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Archive for January 6th, 2016

The Christmas and New Year break allowed me to spend a bit more time with my Steam library.  So, it’s time for some more mini reviews!  This time I’m looking at Avedon: The Black Fortress, Awesomenauts, Banished, Breach and Clear, Capsized, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Crazy Taxi, DiRT 3 and DiRT Showdown.  I’ve mentioned DiRT 3 in passing before, but as I’m plowing through these things more or less alphabetically, it’s time to look at it a bit on its own.

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I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is Avedon: The Black Fortress.  This is, to me, a relic of a bygone era.  It’s a modern game, but it has the look and feel of a Baldur’s Gate game from almost two decades ago.  If you liked those games, as I did, this is a bit less polished, but should scratch the same gaming itch.

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It’s not a slavish Baldur’s Gate clone, it simply has a similar feel.  The titular Black Fortress is an interesting setting, and the writing (tons and tons of it, if the first 15 minutes are any indication) is solid and sets the tone well.  The visuals are good, and while the bird’s eye view seems a bit too distant compared to what I’d expect, it works well for the sprawling maps that are offered.

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Combat is a tactical affair, with a handful of distinct unit classes plaowing through enemies in a straightforward “tank, mage, healer” sort of scheme.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works well.

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That’s really the backbone of what I got out of the game: more of the same that I’ve seen and played elsewhere, but since it’s the sort of game that I like, that’s good.  It is a game that really deserves more than 15 minutes, but I’m giving it a Remember rating.  I probably won’t get back to it any time soon, but it’s solid and worth investigating if slightly behind-the-times RPG gaming is something you like.

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Awesomenauts is, well… as near as I can tell, a 2D platformer MOBA-ish game.  You choose a character, then go jump around and shoot/slash/detonate other player characters, ‘bots and/or their hapless minions and weapon emplacements.

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Characters have a variety of possible weapons and abilities to use, some unlocked through a vendor that you can visit near your base.  You earn coin to buy these abilities as you go destroy other characters or emplacements.  Controls are tight and responsive, and the visuals are clean and effective at communicating information you need.  I know, that seems rather pedestrian to note, but it really does matter in games like this that hinge on quick decision making.  Clean, appealing visuals go a long way to making the overall presentation work well.

There’s an interesting balance to the game, with characters functioning better in different combat niches.  It’s also interesting to get a feel for when to push with your team to try to make headway against the other team’s automated defenses.  The match doesn’t seem to be easily decided by the loss of one emplacement, which is good, but you definitely need to get a feel for when to push hard, even in the face of personal defeat, in order to move your team forward.

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Your character is replaced/respawned in fairly short order, so you’re not out of the game forever, but there’s a risk/reward calculus always in a precarious balance.  Hitting that sweet spot is a lot of fun, realizing that a push netted you a critical character or emplacement kill even though it was a gamble.

It’s simple, effective and fun.  It’s a game I Recommend to anyone interested in MOBA gaming or just fun platforming.  I’m not sure how it plays online these days, as I didn’t get to play with other players, but friends of mine who have played the game have reported that it’s good fun.  I liked noodling around with the AI-bot version of the game, at least… so maybe it’s really awful or really awesome online, I just can’t speak to that from experience.

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Banished is pretty and pretty tough.  You are tasked with helping somewhat bumbling people survive in a harsh wilderness.  It’s not impossible, to be sure, but this is a very different sort of city-building game from a SimCity or A World of Keflings.

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Banished is relatively simple, in that you’re not building a metropolis so much as just trying to survive.  There are a lot of moving parts, though, and the UI can get a bit cluttered.  It’s tricky sometimes, keeping track of everything, and mistakes can be catastrophic.

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It’s not quite a “roguelike” game since playthroughs are on the long side, but you’re almost certainly going to fail a few times before really getting it.  I certainly failed, and never did really succeed much.  I felt as though I could with more time and planning, though, and that is what makes the game hold my attention even in the face of disaster for my villagers.

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It’s a game that I Recommend for anyone with an interest in city-building, strategy or simulation games.  It’s not what I’d think of as a hardcore game in any of those genres, but it sits in a nice space somewhere between all three.

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Breach and Clear claims to be used to teach tactics to military trainees.  That’s curious, but I can see how it may well have started life as a tool and was slowly gamified, given that it’s not the most polished game.  XCom it isn’t, but it’s solid enough as a tactical simulator.

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It feels like it sits in a space between Frozen Synapse and XCom, with more real-world tactics and situations, a streamlined approach and simple design.  That’s not a Bad Thing, since what it does it does well.  It’s simple, clean, clear and effective.

Mistakes I made during missions were mistakes of my own tactics, not interface problems.  There are some weird bits in the endgame where fully-leveled characters get near-magical abilities, but the heart of the game is earnest and entertaining.

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I like the game quite a bit, and I Recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in tactical games or military games.  It’s not a real-time first person adrenaline rush like a Halo or Gears of War, but busting down a door into hostile territory can still be nerve-wracking.  “Stack up and own the angles” seems to be solid advice, and it makes for a solid game.

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Capsized is a quirky little 2D platformer-shooter game.  It’s very nice to look at, with a cartoony, etherial style for its alien worlds, shipwrecked astronauts and weird aliens.

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Control is akin to Awesomenauts, with keyboard controls for motion and mouse controls for shooting and grapple gun use.  You have a lot of functionality right out of the lifepod, and it’s fun to just move around in the game space.  It’s not as strict as, say, Braid or Super Metroid, with more forgiving level design and more movement goodies to start with.

