Stellaris Review

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Stellaris is a space-based strategy game with enough depth to keep you learning throughout your journey, as you expand your empire one system at a time.

The daunting nature of 4X strategy games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) is always something that has absolutely fascinated me. By their very nature these games are larger and more cumbersome than any other genre and yet it is their ability to quickly communicate core systems and an ease of use that often defines their global success. In this sense, Stellaris is an absolute success. It doesn’t just present you with a myriad of systems at the beginning of your journey but ties them to a narrative plotline that becomes the driving force for your empire’s expansion. Whether you choose to stop and read every piece of information presented to you or not, the game offers enough of a connective tissue between its systems and the universe in which these systems are based to make everything blend together almost seamlessly.

Starting out as a fledgling society taking their tentative first steps into space, you will need to first cultivate the resources from your home galaxy before developing the technology to begin going further afield. Mining resources from uninhabitable planets is as simple as building a mining platform above the planet. The resources will be gathered and returned to your store with no micromanagement required. Planetary mining and power usage become slightly more technical as you build around your population on a tile based system. Another “Pop” on a tile allows you to build tech on the site to benefit both the planet and your empire at large. While some of these technologies will harvest food to stop your people from dying of starvation you can also overload a planet with key resource mining or power farming which feeds back to your overall stockpile. Power becomes a huge resource later in game when you need to manage large fleets which have a large energy consumption requirement to maintain them. Your key resource is your base currency and used to purchase a lot of your stations, ships and upgrades.

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The influence system is a fixed point for your empire and something that rarely changes. This is the amount of influence you have over your society and ticks up at a steady monthly rate throughout the game. Although some outward factors can have an effect – such as declaring a rival empire – this low number will be the limiting factor to your empire expansion throughout your campaign. Influence is required for developing frontier outposts that you need in a system before you can begin developing on the planets in the system. You need it to command edicts to your people to keep them in line and to also hire Fleet Commanders and scientists to further your expansion. It is the most important resource and there is little you can do to affect it.

Your research tech tree will allow you to focus the development of your empire. You may choose to focus on colonization and develop tech to allow you to settle on a number of different worlds. On the other hand, you could focus on new technology for your war machine and take the universe by force. You will hire scientists that will multitask as part commander, part researcher. They will command your science vessels and survey alien galaxies while researching your tech tree.

Your fleets will be commanded by an Admiral who you will use influence to hire – these will add buffs to your fleets that can turn the tide in every battle or enable you to specialise a fleet for different situations. I had an Admiral who granted a 20% sub-light speed boost that acted as my first responders – they were mobilized at the first sign of trouble and the fleet consisted of the fastest, most agile ships. I would follow that up with a fleet of dreadnoughts – hard hitting capital ships that are slower and can stand up to all but the most lethal enemy barrages.

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The game has an inbuilt shipbuilder that you are encouraged to use at every opportunity. You will constantly be developing new technology for your fleet and will be able to save a huge amount of designs depending on what you want from the system. I always held three types of ships – scout, support and heavy that I tweaked for different situations. I could save templates in an instant and construct them in an instant. Each game I played I approached the ship builder differently and got vastly different results. My first was to iterate quickly as soon as I had a new tech and have different ships building almost every year. My second approach was to hold off until I could do a complete refresh on a line and by far I found this the most satisfying. Each fleet is given a combat rating that will give you an instant way of knowing whether you will be successful in combat or not. This gave me instant feedback as soon as my ships dropped from warp into a system whether I should flee or mount up and bring the cavalry. Usually, a combination of the both meant I was reasonably successful throughout. Hiding at the edge of a system while support warped in was always the most nerve-racking few minutes.

Everything in Stellaris happens in real time meaning those crunch times are always a stressful few mouse clicks. As your empire grows you are often faced with numerous notifications, along with a war on one front and pirates popping up back deep within your empire. The game allows for this and expects you to manage through pausing, which actually allows you to put everything into perspective, organise and mobilise before letting the action continue. This meant I could deal with a hunger crisis on Earth, pop over to my construction yard to load up a queue of dreadnoughts and then move my combat units around the enemies. Hitting the pause button would then allow you to watch as your masterful strokes are undertaken by your people.

