Weekend Impressions: Greed Corp

November 28, 2010 § 5 Comments

I was originally going to fill this column with my impressions of some games I’d been playing other than Greed Corp – Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Alpha Protocol and Dead Rising 2.

Truth is, though, Need for Speed doesn’t need any additional press from me; it’s an excellent racing game, and I don’t think twice about recommending it to racing enthusiasts or people like me who find cars, in and of themselves, boring.

Alpha Protocol I haven’t played enough of, but from the amount of bugs I’ve experienced so far, only a couple of missions in, I’m unsure whether I’ll bother playing it any further. It shouldn’t have been released in this state.

Dead Rising 2? It’s okay, but it’s also just like the original, and a part of that essence is the way it goes out of its way to be really unforgiving, and I can’t be bothered with that type of game at the moment. Also, the “psychopaths” in the game, its version of mini-bosses, are lazily designed and not fun in any way, shape or form to fight against.

So, instead of me talking about those games, let me bring your attention to this excellent little strategy gem from W!Games, Greed Corp.

Greed Corp is a hex-tastic, turn-based strategy game; fairly simple to learn, while it has enough depth for it to be interesting. The central conceit is that in order to attain victory against your foes, you must mine for resources in the tiles compromising the play area, but by doing this you eventually end up destroying the space around you. This is A Pretty Bad Thing seeing as these tiles are suspended in air, and if any of your units or buildings happen to be on one of these tiles as they’re collapsing, you can wave them bye-bye. The resources gained from these tiles are used mainly to purchase units and buildings, though they’re also needed for other abilities. The goal of the game is to destroy all your opponent’s remaining tiles or units, before they do the same to you.

There are at least a couple of reasons I like Greed Corp (three, if you count the fact that when I bought it, it was at 160 MS Points, which is almost nothing).

First thing, the game’s got personality and character – and wise man once said, personality goes a long way.

The second thing is how pure and streamlined the game experience is. The interface works fantastically well, and is quick and easy to navigate through. Although I think the lack of a ‘cancel’ button for some actions is regrettable, it’s no mortal sin, either. Similar to chess, and other turn-based strategy, the path to victory is through careful, intelligent planning, thereby rewarding thoughtful play. Going back to its simplicity, I like the way the game is boiled down to one unit type, one type of production facility, one type of mining facility, and one type of stationary artillery. Instead of it being about rock-paper-scissor-style arrangements, the key here is very much focused on a risk–reward formula, which in my opinion is at the heart of what makes a good strategy/puzzle game. Try to mine every tile recklessly, and you’ll likely end up digging your own grave. At the same time, this is an arms race as to who can grab the superior territory first and in the greatest numbers; hence, behind every war machine is required a large and hefty bank account. Balancing yourself between aggressive and conservative play forms, learning from previous mistakes and adapting to new strategies, is what keeps you playing; and the AI, while sometimes patently stupid, is challenging enough whilst not being too difficult, resulting in a pleasant, gradual learning curve.

In terms of content, there is a substantial single player campaign, as well as skirmish and multiplayer modes. Disappointing, like most XBLA games, there seems to be no one playing it online. Overall, I think, Greed Corp is one of the best turn-based strategy games on the 360 – better than some full retail games, like Civilization Revolution, even. I’m not sure it’s worth 800 MS Points, but anything lower than that and I think it enters into the “It’s a deal, it’s a steal” banding.

"You know, not every game needs a RPG levelling mechanic"

January 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Castle Crashers is a game I’ve been dipping in and out between more heavy-weight titles such as Borderlands or Halo 3: ODST. While it has a fantastic presentation and a lot of content, it doesn’t come across to me as that great a brawler, and here’s why:

  1. AI enemies can continually hit you while you’re incapacitated on the ground (cheap and irritating design).
  2. RPG stats levelling dictate, to a good extent, how fast you progress through the game.

Recently, it seems that you can’t find a game that doesn’t have some form of RPG levelling mechanic in place. In many games they are well implemented and compliment the core design, adding a layer of superficial depth and giving the player incentive to progress. Batman: Arkham Asylum, incidentally, does it pretty well.

