enfrdeitptrues

Simulation

  • Absolute Territory: The Space Combat Simulator (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Absolute Territory: The Space Combat Simulator
    Developed By: Dan I.B. Woods
    Published By: Digitum Software
    Released: September 1, 2020
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 with online leaderboards
    Price: $18.99

    Thank you Dan I.B. Woods for sending us this game to review with no embargo!

    Outside of my long-standing love for RPGs, one of my most memorable games growing up was for a space combat series called Wing Commander. It was released for MS-DOS back in 1990, and just nailed the fun factor. Even though the graphics and especially display resolution are quite primitive compared to games of today, I picked it up again a few years ago and found it just as fun as it always was. Some games are truly timeless. That's why it surprised me that I hadn't found a game to recreate that winning formula in quite the same way until now, with Absolute Territory.

    For those familiar with that gaming classic, I could easily summarize this one thusly: Wing Commander space combat, with no Tiger's Claw segments or branching storyline and with text-based exposition between missions instead. For everyone else, I'll explain it in more detail.

    In Absolute Territory (I have to say, not a huge fan of the title - sounds like a strategy game), you take the role of an Imperial Hegemony space pilot, who is fighting to reclaim the region of 'Bold Peace' from the invading forces of the Endophora. There are twenty one levels, where you get to pilot a variety of ships, as you shoot them or be shot first in real-time combat.

    You sit in the cockpit of your fighter where you look out of the window blasting enemy ships to bits with your laser-style blasters, or your limited number of missiles. Everything is 3D rendered and in first-person, though you can choose to fly your ship with a third-person view. Every ship has both a shield and armor meter; shields repair over time, while armor damage sticks around until the end of the level. When the armor level reaches zero, your opponents (or you) explode.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Combat mechanics are a blast; graphics are pleasant if not overly detailed; nice music; perfect joystick support; level editor included, with Steam Workshop support
    Weak Points: Gamepad controls could be better; I wish storytelling was done with more than just text
    Moral Warnings: Space Combat against another group called 'The Order'

    Most missions are some variation of ‘blow up everything in sight’, though there are some notable exceptions. Some levels have asteroid fields, where you have to avoid or destroy any large rocks headed your way, or the much more dangerous minefields, where if they get too close they will seek you out and explode; if you’re not careful or moving quickly, things can get rough in a hurry. There are also nav points, where you have to fly to either trigger an event, or to activate your autopilot, which is used to go to the next one, or eventually complete the level.

    There are a couple of aspects of this game that really put a smile on my face. The first may seem silly, but the joystick support is excellent. I know that most people nowadays play games with a keyboard + mouse, or an Xbox 360 compatible gamepad; those work more or less as expected. But when you’re flying a space ship, you use the right tool for the job – in this case, a joystick. (If you sprung for a HOTAS setup, even better.) I played all of my Wing Commander games with a joystick, and when I was able to make it work almost exactly the same way here, I was thrilled. Thankfully, configuring any controller is a breeze, and common control schemes like keyboard + mouse and gamepad have sensible defaults. The only tricky part is that gamepads are difficult to fine tune the analog aim with at the best of times, and I find that the defaults move your targeting reticle quickly, but fine-tuning shots takes a lot of skill and practice. Neither joysticks nor mice have this problem, since they have a much larger range of motion.

    The other thing that made me smile is quite simply the feel of the combat as well as the mission structure. Like I said, I'm a Wing Commander veteran; I beat several and played at least some of all of the main entries. The combat and interface really feels almost exactly like those games. Once I got a feel for everything, my long-latent skills came roaring back and I was smiting the Kilrathi Order scum like old times. While the story is interesting, I do wish it was told in a more immersive way than just a large text box on the screen. However, given that it's basically a one-man project, it's an understandable limitation.

    Absolute Territory: The Space Combat Simulator
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    The Campaign is of decent length; I was about to beat it in around 6-ish hours. I also checked out the editor (I'm not one who typically creates levels, but it's there and seems usable enough) and the online leaderboard modes, Squadron and Gauntlet. Both are based on waves of enemies, but with Gauntlet your missile and armor pool are static; you only get what you started with. With Squadron, you are given a set of waves per mission. Once you complete the mission, your missiles and armor are reset. While I currently have the high scores in both, I don't expect that to last; I never 'completed' either, nor do I know if they are endless or not. Regardless, if this game gets a larger audience, I'm sure the Steam Workshop support means that there will be endless missions to play around with.

    Graphically, it looks really nice, though not too complicated. The starfields look interesting, though not super detailed. Ships look good, and your cockpit shows reflections off of the nearby stars, which is a nice touch. You can even tell when things explode behind you. While hardly a jaw dropper, it's pleasing on the eyes. The same with the music - it's pleasant and sets the mood. There isn't a ton of variety, but what is there is very nice.  It ran great on all of the PCs I tested it on, including my GPD Win Max, though it does suffer from gamepad control issues like all gamepad users.

    Morally, there is space combat where one ship shoots another until they explode. Since ships are shot out of the depths of space, there is implied death. There are no other moral issues I noted, other than some missions requesting you to do some deception. To be fair this was a really neat mission!

    Absolute Territory: The Space Combat Simulator is a relatively simple but fun game that is not only a blast to play, but hit me in the nostalgia feels as well. I'm honestly surprised that no one else has done what Dan did here: make a solid clone of the gameplay from Wing Commander. There have been other space combat games, but nothing quite this clear of an homage. Considering how many other games are out there with obvious inspirations, I don't consider this a bad thing. If it works, and is underrepresented in the current marketplace, why not fill a need? I've really enjoyed my time with Absolute Territory, and it's totally worth a buy if the price is right. I just highly recommend dusting off the old joystick; it's way better this way.

  • Airport Madness: Time Machine (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Airport Madness: Time Machine
    Developed by: Big Fat Simulations Inc.
    Published by: Big Fat Simulations Inc.
    Release date: Sep 18, 2015
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X
    Genre: Sim/Strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    Price: $6.99

    When I first saw Airport Madness: Time Machine in my Steam library, I installed it because it was small, a mere 63MB hard drive space required. I don’t always need a huge AAA game to play, sometimes I enjoy smaller ones. It also allows for a much greater variety if I’m ever needing to waste a few minutes. Due to it being so small I had some expectations; The graphics... well, they wouldn't be very good, and it would probably be short. For such a small package, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Airport Madness: Time Machine.

