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Extrasolar photo
Extrasolar

Extrasolar's mobile interface got a slick update


Controlling an exoplanet rover on the go
Feb 26
// Darren Nakamura
Extrasolar has always been a tough sell for hardcore gamers, in my eyes. Though it was one of my top games of last year, most readers tune out when they see a description like "free-to-play science simulator," and going any f...

We've got to go to Mars in Offworld Trading Company

Feb 26 // Jason Faulkner
[embed]288239:57517:0[/embed] I'm no math genius, but the Martian market is simple enough that it only takes a few minutes to pick up the basics. There are 13 resources that make up your stockpiles. Some of them, like power, water, food, oxygen and fuel, are required for basic operations. If you don't produce these yourself, you'll face a constant drain of funds as you're forced to buy them for a steadily increasing rate off the market. Aluminum, iron, carbon, and silicon are your basic building blocks. These are collected straight from the source and into your coffers. Steel, chemicals, glass, and electronics, must be refined in their own facilities from simpler materials, and typically give the highest return. Each resource can be bought and sold on the market, and this is how you'll be making your fortune. So without massive armies, how do you beat your opponent? You buy them out. Each company on the playing field has both a total price value, and stocks available for purchase. The easiest way to victory is by purchasing a companies stocks until you're able to get 100% owned, at which point you'll take management of their operations. The tricky part is that your company is public as well, so you have to balance keeping control of your own company by purchasing your stock, as well as attempting to take control of others. Buying stock, as well as paying off debt raises a company's price, while selling it, or getting hit by black market attacks, lowers their value. Most of the time, it pays to buy some and then lower the opposition's value before buying another batch. If another company (or yourself) own 100% of their own stocks, it becomes rather expensive to take over as you'll have to pony up the total price, cash money. I found that to really effectively control the market, I had to specialize. When I first started playing, I just tried to rake in as much of every resource as I could, but I found that I never had enough of any of them to produce a steady supply of the big selling materals. I changed my approach to work with the type of business model my headquarters was aligned with. For the expansionist headquarters, I claimed as much carbon and iron as I could to turn into steel as their need for the resource is much lower than other models. With a robotic HQ, their lack of use for glass allowed for a surplus. Scavengers high output of carbon allowed me to focus on chemical production. Lastly, scientists' ability to build hydrolysis farms directly on water hexes, and electronics plants on silicon, carbon, or aluminum hexes had me harvesting and selling food and electronics at a tremendous rate. When everyone has the same rules, to get ahead you've gotta break them. That's where the black market comes in. If you need extra claims, you can buy them here for an increasing fee. There are EMP blasts to knock your opponents buildings off line in a six hex radius, and a power surge that does the same thing but chains from building to building in a line. You can sabotage resource hexes with an underground nuke, which when used lowers the deposit level of a targeted hex by one. Dynamite lets you blow up a single building. You can also pay opposition workers to mutiny for a time which diverts the targeted building's resources to your HQ for a little while. Alas, the only defensive option is the "goon squad" which protects a hex from any of the above effects. Not all buildings are for collecting and producing resources. There are five of them that allow you to get an edge on the competition. The patent office allows exclusive access to technologies that vastly improve your ability to produce energy and collect resources. Also helping with resource collection is the engineering lab that utilizes the chemical resoures to upgrade collection rate up to four times for each material. The hacker network allows you to spread disinformation that can raise or lower the price of a particular resource momentarily. To keep your workers relaxed and spending their hard earned cash, you can build the pleasure dome which generates a steady stream of resource independent revenue. The most important of these though, is the launch pad, that allows you to launch 100 units of a particular resource to Earth at a time for massive profits. I felt that all of the buildings added to the game's dynamic except for the hacker network. Its effects were too temporary to really waste the time fooling with it. There are limitations in place though. Each player only has a limited number of hexes they can claim, and to raise them, resources must be spent on upgrading your headquarters. This is one system of the game I felt lacking. Once your HQ is level 5 and you've built out all your squares, there are times where you're going to be just sitting and waiting to be able to take your next action. There are random claims auctions, both for an extra general claim that you can use on any square, and for high resource squares, but they can be few and far between. Sure you can buy claims on the black market, but this is one part of the game that felt stifling, like it was there just to slow you down. I would have liked to see a more complex real estate and land claims system integrated into the Martian stock market. I think an opportunity was missed by not adding land valuation to Offworld Trading Company and I hope that future updates will show us something a bit more interesting in those regards. Although the beginning of a round is a bit slow, as you gradually build up funds to get that next building or mine operational the action builds with a frantic crescendo. In the late game it requires all of your attention lest you fail to sell at the right point or trigger a black market buff before your competition buys more of your stock. The problem I had though, is that the end of each game feels so anti-climatic. There's no capital city taken, or fanfare, just a pink slip if you lose, or a victory message when you win. In fact, because of the feeling of disconnect between your operations and your rival's, sometimes the game ended so abruptly it took me by surprise. I believe the primary problem with the game as of right now is the lack of information displayed about your rival companies. For a game that is basically an animated spreadsheet, aside from building management and targeting for the black market, there is a stunning lack of graph or statistics integration with the main user interface. You can access information about historical stock prices, how many of each resource you and your rivals have bought and sold, building numbers, and so on, but the menu it is held in is completely separate from the game. This makes it to where if you want to use this info to say, use the hacker network to drop the price of the resource your rival is making their money off of, you have to enter a separate menu, analyze the information, exit the menu, and then execute your action. With all the real-estate on screen, I hope that Stardock ends up integrating the user interface and statistics readouts before the game's official release. I have to admit, although I was intrigued when I first saw Offworld Trading Company, I never thought I would have as much fun with it as I did. There's quite a bit of balancing left to be done, and the whole experience is still rough around the edges, but it's got a truly unique play style. For someone looking for the mid-ground between a action-packed RTS like Starcraft and the menu driven depth of Crusader Kings, this game might be for you. For now though, unless you're absolutely sure that you want to take the plunge, a drop from the $39.99 price tag for Early Access might be worth waiting for. It's a very different game, and it's a bit too much money to gamble on something that is so hard to quantify by comparison to another title. However, with the quality of this early of a release, this title bears watching.
Offworld Trading Company  photo
Start the reactor
In a future where corporate greed has depleted the Earth's resources, humanity has taken to space to acquire the goods needed for survival. The asteroid belt was supposed to be the great salvation, an almost limitless bastion...