Although you are in command of your people you are not the galactic leader – this is someone who is elected into place by the people. You can use your influence to support one of the leaders who can provide you with buffs and also influence boosts if you aid them in completing their elections promises. Sometimes these can be frustrating: A common example being tasked with building 4 research stations and they’re not in your immediate expansion area. The payoff being some extra influence points. It’s a nice risk reward system that challenges you again and again.

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Storyline options appear throughout your time in the form of missions that are entirely optional and give you little benefit unless you are keen to know more about the universe you are currently conquering. These story-beats are usually in the form of planets you send researchers to discover a piece of ancient alien tech or burial ground. They flesh out the history of the galaxy and give some light objectives, should you bore of simply conquering the universe again and again. I found these pieces fascinating and as someone who is a bit of a sci-fi nerd always prioritised these missions over others whenever they popped up.

Stellaris looks absolutely fantastic. The time taken on every single detail within the game world is obvious. Even at close inspection the ships look stunning and even show off the changes you make in the ship builder. Each galaxy looks different from the others and holds a completely new set of planets to mine or colonize. The beautiful universe constructed made the hours I sat in the dark playing the game fly by.

When I was younger my gaming choices consisted of games such as Civilization, Age of Empires and Star Trek: Armada. It’s not until Stellaris that I have found something that combined all three of these franchises in a way that I truly adored. Stellaris captures the in-depth management edge that I crave from large games. It covers my need for space exploration and seeking out strange new worlds while also giving me real time combat that I felt involved and in control. I connected with my race more than I ever had before in a game of this type. I felt involved in their political squabbles and wanted to crush those enemies that dare try and confront our youthful expansion into a wider galaxy. These were my people. Stellaris drops you into a universe full of strange and wonderful races that span across hundreds of galaxies. You are given the tools that are easy to manage and never too cumbersome, then you are on your merry way to mould this universe to your very liking.

Pros

Sprawling space adventure

Every new game is a completely different adventure

Modding will improve everything about the game over time

Cons

Can begin to feel repetitive at times

Score: 10/10

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada Review

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In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a real-time strategy game based on the classic tabletop game from Games Workshop, no not the 40k one with the tanks, troops and multiple video game adaptions (Dawn of War, Dawn of War 2, and the bazillion expansion packs… ok maybe not that many but you get the idea).

No Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is based on the tabletop game in which space battles raged out across kitchen tables across the land until its discontinuation in 2013. Set around the Gothic sector of the Warhammer 40k universe which saw the Chaos Warmaster, Abaddon the Despoiler, invade the sector and unleash merry hell, and the Imperium’s attempt to restore order.

The big difference between this and the other strategy games based in the 40k universe is that instead of focusing on the Space Marine chapters (The Ultramarine’s, Blood Angels, Dark Angels etc.) the main focus of the single player campaign is on the Imperial Navy, the tech support/back up for the Space Marines (it’s been roughly 15 years since I last played 40k so things may have changed in the meantime, but this is how I viewed them back then).

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The single player campaign focuses on Captain Spire, who in the beginning is ordered to check out why an orbital array (a fancy name for a space station) has suddenly gone quiet, upon arrival he discovers that the traitorous forces of Chaos have taken control, and have turned the stations defense platform on them shortly before a rather imposing chaos fleet is seen arriving. Left with no other option but to flee and report his findings to fleet command. Of course being the Warhammer 40k universe there is a suspicion that Captain Spire just turned tail and ran at the first sign of trouble… Fleet command are not ones for simply believing anything reported to them and consequently have Captain Spire put on trial with an Inquisitor.. A process that looks uncomfortably painful. After the story has been verified under intense pain and torture.. Quite why they couldn’t just look at the security footage and go “oh yes… Chaos” is beyond me, as surely in the 41st millennium, there must be at least one video camera installed on a ship.

Promoted to Admiral and given the task of protecting Imperial worlds from rebellion, and both alien and Chaos invasions, this is where you take over properly.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a real-time strategy game, developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive.
After you have played through the initial tutorial mission and informed Fleet Command about the incoming invasion,you are presented with the map screen. From here you can select the next mission or visit Port Maw Station.

