Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII Review

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The very first thing I want to make clear about this title is that it is not for everyone. If you don’t have previous knowledge of the Three Kingdoms period, or if you are not a big fan of strategy games then this is sadly not going to be the game to pull you into them. That being said I personally found this to be an entertaining and interesting game that I can see being a time sink for me way into the future.

I have been a huge fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story for many, many years now and I love just about everything I can get my hands on that deals with the time period and the tales of the heroes and villains of that era. Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that Koei Tecmo was bringing a version to Playstation 4 for the franchise’s 30th anniversary and I was finally going to get the opportunity to step into the period and live a fantasy life from 700 (yes I did say 700) of characters that the game has available.

The story is immensely rich and detailed and is one that is well known in Asia but might not be as familiar to everyone else. It focuses on the Han dynasty and the struggle to overthrow the corrupt court to establish a new regime. The main instigators in the story; Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Sun Jian (later his son Sun Qian) establish three kingdoms of their own causing there to be a period of constant battles and wars. Each of the kingdoms has a huge cast of characters available to the player which can offer a great deal of enjoyment to someone who loves the history of the period.

The game has two different main modes available to play which are slightly different depending on the experience of the player. Hero Mode tells the story of the Three Kingdoms via short battles and events that occur throughout the history of the Three Kingdoms. This offers a tutorial type gameplay to ease the new player into the action gradually so they can get used to the style of game properly. The other mode is Main mode which gives a set of scenarios for the player to choose and then play to try and unify the land under one banner,

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The gameplay itself is menu based and offers a good amount of options to develop culture, commerce and farming. Each of the cities under your control needs to have a steady mix of all of these things to be successful and micro-managing the three options is the key to resource management for the military aspect of the game. Once you have built up a decent set of resources you can then invest them in military by hiring new officers, training new troops or by patrolling the territories you control to increase loyalty in your military. It is through these options and sub-menus with their various actions that the game can become overwhelming very quickly. The highly experienced strategy game player will relish the sheer volume of controls they have at their disposal, however, a newcomer to the genre may find that there is too much to think about even just to make a single decision. This is why the Hero mode is a stroke of genius because it has been developed to expertly take the newbie through the gameplay step by step in a very friendly and welcoming manner. It takes the gamer by the hand and introduces all of the game mechanics in a gradual process and playing through the timeline in this way puts into context the various events that occur throughout the span of the Three Kingdoms era.

The main focus of both modes falls primarily in the relationship mechanic between the various different characters within your kingdom. You will find yourself walking a fine line between allocating missions, throwing banquets and numerous other options to garner the best relationship you can with your chosen targets. If you manage to pull it off successfully you can even cause opposition forces to defect in the middle of a battle, turning the tide for you to force a win.

This may sound boring and tedious but surprisingly the mechanics are sound and the debates between characters play out more like a one on one battle of wit and intellect.

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When it comes to the battlefield the gameplay becomes very simplistic and after a while gets a little monotonous to experience. The amount of units you are allocated in battle depends on your character’s rank. Very little is left for you to control apart from which formation you wish your units to use and when to buff your army which sadly leaves me wanting just a little bit more to get the enthusiasm for the battles going.

There were some performance issues when I played it with movement between cities sometimes dropping fps and stuttering slightly. This was also evident in the battles where the number of units and number of arrows seemingly affecting performance. However, these things didn’t detract from the overall experience too much because the battles weren’t often the focus of my gameplay. My play style was more about the political skulduggery and manipulation of the other leaders.

Ultimately Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a decent console version of the game with a great level of detail into the lore and characters of the period. The political and management side of the game is incredibly detailed and allows fantastic customisation by the player. The Hero mode is where the game truly shines in my opinion with a friendly yet comprehensive explanation of the systems used in the game being introduced gradually over time allowing new players to the strategy genre to play without being too overwhelmed with the intricacies.

