Category Archives: Game Reviews

Drox Operative Review – PC

Drox Operative is an action role-playing game within a 4X strategy simulator. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be relieved to know that you’re only in control of your own ship while the politics of galactic conquest wage around you. I’ve never been able to get the grasp of 4x games. I seem to get lost in all the choices and all the detail. In Drox Operative your only responsibility is yourself. You are an outlying member that has no default alliance with any of the existing races. Your sole purpose is to survive and prosper, aiming to achieve one of the several victory conditions. You can choose to ally yourself with one or more of the several races and help them become the dominant race, or you can wage war against them all and win through military victory. There are several victory conditions, but none of them are simple to attain.

In a Diablo-esque format, you can get quests from the races you encounter as you fly around the various interconnected star systems to try and increase your favor with them, with the end goal of helping them to victory. Along the way, you will gain experience points and a multitude of inventory items that you can add to your ship to make it more effective in combat. Your ship also has statistics that you can improve with your skill points you gain as you go which will make your ship faster, better, bigger, and capable of holding more inventory. You fit your ship with various items that you obtain through combat or purchase or are awarded through quest completion, but you have to be selective due to limited capacity and power. Each weapon or shield will drain from your total power, so even if you have room for it, you might not be able to use it.

Each time you start a new game, the systems are randomly generated, as well as the races and their locations, so no two games will be identical. This is great, except that sometimes the game seems to take off at an unexpected pace and you find yourself scrambling to keep up. In one of my games, I felt like I was doing very well and I had been helping the race that was really wiping the floor with the rest of the races they came in contact with. However, they were so good at taking over, I never formed an alliance with them before they were the only race left. So, even though they liked me, we weren’t allies, and so I lost the game because I wasn’t a military ally with the sole surviving race.

It was still a lot of fun to see the whole thing come about, though, so I guess it just proves that this game is pretty good because it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, you’ll still have a good time along the way. If you’re a fan of 4X games but feel overwhelmed trying to keep it all straight, this game is a nice alternative. You get to experience all the same types of instances, but rather from an observer’s perspective with the ability to sway the outcome with your singular input.

At the time I am writing this review, I hadn’t had a chance to play with the multiplayer co-op side of the game and I am extremely curious to see how that plays out. I can imagine that it would add a little extra tension and a lot of enjoyment.

The graphics and sound are fairly basic and uninspiring, which is probably the biggest downfall of the game, in my opinion. I think the concept is strong, and the execution is technically well-done, but the game lacks any real wow-factor.

Where the game shines is in its replayability and depth. You can rest assured that the AI races are all extremely motivated to be the last ones standing. You just have to figure out who to put your chips with and hope to come out on top. Because the end-game isn’t completely up to you, it does leave you feeling a little frustrated sometimes after you build a ship with some pretty good stats only to have to start over because the victory conditions were met.

In the end, I would recommend this game to anyone who is looking for an intriguing space-based action RPG within a living, breathing, warring galaxy, with a ton of replayability due to the randomness of each instance of the game. I think this would be very fun to play with a friend, especially. Drox Operative is definitely a unique game that focuses on content over presentation. I look forward to sinking several more hours into this game and look forward to seeing what happens with each new galaxy.


Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe HD Review – iOS

House flipping has become the subject of reality TV as well as a profitable business for those with the necessary skills to purchase old homes, fix them up and flip them for profit. Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe takes that premise and runs with it…all the way to Europe. The premise is simple and so is the gameplay, although once you get past the opening tutorials and start playing on your own the challenge level starts to rise.

The menus are simple and the interface is extremely streamlined making the buying and selling of properties and the renovations of said properties as easy as playing a game of Monopoly. There are various resources that you’ll need to manage such as building materials, workers, and blueprints as well as available cash to pay for upkeep on your growing real-estate empire. And much like Sim City, the occasional “emergency” may arise that calls for a quick response from the police or fire departments – at YOUR expense.

As you successfully complete each stage you’ll move on to other exciting locations around Europe which mostly means unique landscapes and various themed structures like Swiss chalets and Spanish haciendas. The retina graphics are simple, yet quite charming and surprisingly detailed with great animations for construction and demolition, and it’s all accompanied by realistic sound effects and delightful music.

