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Review: Satellite Reign

Aug 31 // Josh Tolentino
Satellite Reign (PC)Developer: 5 Lives StudiosPublisher: 5 Lives StudiosReleased: August 28, 2015MSRP: $29.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i5 3.40Ghz, Nvidia Geforce GTX 780 Ti, 8GB RAM I mentioned the discrepancy between my memory of what Syndicate was and the fact of how it actually played, and Satellite Reign's existence makes that difference all the more apparent. That's because, despite the latter game's obvious tonal and thematic debt to Syndicate, it's a closer cousin, mechanically speaking, to Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Whereas Syndicate and Syndicate Wars had you controlling a squad of roughly identical agents, each distinguished mainly by the weapons you had them carry, the corporate wetworks team you run in Satellite Reign's consists of four distinct character classes; each class has unique abilities unlocked through the leveling system, as well as individualized ways of dealing with the obstacles in their way. Soldiers can attract and resist enemy fire or hardwire enemy power generators to turn off turrets, doors, and cameras. Hackers can shut down security systems, use drones, and "hijack" enemy and civilian NPCs to puppet as they please, a la Syndicate's Persuadertron. Support agents heal their comrades and can use a "World Scan" ability to trace systems and find suitable hacking targets. Infiltrators can use ziplines, vents, and cloaking devices to sneak past guards while packing powerful melee and sniper attacks.   [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed] This class system, in addition to the game's requisite suite of cybernetic augmentations, weapons, and equipment, as well as an XCOM-like cover system, makes every encounter and excursion in Satellite Reign a far more involved affair than in its inspiration. Whereas those older encounters usually boiled down to how quickly your guys could mow down theirs, here, every member can work in concert, their abilities complementing each other to lay even the toughest defenses bare. Evasion, subterfuge and pitched combat all have their place, and can happen at virtually any time on the game's open map. That open map is another way 5 Lives stands apart from its peers and inspirations. Instead of missions, whether bespoke like in Syndicate or procedurally-generated like in XCOM, Satellite Reign opts for an open-world structure set on what the developers claim is one of the largest maps ever generated for the Unity Engine. The map is that of a city owned and run by Dracogenics, a massive future megacorporation propped up by selling "Res-tech", a cloning technology not unlike that seen in The Sixth Day. Your team, part of a rival corporation, is dropped into the city with an older, pirated version of Res-tech (their explanation for respawning), and tasked with overthrowing Dracogenics' monopoly in the name of business, no matter how much murder and robbery it takes to do so. Everything happens on the map, as your agents claw their way through the city, with nary a loading screen between tasks. Each district, from neon-soaked Downtown to the smog-choked Industrial zone, houses a number of side missions designed to reduce Dracogenics' control. For example, infiltrating the local police station can lengthen the time it takes for guards to call in reinforcements, while planting bugs in a surveillance center keeps security cameras from recognizing your agents too quickly. Breaking into the district bank can increase the speed at which ATMs funnel cash into your coffers. Bribing a disgruntled sanitation worker can unlock a side entrance into a heavily-guarded military base. Locating a conveniently hung power line might give your agents a quick way over the walls, but only if your Soldier can sabotage a nearby generator to keep that line from frying anyone trying to slide down it. It all feels interconnected and detailed in the manner of the best obstacle courses and levels. Through it all your agents will be getting their hands on new gear, unlocking new abilities, and getting more formidable, as the game's structure allows for a near total freedom of approach. Virtually every scenario can be handled in the way you choose (short of peaceful negotiation), limited only by your ability to coordinate your agents and their own equipment and abilities. Every upgrade makes you feel more powerful, but not just in a simple "numbers went up" sense, but in the way that new upgrades unlock new options and ways to break past barriers that limited you before. Unfortunately, like a proper cyberpunk story, Satellite Reign's shiny, polished exterior reveals some grit and ugliness upon close examination. Civilians walk aimlessly to and fro, only there to provide a source of fresh clones for your agents and inconvenient witnesses for their crimes. The open-world structure of the game excises the possibility of truly lasting consequence, with the world, guard patterns, and even destroyed cameras eventually resetting over time. Enemies are a touch too durable as well, their multiple layers of armor, health, and energy shielding limiting certain approaches, and turning most firefights into drawn-out affairs as enemies summon reinforcements faster than you can kill them. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this otherwise brilliantly-executed game is how hollow its world feels. Despite the gorgeously rendered city visuals and a goodly amount of text to be found by digging through random data terminals, Satellite Reign's city feel less like a world than a cyberpunk-themed playset. You direct your little squad of action figures around and play as you like, but rarely feel lost or immersed in the setting. It would be churlish and greedy to demand storytelling on the level of, say, Deus Ex from the game when it already does everything else so well, but it's saying something when Syndicate still manages to establish a better mood despite being nearly twenty-two years older. At the same time, rough edges like that are a small price to pay when Satellite Reign does Syndicate better than Syndicate ever did.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed]
Satellite Reign Review photo
Guerilla Startup
I can still remember the first time I played Syndicate. It was after school in late 1993, and I was messing around on an office computer while waiting for my mother to finish a meeting and take me home. I remember the cool mi...

