Into the Breach

Metal Geeeear?!

Game Name: Into the Breach (2018)
Developer: Subset Games (FTL – Faster Than Light)
Platform: PC, MAC, Linux, Nintendo Switch (reviewed on PC)
Categories: High Concept Puzzler, Turn-Based, Tactical Positioning, Tile Defense, Mechs and Tanks vs Bugs, Environmental Hazards, Squad Management/Design, Pilot Growth, Roster Quirks and Complementing Abilities, Rogue-Like Sessions, Multiple Difficulties, Pixel Art, Isometric, Time Travel, Parallel Universes, Addictive, Replayable

May Appeal To: brains, masterminds, mech jockeys, players on the go, Rogue-like session divers, time attackers, completionists, and “God damn time traveling robots”.
May Repulse: those expecting something akin to a Godzilla or Pacific Rim type brawl, or anyone with hopes for nuts-and-bolts mech customization with RPG-like progression.

Comparable To: Starship Troopers’ bug variety and collateral warfare, I suppose. You’ve got all sorts of conceptual influences across the various sci-fi strata though the only real video game ancestor I can name is Advanced Wars. Even then, only the grid-based tactics and overall unit design is similar, with Into the Breach retaining little resemblance to a classic TBS focused on a single battle. Record of Agarest War also has elements where team members’ relative positions provide a tactical advantage. Continue reading

Vagrant Story

Can someone get him a damn comb?

Game Name: Vagrant Story (2000)
Developer: Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts)
Platform: PS1, Vita (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Grand Cinematography, Interesting Characters, Attractive Artstyle, Labyrinthine and Mysterious Dungeon, Intricately Gritty Story, Real Time RPG, Pausable Battles, Isometric, Weapon/Armor Melding, Equipment Affinity, Cube Puzzles, Halberds, Dragons, ye Olde English, High Fantasy, Dark Magic, Risk/Reward, Chained Combos, Powerful Growth and Progression, Item Management, Ambitious, Formidable

May Appeal To: Ivalice completionists, Akihiko Yoshida fans, dungeon divers, monster slayers, weapon crafters, game design students, dialogue skeptics, Archers, Berserkers, Black/White/Red Mages, Chemists, Dark Knights, Mage Knights, Dragoons, Fighters, Gamblers, Monks, Paladins, plain ol’ Warriors, and spatial puzzle Wizards.
May Repulse: puzzle haters, challenge shirkers, Squeenix detractors, the disorganized, the immethodical, people prone to getting lost, and fashion critics of ass-less chaps.

Comparable To: Parasite Eve + Fullmetal Alchemist + Disgaea in a blender. It has combat from the first, the second’s setting, and visual/gameplay elements from the third. Newer Fallout players will draw correlations to the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, specifically that you freeze time and target an enemy’s unlucky body part. The map draws parallels with a horizontally-oriented MetroidVania; the character design is distinct to Square’s Final Fantasy XII or Tactics Ogre; and Shadow Hearts Covenant’s timing and puzzles are in the forefront of my mind once more. Diablo II’s gradual -and irreversible- leveling system as well as Monster Hunter’s focus on personal knowledge and equipment affinity vs numerical player levels are both relevant. Continue reading

Darkest Dungeon

“Let me share with you the terrible wonders I have come to know…”

Game Name: Darkest Dungeon (2016)
Developer: Red Hook Studios (have made only this game)
Platform: Windows, OSX, Linux, PS4, Vita, iOS, Nintendo Switch, XBOne
(reviewed on PC and Vita)
Categories: Lovecraftian Horror, Turn-Based Party Combat, Real-Time 2D Exploration, Gore-gous Art Style, Carnage and Viscera, the Darkest Tone, Bleak and Brooding, Punishing Difficulty, Structured Rogue-Like, Sacrificial Risk/Reward, Engrossing Story, Best Narration, RPG Equipment, Skills, Traits, Afflictions, Madness and Stress Mechanics, Town Development,  Procedural Missions, Dark Fantasy, Perma-Death,

May Appeal To: mettle testers, metalheads, medal earners, angsty teens/tweens, masochists, self flagellators, punishment gluttons, horror fans, disturbed obsessors, H.P. Lovecraft freaks, Alice Cooper and other pasty consumers of black eyeshadow
May Repulse: God fearing folk, scaredy cats, responsible parents, the busy, the previously abused or burnt, [boring] well-adjusted citizens, self respecting abstainers, and that one dude that knows his limits

Comparable To: a bunch o’ games that leap to mind…. but aren’t all that similar after consideration. It bests Bastion’s charismatic voice-overs. It champions TellTale Game’s bold, bright comic book style. Early Final Fantasies’ turn based, four person battle system -complete with spells and items- are the closest that I can dredge to measure its architecture. Dungeon of the Endless is a rogue-like exhibiting mysteriously ominous environs and specific character roles in defeating the bloodthirsty swarms. (This one also had a transactional battle system that is closer to Darkest Dungeon’s mission setup.) Etrian Odyssey and early Wizardry games are contenders for the labyrinthine, tile based exploration and testicle crushing difficulty DD may have taken inspiration from. Long story short, it’s a primal RPG amplified by modern conventions flying in the face of its predecessors, and no comparison does it justice.