    The premise of Airport Madness: Time Machine is that you're an air traffic controller traveling through time. There are three eras that you play through on your journey, each with its own style and music. You're responsible for making sure the planes are taking off and landing safely in each time period. You control the planes through basic adjustments, speeding up, slowing down, and adjusting where a plane flies, lands, or takes off. Each option has a hotkey 1-5 and you will use those hotkeys often.

    You start the game in the 1920s and play through the 1970s. In this era, you will encounter many different models of airplanes that coincide with the year you’re in. After playing through history you jump to the 1800s for “What could have been.” Here you will encounter what you would expect in a steampunk world, with fictional planes and other flying things. To finish the game off, you will go to the future to “What could be” where you will encounter “The most efficient airport in the world” and futuristic airplanes to match.

    Airport Madness: Time Machine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging and entertaining; good for a quick play
    Weak Points: Buggy; short; outdated graphics
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon explosions when planes collide

    While it's a very simple game, it is by no means a very easy one. You’ve got planes coming at different speeds, to different runways, all the while you’ve got others that are taxying or preparing to take off. When you first start the game, you’ve got one runway and light traffic, but every level something new happens with your airport. It may be an expansion that adds a new runway or a new terminal or factory that increases traffic or routes for the planes to taxi. What is initially simple becomes complex quickly. You will have to master having planes taking off and landing from the same runway at the same time if you want to advance in this game.

    Airport Madness: Time Machine is a game that I would love to love, but sadly can't. The gameplay can be addicting, is enjoyable and can be challenging. However, unfortunately, the game is full of bugs. Sometimes the game is challenging because of the bugs. From planes that just decide to go extremely slow, to random crashes with grounded planes, the bugs are more of an annoyance than anything else. None of the bugs I encountered are game-breaking, although at times they may be game-ending. Sometimes the sound will bug as well, getting very quiet or just dropping out until the next level, although I only encountered these types of bugs a few times.

    Airport Madness: Time Machine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    My expectation for the graphics was definitely met; the game looks like it was made in the early 2000s. The background is relatively static, and the planes are very low resolution. While the graphics could definitely be better, they fit the gameplay, and I don’t feel as though they retracted from the experience any. What you will see however is an ever-expanding airport as you play through the game. You also get little notices that pop up on your screen advancing the story. One thing I enjoyed is reading the headlines in the newspaper throughout the years, as they may be comical or bring insight into what’s happening. One thing to note is that when you make a mistake and cause an accident, you will see both planes crash in a cartoony way.

    Airport Madness: Time Machine is enjoyable, although I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for it. It is a clean game that older children could enjoy, however it may be too difficult for the younger crowd. There isn’t any foul language or adult themes, although it does go through the 1940s and mentions WWII (in the headlines). The most offensive part of the game would likely be during an accident when you see two planes collide and “explode.” You will, however, see this often, as you’re likely to have many, many, many accidents in your air traffic controlling career. If you’re looking for a small game that you can pick up for five or ten minutes here or there, or if you're severely lacking in hard drive space, check it out. If you can't stand bugs stay away.

    Doulos28

  • AL・FINE (PC)

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    Game Info:

    AL・FINE
    Developed by: Crimson rabbit
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: November 11, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    A few years ago we reviewed and enjoyed Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale which is a game based on running a store to pay off a debt.  AL・FINE borrows many gameplay elements from Recettear, but differs by focusing more on running the store than looting dungeons.  Dungeon exploration is still an option, but it’s reserved for adventurers that you hire out and collect their loot three days later.

    The story begins with a boy named Louis whose parents have been away for a couple of years.  In their absence he literally runs into a sprite named Alice who demands that he repairs her expensive orb that was broken in the ordeal.  Since Louis can’t afford to repair her orb he’s forced to re-open his parent's store to earn money.  The store is named AL・FINE.

    The merchant’s guild helps store owners know their rankings and provides renovation services to allow for store customization and expansion.  The bigger the store the more in dues you’ll owe every ten days.  The game’s simple interface makes it easy to know how long you have until your dues are owed, so be sure not to go overboard when purchasing inventory that day!

    AL・FINE
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute shop simulation game that has interesting characters
    Weak Points: Totally copies off of Recettear but isn’t as good; fixed resolution that did not go full screen properly with multiple monitors
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol references and drunkenness; some of the females flaunt their “assets” to increase sales; language (d*mn)

    Besides the merchant’s guild, there are other places to visit including a church, a bar, the town square, the market, or the adventurer’s guild.  The days are split into three segments (morning, afternoon, night) and many of the places are available for just the morning and the afternoon.  Whenever you leave your store to buy items or to gather information, time will pass and it will subtract from your ability to sell items and make a profit. 

    After the store closes for the day you can head to the bar and talk with the leader of the merchant’s guild to gather information on the other store owners. Perhaps you can learn from some of their tricks to make your store the highest ranked of them all!  If your store does well, other merchants will take notice and will challenge you to a competition to see who will earn more profits in a given time.  

    My first challenger was a very well-endowed female store owner who ran a shop called the “Milky Pod.”  Her bust size was the brunt of many jokes, but she knew how to use her “assets” to earn sales.  She kicked my butt the first time and I got a Steam achievement for losing to her.

    Since your goal is to make money it’s important to understand the concept of buying low when there’s little demand and selling high when there is.  At the end of each day you’ll get graded on your store’s performance.  On the normal difficulty I typically received a C.  

    There are different types of goods you can carry including food items which sell well, but spoil after a few days.  Weapons and armor don’t go bad, but they fluctuate in demand.  Merchandise is a safe bet, but they garner the least amount of interest.

    AL・FINE
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Customers come into your store hoping to find specific items and if they don’t they’ll leave with a storm cloud over their head.  Content customers will have a heart or a music note thought bubble.  The weather determines how many customers will be stopping in your store.  It’s best to do your shopping or information gathering in stormy weather. Waiting for sales can be a bit boring; thankfully you can speed up time in the game’s interface.

    While the game’s interface is generally easy to use, I did experience a couple of glitches.  This game ran windowed by default and when I tried to make it go full-screen on my multi-monitor set-up, it stretched over both monitors and was unplayable.  It seemed to run fine in the windowed mode though.

    The anime style graphics are cute and the characters are very expressive throughout the game’s dialogue.  Louis is a pushover that does pretty much whatever his friends tell him to while Alice speaks her mind and upsets rival store owners in the process.  The quirky characters have a lot of personality and are likeable.  

    The sound effects and background music are fitting and pleasant to listen to.  Sadly, there isn’t any voice acting to speak of.

