Invisible Inc. Early Access Preview

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Invisible Inc. Early Access Preview

PC

Dev/Pub: Klei Entertainment

 

Two weeks I’ve had this game. Two weeks.

And it’s only now, as I write the review, that I get the joke that ‘Invisible Inc.’ sounds like ‘invisible ink’. What the hell is wrong with me? I’m going to put it down to too much seasonal Diazepam to keep me snuggled up, versus the unrelenting bangs and whistles of fireworks season. Still, two weeks; I won’t feel bad if you feel like you need to consult a second opinion.

invisibleinc-2014-07-14-21-14-06-23-635x336Invisible Inc. is a stealth game – a game of sneaking and sudden, violent electrocutions. It is a game of finely balanced risk and reward gameplay, that delights in giving you just enough rope to hang yourself and then watch you topple over, legs kicking futilely with the adrenaline of overconfidence. How does it do this? With the clever mechanic of a reverse time limit.

You take your small group of infiltrators to various locations in an attempt to procure a whole load of cash, weapons and anything else not nailed down. On arrival, the environment’s security system learns that there is a threat, but it needs a while to track it. A race against time begins where you can see the security system ramping up around you, but – as the Operator – it’s your job to get as much loot as possible and get your team out. Thing is, you find the level exit really quickly – but do you leg it with a satsuma or hang around to get the sweetest plum?

Naturally, you’ll want to hang around. Well that’s just fine but all the time that security system is getting more and more agitated. First extra cameras turn on, then more guards come and then elite guards show up who really know how to show your team a bad time. So, now how much do you value your skills? How close do you want to push it? Are there any potential rewards that are worth the loss of a member of your team? That’s up to you to decide.

In any case, all your quick reactions and battle-hardened twitch shooting skills count for nothing since Invisible Inc. is turn based in a similar style to Shadowrun Returns or – to a lesser extent – XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I say lesser because the focus in Invisible Inc. is on stealth, not body count. The game actively penalises you for going on a kill crazy rampage both in terms of shortening the amount of time before the super guards show up and also by taking some of your spoils in the form of ‘clean-up costs’ which is really a fine for cold-blooded murder. Nothing too hefty, it’s only $50 or so, similar to a minor traffic violation.

invisibleinc-2014-07-14-21-10-29-60-627x353Cold-blooded murder is fine for the guards at the places you visit however. Their guns will chew through your agents like a hungover man with a sausage and egg McMuffin. Lose your team on the job and it’s game over for you, chum. Yes, if you’re not a fan of high-stakes and permadeath you’re going to have to learn to love it to truly embrace Invisible Inc. There’s no save scumming, even on ‘Easy’ mode, so every choice counts. It was actually refreshing to play a turn-based game that doesn’t rely on RNG that uses this format. You have to be thoughtful and careful, but with some forward planning you can avoid getting screwed over. Indeed, with the exits to the level always easy to find, it’s only your own greed that gets your agents killed in most cases. I loved that, it felt like a deliciously evil game mechanic that caused me to look at my upgraded, augmented guys, lying in a pool of their own blood and be forced to say, “Good game, Computer. Well played.”

invisibleinc-2014-07-14-21-15-15-05-635x336So, turn-based, permadeath, upgrades and enhancements, procedurally generated… so many buzz words. The good news is however that all of these things come together to make a game that is very fun to play. A game that allows for cerebral challenge as well as a smidgeon of ‘sod it, let’s just try and leg it past them.’ There is some narrative to hang the gameplay on but it’s not really integral to the game itself. As this is still in Early Access there may well be some developments in this area, such as multiple short campaigns to play through but what is here is more than enough to justify the modest price point.

Invisible Inc. is a well turned out, professional looking product that keeps up the good record of the studio whose other games include the intriguing Don’t Starve. Go and see if you can get your hands on some of that grubby corporate money, it’s probably not even theirs to begin with.

 

Karlos Morale

Invisible Inc. is available on Early Access for £11.99 on Steam.

 

 

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

Endless Legend – Early Access Preview

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Endless Legend – Early Access Preview

PC

Amplitude Studios

Hoo boy. Where to start with a game as grand in scope and sweep as Endless Legend? A game that thrusts you into a world that, at first glance, appears like many other 4X games of its type and yet has stupendous – almost dizzying – levels of depth that it  could consume your waking (and quite possibly sleeping) thoughts utterly. Sound good? Let’s dive in.

What is 4X?

Basics first, 4X  – if the term is new to you – refers to the 4 core areas of this game type. In it you will; explore, expand, exterminate and exploit. The most familiar reference point for most people would be the Civilization games. Turn based, you start out with a small settlement and then use a combination of trading and other more pointed forms of expansionism to grow your empire at the expense of other races trying to become the leading power.