There is no real story taking place, just a passport that tracks your various levels of success across Europe. You can play the campaign mode or just go for some casual play, and there are plenty of achievements to check off. With 45 levels spread across nine countries as well as six large sandbox areas, you won’t be completing this game anytime soon, especially if you are going for the Expert award on all the levels.

Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe offers up some great economic strategy cleverly disguised with a charming colorful interface and some intuitive real-estate gameplay that is perfect for the entire family. It might seem shallow and repetitive at times, but if it were any more complicated it wouldn’t be nearly as accessible or entertaining.


Build-a-lot 4: Power Source HD Review – iOS

No sooner than I finally finished my European adventure in Build-a-lot 3 does G5 Entertainment release Build-A-Lot 4: Power Source. This latest installment is much more than a straight-up sequel however, as it now expands upon the original time management building model and adds the element of “power”. Not only do you need to build up your neighborhoods, you’ll also need to provide them with clean safe energy in the forms of Wind Farms, Solar Towers, and…gulp…Nuclear Reactors.

As before, you’ll still need to manage your resources for the basic building and renovations of homes but you now have to balance the various elements of power sources. If you don’t have ample power your properties may start having blackouts, and powerless renters won’t be paying their rent. You also need to consider the type of power source for the area. Wind farms are a noisy eyesore that nobody wants to live near, while solar and nuclear have their own issues.

But it’s not all about providing enough power. You’ll also find a whole new set of energy efficient upgrades for your properties that, when installed, will lower your overall energy demands. Naturally, this all falls into the various challenges the game puts upon you in the types of buildings you’ll need to build in each zone as well as providing for new entertainment options such sports centers or movie theaters.

Build-A-Lot 4: Power Source is quite large with the casual and campaign modes with four unique campaigns that encompass 68 increasingly challenging levels. The visuals are the same quality as the previous game although you now have new structures and tweaked animations for all the activities. Likewise, all the fun construction sounds are back along with some pleasant background music.

I was totally expecting more of the same with this sequel, but I was truly impressed and surprised with just how much the addition of the whole power element really added to the overall experience in Build-A-Lot 4: Power Source. It really changes the way you play the entire game, forcing you to think and approach each scenario with much more strategy than before. And even though it is a bit more challenging than the last game, it is still great fun for the entire family.


Dark Arcana: The Carnival HD Review – iOS

Dark Arcana: The Carnival HD is the latest in the long line of HOA games from G5 Entertainment, so if you have played any of the others then you likely know what to expect, great graphics, cool background music, and various puzzles that will have you scouring ever pixel on your iPad for various items concealed in the complex backgrounds.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival has a rather sinister theme about it. Personally, carnivals are creepy enough already but when you throw in this supernatural twist along with some truly diabolical graphics and uncomfortable settings, this was one of the few iPad games to have me squirming in my seat. You’ll play as a detective in search of a mother who mysteriously vanishes into a mirror when she takes her daughter to the carnival.

The game does a great job of creating unique locations and puzzles that are all themed after the carnival element as well as specific amusements you’d find on the boardwalk. Early on, you will gain the invaluable assistance of a monkey who can help you during your investigation.

As always, the puzzles include both finding objects in the background as well as assembling key items to solve more elaborate puzzles. The hidden objects aren’t terribly difficult to find, but if you are having trouble or just want to ease the eye strain you can play a card-matching game that will earn you the same objects you could have found otherwise. It’s very similar to the Mahjong game from Nightmares from the Deep that did the same thing. Another great feature borrowed from Nightmares is the inclusion of a map that outlines the carnival and places that need visiting, and limits random wandering and needless backtracking.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival HD looks amazing on the iPad with full retina support. The backgrounds were so incredibly detail I never had need to use the zoom function to find anything. The combination of colors and detail created a unique blend of magical enchantment and supernatural evil that was quite unique, and the eerie soundtrack and sinister sound effects always kept me on the edge of my seat.

