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Strategy Games

Medieval fighter For Honor defies description

Jun 16 // Kyle MacGregor
While there is some sort of story mode to ostensibly explain why feudal soldiers from opposite ends of the planet are sharing a battlefield, Ubisoft is keeping quiet about the single-player campaign. Instead, the publisher has opted to thrust the multiplayer component into the foreground. And what a strange and alluring experience that is. On the heels of its E3 media briefing, Ubisoft whisked the press off to a tower in downtown Los Angeles to compete in a mode called "Dominion." There, groups of eight players skirmished in 4-on-4 matches with an emphasis on territory control. With three King of the Hill-style zones to vie for, it's set up an awful lot like an online shooter. And at a glance, it gives off a Dynasty Warriors vibe, with hordes inept minions fighting battles of attrition while player-controlled hero characters grapple over objectives that, you know, actually matter. Neither of those comparisons really nail what For Honor actually feels like, though. The combat system is far more intricate than Koei Tecmo's hack-and-slashers, at any rate. This is no mindless action game. Each and every encounter with the enemy requires a great deal of care.  For Honor is all about sword mastery; success or failure largely hinges on one's proficiency with a blade. Being overly aggressive is a good way to get flayed, as defense is of vital importance here. Predictable attacks are easily blocked and countered, and even knights, despite being clad in heavy plate mail, can be felled surprisingly quickly after a string of defensive miscues. In some respects this is more of a fighting game, where opponents feel one another out with pokes and jabs, hoping to discern the enemy's plan of attack and capitalize when given the opportunity. You really have to pay attention to where the enemy's weapon is positioned, be ready to counter it while working to read them, and get an opening yourself. I quickly found myself outmatched when going toe-to-toe with the developers on the other team. They seemed to move with lightning speed, feigning attacks and throwing me off balance, only to hit me from my unguarded side a moment later. Thankfully, strategy and teamwork play a central role. When I figured out I wasn't a skilled enough fighter to take enemies on by my lonesome, I focused my attention on sneaking up the flanks and capturing the objectives. Eventually, somehow, after flailing in the early going, our team came back from the brink of defeat to pull off an unlikely victory. (Maybe they let us win.) On top of that, players act as field generals, earning mid-game perks called "Feats" that allow one to call in ordnance support catapults and archers, or even inspire your cohorts to fight better. Knowing how and when to play these cards figures to play a key role in turning the tide of battle. For Honor is a fascinating fusion of genres that has me eager to return to the battlefield.
For Honor impressions photo
Whatever it is, I like it
Ubisoft Montreal's For Honor seems to borrow inspiration from as many places as it does warriors. The newly-revealed project sees medieval knights clash with samurai and viking raiders, warping time and space to bring together foes as distinct as the overarching experience that unites them.

Fire Emblem If photo
Fire Emblem If

Take a nice, long look at the new Fire Emblem


Sweet torture
Jun 10
// Kyle MacGregor
Fire Emblem If is still a long ways off. That is, unless you live in Japan, where Nintendo's upcoming strategy role-playing game is just a fortnight away from its June 25 release. Soon enough people half a world away will be...
New Master of Orion photo
New Master of Orion

Wargaming is bringing back Master of Orion


Hmm
Jun 09
// Jordan Devore
The original Master of Orion was before my time but, like Myst, the sci-fi strategy title was one of my uncle's favorites. He'd leave his laptop unattended and I'd screw around with it, failing miserably to explore, expand, ...
Final Fantasy Tactics photo
Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is on Android now


$13.99
Jun 08
// Chris Carter
Square Enix has released the mobile version of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (itself a remake originally debuting on PSP) on Android devices. It's basically the same version as the iOS release from 2011, with touch ...

