A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases: April 22nd, 2014 Edition

Perhaps the last entry I did like this generated a bit of a positive vibe in the general flow of the Internet, because this has actually been a pretty interesting week-and-a-half for Steam.   I flatter myself; more likely, developers have begun to wrap up their post-Christmas sales endeavors and hesitantly shove them to market in hopes some customers' wallets have recovered and are ready for splurging.

Lets see if I can do this a little better than last time: that's me, always moving forward from the comfort of my armchair.   This time, I'm not trying to slam something out late in a work night, and I think I will try to do a bit of preliminary sorting into tiers.  Lets call them:
  • Interesting Tier - Hey, I might actually want to play this game.  You know, if I had time to play anything between binging on Minecraft, Don't Starve, and other games whose nerd quotient is acceptable for me.
  • Semi-Interesting Tier - Almost interesting, at least a step above pablum, keep trying.
  • Meh Tier - Okay, so you're not a casual sell-out, but I have a hard time being interested in this game at all.
  • Pablum Tier - So obviously out for casual gamer wallets that I wish I could filter it from Steam entirely.
  • Dug Up Corpse Tier -  It's not that old games can't be better than games ten years newer than them, but I shouldn't even have to look at these considering I was there when they first came out.
Since the interesting stuff is up front, you can stop reading whenever you like.  I'm not even going to bother to put trailers on the "Dug Up Corpse Tier."

Interesting Tier


The Last Federation.

Genre: Intrigue simulation set in a simulated 4X strategy game with action-yet-turn-based combat.  If that sounds like nothing you've ever played, it's deliberate.

I like Arcen.  Sure, over half their games are deeply flawed, but dammit: at least they try to push gaming forward:
  • I've mentioned how I'd like to see Minecraft combined with a city builder, and roughly that's what their Valley Without Wind series is... pity it mostly plays like a cruddy platformer.  
  • Skyward Collapse is a turn-based strategy game where you don't play either of the two sides, but rather use  your godly position to try to have them both survive for as long as possible.
  • Making a roguelike game was not good enough for Arcen.  Bionic Dues is a roguelike game shoehorned into being a squad-based combat game with a party of customizable cyborgs doing missions on maps that are part of the overmap simulated state of a dystopian city.
  • AI War, perhaps their most successful title, is a space strategy game with the unique premise of being against a foe that can squash you like a bug if you do something too noticable so you have to nibble them to death instead.
The Last Federation is probably their most ambitious title, and the second most effective title in terms of generating accessible gameplay value after AI War.  I played it all day on Monday, and I think I can formulate a decent description of it.

It's mostly a game about intrigue.  You play the lone member of an otherwise extinct alien race, and your goal is to forge the remaining races (some of which were responsible for your race's destruction) into a mighty federation.  Of course, those races are engaged in a 4X strategy game, so if you let them have their way they'll just keep killing each other until there's nobody left.

Aside from the whole, "You're a single being influencing the races of a 4X strategy game universe," The Last Federation plays completely differently from Soldak Entertainment's Drox Operative.  Drox Operative is really more of a Diablo clone in space, and stays mostly on the same "layer" of gameplay throughout.  The Last Federation has two layers:
  • One layer is the galactic over-map view that has you jumping from planet to planet and making decisions that influence the races' opinions of yourself and each other while earning and spending credits that primarily go into various intrigues.
  • The other layer is the combat engine, which is basically plays like a top-down open-ended bullet hell shooter except it's turn-based so you plot out the course of your ship to try to evade incoming bullets while either using special abilities or selecting a weapon to fire that round.
Is there more to The Last Federation than that?  Sure; the actual details of the game are deeper than you might expect.  But that's as close of a description as you'll get from anyone until you play it for yourself.  If you ask me, "Does it play like...?" I'm going to say you missed the point: The Last Federation is unique; a real breath of fresh air.

My Action: I bought The Last Federation on release day.  Played it all day Monday.  Had a lot of fun with it.  I'm not going to bother playing it for another month until they iron out the balance issues and inevitable exploits that come from giving players so many options.

Villagers And Heroes.

Genre: Straight up Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game.  You play it from a browser window.  Free to play.

Why rate this as "Interesting?"  Mostly for the virtual world trappings.  As the Steam page says, "You are the architect, the farmer, and the rancher. With a wide range of building styles to choose from, players can design and decorate their own houses, as well as choose which crops to plant in their garden, or select the type of animals they'd most like to raise. But players needn't go at it alone! Help your village grow from a tiny hamlet to a thriving metropolis by aiding your neighbors with community projects which will ultimately benefit every member of the village."

That said, I did a little research into the game, and people tend to refer to it as a "relaxing" game with "simple" combat.  Boo: simplicity is for casuals.  Still, if they can marry RPG combat to a virtual world with the ability to create your own hamlets, that's more interesting than a "theme park" style MMORPG.  The graphics look well stylized, too.

Apparently Massively gave Villagers And Heroes the 2013 Frindie "best game" award.  What is a Frindie?   Looking into it, it's a reward given to, "the best of free-to-play, indie, and oddball MMOs, a real niche-within-a-niche."  Not sure you could even say Massively is doing it, just one of their writers.

My Action: It's free, so I'll install it, give it a play, and see if I can stomach it or if it's too simple for my liking.

Update: I played Villagers and Heroes.  It's actually fairly awful.   I guess the "Frindie" reward is somewhat along the lines of, "Has potential."  Maybe, but if you play something like Runes Of Magic, you'll find a game of similar playstyle whose potential already exceeds this game's.  Maybe the virtual worldly aspects are good... at about 20 levels of WoW derivative gameplay later?

Heldric - The Legend Of the Shoemaker.

Genre: Tower Defense crossed with Diablo-like action combat.

Well, well, well.  Just the other day I was talking about trying to cross a RPG with strategy and simulation.  Here, out of a dry spell of months, is two such games.  The first is Heldric, the second is coming up next.

Having played the demo of Heldric, I'm afraid this does not quite go where I want it to:
  • In terms of being an RPG, you play Heldric, but only from a third person, Diablo-like perspective.  
  • In terms of being a strategy game, you build a civilization, but only by plopping down buildings in preestablished lots, plays more like a simplified real time strategy game. 
  • In terms of being a virtual world... it's not.  Just scenario maps.
Hinterland was closer to what I wanted.  Heldric describes itself as a "City Builder," but it's really not any more a city builder than Warcraft 3 was.  Still, it got my attention by being closer to my ideal than most.

My Action: I played the first mission from the demo.  Maybe I'll try the second mission and see if it introduces a virtual world mechanic... but I doubt it.

Parkan 2.

Genre: Space combat game meets first person combat meets vehicular combat meets... um, empire building, maybe?  If so, holy crap, guys... holy crap!

Parkan 2 is a 2007 game, which means it probably belongs on my "dug up corpse tier" list, but how can I relegate it there knowing that something came that close to realizing the space grail?  Where was it hiding all this time?!  On the opposite side of the planet, you say?  Well, I suppose that's a legitimate excuse.

RPG?  Check.  Simulation?  Check.  Strategy?  Check.  Alright, provided the implementation is good, this could indeed be the game I want to play.