Unfortunately, sometimes the shoe just doesn’t fit, and here we come to Castle Crashers.

The problem with Castle Crashers is that you are forced to grind and repeat levels over and over so you can progress through to the next one. Now, if the combat was as well designed to allow a player to win purely through skill, this wouldn’t be an issue. As it happens, it’s not. Because your attack and defense stats are directly tied to the levelling system, you just aren’t going to get very far on skill alone, unless you are also very, very lucky.

Another perpetrator of this kind of design philosophy was Dead Rising, which used roughly the same system. Again, all it meant was that the player had to replay sections of the game over and over, just so they could get their stats up to a certain level where they could get through.

Now, I’m sorry, but at what point did playing the same part of a game over and over equate to fun? I must have missed the memo or something.

Castle Crashers would have done far better not having stats levelling in there. It would have been a better game for it if all enemy stats were balanced against the player’s in a fair and even-handed way. If they felt they just had to have some manner of RPG-style progression in there somewhere, it could just be that for every level you gain you unlock a new combo – something ancillary like that, something that doesn’t totally unbalance the game and arbitrarily prevent the player from advancing.

Overall, Castle Crashers is a game I’d recommend, in spite of the flaws I’ve just outlined, because of its “charm”, in the way it references and pays homage to the genre. Purely as a brawler, though, in terms of the combat mechanics, it is merely competent and not much more.

Weekend Impressions: 'Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal'; 'Halo: ODST'; 'Gran Torino'; and demos galore!

September 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

I finally finished Bad Company this weekend and am now suitably happy about my gamerscore to move on (sad, I know). So, leaving that in my wake, I’ve played a little of the Forza 3 and Wolfenstein demos as well as ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, an XBLA title. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is yet another game about maiming zombies (those guys really need some political representation) and plays like yet another dual-stick shooter. It looks okay, but this sort of thing is getting pretty old now. Besides, they totally messed up with how the chainsaw weapon handles – and, as anyone knows, if you include a chainsaw in your zombie game then it must be both fun to use and look cool. The chainsaw in ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE fails on both counts; hence, they can forget the 800 MS points.

Wolfenstein felt pretty underwhelming, and although I probably will play through the game at some point, it looks like it’s only worth a rental. It’s hard to pin down exactly what doesn’t gel, but I think that they went in the wrong direction with the Veil powers, and the tone of the game feels sort of off. whatever it is, it plays out more like any number of generic shooters than a Wolfenstein game. Shame.

I’ve never played a Forza title before so I came to Forza 3 with little idea of what to expect, other than it being a driving sim analagous to GT. I played through the demo track twice with two different cars and, yes, it looks good; nonetheless, it feels devoid of any sense of real speed or excitement and, in short, it’s a bit boring. That said, I think it may just be the case that game is not for me. I have no interest in cars, tuning, paint jobs and all that jazz. I like racing and crashing into things and blue skies and an awesome soundtrack behind it all.

And here we come to another series of games I really should have played by now but haven’t. I’ve just started Halo: ODST‘s singleplayer campaign and it’s shaping up nicely. I’m still sort of transitioning to the controls, my last Halo game I played having been the original on the Xbox, but I like it so far. I haven’t even tried the multiplayer disk yet or the Firefight mode, so those are things to look forward to. Whatever some people might say, I think that the game probably represents a good deal for those without all the Halo 3 multiplayer map packs, and I have it on fairly good authority that the Firefight mode is pretty cool. Besides, even if the main campaign is short, if it’s enjoyable enough then people will play through it again, alone or together in online co-op, on the harder difficulty settings. My thoughts, at the moment, are sort of apathetic, though. I missed out on the Halo buzz that came with the second and third sequels, so I really don’t have much attachment to this universe unlike other people. Also, and this may be me, Bungie seem to make their level designs a little too “boxy” for my taste – artificial and inorganic. It was the same thing in the original Halo and I’m half surprised it’s the same in ODST. It’s an aesthetic thing more than anything else, but if you compare ODST‘s New Mombasa with Half-Life 2‘s City 17 then the former looks like a bit of a joke.