Review: Massive Chalice

Jun 08 // Steven Hansen
Massive Chalice (Xbox One, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsMSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 1, 2015 A talking cup with the alternating voices of an old man and younger woman gives you a "Hello Commander," informing you that you, an immortal being tied to the chalice, are the only one who can navigate humanity to victory against the encroaching, monster-filled Cadence. With that brief set up, you pick five pre-generated families to serve as your starting vanguard of fighters. It's an aesthetic choice. Try and pick families with distinct flag colors (and fun surnames) because otherwise keeping track of them is a mess. The Fab Five have different stat-affecting traits (bred) and personalities (learned) and three different base classes that can be combined to make sub-classes with slightly different abilities. You're also seemingly bound to get stuck with an asthmatic early on whom you can rightly cast off into the scary orange mist because they will be useless and the life of an individual isn't worth much in a 300 year war effort. Massive Chalice operates on two levels. Combat is turn-based with grid movement and two actions per turn. Walk a bit and then attack, or walk further and leave yourself unable to attack are the big ones. The latter has a chance of leaving a character screwed if they wander into the obscured battlefield Fog of War and reveal a pack of waiting enemies. Outside of combat, there is scant decision-making and a lot of hitting the Advance Timeline button as you try to make it to year 300 to destroy the Cadence by building kingdoms for your characters to bone in to produce better soldiers and advance the bloodline. [embed]293482:58868:0[/embed] Combat, however, feels one-dimensional, perhaps appropriate for the rote meat grinder that is 300 years of war. There's no cover or overwatch, never objectives beyond kill everything within line of sight. Inch forward, kill, inch forward, kill. I often had to double back through the sometimes obnoxiously routed, procedurally generated levels to off one last monster that was content to, I guess, walk around in circles in the far off map corner for all its turns. Enemies are impressively distinct. Ruptures create a wide berth of corrosive tiles upon death, Lapses sap soldiers' XP, Wrinklers age soldiers on contact. But Massive Chalice only metes out these highly specialized enemies and facing them over and over, in larger and beefed up quantities, gets tiring. Its turn-based strategy feels brute forced and basic. Even with the addition of sub-classes and the tips screen advising carrying members of every class, I still felt like fielding a team of five Hunters to SOCOM its way through fights was ideal and borderline easy (on Normal mode). The Alchemist's volatile, limited projectiles killed more of my own troops than enemies in my last run and sending the melee-focused Caberjack into the fray always feels too dangerous. This, though, raises a huge problem with the lengthy final fight that I've found unwinnable without the area of effect moves of the other classes. Nation management, too, feels simple and sterile. You are asked to choose between research projects which take years to finish. The most obviously necessary are the Keeps, which is where you retire soldiers to and appoint a mate on the grounds of eugenics. I find that once I get Keeps built and Übermenschs screwing, research becomes haphazard. A couple pieces of gear (mainly for Hunters), the experience raising item, and then I'm mostly choosing something at random and slamming on the "Advance Timeline" button until someone else dies of old age and needs to be replaced at their post. It is clinical and the soldier stat effects feel slim (so long as you avoid breeding a handful of proper blights, like asthma). The idea of bloodlines is a good one, but the sparse overworld (the same Simon panel of territory and occasional, stoic look at a throne) does not support any narrative or connection in the vein of a Crusader Kings-like strategy game. All there is are brief, occasional text adventure events that have you make a decision (how will you settle a squabble between two troops?) that might affect some mild stat. Meanwhile, the short shelf-life of fighters doesn't support any connection to individual troops in combat, save for the one or two fights you'll have a high-level troop with a funny nickname. The most attachment I felt was to a flag color. This becomes a weird problem with the ending, which tries to suddenly loop back around and deliver an unnecessary story element that, at best, would "explain," in-universe, subsequent playthroughs. It is odd, unnecessary, and even robs you of basic world-saving catharsis. It also reminded me that, on Normal, I've yet to come close to my kingdom falling, which belies roguelike claims, while on the other hand I sort of dread playing 300 more years (plus failure restarts) on higher difficulties because of the simple combat. Massive Chalice is both beautiful and approachable, somewhat rare qualities in the genre. But its 300 year arc bends toward apathy and inhumanity. By mid-game, what was novel and enticing becomes a slog. The nation and bloodlines are mostly built out, ending the high level tactics, and battles become more brute force as the same enemies double in HP, power, and quantity. I felt like middle management making the same position appointments that a computer could make more quickly and all I got for my click click clicking was combat with bigger numbers on the same handful of stages. There is some payoff with the bloodline idea at the end, but it is not worth the rote meat grinder to get there. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Massive Chalice review photo
Great fighter with a glass jaw
Double Fine's less scrutinized Kickstarter success, Massive Chalice, has been formally released half a year since entering Early Access. Along with Invisible, Inc., it formed a one-two punch of time-eating, XCOM-tinged turn-b...

Total Warhammer photo
Total Warhammer

Okay, Total War: Warhammer looks awesome


Don't let us down
Jun 04
// Jordan Devore
Some folks were invited to see Total War: Warhammer. We were not. But thanks to the power of the Internet, we can all share in the absurd spectacle. I sincerely hope Creative Assembly works its magic here. The premise alone is the stuff of dreams. I am curious what the DLC situation will be like for this game. "Extensive," probably.