The implementation is mediocre; Parkan II is a little disappointing.  It's somewhat in the same boat to Precursors in that it's also a very ambitious Russian-made open-ended sci-fi space game that was unfortunately in a rather buggy state.  It crashes about once every ten planetfalls, but at least it autosaves regularly.  At least the developers have been able to put a patch out from time to time - Nikita is still around, and doing well, although they're mostly making MMORPGs these days.

Still, even if Parkan II is buggy, how much would you pay to play around with a game that embraces such an ambitious scope?  If it's on Steam, you'll pay $5.  Five bucks!  Exactly what excuse do I have to not put up with the bugs?

My Action: I bought Parkan 2 and played it for a little over 2 hours.  It's alright, but I'm honestly not sure if it's any better than Salvation Prophecy overall.  It plays similarly where it counts.  Where it differs... well, Salvation Prophecy is more like a 4X game while Parkan is more like a space trader game.  The balance of both games is not quite right for my liking.

Semi-Interesting Tier


Vitrum.

Genre: 3D Puzzle Platformer.

The trailer is a year old, so presumably this game was released elsewhere for a year before it came to Steam.

From the looks of it, Vitrum is like Portal, except lacking a few things.  For example:
  • Instead of a portal gun, you have the ability to invert gravity or fling yourself around.  
  • Instead of clever environmental puzzles, you have repetitive 3D box-like environments.  
  • Instead of a malevolent-yet-somehow-likable AI, you have...
Oh, my, just look at the time!

My Action: Trying hard to avoid making eye contact with the developers as I walk past this game.


Starlight Inception.

Genre: Old fashioned space dogfighting scenario-encapsulated game, just like great grandma used to simulate on the mutoscope while the kids threw corncobs at her.

Starlight Inception is one of those famous Kickstater early successes, and is described by the developers as "... the rebellious stepchild of Wing Commander, X-wing and Freespace2, taking a fresh approach to the classic space combat genre." 

Shame on them for calling a game "flesh" and "classic" in the same sentence.  Still, I'd say that's fine so long as the developers know what they're doing and the game plays well...

... but it doesn't.  Judging by the latest gameplay footage I could dredge up from YouTube, Starlight Inception plays more like a fan project.  It's not absolutely terrible, but it's very barebones and has nowhere near the skill or refinement of the lofty titles they're name-dropping. 

My Action: Pass.  Here's hoping Starlight Inception II will be closer to the unparallelled experience of Descent: Freespace.


FRACT OSC.

Genre: Trippy 3D Exploring Game

I really don't want to pan a game that tries this hard to be creative.  Here's an elaborate 3D cyberspace-like environment that the player can run around and solve puzzles in while listening to trippy techno music... or something.  I don't know, the whole thing reminds me a bit of Dear Escher and games like it: they give you an environment, have you wander around it and do stuff.

Yet, unlike Dear Escher, there's no elaborate narrative going on, but there's a bit more focus on the gameplay.  The introduction of music adds a bit of something too.  FRACT OSC is a hard game to describe without actually playing it... and possibly a hard game to describe even if you have!

My action: Looks decent, I might put it on my wish list.  Yet, I'm thinking Jazzpunk is probably a better experience if "Cyberspace 3D Exploring Puzzle Adventure Thingy"is really my goal.


Sentinel.
Genre: Tower Defense meets Electronica.

As I've said before, Tower defense is a solid enough platform to make a fun game, but the genre is so massively overplayed that you had better have a good feature set to compete with all the tower defense games your audience has likely bored of.

Sentinel has two distinctive features that may entice people to buy it over the competition.  The foremost of those features is a trippy audio-visual sequence that's sure to rub people who like electronic music the right way.  (As a paying subscriber to Digitally Imported, you can count me among them.)   The other feature is a mere $2.99 price tag: you can't even buy a decent sandwich for $2.99 these days!

My action: The sad thing is, even if I had the time to play this game, all my attempts to find "Sentinel" by searching for it would likely stumble over another 20 games, including several tower defense games.

Thinking With Time-Machine.

I'm just going to sit here and reflect on how exactly Steam is okay with selling a product that is basically somebody who modded one of their most successful games to create a spiritual sequel of it.  Isn't that a violation of their own trademark or something?  Weird.

Anyway, this mod involves a time machine mechanic where you use your temporal clone to help you solve puzzles.  It's not the first time something like this was done.  (See: The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom.)  But it is the first time I've seen a community-developed Portal 2 mod released as an expansion to Portal 2.

My Action: If TWTM was more Portal 2, I'd be all over it, but considering it was made by just one guy (or more?) I doubt it has the outstanding production values that is basically Portal 2's whole thing.  Pass.


Secrets Of Raetikon.

Genre: A 2013 artsy platformer where you play a bird or something, I dunno, geez.

The art style looks very nifty, but it looks like it plays like something I have no interest in.  I don't have very high expectations of 2D platformers in general.

My Action: Adding it to my wish list.  I'll probably grab it when it's on sale and give it a spin.



Wargame: Red Dragon.

Genre: Straight up, Triple-A, Real Time Strategy

Wow, that's one epic trailer.  I wonder how the game plays?  Well, it's been five days since release, and no Metacritic reviewers have reviewed it.  Player reviews seem to be mostly in the positive, but that's only a subjective observation.  It's a mystery.

I gave up on Googling answers and turned to checking out YouTube gameplay videos.  I'm reminded a bit of Supreme Commander - you do a lot of zooming out to a bigger map - but I guess there's some overtures to realism here.  You basically hear radio feedback from the units in the field who get your orders and, if you feel like it, you can zoom waaay in and see a pretty good visual of the vehicle actually fighting.

My Action: I'm intrigued at the production value of the trailer but, well, Red Dragon is just more real time strategy, right?  It's a genre so over-saturated that apparently nobody even wants to review it anymore... and I'm as surprised as you are that this is the case.  I'll keep an ear to the ground, maybe I'll hear something about this game from a credible source.

FootLOL: Epic Fail League.

Genre: Vaguely, a soccer sports game.  Mostly, a kitchy humorous gadget.

In the regretfully-named FootLOL, you lead a team of indestructible little blue dudes to victory on the soccer field.  You largely do this by sabotage, using an inexplicable power of teleportation to introduce to the field anything from cows to land mines to stranger things yet.  You're supposed to laugh out loud because this is happening.  Are you?

My Action: Having seen the TotalBisquit "Steam Sells..." series video on this, I can see this game is a bit too floaty to be a great product.   Still, it's original enough that it deserves a nod for that.  I'm not in a hurry to buy it, though.


Always Remember Me.

Genre: Remarkably faithful Japanese-style visual novel romance.

If you've ever played one of the games, you know the drill: meet people, choose actions and dialogue in order to "flag" the ending to the story you want.  Meaning, if you play your cards right, you'll get to see the ending where your protagonist has explicit sex with the anime girl of your desire, you manipulative swine.

In all fairness, though, not all visual novels are erotic.  Because Always Remember Me is on Steam, which does not sell explicit games, you should expect no nudity.

Something about the way this game presents itself tells me that it's not actually a Japanese visual novel, but rather a product of weeaboos.  (Maybe because it takes one to know one.)  But that's fine, because technically visual novels are generally elaborate emotional traps intended to snag their audience with fake sentiments, so who better to create one than someone so deeply embroiled in such self-delusion that they can't even tell the difference anymore, right?

