enfrdeitptrues

Real Time Strategy

  • Heathen Engineering's Terran (Preview) (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Heathen Engineering's Terran
    Developed By: Heathen Engineering
    Published By: Heathen Engineering
    Released: Early Access, March 21, 2016
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Strategy, Action
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $39.99 new

    Thanks Heathen Engineering for sending a copy of this game to preview.

    Heathen Engineering’s Terran is a really ambitious game that aims to combine a couple of different genres. So far it looks like they want to have some 4X, some real-time strategy (RTS), and a bit of spaceship combat. It is a combination of a couple of genres that I like with one I tend not to play that much and that really interested me.

    Currently though, the game is still pretty early in development. There only seems to be the basics of a lot of the different ideas currently planned. What was present was sadly not enough to keep me interested in the game for all that long. Right now, there is a campaign mode which allows you to make an empire and then there is a skirmish mode which allows you to set up your own space combat with any loadout you desire.

    Heathen Engineering's Terran
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks pretty and has some cool sounding ideas.
    Weak Points: Really early game; A lot of stuff is missing and there isn’t much direction to find what is present; Really, really, really small UI.
    Moral Warnings: Starship combat.

    I tried playing the campaign, but I couldn’t really find out what I was supposed to do. There was a brief guide that covered the basics, but half of it was how to load a new campaign which wasn’t what I needed to know. The game seems to rely heavily on you exerting your influence, but I never got that to work. Maybe I was supposed to give it more time, but there wasn’t really anything going on that made me want to sit there and just wait to maybe take over a planet. I also couldn’t figure out how to build anything on a planet or to make another fleet. Now, while I couldn’t build anything, the ideas they had about building in the guide interested me greatly. It seems like there isn’t much focus on building stuff on the planets which is a simplification that I kind of like. There was also a research tree, but it was pretty lacking. Most things I saw to be researched had only around a five word description and felt very placeholder.

    Skirmish mode had a bit more going on. I was able to hop into this mode and be able to set up a battle between two fleets which was something I was never able to do playing the campaign. One thing I noticed when setting up the fleets was that the stats of the ships weren’t ever explained. When I got done setting that up I got the option to divide the fleet into a couple different groups based off of some different options which I didn’t really understand. Once in the fight, it became an RTS. I got to move around my fleets depending on how I divided them earlier. Moving fleets around was a bit tricky since the controls for moving also performed another function. I could also select a ship to control from here. This mode was decently fun, but I did terribly. I found it somewhat difficult to tell who my enemy was since all ships shared the same design. That was also something I noticed during playing the campaign was that you only had preset ship designs. I was really hoping to be able to customize each design a bit more.

    Heathen Engineering's Terran
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 46%
    Gameplay - 3/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I think art the is the best thing this game has going for it currently. The main menu is just gorgeous and I found the campaign map to be really pretty. The ships looked decent, but a bit too similar. When I was flying a ship in skirmish mode the only real way for me to easily tell what each ship was, was to see how many shots they fired. Some of their colors blended a bit too much with the background of space. The UI could use some work. I found everything to be way too small and not a great contrast with the backgrounds. It is really hard to find the buttons that seemed to be just hidden in random spots. Sound was okay, but it was nothing that stood out to me. Controls were okay except in the space battles where some seemed to be mapped to the same button.

    The only moral problem I found present was that you blow up spaceships with other spaceships. As it is now, unless you are a real big fan of this type of game and you would really like to help it out, I wouldn’t get it. It is just too early. I hate to be too critical, but I just couldn’t find much to do when I played. Also, they are asking almost $40 for it which is a bit high for what it currently offers. I do like many of the ideas I saw for this game and I do want it to succeed. Once it does, I will come back to do another review on it, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  • Hellfront: Honeymoon (Xbox One)

     

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    Game Info:

    Hellfront: Honeymoon
    Developed by: Skygoblin
    Published by: Thunderful
    Release date: December 19, 2018
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Twin-stick shooter, strategy
    Number of players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy violence
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Thunderful for sending us this game to review!

    Hellfront: Honeymoon is Skygoblin’s second game and we reviewed their first one, The Journey Down. Instead of being a point-and-click adventure game, Hellfront: Honeymoon is an action-packed twin-stick shooter real-time strategy game. There is no story, but your goal is to be the last person standing against aliens and other players on various hostile planets.

    In total, there are ninety levels which you can play by yourself or cooperatively with a friend. Alternatively, up to four players can duke it out in player vs. player skirmishes. No matter which mode you play, the concept remains the same. You can destroy environmental walls that are in your way with your machine gun. On glowing floor tiles, you can deploy a turret or barracks that churns out soldiers every ten seconds. It’s best to have a combination of both. If possible, tuck your barracks behind some turrets for protection. There is no penalty if your character dies and they will respawn near their barracks within a few seconds.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simple and fun gameplay that’s best enjoyed with others
    Weak Points: Local multiplayer only, no online matches
    Moral Warnings: Shooting soldiers and aliens

    The level is won by destroying all of the opposition's bases and turrets. To keep things interesting, when an enemy’s turret is destroyed, aliens usually come out and attack anyone nearby. Also, remember to move away once deploying turrets or barracks or your character will get squashed from the building process.

    Depending on how long it takes you to conquer a level, you’ll be awarded between one and three stars. Generally speaking, you’ll get three stars for conquering the level in under a minute, two for under two minutes and one star for anything over that. The skirmishes don't last very long, but they're pretty intense-- especially those involving alien pods that are easy to accidentally break open with stray bullets.

    Hellfront: Honeymoon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 7.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Violence is a given and you’ll have to attack opposing humans and aliens alike. When shot at, the aliens will break apart and leave yellow puddles on the ground. Given how fast-paced this game is, you may not even notice the gibs. The soldiers just disappear when defeated. Last but not least, the game’s title has the word hell in it (in case you haven’t noticed).

    The explosions are very prominent and hard to miss. The rest of the visuals work well, but are nothing too ground-breaking. There is some change of scenery between the different planets.

    The sound effects are fitting and the minimal voice acting is sufficient. The background music is peppy and perfect for the fast-paced action.

    If you enjoy twin-stick shooters and real-time strategy games, Hellfront: Honeymoon is worth checking out. Like many games, this one is best enjoyed with friends. If you’re looking for a deep story and online gameplay you’ll want to look elsewhere.

  • Iron Marines (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Iron Marines
    Developed By: Ironhide Game Studio
    Published By: Ironhide Game Studio
    Released: May 19, 2019
    Available On: iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, LinuxOS
    Genre: Real Time Strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $15 Steam, $5 mobile devices

    Thanks to Ironhide Game Studio for the Steam review code!

    Iron Marines is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) with light tower defense mechanics. Across 3 different planets you will do various objectives and kill a lot of aliens. There is a pretty good chunk of content here with several heroes, units, and upgrades. For the most part, I enjoyed my time with Iron Marines.

    Gameplay is pretty simple from a mechanical standpoint. Most of your time will be spent hastily clicking on units and putting them into position to attack. Unlike standard RTS games, Iron Marines uses a very simple control scheme to get this done, which should appeal to a more casual audience. There are a ton of units to choose from, each with their own benefits. Snipers can shoot from very far away but take a long time to lock onto a target. A mech unit with a flamethrower is very good at close range and has a lot of health. You can, and must, make careful decisions with unit choice to be able to finish a mission.

    Iron Marines
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice art style; simplistic gameplay; content rich
    Weak Points: Repetitive voice lines; grindy gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Necromancy; units sometimes show skin; alien goop on kill; human units drop blood

    There are powerful unit types called heroes. You only get to choose 1 per mission (from the menu), but they have a couple of abilities each and can respawn when they die. There’s a ton of different heroes to choose from that do different things. One of them shoots powerful rockets and another can raise the dead to help them. Heroes can be upgraded after gaining experience, which buffs their abilities.

    Along with a bunch of heroes to unlock there’s a pretty long skill tree to upgrade or unlock various things (passives or new toys) and several consumable items to buy. All these systems use a different currency, which is one of the marks that Iron Marines' mobile origins left behind. Otherwise, there are no microtransactions in sight and the game looks and feels high quality.

    Enemy variety is strong here. I encountered quite a few different enemy types, and they all are pretty different. One will explode into smaller enemies on kill, another shoots like a mortar.

    Let’s talk about difficulty. At first, I was completely stumped. Missions became incredibly difficult and felt like they required near-perfect play. I ended up taking this to the Steam forums and asking what’s up. The answer was that I needed to grind the earlier levels. I ended up finding out that the difficulty in Iron Marines is largely artificial. The game was made with microtransactions in mind (which are not in the Steam version). Because of this, it does what most mobile games do: require you to either grind, or pay money. The “pay money” part is cut out of the Steam release, but the marks that system has made on the game are deep and recognizable.

    Iron Marines
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls are simplistic and well done. Most of your actions will be performed with the mouse, and that includes moving your view around the map. If anything, I would have liked to scroll the map with WASD. There is no controller support. The art is nice to look at with a 2D cartoony pixel-art style and supports the game well. I pretty much always understood where things were, although sometimes units would get lost in the clutter of enemies attacking them. The sound effects and music aren’t anything more than serviceable, which isn’t a bad thing. I didn’t encounter any bugs during play and overall it felt polished.

    As for moral issues, there's bit of blood here and there and some sci-fi necromancy and magic. I never encountered any rough language unless you count a character yelling “Get away from me you BLEEP” as cursing. Yes, it makes a bleep noise instead.

    Overall, Iron Marines is a game that could have done so much right but was completely hindered by a system that was made for microtransactions. The Steam version has no pay wall in front of heroes. If you’re okay with spending a lot of time grinding for various resources, and you like a more streamlined RTS, then this may be your title! I’d recommend waiting for a sale, or just grab the mobile version.

  • League of War: VR Arena (PSVR)

     

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    Game Info:

    League of War: VR Arena
    Developed by: MunkyFun
    Published by: MunkyFun
    Release date: November 7, 2017
    Available on: PSVR
    Genre: Strategy
    Number of players: Up to two players
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you MunkyFun for sending us this game to review!

    In many movies, there are battles simulated and planned on a table top. Just like those movies, in League of War: VR Arena, you get to fight your opponent in a virtual reality tabletop setting. The battles last four minutes and are pretty intense. Explosions are a given and if you play your hand right, they will take place on the enemy’s side of the table.

    At first, you start off with one commander, but as you defeat their foes, more commanders and combat vehicles will become available. Each of the commanders have a (weak) backstory and a unique artillery loadout. The commanders are decently voice-acted and the sound effects are fitting as well.

    Some of the units available include infantry, tanks, rovers, artillery vehicles, and helicopters/attack aircraft.  Each of the units has a benefit and a drawback. For example, tanks are powerful but slow, and the artillery does great long-range damage, but can’t attack the nearby units damaging it.  There are different infantry-type units including flamethrowers and snipers.  Both units can dish out a significant amount of damage, but can’t take it themselves.

    League of War: VR Arena
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The tabletop combat looks cool
    Weak Points: Some tracking issues, standing up is the most reliable way to play; lackluster strategy options
    Moral Warnings: Vehicular violence 

    Unlike most real-time strategy games, you don’t need resources to deploy units, only time and power. There is a cooling-off/charging period that has to be met before you can pick up and drop a similar unit into the battlefield. Once deployed and given an initial target, you have no control over it.

    Any human or creature with opposable thumbs can drag and drop units onto the battlefield; where is the strategy? It’s best to deploy units in groups so there is strength in numbers. If you send out a lone infantry unit, they’re done for. If you leave a unit charging a little longer, they will become super-charged and more powerful; can you wait that long though? If you don’t mind slowing down the production of other units, you can allocate more power to one that you want to deploy more frequently.

    The first few battles are pushovers, but it doesn’t take long to have the tables turned and get your butt kicked easily. The AI seems to have some pretty cheap tricks that they use. Mixing up your strategy is your best bet, or finding humans to play against. Multiplayer is possible in the arcade mode. The second player has to use a controller and a regular screen though. The arcade mode also lets you purchase units with medals earned in battle. Even if you lose, you’ll earn at least one medal. If the timer runs out, the player with the most points wins. I’m guessing points are determined by units and bases damaged.

    League of War: VR Arena
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    League of War: VR is pretty family-friendly. There is no blood or gore, just vehicular explosions. One of the commanders considers himself intellectually superior to all humankind and refers to everyone else as idiots. That’s the extent of the bad language in this game.

