To make this Operation: Backlog thing work, I’ve decided to put the handful of games I’ve been playing more or less on the shelf, as it were. Slingshot Braves on my smartphone and Flight Rising in a PC web browser are what I think of as “chore” games, in that they have daily tasks to do, part and parcel of many free-to-play games. I’ll probably still log into those and do a little bit here and there often, but that’s mostly because I play them with my kids. Ditto for Minecraft, our family XBox 360 game. We used to play on the PC, but the local multiplayer on the 360 trumped the PC’s moddability.
Other than that, I’ll be putting Smash Brothers (3DS), Professor Layton and the Last Spectre away for a while. Batman Arkham City will also have to wait, as will Uncharted 3, Flower and Final Fantasy XII, though I haven’t played them for more than an hour or two each since I was downsized in April of last year. They are just my “want to finish” games that are already on the back burner.
World of Warcraft will have to wait, but that’s fine, since I don’t want to pay a subscription anyway. Maybe I’ll qualify for a scroll of resurrection promotion one of these days, or Warlords of Draenor will go on sale for under $10, and I’ll drop back in for a bit. Yes, yes, I do have a “trial” account I can putter around endlessly and mostly uselessly if I really want a WoW fix, but since I’ve seen most places that I can in the lower levels, and I’m all about Exploring, it’s not really that big of a draw.
…we’ll see how this goes. I’ll be playing with mouse and keyboard, only reluctantly using my wired XBox 360 controller when it offers significantly better usability. Perhaps that’s the purist in me, since I didn’t have PC joysticks or controllers when most of these games were new.
This might wind up even more relevant when I dig into my GoG.com library, but that’s way down the list at this point.
I’ve decided I’ll also be giving each of these 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.
First up on my trek through my Steam library, then?
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda
AI War: Fleet Command
On paper, I should love this game. It’s sort of like MegaMan X, one of my all time favorite games, if the blue bomber could aim in any direction with the mouse instead of charging his shot, and didn’t have a dash or wall slide, but a double jump and shoulder roll instead. OK, it’s not exactly like that, but that’s the high level impression.
The art style is all over the place, the camera feels like it’s in a little too tight, the levels are too short, ARES feels clumsy and his grenades aren’t controlled well, but this plucky little game really wants to be a spin of the MegaMan formula, and I give it points for aiming high. It’s very nice to be able to aim in any direction, though that’s something that I want to use the mouse for. It’s almost like I wish I could use a SNES controller in my left hand and a mouse in my right to really get it working like I want to.
Level design is somewhere between MegaMan and Metroid, though I think it would have been better to embrace the “Metroidvania” aspect more to really give the game its own identity. It’s a 2D platformer, gameplay-wise, but with 3D environments and some oddments, though oddly, the player character and enemies are more of a Spine sort of thing, animated from 2D images, perhaps derived from 3D toon renders in some places.
It’s a fun little game, but it certainly needs polish (and an art style guide!). I give it a rating of Remember only because I wish I had time to see more bosses and see if the game opens up later, and I think that a MegaManX Metroidvania sort of game could be really cool. The initial phases of A.R.E.S. were competent but not all that exciting. It feels more like a proof of concept from a freshman dev team than a finished game. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I’d rather go play MegaMan X again and dream of what this game could be with more work.
Hoo boy. This one is nigh impenetrable in 15 minutes. It’s supposedly a Real Time Strategy game set in outer space, with plucky humans fighting a malevolent AI. OK, cool. I like that. It’s just… there are so many moving parts and tons of little things to learn about. It’s a game that I probably would have loved playing back in the day, after finishing StarCraft and when I got burned out on Master of Orion’s interminable endgames… but today? Eh, I don’t have time for this.
I managed to play the first of 7 tutorials, just getting a hang of navigating the User Interface. It fought my Maya and Photoshop muscle memory, so I can’t imagine really wanting to master it, but it seems to be designed well enough. The visuals are good, though the sheer volume of data involved in the game means for some small details in the UI that were just so much static at first glance.
I get the feeling that this would be a good game for me if I had the time to dig into it. I give it a Remember rating as well, since I want to check out some other reviews of it to see how the game handles itself beyond the tutorials… but there’s no way it fits into my schedule to actually play it. That’s a bit of a pity, really, but hey, at least I’m left with a feeling of wanting to know more. That’s a good sign.
This game really, really wants to be Elite/Privateer/Freelancer, but underwater, with a dash of cyberpunk and social commentary. That’s not a bad working premise or goal. It’s just… the first ten minutes of the Story portion of the game were talking (both the video and the dozen or so text-plus-voice bits you have to get through) and a mishmash of mixed up art, from FFVII-like 3D computer graphics to anime-ish portraits to grainy FMV proto-Bioshock underwater city… stuff.
And talking. So… much… talking. I’d give them a pass if the voice actors were even passable, but, well… they are not. I like watching Star Trek, the one from the 60s, and while all the cool kids rag on that show now for its kitsch and stage-like hamminess, it’s a masterwork compared to this game. I never want to hear this game again. (For crying out loud, they pronounce “Succubus”, a key ship in the game, as “Zuko Boose”. Yes, Zuko was a good character, but that’s just… wrong.)
That’s not a killer, though, if the play is worth it. The two missions I had time for once I got through the backstory were a brief “shoot the underwater junk” mission to get a feel for moving a little and firing weapons, and a brief escort mission for a tanker that was trying to just bulldoze through a junk field. I had to clear the way and shoot a bad guy that popped up. So, nothing all that exciting, nothing all that bad, though it loses points in my book giving me an escort mission so early. I hate escort missions.
That said, I really like the feel of the controls, actually. The sub drives a bit like what I’d expect, with good WASD controls (A and D sliding/strafing like Minecraft, not turning), augmented by using R and F to go “up” and “down” respectively for the full 3D movement. Mouse sensitivity is a little high for my taste, but I could probably tweak that. Shooting feels pretty good, targeting is solid, movement feels right for being underwater, with inertia and drag giving a good impression of actually navigating through something much thicker than the outer space sims I’m fond of.
The “I’m-actually-playing-something-finally” graphics are good, far better than the intro video and talky graphics would hint at. Explosions underwater seem a bit silly, undermining the look and feel, but all in all, it could be fun. If only they would… stop… talking… and get on with it. I just wanted to go blow stuff up and zip around underwater.
I give the game a Regret rating overall, even though I do love the idea of an underwater game in the Privateer mold, one of my other all time favorite games. This game just isn’t it. I hear there’s a sequel, so maybe the game gets better, and maybe the sequel is even better… but I won’t be spending any more time to find out.
So, three games out of… um… more than 100. There are a few other minor grievances I dealt with, but out of the gate, I have to say that it’s about what I’d expected. I’m a firm believer in style guides and making a good, quick first impression. That doesn’t preclude depth, but gamers today have to be intrigued and having fun fast, or they will move on to another game. These games just aren’t up to par. They might be worth playing if you don’t mind their shortcomings, as none of them are actually bad, they just are behind the curve a bit.
We’ll see what these titles have in store next time:
Back To The Future: Ep 1
The Banner Saga
…I’ll admit, I really, really want to like The Banner Saga. I am not even close to unbiased on that one. I love the music I’ve heard, and I love tactical and strategic games. The Eyvind Earle art style is gorgeous. I sort of want to give it a lot more than 15 minutes, but we’ll see how it fares with a nibble instead of a Viking feast.