At Port Maw, you can view the ships available to take into your next mission, and use the Renown you have amassed during your accomplished missions so far, to purchase new ships, new slots and pay for upgrades to your existing fleet.

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Renown is gathered by successfully completing mission objectives, you will also gain a small amount of Renown if you fail a mission, though obviously accomplishing the missions gets you much, much more than failing.

As long as you have the Renown you can customise your ships as you see fit, Upgrade your Engines for more speed and manoeuvrability, your Generators for improved shields, the Deck for sensors and special abilities, The Hull for increased armour and defense turrets and of course Weaponry for increased range and damage.

As well as ship upgrades there are special skills to buy and crew upgrades to choose.

The Commissar attempts to keep insubordination under control, as occasionally if your ship crews decide they have had enough they will try and warp the ship out of the mission.

On the Gothic sector map, you can see the available missions, the threat level of the sector, the turn number, and how many world properties are still available. For each world property still owned you will gain bonuses, some will earn you discount with the various Crew leaders whilst upgrading, some will earn more experience for your captains after missions, and some affect repair costs in between missions.

Selecting the next mission available gives you a brief overview of the mission ahead before taking you to the fleet selection screen, from here you can see the amount of ships available, and the fleet point value assigned to each one. Each mission will have its own Fleet point total and like the tabletop game you are limited to that point total when selecting your forces. Your forces range from the small quick Escort ships, all the way up to the hulking great Battleships.. essentially giant floating monasteries of death…
After you have worked out which ships you are taking in, hit the ready button and watch a small cut-scene of your fleet slowly approaching the battlefield.

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Being a space real-time strategy game you may expect that your ships will be ducking and weaving around asteroids and under minefields… this is not the case, despite being set in space, famous for being… well ‘spacey’ – for all intents and purpose that sprawling mass of stars and planets you see all around you may as well be solid earth. Think along the lines of the older Command & Conquer games and you get the idea, click where you want your ships to move to and watch as they approach in a straight line.

Placed around the maps are various hazards that you will need to avoid, or use for a strategic advantage, minefields will tear your ships to shreds in seconds, and asteroid belts will slowly sap your armour as you make your way through them. You do have the ability to make quick turns by ordering the engines to perform high energy turns, the giant starship equivalent to handbrake turns which when performed right look breathtaking… of course if your me and manage to essentially handbrake turn INTO the minefield you can watch in awe as your freshly bought cruiser disintegrates faster than wet toilet tissue…

Battlefleet’s combat boils down to who can keep the most guns firing the longest, certain weapons can only be fired from the sides of the ships, and torpedoes can only be launched from the front, so you are left with the options of trying to chase the enemy from behind or attempt to stay alongside them and hope your shields and armour outlast theirs. And while the ships armed with torpedoes have the opportunity to inflict heavy, heavy damage, the torpedo’s themselves have no guidance system so you will have to try and line up the shots yourself, this is made a little bit easier with the Tactical Cogitator system, hitting space bar will greatly slow down time to give you a few extra seconds to plan/wild guess where the enemy will be when you think the torpedoes will hit.

If you fail a mission, it is not an instant game over, nor a “replay mission” situation, the game carries on and your loss affects the moral of the sector, whereas if you succeed in a mission you can normally carry on to the next story based mission with no interference… but if you fail the chances of pirate attacks or chaos incursions increase slightly. Any ships lost in combat or the void are unavailable for a few turns until they are repaired, rearmed and re-crewed.

Your main enemy in the game are the forces of Chaos, but they are not the only force you will have to contend with in defending the Imperium, Ork pirate raiding parties, and Eldar Corsairs turn up to cause you trouble at various points.

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When you have had your fill of the single player campaign, you can set up some skirmish games against the AI or jump into multiplayer.

The multiplayer is a fun experience, instead of just the Imperial Navy you can choose from the four armies featured in the game each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Imperial Navy, Whose fleet feature’s heavy forward armor, powerful weaponry and the most choice of ships armed with torpedoes, but are also slowest and are bad at long range combat.

Chaos Fleet, While the Chaos forces suffer from low damage, a lack of torpedo’s and hardly any heavy armor, they are the best at long range combat, have many launch bays for attack squadrons and bombers, and have high top speeds.