Stonehearth is out now on Steam Early Access

Jun 03 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]293233:58798:0[/embed] Like many other crowdfunded projects, Stonehearth began as a passion project, but it soon grew into something more. Working on the game in their spare time, the developers eventually were able to attract major interest from their Kickstarter campaign, which snowballed from there. With its release on Steam Early Access, Radiant Entertainment's Tom Cannon (also the co-founder of the Evo Championship Series) spoke about Stonehearth's inception and its growth into what it is now. "We started the game as a passion project. We had jobs in Silicon Valley that weren't really personally satisfying because we're hardcore gamers, so we did the Kickstarter back in 2013 to see if the idea we thought was cool," he said. "And the Kickstarter went well, and then we could make the game, but we had to pitch the game to our friends, which got them on board as well -- expanding the team. We spent two years making out prototype, which we showed in the Kickstarter video, and turned it into an actual game." In similar vein to the notoriously tricky and complex Dwarf Fortress, Stonehearth tasks players with creating their own unique civilizations in a procedurally-generated landscape from the ground up. Starting with just a few settlers, all randomized with their own personalities and skills, you'll soon be foraging for supplies and using tools to craft shelters and other necessities in order to survive. As you mine nearby mountains, bring in new settlers, build roads, raise your castle, and amass gold, your population will thrive and expand in unique ways. But as you build your civilization, you'll soon catch the interest of the local goblins who've got their own place in the dirt, and they may not take kindly to seeing outsiders take up residence in the same plot of land. The goblins serve as a necessary evil, as they not only serve to be your major obstacle from thriving, but they're also an opposing force that builds alongside your civilization. While in some cases you can simply negotiate terms for peace, resulting in trading of goods or paying them off to leave you in peace, other times you'll have no choice but to confront them head on. Among your settlers are those who've got the prowess to fight the goblins, but bare in mind not everyone has the courage to do so, and they could run away at the very sight of even a lowly goblin. Picking the right troops is just as important as collecting gold or building an installation, as losing a battle can have dire consequences. Though I mentioned it was similar to Dwarf Fortress, don't fret. The folks at Radiant wanted to emulate its complexity and depth found but ultimately sought to make Stonehearth easier to get into. Less daunting. Don't think of this as Dwarf Fortress with training wheels, though. Stonehearth definitely retains the hardcore focus and depth found in other sim titles. A neat trick Radiant employs to make things interesting is the A.I. director, which analyzes your behavior and throws in challenges based on your current pace of play. PC titles that take advantage of work created by fans are commonplace, and the team wanted to ensure players had access to the same tools it used to create the game to build their own additions and tweaks to Stonehearth. As an example, Cannon showed off one of the more humorous mods from fans, which reskined the game to look like a Candy Land tie-in. Trees turned to lollipops, and the ground textures looked as though they were caked in frosting. While most mods will add simple user interface and gameplay changes, many seek to alter the aesthetic and overall experience, and it's encouraging to see that the developers are so supportive. "We're incredibly mod friendly, so we love mods," said Cannon while showing off the Candy Land mod. "Our approach to mods is that all of our file formats are just open text files, and we have a modding forum to talk with others, if that's what you want to do. We give our modders all the tools they need to build the game, we want there to be tons and tons of mods because we love seeing what people do with the game." I was impressed with the level of complexity found in Stonehearth. The developers do a great job showing life and action happen during the creation of your kingdom, and I felt that the voxel aesthetic adds a lot to the charm. Though I'm not too into the sim genre, I was pretty taken with the gameplay in Stonehearth. One of the most satisfying aspects of these titles is seeing your hard work result in a functioning and healthy society that cannot only expand and thrive, but do so without you regularly needing to intervene. I'm interested in seeing where Radiant Entertainment's title goes from here. Games such as this need a passionate community to flourish, and given the already extensive mod support in place, it looks like Stonehearth will have a bright future. It's currently the #1 seller on Steam's Early Access page. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the follow-up to the Candy Land mod. Given time, I'm sure the fans will come up with something crazier than that! Stonehearth [Steam Early Access]
Stonehearth photo
3D Dot Civilization Builder
It's incredible to see how Kickstarter has given rise to so many titles. Sure, there's the heavy hitters like Broken Age, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity, but there are many others that came out of nowhere to leave such ...

In Japan photo
In Japan

PlayStation Vita strategy RPG Makai Shin Trillion out next month


In Japan
Jun 03
// Steven Hansen
Makai Shin Trillion is coming to Vita in Japan on July 23. We first saw it just over a year ago. The Vita strategy RPG comes from developer Compile Heart whose last four developed games (Fairy Fencer F, Hyperdimension Neptun...
Crusader Kings 2 photo
Crusader Kings 2

Crusader Kings 2's Horse Lords expansion brings in the Khans


Dothraki Sim 2015
Jun 03
// Joe Parlock
Paradox Interactive has unveiled the eighth and latest expansion to the kill-your-child-and-marry-their-wife simulator Crusader Kings 2. Titled Horse Lords, the latest expansion lets you become the great Khan. As in Genghis ...
XCOM 2 photo
Firaxis Games is developing
2K Games has just sent word that XCOM 2 is in development, and will be a sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the recently beloved reboot of the series. Firaxis Games is once again handling the project, which is great news fo...