    Overall, this is a cute simulation game that could be used as a fun way to teach the basics of economics.  I had fun running the store, but I enjoyed the dungeon exploration that Recettear offered to break up the monotony.  Both games are worth considering if you catch them on a Steam sale.  If you’re limited to picking just one game, I recommend sticking with Recettear.

  • American VR Coasters (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    American VR Coasters
    Developed By: Funny Twins
    Publisher: Funny Twins
    Release Date: July 7, 2017
    Available On: Windows (SteamVR compatible headset required)
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $5.99

    Thank you Funny Twins for sending us this game to review!

    What is one of the first things that comes to mind when the idea of Virtual Reality (VR) flits through your imagination? Virtual roller coasters, of course! And honestly, there are quite a few on Steam, as this is a pretty common idea. American VR Coasters is a decent attempt for a low price, if you are looking for something to scare your friends with.

    Here, we have the choice of four different roller coasters to choose from, which last about three to five minutes each. They move pretty fast, and each have some gimmick to make them unique. There is the city one, another wrapped around the statue of liberty, another loosely based on a popular coaster, and one that literally takes you to the clouds.

    American VR Coasters
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It's a roller coaster; looks and sounds decent; fun novelty to show your friends once or twice
    Weak Points: Chances of motion sickness are very high
    Moral Warnings:None!

    As expected of a VR game, it takes place in first person, and it is highly recommended that you sit down before playing. Controls are not necessary, and you can't leave the level early without quitting the game entirely. Loading times are much longer than I expected. The coasters are all of the 'impossible in real life' variety, and do not show any structure; they are just tracks floating in the air.

    The graphics get the job done, though I did see occasional frame rate issues on my NVIDIA GTX 1070. The first time I tried this, the sound didn't work; it was much more enjoyable once we got that sorted out. The music is pretty good, and the screams fit right in most of the time, though sometimes one would happen on a flat section that seemed out of place.

    American VR Coasters
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The experience is neat for the first few minutes, but I would not recommend more than one or two rides in one sitting. I sat through all four, and my stomach was complaining about it quite a bit, as motion sickness is likely an eventuality for most people who do something like this.

    The coaster has four cars in it, with yours and two others filled. The girls in the seats wear really strange looking short shorts, but I don't think it's worth docking a point over. They occasionally move their arms up or cover their face, but are mostly otherwise static.

    American VR Coasters is one of those silly VR experiences that everyone new to VR asks about to try just once. It's a 'hey, do you have a coaster simulator? That might be cool' type of thing. This one fits the bill, though I can't say that it is better or worse than the other ones on Steam. It might be worth a look on sale, though I suspect after you play it once and show it to your friends, you won't be doing it again.

  • Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Published and Developed by Thom Robertson
    Released: Sept 16, 2013
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Reviewed on Windows PC, Android Tablet
    Available on: Windows PC, iOS, Android
    Genre: Simulator
    Number of Players: 2+

    Artemis is, for all intents and purposes, the Star Trek simulator Trekkies have been waiting for.  Of course it doesn't reference Star Trek in any way, and is not licensed by Paramount, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was intended to be Star Trek specific.  It is a multiplayer game, intended for six players but can be played with fewer.  Each player has his or her own computer and takes a specific position on the bridge of the starship.  There is a Captain, Weapons Officer, Helmsman, Science Officer, Engineer and Communications Officer.  Each position has its own display, controls and options with the exception being the Captain.  The Captain gets only a viewer and must act by giving orders to the various crew members.

    The game can be played on a LAN or, if the players know how, it can be configured to run over a distributed network so your various crewmembers could be anywhere in the world.  To do this, you will need some kind of voice chat client, as none is built into the game.  In our testing, we used Google Hangout.  While it is possible for a single player to play in a sort of practice mode, it is still necessary to connect to a separate machine running Artemis in order to do this.  PCs and Android devices can be joined together in the same game session.

    The game is played best with six players, although it is possible for some to pull double duty if there aren't six people available.  Of course the more tasks one takes on the more difficult it is to keep up and the game is extremely difficult when played with only two players.  Three players can get by if the various bridge positions are distributed wisely.  For example, the Communications Officer doesn't have much to do during battle, so that position is easily merged with some other position like Weapons, which only has tasks to perform when in a combat engagement.

    There is no story per se, in that the ship is essentially placed in a sandbox representing a contested region of space.  Communications from various ships, starbases and merchants can trigger missions but all of it is at the Captain's discretion.  In some scenarios, there are hostile ships on the other side of a nearby Neutral Zone, and straying into that Zone will trigger a war.  Of course, even if the players do not stray into the Neutral Zone, the enemy will eventually...

    Anyone who is a fan of Star Trek is going to know exactly how to play this game.  The controls are simple and intuitive.  There is an online help guide, but it will be largely unecessary to those who are fluent in Trek, or even speculative science fiction in general.  When starting the game, a variety of starship classes are available to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.  The ship can even be renamed, so if you want to command a starship called Enterprise, have at it.

    The controls can be a bit awkward.  Clicking the mouse to steer the ship feels clunky and there's no way to smoothly move the ship except the joystick, which has its own issues.  There is no in-game mechanism for configuring the joystick buttons but an .ini file can be edited to achieve that customization.  A touch screen interface works here as well as the mouse, so if the player's screen has that capability it is a useful option.  In our tests, the Weapons Officer used an Android tablet touch screen as her interface and preferred it to using a mouse.  As the helmsman, the joystick was more of a nuisance than an actual help because the player still needs to use the mouse to use the various controls on the display.  

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good variety of actvities for each player, gameplay is faithful to the speculative sci-fi genre
    Weak Points: Graphics issues, occasional stability problems
    Moral Warnings: The game is a space combat simulator, so things are going to get blown up

    The Captain:

    The Captain has no direct control over anything.  All of the Captain's wishes are implemented by the appropriate crewmember.  This is where that Trek fluency comes in handy.  The Captain will issue orders such as "Set a course for station DS3, Warp 2" or "Engineering, transfer all energy to the warp drive!  Helm!  Get us out of here, maximum warp!"  

    The Helm:

    The Helmsman essentially steers the ship, navigates the map and can control the captain's display.  Speed can be set using either sublight or warp engines, controlled separately.  The display is a simple wireframe top-down view of the ship and nearby features (like asteroids, mines, other ships and starbases) which has four levels of zoom.  It is the helmsman who initiates docking with space stations and can also control ship's deflector shields. (Although we typically left that responsibility to the Weapons Officer)

    The Weapons Officer:

    It is the responsibility of the Weapons Officer to target enemy ships, fire weapons, bring the ship to Red Alert, and manage shields.  Weapon systems include beam weapons and a variety of torpedoes, such as EMP and nuclear.  As ammunition is expended, it can be replenished at starbases in exchange for missions being performed, or as ordered by the Captain.  Certain weapons can also be sacrificed to provide a quick boost to the ship's energy reserve in an emergency.