    Though the game itself is stable, the inherent PSVR tracking issues remain. Even in a well-lit environment, the camera had a hard time tracking the Move controllers unless I was standing up. Other than that, this title ran fine.

    While League of War: VR has some fun moments, the unbalanced/unfair battles and lack of unit control leave much to be desired. Multiplayer is a nice feature if you want more balanced gameplay. The asking price is $19.99, but I recommend waiting for a good sale before picking it up.

  • Left Behind 3 – Rise of the Antichrist (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Left Behind 3 – Rise of the Antichrist
    Developed By: Left Behind Games
    Published By: Left Behind Games
    Release Date: October 25th, 2010
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy
    Single/Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen
    MSRP: $30.00

    Thank you Left Behind Games for sending us this game to review!

    Left Behind 3: Rise of the Antichrist is a slightly revamped combination of Eternal Forces and Tribulation Forces.  There are 46 missions divided into two chapters: Rayford and Buck, and Buck and Chloe.  Although the missions are pretty much the same, they now have video clips with low budget actors and special effects.  The Carpathia actor was pretty good but the rest made me wonder if studio employees were being used to play the parts of Rayford, Buck, and Chloe. The green lining behind them was also a dead giveaway that this is a low budget title.

    Since this title is pretty much a rehash, the gameplay remains unchanged.  It’s still a strategy game and you will be playing as the Tribulation Force as well as the American Militia. You start each level with primary objectives that you have to complete in order to progress to the next level/mission. There may also be secondary objectives that can give you a bonus if you complete those too.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice music.
    Weak Points: Bland graphics; recycled missions from previous games.
    Moral Warnings:Some violence but tame for an RTS

    Some missions let you choose between multiple spots to set up a base.  The next objectives will be determined by where you establish your base.  Another level has you decide which hero you will send to aid the American Militia.  If you send Buck you will have to stop some demons, but if you send Chloe, you'll have to set up a clinic and heal wounded soldiers.

    Like many RTS games, you have to gather resources such as money, food, and housing.  One of the unique features of this game is the spirit points.  Everyone but the hero units have spirit points, which affects their role.  People are considered friends, neutral, or enemies.  A disciple can easily convert neutral units.  If one of your friends’ spirit level drops too low they will become neutral again.  You can convert enemies by raising their spirit points.  To raise your spirit points you have to pray, or if you’re playing as the enemy, the equivalent is cussing (no you really don’t hear what they’re saying).  Singing is a power that both good and evil units will use to boost/lower points of surrounding units.  Many missions will use this spiritual warfare in lieu of combat.  In fact combat has a drastic effect on your spiritual points, so soul winning is definitely preferred.  Many characters appear in this game as heroes.  If their spirit points drop too low, you will lose the mission.

    There are many different positions for your newly recruited friends to fill.  They all require training and there are a few roles that are gender specific.  You can train your friends to become builders, recruiters, musicians, medics, and soldiers.  Each of these positions has higher levels to train to, thus allowing your units to works faster and become more efficient.  One annoyance with the graphics is that all the units of a particular group look alike.  One nifty feature is that each person has a life story that you can read if you’re inclined to.  When it comes to combat there are turrets, humvees, helicopters, and tanks at your disposal. However, you need the proper facilities to create and deploy these units and there are more than humans that attack you.  Evil spirits will wreak havoc on any nearby person so stay alert!

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Game Play 12/20 
    Graphics 7/10 
    Sound 8/10 
    Stability 3/5 
    Controls 4/5 

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence: 6/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10 
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 11.5/10
    -1.5 for stereotypical biases
    +3 for delivering good moral lessons

    Rise of the Antichrist promised better graphics, but I feel deceived.  I didn’t notice any improved textures. The maps are still a bit bland color wise, but I understand that this isn’t a happy time to live in either.  The character models are all the same as far as I can tell.  There have been some enhancements such as vehicles changing their appearance when they take damage.  The maps are better lit and the streets are wider, but you can still cause traffic jams with your army tanks.

    Nothing has changed on the sound scene.  The voice acting is good and while you are waiting for your game to load, the story is narrated for you by two different voice actors.  I recognized one as Christian radio’s Chris Fabry.  The sound track is the exact same as the original games; there are no new tracks added.  It’s still pleasant to listen to as Chance Thomas did a good job.  If you like the soundtrack, you can buy it from iTunes.  They have some samples here.

    The game interface has had some major improvements from the original Left Behind.  These improvements have been implemented in the expansion and have been incorporated into this one as well.  There is a turbo button, which can make sending units to a site go by much faster.  There are also new short cut buttons that allow you to select units and with the click of a button send them to the closest church, training center or clinic.  These enhancements are definitely helpful.

    Although I did not experience any game crashes, I did encounter some game design issues.  Getting a builder to place a turret where you want it can take multiple tries and I didn’t see any acknowledgement that they got the command to build it.  And the mission’s triggers aren't very precise; if you build something where it does not expect you to, your mission will not progress.

    While this game encourages peaceful missions, when you are playing as the American Militia there is no way to convert enemy units, so you have to kill them.  The Tribulation Force prefers spiritual warfare and your group will lose spirit points if things have to end in violence.  One thing I thought was peculiar was that the American Militia recruiter would only recruit men.

    If you want to recruit your friends to play along with you there are some keys you can hand out to them to play online with you for free.  I didn’t see any games to join.

    For those who already own the second game there really isn’t enough to warrant paying for the same missions again with cheesy videos attached to them.  If you want to try the series forget the original and pick up this one, though.  I still wish they would have offered an option to set the difficulty level; instead they allow you to play any mission you want without keeping track of where you left off.  Overall, I think the developers took too many shortcuts with Rise of the Antichrist, and may risk leaving many fans behind as well.

     

  • Little King's Story (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Little King's Story
    Developed by: Marvelous. Inc.
    Published by: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc., Cing, Town Factory
    Release Date: Aug 5, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Wii, PS Vita 
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen for suggestive themes, crude humor, mild cartoon violence, use of alcohol.
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

    Thank you XSEED for sending this review code!

    "Armchair general" is a term in gaming used in strategy games where you're controlling armies from the comfort of your gaming chair. It can be fun and we have plenty of games that explore such an idea in multiple ways. XCOM 2 or Starcraft 2 are great examples of this genre; leading units against enemies in waves and commanding and positioning them can be great fun. Sadly, while Little King's Story is a decent game, its reputation is marred by a poor PC port.

    Little King's Story follows the adventures of a king that you name whatever you like on his quest to make the kingdom wider and unify the land. You grow your land by collecting treasures to fund houses, schools and various upgrades to your kingdom. Schools allow you to change your citizens from ordinary carefree adults to carpenters, farmers, soldiers, and more. You lead the charge against Unidentified Mysterious Animals, which consist of living veggies, Oni and more.

    Little King's Story
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Strong strategy game with plenty of content in a fun world.
    Weak Points: PC port is extremely weak and may be hard to make work. For the best experience you'll want to find the Wii version.
    Moral Warnings: Very crude humor and some slight fetishising of the different princesses.

     

    Defeating bosses unlocks new upgrades for your kingdom. The land slowly becomes free of monsters as you defeat bosses which makes it easier to explore for treasures and other collectibles to increase your funds. As the story progresses you will meet other NPCs that present new quests. Eventually you'll also choose a princess to marry.

    Gameplay is simple, but mostly satisfying. Citizens can fall in love and start families which gives you more citizens to work with. You only use two buttons to have your citizens charge at enemies and objects you can interact with. The artstyle has a cute chibi feel that makes you want to pinch the character's cheek. Though it's a simple look, the game's world has so much detail in the art and animation. If the game was more stable it would be a great port of a gaming gem.

    Little King's Story
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 0/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Sadly, the PC port is still filled with problems; while it has supposedly been improved after launch the game has several notable issues.  For reference know that I am using a NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 with a AMD FX(tm)-6300 six-core processor for this game. At launch the game gives you the option to switch to 60 frames per second, but it is not recommended according to the launcher. Once I left the castle at sixty frames the game slowed to a near crawl. At 30 frames, the game seemed stable enough yet every now and then some quick graphical slow downs seemed to occur. Controls on the keyboard are very haphazard as well. If you want reasonable controls and camera turn you'll want to use a controller. Some players also seem to get random crashes on the PC version. These crashes can happen anywhere between minutes and hours of gameplay. The game crashed on me once after a second play session 3 hours in. Be warned the game has no auto-save so you can lose progress if it happens to you. For the best experience with this game you may want to find the Wii version. I hope XSEED does not give up on the PC world because of one bad port. They usually deliver high quality experiences regardless.  **After this review was published, many of these issues have now been fixed!**

    Morality wise there is no notable gore or violence to the game except for mild cartoon violence. The princesses you choose from are all slightly sexualized to particular tastes. The priest that you build a church for uses words like Ramen instead of Amen. Some might consider this a jab at Christianity. 

    Little King's Story is a decent game yet the PC version will fight you to get it to work properly. For certain systems it may work, but that will be a roll of the dice for some people.

     

  • Mushroom Wars 2 (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Mushroom Wars 2
    Developed By: Zillion Whales
    Published By: Zillion Whales
    Released: October 6, 2017
    Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 - 4 offline, 1 – 4 online
    Price: $14.99, free on mobile but comes with in-app purchases

    Thanks to Zillion Whales for sending us the code for this game so we could review it.

    Apparently, in the apocalypse, humanity will be replaced by a bunch of itty-bitty, sentient, mushroom people that will really like to go to war with each other. At least, that is, according to Mushroom Wars 2. In this game, you play as mushroom people, as well as their tiny little alien friends, and fight it out on a variety of different maps to see who will come out victorious in this battle of numbers.

    In Mushroom Wars 2, you play as one of the different hero characters leading your force to victory against all opponents. This game is a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game where you have buildings that generate units that you will use to send at other structures to capture them and expand the strength of your forces. This style of RTS is one that some might remember playing online back in the day. This is really similar to those games, but with more polish and features. This game is also available on about every major system out on the market (our review is for the Windows version) and boasts that it allows for cross-platform play. When starting the game, it prompts you to create a profile which might even allow you to carry over your progress to another system. I haven’t been able to test that out, but it seems like the only real reason to make a profile besides to keep track of the online leaderboards.

    The gameplay of Mushroom Wars 2 is fairly simple and really addictive. Most matches seem to last around 5 minutes so it is very easy to be able to play a lot of them in one sitting. The game also has 2 lengthy campaigns, with the promise of more to come, and has a variety of different free play and multiplayer options. The amount of different ways to set up a game is really nice and it makes it easy to accommodate your local or online multiplayer needs. Speaking of multiplayer, this game seems to have a fairly active multiplayer community. The times I played it I was able to find a match really quickly and on the game’s Steam forum page, there are a lot of posts of people asking for people to join them to play the game as a group.

    Mushroom Wars 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Really nice soundtrack; fun and addictive gameplay; short matches; simple mechanics; game has free weekends so you can try before you buy
    Weak Points: Some difficulty spikes, some abilities seem overpowered
    Moral Warnings: Game is set in what appears to be the nuclear apocalypse of Earth and you play as living mushroom people; aliens; a lot of death; magic including necromancy

    My only real complaint about the multiplayer is the quality of the matches. All my matches were against not super challenging opponents. Also, as soon as I started to really beat them, they all quit. I did have better satisfaction from playing through the campaign. The campaign is just a lot of missions on different maps with different challenges to overcome or modifiers to mess around with. Some events have the enemy start with more structures than you do, facing an enemy using hero powers, having to deal with a frog that will eat some of the units that walk by them, fog that undoes all building upgrades, and special buildings that generate more units a second than the standard buildings. There is a story that goes along with all of this, but it is really minor. All you get is a couple of really nice looking partially animated images every 10 or 15 missions. I honestly don’t know much about what is supposed to be going on, but the gameplay is engaging enough it really doesn’t matter much.

    My main complaint with the story comes from one mission right after a cutscene that showed what appeared to be my character joining forces with my previous enemy. The problem came at the start of the next mission that had just me and my new ally on it. Since they were the only other force on the map, I attacked them. After about 15 seconds though, a new enemy appears running in from off the edge of the map. This was something I never encountered before. I was stuck on this mission for a long time. I had to look up a help guide to beat this one. Apparently, if you don’t attack the new ally, they won’t attack you and you just need to survive the enemy’s attacks. Since I thought my ally was my enemy and attacked them the first time, they attacked back which led me to believe they were always hostile. It only happened that one time, but it was really frustrating not having what I was supposed to do in that mission be properly communicated.

