All posts by Jacob Bouvier

Horizon Review – PC/Steam

Horizon is a space strategy game, developed by L3O that stands on the shoulders of giants; specifically the great 4X giants that have come before it, such as Civilization, Master of Orion, and many more. If those games evoke nostalgia for what strategy games used to be you’re in for a real treat.  If, however, you think that the only ‘real’ strategy games out there are RTS like Starcraft, you should give this game a skip.

Now, for those of you that stayed I’m going to assume you are excited and hyped for an old-school, turn-based, strategy game developed with a modern sensibility and updated graphics. That’s exactly what you’ll get with Horizon. Oh yeah, and it’s IN SPACE! Not just any old space.  The humans start on Earth, and one of the first things I got to do in the game was colonize Mars. Finally, right? I mean, I don’t know why it’s taking NASA so long; all I had to do was make a colonization ship and send it to the nearest planet to me. Barely took any time whatsoever.

The interface was superbly helpful once I got used to it. There are a few things that I think could have been pointed out better during the tutorial like how to view a summary of all your current colonized planets or your entire fleet at once. (This is very necessary when making strategic decisions.) The storyline that seemed to exist was mostly flat, which was fine, because that left the stage open for the story to be about the Humans (who I was playing) making contact with different alien species and learning about them. Each species had their own hidden storyline of sorts, which you’d find if you were diligent about exploring the planets in nearby systems. And then those aliens going from happy with me and just about ready to make peace treaties with me, to suddenly declaring war out of the blue for no discernible reason. One species in particular went all Gandhi on me really early on. (That’s Gandhi from the Civilization games, not from history, just to be clear.)

And that doesn’t even get started on the zoom-in feature. Mostly the game is about the large scale, sending ships to colonize new planets, or sending away-teams down to a planet to explore it. But if you have ships in the same general area as another faction, you can zoom in on the detail, use the planet for cover in a pitched space battle, or heck, bombard the planet from orbit to destroy your rival’s infrastructure! The tactical nature of space battles cannot be overstated. I mean heck, if you have the right ships, you can attach to an enemy ship and send over a boarding party to take it over for you. The interface for this kind of combat can get a little confusing at first, but the game does a good job of explaining it for you the first time through.

So, I wooed you in here with talks about cool updated graphics, right? The main game actually looks fairly standard. Smooth and crisp, even on my huge monitor, so it’s got that going for it. But the cut-scenes, damn! They’re short little things, like when you meet a new alien species for the first time, but they’re pretty shots of spaceships flying through beautiful space, and I love them. I was actively seeking out new species just so I could see their ships in a cut-scene.

And that reminds me, the music. The ambient music was actually surprisingly good. At first it gave me this “you’re in space!” feeling, which was suitably epic, and then I expected it to get really old and annoying within the first few turns. The strange thing was that it didn’t. It faded off into the background of my consciousness and stayed there, occasionally reminding me how awesome it was that I was in space and colonizing planets and stuff, but for the most part just staying out of the way. That’s what background music loops are supposed to do! Not loop three or four times and then make me want to turn the sound off or kill someone, so points for that.

But the best part of all isn’t the sound, or the new cool cut-scenes. It’s how much I want to actively go play this game when I think about it. I sit down to write this review, and all of a sudden I want to go colonize the stars, barter with aliens, and set up Mars as a tourist attraction for the whole galaxy! The game has great re-playability, especially if you start as something that isn’t human. (“Oh, that’s where their capital planet was hiding all along!”) But unfortunately for you and your friends, there is no multiplayer mode at this time. That’s the one feature that would have pushed this from “cool 4X game” into “must buy for all my friends so we can have a game of SPACE CONQUEST!”

So overall; yes, go out and buy this game, it’s from an independent studio with great values, and it’s a ton of fun.  It will have you hooked for at least a solid 20 hours of gameplay if you’re anything like me, and for the price, that’s a great deal. Right now it’s half off on the Steam Summer Sale, so if you’ve been waiting… now’s the time to check it out.

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Franchise Hockey Manager 2014 Review – PC

Franchise Hockey Manager is a game that takes all the excitement of hockey’s off-ice game, and puts its control directly in your hands.  From the same studio that brought us Out of the Park Baseball, one of FHM’s biggest draws is the ability to make your own version of history, such as finding out what could have happened if Mark Messier stayed in Edmonton, rather than moving to the Rangers in 1991.   Could the Oilers have recovered and gone on to future greatness?  You can also start in the present day and see what the future holds for the dynasties of the future.   One very nice feature is the ability to choose which leagues you want “in play” from the big-name NHL, all the way down to a ton of leagues that I, the casual hockey fan, had never heard of.

I ran into some, well actually a lot of early bugs.  The ability for me to accidentally lock myself out of a job offer just by looking at it, in-game notes telling me that I had been hired for $0 for a 0 year contract, and other similar things showed a slight lack of polish.  The other issue, when first starting a “career” mode, is that there isn’t much to do until the season starts.  You can send your scouts out (which is very very important to the game), but they take a week to report back, and even though there is a convenient “skip to date,” or “skip to next game” option, it doesn’t really skip anything.  It might even be faster just to skip each day individually.  I went and watched an entire episode of a popular TV show just during the times where the game was loading and simulating days, all before the first game of the season.

But once the season started, boy was I blown away.  The amount of minute control you have over the strategies in the game, combined with pins showing important events like shots on goal really brought out the fun of the game.  Fine-tuning your team’s aggression to minimize your penalties, because your down-a-man defense can’t kill time effectively, is just fiddly enough to engage all of your strategy brain, while keeping you firmly grounded in the hockey.  And after the first game was over, I had an injury to deal with, so suddenly all that scouting I did early on, and the trade that I’d declined during preseason, they had consequences as I tried to replace my starting left wing.

The controls, as with many text-based games, were fairly simple.  The interface doesn’t look like a right-click will work, but it’s quite necessary to access many of the functions of the game.  If you’re a hardcore statistician, this game gives you tons of stats to keep track of.  If not, you can mostly ignore the stats that aren’t directly affecting you, though the interface does look daunting.  A helpful tip for the in-game interface is that you can speed up time, slow it down, or even pause it if you need to adjust your strategies.

There is not too much to say about the graphics, as the game is mostly text-based.  The interface, as mentioned before, can be slightly daunting when you are trying to find trades, or navigate your way around the league(s).  There is little to no explanatory text, though there are tutorial videos that you can watch, which point out some key features.  Once you get into a game, the interface changes drastically, and is actually very intuitive for a hockey fan to follow.  This bare-bones game focuses way more on numbers, statistics, and strategy, and there was no room left over for sound or music.  It was nice to be able to listen to my own mix of sports jams to get me in the mood, but there were no real sound-effects or music to speak of.

If this type of game is your cup of tea, and if you can get over some of the bugs mentioned earlier, this game has infinite replay value.  Going all the way back to 1947, the historical mode is very rich for replays, and the custom games offer endless ways to have fun.  At only $39.99, this game is much cheaper than many big-name releases in the sports gaming world, but its price tag is higher than some people have come to expect from PC games.  The amount of depth in FHM certainly justifies the price tag for the right buyer, but for the casual hockey fan, I might suggest waiting for a sale.

Overall, this wasn’t quite the game for me.  I love franchise management games in general, but the history of hockey isn’t exactly my strong suit, and a little bit of polish would go a long way.  If hockey is your sport, and you’ve always wanted to be the one making the trades, setting the strategies, and benching under-performers, this game will hook you immediately.  If not, you may have to work a little harder to get into the zone.  Once you’re there, if you can get there, it’s a lot of fun.

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