    The Engineer:

    The Engineer manages how much of the ship's energy reserve is routed to the various systems like the engines, shields and weapons.  There isn't enough to power everything fully, so resource management is key.  As always, priorities are set by the Captain but the Engineer makes it work.  The Engineer also assigns damage control teams to react to damage the ship takes in battle.

    The Communications Officer:

    It is the job of the Communications Officer to make requests of other ships and space stations, to taunt enemies, to inform starbases that the ship is coming to dock, and to request supplies.

    The Science Officer:

    The Science Officer can scan other map features to determine what they are.  Enemy ships can be identified and further scans can reveal enemy ships' shield frequencies, allowing the weapons officer to fine tune the beam weapons to penetrate better.  The Science Officer can also scan to determine how severely damaged other ships are.

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 3/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The game's graphics are reasonable if a bit crude, with the most intensive graphics showing on the external view of the ship.  All control panels display wireframe graphics.  Some graphics issues were noticed on the Windows PC version, with the external view cutting out entirely at times.  This didn't crash the game and it was still possible to return to the normal control panel.  The sound effects are also a bit crude and basic, but adequate to the task.

    There were some difficulties initially getting all the computers to connect to each other over the distributed network, although these were resolved in time.  The game is generally stable although it did crash a few times during testing.  This all happened on one particular machine however, so it may not have been the game's fault but rather an issue with that particular computer.  (It was an HP Pavillion G7 laptop with integrated graphics.)    

    The game is a space combat simulator, so things are going to get blown up.  While the action can be intense, the violence isn't really.  Mostly what's being shot at are enemy starships, so there's no visible blood, dead bodies, etc.  An occasional life form living in space may find its way into the players crosshairs, but it isn't a requirement to win the scenario.  Because the game is completely sandbox in nature, there is nothing stopping the players from ignoring orders, breaking peace treaties or attacking friendly vessels.  The game neither encourages nor discourages this during gameplay, but a level is only successfully completed when all enemy threats are destroyed.  The game itself contains no coarse language, although that certainly won't stop the players from using it.  There's also no occult or sexuality of any kind in this game, unless you regard aliens as occult.

    In short, if you let your kids watch Star Trek, this game is no problem at all.

    The game itself is still a bit rough around the edges but is a very impressive accomplishment for one developer.  The real fun in Artemis is in the interaction between the players, and the feeling of at last commanding a starship for those fans of Trek and other speculative science fiction media.  Artemis is the base, and the players find the fun.  It really does feel like being in an episode of Star Trek.  The following exchange actually took place in one of our test games (I played as the Helm.):

    "Captain, forward shields are down!  Aft shields collapsing!"

    "Helm!  Get us out of here!  Maximum Warp!"

    "Warp Drive not responding, Captain!"

    "Engineering, get damage control teams on the warp drive immediately!"

    "Aye sir!"

    Believe it or not, we survived that battle...

  • BalanCity (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    BalanCity
    Developed By: Fernando Cordoba
    Published By: Giant Monkey Robot LLC
    Released: September 21, 2016 for Mac, Linux, and Windows, and Spring 2017 for Android and iOS
    Available On: Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single player, however, there is a leaderboard
    Price: $7.99 on Steam, free on Android and iOS

    Thank you Giant Monkey Robot LLC for sending us this game to review!

    BalanCity is a balance simulation game (hence the name) where your goal is to build the tallest city while having the weight distributed evenly on both sides. Once you launch the game for the first time, you will see the title screen with a decent sized BalanCity next to it. You can pick up one of the buildings in this city and play with it, and knock it over if desired.

    Once you actually get into the game, you are greeted by an advisor named SUP. He shows you around the game and lets you know when something is wrong - for example, if the city is hit by one of five Disasters (UFOs, Godzilla, earthquakes, meteorites, and fires). The advisor can be changed, and there are three other options aside from SUP: a character named Peppy, which I assume is parodying Pennywise from Stephen King's IT, one named Don, and one named Heelaree, with the latter two clearly making fun of the 2016 presidential candidates. However, something that is nIToteworthy is the fact that when SUP is alerting you for something or he is just giving a tutorial, there are multiple typos in his words.

    BalanCity
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Various game modes and a free build option that lets you do anything you want
    Weak Points: Can get boring after a while; no story; spelling mistakes/typos scattered intermittently
    Moral Warnings:Advisors based off of political candidates and another is a creepy looking clown 

    The graphics in the game aren’t particularly good, but the game itself is cute and has catchy music. There are “missions” where you find the tutorial levels and the challenge levels, where there are specific “goals,” as well as a hero level, where you are a hero from another world, and a monster level, where you get to be Godzilla and destroy the city. There are also Scenario levels, where you can make BalanCities based on famous cities around the world.

    One of the Scenario levels is called Nightmare, featuring Peppy as the advisor and is potentially scary for a younger audience. There is also a mode called Free Build, where you build your own city. Your maximum height in Free Build shows up in the Main Menu. (In the Settings, there’s a leaderboard of people who built the tallest cities.) In Free Build, you have total control of when the disasters hit (I have taken advantage of this quite a bit).

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

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - --/10
    Sound - --/10
    Stability - -/5
    Controls - -/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The level isn't necessarily 'won,' but you lose when the city comes tumbling down. Again, the goal of the game is to make your city as tall as possible while sustaining balance on both sides. The gameplay consists of picking the building or structure of choice from the bar that resides on the top of the screen, and then dropping the block onto the platform from anywhere underneath the height limit line. If there is an emergency, you can dispatch police, firefighting, and hospice helicopters as necessary.

    Personally, my favorite mode is probably Free Build, because I can do whatever I want to the level I'm in. (Usually, my city ends up falling or I just populate it with Godzillas instead.) As for my least favorite mode . . . I don't think I have one. However, I do have a tendency to struggle with the Challenge levels, and so I have not been able to complete all of them.

    The credits can be unlocked after you complete all the levels, and another thing I have noticed is that you can’t use the Esc key to pause, but the controls are fairly simple otherwise. This game is great for those who like simulation games and are looking for a bit of a challenge, but with some of the elements inspired by IT, it’s not recommended for younger audiences, as that part of it might scare them, but otherwise it’s morally fine.