Hack photo
Hack

Locked Steam achievement requires you to hack game's code


Invisible, Inc.
May 26
// Steven Hansen
It's not to say that secrets are no fun anymore, but the internet sure can take the luster out of 'em. I mean, what would have been the point of my dog eared, note scribbled Myst notebook if I could solve the whole thing cons...
Awakening photo
Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening global sales near 2 million


The lil waifu simulator that could
May 26
// Steven Hansen
Let's take a minute from Fire Emblem If minutia (here and here and here) to appreciate how we got here. Fire Emblem: Awakening, once expected to be the last game in a now rejuvenated series, has sold at least 1.79 million cop...
Lethal Tactics on Steam photo
Lethal Tactics on Steam

Lethal Tactics brings its intelligent gameplay to Early Access


Like Frozen Synapse, but with graphics
May 25
// Patrick Hancock
Lethal Tactics has recently popped up onto Steam's Early Access program and will immediately look familiar to anyone who has played the brilliant Frozen Synapse. The gameplay is, at its core, the same: click to assign o...
Utawarerurmono: False Mas photo
Utawarerurmono: False Mas

Utawarerurmono: False Mask is a visual novel, strategy RPG hybrid


3D!
May 21
// Steven Hansen
Aquaplus has released its first trailer for Utawarerurmono: False Mask, the unexpectedly 3D hybrid visual novel and strategy game coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita in Japan on September 24.  
Expeditions: Viking photo
Expeditions: Viking

Historical RPG Expeditions: Viking announced


Historical means no horned helmets!
May 21
// Patrick Hancock
Expeditions: Conquistador by Logic Artists is a great, and difficult, tactical RPG. So naturally, when I heard that another game is being made in the same vein, I immediately became excited. Expeditions: Viking&nbs...

Review: Swords and Soldiers II

May 20 // Chris Carter
Swords and Soldiers II (Wii U)Developers: Ronimo GamesPublisher: Ronimo GamesReleased: May 21, 2015Price: $19.99 This time around, the playable armies of the Chinese and Aztecs have been replaced by Demons and Persians. Although the former two will be sorely missed (I'll never forget some of their sayings), the replacements have more than enough tricks up their sleeve to justify their inclusion. The way Swords and Soldiers II works is strikingly similar to its predecessor. As a strictly "one on one" affair, players will opt to build and research units, sending them in a straight line against another foe. If one gets close enough your units will start attacking their resource accruing units, and just like a complex RTS, your days are numbered as your enemy whittles down your base for a win. It's not just a "set it and forget it" style, as a constant array of diverse spells that can be used at any time keep you on your toes, and can change the tide of any given battle within a round. My favorite part of this scheme however is how quickly everything goes down. After you have the gold, units can be built instantly. Other than the select few instances in a match where you need to erect towers, no real "buildings" need to be created. It's all action all the time, but there is depth to it. While Soldiers does have a story mode, the heart of the game lies within its head-to-head versus and skirmish gametypes. [embed]292182:58551:0[/embed] The campaign is basically table-setting for everything else, giving you a rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of each individual unit, some ideas for how armies counter one another, all set to the tune of a really goofy story that illuminates some background on all three armies. It's not going to win any awards, but the jokes are occasionally laugh out loud funny, mostly due to the superb voicework that carries over into the other modes. Where the sequel mostly succeeds is diversity between the armies. Vikings mostly focus on spells, Demons, towers, and Persians have a health mix of both with their own unique trappings. Every time I started to embed myself in an army I felt like I was playing an utterly different experience, which is definitely a positive. Over time I ended up gravitating towards the Persians, who have some really cool abilities on-hand. I really love the invisible units that are only seen while attacking, but they're balanced, expensive to build, and have plenty of counters. I also enjoyed the low mana-cost cannon structure, which does nothing on its own, but can fire a low-damage, tiny genie-summoning canon shot across the map. I quickly learned that Demons could counter my stealth units by building barrel riders -- suicidal creatures that would explode and destroy them even if they were invisible, and were at a lower cost. In return I researched the bribe skill, which allowed me to take over specific units at a cost of gold and mana. There's hundreds of counters like that across the multitude of characters and strategies present in the game, and thankfully, it's never too overwhelming at any given time. After seeing a new unit you'll have an incentive to try out the army and use it yourself, which is really easy to do considering how open the research tree is at the start. If you want to spend all of your starting gold just to build one big unit -- you can do that. Likewise, you can bunker up with a defensive-strategy at the start, or "Zerg" rush with some low-cost units. It's surprisingly balanced and open-ended. Another new layer of depth is the gold and mana drop mechanic. On every map, airdrops will occasionally fall down and litter the map. You're presented with a choice -- let your gold gatherers stay within the comfort of your base for consistent riches, or brave the world for a massive reward. This is on top of micro-managing your army, spells, researching, and building responsibilities. It gets even more intense on one map in particular, where the only way to any resources of any kind is to pick up drops. Multiplayer is played by way of one mode -- a local versus setup where one player uses the GamePad, and another, the TV. Although the lack of online play is a bummer, Ronimo really chose a perfect platform that caters directly to the dual army conceit. In short, it's a perfect situation for my wife, who prefers the TV and the Wii U Pro Controller (though a Classic Controller Pro and Wiimote can be used), and myself, who vastly prefers the GamePad. I ended up plugging in some noise cancelling headphones so I couldn't hear her unit sounds (and vice versa), and it was a much easier setup than we achieved with the previous game, getting two PCs together, logging into Steam, and hoping we consistently connect to one another. There is one hangup though -- you can set your tweak a few extra stats in versus like your starting gold settings or change up build and cooldown rates, but you need to do this every round once you quit out of a session. It will work if you stay the same armies on the smae level to "rematch," but it feels like an oversight to have to switch it back every time. Your mileage may also vary if you don't have a friend to play with, but then again, that's where Skirmish comes in. If you don't have anyone on hand, you can opt to play with the AI. Surprisingly it's actually challenging, though I will say that the CPU cheats from time to time, like when it throws down an area-of-effect (AOE) ability on the ground, knowing that your invisible units will cross over it. Still, I can put everything on random and play skirmish for hours, despite the fact that there wasn't anyone to revel in my victories with on the couch. Although Swords and Soldiers II has a limited appeal for those of you who like to only game solo, it's a fine strategy title, and a perfect mix of brevity and depth. I'm likely still going to be learning the ins and outs of each army months down the line, which is a really great thing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Swords and Soldiers II photo
Vikings, Demons, and Persians, oh my
Swords and Soldiers, released in 2009 as Ronimo's first game, was an underrated treasure. Although it was soon eclipsed by their subsequent release of Awesomenauts a few years later, it remained a staple in my house, as it was wonderously easy to pick up and play at any time. Swords and Soldiers II builds upon that foundation and adds just enough depth to keep things interesting.