I managed to grab Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal for free during Telltale’s “Talk Like A Pirate Day” celebrations. It’s an amusing diversion and I’m sure that fans of either the series or of point-and-click games will enjoy it. I actually found myself quite getting into it until I got completely stuck and had to look at GameFAQs for the solution. And here in lies the problem with this genre: as soon as you get stuck, it stops being fun and becomes a case of randomly clicking at shit; no longer is it a test of logic and intelligence but a pointless exercise of trial and error. It doesn’t help that in these cases the solution is often so nonsensically convoluted that you’d only really stumble on it by luck. I should point out here that it’s not that I’m hating on Monkey Island specifically, but I think that it’s unacceptable that there is no mechanic in place to help the player when this happens. Jesus, just a hint button would be nice or some feedback from Guybrush. I don’t find it suprising that point-and-clicks fell by the wayside because it’s clear to me that they never evolved at all, and that which doesn’t evolve dies (profound insight indeed).

Lastly, I got around to watching Gran Torino last night – a film I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the trailer with Clint Eastwood growling at people to get off his lawn. Having now seen it, my conclusion is that it only just about works because of Clint Eastwood’s presence, because of his acting history and what we associate about him. The character he plays is a racist, xenophobic asshole, and it’s only because it’s Clint that the character is just about made likable. But, really, the script is so cliched, uninspired and predictable and not even Clint’s aura can hide that. The truth is, if it were any other actor the film would be crap. Actually, you know what word comes to mind, right now, thinking about it? Lazy. And way too easy.

'Shadow Complex' XBLA Review

September 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 4 out of 5

Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and girl go spelunking together. Girl gets kidnapped by an evil terrorist organisation planning to take over the world. Boy just happens to have secret service training because his father is a spy. Boy is forced to go after girl and stop said evil terrorist organisation.

Personally, I think it could be this year’s Titanic.

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‘Streets of Rage 2’ Retro-review

July 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

[Editors note: pictures speak louder than words and video speaks louder than pictures. For that reason, I have compiled a video preview of one of the levels from Streets of Rage 2 which cycles briefly through each character, giving you some idea of their range of moves. I have also included some annotations of things I thought were worth pointing out.]

Score: 5 out of 5

Sometimes you can only really appreciate the good stuff when put against the bad. I have been playing Streets of Rage 2 sporadically throughout the week, and it’s only now, having watched GiantBomb’s Quick Look of Unbound Saga (a newly released download-only title for the PSP platform), that I’ve come to realise exactly why Streets of Rage 2 was, and still is, the king of 2D beat ‘em ups.

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‘Bionic Commando Rearmed’ Xbox 360 LIVE Arcade Review

May 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 5 out of 5

As Nathan “Rad” Spencer parachutes onto the ground below, he soft lands, performs a forward roll, and gives a cheeky nod to the player holding the controller on the other side of the screen. He’s winking at you.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is, itself, a remake of the classic NES game, a 2D-scrolling platformer/shooter, in which you control Nathan Spencer, a soldier working for the FSA (the Americans, broadly speaking) against a fascist separatist group called the Imperial Army (the Nazis, really).

As suggested in the title, the central premise of the game is that you play as Spencer, a man who has been fitted with a bionic arm, which you can use to get about places by swinging from ledges, onto platforms, from objects, etc. You cannot “jump”, per se, in this game; you can run, but eventually you will end up using the arm as the fastest – and most fun – mode of transportation.

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This Week’s Film/Games Reviews — 18/05/09

May 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

This week I should have a review up on Shane Meadow’s 2008 film, Somers Town.  Also in the next week or so will be my review for Bionic Commando: Rearmed, available for both XBLA and PSN.

I recently bought Rearmed over XBLA after having been won over by the trial version (which is simply one of the funniest, most charming things I’ve played — give it a try if you haven’t already), and it got me thinking: demos are an interesting thing, aren’t they? They’re great for consumers — as I’ve usually never been more certain over whether I’m going to buy a game after having played a demo — but they’re a mixed blessing for developers. A bad demo, unrepresentative of the quality of the full version, can harm the reputation of game via word-of-mouth before it’s even released. It’s a strange irony that the new Bionic Commando, soon to be released in Europe, has suffered this fate — especially when considering how good the trial version of Rearmed was.

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