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Review – American Truck Simulator (PC)

The Good

  • Strong Developer Support
  • Sprawling environment to explore
  • Straightforward Gameplay

The Bad

  • Free drive could be more flexible
  • No official online multiplayer
  • Repetitive gameplay

There are a lot of Simulation games out there covering a crazy array of subjects from Farming to Forklift driving.  To some extent, some laws regarding video game content in some European countries can be blamed for this trend.  It’s also nice to be able to do even simple things that you can’t normally do.  A lot of these simulation titles are flat out garbage, with mediocre graphics and very little realism in terms of game play, the few that are decent though really tend to be shinning stars to some extend in the gaming world.

Two of the best example of good Simulation titles are the Farming Simulator and the Euro Truck Simulator titles.  What really sets these games apart is the depth they go to simulating not just the basic aspect of doing some job, but also the nuance of running the entire business.  Euro Truck Simulator is particularly popular due to just how much of Europe has been recreated in a virtual environment for players to cruise around in delivering their cargo.  The creators of Euro Truck Simulator have set their sites on recreating a second continent for Truck Driving, with American Truck Simulator.  They have stated that their plan is to do all of the United States in various DLC packs (I’m not sure if they are including Hawaii and Alaska).  The base game includes California, Nevada and New Mexico.  It’s not a 1:1 experience or anything but the basic idea is there, which is great.

This plan has been put on hold a bit however since the developers are currently working to rescale the world they have created to allow for more accurate interchanges and a better feeling of long range driving.  Essentially, they are remaking what they have already put out to make the entire experience better, which just goes to show how dedicated they are to their cause.

There are a ton of little details to help complicate the experience that contribute to the Simulation experience.  A low powered truck won’t be able to effectively pull a super heavy load.  Over time, you will run out of gas unless you stop to refuel your fuel.  You also will grow tired, which causes you to briefly “black out”, unless you stop at a designated rest area to sleep.  You lose points (money) for running into other vehicles and walls, if you speed and get caught by the cops you get a ticket, though it’s often possible to speed and not get caught, especially on “the back roads”.  When you arrive at the destination you get a chance to earn bonus experience by just dropping off the trailer, or executing a perfect back in maneuver.

The real enjoyment of this game comes from it’s laid back gameplay.  There isn’t any real pressure, you aren’t racing against a bunch of other vehicles or having to worry about who will shoot you as you cruise around the world delivering various cargo trailers.  Once you’ve earned enough money to buy your own truck you can even free drive at your own leisure.

The free drive mode is nice, though it kind of feels like it could be better.  While free driving, you don’t carry a trailer, which kind of makes the Truck part of the game a little less fun.  You also still have to worry about the game’s mechanics, such as speeding tickets, refueling, and paying for repairs.  This can all add up pretty quick if you are a poor driver.  It would be nice to be able to turn all of the game off and just goof around in this expansive world.

It also takes a while to “unlock” free drive mode as well, since you’ll have to save up a hefty chunk of change in order to buy even a cheap truck.  Over time though as you earn money you can buy bigger and nicer trucks, as well as trick them out with custom paint and gear.  You can eventually start hiring other drivers to run jobs for your company as well, to earn some passive income.

All of this is a little moot though since there isn’t a built in way to play online.  There are 3rd party methods but it would be nice to have an official way to cruise around the US with your friends, or even see strangers cruising around in their fancy trucks.  I imagine there would be issues with griefing where other players just run around trying to wreck people.

It’s also possible that I’m expecting too much out of this title, it is a Simulation game, it’s not “GTA with Semis”.  Also don’t take too much stake in these complaints, they are issues that could be better, but the basic idea and game is pretty fun and it’s a good low pressure experience.  If the developers stick to their plan to do the entire US, it could definitely turn into something really interesting, as you could virtually cruise from Los Angeles to New York.

 

Review – Fez (PC, PS3, XBox 360, PS4, Vita)

2012 – Polytron Corporation – 1 Player
* Review is based on the PC Release

The Good

  • Neat and well executed 3D rotation Gimmick
  • Interesting and reasonably complex puzzles

The Bad

  • Some of the puzzles are a little too complex and not obvious that they are even there.
  • Drives to be a community experience but the community has kind of dried up.
  • Navigating around the world is tricky and can get confusing.