Amplitude Studios have already enjoyed considerable success with the excellent Endless Space, where you pitted your wits against a variety of other space-faring races in a struggle for galactic domination. This time around, your feet are rather more solidly on Terra-firma, but the environment you get to explore is no less rich and wonder-filled.

Getting Started

Job one in your list (once you’ve had a fiddle with the audio/video options – what’s the point of having a glorious PC if you’re not going to do that?) is to choose a faction from the roster available. Amplitude currently intend to top out at 16 factions, but currently there are about half that many. Most of the factions are based on broadly familiar fantasy tropes – the Wind Walkers with their nature affinity are this world’s Elves for example. Some of the races are very interesting and not your usual knight/dwarf/undead etc. fodder.

Each faction has its own distinct and customisable armies, for which a great deal of time has been spent developing some extremely attractive art assets. The different units are characterful, which makes them more interesting to play with . The game is a little slow to get started (a problem faced by all 4X games) but the high quality units and varied landscape gives you something to chew on until your kingdom develops. Rather than just looking pretty though, the terrain actually has different levels, which seems pretty obvious but actually makes it stand apart from many other 4X games. It offers something a bit different from ‘blocks you can go on and blocks you can’t’. Another element of note here is to wait for and then bask in the glory that is the switch to winter on the play-map. When winter hits, gameplay effects aside, the world becomes a veritable winter-wonderland, albeit a harsh one that could see your populace starve. Apparently, frozen potatoes aren’t the thing for the modern Aurigan.

Ardent_Mages_vs_Roving_Clans_Battle_ScreenshotPunching Above Your Weight

Once you’re into the game, you establish a base city to grow your empire from. You’ll need to choose a site that offers you a breadth of resources that suit your particular faction’s needs; the undead don’t need to worry about producing food to eat! Once your city is set up, you’ll be sending out scouting parties to find more resource deposits and to see what gifts or dangers the surrounding land may contain.

The world is populated by minor factions in addition to the major races, although some of these might end up being more significant as the game continues to be developed. The usual course of action is to put these people to the sword – and once pacified – rebuild their town under your own control. Greater influence means more assets and resources which can be spent on military and cultural development. Endless Legend gives you the freedom to pursue your conquest as you see fit but also hands out many quests for you to undertake that suggest routes you might take. The quests also help to build up the lore of the game which is truly impressive in its scope. In many games, lore is so much filler but in Endless Legend it’s well-written enough to be truly immersive.

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No Time For Losers

You can buy in and raise your own champions to lead your armies and they can be equipped with a variety of weapons and armour as well as other more esoteric items dependent on their class. These heroes need to be nurtured and developed as a powerful leader can absolutely turn the tide for you in battle. Again, these RPG-lite elements allow you to become more invested in the faction and its great leaders.

The battles themselves are somewhat reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic, instead of simply autoresolving (although this is an option, and a useful one early on as you learn the mechanics), you can actually visit a small scale battlefield and direct your troops in some turn-based battles. This level of micromanagement obviously affords the player some fine control and the ability to sacrifice particular units at the expense of others – something that helps with overall planning of resources and build queuing. Interestingly, you only take direct control of your troops every other turn, so you set a target for your particular units and then you have to leave the fine control to one side for the following round. This adds an additional element of chaos and randomisation to proceedings without pulling control from you completely.

What’s New Pussycat?

Endless Legend is still very much a work in progress, although at times with its depth and attention to detail it can fool you into thinking otherwise. The most recent updates have developed the road network and given the player the opportunity to take to the sea in search of new lands to claim.

The diplomacy system certainly looks as though it will end up being robust, although it isn’t yet fully implemented. The nuanced approaches you can take to trade and negotiation mirrors the care and attention that the rest of the game shows. At present however the AI don’t seem to respond appropriately  (or indeed at all) to your diplomatic posturing. Once the system does work however it will be yet another indication of quality for the title.

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Finally, the multiplayer element is being rolled out, currently locked at 6 players but the developers plan to move this to 8. You will be able to set a turn cap and timer on these games to ensure you don’t need to send a clone of yourself into work for the next week after you start a game. Once players are familiar with how the game works this could be a fantastic battleground. Some people are extremely good at this already!

My only reservation about Endless Legend currently is that it can be mind-bogglingly complex for the uninitiated gamer. Unfortunately, the game does not, at present, have a tutorial. If you haven’t played a 4X before, I’d say that Endless Legend is borderline impossible to approach until the tutorial is in place.  Slowly, we are seeing some tutorial videos popping up on the web for how to get started with the various factions although I can’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of any of them – particularly as the game is prone to change whilst it’s still in Early Access.

When it finally gets released, I am sure that Endless Legend will be a giant in its field. Whether it can take on Civilization has the poster-child for 4X, I am not sure. Certainly however, fans of the genre will find an awful lot to love about Amplitude Studios’ soon-to-be legendary title.