Review: Corpse of Discovery

Aug 27 // Jed Whitaker
Corpse of Discovery (PC)Developer: Phosphor GamesPublisher: Phosphor Games Released: August 25, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD "Our feature presentation" is displayed on the screen the moment Corpse of Discovery is launched, followed by a live action video of a press conference with a representative from the "Corps of Discovery" -- a space exploration company -- explaining that communication with one of their astronauts had been lost. Cut to an astronaut groggily waking up in a space station to a recorded voice stating this is your final mission and to make your way to the main computer to be briefed. On the way to get briefed you'll come across various items to interact with including laptops playing silly videos, pictures, and a hologram with an audio message from your wife and kids. Upon reaching the main computer a hologram of the planet is displayed and your mission is read aloud by a recorded voice, letting you know you'll be placing markers on this unexplored planet. Just outside the main computer room is a space suit you'll have to slip on before stepping outside into a barren red planet. The atmosphere of this planet is exactly what one would expect as a lone astronaut on an unexplored planet; extreme emptiness, a lifeless wasteland, and your thoughts.  After you get over the initial awe of walking out of the spaceship onto the planet you'll notice the framerate often dips quite low when moving quickly, and there is a great deal of objects popping in thus breaking the immersion. I played the game on two different computers to see if it was just me or if the game was just optimized really poorly, to unsurprisingly find out my suspicions were confirmed. No matter what settings were adjusted, the results were the same: pop in and frame rate dips; It sure as hell didn't look silky smooth like the slow movement and quick cuts of the trailer lead me to believe it would be, nor was there a helmet around the edges of the screen like shown in both the trailer and screenshots.  [embed]307987:60150:0[/embed] Once you've accepted the dismal optimization, you'll find a nearby helper AI-- a floating orb-shaped robot with glowing blue eyes -- that gives you directions, tips, updates from the Corps HR department and seems to have an intelligent personality of all her own. She warns that standing in direct sunlight will cause radiation levels to increase and points to the first place that needs to be marked, so you set off in that direction. Along the way, between heavy breaths inside your suit, you'll hear the bot remind you that after this mission you will be retired, how appreciative your family will be for all your hard work, and that she hasn't been able to get out a distress call as your ship crash landed leaving you currently stranded. As you find the last marker the bot says her battery is about to die, her distress signal was never heard and that your family will be well compensated. After your bot passes into the battery-less afterlife, you'll be given one last point to go to while avoiding gigantic tornadoes surrounding the area. Taking floaty jumps across the map until arriving at the final point is horrifying, as you're given no hope of surviving and you're light years from home. Upon arriving at the last way point an alien flies onto screen and fills you with radiation causing you to black out, only to wake up back in the base for your final mission, again, only this time on a different planet.  This passing out, waking up back in the base cycle happens a handful of times before the credits roll. Each cycle has hints of passage of time and new messages from a family that misses you, all while being told this is your last mission yet being on a brand new planet. Each planet looks vastly different, with the second being full of lush vegetation and some living organisms, a stark contrast to the starting planet's emptiness, while others have floating rocks, lava, and deserts filled with caves and rocky peaks. There isn't a lot to do on any of them though, as every mission is "walk over there, press action, rinse, repeat" though eventually a jetpack is added to the mix. The catch is that it can only boost for so long before you'll have to wait a bit for its power to recharge, though you can reach the altitude you want and keep tapping it every couple seconds to nearly infinitely stay midair, allowing you to quickly glide between points of interest.  Other than the main objectives there are some other interesting objects to find -- though I use the term interesting loosely in this case as finding mirages of food you miss from Earth is anything but interesting -- that add a bit of information to the astronaut's backstory, giving glimpses at his family life and personal tastes. There are also a couple of kind of funny celebrity impersonators that can be found, one of which is Matthew McConaughey talking nonsense about wormholes like his character in Interstellar. The best extras to find though have to be satellites that play commercials, TED talks and a music video, all that are tailor made to reference what is going on in the game and taunting you with "You're going to die alone on this planet."  Later in the game the tone switches from mystery, to deep hypothetical questions about choice and religion before going off rails and becoming a satire of itself. Suddenly your AI robot friend is more self aware, swears and doesn't even provide you your assigned mission, before mocking you for doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps your character is going mad or is in Hell, the game doesn't really ever make it very clear.  I have a feeling the developers don't even know what to do with the story and kind of just gave up and decided to try to make it comical, which makes the last level feel less like an awesome sci-fi adventure game and more like a shitty mod a teenager would make of a game to impress their friends. Corpse of Discovery's intro sets a very serious and cinematic tone that is carried on through most of the first half of the game before derailing and turning into a parody of itself, ruining what could have been an otherwise beautiful experience apart from the horrible optimization. At around three hours, it's hard to recommend Corpse of Discovery to starved sci-fi fans, let alone the general public, and especially at full price. With some optimization patches it would be at least worth a play through for sci-fi fans, but as it stands I'd let this one get lost in space. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Corpse of Discovery Rev photo
One Man's Sky
I'm a huge fan of the recent resurgence of sci-fi blockbusters such as Gravity, Interstellar and the upcoming The Martian, and when I watched the trailer for Corpse of Discovery I couldn't help but see the influence...