These games are nothing without a good story and The Carnival has a great one that will keep you glued to your iPad until it’s over, and with three modes, Casual, Advanced, and Expert, you can tailor the game to your own experience level. Expect 4-5 hours of chilling gameplay, although once finished you likely won’t return anytime soon. Even so, Dark Arcana: The Carnival HD is one of the best HOA games I’ve played this year.


Epic Adventures: Cursed Onboard HD Review – iOS

Epic Adventures: Cursed Onboard is another HOA game that G5 Entertainment is using to bolster their library that is already bursting at the seams with these cookie-cutter knockoffs, and while some of these titles stand out as truly innovative and fun, sadly, this isn’t one of those times. If anything, this game felt more like another of their uninspired adventures, La Jangada; a lot of puzzles held together with a paper-thin plot and poor presentation.

You’ll play Melissa Alan; a detective trying to solve a mystery from the 1970’s involving a family that vanished on a cruise up the Amazon River. Things start off well enough with a suitably interesting story and setup for the adventure at hand, and even the first few visuals manage to suck you in, but once you get past that first puzzle the game starts sinking fast. This game was obviously developed overseas and suffers from numerous translation problems similar to those found in La Jangada. While these could have been avoided by using silhouettes or some visual hint, trying to understand exactly what you are looking for becomes this game’s greatest challenge and ultimate failure.

Once the story slips into the background you are left with 90% hidden-object puzzles, which only exasperates the translations issues. And when you combine that with the amount of puzzles that have you searching the same uninspired (and even ugly) backgrounds over and over for different items, you’ll find your finger sliding over to the hint button more often than you’d like. Even when the game tries to throw in some random non-hidden-object puzzles it fails miserably. Combination puzzles are merely tedious trial and error affairs and other puzzles that require special objects to complete will remove those items from your inventory after their initial use, but since many of these objects are required for multiple puzzles you’ll have to replay levels to reacquire the item.

With broken puzzles, poor graphics, and a story that slips into obscurity an hour into the game only to resurface for the anti-climactic ending, this is one adventure not worth taking. It lacks any of the key elements required by the HOA genre, and when the game is so boring and mediocre that you merely want to tap the hint button to get through it, only to be disappointed by the end… well, let’s just say that Epic Adventures: Cursed Onboard HD is far from epic and not much of an adventure. Save your money and buy just about anything else in the G5 library.


Green Jelly HD Review – iOS

One of my favorite mobile puzzle games of all time is Cut the Rope, so when G5 sent me a review code for Green Jelly HD and promised that it was “a lot like that game” I was understandably excited. I promptly downloaded and started playing and it wouldn’t be for at least 60+ minutes later that I even looked up from my iPad. Green Jelly HD is so darn cute and so much fun that it truly is the impossible game to put down.

The premise is simple. You are a block of green jelly that looks like a sickly Sponge Bob minus the square pants. There are three pieces of candy on each screen that serve as your level score and also as a means to unlock new levels in the Chocolate and Waffles zone, but only the best puzzle gamers will ever reach the Waffle levels – the game is just that challenging. So using the touch screen you can drag from the Green Jelly dude and attach to various pegs around the level. This allows you to swing and even slingshot yourself to new heights. Some levels require you to make Angry Birds-style leaps of faith to arc over obstacles or pass through candies you can’t get otherwise then quickly attach yourself to a new peg before you fall off the bottom of the screen or land in a hazard. Collect the three candies (or as many as you can) then exit via the door in the candy house.

Hazards start off simple enough, but as you get further into the game the spiked balls increase in number and always seem to be in the path to your candy. But as wires and lasers get added to the list of dangers, your own bag of tricks increases with new ways to navigate the levels, but you are always going to need fast resources and a good eye for geometry and reactionary physics. The early levels ramp up nicely in difficulty but about the time you hit the Chocolate levels things start to get seriously difficult, and while you don’t need all three candies to advance, you’ll likely have to revisit some levels to add any missing candy to unlock the final levels in the game.

There are 60 levels in the core game with more levels coming in future expansions. With scaling difficulty and more than 10 types of objects to interact with, and 20 amusing achievements to strive for, Green Jelly HD is a game you won’t be putting away anytime soon. The graphics are charming and colorful with great elastic animations and the sound and music fits with the sugary sweet gameplay.