Neon Struct photo
Neon Struct

Eldritch developer's new game Neon Struct is out May 20


All the good noble gas puns argon
Feb 25
// Darren Nakamura
I didn't think that Eldritch had been out for that long, but it turns out that it has been available for more than a year. So what has developer Minor Key Games been doing in the time since its release? It has been working o...
Sid Meier's Starships photo
Sid Meier's Starships

Sid Meier's Starships blasts off March 12 for $14.99


On iPad, Mac, and Windows
Feb 24
// Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Starships warped in out of nowhere. We had never heard anything about it until just last month, and it turns out that it will be launching on iPad, Mac, and Windows early next month. March 12, to be exact! It is r...

The first three rounds of Sid Meier's Starships are not enough

Feb 24 // Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Starships (iPad, Mac, PC [previewed])Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: March 12, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit I don't mean to hate on Starships just yet. In fact, a lot of the design decisions make perfect sense from a gameplay perspective. It makes sense for a tactical combat game to begin with only a few units rather than an army. It makes sense to enclose arenas for the combatants to actually encounter one another. These elements make for a good game, but they run counter to the narrative of taking control of the Milky Way. Starships is broken up into two distinct sections that affect one another. Resource management and area control take place on the galaxy map, while combat occurs zoomed in to a piece of a solar system within that galaxy. By influencing planets on the galaxy map, players gather resources and eventually take control of sectors. The resources are similar to those found in Civilization: Beyond Earth, but with a few tweaks to their functions. Food is still used to increase population, which raises the overall resource output of a planet. Science is used to upgrade technologies to buff starship systems. Metal (formerly production) is used to construct buildings on planets, providing specific resource increases and other effects. Energy is used to add ships to the fleet or to install new or upgraded systems onto existing ships. Credits are a new piece of the puzzle, used to convert to any of the other resources, or to buy influence on a planet. [embed]286382:56944:0[/embed] By moving the fleet around the galaxy map, the player can initiate combat encounters. These take place on a two-dimensional hex grid centered around the planet of interest, sometimes featuring moons and filled with an inordinate amount of asteroids. On a turn, players can activate their ships in any order. For each ship activation, it gets some amount of movement depending on its component makeup, and one action that can be executed before, during, or after movement. A major selling point of Starships is the customization of the titular vessels. Energy can be spent to upgrade weapons systems, armor, stealth, sensors, and more. The more stuff a ship has piled onto it, the slower it will move, so engine upgrades are key for tactical maneuverability. One neat thing: as the ships are tweaked with new parts, their stated classes automatically update. The basic corvettes can eventually become cruisers, destroyers, or battleships with the right gear. There is no strictly correct setup for a fleet. In my first run through the preview build, I engaged in a few battles that emphasized sensors, and a few others that allowed only my flagship. For my second playthrough, I beefed up my flagship and neglected my others, but came across a different set of encounters. The variety in combat missions is an unexpected treat. The objectives range from simple (destroy all enemy ships) to complex (control three outposts at once) to just strange (navigate through an asteroid maze in a set number of turns). Each round on the galaxy map, players have a certain amount of fatigue to spend before being forced to take shore leave and end the turn. This usually amounts to about three combat missions per player per round. Combat missions can run quickly, with some taking as few as five minutes, though I can imagine that when larger fleets clash, it could draw battles out. Although there is a resource management aspect, it doesn't require nearly as much micromanagement as a typical Civilization game does. There are only a few types of upgrades for a planet, a handful of technologies to research, and marginal differences between the three Affinities introduced in Beyond Earth. Upgrades are purchased instantaneously rather than built up over time. It has a certain rhythm to it. The galaxy map is a strategy exercise, where influence over certain planets and adjacency to other players is important. These strategy considerations are punctuated by the tactical battles around each planet. The constant switching between the big picture and several small theaters is a little tough to get a hang of at first, but it helps to inject some variety into the experience. After the third round, just as I felt like I was getting the hang of it, the preview build ended. Three rounds played in less than an hour, and on my second playthrough I had covered about 20% of the galaxy. Though I can't say for sure how long an average game would run, a full Starships game is definitely meant to be less of an undertaking than a run through Civilization. Therein stems the one concern I have for Starships. From a pure gameplay perspective, the board game-like combat and area control work well together. As a followup to Beyond Earth, where the playground now includes the entire galaxy rather than a single planet, the simpler scope is counter to the conceit. Conquering the Milky Way should be an enormous endeavor, but everything here just feels small.
Sid Meier's Starships photo
A taste of what's to come
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth released to mixed reactions. I loved how it took the took the classic gameplay to alien worlds, and I especially appreciated its underlying narrative about the future of the human race. ...