... Sorry, I don't know where I was going with that, either.

As far as gaming goes, visual novels are terrible.  There's usually no strategy or reason to visual novel games, and consequently there's no such thing as being a good player of a visual novel, they're just ponderous trial and error.  I think I'd rather watch episodes of The World God Only Knows than play one of these: there exists excellent parodies of visual novels that are better than the games themselves.

On the other hand, as far as stories go, visual novels can be as great as any book.  Seeing Clannad and Clannad After Story, which are anime based on a visual novel, was probably one of the more emotionally charged moments of my entire life, so perhaps I shouldn't knock this genre.

My Action: I bet Katawa Shoujo has a better story, better characters, actual nudity, and it's free.  I haven't bothered to play it yet, so where does that put "Always Remember Me?"  Pass.

Meh Tier


Circuits.

Genre: Puzzle game that relies partially on sound cues.

Circuits has a pretty decent premise for a puzzle game, I guess.  You have to connect the circuits, and this requires some level of "careful listening."  The presentation is very clean: you don't need great artists for every game concept to work.

Having said all that, it's just a puzzle game.   I bet SpaceChem could probably beat Circuits at its own game, albeit without the sound cues.

My Action: Is it just me, or is completing puzzles with no narrative to them really boring?  If I wanted to play a puzzle game, I'd play anything from the Professor Layton series.

[Sorry, couldn't find a video for this one.]

Qualia 3: Multi Agent.

Genre: Funky top-down shoot em' up with a rhythm mechanic (maybe?) and a digitized deep-sea theme.

Qualia 3 looks to be doing for Gravity War-like shoot em' ups what Sentinel does for Tower Defense.  Yes, it's still just Gravity War, but now we've got rhythm and style!  Also, I guess the protagonist is customizable with 26 unique body parts.

My Action: My eyebrow did raise in mild interest, good sir, but I cannot fathom how to make time in my busy day for this.

Millie.

Genre: "A joyful, casual puzzle game that will tease both your wits and your memory."  Not to be confused with your ex-girlfriend.

Take one of those games where you play a centipede-like creature that grows longer the more you eat and you want to eat everything without accidentally eating your own tail.  Then extrapolate and give it a cute presentation.  Bam: You got Millie.

Don't expect much from this one: it was ported from the Android platformer.

My Action: Looks well made, but you lost me at "casual."


QuestRun.  (That's one word: Running Quest is something else.)

Genre: RPG combat microgame.

Looks like a cleanly-executed attempt to streamline JRPG-style combat.  It's an imported touch game, so naturally it's hobbled in such a way that you can do everything by clicking on it.  I dunno, could be fun, if fighting a never-ending deluge of monsters with a party of adventurers is your thing.

My Action: RPGs that focus completely on combat have sort of missed the point of what an RPG is supposed to be.  Pass, but I do give them a slight nudge above "pablum tier" for trying to do things a little differently with the interface innovations.

Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game.

Genre: The Official Rube Goldberg Genre

Let me stop you right there, at the title: Rube Goldberg is dead, and has been for about 44 years now.  What did they do, hunt down his estate and pay them to stick his name on this game?  Probably.  But why?  We've all heard of Rube Goldberg machines, but I wager not a whole lot of people have been reading his comics for the past 30 year or so.  Heck, I had to do some Internet searching to even know who Rube Goldberg was.  Who exactly is going to get excited about "An Official Rube Goldberg" product?

Judging by the gameplay, Rube Works shows its players a side-view of an environment, and from there you plop down a bunch of random junk in your inventory and hook it up in such a way as to try to make it produce the desired result.  Sounds great on paper but, in action, the game looks like you're playing an escaped mental patient stapling things to walls because the voices in your head demand impracticality.

This is an iPad port game, it gets a few points for being more creative than most, but it's not going to be all that technically impressive.

My Action: Pass and hope that, when I die, my name does not become synonymous with madness (yet knowing that, for those who know me well, I'm already there).


Uprising 44 : The Silent Shadows.

Genre: Third person action real time strategy game that is based on the World War II Warsaw Uprising.

The screenshots make Uprising44 look like a competent enough clone of Freedom Fighters, a 2003 game I couldn't remember offhand, and I'm not feeling really confident I'll remember this game, either.

Well, looks can be deceiving, I saw TotalBiscuit's review of this game, and it's a broken mess.  I like the architecture and the history authenticity, but everything else... well, it doesn't control well, it's ravaged with bugs, the AI is a mess, and apparently they misreported the release date on Steam so I'd be boycotting Uprising44 anyway.

I can probably accurately summarize this game by shouting.  Cover-based shooting!  Ordering dumb NPCs do to do things!  Shooting guns!  Enduring frustration from constant reloading because you did something the developers didn't want you to do!  Am I getting warm?  I'm mostly reflecting on my experiences with similar games of this type here but, from what I gather, Uprising 44 meets and exceeds all expectations of incompetence.

My Action: That's a really nice trailer you got there, Uprising 44.  Why doesn't it show any gameplay?  I think I know.  Pass.


Overcast - Walden And The Werewolf.

Genre: Imitation of a successful game.  Also in the atmospheric horror game genre.

There's nothing wrong with imitating what works, right?  Wrong.  Amnesia: Dark Descent was a horror game that everybody was talking about due to its remarkably good atmosphere and whatnot, but if you don't know how to make that experience, you're just going to screw it up.

A gun.  They gave the protagonist a gun.  The whole fear factor of Amnesia: Dark Descent was that you're defenseless in the face of horrors so dire that to look upon them is to go mad.  In Walden And The Werewolf, you're here to try to kill it.  Totally different motivation, totally different reaction to the player, total screwing of the pooch if you're after Amnesia: Dark Descent's success.

My Action: I'm such a weenie that it took me ten years to man up enough to finish System Shock 2.  I'm not going to seek out scares in Overcast, even if I am pretty sure Amnesia does its job better.

The Samaritan Paradox.

Genre: Really old school point and click adventure game.

At $10, they're charging about $8 more than they should for this game.  It looks like it was cobbled together in Adventure Game Studio.  The pixel artwork is professionally done, fair enough.  The story probably isn't awful.  Other than that... geez, I've played better adventure games made in the early 90s.  Golden Age of Lucasarts this is not. 

The ultimate problem with this game is it takes itself too seriously.  "An interactive detective drama?"  The pixelation robs it of its thunder.  This format is really more conductive of less realistic things, like the antics of Ben There, Dan That.

My Action: I hate every single word I had against this game.  Seriously, look at that trailer video.  It's hilariously earnest.  Saying bad things against this game is akin to kicking a puppy.  I want to make amends, but not $9.99 worth of amends.  Pass.


Aveyond: Gates of Night.

Genre: RPGMaker game.  Sorry, that's too specific... uh, Japanese-style role playing game?

This is not the first RPGMaker game released on Steam, and it won't be the last.  They're not all that hard to make, but they are tricky to make well.  If this guy sells even ten copies of this game, I really have no excuse not to bang out my own game using the RPGMaker software I bought.