Green Jelly HD is by far one of the best surprises from G5 Entertainment this year. I normally expect another installment in their ongoing HOA games, so when they come up with something as original and delightful as this fantastic puzzler I can’t help but give this my wholehearted recommendation. Green Jelly HD is one sweet game!


Pilot Brothers HD Review – iOS

The Pilot Brothers have not only been around longer than Professor Layton, the Russian duo have had logged considerably more hours solving various mysterious and puzzles dating back to the 90’s. The characters were originally created for a cartoon series in the 80’s then made their way into Soviet gaming, but this is the first time American audiences get to experience the quirky pair of inept gumshoes.

Pilot Brothers is a rather short game made longer by some troublesome controls and frustrating gameplay. It seems an elephant has gone missing from the local zoo and you need to find it by investigating clues and interacting with people and possible suspects in 15 unique locations. While the missing elephant carries the overall story, each scene has its own mini-agenda, and once you exhaust all the clues and conversation in that area you advance to the next. Some of the scenes are very short, often only requiring 2-3 steps to complete, and assuming you can get past the broken interface, you can likely finish the entire game in 2-3 hours.

As is typical with most adventures, you’ll find plenty of puzzles that need to be solved, and while many of these are amusing and even logical at times, others seem to be so off-the-wall you’ll either need some radical thinking or a walkthrough to ever figure them out. Thankfully, G5 offers both a hint button and a video solution option, each with a cool down timer to prevent too much abuse, should you get terribly stuck on any one puzzle. The hint button is annoying in that is shows you all possible interactions on a given scene – even the ones you have already completed.

But even clever outside-the-box thinking won’t help you overcome the troublesome controls that mostly involve imprecise character selection, response, and position based on where you tap the screen. And with some interactions measured by mere pixels, the game can prove extremely frustrating when you think you are where you need to be but are off by just a fraction. This could have all been fixed with a pinch-zoom feature. Some puzzles also require the use of one character versus the other, but these choices have no logical reasons, so it is merely more trial and error to extend an already short game.

As far as presentation, the art style is, shall we say, unique. They are definitely going more for style than to showcase your iPad’s graphics capabilities, but the visuals do exude their own unique and quirky charm. The sound mix is horrible in that the music drowns out the dialogue, and with no mixing options you’ll be forced to turn the music off entirely if you want to hear Chief and Colleague speak.

I was really hoping to like Pilot Brothers, not just because it was a much-welcomed departure from the weekly installment of HOA games, but because it looked to provide an original graphics style and a cool buddy-cop element with a fun mystery to solve. Sadly, at the end of the day, the only mystery is why and how did this Cold War Soviet relic ever get released on the iPad.

избежание этой игре


A New Beginning – Final Cut Review – PC

Adventure games are back on the rise. Just look at The Walking Dead, which has already been nominated and even won several Game of the Year awards for 2012 from multiple outlets. And if you own a tablet like the iPad you already know the abundance of adventure titles on that platform, even if they are more of the hidden-object variety. A New Beginning hearkens back to the classic adventures of an almost-forgotten era, and while Daedalic Entertainment has tried to desperately recreate that point-and-click vibe, the end results is a clustered mess of poor presentation, moronic puzzles, and an overbearing eco-friendly story that was probably co-authored by Al Gore.

The setup and premise is brilliant. We start the game in the future just days before the end of world as an impending solar flare is about to render the planet uninhabitable. It seems a similar event forced everyone underground years before, but this one is going to decimate the planet. The only solution is to send a group of scientists back in time and try to stop mankind’s careless indifference toward out planet and our natural resources. It might just be the most socially and eco-friendly message in a game since Eco the Dolphin, but numerous gameplay and technical issues provide for way too many distractions to ever get immersed in the story.

First up is the 4:3 aspect ratio. Seriously? I haven’t played a game with black bars on the side since…well…I can’t remember. I expect such things on my iPad but not on my PC. The graphics themselves can be quite attractive at times, but the animation is stilted and awkward. There are a few interesting effects like multiple panels that slowly form a full page of graphic novel-style story, or black and white scenes with colored window overlays to highlight important elements, and some of the background art is exceptional.