Review: There Came an Echo

Feb 24 // Darren Nakamura
There Came an Echo (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Iridium StudiosPublisher: Iridium StudiosReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The main selling point of There Came an Echo is its real-time strategy gameplay facilitated by voice control. Taking on the role of the mysterious (and androgynously named) Sam, the player oversees the battlefield from an isometric perspective, issuing commands to the units fighting on the ground. At first, the tactical considerations are light: friendly units should stay behind cover and flank enemies for maximum success. Each of the four characters carries a standard pistol, but eventually new weapons become available for the team to spread around. These add another layer to the combat tactics. The Charge gun deals area-of-effect damage, the Screw gun lays down suppressing fire, the Sniper rifle deals high damage at long range, and the Rail gun deals high damage with a high energy cost. Each of the special weapons takes some amount of energy to fire, and that energy functions not only as ammunition, but also as shields. Once a shield drops to zero that unit is incapacitated until revived by a nearby teammate. This sets up a series of risk/reward decisions to make during each battle. Using special weapons recklessly can drain energy to the point where a few shots can take that unit down, but not using special weapons in the right situations can allow enemies to deal more damage than they otherwise would. The different scenarios across the campaign keep combat fresh. Some are frantic, putting the heroes in the middle of a frenzied battle, and others are methodical, allowing time for Sam to survey the battlefield, set plans, and execute. Stealth comes into play during a few moments, and players get to set up the always satisfying "coordinate two units to shoot two unaware enemies simultaneously in order to avoid detection" maneuver. [embed]288057:57480:0[/embed] Though There Came an Echo is most often described by its gameplay hook, it turns out the story is given almost as much attention. Over the course of the four-hour campaign, it felt like 40 percent of the time was spent listening to dialogue through in-engine cutscenes. For the most part, this isn't bad. A lot of the writing is sharp and funny, though a few lines intended for laughs fall flat. The plot shares some similarities with The Matrix, complete with the opening scene of an unknown caller guiding the reluctant hero out of an office building while men in suits try to kidnap him. Like The Matrix, There Came an Echo walks a line between providing thought-provoking questions about humans' increasing technological prowess and ham-handed science fiction mumbo jumbo. Like The Matrix Revolutions, it crosses that line a few times. The narrative is also perhaps a bit too self-indulgent for its own good. About halfway through there is a big reveal presented as a shocking twist, but only a select few will really feel the gravity of it. It's difficult to discuss without treading too far into spoiler territory, but I can say even as a member of the target audience for the reveal, it took me a while to grasp the significance. To be fair, it is a pretty cool secret to keep throughout development, but that coolness will be lost on a lot of players. The technology underlying There Came an Echo has always been impressive. The voice recognition is superb; the only issues I had with it came during heated battles when I was trying to get too many commands out too quickly. Not only does it recognize the preset words and phrases well, but it also allows players to input their own. No recording is necessary, just a typed word. I changed my phonetic alphabet to be names of famous scientists, and it worked with no trouble. One of the hidden benefits of the voice control scheme is it helps to suspend disbelief. The fourth wall is more easily penetrated when the player is asked only to pretend to be a person sitting at a computer, giving battlefield commands from a remote location. It adds a more human element to a type of media best known for mouse clicks and button presses. Though the things happening on screen are not real, the voice connection between player and character helps to convince the brain it just could be. Some special care was taken with the player's dialogue to make the characters feel human. If an unwise or redundant order is given, the fighters will let Sam know. Near the beginning, the character Val asks the player to "say 'hi,' Sam." Like any predictable cheeseball, I said "Hi, Sam," to which Val responded with a sarcastic, "Very funny." Voice control