  • Beekeeper (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Beekeeper
    Developed by: Absolute Horizon
    Published by: Absolute Horizon
    Release date: August 19, 2019
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Absolute Horizon for sending us an Early Access code to preview!

    In Beekeeper, your grandfather is pleased that you’re following in his footsteps running an apiary. With some starting money and advice from him, you’ll get to buy some land, plants for your garden, a beehive and some bees to get your first batches of honey produced. A local newspaper will chronicle your journey, rate your honey, and give warnings about droughts, fires, and sickness.

    There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, and Hard. The harder the difficulty, the more aggressive your competitors will be. Your first order of business will be to design your logo, look, and company name. Unfortunately, you can only play as a male character.

    Once you have purchased a plot of land, it’s time to go shopping and buy a garden, flowers, a beehive, and three bees.  The three required bees are a queen, worker, and collector.  At first you’ll only be able to contain one of each.   If any of them gets sick or dies, honey will stop being produced.  If caught early enough, you may be able to heal a sick bee (for a cost).  In the event of a loss, it’s always a good idea to have an extra bee of every type in your inventory.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Original concept; relaxing background music
    Weak Points: Confusing interface and controls; translation errors, glitches
    Moral Warnings: It’s pretty tame with the exception of talking about bee sex lives

    If everything is running smoothly, you should see the number of honey jars increasing steadily. If it’s ever stopped, make sure you have the required bees. Once you have enough honey accumulated (usually 800 jars or so) you’ll be able to haggle with publishers for distributing your goods. You can negotiate the profit percentage and number of jars required. Signing the contract with the mouse is a nice touch.

    As you produce honey and forge partnerships your experience will go up and you can spend it on various upgrades and abilities. For example, you’ll be able to purchase and use bigger beehives and gardens. Another perk worth unlocking is the ability to hire workers to automatically collect honey. Be sure to keep tabs on your bee count so the honey keeps on rolling in!

    Purchasing land is expensive, but buying shares from competitor’s plots is much cheaper. Your ultimate goal is to drive them out of business and run the number one apiary in the region. Doing so will take lots of patience and I’m thankful that there’s a 1-3X speed adjustment.

    The graphics are pixelated, but fairly detailed. When designing your character, you can give them various eye, hair, and mustache/beard styles. In its current state, the interface is half functional with many features on the bottom saying “Coming soon!” I found it odd that some of the menu options only work from some areas, but not others. For example, you can check out publisher offers from your plot of land, but not from the office setting.

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

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay: 14/20
    Graphics: 6/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 3/5
    Controls: 2/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence: 10/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    As an Early Access game, I totally understand that there are some missing features and polish. There are some translation errors in regards to mysterious bee illnesses and instead refer to mysterious bees. I also experienced the tutorial not being able to progress since honey was not producing despite a garden and all of the required bees in place. Restarting the game resolved that issue. The game’s interface is not intuitive and I’ve learned from experience that it’s easy to overwrite your game save instead of loading it.

    Currently, Beekeeper only runs with mouse and keyboard. I’ve experienced many instances where the menus were not responding properly or at all. Along with a fully functional interface, gamepad support would be appreciated.

    On a positive note, the piano background music is quite soothing and pleasant to listen to. The other sound effects are forgettable.

    Beekeeper is family-friendly. During the loading screens, it will display (and often repeat) random bee facts. One of the factoids explains that the queen bee only has sex once in her life. The term mate would be more appropriate here.

    The asking price of $4.99 is reasonable and this title does show some promise. Given the interface issues and lack of features, I’d hold off for a sale or further development before buying this game.

  • Bounty Train (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bounty Train
    Developed by: Corbie Games
    Published by: Daedalic Entertainment
    Released: May 16, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X
    Genre: Simulation, role-playing game
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, Daedalic Entertainment, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    November 7, 1860

    I have been locked up in the prison in Boston for smuggling weapons into the city. But at least they have given me paper and ink so I can write about my experiences. My name is Walter Reed, and I have a story to tell about a dangerous game called “Bounty Train.”

    Having inherited shares of my father's railroad company, I came from England to Portland, Maine. After speaking with my father's attorney, I learned that there is another man who owns shares of the company as well. He intends to construct a trans-continental railroad through Indian territory – a move that could cost thousands of lives. However, if I can find my siblings and other shareholders, I may be able to gain a majority ownership of the company and prevent this from happening.

    But it may not be easy. I'll have to maintain and upgrade my train. I need to purchase commodities and trade with other cities – as well as get a better handle over what goods are prohibited within some locations! I'll have to transport passengers and cargo in order to improve my reputation with different cities. I'll have to work with different factions, such as the Union and the Confederacy. They don't seem to like each other very much, and if the newspapers are correct, war will break out between them very soon. Bandits lurk along the railways, so I have to hire guards and crew members. I will have to juggle all this while trying to gain a majority interest in the company. Or perhaps I can forge my own empire by purchasing land and investing my money in banks. There is a wealth of options for me to explore, once I get out of here.

    Bounty Train
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics and music; interesting premise; historic elements help with educational aspects; adjustable difficulty
    Weak Points: Some wonky AI issues; difficulty starting up
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; violence; some language

    I have to admit, the scenery is spectacular. Things are so lively in the countryside, or even at the stations. People wander about and speak. The ever-present music is lovely as well, and provides wonderful atmosphere. It is a good thing I am literate, though – there aren't any voices in the game, and everyone communicates through text boxes, including myself.

    At times, though, it is difficult to get things off the ground. Sometimes when I want to get this game started, all I see is blackness. I have to force myself to quit – sometimes several times. It can take a few efforts in order to get going. Perhaps it's because the mysterious box I use runs on apples or something. I've heard that some people use these other machines with windows on them, so I don't know if they have the same issues. Maybe it's because of the electric motors in these small boxes. Give me steam power any day.

    Speaking of steam, I've also heard that those who use the steam engines can gain special titles called achievements. Most of these are difficult to obtain, though. For example, one of them would require me to obtain one million dollars! Can you imagine having that much money? I'd be able to buy my own state with that much wealth! Maybe I can do something with these trading cards that showed up in my pocket, too.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The difficulty in the game can be adjusted, which is a nice improvement from the first time I tried the Bounty Train. Even better – different aspects of the game can be individually adjusted. Instead of sticking with “easy mode,” like I did, you can go for a more action-packed game by adjusting the lever to account for more bandit attacks. Or to make more money, adjust that slider to the left. You can customize this Bounty Train to fit your own playstyle. But hey – I'd prefer if you took it easy on me, you know? Once I die, it's game over for everyone. Like a good book, though, you can save your progress in different chapters, or slots. I think that might have something to do with apples, too. Or windows. This kind of thing is a bit beyond my understanding.