The real distraction is the audio, which features the absolute worst voice acting I have ever heard in a video game including the “master of lock picking” line from the original Resident Evil. All the dialogue is recorded in very short sentences and phrases then stitched together in a way that feels like everyone is an emotionless android. I can’t express how painful it was to wander the cabin in the prologue clicking on various hot spots and listening to Bent drone on in his robotic ramblings. I was half-expecting the MST3000 robot silhouettes to appear in the lower corner.

But even if you were able to overlook the visual and audio shortcomings and focus on the gameplay, the puzzles in A New Beginning are so linear and so forced into the situations, and you will be backtracking all over the place to solve the most mundane of puzzles. I ultimately played the game in a window with an FAQ open right next to it just to get through this game for review purposes. There is nothing compelling about the story or the ridiculous puzzles to remotely make me want to play this game on my own, especially when the game can last upwards of 8-10 hours depending on your puzzle-solving skills. I finished the game in just under six hours using a walkthrough from start to finish.

A New Beginning is a dismal attempt at adventure gaming that might have found a home on the iPad, but with its horrible dialogue and poorly implemented puzzles, I doubt mobile gamers would be any less forgiving. You can get this game for $10 on Steam and see how adventure games should not be made, or you can drop $25 for The Walking Dead and see the future of the genre. Daedalic Entertainment has made some pretty good games in the past, but A New Beginning is not one of them and should be avoided at all costs.


Assassin’s Creed III Review – Xbox 360

As a lover of both stealth and action games, Assassin’s Creed is easily one of my favorite franchises out there, even if it did take me awhile to warm up to the whole sci-fi front end of the story with the Animus and diving into memories embedded in DNA. I suppose it’s a neat way to tie all the various games together into something much grander than they would have been had they been released as standalone titles. It also allows for nearly unlimited creative freedom, as we can travel just about anywhere at any point along the historic time line. Personally, I was hoping the next game was going to be set in London; perhaps working Jack the Ripper into Desmond’s ancestry, but Ubisoft is taking us quite literally to a New World in Assassin’s Creed III.

When I first learned that this new game was going to be set in 18th century America I had my doubts, but it only took a few hours of actually playing Assassin’s Creed III before I slipped into my old assassin ways. The story once again begins with Desmond and his crew seeking out a new base of operations in order to prevent the Templar from unleashing a devastating attack on the modern population using ancient technology. Once he starts DNA diving we get a brief opening level with an assassination in a giant theater before hopping a ship to America. Even the 30+ minutes on the ship offer up some great moments, both in sheer spectacle as well as a possible mutiny you’ll need to foil when are you below decks talking to the crew and playing challenging board games. Depending on your focus, it can be upwards of an hour or more before the clouds part and the title screen appears signaling your arrival at the New World.

At its core, the gameplay is much like all the previous games. You’ll start to stack up primary and secondary missions along with the random fetch-quests; the first from none other than Ben Franklin who has lost some pages from his Farmers’ Almanac. The game does a good job of propelling you through the main story-driven events while providing you with ample free time to check off these side objectives, and you are always free to exit the Animus and return to the present to catch up with Desmond.

Game mechanics are also still intact even if the world around you is much more vertically challenged this time around. There are no more instances of climbing for several minutes to the top of dizzying tower heights before swan diving into a haystack. Most buildings are only 2-3 stories when in town and your traipsing through the treetops is not much higher. The whole parkour element has been automated to the point where you merely need to keep the trigger held down and the stick pushed forward to have Conner navigate the levels with acrobatic ease.

Combat is also fluid, at least for melee and stealth kills. Ranged weapons are entirely another matter, and you will quickly learn that muzzle-loaders suck in battle, especially when you realize you can’t reload while running. Some of the earlier missions had me carrying a rifle and a pistol just so I could get off two quick shots before retreating to a safe reload distance. The good news is that it takes just as long for the enemy to reload, so if you can dodge their bullets you can easily kill them with a sword or knife during their reload animation, assuming they aren’t sniping from a rooftop.