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Layers of Fear

Someone should really clean up…. Well, don’t look at ME!

Game Name: Layers of Fear (2016)
Developer: Bloober (Observer, Basement Crawl, Brawl)
Platform: Linux, PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed on PC)
Categories: Walking Sim, Horror, Jump Scares, On-Rails Adventure, Story Driven, 1st Person, Single Player, DLC, Short, Art House (literally), Disturbing, Multi Ending

May Appeal To: artists, aspiring developers, bargain bin divers, game hoarders, casuals, Let’s Players, horror buffs, and braggart Indie snobs
May Repulse: the anxious, architects, depth cravers, the unsettle-able, young children, the jaded, and braggart Indie snobs that have yet to buy the game

Comparable To: story and other time elements of Braid, Stanley Parable’s maze-like walking obsession and visual pratfalls (sans narration, which this game could have used); Layers of Fear resonates with Amnesia the Dark Descent except for its tension emanating solely from the environment. SOME DEVELOPER played through the Silent Hills hallway demo, for sure! Also SOMA’s dark, desolate shtick is present, though puzzles are absent. (Unless you count a 3 digit numerical lock or rewinding a phonograph to reverse time, which I do not.) Continue reading

Final Fantasy Tactics

“Many will fall. In fact, most of you pale by comparison to story-oriented characters. But the second wave of disposable recruits may very well have a chance once the invisible guiding hand learns to attack at range. Onward!”

Game Name: Final Fantasy Tactics (1997, War of the Lions remake 2007)
Developer: Tose, Square Enix (Bravely Default, Kingdom Hearts, Tactics Ogre: LUCT)
Platform: PS1, PSP, PS Vita (reviewed on the Vita), Mobile and Tablet versions exist
Categories: Turn-Based Tactics, Squad Based, sRPG, Single Player, Bare Bones Mechanics, Sprites, Symphonies, Side Quests, Inventory Juggling, Team Management, Endless Overworld Battles, Heretical Plots, and Bourgeoisie Backstabbing

May Appeal To: armchair tacticians, Final Fantasy Fanatics, grid and turn-based gamers, or anyone hungry for lasting revenge against a too-hard challenge that previously thwarted them *cough, erm*.
May Repulse: the apparent target audience for modern Final Fantasy games: either Jpop quaff-wearing doofuses or fashion-forward boy band douchebags. This game doesn’t cater to the crowds lining up for immediate gratification. Anyone offended by time honored traditions of FF’s Christianity blasphemy, check out now.

Comparable To: Tactics Ogre’s artstyle and story, though this has simplified personal statistics, less cast members, and more concise and rewarding battles. Vagrant Story shares its world and design inspirations; Suikoden 3’s harder battles are reminiscent. Growlanser had a more compelling positioning and magic attack system. And FF Tactics A2: Grimoire (the sequel) had better team management, a lighthearted story, improved presentation, but a worse -or at least a childish- theme. Continue reading

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

I pissed my pleated, Roman war frock.

Game Name: Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin (2015)
Developer: FromSoftware (King’s Field, Armored Core, Bloodborne, Demon Souls)
Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBone (reviewed on PC)
Categories: Punishing Trial and Error, Nintendo Hard, 3rd Person Action, Western-Style RPG, Open World with “Branches”, Exclusive Multi-Player Messaging and Cooperative Play, Multi-Player Griefing, Medieval Fantasy, Eclectic Story Unraveling, Perilous Platforming, Exploration, Inventory Management, Gritty Visceral Horror

May Appeal To: serious series followers. I mean, if you don’t already know what you’re in for I would advise against this sequel as a launching point.
May Repulse: hollow braggarts, posers, complainers, DarkSydePhil (in a perfect world)

Comparable To: a smaller, harder, more focused and concise Skyrim…. so really nothing like Skyrim and more in the vein of Dragon’s Dogma, though better assembled. This game is super bright compared to Dark Souls and lacks the nuanced professionalism of its switch-backed level design. In a strange way, this environmental choice puts it on par with the ‘levels’ of Demon Souls, which was harder and more thematic. This straightforward game has arguably better story fragments than Bloodborne and I found its iconic vistas easier on the eyes. The Souls games are less King’s Field and more Shadow Tower than most people are aware of – just sayin’. Continue reading

Factorio

Assembly lines, production graphs, logistics, resource juggling, electric supply, industrial train schedules, technological research, and so many conveyor belts. It’s not work; it’s play!

Game Name: Factorio (2016)
Developer: Wube Software (no other games at this time)
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux (reviewed on PC)
Categories: 2D, Strategy, Survival, Sandbox, Multiplayer, Supply Line Juggling, Automation, Crafting, Industrial Manufacturing, Extreme Resource Management, Alien Infestation, Tower Defense, Escalating Complexity/Difficulty, Moddable, In Development

May Appeal To: explorers, tinkerers, builders, thinkers, learners, train conductors, civil servants, xenophobic combatants, survivalists, craftsmen, detailists, OCD junkies wanting an acceptable outlet, and transactional efficiency masters. If you’ve ever busted out a red pen and took pleasure in written revisions, you might have the right mindset.
May Repulse: instant gratification chasers, redundancy allergics, ‘big picture’ people, macro managers, and corner cutters. If you’re fighting an addiction to crafting games due to their monotonous and tiresomely open-ended nature, avoid this one at all costs. It’s just too good at what it does.

