Hearts of Iron IV Review

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Hearts of Iron IV is the fourth instalment of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy game focusing on the Second World War. The game focuses on either the preamble to the war, the political tensions and struggles that were going on at the time, or the opening days of the conflict.

Allowing you to play through the game as one of the many world powers at the time. The range is impressive, with the obvious players like Britain’s Neville Chamberlain, the German Reich’s Adolf Hitler, to Mao Zedong in the PRC and Emperor Shōwa of Imperial Japan.

With each nation having different conflicts, alliances, internal and external tensions, plus national beliefs and focus, they provide an interesting variety to the way the game can play itself out. You are also given the choice as playing as other nations, which while having a more generic series of mechanics (that overlaps between the nations considerably more) they are involved in many different, and often more localised conflicts. They are both easier and more difficult to play out. Without an empire, and the conflicts that either border or ravage those nations, you can focus more precisely on managing everything within your state’s boundaries.

For those coming from similar games from Paradox Interactive – such as earlier editions or Europa Universalis, the gameplay will feel familiar. Industry and development are controlled by factories (designated military or civilian) that produce the required vehicles or munitions for your war effort. Diverting resources to in-demand items is very simple and this screen makes it very clear what is needed and how long it will take to produce them. War is controlled by building armies from divisions of soldiers, and then drawing front lines and directing offensive drives.

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For those coming into this game fresh to the genre, it will all appear utterly overwhelming if you just try and dive straight in. It is possible to do so, but it is likely you will find yourself stuck at points, or operating in an extremely inefficient manner. When you understand what the options and illustrations on the map mean, managing everything is very easy. When you don’t know what they mean you can intuit an incorrect understanding and wander into a fight you are never going to win. This is especially important to consider if you are coming from other strategies games like Civilisation V, for which management of troops and resources is substantially simpler than here.

The game encourages you to follow through national behaviours that occurred in the 1930’s and 40’s, but you can choose to ignore these for either personal or mechanical benefits. If you want to become the leader of the Conservative Party and install a communist front bench, you are free to do so. The focus is still very much based in the history of the time. As the game opens civil wars break out, the German Reich begins its expansionary approach, and you have to respond to them, mostly within the realms of what is expected of your leader. But as the game goes on, and conflicts and events are resolved differently to how the timeline begins to divulge, and you can begin to feel like you are truly in control of the destiny of your country.

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Hearts of Iron IV is a game that seems to gain mechanical depth with each playthrough. Every time you try a new nation, approach, or personal objective you find new opportunities that are built into the mechanics of the game. The game is hard to explain in words because it is so mechanically dense (and the guide that Paradox provided me was only 26 pages long), but for those who enjoy grand strategy games there is a vast world to get sunk into, and if you enjoy the history of WWII as well then this is a game that would be unfortunate to miss. It is not the easiest game, and it can feel very opaque at times, but Hearts of Iron IV is a wonderful entry in the grand strategy genre.

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Cities: Skylines Review

screenshot_1_1 reviewCity Builders seem to be like buses at the moment, wait ages for one to come along and then multiple games are released at once, or close together as in this case.

Cities: Skylines was developed by Colossal Order, whose previous games consist of Cities In Motion 1 & 2 and published by Paradox Interactive whose previous games include Crusader Kings 1&2, Hearts of Iron 1 – 4 and a list of published games longer than my arm (Magicka possibly being the most well known).

It was a just over a month ago that I reviewed Cities: XXL. Cities: Skylines is from a completely different developer and Skylines has nothing to do with that game, which is a good thing. Why you ask? Read on.

When you start up Cities: Skylines you’ll notice there is no tutorial option. The tutorial appears in the form of pop-up hints as you progress through your game, this is an open-ended city building game as such your game will continue for as long or short as you want it to.

You’re given the choice of 9 maps to start your city in, as is customary each map has its own resource stats, levels may have Forests, Ores or Oil reserves placed somewhere upon them and if you wanted to you could dedicate industrial areas to specialise in production using one of those resources.

screenshot_6_1Your starter area will have a highway ramp located near the edge of the building area, this will be where your new citizens will drive into your town, so don’t forget to connect both sections to a road. My first town went bankrupt because I failed to notice I was only connected to the on ramp.

With your first road down, you are left to plan out your town. From this point you will need to balance the wants and needs of your citizens whilst trying to balance your budget and taxes; tax too high and you will lose your citizens, tax too low and you will start losing money very quickly.