Orks, the football hooligans of space bring in some of the most resilient ships ever created, forever up for a fight they also have the strongest assault skills, and have the bonus of being the most customisable ships in the game.. on the downside they are the most disobedient, the least manoeuvrable and have the worst accuracy and range…

Eldar Corsairs, they have the fastest and most manoeuvrable ships, the best fighters and bombers and the most obedient captains.. But before you start thinking that these are the greatest fleet in the game, be warned that they are very vulnerable to boarding actions, the majority of the weapons are on the front of their ships and they have the weakest armour.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a great game, and the difficulty should prove challenging to even the most hardcore strategy gamer. There are only a few bits that could do with improvement, it would be nice if the camera pulled back a little bit more to give a better view of the battles, and more notification when your special skills were available to use, or if the ability to actually make groups worked (no matter how hard I tried.. ctrl +1-0 has not worked for me). But these are minor complaints.

Pros:

Looks beautiful
A solid strategy game
Decent story

Con’s

Some may find it difficult
Could have done with more races

Score: 8 out of 10

Shadowrun Online : Boston Lockdown Review

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You know, part of me wishes there was a world changing event and magic is brought into the light. There are few people who could do with the odd lightning bolt, plus travelling on the motorways would become a lot more interesting with the overhead threat of a Dragon attack. Sadly we don’t live in the world of Shadowrun: Where Bladerunner meets Baldur’s gate, Spinal implantations combine with summoning killer bears.

Those of you new to the whole Shadowrun universe, it started life as a tabletop game a ‘la Dungeons and Dragons – Dice, Skill books, a Dungeon Master and excessive body odour. Porting into a digital world, your runner works their way through a series of missions involving corporate espionage, brute force and assassinations in a bid to earn credits to spend on cool, funky equipment such as replacement limbs, mystical foci and big fat hand cannons.

Needs more Blade Runner right?

These missions take their sweet time into introducing you into the storyline which revolves around the resurrection of a dragon (who has been ”missing” for some time) and the increasingly shady deals including body parts, drugs and black market weaponry.

I’m a fan. Anyone who has played any of the XCOM series will be a fan. This is one of the top tier turn based strategy games out there, and after three different incarnations, it really should be. The skills tree is deep and rewarding, as well as making life difficult for people who try to be a jack of all trades. The weapons and equipment vary in degrees of appearance and type allowing you to customise your heart out. The combat is satisfying and rewards skilful positioning of your main character and the accompanying squad in order to take out enemies with greater ease.

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This game is hard. Like genuinely unforgiving. Miss-step in combat and expect to feel the full wrath of the opposing forces. Reloading your weapon in the wrong place will get you killed. Relying on that summoned minion to take out the bad guys? The AI will focus fire it down. Kudos to the designers of the levels making you have to genuinely think in order to complete the missions with your team intact.

There are a few issues with this game. In making it so familiar, the designers have pushed it a little too far and the game can feel very generic in some parts. Nothing should come as a surprise when playing through the missions, plot ”twists” are telegraphed minutes in advance. I would have liked a lot more variety when it came to weapon skins and additional tactical items as there seems to be too few (from what I have seen, there may be a loot system in the background), plus killing enemies yields only experience, no drops or organ recovery, which to me seems like a waste. God forbid you don’t cover all bases when it comes to non-combat skills. The agony of walking past a locked box for a loot whore like myself… It doesn’t bear thinking about, especially when missions only reward ”nuyen” the monetary unit of the future. The graphics options barely raise an eyebrow – post processing can be turned on and off, but doesn’t make a huge difference to performance (and I’m running a GTX 460 and 2nd Gen i5).

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I did mention the Online bit right? This game is astounding when you team up with others. At the time I played I was lucky enough to have access to the private press server – which was lonely. I saw one or two people, but they left the social hub before I could whip out my best impression of Goldshire Local Chat!!!ONEONE11. Logging in to the launch game means a teeming horde of people

desperate for assistance. The beauty of it is that you move at the same time as your team mates, this allows for some clued team tactics to take out some of the hardier enemies. Loot is assigned from lockers and pickups without the need for rolling (much like Diablo 3) and some of the spells and skills work in synchronicity. For example, the hacker specialist can stun and mark a target, any subsequent attacks against the marked target cause additional damage AND the opponent cannot attack back.