Comparable To: Starcraft’s zerg and Starship Troopers’ bugs for alien opposition. It bears likeness to Minecraft and Terraria’s resource gathering/processing, has a Sim City attention to zoning and facility management, Anno 2070’s supply lines juxtaposing warfare, a modded Age of Empire map feel, and Space Empire V’s research tree of micro-progress minutiae; Factorio borrows land-based tower defense from the genre at large, and is easier to progress and excel in than Don’t Starve Together’s multiplayer. Continue reading

Doom II: Hell on Earth

Doom Guy carries 7 arms and by God if he doesn’t wield the hell out of ’em his way – POV center, straight on, and from the chest.

In a sense, this review and game are just an extension of the original DOOM:
http://skullduggery.us/rants/doom-the-ultimate-doom/

Game Name: DOOM II (1994)
Developer: id Software (Wolfenstein, Quake, Rage)
Platform: MS-DOS, Windows, Mac OS, OS/2, Linux, NeXTcube, IRIX, Solaris, RiscPC, AmigaOS, BeOS, Acorn Archimedes, Atari Jaguar, PS1, PS3, PS4, PocketStation, Xbox, Xbox 360, XBOne, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn, Super NES, Nintendo 64, 3DO, Game Boy Advance, Tapwave Zodiac, Shield Portable, TR-DOS, iOS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, [and likely a bunch of other stuff I’ve never heard of]. (reviewed on PC)
Categories: First Person Shooter Legacy, Satanic Gore, Level Mazes, Platforming, Run and Gun, Nostalgia Gaming, Secret Rooms, Long and Difficult, Ammo Hoarding

May Appeal To: metalheads, anti-socialites in training, completionists, time attackers, true sadists, cheap gamers, and those jonesing for DOOM’s next logical step
May Repulse: sensitive or modern gamers, and probably the ‘games as art’ crowd

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Pony Island

Why hello there. You’re unsettling.

Game Name: Pony Island (2016)
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games (Grav, Agent Maxwell: Master of Math)
Platform: Windows, OSX, Linux, Mobile (reviewed on PC)
Categories: On-Rails Adventure, Minimalist Puzzles, Minimalist Sidescrolling Action, Mouse-Only, Dark Comedy, Self-Aware Meta Gaming,  Indie Experiment, Corrupted Nostalgia, Interactive Novel

May Appeal To: tongue-in-cheek gamers, weekend vg jaunters, anyone with ‘meta’ in their vernacular, Steam completionists and hoarders, indie snobs, and those looking for mold-breaking conversation starters about the state of our industry.
May Repulse: not many people actually. It’s short and easy – any opposers to that may have a bad time. The stylized CRT retro-graphics might be a bit rough on sensitive eyes.

Comparable To: Five Nights at Freddy’s in terms of simplicity, tone, and the lore-hungry community over-analyzing every snippet or encrypted character dump that appears in frame. The Stanley Parable’s story and game structure is cognitively similar. Pony Island is infinitely easier than every sidescroller, arcade title, and ‘Escape the Room’ style predecessor that it alludes or emulates. Both GlaDOS and Psycho Mantis approve of the narrator/player interactions.

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Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries

Recon mission? I’ll send this hundred ton Clan battlemech and friends.

Game Name: Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002)
Developer: FASA / Studio MekTek Inc. (Heavy Gear Assault, Beneath the Surface)
Platform: Windows (reviewed on PC)
Categories: Battletech Pilot Simulator, 1st/3rd Person Shooter, Single Player Campaign, Multiplayer Deathmatch, Multiple Endings, Squad Tactics, Walking BattleTanks and Equipment Juggling, borderline overwhelming Mech Loadout Designer. Lasers, Missiles, and multi-ton 31st century Shotguns to the Armored Face, oh my!

May Appeal To: aging gamers with a hard-on for big, clunky, 80’s robot brawls. (Demographic outliers need not apply.)
May Repulse: those expecting modern finesse, flow, balance, and graphics from their gaming excursions. Fair warning: if you liked Mechwarrior then, you’d like it now. If you weren’t aware of it then, you’ll wonder what the fuss is/was about.

Comparable To: Hawken’s plodding arena battles with a kick, featuring mechs less maneuverable than Gundam games but more fluid than Armored Core. The mech garage sections remind me of Front Mission 3; it’s more interesting than Mechwarrior 4, more immersive than Mech Commander, it’s less thematic than Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, has better gameplay and design than Mechwarrior 3, is less ‘modern’ than MWO, has considerably more depth than Mech Assault, and made me wish my Mechwarrior 3050 SNES emulator would just work dammit.

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