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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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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

Last Days of Old Earth Preview

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Last Day’s of Old Earth puts you in command of the Skywatcher clan on a cold and desolate Earth in the distant future. You command your people to wage vast battles against other indigenous clans to make yours the most powerful.

I went into Last Day’s of Old Earth with certain expectations after scanning through the Steam page – this was going to be a Civilisation clone with a different art style and I would be bored to tears within minutes because, in all honesty, nothing compares to the Civilization series for me. Then the game shocked me and in no way attempted to simply be another clone. It drew reverence from the games I love and built solid ideas on top of them.

With a hex-based overworld, you’ll command armies across a randomly generated map to battle other players moving along the same grid. You build outposts and harvest resources which increase your supply reach. Supply is a key mechanic in the game and you’re forced to stay within your own territory at all times or be hampered with movement and combat penalties. This is made far easier than it sounds with armies and hero characters all being able to build wherever you feel is necessary so never truly felt like the hindrance I initially thought it to be.

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Then things get a little bit different. Your armies are made up of units you generate by drawing cards from a deck and then consuming resources to put them into play. You’ll draw hero characters, resource and combat buffs as well as a whole host of units to play with. This deck mechanic seemed slightly daunting at first, giving you the ability to get in and tinker with a deck building mode helped throughout my experience as I was able to tweak the deck I took into combat for my exact play style. The hero characters add bonus’ and buffs if they are in command of your army and as the only named characters in the game I found some fond attachment to some who followed me throughout my skirmishes.

Combat doesn’t take place on the main hex-grid as an automatic process. You are put into a combat scenario with your units and directly command them to victory. Dice rolls determine attack and defence and even who attacks first at the start of each turn. Combat is very dice heavy throughout the game which can seem unfair and become an incredible annoyance. I could take a far superior force into battle and be nearly wiped out because the dice hadn’t rolled the way I’d like. There is a system in place to help with this – your hero characters are given a ‘Fate bonus’ which allows you to change the dice roll, but this is limited and feels almost unnecessary because of the lack of benefit it has.

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Currently only a handful of modes exist in the build available and players will spend the majority of their time in skirmish or multiplayer. Both these modes are incredibly solid, however doesn’t offer a great deal of variety right now for people looking for something a little more fleshed out.

At its most reductive, Last Days of Old Earth brings together successful elements from other franchises and puts them into a single product – the overworld is a hex-based Civilization game, the combat feels like Heroes of Might & Magic and the deck building elements has shades of a Hearthstone clone. Each core element of the game is so solid it’s easy to look past these comparisons. The mechanics of these previous franchises are simplified and streamlined in such a way I found it much easier to pick up and play than a new player would to other games of this type. The game chooses a singular focus in its expansion through combat and espionage rather than culture and population management and this in turn streamlined the entire gameplay loop. Last Days of Old Earth feels more like a board game akin to Risk than it does a pure video game with its dice roles and differing styles amalgamated into a single product.

Although currently content is a little lacking the promises made at the start of Early Access are already coming to fruition only a few weeks in and I can see Last Days of Old Earth growing into a solid entry into the pantheon of turn-based strategy titles.

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Naval Action Preview (The Naval MMO).

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Naval Action is an early access title with grand ambitions for the MMO scene. In some ways Naval Action is aiming to be the age of sail game to beat, featuring a huge historically re-created map of the Caribbean, authentic ships and realistic naval combat. Upon booting up the game you’ll be asked to choose a Nation to represent (Great Britain in my case) and you’ll be given a starter ship (a basic Cutter). The nation you choose determines where on the enormous map you begin and then you’re pretty much left to your own devices. As is often the case with Early Access there is no tutorial, and by design Naval Action features very little hand-holding, but more on that later.