Lovers Release Date photo
Lovers Release Date

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime finally gets a release date


And it's soon!
Aug 18
// Patrick Hancock
I've been waiting to play Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime since I first saw it at PAX East two years ago. It's a unique cooperative game that constantly keeps the players (see: lovers) on their toes. Each player can cont...
The Solus Project photo
The Solus Project

Get lost in space with the first eight minutes of The Solus Project


And you thought Dinklage was bad
Aug 13
// Jed Whitaker
The first eight minutes of the upcoming first-person survival game The Solus Project have been released and it looks pretty good. The voice acting, on the other hand, is atrocious. The harsh environment of the alien pla...

Stasis photo
Stasis

Stasis shows sci-fi horror from a different perspective


Isometric adventure game releasing soon
Aug 10
// Jordan Devore
More sci-fi horror games? Sign us up. This one, Stasis, was made possible thanks to crowdfunding. It's an isometric point-and-click adventure game with shades of Event Horizon (cue mental images of a sliced-up Sam Neill). Ahe...
Destiny photo
Destiny

Destiny players have clocked up 2 billion hours


(Only half of that is me, honest)
Aug 05
// Vikki Blake
Destiny has over 20 million players. Together, they have clocked up a combined total of two billion hours play time since launch.   That works out at around 100 hours of gameplay from each player. (Which is around half o...
No Man's Sky photo
No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky can't be spoiled