    The game also has many different hero units that the player can use. These each come with different abilities. Some of these abilities I’d argue are more effective than others and some just seem a little bit unfair. It doesn’t help that if you are just playing through the story, some matches will have the enemy using their abilities, but you have no idea what their abilities exactly do. I thought my game bugged out at first when I couldn’t send anybody from some of my houses. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that the enemy hero had an ability that let it lock down a house and prevent anything from leaving it for a set amount of time. There is also another really frustrating ability which the enemy I’m currently facing really loves to deploy. This ability gets cast upon a house and makes it stop generating new units and then slowly drains it all the way down to 0. Even if you have 100 units in there, it will drain all of them. They also seem to cast this one very frequently. I’m also totally not a fan of how they do the higher difficulties. On anything higher than the easiest difficulty, the game no longer shows you the number of units in any building that isn’t your own building. This makes it really difficult to choose which one to attack. I’m also fairly sure the enemy still knows which of mine are low because it always seems to attack the right one. I also don’t like it because I feel like it is just there so the enemy can generate more units than it should be able to while on the hardest difficulty. It just seems like they are sending out units way too often and I just feel like me not being able to see anything is to just hide the cheating. I could be wrong, but there is no way for me to find out one way or the other. Luckily, there is still the easiest difficulty which doesn’t have those problems, but it does have a pretty weak AI most of the time.

    Mushroom Wars 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls for this game are really simple. Everything can be controlled with just the mouse. The game also includes a pretty extensive write-up of all the features included and all of the controls. The art is really nice, though it is a little bit simple except for the cutscenes. All of the cutscenes have really nice art. One nice feature is that the different players seem to have differently styled buildings which is a nice feature for players that struggle to tell the difference based solely upon just their colors. Now, I have had matches where they have had the same styled buildings, but a majority of the time it is different. The UI is very simple and clean and it conveys all that it needs to in an effective manner. The sound is really good. The background music is all very nice and doesn’t get annoying to hear it again in other matches. I’m really tempted to pick up the soundtrack and add it to my collection. The sound effects are all nice. The game gives your soldiers a very cartoony war cry for when you send them to attack something and it still makes me laugh. They also gave the different style of towers their own distinct sounds for when they fire. I like this little detail to make them sound distinct as well as look different.

    The story of Mushroom Wars 2 appears to be set in a post nuclear apocalyptic Earth. You also play as sentient mushroom people. You either gained sentience from evolving or by mutating from the fallout of the nuclear apocalypse. In addition, there are also some aliens that appear and can be used in battles. There is also a lot of death in this game. Now, it isn’t super straight forward violent, but when you send your soldiers to capture an enemy building, any units that don’t make it die and you can also see some of their spirits rise up into the sky. Now this is done is a very cartoony way and might not be a problem for many, but when you really start to think about what you are doing, it really sinks in. There are also some abilities that are somewhat violent. One such ability is one that unleashes a blast of fire in an area. Any mushroom people hit by it are burnt to a crisp and die. The game has a couple of other abilities like this in it. There is also a couple of heroes who appear to be necromancers or some other form of dark magic users. One special hazard on some levels is a cemetery that fills up with the dead soldiers and, once full, releases them as zombie creatures at a random building. Finally, there are a lot of abilities that are present that seem to definitely be magic based.

    Overall, I found my time with Mushroom Wars 2 to be pretty enjoyable. The game gives you some pretty addictive gameplay and it makes sure that matches don’t take too long so that is also pretty easy to quit if something comes up. The highlight of this game, besides its gameplay, is the wonderfully composed soundtrack and very artistic cutscenes. Take notice of the violence and spiritual content, though I personally don't find it very offensive. A lot of the things are fairly abstract enough that it might not even occur to you what is actually going on. I’ll admit, some of these didn’t occur to me until I actual sat down to type up this review. If you are getting this for a kid, they probably won’t even be able to pick up on most of it. If you are still hesitant on picking this up, at the time of receiving the code to play this game, there was a free weekend on Steam. It could be worth adding it to your wishlist on there and wait for it to get another free weekend to try out yourself. Also, if you have a mobile device, this game is also available for free on there, but it does come with the addition of microtransactions. I had a really fun time playing Mushroom Wars 2 and I will probably continue to chip away at the long story mode.

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  • Pirates: Tides of Fortune (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Developed by: Plarium
    Published by: Kabam
    Release date: February 12, 2012
    Available on: Windows/Mac/Linux
    Genre: MMO, Real-time Stategy
    Number of players: Online-only
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free with in-app purchases

    Disclaimer: Although we have been offered money in the past to cover this game, we have declined and have not been compensated for this review. 

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune is a free MMO Real Time Strategy game where you must collect and create resources to build up your pirate empire and conquer the seven seas.  Setting up an account is easy enough and you simply need to enter a valid e-mail address (verification will be required to progress in the game) and a password.  Be careful as you enter your password as there is not a confirmation field to double check that you haven’t misspelled it on accident.

    Once you’re logged in, Captain Anne O’Malley will walk you through the basics of gathering gold, wood, and distilling rum.  After you follow her various tutorials you should be up to level 4.  After researching the technology tree and upgrading your mills and mines, you should reach the coveted level five where you can set sail and plunder nearby ships and islands.

    At the tavern you can recruit pirates to join your crew.  The units specialize in offense or defense and if you send the incorrect unit to do the wrong task, the results will be devastating.  Fortunately, the game will warn you ahead of time that you’re about to do something stupid.  While most units can be acquired with in game resources, many of the veteran and better units require rubies as well, which are available for purchase with real-world money.  Rubies can be earned in game but they are in short supply compared to the other resources.  

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun real time strategy game that’s free to play and has many users online to play with.  
    Weak Points: Though this game is free to play, there are many prompts to invite friends and to spend money that can give you offensive and defensive advantages (pay to win).
    Moral Warnings: The pirate lifestyle involves drinking, cussing, killing, and females showing off their bellies.

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune gives you many “opportunities” to purchase rubies at discounts that are only available for a “limited amount of time”.  There are just as many “opportunities” to invite your friends to join in the free fun and unlock game features and provide you with some rubies.  Sadly, spending real money in this game and providing you with temporary defense and offense boosts makes this title essentially “pay to win.”   

    Despite the unfair advantages that paying players have, and the nag screens to invite your friends and sales on rubies, this is a fun real-time-strategy game.  It doesn’t take long to fill up your tiny island and expanding it is possible by spending a significant number of rubies to do so.  

    There are lots of islands out there and chances are that yours may be attacked sooner or later so you’ll have to build up walls, gates, and cannons to defend it.  The only problem with defending it is that all of the defenses cost rubies and not the mined resources that are freely available.   

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In case you’re wondering, rubies are not cheap.  For close to five dollars you can get eight hundred and twenty-five of them.  The most expensive package is six hundred and sixty dollars for one hundred and ten thousand rubies.    Do people actually spend that much on a “free to play” game? If so, then it’s no wonder why we were offered money to review it.

    Graphically this game isn’t anything spectacular.  Then again it’s a browser based game so it has to be streamlined to run efficiently on all platforms.  The music and voice acting on the other hand is nicely done and fun to listen to.  There are some cuss words like d*mn used.  I also noticed that sometimes the voice overs didn’t match the text.

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune is undeniably fun, but it’s certainly not worth the effort of nagging your friends or paying ridiculous prices on rubies to have a chance against other players paying to do well in this MMO game.  I recommend sticking with a good real time strategy game that you only have to pay for once and not annoy your friends with invites. 

  • Prismata (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Prismata
    Developed By: Lunarch Studios
    Published By: Lunarch Studios
    Released: March 8, 2018 (Early Access)
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Web Browser
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: up to two players
    Price: Free to play (Lite Edition); $24.99 (Founder’s Pack)

    Thank you, Lunarch Studios, for sending us a preview code!
    Note: At the time we received a code, the game was only in a “pay-to-play” state

    Prismata is a very strange game as it doesn't belong to any existing subgenre. It combines real-time strategy elements, deckbuilding elements through over a hundred different units, and the interface of a board game. The main goal of Prismata is to eliminate all forces on the opposing side of the board while protecting yours. It’s a surprisingly simple concept but the way it is executed is nothing of the sort.

    The way Prismata does its tutorial is through its story mode. Many multiplayer-focused games do use their single-player portion to ease people into the player vs. player aspect so this in itself isn’t a unique concept. There is a story mode, split into five episodes. The main plotline is that in the distant future there are human commanders that control legions of robots called Swarmbringers. They defend society from rogues, bandits, and everything bad in-between. For reasons unknown, the very robots Swarmbringers use to defend humanity start to malfunction and attack the very beings they were programmed to protect. It is up to the Swarmbringers to find out the cause of this problem.

    Swade is our main character in the campaign portion. He is a cocky, foul-mouthed Swarmbringer who may not have nice things to say most of the time and is pretty easy to upset, but he has humanity’s best interests in heart. He is joined by his assistants, Logan and Giselle. Logan is Swade’s right-hand man who is always there to accompany him during his missions. Giselle is the robot companion of Swade and Logan. Throughout the campaign, Swade will be accompanied by other characters, such as Anya, another Swarmbringer from a different faction. The best way to describe Prismata’s tone is very “Marvel Cinematic Universe-inspired.” There is this general witty banter between characters, and characters will drop quips at seemingly serious moments. The dialogue will even find itself in the middle of battle through optional text boxes/character portraits. Whether you find MCU humor your kind of thing is up to you. For those who greatly dislike that kind of comedy, cutscenes can be skipped.

    Prismata
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting combination of board games, deckbuilding, and real-time strategy elements; great character art; no “pay-to-win” elements; an extensive tutorial that explains every feature of the game
    Weak Points: The playerbase is dwindling so all who are left in the multiplayer are people who have hundreds or even thousands of hours invested; most cosmetics don’t have much appeal to them
    Moral Warnings: Language ranging from “d*mn”, “h*ell”, “dumb**ses”, and “sh*t”; one female character shows off cleavage; the red units are cyborgs, which are explained as having their free will extracted from them

    Getting into the actual gameplay portion, the entire first chapter of the campaign acts as a tutorial where it slowly introduces mechanics to you, where some missions have you focus on blocking and defending and others have a focus on offense or building a certain kind of unit. On each side of the board, there are three layers. The top one is where your main blockers and engineers go. They are pure defensive units where you can redirect any damage sent to them. These blockers have a health pool, and to destroy these top-layered blockers, you have to be able to deal the amount of health they have displayed on their unit in damage. For example, if your field has five attack power, and they have two blockers with health of three each, one blocker will be destroyed while the other one will block two points of damage, being able to last for another turn.

    The second layer is where your drones and your main attacking units will go. Drones require energy to be built, which are granted by engineers. Drones are also a type of blocking unit, but if clicked on, they will release gold, one of the five main types of currency and one of the two existing forms of currency to persist after a turn ends. All other forms of currency are “wasted” at the end of a turn. Any unclicked drones that aren’t used to farm gold can be used in the defense portion. Your main attacking units also go on this layer. Some have blocking features, while others are "fragile," which means they can be attacked even if your attack power is insufficient to destroy them in one turn. Fragile units make up for this flaw by having a higher health pool in total. Attacking units have an attack power assigned to them and their abilities can vary greatly when clicked, such as adding more attack power (typically at the cost of either gold or being unable to defend), adding more units, or even special unique properties exclusive to that unit.

    The last layer is where your other resource building units and specialized units go. The unites that build blue, red, and green resources (also known as Behemium, Replicase, and Gaussite respectively) go here. Specialized units, typically (but not always) units that use red resources go here. Offensive units that go on this layer tend to be passive and grant additional attack power at the start of a turn. Every unit has a limit on how much it can be built before it cannot be used again. Some can be built as many as twenty times and others can be built as few as once.

    The simplest way of explaining the metagame is that you have to build up your resources in such a way to produce a “snowballing” effect while preventing your opponent from doing the same. All actions can be controlled by the mouse but there are hotkeys all over the keyboard that quickly do the action that a mouse would do, such as select a specific set of units, undo your last action, or end your turn. Because there are hundreds of units, each with their own health, attack stats, and abilities, knowing what can be done at any time is crucial to victory. Lunarch Studios prides itself on not being pay-to-win, as every unit in the game can be obtained by simply playing and that microtransactions are only used for cosmetics and further campaign missions.