The interface is beautifully simple, helpful hints will teach what each button and option does. There is also a Skylines version of Twitter, complete with hashtags called Chirper, this will tell you exactly how your citizens are feeling, what they want more of or just tell you how well or bad you are doing. If you click on the citizens name you will be taken to his or her home, which is very useful for finding out where the problem areas of your city are.

Get bored of the 9 maps? Make your own! Cities: Skyline comes complete with a map editor that is ridiculously easy to use, as well as an asset editor to use if you wished to create/edit any in game structure more to your liking.

I’ve always found that City Builder games will either survive or die due to the size of the area available to make your cities, Skylines has possibly one of the largest map sizes I’ve seen. You start in a tile that’s roughly 2km by 2km, and as your city population expands so can your building area, up to 9 tiles by default although there are 25 tiles to choose from, and there are a number of mods on the steam workshop to open up all 25 tiles if your PC can handle it.

Yes, despite only being recently released, the community has created a vast array of mods, maps and custom buildings to download; of course using any form of mod disables your Steam achievements, unless you use the mod that enables them while using mods.

screenshot_7_3My one and only problem with the game is the complete lack of an auto save function. After accidentally kicking the power cable and causing my PC to reboot, I found that the previous hour of gameplay had been lost, which was pretty disheartening. But again, there is a mod for that on the workshop, hopefully Colossal Order will add that in a future patch.

Cities: Skylines is an essential purchase for any city builder fan and after the demise of Maxis the chances of a new SimCity game is pretty low. Cities: Skylines looks to be the game that fills the SimCity gap that has been left behind.

You can get the standard edition for just £9.99 here and the deluxe edition for £14.15 here

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Frugal Gaming Review – Ancient Space

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Ancient Space is real time strategy game based in; you’ve guessed it, Space! It’s been a good while since we’ve had chance to experience this genre in this setting and as a card holding, badge wearing Sci-Fi nerd I was rather looking forward to getting my hands on this game and seeing how it stood up to the much cherished 15 year old classic.

The first thing that stuck me is that despite the games wallet friendly £14.99 price, the developers certainly haven’t skimped when it comes to the presentation.  Both the graphics and sound design are brilliant.  Ships themselves are nicely detailed and the vast depths of space you will fight over are simply gorgeous to look at.  Add to that a strong cast of voice actors, with some well know names for Sci-Fi fans, some rather decent music and it’s a very well presented package, that at first glance belies its price.

Kicking off the campaign with a basic tutorial is a good start. A few missions in and it soon became apparent why the tutorial was so basic, there is a distinct lack of depth to the strategy elements. Ship A kicks ass against Ship B, but is vulnerable to Ship C. Ship B knocks the stuffing out of Ship C but can’t stand up to Ship A. Ship C batters the crap out of Ship A, but is outmatched against Ship B. That is as deep as it gets.  It’s a real shame that at its core it’s so simplistic. Get your head around which ship to use in which situation and you’re a grand master, all you then need to worry about is the constant herding of your forces. And boy can that be a bit of a pain.

2014-08-20_00092Your forces seem to lack any form of intelligence or initiative.  They will happily blast away at ships their weapons have no effect whatsoever on, often ignoring targets that they could actually damage.  Even in the first few missions is becomes a real chore to constantly monitor what all of your forces are doing or not doing, as is often the case.  I guess some people might like this whole level of micromanagement that’s needed to get anywhere but it was really just a complete turn off for me.

The story did manage to catch my attention to start off with but it soon ends up going hand in hand with the tedium of combat. Despite the great cast doing their utmost to make you interested in the story, the lack of stand-out narrative moments in missions leaves the story with the one task of linking mission to mission.  A real shame considering the talent brought into voice some of the characters.

Whilst I’ve not been blown away by Ancient Space and I’ve yet to find the need to complete the campaign, I do think I’ll be going back to it at some point.  There are no specific bad elements in this game, but there are a few things that just leave me completely indifferent.  As nice as it looks and sounds, it was never going to be enough to carry the game alone.  The lack of any multiplayer is also a big disappointment, as an armchair army General, there is nothing better than being able to get one over on your friends, and the more simple nature of combat that’s offered in Ancient Space would have been rather more suited to multiplayer that it is for a single player campaign.