Eager to find out what the open-world sandbox nature of the game was like, I hit the ‘sail’ button as soon as I’d located it on the entirely placeholder but functional menu system. I took a moment to admire my little boat bobbing on the water then set sail and sped off in search of a battle. After sailing around for a while I engaged in combat with a random NPC and after much hammering of keys and baffled grunts of frustration I got my tiny little stern handed to me. I returned to port with my tail between my legs. It was clear I would need to do some research. With the help of some informative YouTubers, I returned to the game with some understanding of how I might succeed as an 18th Century naval captain. Although not an absolute sim, Naval Action does opt for the realistic approach: cannon ballistics, the pitching and rolling of the sea, and most importantly wind are all important factors to consider when sparring with other ships.

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Fortunately, Naval Action goes some way to helping you avoid fights you can’t possibly win, but when you do get into battle you are transported to a separate instance where you and up to 50 others can duke it out across the waves. From my experience, these instances are entirely clear of obstacles and land (even if you start a fight near the coast) so there’s no danger of running yourself or your opponent aground. You can also escape from a fight if you have the speed to pull away from your attacker, it will be interesting to see how these mechanics will translate to a drawn out chase or when hunting in groups. In most cases, however, battles are a tense balance of ammunition, crew and sail management, all while trying to manoeuvre to keep the wind in your sails and your target within reach. This is also where I suspect Naval Action will divide the crowd: battles are long. You should expect most 1 Vs 1 battles to last up to half an hour or more. Just as it was in days of yore, cannons are notoriously inaccurate, stick a dozen or more on a boat on the ocean and they become even more inaccurate. Thankfully there are plenty of firing options, it takes some practice, but you’ll soon be skipping iron balls across the water and into the exposed side of the bad guys.

Clearly, the most amount of polish has gone into these moments of combat; the sails and pennants flutter in the wind, while movement feels weighty and cannon fire leaves a dense cloud of smoke wafting across the deck. As you circle your prey, you can chip away at their hull armour to encourage leaks or employ grapeshot in an attempt to reduce their crew numbers, or use chain shot to shred their sails to reduce their speed. You can set your crew to prioritise sailing or gunning or set them to plug leaks and repair damage. You can even perform boarding actions if you can get close enough although, weirdly, boarding is played out by selecting actions in a turn-based mini game.

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Naval Action is an MMO, meaning lots of people can play it at once, and I sincerely hope they eventually do because it can feel a little sparsely populated at times. Of course, the main goal is to form large fleets and go on the rampage. You can also take control of ports, smuggle contraband, craft items, build ships or simply trade goods between ports. I’ve read, in a few places, that Naval Action is comparable to Eve Online. There is some truth to this comparison but the biggest caveat that sets Eve apart from other multiplayer games is its single server structure. Naval Action currently requires you to choose from four servers and any progress you make does not carry over. If however, this game does eventually migrate onto a single server, then it will open up a myriad of possibilities. Players would be able to form power blocs of controlled and contested territory, a player-driven economy would develop as a result thus making crafting and trade much more meaningful.

As an early access game, there are a few quibbles, navigation is all but left up to you, this is by design but it’s a design decision that doesn’t produce any gameplay, and getting lost isn’t much fun. The lack of any land mass appearing in battle instances is a minor disappointment; I think it would provide even more tactical options. And Naval Action is no slouch in the resources department, you’ll need a fairly beefy PC to pump the water up to max settings – pun not intended. None of these quibbles are deal breakers, if you’re playing Naval Action it’s because you like ship porn. And Naval Action is like the holy grail of ship porn. It’s deliriously beautiful to look at. Each screen is like Patrick O’Brian book cover (look it up, kids). It’s a real pleasure to look at. It’s a good job too, because you’ll need to commit a lot of time to advance to the next ship with more guns, sails and crew. And while it’s still early days for the game there are plenty of mechanics to learn and skills to master, it’s not a game that’s intended to pass a few hours on a rainy weekend if this is your niche you’ll be here for months, if not years to come. Better batten down the hatches, a storm’s a-coming.

Pros:

-Realistic 18th Century naval combat

-Beautiful environment

-Ships!