    When looking at the character portraits and art, they are surprisingly detailed, with the humans being anatomically correct with proper shading techniques and designed in realism. It’s such a shame that the unit art (the art that you’ll mostly be looking at) is rather amateurish in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it is terrible art but it’s more like comparing high school art to art framed in a museum. Even if it would have been time-consuming and costly to make all one hundred-plus units with the detail that the human/robot character art has, I feel it would have grabbed a lot more people’s attention.

    Prismata
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 6.5/10
    Sound 7/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence 8/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8.5/10

    A lot of the skins amount to color swaps or Photoshop-tier edits, especially the googly-eyes skin that many units have. It not only clashes with many of the designs, but they are also lazily placed on the model itself. Some skins do have effort put into them, as they are more than asset flipping. Some even have animated effects, but a good amount of these skins are ridiculously expensive, ranging up to $35 for just one—and when there are at least five times as many skins as there are units, it will add up.

    Considering that this is a strategy game with not a lot of lore surrounding the units themselves, there isn’t a huge amount of moral concerns surrounding it. There technically is violence, but it’s kept to the bare minimum visually. When I mentioned earlier that Prismata shares its brand of humor with the MCU, it also shares its language and crudeness. Swade is the main contributor to the language department as every third or fourth sentence he utters has some kind of swearing in it, ranging from “h*ll”, “d*mn”, “dumb**ses”, and “sh*t.” He also contributes crude humor such as telling Logan to “lick a turd popsicle” in one mission, and takes the sentence “you know what else pops out a bunch of units” in the complete opposite direction (even though the statement was about The Advocate unit and in fact, not a crude joke). A character present in the later campaign missions by the name of Reige shows off a bit of cleavage. Most of the units in the game are robotic in nature, except for the red units. They are all organic in nature, fitted with technology effectively making them cyborgs. Swade and Anya discuss the ethics of ripping away the free will of animals and creatures to use them for combat.

    Prismata’s strongest aspect is its gameplay. It is a simple game to get into, but this is not a game for the casual gamer as there is much to master. There are many little things to be mindful of, a lot of resource management, and thinking turns ahead that make this an entry that a hardcore game player will want to invest time into. As of two years since its Early Access release, there are only three episodes of the campaign out and the developers plan to fully release the game once all five episodes are out. If you do happen to like what Prismata offers, a person can easily sink hundreds of hours into it through other single-player modes such as combat training that puts you in preset scenarios, multiple difficulty modes, and of course the multiplayer modes.

    Whether Prismata will live long enough for a full release is another question in itself. The cosmetics from a visual perspective as well as a monetary perspective that needs work or preferably an overhaul, as from observation from the few that are still around state themselves that it simply isn’t working. Lunarch Studios chased after a demographic that wanted very little to do with them (the casual audience) and it didn’t work out in their favor. They also boasted that their game is “too smart” which also harmed the image. Prismata is by no means a stupid game, but it doesn’t take quantum physics knowledge to succeed—as the developers at one point embarrassingly boasted. As long as one has a good grasp of mathematics, anyone can beat anyone. Since the game is free-to-play, there is no harm in checking it out. Play through the Chapter 1 tutorial and try out a few combat trials to see if this unique take on the strategy genre is your cup of tea.

  • Raid on Coasts (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Raid on Coasts
    Game Title: Raid on Coasts (Early Access)
    Developed By: Outlaw Coasts
    Published By: Outlaw Coasts
    Released: August 12, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Real-time strategy
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $4.99

    First off, my thanks to Outlaw Coasts for the review key for this Early Access review.

    Raid on Coasts is a military strategy game based on a "what if" where the Americans increase their military presence in the Middle East and this triggers a war with Russia and is set around either American defense or Russian attack of a coastal base area. The goal is to secure all bases as the Americans, or to capture them all as the Russians; no more, no less. This is an Early Access game, and given the game's scope, it's a decent concept given its apparent budget title design.

    The gameplay is as follows: if playing as the Russians, your advance naval forces need to secure the beachheads, then land troops to take the nearest villages for forward bases, after which you need to capture the other areas and eliminate all American resistance. As the Americans, you need to secure all bases and defeat all Russian attackers. Both sides have access to some basic troops which you need to use for the initial goal, then you need to use the resources from captured bases to call up enough troops to fulfill the rest of your goals for victory.

    Raid on Coasts
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good concept for a military strategy game
    Weak Points: Highly unfinished features and poorly developed user interface
    Moral Warnings: Violence and some blood

    The game uses a stripped down commander GUI much like the one used in Command and Conquer Generals (where you could produce several units in a queue menu), while the base capture mechanic is very similar to the one used in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (where units defend a point they capture until it becomes their territory after a set timer). This is meant to be a quick match game, so this is sufficient to the needs of either side and allows for quick deployment of forces. It's rather bare bones so far being its an Early Access title and has a lot of balance issues, but it is playable, if barely so, for both sides, though all you can do is build some basic units after capturing a base.

    Graphics are not much more advanced than one would see in a fairly decent Flash-based game set in a top-down perspective for units. It does have nice water and shadow effects that should run nicely even on integrated chipsets, and the level of detail is manageable in case it has slowdown. Sound is confined to generic gunfire, explosions, and brief voice clips for both sides, though the American voices sound more British than American, and both sides voice clips sound a bit muffled though understandable. None of it is remarkable, yet it's perfectly serviceable as is.

    While incomplete from a gameplay standpoint, it IS rather stable; no crashes or other anomalies occurred during play. Controls, however, feel incomplete, as map scrolling is done with the keyboard while the mouse moves units. It would be better if the mouse integrated all of the map scrolling and unit movement; the current setup is not very intuitive. The UI also is only marginally helpful, as it very poorly highlights captured bases, while uncaptured bases have no indicators for various troop movements for either side and lack information on deployed reinforcements. The last of these is rather galling, as you have no idea where either is deployed unless you scroll around the map. If all the above were fixed, this game would feel far more feature complete.

    Raid on Coasts
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - -2/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Since this is a war game simulation, Raid on Coasts is going to have violent content of moral concern, and while detail is rather low, a brief blood stain is visible where defeated troops are visible before disappearing and it's still quite obvious where humans have killed one another, even if the low detail graphics and top-down perspective makes them hard to recognize as human beings. Language is not an issue, though I may not be aware of any profanity in the Russian voice clips if any. It is doubtful there is, though; it's mostly stock acknowledgments of commands. Sexual content is nonexistent in any form, and being a military strategy game in a realistic setting, this has no occult or supernatural elements.

    Authority clearly derives from an established chain of military command on both sides, and both sides are following lawful orders to fight only enemy combatants. There are no signs of actions taken against anyone who is a civilian or otherwise an innocent, and objectives remain consistent with those of any war involving the capture of key military objectives.

    That all said, obvious violence issues aside, this is a highly unpolished gem of a game, and while the developer is to be commended for indicating they wish to resume development of this title, I could not recommend it due to its highly unfinished nature as it is at present, nor could I recommend it on moral grounds to anyone who objects to killing human beings in a war.

  • Rogue State (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Rogue State
    Developed By: LRDGames, Inc
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 16th, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Action, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T (Violence)
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $12.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Rogue State is a political simulator where you are the leader of the newly created People's Republic of Bemidji. As the newly crowned Glorious Leader, you have to appoint cabinet members, manage the budget, engage with ambassadors of foreign nations, and perform other governmental functions. As you rebuild your country after its revolution you'll encounter random events that pose difficult decisions that will affect the lives of the people in your country, or your relationship with global powers. How you run the country is entirely up to you.

    I really enjoyed the opening cinematic to the game, even though it's a essentially a slideshow. The artwork is nice, the voice acting is compelling, and it does a good job of setting the stage for your first day on the job as Glorious Leader. After the cinematic goes dark, the game loads and you're met with low quality, ugly character models, stunted animations and a user interface where every item is too big. The background and 2D artwork is nice, but it's hard to appreciate them when the character models are a pseudo-3D mess. The characters wouldn't be so distracting if they didn't do so much walking. Glorious Leader has to physically walk around the office to each station before you can access the different parts of the game, like policies and building projects. Also whenever you meet with a foreign ambassador you, and them, have to walk over and sit down to talk. The animations are only a few frames long and very jerky. The game would be better off if Glorious Leader was part of the background, just sitting behind the desk.

    The sound quality is better than the animation, but that's not saying much. The best thing I can say about it is that it's adequate. The voice acting in game is worse than the opening cutscene. All of the voices sound vaguely robotic; it can be distracting at times.

    Rogue State
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Breadth of political content; high replay value
    Weak Points: Low quality and unpleasant graphics; shallow gameplay
    Moral Warnings: War; religious faction reduced to fundamentalists

    The crux of the game is its political and managerial simulation. In that regard the game really comes into its own. There are a variety of factions in your new republic to keep happy or risk a coup. You also have to negotiate foreign relations with supportive and hostile nations. The biggest strength of the gameplay is the random incidents that occur. The game is split into 60 turns. During each turn you are allowed up to 4 actions. After you've depleted all the actions or you decide to the end the turn a random event occurs and you're given a number of different choices as to handle it. Sometimes a foreign nation invades, but other times you find a surplus of natural resources you didn't know existed. I really have to commend the developer's devotion to replay value here; no two playthroughs are going to be alike. With a hard cap on 60 turns (you'll rarely meet the end) there's no shortage of ways this game can play out.

    None of the different political spheres is very deep; for example the policies section simply has sliders for various things like public transport, religious holidays and market restrictions. When you move one of the sliders it shows the effect that policy change has on the different factions within your country as well as the budget. If one of the factions starts to hate you then it can lead to a coup, so you want try to keep everyone at least somewhat happy. There's no penalty for drastically changing policies every turn. After every few turns you give a speech to the country and you get to choose different phrases to use throughout; these phrases affect the political factions in different ways.

    Rogue State
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The most confusing and worst parts of the game involve the intelligence and military. Once you've built up your country a bit, you get access to intelligence gathering. You can spend money to research certain intel on allies or enemies. This intel is extremely expensive and doesn't have a big enough of an effect to justify the price. I have to admit that I wasn't able to really understand how the military aspect functioned. There's an overhead map where you can control the units you've built up, but you can't see the enemy units. Also, the number of units you have at any one point doesn't seem to have any effect on how much damage your buildings take. After a few frustrating attempts, all future playthroughs were mostly peaceful.

    Rogue State is a government simulator and thus war and threats of war are commonplace throughout the game. You can choose not to go to war, but in rare instances, due to random events and past choices, it's inevitable. There is a single religious faction called Fundamentalists. I found it extremely reductive to lump all the religious interests in the country into this one group who has vaguely religious policy goals. For example, they enjoy state sanctioned holidays but don't like loose restrictions on gambling and alcohol. The Fundamentalists are given equal importance to the other factions, but that means that if they're angry enough, they'll stage a coup, which isn't a great look.

    I was reminded of the marvelous Tropico series while playing Rogue State, as both have you taking the reign of a burgeoning banana republic as it makes its way in the world. However unlike Tropico this game lacks depth and charm. Putting aside the differences in genre, there's just not much to each aspect of the government you're able to control in Rogue State. The random events at the end of each turn make each playthrough unique, but they wrestle control of the game away from the player and put it in the hands of the random event generator. If you think you'll like this kind of government management gameplay then this game is a good pickup for the price, just don't expect a ton of depth.

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII
    Developer: Koei Tecmo
    Publisher: Koei Tecmo
    Released: January 28, 2016, July 5, 2016 (Playstation 4)
    Available On: Playstation 4, PC (PS3, Xbox One in Japan)
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Language, Mild Violence, Use of Alcohol
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us this game to review!

    With the thirtieth anniversary of the series, Koei Tecmo has localized and released Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII for Western audiences. The previous entry, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XII, was only released in Japan and Taiwan. The series has had a mixed reception outside Asian markets. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI, for example, was criticized by reviewers for its slow game play, with IGN saying that “It will bore to tears” gamers who prefer flashier, more exciting games. The reception of this latest entry from Western reviewers so far, however, has been mixed at best. Does this game deserve the criticism it has received or is this entry a hidden gem? 

    As the name suggests, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is based on Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel, which covers the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history. Following the fall of the Han Dynasty, China was plunged into chaos with various warlords fighting for power. After decades of conflict, three kingdoms remained: Wei, led by Cao Cao; Shu Han, led by Liu Bei; and Wu led by Sun Quan. Their sixty year conflict is believed to be the bloodiest period in Chinese history, and the second bloodiest conflict in world history (following World War II). Unlike Koei Tecmo’s other Three Kingdoms series, Dynasty Warriors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII takes few creative liberties with Luo Guanzhong’s work. Liu Bei is as he was portrayed in the historical novel, a selfless hero, while Cao Cao is the scheming villain. Though it's a worthwhile story for newcomers, it offers little for players already familiar with the material.