It's a tongue-in-cheek poke at the ridiculous recycling of popular RPG tropes.  Oh sorry, I was talking about my game.  As far as I know, Aveyond is quite earnest, although it does advertise "HUMOR. Lots of it.  Humor is the core of Aveyond.  You will laugh.. or else!"

My Action: I'm laughing, alright.  But then, I never did get around to finishing Breath of Death or Cthulu Saves  The World.  Until I do... pass.

Life Goes On.

Genre: Physics platformer.

One day, somebody was playing with making a platformer in Unity and realized they could use the ragdolls of their character's previous lives as a means to solve puzzles.  They decided to run with that idea.  Several months later, we get Life Goes On.

My Action: Another physics platformer?  Meh, I'll get back to you if I finish Trine, Trine 2, or even Braid

Pablum Tier



Pixel Puzzles: Japan.
Genre: Jigsaw puzzles. Yes, I'm serious.

Hey guys, nice $2000 computer you got there, but you know what you could be doing with it?  Playing jigsaw puzzles!  Oh, this will be great, think of all the money you'd save from not having to buy those boxes of puzzles.  Think of all the money the developers will save by simply having a program that that digitally simulates cutting apart pictures of stock Japanese vacation propaganda.  No messy cleanup for either of you!

In all seriousness, at least they added a picture of a dude meditating on the lower right along with some nifty Japanese-like music.

My Action: Unless I go on a massive Zen Buddhism kick, I can't see myself chomping at the bit to buy the jigsaw puzzle game that includes a meditating dude on the right side.

Space Farmers.

Genre: Top-down action shooter?  Really?!

This game actually got me excited for a moment.  I know PixelJunk just happens to be making a Terraria-like game involving Space Farming that is really zany, and it looks quite interesting, even if its current form.  No kidding, it's called NomNomGalaxy.

Well, Space Farmers is immediately docked all the points for having nothing to do with farming in space.  Instead, it looks like it plays more like Gauntlet.  Run around a maze and shoot things.  Bah!  It looks terrible - are they being deliberately minimalist here?

My Action: The last time I played a game like this was when I bought Pineapple Smash Crew because I was excited about the idea of boarding actions in space (no wonder I just bought Parkan II).  Well, I was disappointed then, and won't let Space Farmers do it to me again.


Reignmaker.

Genre: Tower Defense meets Match-3 Game

When the PuzzleQuest series combined Match-3 games with RPGs, the result was surprisingly solid.  ReignMaker is seeking to do the same with a tower defense game.  Does that, in fact, work?

I was hoping it would, but then I took a look at that trailer: do you see any tower defense going on there?  Nah, this is just a match-3 game with a different kind of special effect when you combine 3 gems.

My Action: Match-3 games are one of the most over-saturated of all the casual genres.  Pass.

 
White Heaven Mysteries, Nearwood, and Dreamscapes: The Sandman.

Genre: There are three hidden object games hidden in last week's steam release.  Can you find them all?

As if it wasn't bad enough that hidden object games are basically pixel hunting exercises best restricted to magazines and kids comics, you can actually find quite a deluge of these kinds of games for free.

Also, these are all re-releases.  White Haven Mysteries is from 2012.   Nearwood and Dreamscapes: The Sandman are from 2013. 

My Action: They're all dated incorrectly in Steam, claiming to be from 2014 when they're not, so welcome to my boycott list.  (Actually, Nearwood might be a recently-released "collector's edition" so it may have an excuse.)

Dug Up Corpse Tier

Robin's Quest

Genre: Hidden object game.

Robin's Quest is from 2010, I'm setting the bar of "Dug Up Corpse" tier at 4 or more years, so Robin's Quest has the unfortunate fate of being both a hidden object game and a dug up corpse.

My Action: Pity, and more than a little contempt followed by boycott since Robin's Quest is dated incorrectly in Steam as a 2014 game.

Superpower 2.

Genre: 2004 contemporary-themed world domination game.

My Action: I'm sure somebody has done better in the preceding ten years.  Pass.

Fate: Undiscovered Realms.

Genre: Diablo clone.

Fate was one of the better clones back in 2005... "Undiscovered Realms" is a stand-alone expansion released in 2008.

Alas, fate was not in the cards for this game.  These days, we've got Diablo III, Torchlight II, and so on.  Better Diablo clones than Fate, who needs it anymore?

My Action: Not me.. but then, I've played so many Diablo clones I can't even bring myself to play good ones, such as Torchlight II.

Dracula: The Ressurection.  Dracula 2: The Last Sanctuary.  Dracula 3: The Path Of The Dragon.

Genre: "Adventure, Casual" says Steam.  I think tying my shoe counts as a casual adventure.  Dracula deserves a better genre.

Wow, I can't believe these guys made the game and two sequels and released them all at once!  Oh wait, they didn't, this is a release of titles from 2000, 2001, and 2008, re-released on Steam with a 2014 release date printed on them all.  We all know who the real bloodsucker is here, amirite?

My Action: Honestly, the production value here looks pretty good.  I might have actually bought these games if I was not already going to boycott them for misrepresenting their product's release date on Steam.

Agarest: Generations Of War.

Genre: Sexy anime girls luring you into something more akin to Disgaea's turn-based strategy combat.

Seriously, Google Agarest and what do you find?  Borderline porn.  I'm pretty sure the game itself is a fairly legitimate strategy role playing game... for a PC port of a 2007 Playstation 3 title, that is.

My Action: Every time I tried to research Agarest, I was teased by so much anime girl skin that I ended up looking at hentai.  Damn you, Agarest!  That stuff isn't good for my brain.

Freddi Fish, Putt Putt, Pajama Sam, and Spy Fox games.

Genre: Point and click kids adventure games, mostly... there's other activities, too.

Several of these games from Humongous Entertainment were re-released on Steam last week, ranging from 1992 to 2003.  They look pretty good to me, and even include some educational stuff.

My Action: I like some stuff targeted at kids for its innocence, but I wager these are probably too simple for my liking.   Maybe if the Humongous games pack goes on sale I'll snap them up... perhaps the nephew will like them if I don't.

UFO: Aftershock.

Genre: Wannabe X-COM game from 2005.

Altair developed three of these games, which each were intended to give X-COM players what they wanted, since there had not been an X-COM game since 1997.   UFO: Aftermath, released in 2003, was fairly awful.  UFO: Aftershock was released in 2005 and wasn't quite as awful, but s till had a long way to go.  Now, UFO: Afterlight (released in 2007) I actually enjoyed, and I think it's the best "real time speed" X-COM out there.  (Of course, the recently-released XCOM took the turn-based crown back.)

My Action: Apparently I felt the need to spout a history lesson.  I'm certainly not buying this game, but good thing they got the release date right.

That's as far as I'm getting today.   

Day off or not, I'm spent.  I put off updating this list too long, and consequently I ran out of steam before getting to the last page or two of new (and "new") Steam releases... maybe later.

Next time, I think I'll just do a writeup of things "Semi-Interesting" and better.  The rest of the tiers will be title and genre only, "honorable mentions" and "dishonorable mentions."

Same Old, What's Old Is New Again

Rounding off what has been a solid month of Minecraft experimentation, that's pretty much what I did with my reverse-weekend, but I did get a bit of Don't Starve in as well.  Here's a few things I learned.