is optional, but I couldn't image wanting to play without it. My favorite battle moments stemmed from its use. There is the inherent nerdy fun of using a phonetic alphabet. There is the fluster that comes with taking on a more realistic commander role in a tense combat situation. The most enjoyment I got out of There Came an Echo's battles were with a series of rooms to clear with time to breathe in between. The system allows players to set up a long queue of commands set to different marks. After careful thought, planning, and instruction, executing it all with a few numbered "mark" commands is quite satisfying. One drawback of the voice control is that the pared-down design can instill a sense of powerlessness. Ordering units to specific named locations works well, but not every location is designated. A few times near the beginning, I wanted to unit to be in a particular spot to flank an enemy, but there was no command to get him there. Other technical issues showed up over the course of the game. The team at Iridium has been working up through release to clear out bugs, but I still found a few, including one that is locking me out from being able to use the Screw gun in the War Room -- There Came an Echo's story-independent skirmish mode. The War Room itself is a welcome addition, but it doesn't feel like it goes as far as it should. It lets players defend against waves of enemies in a simple, symmetrical arena. At that, it functions fine, but I can't help but wish for a greater variety of maps, more interesting objectives, or perhaps even some player-vs.-player action. Aesthetically, There Came an Echo has its ups and downs. The environments are visually interesting: detailed, vibrant, and clear. The character models and animations don't hold up quite so well, with robotic movement betraying the otherwise convincing human characters. The sound design is fantastic. Jimmy Hinson and Ronald Jenkees provide a great soundtrack to the sci-fi adventure. The voice cast does a good job bringing the characters to life, though there are a handful of cringe-worthy hammed up lines scattered throughout. Overall, There Came an Echo is a worthy experience, but it's lacking in too many minor areas to achieve greatness. While the voice-controlled strategy gameplay is engaging, it does lead to some design hiccups. While the narrative is entertaining and even intellectually demanding at times, it just as easily falls into navel-gazing jargon. While the technology is impressive, it feels like it belongs in a much bigger game. The proof of concept is here, and I would certainly look forward to a hypothetical There Came an Echo 2 if it were announced. The groundwork has been laid, and with more content and finer polish it could be great. But knowing Iridium, the studio's next project will be something completely different, taking its science fiction stories into another unusual genre mashup. [This review is based on an advance backer copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
There Came an Echo review photo
Say it again, Sam
[Disclosure: I backed There Came an Echo on Kickstarter.] Iridium Studios started out as a tiny developer with a humble Kickstarter for its rhythm role-playing game Sequence. It saw enough success that lead designer Jason Wis...

Homeworld trailer photo
Homeworld trailer

Homeworld Remastered Collection trailer shows off sexy-voiced cultist or something


'If you will not join, then die'
Feb 19
// Darren Nakamura
All right, I'll admit it: I know almost nothing about Homeworld. After reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia (yeah journalism!), I got the gist of how things go, but with all of the alien races involved I can't really place...
Artemis convention photo
Artemis convention

Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator is getting its own convention


Artemis Armada One
Feb 16
// Darren Nakamura
I have always been interested in playing Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, but have never had an opportunity. A team had it set up at Phoenix Comicon a couple years ago, but the room was booked for the whole weekend, so I w...
Halo: Nightfall release photo
Halo: Nightfall release

Live action Halo: Nightfall to release on March 17


On DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand
Feb 16
// Darren Nakamura
Owners of Halo: The Master Chief Collection automatically had access to the five-episode live action series Halo: Nightfall, but soon it will be available for the plebeians on DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand. On March 17, ...
Neptune, Have Mercy photo
Neptune, Have Mercy

A sci-fi submarine roguelike? Neptune, Have Mercy!