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII’s graphics varies. In game visuals are standard, if not substandard for this console generation. When viewed up close, character models, terrain and water graphics look fairly dated, very much out of place on the Playstation 4. This is probably due to the fact that the game was original developed for and released on the Playstation 3. Though the graphics do look better on the current generation system, it is clear that little effort was put into improving them. The issue, however, is that, in comparison to other strategy games’ in game graphics, Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ is either on par or a step above its competition. Many, like the Europa Universalis series, use a simple yet detailed map. Though the in game graphics are far from groundbreaking, the hand drawn character art and cinematics are very impressive. The game’s opening cinematic, Hero Mode cut scenes and character dialogue events strike the right tone, helping to better immerse players in the historic setting. You will not find the flashy costumes or loud rock music found in Dynasty Warriors series here. It is clear that an effort has been taken to be more historically accurate in both character designs and soundtrack. I found the background music very enjoyable, but for players who don’t, there is an Edit BGM option to change which music plays. Sadly, unlike other Koei Tecmo games, Romance of the Three Kingdoms does not have English audio. Players do, however, get a choice between Japanese and Chinese audio.

    There are two modes of play in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, Hero Mode and Main Mode. Hero Mode is little more than a tutorial mode that teaches players how to play the game while going through key moments in Three Kingdoms’ history. For example, the first tutorial, which teaches players how to move around the map and how to strengthen bonds between characters, follows the events of Liu Bei meeting Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, ending with the Peach Garden Oath where they swore fraternity to each other. The use of history to teach players game mechanics is interesting, but there is little reason to return to this mode after completing it.

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Slow paced but fun strategy RPG that's loosly based off of Chinese history; free addon content
    Weak Points: Dated visuals; steep learning curve
    Moral Warnings: Violence; alcohol references; some attacks are element based

    Main Mode is where the core of the game is. Players start off by choosing between one of seven scenarios, each taking place during different times in the Three Kingdoms era. After choosing a scenario, players can choose to play as an existing or original character (one they have created through the Edit Officer feature in the game’s main menu), and whether they want to swear loyalty to an existing lord or raise their flag and become a lord in a free city, and conquer all of China. No matter the path the player picks, becoming ruler of the land will take many hours, even on the easiest setting. Players must build up cities and recruit officers before they can go off to battle. Though it may sound tedious, it is actually quite addictive. Taking a city away from a rival army and rebuilding it to increase the size of your army and continue conquering the land is very rewarding.

    Much of Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ gameplay consists of micromanagement. The amount of it depends on whether players are playing as a lord or an officer under them. If players choose to play as an officer, their duties and what actions they are allowed to take are dependent on rank. By completing missions, players can raise their rank, which in turn gives them more responsibilities. Regardless of whether the player is a lord or an officer, nearly all actions grant experience in the form of stat boosts. For example, participating in a duel will raise your character’s WAR stat, while conversing with another will increase your character’s Rapport with him or her. Strong bonds also give benefits in battles, so strengthening your character’s relationships with others is important. Training your soldiers is also important for battle. There is, however, little players can do if they do not manage their kingdoms well. For example without fealty (which can be raised through Patrols), players cannot raise an army. In this regard, players must micromanage both domestic and military affairs to be successful.

    Combat in Romance of the Three Kingdoms is broken into two different types, personal combat and battles. Personal combat consists of debate and duels which are little more than a game of ‘rock-paper-scissors.’ Players choose an action to counter their opponents, with the defeated party losing health. Each fight lasts for five rounds, with the winner being the one who either reduces their opponent’s health to zero or has the most health at the end. Characters with the higher INT stat have the edge in debate, while characters with a higher WAR stat have the advantage in duels. Though interesting at first, these fights become tedious rather quickly, especially when having to constantly debate or duel the same low-level shopkeeper or bandit.

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Battles consist of military units fighting on land and water. Though most of the battle is done automatically, there are actions players can take to tilt it more in their favor. For example, capturing enemy bases will demoralize enemy soldiers, giving the player’s soldiers an advantage in battle. Players can also use special abilities to strengthen their soldiers and demoralize the opponents. Even proper troop position can give players an edge in battle as they pincer attack enemy armies. While players can allow the battle to progress automatically, I would recommend strict management. Pausing combat to reissue orders and activate special abilities is important when facing armies of equal or greater size. While frustrating at first, battles are one of the best parts of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII.

    I would just like to add one final note on the gameplay and game content.  There is a lot that players can do in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, and a lot of different ways to go about it.  For example, to have villages pledge allegiance to a city, the player can either placate them or subjugate them through military force. There are advantages and disadvantages to each action, meaning players have to decide which to take depending on the situation. In addition, there are many ways players can adjust their play session for more replay ability. Main Mode allows players to randomize officer location and change their behavior so as to not follow historical events. Players can also create their own officers who can be spouses and sworn siblings of historical officers or other fictional officers. Aside from the large amount of single player content there already is in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, there is also a fair amount of additional downloadable content, much of it free of charge. Considering how much additional scenarios and characters in other games cost, it is a pleasant surprise to see that Koei Tecmo is willing to give players free content. Suffice to say, there is a lot of content available for fans of strategy role playing games.

    Given that Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a game based loosely on Chinese history, there are no references to Christ or Christianity. That is not to say, however, that the game teaches immorality. Morality is defined in fairly universal black and white terms. Certain actions are seen as commendable and worthy of praise of loyalty, while others are scorned and breed disloyalty. For example, Liu Bei’s talk of bringing peace to the land earns him the loyalty of his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, while Cao Cao’s desire to use the chaos to empower himself leads to Chen Gong’s betrayal. Acting friendly towards officers by presenting gifts and aiding them in completing tasks are rewarded, which in turn reinforces moral behavior among players. Although the game is set during China’s bloodiest conflict, there are no onscreen depictions of blood, even when officers are killed during events. Alcohol use is also rarely shown, though players can present alcoholic gifts to officers. It is no surprise that the game has an Everyone 10+ rating.

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII isn’t a game for everyone. It is hard to recommend this for Western gamers who tend to prefer fast paced action games. This is also not a game I would recommend for players who want something they can pick up and start playing right away either. It will take more than a few hours for players to understand basic game mechanics, even after completing Hero Mode. However, this is definitely a game for those who enjoy strategy role playing and learning about history. This type of player will be greatly rewarded with not only a unique experience, but enough content to make it well worth the game’s price. Even players looking for a variation from fast paced action games could find that Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a welcome change.

     

  • Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames 
    Developed By: Allied Games Inc.
    Published By: Allied Games Inc.
    Released: Nov 22, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Up to six players online
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Allied Games Inc. for sending us a review code!

    Strategy games can typically be overwhelming for the average player with all the resource management and base building. The steep learning curve of the genre tends to only attract a specific audience. Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames removes the resource management and base building aspects of the genre and attempts to make a more accessible version of the real-time strategy genre.

    Shadow Heroes starts off with an unskippable introduction narrative, which oddly enough cuts off halfway through no matter what happens. The intro, whatever it was trying to explain, leads into the campaign about two factions at war. You observe this conflict through the eyes of Sergeant Konraad Mogens and Commander Armas Vilhelmi who are entrusted to stop terrorists from attacking the town of Faircrown. The first mission acts as a tutorial of the game’s Assault mode, which is similar to a tower defense. Before the beginning of the wave, it will show you what enemy types will appear and from what section they will attack from. There are blue highlighted rectangles on the map where you can place your units in. Each unit costs a certain amount of leadership points which are either earned over time or by slaying opposing enemies. Bonus leadership is earned depending on how many units are left alive and what type they are.

    Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It’s cheap; has voice acting.
    Weak Points: It’s unfinished and will most likely stay that way; awkward controls; can potentially be unstable when running multiple programs.
    Moral Warnings: A pool of blood is left when any unit dies; units consist of exorcists, demigods, paladins, archangels and spirits; usage of magic; archangel unit shows off cleavage; one usage of "d*mn."

    The second mission acts as tutorial for the Commanders mode, where two sides must protect their base, while units infinitely spawn in increments of 30 seconds. This mission goes more into detail about passive and active items that are bought with leadership points. Passive items can be equipped to an individual unit for effects that are always active, such as increased attack speed, defense, or critical damage. Active items have larger stat boosts than passive items, but have to be manually activated. They last for 6 seconds and have a 20 second cooldown. Passive and active items can only be equipped to units that have yet to spawn. A rather interesting concept is that passive and active items can be strengthened further through the main menu with resources called components that are earned after every battle.

    Controls are typical of any RTS game, but they also feel very awkward. Placing units has to be done one at a time, where you must click the portrait, and then click within the spawn area to place them. Units aren’t grouped together and must be manually grouped together by highlighting them with the right-click and then assigned by pressing the alt key and one of the numerical buttons 0-9. The main purpose of this, since units always go on a predetermined path line, is to activate active items within your group and nothing else. I wish units could be manually controlled at times since there are instances where they would get stuck on seemingly nothing. You can click the minimap to quickly go to an area, or use W, A, S, or D, as well as putting the mouse to the edges of the screen to slowly (and I do mean slowly!) pan through the field. Sometimes the camera gets stuck if you control it this way. I feel a better way would have been the option to have the camera drag by the minimap.

    The graphics of Shadow Heroes are fairly standard. The gameplay portion is in a 3D field, while cutscenes and character dialogue uses 2D art. The 3D art is fairly simplistic, and does the job, though it is rather strange that the game has a rather high system requirement, requiring at least a quad core to function. The 2D art is a mixture of an anime-inspired art style and the type of art you would see in trading card games like Magic: The Gathering. Overall, fairly simple. I was surprised that the game has voice acting in it. The quality of it is very amateurish, but appreciated as more expensive games I’ve come across don’t even have this option. The soundtrack isn’t bad, but the themes of the music are so mismatched with the setting of the game that it just comes across as an odd choice.

    Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 34%
    Gameplay - 2/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Once you start getting a feel for the game and its mechanics, it just suddenly… ends. At first, I was very confused why the game wouldn’t let me access mission 4, but as I read the fine print, I came across something that I’ve seen happen far too often — Shadow Heroes is an episodic series, and what you buy is actually episode 1 out of 5. (No wonder it was so darn cheap.) I tried looking everywhere for the other episodes and unfortunately, the developers seem to have vanishFed. Their last point of contact with anyone was around early 2017 in the Steam forums. This does explain some stability issues like the cut intro, and booting up the game can be a bit of a hassle as it runs behind all your programs sometimes. There is also a rather interesting exploit that since you gain components whether you win or lose, you can enter any game mode, immediately surrender, and earn between 200-400 components every time. Just for giggles, I spent a half hour doing that so I could fully upgrade all of my passive and active items.

    In terms of morality, there is the usage of magic by quite a lot of the units. Out of the 9 units available, most of them consist of exorcists, chanters, demigods, archangels, cherubs (a type of fairy), spirits and paladins. I’m assuming that if the story progressed further, the narrative would have been about some type of holy war, but we’ll never know for sure. The game can be quite violent, as enemies die in a pool of their own blood when slain. The archangel unit shows off quite a lot of cleavage in both her character art and model. I also noticed one usage of "d*mn" when you fail the second mission.

    I do not want to say Shadow Heroes: Vengeance in Flames is a scam; there was effort put into the game, a bit too much for it to be a simple “take the money and run” kind of situation. It’s very unfortunate whatever may have happened to the developers. I can, however, say that I was thoroughly disappointed with the product and cannot recommend it to anyone. Because of the state in which it was left in, it is a bare-bones product that only has three short missions, a multiplayer devoid of life, and a simplistic Skirmish section that contains the two previously mentioned game modes with one map for each mode. Shadow Heroes does teach one important lesson: reading the Steam page and doing small research before you decide to spend money on any product is very important no matter how inexpensive it may be.

  • Sudden Strike 4 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sudden Strike 4
    Developer: Kite Games
    Published by: Kalypso Media Digital
    Release Date: Aug 11, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Linux, macOS, PS4
    Genre: Real Time Strategy
    Players: 1-8
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen for Blood, Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Violence
    Price: $49.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Kalypso Media for sending us this game to review!