Game's so big, everyone's experiences will differ
Jul 13
// Vikki Blake
Don't worry about avoiding videos and interviews regarding No Man's Sky; the game can't be spoiled, according to the developer. Talking to The Guardian, Hello Games’ Sean Murray said the sheer scale of the gam...
No Man's Sky photo
No Man's Sky

I'm finally starting to get No Man's Sky


Extended footage
Jul 06
// Jordan Devore
What do you do in No Man's Sky? Hello Games could spend the rest of its time leading up to release trying to answer that question and people would continue asking anyway. This "18 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay" from IGN ...
Destiny photo
Destiny

Destiny's Smith: 'My words made it sound as if Bungie doesn't care about their fans'


'That asshat was me'
Jun 25
// Vikki Blake
When Destiny fans made their views on the pricing - and content thereof - of The Taken King's Collector's Edition painfully clear, Bungie didn't say much. According to the latest Bungie update, however, the reason for their i...
Take On Mars photo
Take On Mars

Take On Mars gets a new trailer, beta this summer


Another A-Ha subheader probably
Jun 16
// Darren Nakamura
I've been interested in Take On Mars for a while, but I'm always a little wary of doing the Early Access thing. On the one hand, there's exploring real-life locations on the red planet. On the other, there's playing an unfin...
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, ...
Dreadnought photo
Dreadnought

If you lose your ship in Dreadnought, you get put in a dinky little jet


In one mode, at least
Jun 08
// Brett Makedonski
Everything we've seen of Dreadnought thus far has been relatively low stakes. Sure, your ships are big -- and it's not good when they blow up -- but you'll come back strong as ever after a short wait. That's how Team De...
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,...
No Man's Sky photo
No Man's Sky

Sony is treating No Man's Sky as a first-party release


Sony's pouring resources into this one
May 15
// Laura Kate Dale
No Man's Sky is not strictly speaking a Sony-exclusive game, but you might be forgiven for thinking it is permanently exclusive considering how ferociously the company is marketing it: prominent E3 press conference space, fin...