Damn, this looks cool
Feb 12
// Jordan Devore
Neptune, Have Mercy has a lot going for it. This is an "action exploration roguelike" set not in a fantasy world full of dungeons, but underwater on Neptune's largest moon. Players control a customizable submarine with a cla...
Offworld Trading Company photo
Offworld Trading Company

Civ IV lead designer's Offworld Trading Company hits Early Access


Space Truckers
Feb 12
// Jason Faulkner
Mohawk Games, formed by Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson, released its first title on Steam Early Access today. Offworld Trading Company is a real-time strategy game that focuses on economic might as opposed to gi...
Glitch Hunter Kickstarter photo
Glitch Hunter Kickstarter

Cyberpunk CCG Glitch Hunter launches today on Kickstarter


Sometimes a change in setting is all that's necessary to interest new players
Feb 11
// Rob Morrow
Glitch Hunter is Estonia-based One More Rabbit's cyberpunk interpretation of the collectable card game for digital platforms. It's taking the project to Kickstarter today in hopes of raising the $63,000&n...
Sid Meier's Starships photo
Sid Meier's Starships

Sid Meier runs through Starships' customization and a small battle


Does he make it despite an estimated 40% chance of success?
Feb 05
// Darren Nakamura
Last month 2K and Firaxis announced Sid Meier's Starships, a strategy game set in the Civilization universe, continuing the story that Beyond Earth set up. With an impending spring release, it looks like it is pretty far alo...
Starbound update photo
Starbound update

Starbound update includes new race, new combat, new universe


First stable update in almost a year
Jan 28
// Darren Nakamura
Wow. It has been a long time. I thought that maybe I had missed a stable update somewhere along the line, but by Chucklefish's own admission, this is the first one since last March. To take a step back, development on Starbo...
Homeworld Remastered photo
Homeworld Remastered

We Can Go Homeworld Again: Gearbox sets date for Homeworld Remastered


Engine trails ahoy!
Jan 25
// Josh Tolentino
Finally! The Mothership has arrived. It's been quite a while since we last heard word from Gearbox and its plan to spruce up the Homeworld series for a much-needed rerelease, but more details have just jumped in, includ...
Anoxemia photo
Anoxemia

Anoxemia finds horror at the bottom of the sea


Add drowning to the list of things to be terrified about
Jan 13
// Darren Nakamura
The thought of dismemberment and/or mutilation freaks me out, for sure. The thought of instead being stuck at the bottom of the ocean with a dwindling oxygen supply evokes a different kind of terror. Sure, there will probabl...
There Came an Echo photo
There Came an Echo

There Came an Echo set to release on Steam February 24


February 21 for Kickstarter backers
Jan 12
// Darren Nakamura
There Came an Echo is Iridium Studios' second Kickstarter success, but as a more ambitious project it took a bit longer than Sequence to release after its crowdfunding campaign. Originally projected for a June 2014 rele...
RE5734L3R photo
RE5734L3R

Abandoned title 5734L3R reboots as RE5734L3R


Although I'm skeptical, I really hope that this game sees completion
Dec 13
// Rob Morrow
5734L3R (pronounced Stealer), the intriguing post-apocalyptic robotic future title that seemed to disappear as quickly as it had arrived is back, perhaps; or at least this shiny new teaser trailer for it seems to indica...
Orphan Greenlight photo
Orphan Greenlight

Sci-fi 2D platformer Orphan looks like a mashup of Limbo and H.G. Wells


And I'm totally OK with that
Dec 06
// Rob Morrow
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way, shall we? Yes, Orphan immediately brings to mind Limbo. That’s perfectly fine by me, though. I have enough room left in my heart for more games that can leverage the de...
Heat Signature photo
Heat Signature

Even failing looks fun in Heat Signature


Covertly board ships or die trying
Nov 19
// Jordan Devore
Just like with Gunpoint, it's a joy to watch designer Tom Francis play Heat Signature, wonky wrench physics and all, while it's still in development. It's as if he's making the game solely for himself and, hey, if the rest o...
There Came an Echo photo
There Came an Echo

There Came an Echo story trailer shows off its voice talent


Wil Wheaton, Ashly Burch, and more
Nov 16
// Darren Nakamura
Originally slated for a June 2014 release, then pushed back to October 2014, voice-controlled strategy game There Came an Echo is now projected to release by early February 2015. That's only a few months away! According...
Satellite Reign photo
Satellite Reign

Early Access for Satellite Reign begins this December


My cybernetically augmented body is ready
Nov 15
// Rob Morrow
It's an undeniably wonderful time to be a PC gamer if you're a fan of the cyberpunk genre. The last few years have produced a slew of high-quality titles on the platform with even more still on the smog-choked horizon. ...
Stasis photo
Stasis

Isometric horror game Stasis reminds us it still exists


One year later, and I'm still excited to play this
Nov 12
// Rob Morrow
A year after reaching its Kickstarter goal, I'd nearly forgotten all about Stasis. You remember that one, right? It's a lovely-looking isometric sci-fi/horror point-and-click that drew inspiration from films like Alien ...
Heat Signature  photo
Heat Signature