Cons:

-Challenging mechanics

-Resource intensive

-Needs more players!

Breach and Clear : DEADline Early Access PC

DEADLine_Final_1421928737At the time of previewing this game, I managed to play two builds. Post patch being significantly better to play for a newbie to the game. This may lead to some inconsistency when you look into this game yourselves, and you should look, as this game is worth the £11 or that it’s currently on sale for.

Breach and Clear : DEADline is the second game with the Breach and Clear name attached to it. Devolver is the publisher attached to it, and the icing on the cake being Gun and Mighty Rabbit. I haven’t had the privilege to play the first game – although it is on my list for the next Steam sale – so the only thing I can compare it to is if the first two Jagged Alliance games had a baby with XCOM. The gameplay is fairly simple. Build a team of soldiers – made up of several classes – and complete the missions given by WoW style quest givers on an isometric map.

Deadline-Sewers-ActionMode-ShamblingHorde-WM_1421928771Players are treated to a great little prequel mission, where the game gives you a very good tutorial on how the mechanics work, skills and how to control the camera. As you play out the first mission it becomes apparent that a lot of care and attention has gone into the character models and their behaviour as a unit of soldiers. Manually aiming your rifle (of whoever you have selected) causes your team mates to aim down sights and move slowly, move into cover and your squad try to assume low profiles alongside and start covering fire lanes like real soldiers would. Upon contact with an enemy one of two things happens, your team open fire, or the game pauses all of the action meaning you have triggered an event.

Enemies in this game are made up of zombies, humans and zombie-monsters – AKA the Tank from Left for Dead. These enemies also seem eerily well modelled, headshots will trigger massive damage, knee and leg shots cause them to fall to the ground and drag themselves along the floor, leaving a blood trail as they go. The concussive nature of the weapons fired at enemies will also cause staggering to varying degrees, a shotgun and sniper rifle will knock a target off its feet completely.

DEADline-Breeder_1421928806Back to triggering an event, this is where the game moves from the standard fare to the sublime. All action pauses, allowing you to make tactical decisions based on the equipment and skills your team have to hand. This could be enabling a huge burst-fire to suppress an incoming horde, using your scout to highlight enemies from a pack and ensure they take additional damage for the next few seconds, and throwing smoke, flash and explosive grenades for evasion and group damage. This mode can be jumped into and back into real time with just a single button push (just like Dragon Age), when used in combination with the extensive cover system, can make for some excellent set piece fights for survival.

Deadline-Urban-Scaffolding_Attack-ThrownGrenade-WM_1421928773For an Early Access game, it does have some bugs still left. I encountered building internals not loading correctly, Soldiers acting in perfect synchronicity until you give them a second command, resulting in one member stood still whilst zombies ate his face off. The skill tree system is good, but it felt as if my guys were levelling up after every small encounter and the skills seemed VERY cheap for the effects they gave. Loot is earned from scattered crates which when opened vomit up the loot Diablo style – this led to loot becoming stuck in scenery or disappearing completely.

Those superficial slights aside – which the Devs know about *high five* – This game plays really well. The studio is looking at adding dungeon encounters, an online mode (squeal!) and a greater amount of enemy types and weapons loadouts. A personal wish of mine would be to make the skill trees a little deeper and specific, and make the corresponding skill point cost a little more expensive.

Keep your eyes open for this one. It’s going to be a cult classic.

Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

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Civilization: Beyond Earth picks up from where its predecessors left off, by combining the excitement of planetary exploration from Alpha Centauri, with the solid hex-based gameplay from Civilization 5. C:BE has found a wonderful niche in the market that will feel new to experienced Civilization leaders, but also offer some streamlined mechanics for those fresh to the series.