    In Sudden Strike 4 you take command of German, Soviet or Allied forces as you fight your way through historical battles in World War 2. The game is a top down classic style real time strategy game where you capture bases to generate resources to call in troops. You either win by completing objectives in the campaign mode or you capture enough bases so your opponent cannot generate any new troops. Each faction can choose between one of three real life generals. The general you choose focuses there abilities on either infantry, armored units or support units. Aside from the campaign you can challenge other players in multiplayer skirmishes or you can face the AI.

    The basics are done well in Sudden Strike. You can separate your units by squad and you can hotkey them to different number buttons on your keyboard. This allows you to make custom squadrons for your needs. Some of the small attentions to detail are nice as well; I enjoy that the different faction units speak different languages. Even the general’s skills and passives add somewhat to the realism of commanding real armies. You don't have abilities that boost your resource production rate or skills that increase the speed of your tanks to unreasonable levels. This is a "plan and think" kind of RTS. You won't win by simply rushing infantry soldiers into your enemies constantly. The Campaign mode is well built, the narration is simple and gets you into the action right away. It even gives you historical context behind the battles and victories.

    Sudden Strike 4
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It's a strong tactical RTS; you'll be able to learn clever positioning and timing to beat your opponent. The single player campaign is well built, you'll get a lot of gameplay hours out of it. 
    Weak Points: The multiplayer maps are small, without the ability to place your own bases, you lose out on some tactical aspects of modern RTS games.
    Moral Warnings: War never changes folks, it's a war game with historical accuracy in the campaign. The violence is tame but noticeable in a war where you're sending hundreds off to die for you in a mad push to capture a base.

    When you get to more advanced design the gameplay decisions are questionable to say the least. The maps you can choose for the skirmish mode are extremely small. Even with the slow movement speed, it might be possible in some instances to rush down opponents. You can't build spawning stations or other bases anywhere; you're restricted to what the maps already have placed which cuts some of the strategic value from a typical RTS. This can further amplify the issue of rushing. All it will take is one smart cookie to figure out the optimal common path for units to take to capture a base faster than their opponent. If you don't want to play against other human players the skirmish A.I is a competent opponent at varying difficulties.

    While it's true that each army has one of three different generals to choose from, they are still all the same. Nothing separates the tanks gameplay wise, only in visual design. All the vehicles move the same speed and shoot the same distance. There is no major gameplay difference between the units to help you decide which faction you want to play. If you're playing a support doctrine general vs another support doctrine general you're in a mirror match even if one's German and one is Soviet. If your opponent is infantry focused and you're still that support general, sure his infantry might get ten percent more health but there's not that much difference between you two to say you're vastly different from each other.

    Graphics and sound are average for this game. The environments are nice and you can destroy particular paths to set up ambushes or to have your units directly charge in at opponents. The music is nice yet it's nothing memorable or worth a special note. The campaign maps are usually just bombed out fields and destroyed buildings.

    Sudden Strike 4
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    On morality, since you don't even follow particular soldiers or see into the deeper aspect of war you don't have anything psychologically to deal with or any bad or poor language. Violence is there but it's tame; the tanks blow up when they lose their health, and when infantry die they fall down and stop moving. You don't have extreme dismemberment even if a human takes a tank shell to the face. As for mild sexual themes, there is some dialogue about flirting with a girl back home but nothing perverted. As with most soldiers expect some cuss words and rough language in the dialogue as well.

    At the end of the day Sudden Strike 4 is worth it; it's a decently designed introductory RTS game with a solid campaign mode. The multiplayer may not be strong but the campaign has a reasonable amount of content. Be an armchair general with Sudden Strike 4.

    A quick side note for long time gamers who focus on RTS games. I am very well aware of the controversy surrounding Sudden Strike 4 yet I don't feel it's relevant or big enough to affect my review. Take this review as an experience from a person new to a series with a semi-competitive knowledge on RTS games only.

  • Taste of Power (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Taste of Power
    Developed By: OneOcean LLC
    Published By: OneOcean LLC
    Released: Oct 10, 2019
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: up to two players online
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you, OneOcean LLC, for sending us a review code!

    The PC platform is no stranger to the strategy genre. In most cases, many strategy franchises are relegated to the PC as the genre typically needs lots of button inputs and requires a decent amount of power to continuously render all of the units, structures, and scenery (consoles these days tend to lack the former more than the latter). Taste of Power by OneOcean LLC is yet another strategy game. What makes this one different from all the others is something I would not be able to tell you myself. I am a very casual consumer of strategy games. I am not ashamed to admit that if I do pick one up, I tend to play them on the easiest setting unless said strategy game is part of the tower defense subgenre.

    With Taste of Power, there are three main factions to play as. The European Confederation with them being heavily inspired by the Crusaders, the Chinese Empire, and the Timurid Khalifat based upon the Timurid Empire of the Middle East. Each faction share units that act similar, yet look different. Each faction has exclusive and unique units. The Chinese Empire have Agents who are invisible to other units and can set up traps. The European Confederation have Templars that are two units in one, with Templars being able to constantly spawn Crusader (melee) units, but Templars themselves being vulnerable to ranged fire. If they perish in battle, all the Crusaders they spawn fall as well.

    All units have specific advantages and disadvantages against each other, as well as each unit having special passive and active abilities that can turn the tide of battle easily. Some units do bonus damage against enemies with heavy armor, while other units can deploy a barrier that decreases damage. These abilities can be upgraded with the construction and investment of buildings and structures. Buildings are not the focus of Taste of Power as the developer grants you the option of streamlining most of the concepts so that you can focus on tactical warfare. One really cool mechanic is the corruption mechanic and how that works is that the longer you gather resources, the fewer resources you will reap. It encourages the player to constantly expand their territory and it fits with the theme of the game too.

    Taste of Power
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent tutorial; three different factions with enough unique attributes to make them worth playing as
    Weak Points: Poor campaign, with numerous glitches, bugs, and crashes
    Moral Warnings: Medieval warfare with death and bloodshed everywhere; The European Confederation and Timurid Khalifat are committing warfare “in the name of God”   

    The tutorial of Taste of Power is very well done and possibly one of the best tutorials I’ve seen in a video game. Dubbed “Art of War” it explains how each faction works. Each section of the tutorial (at least for the three separate factions) starts with a video showcasing the difference between having certain abilities active or disabled and then puts you in miniature scenarios letting you use them firsthand. Other parts of the tutorial include the tactics part, how upgrades work, and how the economy works. I was greatly impressed with the structure of the tutorial.

    However, when getting into the campaign portion is where things get messy. The entire campaign is, putting it lightly, poorly constructed. The continue selection in the main menu doesn’t work whatsoever. In the pause menu, there is an option to load your save file, but there are no options to save at all. When you fail a mission, the options available to you are to load from the last checkpoint, load from a last save file, return to the main menu or close the game, but the checkpoint system doesn’t work either. If you choose the former two options, your game soft locks and the only way to exit is to close the game. This of course makes losing extremely punishing. The pathfinding for certain NPCs and even your units is shoddy as they can get in each other's way. I spent five minutes wondering what to do and confused why nothing was happening because one of my units was in the way of the NPC unit I was escorting. Why not just make them move through units to avoid such a situation? During the second campaign mission, the performance takes a nosedive during the latter half, with the frames per second reaching single digits. Something that should have taken me a half-hour took me over an hour instead. To top it all off, there were a few crashes between missions and a bug where if you complete a mission, but return to the main menu, the mission isn’t considered complete so you’ll have to complete it again.

    The campaign might be a sour point in the experience and does a poor job in explaining the mechanics of the game, but there are multiple game modes that, quite frankly, do a better job. Survival is a more defensive take on the strategy aspect where you have to fend off waves of enemies with your sole base. Confrontation is the typical “skirmish” mode where you chose a map, a faction, and the enemy AI settings and then duke it out until one of you ends up victorious. In survival, many prompts are displayed that do a better job in explaining things than the campaign and I learned more from that mode than I did from the campaign. I think that if the developers didn’t want the campaign to explain much, then it shouldn’t be the first option to pick. 

    Taste of Power
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay 11/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 5/10
    Stability 3/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence 4/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 6.5/10

    In terms of graphics, Taste of Power does look pretty good. Each unit has a distinct design from them that incorporates the culture in which they are from. The land has lots of foliage, rocky terrain, and varied pathways to give it that Eurasian look. The sound effects and voice acting are a bit divisive. The campaign is fully voiced, although the subtitles do not always match what the characters are saying . Each faction has at least one mission to themselves, and it is clear as day that all the voices are contributed by two or three people with Slavic accents. It can be cheesy hearing the voice actors attempt Eastern Mediterranean, Chinese, and Arab accents—I do commend their effort. The music, on the other hand, can get a bit repetitive due to not much variation. 

    The biggest moral concerns are the warfare aspect. It not being as violent as other games in the same genre or setting, there is still plenty of death and bloodshed. When units are killed, they die with a bloodstain appearing below their body. Another notable aspect is that it's pretty clear that the European Confederation and Timurid Khalifat are committing warfare for religious reasons. Believing God is cool, but doing obvious bad things in the name of God is not. All sides commit atrocities against each other for “noble causes” such as espionage, corruption, robbing and pillaging, as well as the murder of innocents, all because they are convinced the other side is worse than they are. 

    I’m left very confused with Taste of Power. There are plenty of interesting aspects and concepts that OneOcean LLC attempts, but for reasons that I am unaware of, the game feels unfinished. It also seems like I am one of the few that feels this way about it too, according to the “Mostly Positive” reception on the Steam page. Why didn’t anyone else point out the buggy nature of the campaign? It nearly makes me feel like I am the one playing through this wrong. Updates are slow to happen with the latest one being back in March of 2020. There is a multiplayer mode out there, but from my time of playing it, I was the only soul on it and thus was unable to test it out. Morally, it manages to be squeaky clean in its language and sexual content, but with it being warfare, especially based on real-life situations, can potentially rub the wrong way. As of the current state that Taste of Power is in, as long as it is what it is right now, this is a “taste” you’re better off skipping.

  • The Colonists (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    The Colonists
    Developed by: Codebyfire
    Published by: Mode 7
    Release date: October 24, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RTS
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Mode 7 for sending us this game to review!

    A group of self-replicating robots have stolen a spaceship from the humans and set off to explore the universe in order to achieve their goal of becoming humans themselves. While they don’t become living flesh, they do inherit our sense of pride and like to erect monuments of themselves. In order to construct a monument, they’ll need to research various technologies and master their terrain.

    There are ten campaign levels and a sandbox mode to create your own scenarios. Ten levels don’t seem like a lot, but many of them last a couple of hours. The maps are not random, so you can take the knowledge of your previous playthrough in hopes of completing it again quicker or against tougher AI. In the peaceful missions, you can earn a gold, silver, or bronze medal based on how quickly you can erect the monument(s) requested. On the hostile levels, you can set the enemy AI difficulty to casual, normal, or hard.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute premise and fun gameplay; multiple AI difficulties
    Weak Points: No multiplayer; repetitive music
    Moral Warnings: The robots are thieves and produce alcohol; robot violence

    At the beginning of each scenario, your spaceship will land and you’ll have to quickly secure some essential resources like stone, food, and wood. The spaceship will produce a little wood and energy but it’s quicker to collect your own. A lumberjack is needed to chop down trees while a forestry will replenish them so the resource becomes endless. At first, only a couple minerals like stone and coal can be mined from a surface mine. In order to mine other surface minerals and construct shaft mines, you’ll need to research construction and mining technologies with the workshop. I found it helpful to construct multiple workshops to stay one step ahead of the enemy AI technology wise.

    Combat is pretty simple, but effective. Watchtowers are necessary to claim and view your territory. If a watchtower is constructed near enemy property, it will burn up automatically. Level two watchtowers can shoot arrows at enemy watchtowers. When a tower has collapsed, you can build a road or path to it to repair and claim it as your own. Once the enemy’s spaceship is in range of one your watchtowers, it too will combust and victory is yours.

    On the first couple of levels, the land will be fertile and full of resources. In later scenarios, the difficulty ramps up and you’ll have to construct harbors, ships, and trading routes between multiple islands in order to collect all of the minerals needed to erect monuments. The last couple of levels take place in desert terrain with few areas suitable to raise sheep for food or apples for alcoholic cider. Why robots need food or alcohol is beyond me. Other than the alcohol and watchtower violence, The Colonists is pretty clean.