Gunpoint designer and artist team up for Heat Signature


The space game about infiltrating ships
Nov 07
// Jordan Devore
Gunpoint designer Tom Francis' next title, Heat Signature, has art! Well, new art, I should say. The stuff we saw previously for this spaceship heist game was just placeholder. John Roberts, who did the art on Gunpoint, has j...
Convoy photo
Convoy

Convoy: if FTL were about driving through the desert


Welcome to the Thunderdome
Nov 07
// Darren Nakamura
Back when consumers were more willing to put money toward projects on Kickstarter, FTL: Faster Than Light was one of the first big indie videogame success stories on the crowdfunding platform. It set a modest goal of $10,000...
Murder photo
Murder

Intriguing cyberpunk point-and-click title Murder teased


Do androids dream of pixel art?
Oct 27
// Rob Morrow
Peter Moorhead, the designer behind the striking but mostly negatively received pixel art point-and-click adventure game Stranded has released a teaser trailer for his next project, Murder. Moorhead describes the project as ...

Review: Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Oct 23 // Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (Linux, Mac, Windows [reviewed])Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: October 24, 2014MSRP: $49.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Civilization veterans will be immediately familiar with most of the systems in place here, as they mimic those in Civilization V closely. Players found cities, within which they manage production, food, energy, culture, science, and health. In the international arena, there is diplomacy, trade, exploration, espionage, and war. Everything is interconnected in some way, and success comes to those who find the proper balance of it all. The interplay between all of the different systems and resources is complex. While the series has made positive strides with tutorial popups and the exhaustive Civilopedia it is still dense and a little inaccessible for new players. Some information is difficult to find but through trial and error. It is easy to know what Civilization is about, but it takes dedication to really know Civilization. Fortunately, getting to know Civilization is inherently rewarding. Finding interesting synergies between technologies and powers makes the player feel smart. Forming plans and seeing them through to fruition is intensely satisfying, and it is largely responsible for the series' notorious addictive quality. All of that is present in Beyond Earth. [embed]281963:55814:0[/embed] The most touted new feature in Beyond Earth is the Affinity system. Previously, unique units were tied to specific factions, but here they are dependent on a faction's level in one of three Affinities: Purity, Supremacy, and Harmony. Each Affinity represents a fundamentally different philosophy for how humanity should interact with the alien world. Purity followers believe that humans are special and should change the new world to be more Earth-like. Supremacy followers believe that humans should be cybernetically augmented in order to respond to environmental hazards. Harmony followers believe that humans must biologically adapt and become more like the indigenous life in order to survive. The Affinities are level-based and the choice is always open to increase any of the three through technological advances and mission rewards. It is generally smart to specialize in one Affinity, since the more powerful units require a minimum level, but it is possible to maintain a broad approach and take a little of each. The choice between Affinities sets the trajectory for the narrative of Beyond Earth. Though it is easily ignored for any who get into this strictly for the gameplay, the story is emphasized more strongly here than any any previous title in the series. It always starts the same: Humans wrecked Earth and have to find a new place to live. Which Affinity is focused on (if any) determines which victory condition is most easily attained, and each victory ends the story in a different place than the others. Another new tweak to the systems is in the Virtues. Breaking from Civilization V's system and instead following the same philosophy behind Affinities, none of the Virtues are mutually exclusive. Each time a new Virtue is earned, players may choose to develop down one of four trees: Might (military power), Prosperity (food), Knowledge (science and culture), and Industry (energy and production). There are benefits for generalizing as well as for specializing, and no one strategy is clearly better than another. One completely new aspect of Beyond Earth is the orbital layer. Set above the normal ground-level action, there is a hex grid layer representing the position of satellites in geosynchronous orbit. These orbital units can have various effects over areas, including increasing output of affected tiles, improving combat prowess for units underneath, or attacking from relative safety with a planet-carving laser. Placing an orbital unit near another civilization is not considered an outright act of war, though most will not take kindly to it. One memory I will keep for a long time involved General Kozlov placing a tactical support satellite near my borders, so I retaliated with an orbital laser in range of three of his cities, just waiting to be fired if he should misstep. It was the sort of cold war stuff that is often absent in games like this. The technology system received a substantial overhaul in more ways than one. Naturally, the science-fiction setting demands the imagination of new technologies. Those found in Beyond Earth range from currently existent (titanium mining) to really "out there" (constructing a giant flower that allows a neural connection between all humans and the living planet), though most are based firmly in