2014-08-20_00228The developers and publishers have pulled off a master-stroke by releasing Ancient Space before the much anticipated Homeworld Remastered even has a release date.  For people like me who can’t wait for that, this game has provided a pleasant distraction, even if in all honestly it highlights more what a 15 year old game did right than Ancient Space itself accomplishes. Not bad by any means but one for fans of the genre or other Homeworld junkies needing a quick fix.

Reviewing a game can be a tricky thing.  Whilst a game should be judged on its own merits, our opinions are formed by what we have already experienced.  Case in point with Ancient Space, and a somewhat popular classic called Homeworld.  Reviewing the new game without some comparisons to the old is an all but impossible task, and I can’t help but think I’d have enjoyed Ancient Space rather a bit more if I hadn’t loved Homeworld quite so much.

Score: 7/10

Developed by Creative Forge Games

Published by Paradox Interactive

Ancient Space is currently available on Steam and can be found HERE

War of the Vikings Review

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War of the Vikings Review

Developer: Fatshark

Publisher: Paradox Interactive

Platform Reviewed: PC

Release date: 15/04/2014

With your sword held aloft you hastily close distance on your foe, arrows and spears narrowly miss their target as you get ever closer to your quarry. Your swords meet with a shuddering crash, you back away preparing to strike again, the enemy raises his shield, pondering his next move. Battle has commenced.

War of the Vikings is multiplayer only game brought to us by the same studio who were behind War of the Roses. Thrust into battle as either a Viking or Saxon, combat takes place on a bloody battlefield somewhere in Britannia and you are on the frontline. Played entirely in the third person, this gladiatorial style conflict can be swift and brutal.

The way in which you approach each skirmish will depend heavily on your choice of loadout. Play it safe with a single handed weapon and you may carry a shield. Feeling brave, then maybe a devastating two handed great axe is your preference or how about staying out of range completely and choose a bow and arrow. Let’s not forget your secondary weapons, from small axes and throwing knives to large spears and javelins, all vary in their speed and destructive capabilities.

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Holding down left click whilst moving the mouse in any of four directions readies your main weapon for attack. Careful timing and a precise aim can result in a fatal blow, this will take some degree of skill and you will need to be accurate. Parrying is achieved by holding right click as you match the direction of your opponents strike. This can lead to a tense stand-off until you consider that friendly units can also cause you damage. A wayward arrow or a clumsy strike from a nearby ally can be infuriating and can often make the difference in such close quarter combat.

There are currently five game modes on offer, each can host up to 64 players. The usual Team Deathmatch, Domination and Conquest make an appearance. Whilst Arena and Pitched Battle offer a change of pace. You are limited to a single life, bring your enemy to their knees so you can deliver the killing blow, fail and they can be resurrected by their teammates, free to hunt you down themselves.

Joining a game is a simple process of choosing a server and jumping straight into battle. None of the usual matchmaking here. Dueling servers are particularly interesting. Generally played in the Team Deathmatch mode, these games are limited to one versus one clashes. Put away your bows and arrows, these encounters are for those who want to see the light extinguish from the eyes of your foe as you best them in battle. These are very tense and tactical exchanges and lie at the heart of what War of the Vikings has to offer.

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Environments are rich and varied. Mountain villages feel claustrophobic and with limited lines of sight combat is often directed to well-placed choke points. Barren and frozen shores feel empty and lost to the elements, traversing these areas can be challenging and often rely on swift movement to close the distance on your foes without being taken out from afar. It certainly adds to the authentic and brutal feel of the game.

There are elements of customisation, from general appearance to the colour of your shield. It doesn’t go quite deep enough and more choice in this area would be very welcome. There is also no real discernible difference to which faction you are fighting for either. Neither Viking nor Saxon have any particular advantage as weapon choices are very similar. That being said there is something incredibly compelling with regards to the combat. Rushing your target and swinging blindly will often cause your swift demise. You will need to consider your surroundings and plan your next move accordingly.

War of the Vikings does have its faults. Poor optimisation is a problem. A lack of weapons and the shallow customisation make the game feel a little stale after a while. It can be fiendishly difficult and very intimidating, especially if you are new to this style of game. That being said, War of the Vikings is not without its charm and appeal. It offers a somewhat unique experience. It stays true to its source material. Graphically it’s very respectable, complimented by the admirable audio. Plus you can be a Viking, and Vikings are awesome.

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Reviewer – MrBadDog