Review: Lost Orbit

May 11 // Darren Nakamura
Lost Orbit (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed])Developer: PixelNAUTSPublisher: PixelNAUTSReleased: May 12, 2015MSRP: $11.99 Described as a "dodge-'em-up" by developer PixelNAUTS, Lost Orbit doesn't fall neatly into any one established genre. Harrison has no projectile weaponry, so shoot-'em-up isn't accurate. One of the secondary objectives is to complete levels in under a certain amount of time, but it isn't exactly a racing game either. Each level has the same basic goal: get from one end to the other without being smashed, crushed, dismembered, or otherwise destroyed by any of the many environmental hazards. To begin, Harrison has only a few tools at his disposal. He can hit his thrusters to move forward and he can turn. By collecting Obtainium, he can upgrade his suit with new abilities like a barrel roll, mega boost, and the ability to brake. Risk and reward are central to Lost Orbit's design, and that comes through in the boost ability. By the end, Harrison has a huge stockpile of fuel to use and it allows him to go much faster than normal. A skilled player can shoot for platinum times by cranking down on the boost and never letting up. An unskilled player who tries that will often smash Harrison into a rock. [embed]291882:58486:0[/embed] Peppered throughout the environment are objects more helpful than wayward asteroids. Some planets can be orbited by approaching them slowly. This replenishes and usually offers up a safe spot to collect oneself. Conversely, these planets can also be used to gain a mini boost. To activate it, Harrison must fly close to them with his thrusters on. This sets up its own little risk/reward scenario. Players going for platinum scores will want to blaze past these, but there's a limited window for success. Too far from the planet and no boost is awarded. Too close and well, you can guess what happens when an astronaut goes careening into a solid planet. This is probably one of the smartest pieces of design in the game; it's a single environmental element that serves a different function depending on the style of the player. There are other helpful/dangerous objects to find out in deep space. Gas planets can be flown through for an extended speed boost. Pulsars bounce Harrison off in a predetermined direction. Liquid planets hold the astronaut still before he choose a direction to shoot out. When everything comes together, it's almost like a game of pinball, where lights are flashing and objects are ricocheting and the player is right at the sweet spot of control. While maintaining high speeds the player doesn't have complete control over the situation, but always enough that it doesn't feel unfair. Supporting the gameplay is a poignant narration from an artificial intelligence drone (who sounds a little bit like our own Conrad Zimmerman). It isn't some grand story about good vs. evil, but instead takes a look at being human, growing up, and finding freedom. Forced into a perilous situation, Harrison reacts in a curious way. Previously working as a drone of sorts, he embraces the freedom to fly wherever and do whatever he wants. He puts himself at risk of death because for the first time in long while he is finally living. It's sad and beautiful but also pretty funny in its own way. The presentation complements the gameplay well. Despite being set in the deep darkness of outer space, there are plenty of purples and greens to keep things looking interesting. Some of the speed demon objects like gas planets and ramps have long visual lead-ins to let players know something important is coming a little before it shows up. The soundtrack deserves special mention as one that works well with the rest of the game. It captures the science fiction feel with its drifting electronic melodies, but also has higher energy sections that set the stage for Lost Orbit's fast action. Composer Giancarlo Feltrin did a great job with it; my only complaints are that I would have liked more tracks and for them to be unique to the various star systems. All in all, Lost Orbit is a winner. At about two to three hours to get through its campaign, it doesn't overstay its welcome, but it can definitely last longer for those who want to go for all the platinum medals. It is only ever as easy or as hard as the player wants it to be, and it does that through smart design rather than by artificial difficulty tweaks. Boiled down to its essence it's a game about dodging obstacles, which isn't exactly an amazing concept. But it takes that concept and runs with it, doing its dodging thing well. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Lost Orbit review photo
Cruisin' Milky Way
Flying through space can be great with all of the right tools. Automated navigation systems and high-power lasers can get a vessel through an asteroid field with little incident. Flying solo with just a jetpack and human refl...