    Riding the rails in Bounty Train is cleaner than you may expect. Although you will see the occasional person take the Lord's name in vain, people generally keep their language clean. Seeing it all as text boxes allows me to see their grammatical errors, though. I did see one person try to swear, but used the wrong form of “dammed.” If he was a bandit, I'd be tempted to gun him down just for improper grammar. But when someone dies, they simply fall over. I'm glad I didn't see more details of poor Pedro's death. I do hope that he had died before my caboose exploded – what a terrible way to go. And expensive, too – I had to replace the caboose and hire another guard.

    In general, those who want to see what America is like in my boots may also be interested in boarding the Bounty Train. It can be a fun way to learn about history, as well as an intriguing strategy game to play. Just watch out for bandits. Oh, and you may want to look into getting a smuggling compartment for your cargo cars. That'll be my first purchase once I leave the Boston jail, I'll tell you that much.

  • Bus Simulator 16 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bus Simulator 16
    Developed by: stillalive studios
    Published by: Astragon Entertainment
    Release date: March 2, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to 32 online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Astragon Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    I’ll admit that I never dreamt of being a bus driver. After playing this game I realize that I probably wouldn’t be a very good one.   My sadistic streak kicked in pretty hard when playing the tutorial.  I had too much fun running red lights, ramming into cars, sign posts, and even pedestrians.  Those crazy enough to enter the bus complained about my driving, calling it bad, unsatisfying and told me to mind what I was doing.  They screamed a bit too.  The lucky ones were the people that I left stranded at the bus stop on purpose.  

    I’m usually not into tutorials, but I had a lot of fun with this one.  Sadly, the real game isn’t very forgiving and will stop your route if you get into a bad accident or hit a pedestrian.  Running red lights gets you fined too.  Each accident, vehicular or otherwise, costs you money to pay the insurance deductible.  

    The focus of the game is to run a profitable bus company.  You’ll be in charge of buying and maintaining buses, setting up routes, and hiring drivers.   Each newly created bus route has to be test driven by you before handing it off to an underling to maintain.  Job applicants vary in experience and the more qualified they are, the more you have to pay them.  As drivers level up, they will get an automatic pay increase.

    When you complete your first set of objectives, you’ll get a brand new bus paid for by the city.  Other unlocked rewards include different bus models, paint colors, and advertising banners.  There are various Steam achievements and you can earn one for buying your first bendy bus.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unintentionally funny when you’re a bad driver and/or a jerk; good sound effect
    Weak Points: Confusing controls; performance issues
    Moral Warnings: Passengers may be drunk 

    As your bus company prospers new city districts will become available to set up bus routes.    How long or short you want to make the routes is up to you (I preferred shorter routes in fear of getting into an accident and losing a lot of progress).  Having routes interconnect is helpful for your paying customers.    

    The ticket prices are cheaper for students and senior citizens.  Those who don’t have pre-paid tickets will have to buy them directly from you.  They seldom have exact change so you’ll have to brush up on your arithmetic skills.  One drunken passenger asked for a ticket to the moon and I turned him away.

    Passengers have different personalities and some of them are more demanding than others.  You may be asked to change the bus temperature or radio station if you have music playing.  Some passengers are in wheelchairs and need to have a ramp lowered for them to embark on the bus.  I couldn’t find a control to do this and it may have to be done manually like unjamming stuck bus doors.  These situations take up precious time that’s needed to make it to the next bus stop on time.  

    I usually used the mouse and keyboard for playing this game but there is support for game pads and gaming wheels.  Our Logitech MOMO was detected but there were no preset configurations for it.  Mapping buttons is possible, but there are a lot to choose from.  There’s a bit of a learning curve involved in driving a bus and managing all of the controls for it.

    Bus Simulator 16
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    There are some shortcuts available like the quick start and quick exit routines that bypass leaving and entering the bus depot on your shift.  Unfortunately, driving the bus is mandatory for setting up new routes.  As you have more employees and buses, you’ll hopefully be turning a profit before long.

    The graphics are decent and there’s a fair amount of variety in passengers.  The cars on the roads don’t look like they’re manned though.  There’s plenty of variety in weather conditions ranging from sunny days to cloudy or rainy ones.  I did run into some slowdowns and game stuttering, but the developers recently released a beta version that runs much better. 

    When it comes to sound effects and background noise this game does a great job.  Between the bus sound effects and passenger banter, I felt like I was really on a bus.  The voice acting is decent though I think the passengers would say much ruder things in real life with my bad driving.

    Though Bus Simulator 16 isn’t rated by the ESRB, it is a family friendly game that can be played by or around younger audiences.  The bus controls are complex and take some getting used to though.  

    While there is plenty to do by yourself, there is even more to do online.  Bus Simulator 16 supports up to thirty-two people to play along with online.  If you trust them, you can let your friends help you drive and manage your bus company.    There are global Leaderboards that have my name firmly on the bottom.  Also, you can share and grab various mods from the Steam Workshop.

    All in all, Bus Simulator 16 is a decent game with an overly forgiving tutorial level.  I wish the rest of the game wasn’t as structured so I could have more fun annoying people.  If you’ve ever wanted to see what driving a bus would be like, I’d recommend keeping an eye out for this game!

     

  • Bus Simulator 18 (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bus Simulator 18
    Developed by: stillalive studios
    Published by: Astragon Entertainment
    Release date: June 13, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to 4 online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $34.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Astragon Entertainment for sending us this game to review!
     
    Note: This review was written before the 12-17-2018 patch was released that adds new game modes.
     
    Bus Simulator 18 is the (likely much better) sequel to Bus Simulator 16 that we have a review for here. This game has much better graphics, as it uses Unreal Engine 4, and it does look and sound great. It has full wheel support, though sadly the game is mostly unplayable without a keyboard and mouse available. The main reason is that the menus are clearly meant with mouse support in mind, and occasionally you have to get out of your seat, which requires WASD and mouse controls. Most things are customizable, so I suppose wheel-only play may be possible, but it’s clearly not simple to do.
     