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One bit that I didn’t quite get used to was the optional weapons peppered throughout the levels.  There are some fun options, but your weapons (all but the basic rifle) disappear at the end of each level.  I didn’t realize this at first, so I hoarded the special shots like shotguns and rockets.  I tend to do that with weapons with limited ammo.  As such, I wound up clicking too much to fire the single-click-single-shot basic rifle, when I could have been using more effective weapons.  It’s an odd design choice that I’m not quite happy with, but I recognize that my own expectations run against the design, so I can’t harp too much on it.

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Overall, I will Remember Capsized, but it’s not really one that I’ll go back to finish.  It’s a good game, I just have others I’d rather play.

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Crayon Physics Deluxe is, well, a game about drawing stuff with crayons and letting them play out using physics.  It reminds me a bit of Line Rider, given that it’s about drawing and seeing what happens with the stuff you draw.  It’s a more sedate and directed experience than Line Rider, but it’s a great game for experimentation and goofing about.

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My kids love it, too, which earns it bonus points.  The visuals, music and overall design makes them comfortable, and while some levels can be deviously tricky, there is still fun in trying to solve them.

I’ve had this game for years, and I’ve played it for many happy hours, but the first 15 minutes of a replay give a good impression of what the game is about.

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You can always make more of it than might be obvious at first blush, too.  That’s the joy in these freestyle games, like Minecraft or Line Rider.  Some of the most elegant solutions and some of the most insane solutions are out there on YouTube.  I Recommend the game, and have for years.

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I first ran into Crazy Taxi as an arcade game, vying for space with The Simpsons and Cruis’n USA in my local arcades.  I never did play it much, given that I wasn’t too fond of the limited time on offer per quarter, but it seemed solid enough for a simple and quirky driving game.

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Playing it on my PC some 15 years later, I find it to be marginally more fun than the arcade version, but it has definitely aged.  The timer is still in effect, and you have to be fast and a bit crazy to pull off a long string of completed rides.  I’m not that good at the game, so I wind up frustrated more often than not, but I can see some fun in the concept.  A map would have been a huge help, but I suspect it was left out to make the game more challenging and/or encourage replays.

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Yes, you can just generally follow the big green arrow, but it’s not always the best when it comes to planning the next couple of turns.  The start-stop nature of picking up and dropping off passengers is a nice change from the usual “go fast all the time” in most racing games, though, and I can see where better familiarity with the game’s cityscape would mean better scores.  That fits the theme nicely.

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Oddly, perhaps, it reminds me a bit of the fun to be had in 720°.  That game was certainly more constrained, but you could footle about for a while, just experimenting with the fun hook of the game.  The timer killed any real sense of exploration and experimentation (a persistent complaint I have with subscription-based games, actually; that ticking timer nags at me), but that was sort of inevitable given the arcade quarter-hungry nature of the game.

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If you’re in the market for an oddball 90s arcade driving game, this could be a Recommended game, but I can’t give it more than a Regret in my library.  It just doesn’t stand up with gems like Burnout Paradise that lets me just drive around a city at my leisure, maybe doing missions if the mood strikes, or FUEL, where I can just pick a direction and drive, willy-nilly.  The visuals don’t do it many favors, but really, the play’s the thing, and it just isn’t all that great compared to games I’d rather play.

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Speaking of driving games I prefer, though, DiRT 3 is near the top of the list.  It’s not as freestyle as Burnout Paradise or as delightfully destructive as Burnout Revenge, but it’s a fantastic, fun, beautiful game.

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It’s probably best characterized as an “arcade” driving game, given that it’s not hardcore in its realism or simulation, but it’s more sensitive to physics than those arcade games above, or even the Burnout games.  It’s also more philosophically grounded than the Motorstorm games (I love the Apocalypse version, as noted previously), but it has a similar driving feel.  You can also turn up the difficulty and get a more punishing experience, if that’s your itch.

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Controls are very responsive with my wired XBox 360 controller.  I played it for a while via OnLive back when they were still functional, and their controller worked well for the game, too.  It’s a smooth, tight system, and all the mistakes I made while driving felt fair, as though I had misjudged the turns and speeds, rather than fighting the controls.

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The game is gorgeous, though it’s largely taken in at a breakneck pace.  It’s not quite as appealing to me as the more stylized world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse, but DiRT 3 has a great “real world” sort of appeal to it.  The setting that it uses works fairly well for this, too, with a co-driver calling out turns and a career manager coaching you through the game.  It’s a different sort of tutorial or learning curve, but it works well.

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I’m just a “filthy casual” with too little time to play and hone my skills, so I play the game at the simplest setting.  It’s not too punishing but it certainly isn’t going to just give you a win if you just hold down the accelerator.  I have a lot of fun driving around the game’s tracks, at least, so I Recommend the game.

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DiRT Showdown is a freestyle/crash derby/gymkhana offshoot of the DiRT series.  It’s largely the same as DiRT 3 when it comes to responsiveness, visuals and overall play feel, but the focus on more rough and tumble play makes it a great side title.  The “sumo wrestling” platform event is especially fun, and something that works well in this sort of not-quite-real world.  It’s a simpler, more arcadey game overall, but whether or not you like that is a matter of taste more than anything.  I like it for what it is, and if you find anything appealing in the DiRT games, it will fit in nicely.  I Recommend it as well.

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aaaaand that’s it for this post!  I have more than 100 more games to go, so this is going to take a while, but it’s fun when I can get to it.  See you next time!

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