plausible ideas for future technology. The most obvious change to the technology system is that it is set up as a radial web, expanding outward from a central point. The choice is available to set up a strong base of general knowledge, to make a beeline for any of the furthest techs, or to do anything in between. Most Affinity gains occur through researching specific technologies, so the tech web is also the arena that has the greatest effect on how a given civilization approaches the new world and how it plans to seek victory. There are five victory conditions: one for each of the three Affinities, one reliant on non-Affinity technologies, and the standard "destroy all the other civilizations" victory. Purity is attached to The Promised Land victory, which seeks to settle Earthlings who stayed behind on the new planet. Supremacy is attached to the Emancipation victory, whose goal is to return to Earth and demonstrate the power of cybernetics. Harmony is attached to the Transcendence victory, which aims to meld minds with the planet itself. Contact is the Affinity-agnostic victory; it involves building a beacon to communicate with an intelligent alien race. Narratively, each victory represents its corresponding philosophy well. The three Affinities approach the world with entirely different ideas, and their stories have appropriately different endings. However, the biggest failing of Civilization: Beyond Earth is that four of the five victory conditions feel too similar to one another from a gameplay perspective. Though the narrative reasoning varies, the basic framework for The Promised Land, Emancipation, and Transcendence is as follows: Research the required technologies, level up the corresponding Affinity to 13, build a planetary wonder, then defend it for approximately 30 turns. Contact largely follows the same path but without the minimum Affinity requirement. What happens after a planetary wonder is built varies between victory conditions, but not enough to make the individual experiences feel unique. From a balance perspective, it is easy to see why Beyond Earth adheres to this formula. It ensures a similar timeline regardless of path and it gives opponents clear warning that a player is nearing the end, allowing last-ditch efforts to race for another victory or topple the leader. For a series known for having multiple paths to victory, and especially for a narrative emphasizing just how divergent the ideologies within it are to one another, it is disappointing how similar each win condition is. There is no cultural, economic, or peace victory. There are only what amount to four science victories and a military victory. That said, the journey to get to the end does have a different feel depending on which Affinity is followed. The unique units bestowed to each Affinity interact with the environment differently and the benefits afforded allow for varied play styles. Where Purity and Supremacy fight against the planet's toxic miasma, Harmony learns to harness its power. Where Supremacy and Harmony benefit from leaving alien life alone, Purity gains combat bonuses against it. Where Purity and Harmony are geographically limited, Supremacy leverages its superior engineering in order to easily spread its influence across the map. Following the orbital escalation with General Kozlov described a ways above, he eventually did attack. After beating back his forces and teasing a peace treaty out of him, I dropped several tiles worth of miasma on his cities, just as a reminder for what happens when one messes with the African Union. He was cleaning it up for years, choking on it the whole time. Classic. In a separate encounter, Hutama of the Polystralians made note of my relative military weakness and, fueled by avarice and envy, broke our neighborly trade relationship in hopes of coming out a few cities richer. Although I was outgunned, he grossly underestimated the severe tactical disadvantage the local canyons and mountains put him at, and his forces were sunk to the bottom of the ocean before they could make landfall. That all highlights one of Civilization's greatest strengths: It provides the framework for totally awesome stuff to happen and lasting memories to be formed. Beyond Earth excels in that virtue with its new additions. Aesthetically, Beyond Earth really nails it. The three different planetary biomes add visual variety, and the rich colors pop. The palette features a lot of teal, pink, and purple, which conveys the idea of an alien world well. The soundtrack is appropriately grandiose during the climaxes and subdued during the lulls. Upon a dastardly betrayal or the completion of a planetary wonder, sweeping string pieces evoke a feeling that history is being made. In all, Beyond Earth is excellent. It maintains the secret sauce that the series is known for while adding setting-appropriate systems that change the gameplay up in interesting ways. Orbital units are inherently cool and add depth to international encounters. The narrative is thoughtful and important without being too preachy. Affinities show that the team put a lot of effort into considering how differing viewpoints may tackle the challenge of founding an alien world, as well as the consequences of those actions. If only there were more variety in the structure of the victory conditions between divergent philosophies, Civilization: Beyond Earth would be a perfect game. Even with that dissonance, it is damn close. The Civilization pedigree holds a lot of weight after all these years, and Beyond Earth more than lives up to its name.
Beyond Earth review photo
Stellar
"Civilization, but set in the future on an alien planet." That is really all Firaxis and 2K needed to say to get people excited for the next entry in the long-running turn-based strategy series. There is a fair amount of new ...