No weapon durability photo
No weapon durability

Fire Emblem If changes up series-staple weapon triangle


Magic, bows, concealed weapons
May 19
// Steven Hansen
The lack of weapon degradation isn't the only difference to the upcoming Fire Emblem If's combat. The swords-beat-axes-beat-lances-beat-swords triangle is changing, too, Famitsu reports (picked up by Hachima Kikou and transla...
'Game 4' photo
'Game 4'

20 minutes of the new game from Castle Crashers, BattleBlock dev


The Behemoth's 'Game 4'
May 19
// Steven Hansen
Because apparently it's 2008 again, I actually played some Castle Crashers this year, which then got me hankering for some BattleBlock, which I prefer. And I'm thinking the tentatively titled "Game 4," with its strategy leanings, might make for my favorite Behemoth game yet. The 20 minutes above is an updated version of what Jordan played and previewed last year, if you prefer words.
Tecmo Koei photo
Tecmo Koei

Koei announces Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII


Coming to PS4, PS3, PC in December
May 19
// Kyle MacGregor
Koei Tecmo is all about that grand strategy right now, revealing a new Romance of the Three Kingdoms game following yesterday's announcement that the latest Nobunaga's Ambition is coming west in September. Romance of the Thre...
Nobunaga's Ambition photo
Nobunaga's Ambition

Nobunaga's Ambition coming west this September


To PS4, PS3, PC with dual-audio
May 18
// Kyle MacGregor
Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence is coming west, Koei Tecmo announced today. Originally released in December 2013 as Nobunaga no Yabō: Sozou, this is the latest entry in Koei Tecmo's long-running grand strat...
Civilization Beyond Earth photo
Civilization Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth getting an expansion this fall


Settle the oceans in Rising Tide
May 18
// Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth came out last year, and although I loved it, a lot of the series' hardcore fans picked it apart as being less complex than past entries. Though it doesn't nearly address every complaint,...
Crysis: Analogue Edition photo
Crysis: Analogue Edition

Haha sure: Crysis board game on Kickstarter


Tactical battles and chest-high walls
May 14
// Darren Nakamura
Crysis Analogue Edition - The Board Game. Huh. Okay. I have been pleasantly surprised in the past with video game shooters turned into tactical board games, but I'm still a bit skeptical about this one. I mean, Crysis's bigg...

Review: Invisible, Inc.