    In this game, everything from the bus station, bus itself, the town you are in, other cars on the road, as well as the people who ride as passengers are all rendered in very nice 3D graphics. The bus’ sound effects, what people say while on board, and so on are also nicely done and realistic enough to bring a nice sense of believability to the experience. I did get a kick out of them referring to others as NPCs, though. Can’t hate on fourth-wall breaking too much in a game like this. I less enjoyed having the degradation of our society thrown at me once again by hearing a deep-voiced man talk about his husband behind me.
    Bus Simulator 18
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice graphics; sounds pretty realistic; wheel support is pretty good
    Weak Points: Default force feedback setting on the wheels needs adjustment; you have to really want to drive a bus to get anything out of this game
    Moral Warnings: Some of your passengers are LGBT and want to make sure you hear about it

    Once you start up the game, you are asked to create a bus company. Apparently, the town had shut down the municipal bus system some years back, and you are being given a chance to start it back up again on a trial basis. As your experience and company grows, you are given the chance to expand onto new bus routes, hire more employees, buy more buses, and so on to not only grow your profits, but to serve more and more of the population. There are several long and detailed tutorials that you better pay attention to – if you don’t, you may find yourself needing to open the doors and drop the ramp for a handicapped person without a clue in the world which buttons to press to make it happen.

    The first time you approach your bus, you are asked to open each of the locks on the doors, open them, go inside, and start the engines. I checked out both basic and realistic difficult levels, and if you are going to play a game like this, you might as well go all the way and choose realistic. It does add a few more steps in a few places, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The buses are all modern and with automatic transmissions, so sadly my clutch pedal was once again ignored on my racing wheel.

    Once you are inside, you have to familiarize yourself with the ignition process, switching between drive/neutral/reverse, initiating the parking break, headlights, opening and closing doors, putting out the wheelchair ramp, and so on. You also have to charge customers for tickets, make sure no one sneaks on, help them if needed, and more. While driving, you have to obey all traffic signs, stoplights, and so on. I did find speeding very easy to do, and I had a hard time finding out what the limits were supposed to be, though perhaps I just missed them (honest, officer!). Thankfully, ticket costs are easily absorbed by the company. ;)

    Bus Simulator 18
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The simulation itself is overall really pretty good. I found the default setting for the wheel to be a bit broken; the incredible force it put on the wheel was really cool, but often it would just start swinging left to right and back in such a way that it just can’t be real. If it was, buses would whack far more pedestrians and other cars than they do. What I had to do to fix it was set the force feedback strength from a default of 10,000 to 100. This solved all issues, though now you don’t feel much but curbs and speed bumps.

    You can hit other drivers or pedestrians, and they can cost quite a bit of money, especially pedestrians. It doesn’t otherwise affect your driving; the screen flashes white, and it resets your car in your lane, but that’s it. Hitting other vehicles leaves them unfazed, except that they may stop in the middle of the road and otherwise be annoying for a while. Unfortunately, I lost interest quickly once I started following the rules. Since you get punished for messing up, there is only so much to keep you playing a game like this, since after a while it starts to feel like work, and I game in part to wind down after work.

    Bus Simulator 18 is a decent bus simulator, if you want to play a game about driving a bus. If you have a moment of rare cognitive dissonance like I did and think ‘why in the world would I want to play a game about working?’ then you do not want to play this game. However, if you love the idea, then it’s a well-executed implementation. I personally found the imposition of deviant lifestyles a massive stain on an otherwise perfectly clean game, that left a strong negative impression. Well, if you believe that our culture is quickly slipping from the honorable Christian morals that we were once based on, then let’s just say the passengers in this game are very ‘2018’ and leave it at that. If you want your simulators free from commentary on modern relationships, then you will want to look elsewhere.

  • Carried Away (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Carried Away
    Developed By: Huge Calf Studios
    Published By: Huge Calf Studios
    Released: October 4, 2017
    Available On: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Simulation, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: Pending
    Number of Players: Single player, no online play mode
    Price: $8.99 on Steam (early access)

    Thank you Huge Calf Studios for sending us this game to review!

    Carried Away is a game developed and published by Huge Calf Studios and released on October 4, 2017. The game’s title is indeed a pun as it's about creating ski lifts among other things to make sure the skiers make it safely to the other side. There are several different types of levels in it including ski lift, drag lift, gondola, snowmobile, and just plain skiing.

    Carried Away starts by introducing the ski lift level, and the first couple of levels are tutorials that teach you how to play the game. The game introduces different level types as you go on, and there are six different “mountain ranges” that are basically different sections of the game, and the developers are planning on adding more in the future. The first range is basically the tutorial range, and it’s there to help you get the hang of the game. As it goes on, the ranges gradually increase in difficulty, sometimes to the point of frustration; and you see less and less of the novice and intermediate levels. However, Carried Away is very easy to get used to; the basic controls are click and drag. While there are other controls that do other things that have keyboard shortcuts, I haven’t really used them. However, you can refer to and customize these controls in the game settings.

    Carried Away
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Puzzles make you think; There are tutorials at the beginning that help you get used to the workflow of the game; There are several different types of levels; Sandbox mode allows you to create your own levels
    Weak Points: Puzzles can get frustrating and make you want to give up
    Moral Warnings:

    Each of these levels have to be solved in a unique way using the materials available to you in the level, like planks, logs, bridges and supports, etc. Some levels only let you use a few materials, whereas other levels have all the material types available to use. There are 39 achievements that can be earned in the game, and these have to do with things like "5 Riders to Safety!" and stuff like that. The level also tracks how much “money” you spend, and the number turns red if you go over the budget goal. The levels are categorized by difficulty - novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert. Each level has a simple picture showing what type of level it is, and the picture’s background is colored to show the difficulty of the level.

    The game has catchy music that can be bought on Steam as DLC, and when the skiers fall, they make grunting noises as a way to signify that they’re in pain and comically spew blood. It also has objectives for each level, for example Budget, Riders Safety, Structure Safety, and Collect the Star(s). The levels may also have silly names, for example I encountered a level called Gondola Be Good and a level called Forrest Bump. In each level there are different obstacles that your structures (or skiers in the case of a skiing or snowmobile level) have to overcome before they reach the finish line. Obstacles can be trees, rocks, or gaps in the ground that you have to build a structure (bridge, ski lift, etc.) to make sure the riders get across safely.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    As you progress in Carried Away, different materials will be introduced for you to use in the levels. Sometimes the levels have a combination of different types (for example, drag lift and bridge) which requires more materials available at your arsenal.

    The game also has credits available from the main menu, as well as a Sandbox Mode, where you can make levels. In this Sandbox Mode, you can control various aspects of the level, like scenery, the slope of the level (ground), where the lifts and foundations are, the level’s difficulty, etc. You can also test the levels you create in Sandbox Mode, and upload them to Steam Workshop if you want to.