Point 1: As far as Buildcraft and Applied Energistics 2 for 1.7.2. are concerned, my grace-saving Minecraft mod is in another castle.

I spent most of Wednesday evening mucking around in creative mode in Minecraft 1.7.2 with Buildcraft and Applied Energistics 2.  I should use creative mode more often: it cuts to the quick about whether or not a mod mix will do what I want it to do without having to bother to harvest any resources.

Long story short, they seem to work pretty well in their current state, but they mostly just accumulate and shove around resources.  That's handy, Minecraft's inventory bloat is a serious problem, but I wish these mods actually did something for the gameplay besides mitigate inventory bloat.

Okay, sure, there are a bunch of other little things these mods do which are nice little frills.  Like a powerful projectile cannon or the ability to fill in areas with blocks.  Turns out there's a filler block that elevates the concern I had about quarries leaving giant gaping holes: that's great!

It just doesn't feel like it adds what I wanted. I wanted to be able to duplicate buildings or perform automatic crafting.  Turns out, those blocks are not in the 1.7.2. version.  Maybe a future version will fix that.  Without that, it feels like just a whole bunch of inventory accumulation that doesn't actually do anything in the end.  If you have to it by hand, it's hard to tell the difference from stock Minecraft!

Point 2: Thaumcraft is out for 1.7.2, albeit in a not-entirely-stable state yet.  That's great news... unless you're a Millenaire villager.

I like Thaumcraft.  It's quite balanced, and introduces some real game mechanics that make Minecraft more interesting.  I played around a bit with version 4.1.1.9 for Minecraft 1.7.2, and it was reasonably stable, but it did have a tendency to crash with an Entity.Renderer error if I hung around taint fields for too long, possibly related to block-breaking.

I wanted to run it in tandem with Millenaire and do the whole, "Look at me, I'm a thaumaturge who uses his incredible Thaumcraft powers to help villages grow!" thing.  First village I run across is a Japanese village that thought it would be a good idea to plop their town down in a "Tainted Land" biome...
Thaumcraft and Millenaire are great mods on their own, but they have no idea what to make of each other.  The taint did not corrupt the village's rice paddies because it had no idea what a rice block was, so it left it alone.  Everything else, though...
...well, the Tainted Land biome pretty much turned the village into goo.  The villagers had no idea how to defend themselves against it, often being struck down "temporarily dead" by the various monsters spawned by the taint.  I had actually added tainted blocks to the "Villagers will avoid building on these blocks" configuration files of Millenaire but it did not show up on the village map.

I suppose it was kind of fun to watch, but clearly this mix isn't going to work.  Better to use Minecraft Comes Alive in this case, because the MCA villagers are basically just stock Minecraft villagers with additional functionality added, so Thaumcraft taint knows how to mess them up just fine, and there's nothing going on that would lend to the villagers doing anything on their own that taint would interfere with anyway.

Point 3: Minecolony has largely been playing catchup, and Rotarycraft is too hardcore for me.

Using a modified FeedTheBeast Monster build, I gave the latest beta version of Minecolony for Minecraft 1.6.4 a spin, and was pleasantly surprised to see the same experience I left behind in Minecraft version 1.2.5, back when the last working version of it was publicly available.

This bothered me just a bit: it was too samey.   It felt like I was going back in time to my days with Minecraft 1.2.5, the same old Minecolony blocks, the same old Minecolony villagers making the same old Minecolony sound clips, and so on.  This mod hasn't had the opportunity to progress, it's basically been getting revived from a long sleep.

Yet, the functionality wasn't quite where it was before.  All the little workers didn't quite do their jobs right, resulting in a lot of snafus as resources they needed didn't get where they were required.

The revival added raiding barbarians.  They're quite annoying because the guards don't fight them.  But then, there's not a lot the guards do correctly right now - they were a work in progress before the mod dropped out of development.

It's promising to see Minecolony come back, but they need to do more than get it working, they need to give it a direction.

Also installed in FeedTheBeast Monster was Rotarycraft, pretty much another factorization mod that lets you automate nearly anything, like IndustrialCraft, Minefactory Reloaded, Steve's Carts, ect.  The big difference with RotaryCraft is that they added a bit more realism to the idea of motors driving engines, you need to understand basic physics to know how to get them to work... sort of.  Honestly, if it's just a matter of putting down machine blocks to get the appropriate torque or rotation, that's easy enough to fudge.  I kinda wish there was bigger sprockets like in the latest versions of Resonant Induction.

After much fussing around in Creative mode, I managed to get a Rotarycraft laser canon up and deploy it to guard a Minecolony village... and the laser promptly burned the village down.
Apparently the laser beam stays on while the turret is swinging towards its intended target.  The beam sets wooden planks on fire.  The beam melts stone into lava source blocks.  The beam turns dirt into sand, and sand into glass.  In under a minute, nearly the entire village was ablaze, and the town hall was oozing lava source blocks from what was formerly its stone chimney.

It was a gloriously pyric ending to my experiments with Minecolony and Rotarycraft.

Point 4: Don't Starve is more fun and stylish than dabbling with Minecraft mods for a month straight, but hard.

Not wanting to waste the entire weekend just playing Minecraft, I returned from a long haitus away from Don't Starve, sunk about 12 hours of my weekend into it, and ultimately didn't regret it.
Don't Starve has an interesting pedigree.  It's a top-down survival game, true.  However, the graphics are heavily stylized to look more like an adventure game.  For that matter, it sort of is an adventure game: you need to collect parts in order to assemble solutions to the puzzle of getting to the next world and beating the "adventure" mode.

After my 3rd or 4th messy death, I realized that Don't Starve is actually quite mellow, if you know what you're doing.  Basic survival tips:
  • In other games, the rule is, "When in doubt, run."  In Don't Starve, the rule is, "Run unless you're here to fight." 

    Yes, you can escape most encounters in Don't Starve, but you may end up taking days to recover from the damage you took, so if you make a habit of getting into minor skirmishes then the cumulative damage will definitely end you every time.  Don't sit there gaping at that cthulean horror you discovered: run!

    Then again, from time to time, you might actually need to fight something, say to get some resources you can't get any other way.  In that case, prepare to fight.  Put on your best fighting gear, maybe hire some help, and take your best shot at it. 

    Also, if you come up with some way to fight dirty, do it.  The twisted realm of Don't Starve is no place for fair play.
  • Not starving can actually be accomplished fairly easily, depending on location and season.

    Living off the land is easy enough to do in Spring and Autumn.  Look for berry bushes, remember where you found them, and try to live close enough that you can make regular rounds to check for more berries, and chances are you're going to survive the season. 

    If you have a little supplementary food income from trapping small animals (they can often be lured or chased right into the traps without the need for bait), life gets even easier. 

    If you can find a beefalo herd, then the food can now come to you.  Dig up berry bushes and move them nearby, then fertilize them.  Build some advanced farms at home, now that you have access to plenty of the only rare component.

    Sometimes, you get tons of food dumped on you unexpectedly.  For example, you happen to visit a pig village and they're fighting off an invasion of frogs.  Regardless of who wins, there's going to be plenty of food laying around afterward!