I did notice the stealth element a bit lacking. Perhaps I was just used to all the disguises from the new Hitman game, but even blending into crowds didn’t seem to function as well as it has in past games, which can make some missions like stealth pursuit and eavesdropping more challenging than they needed to be.

Conner will find himself exploring the great outdoors much more than cities in this game, which offers plenty of opportunities for hunting, trapping, and other frontier activities, but without the integrated crafting element of a game like Far Cry 3 these hunting expeditions feel a bit contrived, almost as much as some of the QTE moments when you are attacked by random predators. Also lurking beneath the surface is a fairly important economic system that ties into Conner’s homestead; something you are continually working to improve upon, so you can bring new workers to your base of operations. These workers fuel the trade system which in turn allows Conner to upgrade his various weapons and armor.

And if there wasn’t enough to do on land, just wait until you climb aboard your own majestic sailing vessel and take the adventure to the high seas in a part of the game that could easily have been marketed as a standalone title. Not only are these missions gorgeous to watch, the gameplay mechanics of commanding a ship, piloting, attacking, and boarding other vessels will have you singing, “It’s a pirate’s life for me…” And again, there is a whole economy and ship upgrade system in place to keep you coming back for more.

Assassin’s Creed III does an amazing job of not only recreating a visually stunning 18th century frontier; it sets up incredibly rich characters and stories you care about. Following Conner through his adolescence only gives you deeper insight into that character as an adult. I was also surprised with the insightful use of historical figures and the way they were portrayed in the various events without all of the editorial cleansing of our public school history books. After the initial encounter with Ben Franklin I was expecting a bunch of Forest Gump style brushes with notoriety, but every encounter was integrated perfectly to fuel the Templar backstory and preserve our own understanding of history.

I was very excited to jump into the newly designed multiplayer, especially after Assassin’s Creed III snatched the Best Multiplayer award from expected favorites like Black Ops 2 and Halo 4 at this year’s E3 show. I’ve always loved the multiplayer aspect of Assassin’s Creed, even if it hasn’t had the largest or most loyal of followings, but Ubisoft is taking steps to increase that fan base with some cool new cooperative multiplayer. Wolf Pack puts your team on a timer and has you killing a set number of targets to add time to the clock and advance the level. As you get deeper into the tiered session the targets are more spread out and on higher alert, making each sequence that much more challenging.

But even if you prefer the more traditional multiplayer modes, you’ll be delighted that Ubisoft has created an entirely new front end with a fantastic story element that ties into the whole Abstergo/Templar storyline to create an immersive setting for some of the best and most suspenseful cat-and-mouse gameplay ever. I think our E3 awards got it right, as I will be playing Assassin’s Creed III creative multiplayer modes much longer than any other multiplayer game this year.

As far as presentation, the Xbox 360 looks fantastic with incredible details and textures, stunning lifelike animation from the sneakiest crouched walk to the fastest of parkour leaps across roof and treetops. All animations flow seamlessly together and respond quickly with controller input creating a very satisfying combat experience. Draw distance can be limited at times and there is a bit of pop-up. Obviously, the jaw-dropping DirectX 11 PC version of the game outclasses the console graphics, but if you don’t have a high-end PC rig then the Xbox 360 looks and plays great.

Composer, Lorne Balfe has creating a soundtrack that is as sweepingly grand and majestic as the visuals, with moments of suspense, action, drama, and adventure that all cue perfectly to the onscreen events. This flawless score blends with realistic sound effects, both manmade and natural environmental noises, and the script and professionally voiced dialogue is a real treat and helps to keep you interested in the story.

While I had my fair share of minor glitches and issues with Assassin’s Creed III on the Xbox 360, none of them were game-breaking, and most were dwarfed by the sheer spectacle of presentation and the epic nature of this historic romp through colonial history. While I’m sure liberties were taking with a few people, places, and events, I certainly had more fun exploring this time in America’s past than any of my high school history classes, and the Season Pass will keep that entertainment flowing well into 2013.

And best of all, thanks to a brilliantly designed and narrated opening recap of all the past games courtesy of John de Lancie, newcomers can dive into Assassin’s Creed III without having ever played another game…but I seriously recommend the entire franchise to anyone who enjoys stealth-action-adventure. It just doesn’t get any better than this.