Overall I really enjoyed the game, it’s a lot of fun teaming up online to complete tricky quests, and I really look forward to any expansions and content patches to bring the game up to speed. Thankfully the developers really listen to their fans (as seen on Steam) and they have fixed a major issue already.

Pros:
– Instant familiarity of controls and mechanics
– Deep character customisation
– Online play is superb
– Short snappy missions

Cons :
It is not an iOS port.  Please omit.  Leave in the bit about it being generic.
Cons :
Sadly not moddable.

Score: 7.5/10

Satellite Reign – Early Access Preview

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Set in a futuristic neon lit cyberpunk city, Satellite Reign is a Syndicate inspired top down RTS game from 5 Lives studios. A Kickstarter project that smashed its target of £350k, at the time of writing it is currently in a Pre Alpha build. The game starts with the basic of tutorials, move, run and gun before allowing you free movement within this blazing yet rain soaked atmospheric metropolis. It is stated that the current build does not have a playable tutorial, I feel maybe a step by step introduction into a mission or 3 to gently guide you into things would help draw you into the basic game mechanics and I’m sure this will be included as development progresses.

You take control of 4 cyborg agents each with different abilities, a hacker who can access door panels and also temporarily knock out the big brother style CCTV.
The support agent can send out a world scan, which in a matrix style changes the view green and highlights objects or persons of interest and the agent can also heal your squad mates. The soldier deals out the pain and causes the most head on damage when plan A fails.
Finally the Infiltrator is the stealthily operative. These 4 agents can be levelled up with skills, which should make you life easier as well as opening up new ways to go about your business. Satellite Reign is a single player game, in the future I would love to see a 4 player co-op version with a friend controlling each of the agents.
Graphically the game is there, from the rain detail to the billowing steam effects and the beautifully bright signs and street lighting. The music is also full of deep bass and the thunder and rain effects add to the thick atmosphere and compliments and matches the view.

concept_011Mission control on the main menu lists the jobs available to you, giving detailed background to what is required, and an opportunity to purchase intel from either a bent enforcement officer or other shady characters who are in the know. Everything is for sale in the Downtown District. You start with a $1,000 which can also be used to scan locals for further information (which is currently a work in progress) as well as purchase weapons.

On starting one of the currently limited missions you can activate a ping, which sets off a tracker to direct you to your objective. Once in this location of interest, personally I found it tricky to evade or stealth my way past either the security cameras or guards, which then set off the alarms and the inevitable firefight (which then included enemy reinforcements). You can position yourself behind cover to increase your chances of survival and provides a defensive bonus against the enemy fire, however sometimes the positioning of my units felt clumsy and they didn’t always hold their position to where I had intended. There are relay beacons hidden around the city, interacting with these provide spawn points so your character will return at the closest relay beacon after they’ve died. Although I have found these missions challenging and frustrating there is an amount of satisfaction when something goes right, or using tactics and a bit of thought has turned a bad situation around.

concept_031If you’re a general fan of Sci-Fi, the original Syndicate back from ‘93, Deus EX or the film Bladerunner then you should be keeping a close eye on Satellite Reign, it’s full of potential and it’s got a solid foundation to build upon. Fans of this genre will also be pleased to know hover cars are in attendance, zooming and humming around the streets along with security drones; which I assume in this future do not provide you with 1 hour prime Amazon deliveries.

There has been a recent update 0.4 released which has doubled the size of the game area, the Industrial district has been added to complement the Downtown zone, which has it’s own set of corporations bossing the streets.

In its current state consider it a starter of seared scallops with leeks & lemon chilli butter, before your Sunday Roast, a topside of Somerset beef, which is currently on a slow cook. It isn’t ready just yet, but when it’s fully cooked prepare to crack open a bottle of red and enjoy this beautifully lit open world feast.

Satellite Reign is available on PC and is currently priced at £22.99.

Homeworld Remastered Review

HW1_Remastered_01 ReviewWay, way, way back in 1999 a small studio named Relic Entertainment made a game named Homeworld.