    Summer and Winter change the rules considerably.  Many plants stop working, for starters.  I'd tell you more about how to survive those seasons, but frankly, I don't know how myself yet.
  • Self-sustenance isn't going to be enough to survive in the long run.  You need to advance.

    Each changing season brings its own hazard, so you need to have the necessary research complete to survive it before time is up.  Completing research often involves sticking your neck out and fighting something you normally wouldn't.  You might build some stout walls, but if you spend all your time cowering behind them, the changing world will eventually gobble you up.
Fantastic game; I love Don't Starve.  Of course, as everybody who has played the game will tell you, it does sort of suck when you die and have to start over from square one.   That's the main downside of the game.

My recommendation: don't binge play Don't Starve.  If you die and lose a lot of progress, do something else, come back tomorrow.   That way, things will feel relatively fresh, and it becomes that much easier to swallow having to start over from scratch.  This will also help to prevent confusing the map from the previous game with the current one.

Overall, I had a fun weekend.  Good thing, too: I'm not going to have a moment to myself for the next few days...

The Game I Want To Play Isn't Out Yet

All this desperate flailing with Minecraft mod mixes basically adds up to the fundamental fact that, despite how over-saturated the gaming market may seem to be, the game I want to play is not truly out yet.

However, I might have made a few steps in understanding exactly what that game is that build a bit upon my previous definition of that game.

1. It should be an immersive role-playing experience.
http://www.n00bsquad.com/comics/84_Meta-Escapism.shtml

While the term "role-playing game" may invoke in many readers the ideas of statistics and progression mechanics, those are just clumsy means to an end.   What I'm actually going for here is immersion of playing a role; the player needs to be in the game, thereby evoking a sense of escapism.  This is why I've been dabbling with Minecraft and not Banished.

2. It should feature a dynamic, virtual-worldly simulated environment.

This role-playing game should take place in a simulated environment where a real space is being simulated and there is very little in the way of limits on prefabricated content.  I want this to be a role-playing simulation more than just a crude game.
http://makingplayware.blogspot.com/2012/03/3dhive.html

MMORPGs dangled this as a promising potential idea that got us very excited before the theme park approach to designing them took over.  In any open-ended game I've played, encountering parts of the game which were clearly "theme park" in approach is really unfortunate.  Yes, I know it's a lot more approachable to design a set piece, but I want the unlimited potential that occurs when we eliminate the influence of developers trying to strap the players into a prefab experience.

Funny enough, when I punch "rpg simulation" into Steam search, I end up with a list of the games that is uncannily close to the kinds I have been the most excited about.  For example:
  • Craft The World - I was rather impressed with this Dwarf Fortress clone that does it in a side view.  It's really quite good, if a bit akin to taking a casual-gamer approach to many facets of the design.
  • Fallout 3 - All that Skyrim I've been playing is basically the same game as Fallout 3 with minor differences and a change of setting.  Made by the same company, of course Fallout 3 is a few years older.
  • Planet Explorers - Open-ended, shooter/builder/explorer games have a way of capturing the imagination, and even more so when they're not cliche fantasy.  There's a few other games being made of the same concept that have similar (e.g. Starforge) or dissimilar (e.g. Space Engineers, Starbound) executions.  I have not played it because I've burned out from pre-release versions of good games before, Planet Explorers deserves better than that.  Like any game, it's all a matter of implementation, and Planet Explorers puts on a good face.
  • The rest of the list branches out a bit in strange directions, but includes the likes of Project Zomboid, The Guild II, Mabinogi, Eldrich, even Recettear.
Combining "roleplaying game" with "simulation" is a very solid pedigree!  But something's missing...

3. It should include the extra-worldly simulation of a strategy game.

Alright, here's where things get a little more innovative.

When I was playing with Minecraft mods lately, the likes of Buildcraft and whatnot, I could not help but think, "Sure, it's great that I'm able to make all this stuff in the game, but what's the point of it all?"
There are other really cool mods for Minecraft that allow me to create elaborate gearworks and digitized item distribution networks, and that's all very cool, but I don't need any of these things because I'm ultimately just a spaz running around a block-based world with absolutely no greater purpose to it besides what I bring with me.  What a damn waste!

Yet, I happen to know for a fact that these greater purposes can exist because strategy games have them.  They introduce a genuine need for all these resources you are generating in-game, as well as some some serious conflicts to overcome.
http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3st89p

Imagine, if you will, that everything you do in Minecraft is actually just being done as one citizen in an elaborate game of Civilization that is sitting on top of Minecraft.  Suddenly, it's important that you're developing all this excess wheat because you're feeding the people in town, and this helps support the local industry, so they can churn out all kinds of production (scientific, military, ect) and the civilization thrives.

What we have right now is endeavors like Civcraft.  They are made up of players straining themselves to try to create this greater purpose... but never quite reaching it.  Yes, you can get together a bunch of people on a Minecraft server and pretend to be playing Civilization on top of Minecraft, but players are flighty creatures whose agendas often run contrary to the game, so ultimately you're going to spend so much time herding cats that it's more work than play.   This is because technically all the game supports is the trappings required to be gank-happy despots, that's what it's ultimately fated to become.

In order for this idea to actually work, it needs to be coded into the game, and that's going to require NPCs are doing most of the heavy lifting while the players are just trying to be influential figures in something much bigger than themselves.  Does that sound familiar to you?  It should: it's the core of the pen and paper role-playing experience that has yet to gravitate properly to computers.

This is the game I want to play.  It should not ape Civilization in particular, of course; even a rudimentary city builder game is better than nothing.  The whole goal of this "strategy" component is to try to simulate something bigger than yourself in ways that merely marrying RPG to simulation does not.

I want all three components in the same game.

Just like that, this becomes a game that isn't out yet.
 Oh, there's been some pretty near misses:
  • I tried using Millenaire, MineColony, and Minecraft Comes Alive mods for Minecraft specifically to add something like that... they're not quite there, yet.  Those Minecraft villagers could get there if only they had some genuine needs and ambitions of colonialism, but neither stock Minecraft nor these mods quite manage to get them to do that.
  • Hinterland and many of the games by Soldak have tried to pull something like this off from time to time.  Each time, they end up cutting the scope a tad too narrow.  They end up playing more like Diablo with rudimentary 4X aspects tacked on.  The marriage between RPG simulation and strategy game is incomplete, it needs to be seamless to work.
  • I understand The Guild II tried to be this game.  I never played it but, from what I hear, they backpedaled into Real Time Strategy territory overmuch.  Alas, it's almost a half-decade old now, and reviewed fairly poorly because of bugs.  Still, I should really give it a play one of these days...
  • Lets not forget Mount And Blade. Epic game, but you're never really an individual in Mount and Blade so much as you are a war chief, constantly leading men to their deaths.   Playing Mount And Blade feels more like I'm playing Sid Meyer's Pirates! with an overhauled combat system.
So what am I saying here?  Less Diablo or Warcraft, more Ultima Online or A Tale In The Desert?   Meh, the idea loses fidelity if you try hammering it into easy-to-understand existing models.  I think I was a lot closer with "Minecraft with Civilization on top," but even this is little more than a pitch statement that will be torn apart by the details of the implementation of such an artifact.