May 12 // Steven Hansen
Invisible, Inc. (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developers: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentReleased: May 12, 2015Price: $19.99 Stealth games often offer two tonal paths. You are ill-equipped, powerless and possibly stay that way (horror), or you are preternaturally talented, improving stats and skills further until you are Batman-like (most "detective mode" games). Invisible, Inc. gives you all the information needed to succeed. Sight lines are obvious and clear. Enemy routes can be precisely observed (for 1 AP). You can peek around corners or behind doors (again, 1 AP). And you have the Incognita system which can hack devices -- cameras, turrets, item machines -- to help you complete your infiltrations. Screw ups aren't twitch-based dissonance, like frantically steering Snake into a wall when spotted. What you butt up against, then, is a series of balanced checks that gives you tools to succeed and becomes about execution. Hacking requires power, which can be stolen from consoles or generated once per turn (with the default Incognita setup). Agent movement is limited by action points. Hastily enter a door and you may be exposed, without enough AP to set up behind cover. Peek and observe the patrol route of the guard next door and you may find that he is coming right to where you are, your melee stun device is still recharging, and you no longer have the AP needed to get back into cover. And if you think the answer is to take things slow, creeping along a few squares at a time, know that each procedurally generated stage has an alarm that raises by one tick each turn. Every time the alarm goes up a full level, you'll be facing additional cameras or extra, better outfitted guards, or higher power costs when hacking.  [embed]291971:58506:0[/embed] All the systems are at odds with each other and it is exhilarating. You want to find the exit quickly, before things get too difficult to handle, yet the whole point of your infiltration to to quickly prepare for a big standoff, which means it's better to steal all the credits and gear that you can, to explore every room. You have to spend power to open safes, but also to rewire cameras or turrets, things that can more presently do you in. But not doing enough, not filching everything, feels like it will do you in in the long run, too. Credits buy you new gear, which becomes necessary for dealing with tougher enemies, but it's also what you spend to upgrade your agents' movement distance, ability to gain more power from consoles, and so on. It's elegant as hell. A commensurate arms race. You fly around the world, eating hours off the countdown clock. If you take a harder ranked mission, you're more likely to lose, but if you don't, will you be able to win in the long run? For every "2x armor piercing stun baton" you pick up, the next stage could have 3 times armored enemies. There are killing weapons, too. They're good because the enemies won't wake up a couple turns later (they stay incapacitated if an agent is physically pinning them down), but have limited ammo, raise the alarm level more quickly, and leave you paying a bit of "cleaner costs." Decisions, decisions. I love the constant duress and how many options you have. While all the stages are procedurally generated, you do have some idea of what you're getting into, depending on the type of infiltration (going for a vault? a terminal with locations of more points of interest? an executive's suite?) and the particular company (one is particularly robot heavy, rendering your knock out sticks useless) whose site you're breaking into. There's wiggle room. You decide what you're going for. Money takes precedence for me, mostly for agent upgrades, followed by labs that allow me to add cybernetic upgrades to my agents. Of course, a detention center could be housing a third or fourth agent as well, and numbers can be useful if you have the means to outfit them all, or ruthlessly treat new additions as expendable. And while you start off with two default agents and two default power-gaining and hacking programs, you can unlock more mid-game (buy new programs, rescue captive agents), as well as unlock them for use at the start of a campaign. They have different latent skills or default items. And each agent has an alternate with a different load out yet and a new backstory. The programs, too, offer anxiety-inducing risk-reward choices. One power per turn, or two power per turn with the chance of spawning a harmful daemon? Maybe couple that with a lockable character who gains power on enemy daemon installs in an attempt to even out the risks. Klei has also created a robust set of options that allows you to tune the experience to your liking. There are three "standard" modes: beginner, experienced, and expert. Mind you I've played Invisible, Inc. 40 plus hours prior to this, but I found beginner to be too non-threatening of a cakewalk, so maybe start with experienced? Note that expert is the "base difficulty and tuning." Within these options, you can toggle one-turn rewinds (and how many) as well as whole level retries. You can even go deeper than that to adjust settings to your liking. You can extend the campaign from 72 hours, dictate starting power level, turn off danger zone warnings, and more. And on top of all that, there is an extra difficult "expert plus," an endless mode, and an extra difficult endless mode. You can fine tune 20 or so settings in all of them. The turn-based stealth gameplay is empowering, but fraught and fleeting each time you dive deeper into one of the world's least architecturally sensible corporate buildings, rooms budding off rooms, some empty, some dangerous, all necessary. It's a fight to stay equally matched with your enemies and make it to the end. Things can and will go wrong. Sometimes life-saving maneuvering just delays an impending, inevitable loss as you bring the full weight of the guard down on your head. And it's almost always your own damn fault, which is why you'll try again.
Invisible, Inc. photo
Invisible, man
It feels weird to be finally reviewing a game I played more than anything else last year despite it being in Early Access. I mean, I already gave it a Game of the Year award. Klei (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja) has perfect...

Fire Emblem photo
Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem if will have a 'Phoenix Mode,' also removes weapon limit


Also, nine save files
May 12
// Chris Carter
In addition to the whole "permadeath" thing, having a limit on weapon uses is one of the most taxing aspects of the Fire Emblem series. You have to constantly decide whether or not it's even worth attacking someone with ...

