Game Dev Tycoon is an enjoyable game, but it really has to be played with the right mindset. Play it over lunch break. Play it while you’re waiting for a friend. Play it when you’re tired, but still want to get some gaming in. It’s ten dollars on Steam, so you can grab it for cheap, and who can say that they already have a game development simulator? It’s a fun concept to play in. Pick it up and have some fun with it.






LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes Review – Wii U

Lego games based on popular characters are usually pretty safe and formulaic. Grab a character, run through stages, beat up enemies, and solve puzzles. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes takes a bold risk by stepping out of this comfort zone, abandoning the traditional level-based setup and creating a full open world for Batman to explore as he travels Gotham City and cleans up the streets.

While this isn’t entirely uncharted territory for the series (Lego City Undercover predating its release by a couple months), it’s still new ground. There are hidden spots with collectibles, enemies hiding on rooftops, civilians to save, vehicles to hop into, and in general, just loads and loads of things to do that you’d associate with an open world game. Sure, you can just go through and clear the game, but anyone who’s played one of these knows that there’s an entire world just bursting at the seams with things to find and collections to bring to 100%.

That isn’t the only new thing. Lego Batman 2 is also the first Lego game to feature full voice acting. It’s kind of a weird thing to get used to, since every previous title has just featured miming, but it works, especially since some of the actors come from other Batman video games or the cartoons. The voice acting is solid, and it lends itself well to another strength of the Lego games: Comedy. I’m not going to try to re-deliver any of the jokes here, but I admit I smiled and laughed a few times, something that many games never even try to invoke in their players.

Another major departure from the previous Lego Batman game is the subtitle: DC Super Heroes. It’s not just Batman and his usual rogue’s gallery. The story centers on a team-up between the Joker and Lex Luthor, so Superman is in the picture. So are Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Zatanna, Flash, and loads of other heroes (and villains!) of the rich DC universe. As in any good Lego game, you can take control of all these people and use their super powers. In a particularly nice touch, the John Williams Superman theme plays whenever you take flight with Superman. Of course, Batman himself is still the star of the show, with Robin as his Superman-idolizing partner.

As far as gameplay goes, the actual moment to moment play when you’re accomplishing missions and going through the story isn’t too different from the usual Lego fare. Beat up enemies and solve puzzles. Still, this is the essence of maybe half of third person action games released in the past 10 years, so I’m not about to go bashing this game for that. That’s not what the real lure of the Lego games is anyway. It’s all about collecting, collecting, collecting.

First up is the classic Lego unit of currency, the Stud. Beat up enemies, and they drop Studs. Collect Studs and buy upgrades, vehicles, and other stuff. That’s pretty straightforward. There are also Red Bricks. When you collect these, you get Extras, which are little effects you can enable through a menu. These let you do things like wear Groucho Marx glasses, boost your Stud collection radius, regenerate your health, and locate special Bricks. As you go through the game, you also get to collect and take control of dozens of iconic (and obscure) DC heroes and villains.

The real meat of satisfying this collectable urge are the Gold Bricks. These are what really count when going for a 100% run of the game, and getting these aren’t as easy as just picking them up off the ground. To grab these goodies, you’ll need to solve puzzles, enter races, play carnival games, rescue citizens in peril, and that’s just off the top of my head. There are 250 of these all around Gotham, and this is where the real game is.

This is also where the Wii U version of the game becomes a huge help. It’s an open world game, and no one in the world wants to open up a map screen any time they want to get anywhere. The screen on the Wii U Gamepad shows a map. I realize this doesn’t sound too impressive, but I can’t stress enough how much this improves the experience. It saves time and keeps you in the game, and if you want to see if you’re still going the right way or if you passed something, you just need to do a quick glance down at your controller. This is especially helpful since the other versions of the game have no mini map.

This game is just fantastic in a lot of ways. It’s easy to pick up, easy to play, it makes you laugh, and it’ll keep you occupied for a while trying to collect everything. It’s video gaming comfort food, and when you’re in the mood for it, it hits the spot perfectly. If you just want to sit down, pick up a controller, and have some fun, get Lego Batman 2.


Anomaly 2 Review – PC

Anomaly: Warzone Earth was the first game I learned about in the sadly under populated “tower offense” genre. Released in early 2011, Anomaly put you in charge of an ever-advancing line of armored vehicles as they made their way past a grid of alien towers. It was a fantastic game, and I assumed that it would pave way for a huge crowd of imitators to build upon its reversed version of the popular tower defense genre, but it was not to be. Now, it looks like the developer, 11 bit studios, has decided to take matters into their own hands and release Anomaly 2.