Metrocide is a thinking person's Hotline Miami

Oct 21 // Rob Morrow
[embed]282810:56025:0[/embed] This is just one of the many delightful nuances Flat Earth has built into the game. From the time I spent with it during the last week or so, I found that aspects of Metrocide's difficulty seem to align well with my experiences playing the pen-and-paper role-playing game Shadowrun. For every advantage you gain, there's a tradeoff. Some items may seem to give you the upper hand, but the game's rules still manage to balance things out, tasking you, the player, to be ever more thoughtful if you want to successfully leverage your new hardware. One of the biggest surprises I experienced while playing Metrocide was witnessing the emergent AI behavior -- the world reacts to itself depending on the current conditions in the game. I pulled my gun on a target and realized too late that he was also armed (and much faster on the draw than I was), when seemingly out of nowhere, he drops to the sidewalk in front of me in a pool of blood -- shot dead from behind by an armed vigilante when he drew his weapon. Mission complete. I'd managed to fire off no rounds during the hit, still collected my reward, and now the vigilante is the suspect of the crime rather than me. Brilliant. Metrocide is a thinking person's Hotline Miami. Yes, the game will still allow you to run in guns blazing, but you're going to need a hell of a lot of luck to pull off your hits. Not only do you stand a good chance of being shot dead in the streets by vigilantes if you're seen brandishing a gun, you'll also draw the unwanted attention of the police drones. Once they're investigating an area of the map, you're better off avoiding it completely. If you catch their attention, they shoot on sight and there's no way to outrun them. Patience and creativity are rewarded in this bleak dystopian cityscape, not recklessness. Taking your time and thinking about what you're doing allows this title to shine. Unlike other stealth-based games that I've played, I was never bored while preparing to make my move. The city is far too reactive to let that happen. The AI surrounding you makes every hit different in one way or another. You never know how things are going to play out, so you have to always be flexible in your tactics, which I'm sure will add tremendously to the game's replay value. Metrocide is not a perfect fit for everyone. It's a challenging little game that features the the love-it or hate-it permadeath gameplay mechanic. It also doesn't rely on realistic graphics or an interactive open world to be engaging; but, if you're willing to look past these aspects of the project, I think you'll find an intriguing game that rewards persistence, restraint, and creativity. If you're interested in trying it out for yourself or would just like to learn a bit more about it, you can do so by visiting the title's Steam Early Access page for more details.
Metrocide Early Access photo
Flat Earth's top-down murder sim impresses
Sydney-based independent studio Flat Earth Games has released its top-down cyberpunk-noir contract killing simulator Metrocide via Steam Early Access at the reduced price of $6.99. The final version of the game, which should ...

Review: The Art of Alien: Isolation

Oct 17 // Alasdair Duncan
The Art of Alien: Isolation (Book)Author: Andy McVitiePublisher: Titan BooksPrice: $34.95/£29.99Released: October 7, 2014 Despite being set 15 years after the first film, Alien: Isolation copies the design and art style of the movie almost exactly. This is still grungy, industrial, workman-like sci-fi, not flashy, shiny space opera. Each chapter of the book shows that plenty of thought went into making every visual element stand out and fit in with the style of the original Alien. The book is a good opportunity to get a better look at protagonist Amanda Ripley, who only fully appears in the game's cutscenes. There's a whole heap of costume designs and concept art that looks like it came right out of the sketchbook of either Ron Cobb or John Mollo. You're given a better sense of what went into attempting to make the art of Isolation have that "lived-in" feel. There are also quite a few drawings of various space craft, which is just like catnip to me. The center piece of the game is the one thing you don't want to see, the Xenomorph itself. Again, the concept art does a fine job of showing the changes in design the team went through. The initial sketches depict a more muscular alien, whereas the final model ended up being a thinner, more lithe creature. Of course, if you've seen any of the films, you'll already be very familiar with the design of H. R. Giger's iconic monster. On that note, the only really disappointing element is how familiar much of the artwork feels. For fans of the Alien franchise or gritty sci-fi in general, there isn't anything unexpected here. The team at Creative Assembly has done an excellent job recreating the look of the original film but it's a shame there aren't more surprises to be found. There is artwork of sequences cut from the game, like a brief zero-G section and storyboards for unused dialog sequences. Still, Alien: Isolation is undoubtedly a faithful recreation of a beloved film and this art book shows how dedicated Creative Assembly was in making the game.
Art of Alien: Isolation photo
This art book is much less scary than the game
Alien: Isolation has received a lot of praise over its faithful recreation of the original film's lo-fi take on science fiction. "Truckers in space" was the aesthetic director Ridley Scott set out to capture and the decks and...

Dreadnought photo
Dreadnought

This Dreadnought video shows you how to actually play Dreadnought


There's very much a right and wrong way
Oct 16
// Brett Makedonski
As I learned at PAX Prime, actually knowing how to play Dreadnought is half the battle. It's an enamoring idea to rush in with the quickest ship and fire until either you or your target is dead. If that's your approach,...

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