At first glance it’s easy to think 2K Games have simply slapped a new lick of paint on their existing game, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Barbarians from Civilization 5 are now replaced by indigenous aliens and, rather than a simple early game annoyance that you have to manage for the first third of the game, the new aliens take on the role of a complete new faction and interweave with the very fabric of the core game. This isn’t a faction that you’ll engage in diplomatic relations with or trade for resources, but make up a part of the living, breathing world that you’ve landed yourself on. The sheer size of the alien forces that surround you will make you want to live in harmony with your new extra-terrestrial friends while you build up your civilization around you. But like any good science fiction story, these pesky aliens stand in the way of your progress and need to be slaughtered swiftly so you can develop ahead of the other factions that are growing around you.

CivBE_1Your faction of choice will provide bonus’ which will give you minor boosts that are most beneficial through the beginning of your leadership. However, once your civilization is up and running you’re going to be focusing on using the new affinity system – to develop the culture of your people and decide how you wish to approach new life on this fresh planet. Do you want to integrate alien life into your DNA, or perhaps preserve the way of life you enjoyed on Earth? Your three options – Supremacy, Harmony and Purity – provide completely different options as to how you will approach your playthrough and offer signature units as well as differing victory conditions. Two of these offer polar opposites to each other, while one sits firmly in the middle should you wish to test a little of everything. Purity is the idea of purging aliens from this new world, keeping your bloodlines pure, and making it on your own, while Harmony embraces alien life and allows you to use the alien forces to your advantage. Supremacy takes the least extreme route offered and presents bonuses to maintenance costs for the victor who chooses the peaceful path. The new depth offered through these options goes beyond simply wanting to play as a faction because they get something cool in the late game and actually increases the different playing options three-fold, to allow you to play multiple factions in multiple directions and have a different outcome and experience each time.

CivBE_Screenshot_Arid_EarthlingSettlerThe new tech tree offers a chance for players to plan out exactly where they want their faction to go, and rather than having a Wiki document open to ensure you’re making the right choices early on in the game, you’re presented with the entire tech tree up front to allow you full control over your destiny. This spread of each new technology you may want is a powerful weapon in controlling your development and building the civilization and type of playthrough you want.

Beyond Earth offers quests to complete throughout your playthrough, which result in you often trying something slightly different, or challenging your perception of what you are trying to do. These small side quests, while completely optional, provide bonuses that can come in handy in the late game pinch. As each faction pushes for victory and, in some cases, begins to direct you a little about what you could be doing whilst your city is amassing forces to attack your opponent, or you’re patiently waiting for that wonder to be built. In some ways the quest system feels like a powerful tool to offer buffs and advice that many will welcome during the long hours they will spend in front of the game.

CivBE_Screenshot_Harmony_MindflowerEndgameThe thematic differences that an alien culture provide in Civilization: Beyond Earth ensures this feels more than a simple re-skin of the hex-grid perfection that was Civilization 5. The tweaks to the technology systems and the new affinity system makes the game feel new while still feeling familiar and welcoming to new players. While Beyond Earth isn’t rewriting the core mechanics of the franchise, it is bringing enough to the party to justify itself as a full release and is an epic journey into the unknown that players old and new need to play.

Score: 9/10

Emergency 5. PC Release Very Soon

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In EMERGENCY 5, the player is directing challenging rescue mission on three vast and detailed maps. For this, the player can use and improve a hug pool of vehicles and action forces and has to ensure that everyone is at the right place at the right time. It’s all about the right strategy to stop the chaos. In co-op mode, up to 4 players can team up to solve special multiplayer events. With the improved editor, players can edit and create their own content and share it with the big fan community.

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Features:
·        Hundreds of hours playing time with challenging large scale operations. Constantly re-arranging missions and catastrophes create new and surprising situations.

·        3 detailed maps of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich which are designed after their real-life models. The Deluxe version features a fourth map with the city of Cologne.

·        More than 20 ground and air vehicles of police, fire, rescue and technical action forces are ready for their assignment.

·        In Multiplayer mode, up to 4 players can join their forces on free-play maps with special multiplayer events.