    The Colonists
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While most of my experiences playing this game have been positive, I do have a couple of nitpicks. With some of the scenarios lasting several hours, a wider variety in background music would be nice. The autosaving is great and I had to rely on it a couple of times to undo a mistake or two I have made. The game does slow down significantly during the saving process. I did experience one glitch where a lumberjack got stuck on a mountain. I had to destroy and re-create the lumberjack to correct that bug.

    There are a lot of opportunities to micro-manage and whitelist/blacklist various resources throughout your islands. While the default AI decisions work, they are far from optimized. Trade routes are very simplistic and will bog down your main harbor if left alone. Resource allocation is a bit wonky as well as buildings waiting on resources seem to be waiting from only one source and will ignore other suppliers that have the requested item readily available. Maybe the developer will tweak this in a future patch. There have been several patches since release and it’s nice to know that they care and quickly answer questions posted on the Steam discussion forums.

    The levels are very colorful and the graphics are decent. As your civilization grows the buildings do get more difficult to tell apart. On the menu and loading screens the robots are rather cute and are very similar to Wall-E. While playing the game you won't be able to look at them in detail, but I like how each robot gets assigned a random name.

    In the end, The Colonists is a cute and fun game that provides the “One more turn!” syndrome. I have gone to bed too late several nights playing this title. With that said, I still feel that the $24.99 asking price is a bit hefty for ten levels. After completing the campaign I found little reason to play the sandbox mode. I enjoy a goal or an enemy to vanquish. Online multiplayer would be a welcome addition and would justify the asking price. Until then, I would recommend holding out for a sale.

  • The Hive (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    The Hive
    Developed By: Skydome Entertainment
    Published By: Skydome Entertainment
    Released: August 25, 2016
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy; Role-Playing
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Skydome Entertainment for sending us a review code!

    When trying to look up information about The Hive, I noticed that there have been quite a few games with the same name released within the past 30 years. This one, in particular, is a real-time strategy and role-playing game hybrid by Skydome Entertainment—a small indie team from Finland. The Hive starts with a human NPC narrating about how a war more or less drove off all the humans off the planet of Eden. It’s the typical “mankind screws up and the remaining organisms evolve and fight each other to become the dominant species” plot.

    With the humans gone, the insect population evolves into the Insectoid Hive, a species that laid dormant underground for centuries. Their journey through New Eden is to reach the surface, while eliminating everything that their path. You, alongside the Insectoid Advisor, must guide the Insectoid Hive to victory.

    There are a good handful of units to strategize with. You have the worker units whose main job is to gather and collect resources. They have minimal combat capabilities. The main resources used are meat and crystals. Meat is gathered from the turtle creatures or fishing spots and used to summon ally forces. Crystals are gained from mineral veins scattered throughout and are used to build structures. Ally units can consist of offensive types such as the general melee insects called legionnaires, defensive types called rhinos that can take aggro, ranged insects like hunters, and specialist/support insects like medics and the hive queen. The hive queen is a bit more unique than the rest as only one can be on the field at a time. Different structures have to be built as many units are unique to specific buildings. Two structures that aren’t tied to any unit is the turret and the worker’s den. The turret is what you’d expect it to be while the worker’s den acts as the research unit, upgrading structures and units.

    The Hive
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The setting and narrative keep you interested to see to the end  
    Weak Points: Fairly unoriginal in terms of gameplay; large difficulty spike in Act 4; very little replayability 
    Moral Warnings: Bloody violence between insectoids and creatures; lots of magic usage by enemies; New Eden is a polytheistic world, with nearly every faction having their own respective god or gods that they worship; rituals are present and sacrifices must be made in order to progress; supernatural creatures can be encountered as well

    As there are no humans left on the planet of Eden, the world has taken a rather organic look with a blend of a tribal and mystical style. Ancient temples and caves are what you’ll be traversing through. It almost makes you wonder if it was the humans that built these temples or was it something else. The enemies, called the Chala’toi, look similar to shamans and tribesmen, even at times wearing masks that are either made of wood or bone. They are also distinctly humanoid but look very little like humans. The setting and scenery are done well, even if the graphical quality is rather basic. It goes to show how far a solid art direction can carry the look of a piece of media.

    The Hive has a ten act structure, with each level acting as the act. The Insectoid Advisor will give you a list of objectives to complete, with some of these being puzzles. Not every act has a puzzle, but they do help break up the monotony of “build up an army and ‘zerg rush’ them to death.” The acts' difficulties is rather balanced, with the exception of Act 4 which takes a rather large difficulty spike as enemies constantly invade your base with little time to prepare. To separate itself from most RTS games, Skydome added RPG elements, such as the ability to level up your units and equip items to your units to bolster their stats. You can also dissolve (discard) the items collected from looted chests or enemies to earn DNA. DNA is used to acquire the talent of being able to summon other units. Truthfully, I don’t feel that the RPG elements add all that much to the game and actually manage to drag down the RTS experience. Because of the RPG mechanics, I believe that some of the RTS mechanics either had to be simplified or removed. The experience, in my opinion, would have been better if scrapped.

    Surprisingly, there is voice acting in this title and the direction of it done well, especially since English isn’t a common language in Finland. The few characters that have speaking roles either have this echo-like filter to their voice or a deep boom to represent something that is godlike. It’s both alien, yet familiar—to represent a world that once was ours but also one that moved along fine without us. The music isn’t played very often but when it is, it has instrumentals that are similar to the ones found in the Southern Hemisphere. None of the pieces stood out to me but they fit the atmosphere.

    The Hive
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    In an interesting turn of events, Skydome has released a major update, three and a half years after the full release named Rise of the Behemoths. Released March 2020, It adds two new unit types, the Behemoth a blend between a melee and ranged unit, and the infestor, a special unit that relies on damage over time effects. It is always interesting to see developers return to or support a single-player game long after it was released to the public (and I’m not talking about in terms of DLC). The faith that they have in their product is admirable.

    Although even after three and a half years, there are still bound to be bugs (the programming kind) and exploits that slip through the cracks. One funny bug I encountered was my hive queen unit learning how to “noclip” and simply phased into the wall and refused to come out. At the time I didn’t know that any highlighted unit (even ones through walls) can be deleted with the delete key so I went through half a mission without a queen. There were a couple of crashes—thankfully all of them happened through transitions into acts so only a few seconds were lost. I also encountered an interesting exploit. Since you need DNA to gain access to your other units, if you happen to dissolve your items and then unlock access to them, but lose the battle (as in have no more units available to spawn) you then pause the game, unpause, pause again and exit to the main menu, you would have unlocked the ability to use the respective unit but your inventory is left untouched.

    For a game about bugs and tribal creatures, it has a plentiful amount of moral warnings. It’s pretty bloody, with both enemies and allies alike shedding tons of the red liquid with every attack. There is a lot of magic used by the antagonists, with one enemy, in particular, being a necromancer. The inhabitants of New Eden are a polytheistic group, worshiping many different types of gods. The Chala’toi go through many measures to summon gods, spirits, and ancients. Even the Insectoid Hive manages to call upon a couple of ancient deities. One of the first major enemies you face is a wraith. Rituals are even present and the Insectoid Hive are no strangers to ritual sacrifices to get what they want.

    All I can say about The Hive is that was an okay experience. The setting and atmosphere haven’t been done often, which is very appreciated. However, it also hasn’t done anything that other RTS games haven’t. The RPG mechanics are more of a nuisance than not. With it being a single-player journey with only one faction, there is little replay value, even with the most recent patch. Ten acts in total with them ranging from a half-hour to an hour and a half to beat means the quest is just around the ten-hour mark. The Hive is simply a standard game—nowhere near something you would call bad but also something that doesn’t leave a lasting impression. People who can’t get enough of the Zerg and their infamous overwhelming rushes may just find some kinship with Skydome Entertainment’s first-ever release.

  • The Incredible Baron (PC)

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    Game Info:

    The Incredible Baron
    Developed By: FlatRedBall
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: May 27, 2016
    Available On: Android, iOS, Windows
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

    The life of a trailblazer is in no way cushy. Braving the unknown takes a great deal of courage and endurance. Danger looms at every turn, and there’s no telling when a rabid pack of bipedal hammer-topped buckets will wander over and smash your camp. For those of us with weaker constitutions, The Incredible Baron will shoulder these burdens.

    The Incredible Baron follows the exploits of Baron Buffön Hildengard as he sets out on an expedition to prove himself the world’s foremost naturalist. With his scientific advisor Showalter Smartlee and his financier Lady Nora Belin, the Baron sails to an uncharted land to categorize its native population. A slug infestation followed by a robucket malfunction leaves him shipless, and Nora goes missing; he then sets out with Smartlee to find both Nora and scientific discovery.

    The Incredible Baron plays out like a real-time strategy game, only limited to a 2D plane. Before most levels, you can choose between a host of creatures and abilities to bring with you, though you’re limited to four per each of the three buildings. Mechanical creations, such as robuckets, bombsnakes, and moai statues are built in your workshop; egg-laying creatures, such as birds and insects, require a hatchery; and mammals are produced from the den. The Baron also has personal abilities you can bring along, such as a pistol shot or a health-restoring bandage, though each one costs one of a building’s four rooms; you’ll have to balance the abilities with the creatures you bring, as each one can use one, two, or rarely all four slots. As you defeat new creatures, you’ll gradually unlock them for personal use, adding to your future arsenal.

    The Incredible Baron
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging gameplay that’s easy to pick up but remains near-constantly tricky; great presentation
    Weak Points: Occasionally grindy; a few minimal quality-of-life issues; rare crashes
    Moral Warnings: Violence against robots and animals

    On the field, you start with your workshop with only one room built, and you can expand that and build the other two as your resources allow. Gold is your primary resource, buying your room expansions and creatures, and builds over time; the second, energy, fuels the Baron’s abilities and rises slower. Each creature also has one of five elements attached to it, which is strong against two and weak against two; you eventually unlock a color previewer to tell you what colors you’ll be up against and in what numbers before each level. Once created, your troops will steadily march to the right and attack whatever they meet – you have no control over them directly, though abilities can affect their health or movement. Destroying your opponent’s base wins the level; losing yours or running out of time ends in defeat. At the end of the stage, win or lose, you gain a percentage of “research” on a creature based on how many you defeated, as well as leveling up the Baron directly, which increases your passive gold generation.

    What this all adds to is a game that’s easy to understand but by no means trivial. Each stage has its own quirks, and your loadout will change accordingly. With the wide variety of animals to choose between, from ones that gain strength the more abilities you have to ones that generate resources while attacking or dying to ones that synergize with others of the same color, you’ll have to carefully consider your options – and perhaps fail the level a few times – to find the optimal strategy. The game also supplies three difficulty levels for each stage, and you will absolutely have to get creative (and/or lucky) to beat the gold-tier challenges. That, combined with a few gimmick stages – getting a single unit to the end, fending off attacks with limited resources, etc. – keeps things quite fresh throughout the game.

    The rock-solid presentation only adds to the charm. The pixel art is detailed, colorful, and all-around pleasing; even with a mess of animals on the screen, you’ll always know what’s occurring. The animations are as fluid as pixel art allows, with the Baron and crew’s being particularly enjoyable. The music, staying mostly with tropical and/or nautical themes and appropriately heavy on the steel drum, not only fits each level and the overall mood of the game but is also great in its own right. It’s usually a good sign when a game offers its soundtrack for purchase, and this one is no different. Even the characters help the game’s overall enjoyment: the Baron is a self-centered pompous windbag who’s rather callous to his assistant Smartlee, but still exudes a sort of charismatic sincerity that makes you root for him nevertheless. The final boss even taunts you at the end of the bronze and silver difficulties, giving you even more of a reason to wade through the occasionally-brutal gold difficulty.

    The Incredible Baron
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are a few technical problems to note, however. While you’ll unlock most creatures through general play, a few require some grinding to get – and you might find yourself grinding anyway to gain animals to help you progress. The in-game encyclopedia, containing both the Baron’s amusing notes on each creature and ability as well as summarizing their effects, also lists the stage they’re most common in; however, this is, on a few occasions, completely incorrect. There’s no way to restart a level from within: you’ll have to either wait to be defeated or quit out to the stage select, with the former being preferable, as you still gain research and experience when you lose. Finally, the game crashed twice, both times after completing a stage, once with a bizarre red screen; luckily, it’s lightweight enough to boot up again quickly, and no data was lost.

    The Incredible Baron is quite clean, morally-speaking. You are pitting robots and animals against each other, but the worst that happens is the losers falling over and sinking into the ground. A few abilities are framed as the Baron shooting a creature with his flintlock. The Baron’s treatment of Smartlee might be a cause of some concern, but it’s clear it’s not out of malice or evil, just untamed ambition.