Review: Tropico 5

May 05 // Robert Summa
Tropico 5 (Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox 360) Developer: Kalypso MediaPublisher: Kalypso MediaReleased: April 28, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $59.99 Tropico 5 is a learning experience. How you choose to learn is completely up to you. There is a mission and campaign mode that will certainly steer you in the right direction, but that didn't appeal to me and I suspect most will want to do more than that as well. As a Civ junkie, I don't like to be limited with my creations -- in that, when a specific mission ends, so does your island. For me, sandbox mode is where I spent most of my time and where I would imagine most players will. Sandbox is the true meat and substance within Tropico 5. Not only can you set your win conditions, but you can choose between multiple economic and political difficulty levels, starting era, the money initially available (unlimited is also an option) and the number of citizens that start on your island. But probably even more critical to your island's success is the land itself. While you will have plenty of pre-made islands to choose from, there is also a map generator that offers endless combinations of whatever creation you want -- for example, you can choose between different sized-islands and the amount of resources available. Even if you skip much of the campaign, you will still be able to learn as you go. Within the game itself is a sort of quest function where specific tasks will need to be completed. Whether it be to build a library or extra military buildings, the game does an excellent job of teaching while doing. For someone like me who hates to read directions or endless strategy guides (preferring to figure stuff out on my own), this is a perfect implementation. But it's not just the quests that will guide you. The detailed faction and happiness statistics will help you be the leader you want to be. There are various factions all vying for greatness and it's your job as leader to finely balance what you want for your island and what your people actually want and need. To help you lead, there is a dynasty system where you can name and set specific management roles to created characters that will give bonuses to buildings based on their specific abilities -- there are generic managers, but you can't level those up like you can dynasty members. For example, you can have a celebrity manager that is best suited for hotels or you can have a magnate who works well with oil and mining buildings. These dynasty members are part of El Presidente's extended family and can benefit you greatly within the game. Ignoring them or their abilities will only make your leadership that much more challenging. Of course, it's not just your island you have to worry about. Tropico 5 is also a nation builder. Within it, you'll have to juggle the trade of exports and imports and appeasing the Russians while at the same time not pissing off the Americans. As time moves on from the Colonial Era to the Modern Era, you will have even more nations and scenarios to deal with. There are many situations in your virtual island experience that feel like they mirror how a real nation and leader needs to function. Tropico 5 is a constant balancing act and a game filled with trial and error. You should be warned, if you find yourself to be a Civ addict, then you will quickly find that Tropico 5 offers the same kind of grab. Hours melt away. As you complete one task, something else comes up that you feel drastically needs your attention. The amount of management, while it can seem overwhelming, is really the draw and appeal of the game. There is a multiplayer component, but really, unless you want to build an island with a friend or desperately want to compete against others, you probably aren't going to bother. It works, so that's all most players can really ask for when it comes to multiplayer within nation builders. The game is not without its minor faults or seemingly-impossible challenges. While I do keep the pace of time in its most forward position, it never felt like I could appease or completely stop rebel attacks or uprisings. These occur when citizens are unhappy or you have specific constitution options active, but no matter what, I found myself dealing with this constant nuisance. Also, there were occasional save issues. In fairness, I played the majority of my time with Spotify running in the background, so whether or not that sometimes caused games not to be saved, I don't know. It doesn't happen often, but it can be devastating if you're not paying attention and haven't saved in a while. Even though there were no real issues with the controls themselves, perfectly placing roads can take some getting used to, but it doesn't strongly detract from the game. While Tropico 5 isn't the game-of-the-year masterpiece of a generation, it's a more-than serviceable sim and strategy title that can satisfy a grossly under-served genre within the console community. If you love SimCity and Civilization and are dying for something similar on your PS4, then there really is no reason not to have and enjoy this game to its fullest extent. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tropico 5 review photo
It's good to be the king
City and civilization games on consoles are a rare thing. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but my guess would be that traditionally, these games only enjoy their moderate success on PC. Whether it be the limitations of conso...

Review: Chroma Squad

May 04 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]291251:58411:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into some real spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chroma Squad review photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the essence of w...

Chroma Squad photo
Chroma Squad

Run the Japanese superhero TV studio of your dreams in Chroma Squad


Out now for Windows, Mac, and Linux
Apr 30
// Jordan Devore
Chroma Squad, the game about running your own Japanese superhero television studio, is now available on Steam, GOG.com, and the Humble Store for $14.99. What a cool niche. This is part tactical role-playing title, part manage...
Fire Emblem If photo
Fire Emblem If

Fire Emblem If's third campaign is harder than White, easier than Black


Black Kingdom has additional victory requirements
Apr 29
// Steven Hansen
More lukewarm Fire Emblem If news (out June 25 in Japan, 2016 in North America). Remember, the game is being sold Pokemon style (or Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons style) with separate Black and White releases with a third, ...