This was a real-time strategy game set in space and was one of the first games (if not the first), to have total 3D movement. No bottle necking an area with hundreds of tanks, no parking in one spot on a map that you knew your opponent couldn’t get to. Simply because, you couldn’t, there were no areas that were blocked, it was space, and they could fly around the asteroids and shoot you in the behind.

For its time Homeworld was a beautiful looking game, the music was atmospheric, and the fleet combat played out on screen like a beautifully choreographed action set-piece from a sci-fi movie.
A standalone expansion pack was released in 2000: Homeworld Cataclysm that was developed by Barking Dog Studios (who later became Rockstar Vancouver and worked on Bully and Max Payne 3) this carried on the story 15 years after the first game and focused more on smaller fleet combat. A full blown sequel was released in 2003, Homeworld 2 was set 115 years after the first game but did not receive the same levels of praise as the original game nor the expansion.

2004 saw Relic Entertainment being bought by THQ, they then cemented their reputation as a solid RTS studio by developing and releasing the Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War series.
THQ bought the rights for the Homeworld games and everyone’s hopes were raised for a continuation of the series. Unfortunately, the original founders of Relic left to form a new studio and THQ went bankrupt in 2013. And that was the end of Homeworld…

That is until Gearbox Software stepped in and bought the rights to the Homeworld franchise and announced plans to re-release Homeworld 1 and 2 as a HD remake, the Homeworld Remastered Collection.

HW2_Remastered_04So 16 years after its original release, gamers around the world can sit down and play possibly one of the best Real Time Strategy games of all time. So the question is, can we forgive Gearbox Software for Aliens: Colonial Marines?

Homeworld: Remastered combines Homeworld 1 and 2 in one glorious HD package, the source code for Homeworld: Cataclysm is long gone and has gained urban myth status, some say the code was lost while others say that there is a backup copy sat in a cupboard somewhere waiting to be rediscovered.

The story for Homeworld follows the Kushan, a race living on a harsh desert planet known as Kharak, the ever present fight for survival and resources led the clans to be constantly at war with each other, until the discovery of a massive ancient ship buried out in the desert.
The ship contained technologies far beyond any that they had known (you know, like deep space travel) in the centre of the ship lay a stone tablet with a map of the galaxy and two coordinates etched in, one was for Kharak on the outer rim of the galaxy, the other Hiigara which meant “Home” in the centre of the galaxy. With this, all wars were ceased as plans were made out to build a ship capable of travelling the large distance and discover their Homeworld. Over a century, and many scientific discoveries later, a scientist volunteered to be integrated into the “Mothership” to be its living command core.

hwrm_01The game starts at this point, and it’s up to you to help the Kushan find their way home and work out why they were apparently dumped on this planet. Over the course of the collections of 31 Single player missions (16 for Homeworld and 15 for Homeworld 2) you will Fight, Mine, Research, and occasionally trade with the single friendly race encountered in your travels.

You start off each map with your Mothership and a couple of resource collectors, these are the lifeblood of Homeworld, without resources you can’t build ships, without ships you can’t attack or defend yourself, and without being able to attack or defend yourself, you will die a horrible but beautifully rendered explosive fiery death.

Resources are gathered from asteroid fields, floating wreckage and various clouds of space dust. Build resource controllers to accompany your collectors and it saves the trip back to the Mothership to drop off that valuable resource.

There is a good variety of ships on offer to build, from the quick but weak Fighters, the more role orientated Corvettes, or the overwhelming firepower of the Capital ships, each one has a job and it does its job well.

It does take a bit of time to get used to the fact that your enemies can attack from any direction, ahead, behind, to the sides, from above and below. But when you’re used to it the game is a joy to play.

So what’s different to the 1999 release? Let’s check the Gearbox Software description.

“Homeworld Remastered Collection includes updated high-res textures and models, new graphical effects, and support for HD, UHD, and 4K resolutions. Homeworld’s original audio and video artists have also recreated cinematic scenes in beautiful high fidelity. Homeworld Remastered Collection uses Homeworld and Homeworld 2’s original source audio to create a stunning new mix of effects and music.”