    The Incredible Baron may not play like a typical real-time strategy game, but it is no less compelling. While simple in its premise, the gameplay remains engaging and the strategy aspect is solidly intact. With the added bonus of a great presentation on all fronts, this game is a beast that’s more than worthy of study.

    -Cadogan

  • Total War: Arena (PC) (Preview)

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    Game Info:

    Total War: Arena
    Developed By: Creative Assembly
    Published By: Wargaming
    Released: TBD
    Available On: PC
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 20 online
    Price: Free-to-Play (FTP)

    Total War is a genre in and of itself. Its grand scale, boasting thousands of individual warriors onscreen, draws armchair commanders in. While every entry added to the franchise offers a multiplayer mode, it is always secondary to the singleplayer campaign. In that regard, Arena differs fundamentally.

    Built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind, Total War: Arena pits ten players against another ten on a virtual battlefield. You choose from a variety of Commanders, legends hailing from the factions of ancient times: Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians. Each Commander has three distinct abilities that buff his or her own units and debilitate enemy units. The Greek hero Leonidas substantially buffs his soldiers’ defense and morale, and an offensive Shield Bash that deals damage to enemies who get too close. The Barbarian turncoat Arminius allows his soldiers to maintain faster speeds with Momentum, and appear as a friendly player through Infiltration (which honestly works a lot better than you might think it would). The Roman general Germanicus lets his Legionaries form the iconic testudo defensive formation, and gain a major damage buff the longer his soldiers stay in combat.

    The scope of Arena, on an individual level, is much smaller and simpler than in traditional Total Wars. Every player has just three units to work with. Unit types are distilled to their basic functions: spearmen destroy cavalry, cavalry murders ranged units, archers harass infantry, and infantry do well against spears. Whether you choose all three of the same unit, or a sampling of three totally different types, your scope is limited to under three hundred soldiers. Arena emphasizes teamwork, allied strategy, and coordination more so than solo heroics. Sure, one or two players get the top number of kills in a match, but the other eight teammates assisted them in reaching that score.

    In these two regards – picking a specific hero with designated abilities, and emphasis on team strategy – Arena arguably feels like a MOBA ("multiplayer online battle arena," such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Smite) as well as a real-time strategy game. Rather, it is RTS gameplay with MOBA elements, which works together extremely well. In a time where the MOBA giants are fully established, and new derivatives get made day-in and day-out, Arena’s focus on RTS gameplay with heroic elements added in make for a unique experience.

    Total War: Arena
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Massive 10v10 battles; deep strategy and tactics; fast-paced battles
    Weak Points: Questionable balance
    Moral Warnings: Basic, bloodless combat on grand scale; alcoholic references

    Total War: Arena is not without its issues, however. For any strictly multiplayer title, balance is and will remain of paramount importance. As of this writing, Arena is still in Closed Beta. The developers have plenty of leeway to make balance changes as they see fit. Engaging in combat, when examined close-up, appears bland and uninteresting. On the contrary, watching a heavy cavalry’s charge nuke a javelin unit’s health bar is far more satisfying than the ensuing combat. And while the game performs very impressively on most systems (I regularly got 60 fps on an Nvidia 660 Ti), the textures take a hit to fidelity when zoomed in on. The camera is fixated less than 100 feet from the ground, which is meant to “bring you closer to the action;” also the more horrifying pixels, they neglect to mention.

    The audio in Arena sounds top-notch. The soundtrack, an important part of any game you’ll have to hear repeated ad infinitum, builds tension first as you approach your enemy, then when you clash, and once more as you near victory or defeat. Helpful vocal cues inform you when you’ve slain an enemy Commander, your units have begun routing, or your base is being captured.

    Total War: Arena is free-to-play, and follows the progression model of World of Tanks. You begin at Tier 1 with the most basic infantry, cavalry, and archers. As you advance in Tiers, your Commander’s abilities unlock, you gain access to stronger units, and you unlock new types of units altogether, such as artillery, war dogs, and pikemen. Don’t worry: battles are locked by Tier to prevent wild, unbalanced matches. Though you can technically sneak low-Tier units along with high-Tier soldiers; I’ve seen games where T2 units went up against T7….

    That said, nine times out of ten, Tier difference will not make the difference between victory and defeat. Your tactics matter far more than your Tier level. Weaker spearmen still beat stronger cavalry, and a low-level cavalry charge will decimate advanced archers.

    Total War: Arena
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    Microtransactions are an important aspect in any free-to-play title. Arena's premium currency, Gold, can generate Silver (used to replenish troops and purchase unlocked equipment), convert one unit's individual XP into Free XP (used to upgrade Commanders, their abilities, and any unit unlocked by the player), enable Premium User status (+50% XP and Silver rewards), or purchase cosmetically-altered shields to flourish the field with beauty. Some accuse that this methodology is pay-to-win: it becomes progressively harder to field higher Tiered units, which are strictly stronger than their earlier counterparts. The highest levels of play, T8-10, require astronomical amounts of Silver, to the point a player cannot consistently put out Royal Spartans or Palatini match after match. As explained before, however, Tiers matter less than tactics. While a premium user is more often able to purchase T8, 9, and 10 soldiers, they will lose to a superior strategy.

    I personally am a fan of everything being unlocked to all players from the get-go. Battlerite, LawBreakers, and Overwatch don't hide playable champions behind walls of money or rank. That said, Wargaming's flagship title, World of Tanks, presents the 110 million pound (er, playerbase) elephant in the room: their method works. Out of frustration, love, or both, players accept and support this progression and premium currency system. Placing new players at the controls of Sparta's most elite warriors before they understand the most basic controls, much less the nuanced unit types and specialized abilities of later Tiers, is a recipe for disaster.

    For a title dedicated to thousands locked in armed combat, Total War: Arena does not dramatically offend the spirit. Perhaps for the sake of increased performance, the developers do not render any blood in-game (there is blood and gore in a few of the ability icons and accolades, however; do bear that in mind). Yes, Arena has violence, but it is very tame and simplistic; no exaggerated executions, no drawn-out and choreographed kill moves. Arena cares more about numbers and tactics. Virtual corpses litter the ground after the proverbial dust settles. There is also a “Share Wine” consumable for most units, so a reference to alcohol exists. I have yet to hear a swear word from anyone’s mouth.

    Overall, my impression with Arena wasn’t so much about recreating historically-accurate combat, complete with blood, gore, and post-battle atrocities. Sun Tzu famously said the greatest battles are won when no blood has been spilled to achieve them. There is that option in Arena: to blitz across the field and capture the enemy’s base before they know what has happened. Mercilessly slaughtering every last soldier is not necessary; a quickly-routed unit cannot return to combat. The objective is what is prioritized: the tactics you use to triumph are up to you to choose.

    Total War: Arena provides quick, streamlined, straightforward, chaotic battles for those who don’t want the extensive campaign experience, who just want to hop into a quick war against human opponents. It runs well and doesn’t cost you a dime of your money. Arena is certainly worth at least a try.


    - Anax

  • Ultimate General: Civil War (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Ultimate General: Civil War
    Developed By: Game-Labs
    Published By: Game-Labs
    Released: July 14, 2017
    Available On: macOS, Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Disclaimer: This review was co-written by myself and my friend Martin (Unionac on Steam). The latter provided invaluable assistance regarding gameplay information since they have more recent and involved experience with real-time strategy games than myself and whom I owe an immense debt for back-checking me on critical technical information, and thus this work is as much to their credit as it is to me.

    War is a bloody affair, and one of the worst ones in US history was fought on its soil between its people. The American Civil War was also notable for providing the world with many advances in tactics, technology, and changing the very face of strategy in militaries the world over. It has become a rich source of interest for historians and amateur armchair generals who wonder how things might have changed had the war been conducted differently. "Ultimate General: Civil War" is the answer to this desire to explore this speculation, and lets you change the fate of either the Blue or the Grey.

    The game follows the military events that took place during the American Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. At the beginning of the game, you go through a section that allows you to build up the story of your game character, personalizing yourself as an officer in the United States Army before the Civil War. You are asked to take a series of roles that define your story as an officer, giving you perks and stats. Once you are done, you get to choose a side in the war. Playing as the Confederacy allows you access to a pool of high-quality recruits that will be used to supplement your regiments' combat power, but your funds and manpower pool is lower. Playing as the Union gives you access to vast quantities of recruits and funds, which you can use to equip a large and well-equipped army, but the quality of the recruits is lower, so you will have to level them appropriately.

    The gameplay is much like any other top-down real-time strategy game. The premise represents the end of musket warfare in a very realistic way, paving the way for rifled muskets to dominate the battlefield. Using all cover available is thus the wisest option, for charging in the open against fortified positions will only serve to get men killed needlessly (Just ask Ambrose Burnside how that ended up for him at Fredericksburg). The campaigns of both sides end up with a hypothetical battle on each side, with the Union assaulting Richmond, and the Confederates launching an attack on Washington D.C., but you will need an experienced and large army to tackle those battles, especially playing as the Confederates. Playing either side is not likely to take less than a week or two of dedicated play to beat the war for your chosen side. There is a "random campaign" option as well, but it's basically a semi-randomized mini-campaign based on the main gameplay that only adds a few more hours for the average player.

    Ultimate General: Civil War
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent realistic tactical gameplay
    Weak Points: Hard to read UI text
    Moral Warnings: Minor use of h*ll/d*mn in a few intermission quotes by famous Civil War officers; depictions of combat between soldiers (albeit in a very tame and bloodless way)

    The game has an army management system, which allows you to recruit and equip regiments of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and skirmishers. Winning battles give you War funds, recruits, and perk points, which you can invest in different skills. "Politics" gives you more money and recruits per battle, "logistics" gives you more ammo for all of the units, "Medicine" allows your unit to recover losses taken in battle, and so on.

    Graphically, this is not a demanding title, and while the colors are crisp and the army formations just detailed enough to be distinguishable by unit type, the player will have to do a lot of clicking around to get detailed information on troops, as the text and overall UI is a bit small. Battles aside, most menus, in general, are readable but again have some very small text. Since this is a game where you’ll be doing a lot of strategies, this can cause eye strain while you handle all the bureaucracy in-between battles.

    The sounds are excellent, with each side having clear voice-overs and weapons being quite period accurate aurally. The music is like something out of a Civil War movie, which is more than fitting for the tense mood of the battles. Controls are driven by a keyboard and mouse, especially the latter. While the game functions are easily explained and well laid out, the small UI and large maps can make it tedious to control multiple units at times. If the armies get too large to manage, there's an option to assign those units to an allied AI. You can give said AI general orders, and it will obey them as precisely as possible.

    In terms of stability, this is a recommended title for those who want a fairly non-demanding game, being able to run even on aging middling laptops with a considerable degree of quality. There are a few odd bugs with the flanking code, and a few times the enemy can run through barricades when they shouldn’t, but these bugs are either very minor or can even work in your favor. Compatibility with Steam on Linux via Proton is also quite good, though it can vary, as the player may have to play around with the DirectX and OpenGL drivers to find the most stable one to use.

    Ultimate General: Civil War
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Morally, this is not bad at all for a game about the American Civil War.

    Language is mild save a few quotes on the intermission screens quoting famous officers from the Civil War, a few instances of the words h*ll/d*mn used at worst in said quotes, presented in an educational/historical sense. Sexual content is nonexistent, and this is a title with no occult/supernatural elements, being very grounded in the real events of the battles of the Civil War.

    Violence is surprisingly sterile for a game of this nature, with the birds-eye view of the field barely giving you an “ants in a shoe-box” look at the soldiers. No blood or gore is shown at all, and bodies representing soldiers who fell disappear immediately to show units who have lost troops.

    Given we are referring to war, this game is quite free of anything that would be considered a depiction of a war crime. This is slightly unrealistic, given historically they did occur, but this is more a consequence of the myopic game design focusing only on the battles from a tactical standpoint, not intentional historical whitewash, and this aside, it’s otherwise very accurate to the details of the battles themselves.

    In short, it’s a very detailed tactically based real-time strategy game that could be used to educate players about how the battles were fought given its focus on realism, a few very minor bugs and small user interface text issues aside. From a moral standpoint, there is nothing anyone from a young teen on up could not be expected to handle maturely either.

    Overall, while it’s not a game I recommend to casual fans of the RTS genre given its focus on realism, it’s a great game for American Civil War students and tactical war gamers in general.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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