Looking forward, the mods for Minecraft might be the closest thing to what I want specifically because I want to keep the mutable nature of the world.  If you can't change the land, or use its resources to craft things, it loses important layers of the immersion in the process.  The shortest path to success might be modding Minecraft or similar game - something that already nailed "RPG + Simulation," just add strategy fixtures.

Somebody make that.  No?  God dammit, you're going to make me do it, aren't you?  Well, don't rely on me, my track record sucks.  Yet, if somebody doesn't get around to it soon, I might end up making some crude artifact out of utter despair... I wonder how hard it is to get into Minecraft modding?

A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases: April 11th, 2014 Edition

This has never been a particularly popular blog, because frankly I'm such a craven introvert that I don't care about popularity at all.   You know what's popular?   Reality TV and Fifty Shades Of Grey.  When that qualifies as popular, "It's popular because it's good" is obviously false.

And yet, looking at my blog view stats, I noticed this odd downward dip over the past few months.  That got me thinking: "Sure, what's popular isn't necessarily good, but neither is boring reading all that worth reading."

The problem is pretty clear to me.  Giant walls of text.  Talking about nothing but Minecraft.  Having no real mission in my content production beyond dumping what I have been up to lately.  Just who am I blogging for, anyway?  I really ought to respect my audience... whoever they are.

So here is an experiment.  I have not been diversifying my gameplay experiences much on account of how I'm too jaded to want to play other recent releases.  Why not have a serial feature where I discuss last week's Steam releases and why I did not buy them.  Developers can appreciate the honest feedback, gamers might pick up a few unique insights, and I get to bitch about terrible games while not being expected to play them.  Everybody wins!

So, looking down the "New Releases" tab on Steam, I currently see:


Smugglers V:
  • Genre: Freeform Space Trading presented as a turn-based strategy game.
  • My take: I actually played a demo of an earlier version of this game before.  The idea of turning a space trading game into a top-down turn-based strategy game isn't bad, but I had troubles with the combat balance: it was far too random for my liking, resulting in defeat despite my best efforts from a few bad rolls.  That said, this game is actually a pretty good showing for the first game on the list.  It's reasonably novel, not badly made, and a genuine labor of love.
  • My action: At $9.99, it's at least wish list worthy.  Maybe I'll snap it up when it hits $5.

Demolition Master 3D:
  • Genre: Casual Job Simulator
  • My take: 99% of the time, casual job simulator games are basically just cash grabs intended to sucker people who don't know gaming into buying the game just because what's on the cover looks interesting.  The other 1% of the time, we get Euro Truck Simulator, a labor of love from people who happen to like what's being simulated enough to do a good job at it.  From what I gather, Demolition Master 3D is a mobile device port job, which skews it in the direction of the former by default.
  • My action:  I'll keep an eye on the various YouTube channels who revel in making fun of games like this.  If it surprises me by being good, that would be a surprise.

Beware Planet Earth:
  • Genre: Tower Defense
  • My take: Tower defense games can be fun, but the formula is simple enough that they're easily trumped by existing games in the field.  When you played your last tower defense game, were you thinking to yourself, "Well, I guess this is alright, but I wish the game was just a whole lot cuter!" ... No, why the hell would you say that?  Unfortunately, that's the direction they decided to go with Beware Planet Earth.
  • My action: Pass.  I wager I bought and ignored better tower defense games than this.

Collapse:
  • Genre: 3D Action Brawler
  • My take: Actually, this looks like a pretty well done 3D action brawler, albeit one made in 2008.  Made by "Creoteam"- is that a misspelling of Croteam, the developers of Serious Sam?  Weird observation: is it just me, or do parts of those maps look lifted directly from S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl?
  • My action: Considering how I never did get around to finishing Dead Space 3 or giving Devil May Cry 4 a serious play, I'm not sure if Collapse has anything that makes it worth playing versus better alternatives I already own.


Finn And Jake's Epic Quest:
  • Genre: 3D Platformer
  • My take: I want to say, "Oh, cool, they finally made Adventure Time into a well-wrought Zelda-like action adventure game, what they should have done in the first place!"  Then I remember how many games Cartoon Network released with the Adventure Time license that were absolutely awful.  Odds seem poor that this one has turned over a new leaf.
  • My action: Considering what they've had to endure, only a diehard Adventure Time fan would take a chance on buying this game.  I just think it's a pretty good cartoon.

Imperial Glory:
  • Genre: Horrendous cadaver of greed in the guise of a Total War clone.
  • My take: First impression is that it's a low-budget Total War clone.  I was wrong... instead, it's a re-release of a 7-year old game that they didn't even bother to mark with the correct date. 
  • My action: I already wasn't going to get this game because I haven't bothered to play the superior Total War games I already own.  The fact that they're misrepresenting the game on Steam just seals the deal.
I'm not even going to bother giving you a trailer to look at for this next one.

Praetorians:
  • Genre: Strategy game dragged noisily out of its grave and reanimated to seek the wallets of idiots.
  • My take:   Praetorians has the same problem as Imperial Glory: it's publisher and developer.  Hah, I kid.  Actually, it's just a strategy game that got an average score when it was originally released, years ago, and the press of time could only evolve that to being grossly inferior today.  In Praetorian's case, it was 11 years ago, which translates to 110 years ago in technology years.  Yet, on their Steam page, they're listing Praetorians as released this month, and even quoting ancient reviews like it's still relevant.
  • My action: Facepalming and wondering how they can get away with this craven misrepresentation without having the book thrown at them.  That's it: I'm boycotting Pyro Studios and Merge Games for being craven weasels.

T.E.C. 3001:
  • Genre: Racing game.  Alas, only that.
  • My take: I like it when Indies try to break out of the box.  Here's a game where you play this robotic-looking humanoid running down a track and avoiding obstacles in a cyberspace-looking background.  Unfortunately, this is a misleading first blush, as a quick look at the gameplay reveals that it's rather simple.  They haven't broken out of any boxes here, they've taken us back into boxes that we broke out of decades ago.  Even the developers themselves can't help but derail into epic wubs and weird camera angles in the trailer.
  • My action: Shoulder on, Indie brother!  Shoulder on, without my money!  Maybe I'll be seeing this game in a Humble Indie Bundle in the future.
NEC New York-New Haven Route Add-On:
  • Genre: Not applicable.
  • My take: A bunch of geography for Train Simulator for the unbelievably high price of $39.99.  Well, knowing there exists people who have basements full of elaborate tiny models to run their model trains on, perhaps $39.99 is a small price to pay.  
  • My action: I'm not one of those people.  I own Train Simulator and a small chunk of additional content for it, but I think it was discounted something like 95% during some holiday sale.  Wait for another one of those.
Technically, this video is the most accurate trailer for what's being offered.
Awesomenauts-Cyrican Vinnie And Total Spike:
  • Genre: Not even a MOBA.  Not even a lightweight MOBA.  It's character unlocks for a lightweight MOBA.
  • My take: It unlocks two characters for Awesomenauts, which is basically a simpler, less ambitious Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game.  Awesomenauts isn't bad, but I think its smaller scope probably makes more vulnerable to players to develop unbeatable strategies.
  • My action: If I wanted to play a MOBA, I'd probably go back to League Of Legends.