In simple terms, they have taken a fantastic looking game from 1999 and turned it into a fantastic looking game in 2015.

As well as they Remastered versions of Homeworld 1 and 2 Gearbox Software have also included the originals, updated to run on modern Operating systems. The difference between them is astounding.

The more interesting addition to the Remastered edition is multiplayer. Gearbox has gone along the route of merging the multiplayer modes from Homeworld 1 and 2 into a single game mode. This mode is currently in Beta, as it says when you first fire it up.

“This is an all-new agglomeration that combines bits of code that are over 15 years old with bits of code that were written last week.”

There are bugs, and there are glitches.
I’ve read reports of fleets disappearing, or moving when not told to.
Others not so major, I only experienced a few minor ones, at one point I had my entire fleet colour scheme randomly change to another, not game breaking.. but it was confusing to me until I realised it was my fleet getting annihilated and not the opponent.

hwrm_08 reviewThere is also no matchmaking service, at the time of writing, and finding a game can be difficult. After 25 minutes of trying to join servers only to get dropped moments after starting the maps, I decided to try and host my own game. Within moments I had an opponent eager to do battle and was promptly destroyed within minutes, but that’s pretty standard for me and online real-time strategy games.

If you have never played the Homeworld series, I wholeheartedly recommend buying the re-mastered collection; it’s one of the few games that every strategy fan should own in my opinion.
If you are a long-time Homeworld fan, and still own the originals, £26.99 is a lot to pay out for the same games you already own with a shiny coat of paint on top.
If you are a long-time fan but don’t own the originals, I highly recommend picking this up!

I can now forgive Gearbox for Aliens: Colonial Marines.

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

EA: Sithspawn Scum or a New Hope?

 

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Fool’s Bargain?

Much like the Emperors galactic plan for domination with the New Order, Disney’s acquisition of a galaxy far far away raised more than a few eyebrows.  With LucasArts effectively dead in all but name and Disney themselves retaining the right to create mobile content, a licensing deal with EA now finds the company, which is often regarded as a wretched hive of villainy and scum, to be a new hope for the future of Star Wars games.

With the recent announcement that Amy Hennig, fresh from Naughty Dog stardom is returning to the EA fold to help head up an as yet unannounced title from Visceral Games and also the leaked footage from the cancelled Darth Maul action title, it felt like a great time to revisit past games and also to look towards the future for what is yet to come.

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Spectre of the Past.

As a lifelong Star Wars super nerd, I’ve watched, played and read just about everything in the Star Wars universe. Much like the films themselves, Star Wars games have been a mixed bag. Some worthy of the Kalidor Crescent, and also the truly awful which belong in junk yards of Ord Mantell.

Star Wars accounts for some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories.  In the mid 80’s when I used to be able to pick up the latest games from the corner shop with my pick n mix, I remember saving my pocket money to buy Star Wars for my Amstrad CPC464.  I poured hour after hour into this game.  The graphics seemed amazing, hearing the theme tune play out on the menu screen blew my tiny young mind.  Looking back at game play videos now, it clearly shows it’s age like the 30 year old game it is, but a flutter of excitement still beats in my chest when I see it.

Fast forward a few years and the Super Star Wars series was the sole reason for me badgering my parents for a SNES, even when all my friends had a Megadrive.  To this day, I struggle to think of a better movie tie-in game.  You controlled all your favourite characters, across all the locations of the movie.  The Graphics were great, the soundtrack sublime and it handled as smoothly as Chewbacca’s hair after a grooming session.

A notable chorus of Yub Nub must go to the game that really put Bioware on the map, without which I’m not sure if Mass Effect or Dragon Age would even exist.  Knights of the Old Republic had everything that fans of the original trilogy loves.  An intense twisting storyline, characters that you actually cared about, the lure of the Dark Side hanging over every decision you made. An RPG set along time ago in a Galaxy far far away was millions of geeks dreams and for once, it came true.  The follow up by Obsidian, whilst not a complete idiots array, was still a fun, engaging game.

The list of great Star Wars games is endless, from the seminal X-Wing/Tie-Fighter series, the fantastic Jedi Knight series of which Jedi Outcast really hit the highpoint, Empire at War, Episode 1 Racer, Rogue Squadron and not forgetting Battlefront.  I can’t think of a single other franchise that has hit so many different genres.