In terms of play, the basic formula has not changed from the first game. Each level puts you in the shoes of a nameless commander who must guide a convoy of tanks through a level. You don’t control these tanks directly. They always keep moving forward, and they fire at targets of their own free will. As the commander, your job is to supervise. You can pause the game and enter a tactical view of the level, which shows you the entire level, enemies on the map, the convoy’s route, and other points of interest. From this view, you can see arrows at every intersection, which indicate which way the convoy will turn when it arrives. You can change the directions associated with these intersections so the convoy won’t just waltz into the heaviest concentration of the enemy and get blown apart. You can also purchase new units to replace your losses or bolster your existing ranks as your convoy rolls through each level, as well as upgrade them. These new arrivals show up immediately. You can have a maximum of six vehicles in the convoy, but if you find you need more of one and less of another, you can sell your vehicles. Like buying vehicles, this too is handled instantly.

You aren’t commanding your tanks from some abstract birds-eye view, however. You’re also represented as a little infantry guy in the field. You can click on a spot in the world to run there. You have no attacks, but you have a special combat suit that lets you execute special abilities. Using any of these abilities drops a beacon at your feet, which will last for a short period of time. The repair ability creates a small circle, and any of your tanks which pass through this will be repaired as long as they are in the circle. The decoy ability creates a large area where enemy towers will focus their fire, leaving your convoy unmolested. The EMP ability disables enemy towers, leaving them docile until fired upon. Finally, the AIM ability tells your tanks to focus fire and grants them a damage bonus for doing so. These abilities are powerful. You can’t win without them, but you can’t use them just whenever you like. Each has a limited number of uses. Destroying enemies will give you steady resupplies of these powers, but you want to make sure each is used wisely and in the right spot.

I’m going to have to give the developers some serious thumbs-up for how they implemented the controls for these powers. They’ve implemented three different ways to handle these powers in the PC version. If you right-click in an area, the game pauses and a radial menu appears with the four options. If you click on any, the commander will run right up to the site where you right-clicked then execute one of those abilities. If you prefer something a little more reflexive each ability also has a numbered hotkey. Pushing any of these will cause that ability to be executed wherever your commander is standing. Lastly, these abilities are also represented on a toolbar along the left side of the screen. Click on one of these and then click on a space in the world to use the selected ability.

The only little issue I have here is that only the last of these abilities lets you see how large the circle you will put down will be, a method that must be executed in real time. Not ideal for moments when you need to lay down a perfectly-placed decoy to draw fire away from your nearly-dead tanks so you can run and grab a repair pickup before returning and dropping a repair beacon, but the fact that there are so many control options is a pleasant surprise.

[Editor’s Note: At this time there is no gamepad support whatsoever, a huge disadvantage if you are playing using Big Picture mode on an HDTV. Gamepad support is rumored for a future update.]

All of this was present in the last game. The big change now is that your tanks can now morph, changing form and becoming new vehicles. For example, you start off with a tank called an assault hound. The assault hound has a mini-gun that starts off with weak damage, but the longer it fires, the faster its rate of fire gets. This is great against long range single targets, but it’s a liability when facing multiple nearby enemies. By double clicking on the assault hound, you can transform it into a hellhound, a two-legged walker with two short-range flamethrowers capable of burning towers on either side of it. Double clicking on a hellhound will transform it back into an assault hound. There’s no cost to this, and every single vehicle you get is capable of a two-way transformation. Couple this with your selection of tanks and special abilities, and there’s never a dull moment.

After completing a mission, you’re awarded medals based on your ruthlessness, efficiency, and swiftness. It’s relatively easy to complete a mission, but even on the beginning tutorial missions, you won’t be getting gold medals in every category on your first try. Each mission also has four difficulty levels: Casual, normal, hardcore, and nightmare. There’s an awful lot to do in this game, and to top it all off, there’s a multiplayer mode.

In multiplayer, one side takes control of the convoy, and the other takes control of towers. Your goal is to earn more points than your opponent. Destroying enemy units gives you the most points, and as each match goes on, new technology upgrades can be researched, giving you access to more stats and more types of units. Playing more games will also unlock newer and larger maps. Steam is even offering discounted pricing on Anomaly 2 two-packs.

As far as aesthetics goes, the graphics are serviceable. They aren’t the most fantastic, but this isn’t a kind of game that really needs a huge visual wow factor. They’re a definite step above the previous game, though. The sound effects are solid, and weapons sound appropriately deadly. Voice work is a bit on the boring side, but it’s not so bad as to really take away from the experience. It just doesn’t add anything. The story is incredibly generic, just a search for a super-weapon to destroy the alien menace. One pleasant surprise was that when played in windowed mode, the game allows you to stretch the window in any way you desire, and the UI will adjust itself appropriately.

Anomaly 2 is a solid game, and in spite of a few minor spots that could have used a little more polish, it’s a fantastic experience. The gameplay is still a breath of fresh air, and the multiplayer adds considerable value to the package. There’s a lot to love in this game, and if you enjoy tower defense or real-time strategy, it’s a guaranteed hit.