Tom's Clancy's Ghost Recon Phantoms:
  • Genre: Cheap escort.  Oh, sorry, I meant to say testosterone-sucking money pit.  Same difference.
  • My take: The good news is that it's free to play and looks pretty high quality.  The bad news is that it's just another Counter-strike clone intent to gouge you remorselessly with micro-payments. 
  • My action: This one looks well-made, but I say that in the same air I would complementing the quality of the guillotine I'm about to be executed on.  Also, it's always a bad sign when they don't want to show any gameplay footage in the trailer.
Warlock 2: The Exiled:
  • Genre: It's tongue-in-cheek because the developers are self-aware about all that 4X Civilization clone competition.  I like that they acknowledged the problem, it means they might be trying to fix it.
  • My take: The original "Warlock: Master Of The Arcane" was the closest thing I've seen to the original Master Of Magic, possibly even more so than Age Of Wonders.  Warlock was basically Civilization 5 (even borrowing much of the GUI elements) but with a lot more focus on the combat and implementing magic.  The sequel of Warlock is mostly just more of the same, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I bet most people will enjoy Warlock more than Elemental/Fallen Enchantress/Whatever-It's-Calling-Itself-These-Days.
  • My action: I liked the original Warlock: Master Of The Arcane.  This game is basically more of the same with a few minor improvements.  Plus, it's only $29.99.  On to my wish list it goes, right next to Age of Wonders 3, awaiting a day I may actually have time to play either.
Mirror Mysteries 1 and 2, Haunted Past: Realm Of Ghosts, Paranormal State: Poison Spring, Voodoo Whisper Curse Of A Legend, Dark Mysteries - The Hunt For The Truth, and House Of 1,000 Doors - Family Secrets
  • Genre: There are 7 hidden object games in that title, all released during the last week on Steam.  Can you find them all?
  • My take: Hidden object games have got to be among the easiest genre of game to make.  Got somebody who can draw well?  Got a programmer who knows how to make things activate when the user clicks on them?  Great, we're in business! 
  • My action: Maybe I'll buy one of these just so I can have a fair opinion on them, but my current impression that they're just a more elaborate version of "Where's Waldo?" is probably correct.
I'd like to reward their honesty about the release date of this next game by posting a trailer here, but the closest thing I could find on YouTube was some German guy playing it.

Aggression: Europe Under Fire:
  • Genre: Looks like a combination of Risk and Real Time Strategy with some decent-looking WW-II themed visuals.
  • My take: Well, it's a 2007 game, but at least they're being honest about that this time.  Judging by the screenshots, It's a toss-up as to whether or not the implementation is as good as Company Of Heroes.
  • My action: I'm going to guess, "Probably not, play Company Heroes, it's better."
LEGO The Hobbit:
  • Genre: Platformer with a built in floozy.  Sorry, I meant to say "stud collection mechanic."
  • My take: Traveller's Tales' LEGO games are better than you might imagine, as they put an admirable amount of effort into injecting humor and a respectable treatment of the IP into every game.  That said, the formula is basically the same for these games, and there's been a lot of them.  Kids will enjoy the gameplay, adults will enjoy the humor, and they both will have only a sketchy understanding about what the other sees in it.
  • My action:  Sure, I could buy LEGO - The Hobbit at $30 right now, or I could just wait until some other Travellers' Tales LEGO game goes on sale and get the same experience.
Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut:
  • Genre: Broken-ass space combat action game.
  • My take: This is rather hilarious.  They re-release Strike Suit Zero (which was largely a kludgy space combat action game with elaborate visuals) in hopes of garnering some more bucks, slap the name, "Director's Cut" on it, and fudge the implementation so it's a bug-ridden mess.  So now it looks like the "Director" is basically a guy who had really low standards of quality.
  • My action: I bought the original months ago and still haven't got around to playing it, so there's no reason for me to buy a buggier version, even if they were classy enough to give an 85% discount to people who already own the original.
Avoid - Sensory Overload:
  • Genre: Audiosurf.  Oh, sorry, that's not a genre, that's the name of a game.  Well, it's still the most accurate descriptor of what we're looking at here. 
  • My take: How to describe it?  You pilot a vehicle that can only move left and right on a 3D isometric view that is constantly moving forward and try to avoid running into the wrong things.  Meanwhile, the level is being generated from the music files you provide.  Are you surfing the audio?  Are your senses overloaded yet?
  • My action: If Avoid is basically another take on Audiosurf that mixes things up a bit by adding some more gameplay elements, I'm not sure a purchase is required.  I already own Audiosurf, and I don't think a few gameplay elements are going to change my mind about not wanting to play it right now.
The bad news: There's no trailer for this game.  The good news: Jim Sterling bravely recorded crucifying himself by trying to play it.
Munich Bus Simulator:
  • Genre: Casual Job Simulator
  • My take: In theory, Munich Bus Simulator and Demolition Master 3D are very different games.  Funny how you can read what I had to say about Demolition Master 3D and it describes this game perfectly.
  • My action: Pointing and laughing.
Motte Island:
  • Genre: Truly original indy horror game
  • My take: It's a horror game that eschews zombies in favor of more insectine horrors.  Bravo!  Looks like it's mostly a top-down survival game with some rudimentary first person shooting sequences.  This is not the most technically advanced game out there, but I still bet it will be one of the most interesting games you've played this year.
  • My action: I'm not going to play it because horror games are scaaawy.
Evolution RTS:
  • Genre: Real time strategy like you wouldn't even believe.  It's so real time strategy that I bet they imported the sand straight from Dune 2, grandaddy of the genre.
  • My take: It's a free, open-source RTS game.  I can't pan that because, even if it turns out to suck, it didn't cost you a dime.  Just eyeballing it, I'm going to say it inherits mostly from Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander.  Not a bad premise.
  • My action: I already own Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander, so if I've a hankering to play this kind of game, I already can.
Super Motherload:
  • Genre: It's "mother lode," you illiterate bastards.  Oh, sorry, I meant, um.. side-scrolling action game with accumulation mechanics.
  • My take: For those who don't know, Motherload was one of the most popular Flash-browser games that involve a side-view mining game where you dig down, recover minerals, upgrade your rover.  Very addictive, but there's not much to it if you think about it: you're just getting minerals in order to get more minerals.  Super Motherload is bascially an attempt to turn that skeleton into a credible game. 
  • My action:  Honestly, it's probably half-decent.  This would go on my wish list if I wanted to play this kind of game.  If they turned it into a split screen competitive game, as the trailer would seem to indicate, I really have no interest in it.
Halo: Spartan Assault:
  • Genre: A top-down action game based on a wildly popular first person shooter series.  Go figure.
  • My take: Spartan Assault is based on Halo, Bungie Software's runaway success series whose love in certain circles was fairly well captured in the Awesome Reach flash animation.  I guess they got tired of making first person shooters because this one is a top down action game.  Ironic that they'd try to escape the monotony of a tired genre only to make a game based on an even more tired genre, isn't it?
  • My action: Meh.  I thought Marathon was more interesting than Halo.  I got bored of this kind of game around the time of Ikari Warriors.
So there you have it.  I think I need to work on brevity some more, but I think I've accomplished what I set out to do here.  Next time I set out to do it, I think it'll be on a day off, because this ended up cutting into the time I had off after work waaay too much.