Its not all Nerf steak and Bantha Milk though.  With George Lucas’ vision of the prequels making millions of fans cry out in terror, the games unfortunately started to head in the same direction.  The tie-ins to the new films were truly terrible.  From this point on it seemed like LucasArts would push anything out of the door, regardless of quality.  Perhaps a Troydarian had taken over running the shop?

Bombad Racing. Demolition. Masters of Teras Kasi. Lightsaber Duels. Yoda Stories. Galaxies. Star Wars Kinect. Over the years, the list of truly bad games, has started to outweigh the good.

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Visions of the Future

So now EA has stepped up, they’ve taken on a multi-year, multimillion dollar licensing agreement to produce the next generation of Star Wars games.  Although EA are clearly Disney’s Chosen one, I’m hoping they won’t have to betray everyone, cut off the Bioware programmers typing hands, or take years to bring the franchise back into balance.

Only one game has so far been announced, with others confirmed to be in development. A new Battlefront title is currently in the works at DICE.  Although it’s not expected to be released until 2015 expectations are as high for this as the Boonta Eve Classic.

The folks at DICE are definitely the right people to take this on.  Battlefield 4 might well have had its problems but you can’t deny the appeal of the full scale warfare that DICE has become synonymous with.  Imagine the wail of Tie Fighters strafing your last line of defence as AT-ST walkers advance on your position.

The whole proposition of the studio taking on this IP gives me goosebumps.  It’s not being rushed either, and while the Battlefield 4 problems may have delayed development somewhat, I cant wait to see some footage of this, hopefully in the not to distant future.  64 players on land, in atmosphere and hopefully orbit, will be immense.

Little is known about the other game that is currently being worked on at Visceral, but we can have a few guesses. Hennig, who’s now on board with this project has a fantastic background with story led adventure games. Uncharted offered us the modern day Indiana Jones, likeable characters, and a rip roaring tale of danger, intrigue and action. Transposed into the Star Wars universe and the mind boggles as to where this could be heading, there are so many possibilities in such a rich and diverse universe.  The loveable rogue Nathan Drake clearly got some of his cues from both Han Solo and the aforementioned Dr Jones, so could the guy who shot first be starring in his own game?  Or are Visceral reworking the much heralded but stillborn 1313 project?  Maybe will we be finding out at this years E3.

As I mentioned earlier, Bioware might not be where it is today without Knights of the Old Republic.  With development of Dragon Age: Inquisition wrapping up and another entry in the Mass Effect series under way, (rumoured for release in spring 2015), it makes a whole lot of sense that Bioware will soon be returning to its old stomping ground.  Hopefully the internet Probe Droids have been feeding back intelligence to the studio, all we really want them to do is play the same song again and give us a new Knights of the Old Republic.

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So what else might be in development at EA?  Even without a force vision we can have a couple of guesses.   A new Command and Conquer was in development until it was cancelled towards the end of last year.  Whilst that particular studio was shuttered its not too much of a stretch of imagination to think that a Star Wars RTS is in the works. Empire at War was a fantastic game, especially the full scale battles in space.  Who doesn’t want to command a fleet of Star Destroyers?  With the Homeworld remake/reboot getting a lot of traction,  EA might well have decided it wants a slice of that Domit pie.

Few can ignore that vast sums of money that both Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous have made.  Lets face it Chris Roberts probably has enough imperial credits to build his own Death Star.  I’m really hoping that a new X-Wing game is in the works.  This genre has long been dormant in the mainstream but with games like the ones just mentioned, not forgetting Strike Suit Zero, the appetite for a space sim shooter has never been greater.  The X-wing/Tie-Fighter series of games remains my favourite of all time.  If it wasn’t such a pain in the backside to run on modern architecture I’d be playing it now instead of writing this.

 

Balance Point

The announcement of a new Battlefront was a complete no-brainer that even Jar Jar Binks could have come up with. What comes next is the interesting bit.  Impossible to see the future may well be, but I’m hoping that at this years E3 the shroud that has clouded the future of Star Wars games will be lifted.