Review

Fez Fez is a platform game centered around a 3D rotation gimmick. The core game play is simple platform mechanics. Walk around, jump and climb, with moving platforms and such thrown in. There aren’t a lot of enemies to contend with which doesn’t really matter because dying has no consequence anyway. The trick is, that Gomez, your character has been bestowed with the Magic Fez (or whatever) and can rotate the world 90 degrees left and right. This changes the layering of some objects allowing previously inaccessible paths to be accessible. The object is to collect these cube things. There isn’t much of an actual story.

It’s something that kind of has to be seen to really be understood but the general idea is, that say, there is a platform floating off to the right that you can’t jump to. Rotating the world may bring that platform in front of your current platform. You can then jump to it as if it’s in the same 2D plane. You can then rotate the world back and you will have no cross the gap that was previously not crossable.

Fez Keeping track of the 3D environment can be tricky if the player is poor at spacial logic. The other puzzles all tend to revolve around learning (read Googling a key) for the multiple in game alphabets. These are little symbols that show up from time to time. Sometimes they look like Tetris pieces instructing the player to enter a certain button sequence, sometimes they are little riddles that you must answer. They are basically cryptogram puzzles. I probably would have figured it out eventually but I didn’t even know these factors were a “thing” until i went searching for answers online, which is kind of a problem of game design. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just not presented in a way that is overly intuitive to the player.

Fez This is also a problem with the in game map. I went through almost the entire first half of the game before even knowing there was a map. a map that not only makes navigating the 3Dish world much easier but tells me when I have cleared out an area. You might think “how can you blame your own stupidity on the game?” Because it’s, once again, poor design. I played most of this game using a controller with at least a dozen buttons. Not one of the buttons was mapped to the map. Both the right shoulder buttons were mapped the same and both the left shoulder buttons were mapped the same, yet I had to press escape on the keyboard to open the map. In a game with such redundancy in it’s controls I would expect something as almost necessary as a map to at least be on the Start or Select button, it was not. This is likely not an issue on console versions of the game which don’t have a keyboard.

FezThe game itself also has a few bugs, at least one pretty substantial one that I uncovered (though I am sure I am not the first). One of the puzzles involves cubes which only shot up on certain time intervals, the longest of which is every 48 hours. Firstly, any puzzle which requires player intervention at such a specific time period is pretty shoddy to begin with. This can be “circumvented” by futzing with the time settings of your PC (or console). Doing this seemed to screw up my save file though. I ended up resetting my play time. Not a huge deal. I did however seem to reset several cubes that I had collected, sort of. The map showed them uncollected and I could rediscover them, but at some point I had collected “everything” and could still get more cubes. It didn’t increment my cube counter though. and I could complete the game as if I had everything.

Fez I believe in my searching for clue to complete the puzzles I read that you can collect all of the cubes in one play through but finishing the game once unlocks a FPS view mode which is required to see several hidden codes. It also unlocks a flight mode which basically turns the game into “easy mode”.

Completing the game a second time unlocks a Red and Blue 3D view (which can be disabled). I am not real sure how effective this mode is as I don’t have any 3D glasses floating around to test it with.

Anyway, it’s an interesting game. If you like the idea of combining cryptographic text puzzles with a platformer in a slightly confusing 3D environment then by all means give this game a go. Frankly, I probably enjoyed this game less than i should have. I don’t have the time or patience for this sort of puzzler so I ruined half the fun by just looking up the answers. I did find the 3D rotation gimmick enjoyable though.

Review – Gunman Clive (3DS)

The Good

  • Quick classic style gameplay
  • Interesting and different art style
  • Game becomes more complex than it initially feels

The Bad

  • Game can be frustratingly “cheap” in it’s difficulty
  • Not an overly long game with not a ton of replay value
  • Some mechanics such as the weapons could be a little more refined

In Depth

Gunman Clive is a game that harkens back to a simpler time of gaming.  There isn’t a super deep story going on and the levels are all relatively short.  It’s very “arcadish” at it’s core, with it’s time tracking and death tracking, that is to day, the idea is more to beat your high scores, than experience some deep endless story or gameplay.  This isn’t a bad thing mind you, and there’s more going on here than it initially seems.