·        A newly developed engine delivers the best EMERGENCY graphics of all time. No technology was taken over from the predecessors.

·        With its completely remolded control system, EMERGENCY 5 is intuitive and comfortably for all players. Interactive tutorials ensure that even new players find their way quickly.

·        In the powerful editor, up to 2 players can create their own maps and even work together on the same project.

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

Frugal Gaming Preview – Habitat

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As a teenager, the underneath of my bed was a black hole of my own creation.  Discarded cereal bowls and cups of tea, dirty tissues, old magazines and the obligatory missing odd socks all ended up in the darkness.  Turns out the 4gency’s vision of the future is pretty similar, just set in space rather than under a Ikea divan.

Habitat is a physics based sandbox building survival strategy game; bit of a mouthful, but at least it’s clearly its own genre.  Having developed a couple of mobile titles, the developer is stepping up a gear with this game.  Following on from the successful Kickstarter project, Habitat is now planned for release on PC, MAC, Linux and Xbox One.

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Starting with a small habitat, your mission is to grow and expand this last refuge of mankind by making good use of the things that you find, the things that the everyday folk have left behind, just obviously set in space, rather than Wimbledon Common.  It’s a nice idea and having been hands on the with Early Access build that’s currently available on Steam, it does seem to be coming along rather nicely.

Nowhere near feature complete; at the time of writing Habitat offers you a brief tutorial and the sandbox survival building mode. Starting off with the basic Habitat module, you are free to use what ever trash you find floating around to expand and upgrade your life-raft. Everything has a use, from old booster rockets, Soviet era tanks, to flame breathing militarised dinosaur heads, yes really. The nature of the games physics engine affects everything.  Want to move your tub along to explore the vast reaches of space? Then just attach a couple of rockets: One on each side of your habitat, both facing the same direction will happily boost you on your way. Fire just the left rocket and your turn right, fire just the right and you will turn left.  It’s simple yet clever stuff.

Those same rockets could also be used as weapons, detach them from the Habitat and fire them up, they will streak off like, well, a rocket. Attach some heavier ordnance and you’ve got yourself a decent weapon system. Other junk might increase your power output, or simply extend your habitat offering more points to tether more even more junk onto.  Its a nice unique system and messing around with various configurations can be fun just by itself for a time.

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Early access is all about solving problems and involving the community in development, obviously for the cynics out there it can also provide a vital stream of income to support continued development. 4gency are certainly seem to be making the most of their chosen path of development. The guys and girls are extremely active of the Steam Forums and constantly asking for feedback both on the game itself and the current Development Roadmap.  Its great to see a clear and well laid out plan, I would love to see this as a minimum requirement for Early Access games launched on Steam in the future, so hats of to 4gency for being so open with the community.

I have enjoyed playing Habitat so far, but it’s not without its issues.  The current control method, especially for the camera controls, just seems so unnatural and convoluted.  It can feel like a real chore using WASD to move the camera, I’m hoping that this will be sorted as the game develops. I’m so used to just using a mouse in games like this and it would definitely benefit from having keyboard controls being optional, rather than mandatory. Whilst I’m sure the controls will be fine tuned before release, my other issue might well remain. At the moment you can only build and expand your habitat on a horizontal plane.  Not being able to build vertically really seems like a missed opportunity and would have added a bit more depth to construction.

UIShot_5Despite some minor issues I’m looking forward to the release of Habitat, especially on Xbox One.  It really does seems like the sort of game that for me would be suited to playing with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard, perhaps this is the route of my issues with the current control system.  Whilst I haven’t got a clue what form the planned single player campaign will take, I’m hoping it will give some legs to the fabulous mechanics the developers have implemented. It’s still got a while to go until it’s full release but its certainly a promising start and I’m looking forward to playing some more of Habitat as features are added.

Habitat is planned for release on PC, MAc, Linux and Xbox One.

Early Access is available via Steam and can be found HERE