Review: Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart

Apr 28 // Kyle MacGregor
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Sting, Compile HeartPublisher: Idea Factory InternationalReleased: February 24, 2015 (NA) February 27, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99  Why was I so hopeful for Hyperdimension Neptunia? Well, the concept of a game that parodies the console wars is almost too good to give up on. The series follows a group of anthropomorphized gaming consoles, each the ruler of her own kingdom, all vying for dominance in what's effectively a grand popularity contest. It's a cute idea, at the very least, with the potential for so much more. I hoped it would be a clever satire, something introspective and comedic that poked fun at the industry in an interesting or meaningful way. Instead, I discovered one jejune RPG after the next, a middling collection of games that lean all too heavily on fan service as crutch. What I wanted this series to be and what it is are two very different things. I probably should have realized that before now, but well, here we are. The latest entry in the franchise, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, may be a spin-off, but it hews closely to its source material -- albeit with one notable exception. This is a strategy role-playing game, rather than a more traditional one. However, aside from the difference in combat, those familiar with Compile Heart's previous efforts will know exactly what to expect out of this one. But let's talk about what makes this entry unique. The action takes place on grid-based battlefields. There, players act as the general of a small army, moving units to support allies and assault foes. In addition to the SP gauge, used for special attacks, there's an LP meter, which fuels even more powerful moves and allows the central protagonists to transform into their more powerful goddess forms. LP is an interesting resource, as it's gained by performing special attacks while flanked by friendly units. This will result in a kissing animation, which doubles as a power-up.  This system is a key component of a successful strategy on the battlefield, but it isn't without risk. As you might expect, clustering into tightly-packed ranks makes units more susceptible to area-of-effect attacks, meaning it could as easily pave the way to victory as it could to your undoing. The level design at work here is interesting and varied, constantly shaking things up with a range of traps, puzzles, and obstacles. The objectives are similarly diverse, though I'm not sure the assortment makes the combat terribly compelling. Despite minimal repetition, the pace of play here feels inordinately slow. Battles often feel overly long and drawn out, especially when a protracted series of turns are dedicated entirely to positioning. There are a lot of lulls in the action that mar an otherwise competent tactical experience. The story doesn't help in that regard, with a hackneyed plot and shallow, tropey characters that talk forever about nothing at all. There's some mild referential humor to be found, but it's mostly about the fan service. It has plenty of pantsu and giant, jiggling breasts, which is made all the more creepy by the new chibi art direction. The entire cast look like abominable hypersexualized infants. Speaking of said characters, most of the ones you'll be taking into battle over the course of the game are based on popular Japanese videogame franchises. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the experience, as taking personifications of the Street Fighter, Yakuza, and Dragon Quest (I could go on and on) series into the field was a real joy. Their special attacks (like the Metal Gear-inspired Lid's cardboard box stealth attack) are particularly charming, and serve as nice nods to players who are familiar with the source material. It's just a pity that these characters are often relegated to a support role, as the familiar faces are far more useful on the battlefield. Since Noire, Blanc, Neptune, and Vert can all transform into their extremely mighty goddess forms, it pays to deploy them over your favorites. While transformed, the goddesses are able to fly, making them immune to traps and elements of the landscape that limit conventional troopers. It's a lamentable design choice, impelling players to use the same, stale heroines rather than the revolving door of refreshing newcomers.  There are other questionable choices that hamper the experience, like: lengthy enemy turns, the constant influx of tutorial messages that are more busy than informative, a loading period at the beginning of each fight where the game makes you watch combatants materialize out of thin air, one-hit kills, and a bizarre movement mechanic that doesn't allow you to move units exactly where you'd like them to go -- even if that space is in range. There are just dozens of little annoyances peppered throughout the experience that require the player to be very patient and forgiving. It's unfortunate because there's a decent strategy RPG at Goddess Black Heart's core, but the game just can't seem to get out of its own way. Hyperdimension Neptunia fans may well enjoy this one, but I can't count myself among them. The series has an alluring premise, but it just doesn't push the idea far enough for me. The cloying characters and banal story are just so incredibly vapid, and the respectable strategic gameplay just isn't enough to compensate for the myriad of drawbacks and stumbling blocks. Sorry Noire, but it's time we go our separate ways. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hyperdevotion Review photo
It's not you, it's me
Falling in love with potential can be dangerous. A mistake people make far too often when forging new relationships is placing undue expectations on others. People grow and change, but it's impossible to know how or when that...

We Are the Dwarves! photo
We Are the Dwarves!

We Are the Dwarves! searches for stars in the depths of the earth


I don't think that's how astronomy works
Apr 28
// Darren Nakamura
I kept coming back to the We Are the Dwarves! email that was sent in to Destructoid a few days ago. On the one hand, it isn't especially clear what kind of game it is or how it plays. The Steam Greenlight page lists action, ...

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