The basic plot is that you are a cowboy in the west and your girlfriend, or wife or whatever has been kidnapped.  You chase out, armed with your trusty side arm to rescue her.  The basic controls and gameplay remind me a lot of the old Mega Man titles.  Not for crazy power ups or level selection, but just the basic jumping and shooting only straight ahead sort of mechanics.  The levels themselves are much more classic platform shooter, something akin to a Contra game, especially with the power ups you collect along the way.  The game starts out simple enough, there are opposing cowboys to shoot down, sometimes there’s rabbits or birds swopping in.  As the plot advances along though it becomes apparent there’s a lot more behind the scenes as you travel through levels with more and more crazy technology and eventually head off into space battling aliens.

The game is divided into several themed “worlds” with 5 or so levels in each world.  Each world can be completed in around a minute once you get the hang of things, though chances are you’ll spend longer on each level working it out.  Each time you die you simply return to the start of the level to try again, there are no lives here.  As the levels advance, things get more and more complex.  Enemy cowboys start hiding behind things for example, and later you encounter robot cannons and various environmental hazards such as spikes and electrical beams.

At the end of each world is a huge boss.  The bosses are all pretty interesting and varied in their mechanics and design, I particularly liked the giant transforming train robot at the end of the Train world.  All in all the difficulty across the board is pretty simple, a lot of the puzzles and traps though fall into the category of trial an error.  You play through learning the proper timing of everything until you manage to get through to the end.  The most annoying aspects involve the enemies constantly respawning if you slide their spawn location on and off the screen.  Also annoying is that sometimes enemies drop new weapons which are worse than the one you have, except you can’t avoid picking up the inferior weapon.

Probably the main gimmick of this title is the neat art style used throughout,  The entire game is rendered in this sort of yellow and gray hand drawn motif.  It looks pretty cool without being super distracting.  Despite it’s simpler art design, there’s a lot of fun complexity going on, especially in the bosses and as the world progresses into the later worlds.

Gunman Clive isn’t a super complex title, but it’s a fun little indie game platformer.  It’s not the most replayable game though unless you are into score challenges.  There is a “Play as a chicken” mode that unlocks after completing the game though.

Review – From Dust (PC, PS3, Xbox360)

2011 – Ubisoft – One Player

The Good

  • Interesting Gimmick where you manipulate the world using literal God Power
  • Eventually there is a sandbox mode, which is neat.

The Bad

  • The gimmick is way more limited than it is made out to be and the world tends to “right” itself
  • The above makes a lot of the levels frustrating since you try to do X but it just sort of fails…
  • By the time you unlock the Sandbox, you’ll hate the game play.

In Depth

Ok, I tried… I really tried. If possible, I try to complete a game before I do a review of it. This means being late to the game most of the time but it also means I get to experience all that the game has to offer, which is the way it should be. There are exceptions for various reasons, some games don’t have a real ending, some are repetitious enough that it’s clear nothing more is going to be gained by continuing onward.

Others become so frustrating and irritating I just can’t being myself to finish it no matter how hard I want to. From Dust is one of the latter set there. (more…)

Review – Overwatch (PC, PS4, X-Box One)

The Good

  • Fun Team based Gameplay
  • Loot system that never feels like you need to buy anything (though you can)
  • Large variety in game modes

The Bad

  • No way to trade duplicate item drops with other people
  • Game can feel a little repetitive after a while, several maps feel like facelift copies of each other
  • Social aspects could use some work

In Depth

It’s really hard not to compare Overwatch to Team Fortress 2.  They have vaguely similar art styles, the game play is the same sort of class based team shooter game, and the whole attitude in design is sort of “fantastical cartoon” without seeming overly kiddified.  Having played more TF2 than probably any other title except possibly World of Warcraft, I will say they are definitely similar and definitely gunning for the same audience.  Overwatch takes some different queues though in how it works things, which help to differentiate itself a lot from TF2, which leaves some space for both titles.

If you enjoy Team Fortress 2, you will very likely enjoy Overwatch, especially if you’re like me and got driven away from TF2 once the whole economy thing became the focus of the game more than playing the game.  This touches a bit on both a good and bad aspect of Overwatch.  Item drops come in the form of loot crates, which each contain 4 items, skins, sprays, emotes, voice lines, etc.  Nothing that drops is game affecting in any way, it’s all cosmetic.  The things that you’re likely going to care about the most, ie skins, are more rare than things that are kind of useless like sprays.  As of this time, there isn’t anyway to trade items with other players.  Extra items are converted into in game currency that can be used to buy different items.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s kind of bad because I’d much rather trade an extra rare skin for a different skin I want rather than converting it into a tiny pile of coins.  It’s good be because it helps keep Overwatch from developing an economy, which personally, kind of ruined Team Fortress 2.