Review: Shadowrun Chronicles - Boston Lockdown

Apr 27 // Chris Carter
Shadowrun Chronicles - Boston Lockdown (PC) Developer: Cliffhanger ProductionsPublisher: Nordic GamesReleased: April 28, 2015MSRP: $39.99 As a quick crash course on the story, "Shadowrun" literally refers to the act of carrying out plans which are "illegal or quasi-legal." You'll have plenty of chances to engage in said debauchery, as the world has gone through an "Awakening" 65 years before Lockdown, which takes place in 2076. Magic has returned to the world, dwarves, elves, orcs, and trolls are a thing -- oh, and dragons too. Returns took place in Seattle, Dragonfall was in Germany, and this is in Boston. Got it? Action will take place in an isometric strategic format very similar to the XCOM series. Using a classic mouse and keyboard setup, you'll have two maximum movement grids, the second layer of which will allow you to "sprint," and immediately end your turn. The first threshold will still allow you to attack, use a skill, or interact with the environment accordingly. Gameplay is all about positioning and outflanking your opponent, as well as placing emphasis on a risk-reward melee mechanic. For the most part you'll want to conservatively duck into various bits of cover, but since hand-to-hand attacks always result in a higher damage output, there's the chance to get up close and personal. It's all very functional, but to be frank, that's about as technical as the game gets. [embed]290948:58338:0[/embed] As you progress and earn more skills, you'll have the opportunity to delve into various trees and specialize in something that's more your style. Beyond your typical passive bonuses (Mind, Body) there's weapon-centric trees (blades, blunt, pistols, shotguns, automatics), summoning, spellcasting, hacking, and rigging -- the latter of which is more like a "gearhead" conceit. You don't need to hole-up into just one role (although you likely will at first), as you're free to distribute your skills as you see fit. Personally, I went with the automatic rifle route combined with a touch of summoning. Your basic summon includes a spirit bear, which can maul or stun enemies as its own autonomous unit -- it's really cool, but later skills are often less memorable or endearing as more progress is made. With 11 trees that feature anywhere from 13 to 20 skills each, there's a decent amount of options available, but since a lot of those double-up as "advanced" versions, there's not as much variation as I would have hoped. This is by design, as Cliffhanger Productions has stated that it wanted a more streamlined approach with Lockdown. I'd say that with some sacrifices the studio has achieved that goal (for instance, actual statistical changes for different backgrounds and races are marginal at best), but missions often lack that spark often found in other genre staples. Most runs are predicated on simplistic kill orders, which often result in a simple flank with a series of firefights. There's very little room for nuance when most of the weaponry effectively feels the same. The script also doesn't feel as poignant as Hairbrained Schemes' titles, and although there aren't a lot of glaring problems with it, it's tough to truly resonate with Lockdown's world beyond the occasional Red Sox reference. Your gameplay loop precedes as follows: a hub world visit to grab a mission, running said mission, returning to the hub to upgrade, and so on. There's no looming open overworld, no MMO-like exploration -- the hub is one small Boston neighborhood, with a taxi that takes you to each stage, an instance across the city. Along the way you'll earn cash to buy new weapons, armor, and augmentations, and karma nets you more skills -- that's all you need to know. It's a rather confining means of play, but it works, as the almighty call of upgrades and loot is just as powerful as it is anywhere else. So about that former "Online" moniker -- the first thing I noticed as soon as I booted up Boston Lockdown was the chat function. Nearly every avatar looks different due to the heavy amount of cosmetic options, which range from tattoos to visors that would make Geordi La Forge jealous. Even in the tutorial you're privy to a gathering of players, some of which are looking to help out new players, and others advertising their HP and gear to find a more professional-oriented group. The entire interface has been vastly improved from its former Early Access state, as players can simply click on someone's name or their avatar in the hub world to form a group. Friending people is also as easy as sending a request, and the UI itself is very clean, completely devoid of clutter. Players who enjoy a breadth of options are likely going to be disappointed, as Boston Lockdown only allows you to tweak your resolution (up to 1920x1080), fullscreen (with no full-windowed option), a few mouse scrolling variations, and volume control. That's about it. Dedicated Shadowrun fans will likely be disappointed at the lack of depth, and your mileage may vary in terms of the appeal of the multiplayer function, which seemingly took over some of the other more endearing aspects of the series. If you haven't played a game in the series since the SNES however, Boston Lockdown is a decent starting point, and a perfect way to re-acclimate yourself to the genre with friends. If you prefer to fly solo, just go with Shadowrun Returns instead. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Shadowrun Boston review photo
Not featuring Boston's Favorite Son
In case you haven't noticed, Shadowrun has been making a comeback lately. With Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns in 2013 and the subsequent Dragonfall follow-up, the series has enjoyed triumphant return to...

Starbound update photo
Starbound update

New Starbound update adds pets and teleporters


And what else? I don't know; SLIME!
Apr 21
// Darren Nakamura
It seems like these are being pushed out more frequently now. The last stable update to Starbound came out about three months ago, but before that it had been nearly a year. That said, this update seems much less substantial ...
Star Wars Battlefront photo
Star Wars Battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront will lack space battles


At least Star Fox is still coming this year, right?
Apr 17
// Jed Whitaker
The official Twitter account for all things Star Wars from EA confirmed today that there will be no space battles in Star Wars Battlefront. When asked "space battles or not" EA responded: We’re focusing on air battles ...
Affordable photo
Affordable

Peep the three roles in the new Affordable Space Adventures trailer


Science Officer, Pilot, and Engineer
Apr 02
// Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures is coming out in one week, so developer KnapNok Games has released a new trailer for the cooperative sci-fi puzzle action title. In my time with it at PAX East, I found the use of the Wii U G...
StarCrawlers preview photo
StarCrawlers preview