You can also buy Loot Boxes, they aren’t a super great price, but they aren’t overly expensive.  Unlike Battlefield 1, you get a lot of them just by playing the game, and each contains 4 items.  You get a free box for every level you gain on your account, and you can get an additional 3 boxes each week for 9 wins in Arcade Mode.  There are also seasonal ranked matches which I believe give some kind of reward in the form of loot.  There is also the currency you collect in game through drops and duplicate items, so you can simply save up and buy the specific cosmetic item that you are after for your favorite character.  The point is, you can more than get away with getting plenty of items just by playing the game.

But enough about loot, it needed mentioning, but it’s also kind of an aside to the game.

The real core of the game is of course, gameplay, and with it, the roster of characters.  It’s also where Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 really differ.  Team Fortress 2 has 9 classes, though each of these classes can be set up through different loadouts to have different play styles.  Demoman for example, plays differently than Demoknight.  Overwatch instead simply has, more characters, 23 of them, with more being added over time to add more variety.  For example, both Sombra and Ana were added after the game’s launch.  Each character is surprisingly unique in play style and design and for the most part the game is pretty well balanced.

For the most part.  Some characters are definitely more played and more powerful than others.  That isn’t to say that you won’t see every character at some point while playing.  However you’ll see way more D.Va and Roadhog than Zaraya for the Tanks.  Also, each character gets an Ultimate Ability which can be unleashed after filling a meter by dealing and taking damage and even just over time.  Ultimates such as D.Va’s exploding mechsuit are super useful at wiping out an entire team, while other’s such as Sombra’s EMP or Tracer’s lame little grenade are kind of less useful.

There is definitely enough character variety to suit any preferred play style.  Also, except in certain game modes, characters are limited to one per team, so no need to worry about having a dozen snipers hanging around in the back ala Team Fortress 2.  There’s only one real sniper, (two but one is a healer), so you’ll only have one useless player hanging around 500 miles back.

Speaking of game modes, there’s the regular Quick Play, and Arcade.  Quick Play works as you might expect, select a character, then play in one of several pretty standard play modes, control points, push a cart, king of the hill, etc.  There’s also Arcade Mode, where things get a little more varied.  Most of the maps work the same, but there are elimination modes, where you die and don’t revive, unlimited mode where there aren’t limits on how many heroes can be on a team, 1v1 matches, or even specialized holiday maps.

That said, some of the maps can get a little repetitive.  The basic designs tend to be pretty different but many of them feel like there was a punch list of features to be added, main path, side path to the right, one upper platform.  It’s kind of subtle but there’s several that feel like at a base level, they are the same map.  Like if you took out the buildings and just made everything squared out walls, you’d have identical layouts.

Things like the arcade mode really help to break this repetition up a lot though.  There are several modes available and they cycle occasionally on what’s available.  Things like Mystery Heroes, where you get a random hero each death, or All Brawls, where all sorts of crazy rules come into play.  Some of the All Brawls limit teams to certain types of heroes such as all offense only.  Some let you pick only Genji and Hanzo, the two brothers.  One of the craziest is This is Illios mode, where Roadhogs and Lucio’s battle it out over  giant pit, the goal is more to throw your opponent in the pit than kill them.

Possibly my chief real complaint is that the social system seems kind of crappy, especially coming off of Team Fortress 2.  Granted, I was admin on a Team Fortress 2 server with a forum and a community and a clan, but Blizzard as a whole just has a pretty mediocre social set up next to Steam and Valve.  This is more of a complaint with Battlenet of course than Overwatch.  For example, I can’t just friend someone by saying I am “RamenJunkie”, because Battlenet adds these lame numbers so I’m “RamenJunkie#1476”.  There also just feels like there is less of a community in Overwatch vs Team Fortress 2.  No one uses voice either, which makes things feel a little lonely.

The bottom line is, Overwatch is a lot of fun and a great game.  If you’re not into FPS games you may not like it, if you prefer some gritty “realism” FPS games you may not like it, of course, but it is a good game.  I picked up Battlefield 1 and Overwatch around the same time period, and while Battlefield 1 started out as my preferred of the two, it grew really stale, while Overwatch has grown on me as being a lot more fun, and feels like it’s going to ultimately have more staying power of these two FPS titles.