StarCrawlers is sci-fi dungeon crawling done right


Essentially, it's Shadowrun, but set in space. I'm perfectly fine with that
Apr 02
// Rob Morrow
Juggernaut Games’ Kickstarter-funded sci-fi dungeon crawler StarCrawlers went into Early Access on Steam just a couple of weeks ago and seems to be doing quite well for itself based on the positive Steam reviews po...
EVE Valkyrie trailer photo
EVE Valkyrie trailer

New EVE: Valkyrie trailer starts with a routine escort mission


'See you in the next life'
Mar 19
// Darren Nakamura
EVE Valkyrie has come a long way since the footage from last year's EVE Fanfest. The trailer above shows a more fleshed out mission, beginning with a mundane escort and ending with, well, something a little more exciting. Th...

Affordable Space Adventures is the Wii U experience I imagined in 2012

Mar 09 // Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures puts players in the role of space tourists, in control of a Small Craft™, a ship woefully underequipped for the perils of interplanetary exploration. It starts with only a flashlight, but gains new components over the course of the game. Early on the fuel-burning engine activates, and the explorers can get moving. As new systems come into play, they are controlled on the GamePad, referred to in game as the "heads down display" (heh). Some systems are binary; they are either on or off. Most have variable levels of power, from zero (off) to five (max). Success hinges on managing which systems have power at which times. For instance, pushing the thrusters' power up to the higher levels can allow for a quick escape but will overheat the engine if left for too long. Further on, the explorers encounter armed drones to circumvent. Though they are dangerous, their sensors are limited. Some detect heat, some detect sound, some detect electrical activity, and the most robust detect a combination of the three. Each ship component produces some amount of each, so the key to getting past the sentries is figuring out which systems are essential and which can be temporarily powered down or shut off. [embed]288785:57661:0[/embed] At this point, Affordable Space Adventures becomes a sort of puzzle game. It starts simple: if a drone senses heat and/or sound but the ship just wants to descend, then the trick is to hover above the danger zone, kill the engines, then restart it after passing safely by. Climbing through a similar situation would require the electric engine, which has a different feel to it in addition to producing different detectable effects. Later on, things get more complicated. Some drones can sense both heat and electricity, so players have to come up with clever solutions for avoiding detection or destruction. One section had us turning off the decelerator and coasting through a drone's area of effect. Another had me crank up the antigravity to gain upward momentum, kill the engines, then restore them just in time for my pilot to navigate us to safety. The game can be controlled by a single person using the GamePad, and it works fine, though it can get a little hectic coordinating the systems management on the touch screen with the piloting on the big screen. Where Affordable Space Adventures really shines is in two- or three-player cooperative mode. With two players, the one with the GamePad controls the systems and the flashlight while the other controls piloting, scanning, and firing flares. Almost everything players can do is interconnected so communication between teammates is essential. For instance, while the pilot is the one who activates the scanner, the engineer is the one who aims it. Adding a third player splits the labor further, adding a science officer to the mix. I was only able to play with two during my time, but even that was a great experience. It simulates the action on a spaceship bridge, where each person has specific roles and success comes from coordination and communication between teammates. Other games have done this, but Affordable Space Adventures is probably the most accessible of its ilk, requiring fewer players and just a single console. As a single-player or a cooperative game, Affordable Space Adventures makes excellent use of the Wii U GamePad. Any who like asymmetric cooperative multiplayer would do well to check it out. When the team works well together it can overcome some tricky circumstances. When the team doesn't work quite so well and the ship explodes and everybody dies, well, that's funny too. Affordable Space Adventures should be available on the Wii U eShop on April 9. The final price has not yet been decided.
PAX East photo
Better late than never
When Nintendo first unveiled the Wii U, my mind raced with ideas for games that could be created with the two-screen interface. A lot of the cool stuff that the DS did could be transferred to the big screen. Better yet, title...

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...

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