    If you’re looking for a simulation puzzle game with challenging levels, then Carried Away is the game for you. However, if you get frustrated easily, and/or you don’t react too well to blood, then you might want to stay away from this one; it has a tendency to frustrate you with some of the level challenges it presents and skiers spew blood if they hit the ground.

    -Kittycathead

  • Clash of Chefs VR (Oculus Rift) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Clash of Chefs VR
    Developed by: Flat Hill Games
    Published by: Flat Hill Games
    Release date: November 16, 2018
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to two online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Flat Hill Games for sending us a review code!

    My very first job was at a fast food restaurant and things definitely get hectic around lunch and dinner times. Clash of Chefs VR recreates the chaos pretty well with the player being responsible for cooking the fries, burgers, and bacon, as well as chopping onions and pickles. Filling up the drinks are also required for some orders and try not to spill the drink or you’ll have to fill it up again. As of this preview, there is only an American themed restaurant available, but more are in development and will be available for the official launch of the game.

    There is a waiter that will take and deliver orders for the customers. Orders must be prepared properly and in sequence or they will just sit there and waste precious time. The longer an order takes, the unhappier the customer will be. Customers also prefer their food cooked perfectly and not burned. The burgers will ding when cooked to perfection and if you leave them on the grill, they will blacken. The fries will turn from white to yellow when cooked properly and will darken as they get less desirable.

    Clash of Chefs VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good fast food simulator; dropped items will reappear in their original location
    Weak Points: Couldn’t find any multiplayer matches to join
    Moral Warnings: None!

    The single-player mode has three different game types to enjoy. There’s a survival mode where you have to try and last as long as you can, the campaign, and a relaxed mode where you can cook without the time crunch. The campaign has twenty levels that get increasingly harder with the meals getting more complex and the customers getting less patient.

    At first, you’ll be making burgers without any cheese, bacon, garnishing, fries, or beverages. The bacon, onion, and pickles have to be sliced up before they can be served. Before getting your first order it helps to prepare ahead of time by having plates with bottom buns on them and some fries ready to serve. Pre-poured drinks are nice to have available too.

    Moving around the kitchen gets chaotic at times and things are bound to fall over and get misplaced. I have accidentally dropped the bag of fries behind the counter and out of my reach. Thankfully, the game put them back to their original location. The never-ending supply of ingredients is also a nice bonus.

    Clash of Chefs VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When I first launched the game, the kitchen height was way off and my virtual head was brushing up against the ceiling vent. After adjusting my height in the Oculus settings, it was much better. The counter height in the game can be tweaked, but it can only go so far. Make sure your Steam and Oculus settings are correct before launching this title.

    The graphics are very colorful and all of the items are easily identifiable. I didn’t have too much trouble figuring everything out, which is good as there is no tutorial. The only head-scratching moments were when the waiter would not deliver the order. The reason was usually that I messed up the order.

    The background music loops and doesn’t have much variety. Hopefully, more tracks are added long with different restaurant venues.

    From a moral standpoint, there nothing to be concerned about. The knife’s purpose is to cut the food and not hurt anything still living. I usually threw my burned food out of the kitchen area, but no one got hurt.

    Currently, this title sells for $19.99 and I have seen it listed for half that price on sale. In its current state I would wait for a sale. Until the multiplayer picks up (I haven’t been able to find anyone online) and more restaurant venues are added, I think the $20 price tag is a bit steep for a game with a single-player campaign that can be completed in a couple of hours. If you have friends with VR it may be worth picking up to have a virtual food fight.

  • Construction Simulator 2015 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Construction Simulator 2015 
    Developed by: weltenbauer. Software Entwicklung
    Published by: astragon Software, GmbH
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to four players online
    ESRB Rating: Everyone|
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you astragon Software for sending us this game to review!

    There are simulator games for almost everything these days.  What I don't understand are the work related ones.  Why come home from working all day to play games that are "virtual" work?  I don't get it.  Can somebody please explain this to me?

    Construction Simulator 2015 aims to give you an authentic construction experience by letting you control fifteen different machines by name brands including Liebherr, Still, and MAN.   You'll get to drive around flatbed trucks, deposit tippers, forklifts, and excavators.  

    When you first launch the game you get to choose your character.  As a female gamer I was disappointed to see no option for a female construction worker.  There's a several part tutorial mission to get used to running errands and familiarizing yourself with the different vehicle types and their controls.

    The controls are surprisingly complex.  So much so that this game will be hard to grasp for younger boys that wish to emulate Bob the Builder.  When using the excavator you have to individually control each wheel.  If you're using the keyboard that means using the WASD keys and the arrow keys.  Fortunately, there is partial controller support and my wired Xbox 360 controller worked just fine.  Other controllers may not be supported.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cloud saves and multiplayer support
    Weak Points: Buggy and boring gameplay; complex controls
    Moral Warnings: The game is family friendly, but there is no swear filter in place for online game play

    After learning how to make a vehicle move, the next step is mastering how to operate it.   Some vehicles have multiple modes with separate controls for each (naturally).  I'm not sure what you need more of to master this game, practice or patience.  Interacting with objects is quite challenging and unfortunately, buggy.  

    Graphically this game is decent, but some of the object interactions are not natural and the physics system is a bit wonky at times.  People don't seem to care or mind if you run them over or bump into other cars  on your way to pick up or drop off building materials.  

    There will be plenty of errand/fetch quests and the suggested route will be highlighted on the circular map on the lower left hand side of the screen.  On my way to pick up materials for a job my 10,000 pound deposit tipper truck was rear ended by a little sedan.  Naturally, it was my truck that was tipped over and glitched out the remainder of my mission.  Thankfully you can restart at check points or cancel jobs as you see fit.  

     

    Construction Simulator 2015
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 46%
    Gameplay - 7/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In fact, there is a Steam achievement for canceling the tutorial.  I find it humorous that there are steam achievements for playing for various lengths of time.  I earned the one hour achievement, but have no plans on picking  up this game to go for the five or ten hour achievements.  I just don't find this game fun whatsoever.

    But for those that do enjoy it, there are over two hundred missions including jobs to build swimming pools, schools, and sports arenas.  After the tutorial is either completed or skipped, you can join or create multiplayer sessions where jobs can be finished as a team with up to four players. The couple of times I looked, the US region had an open server to join while Europe had quite a few ready to join.  I guess there's a demand for construction simulators across the pond.  

    While Construction Simulator 2015 is family friendly, like any online capable game there is a possibility for naughty language online.  I didn't notice a swear filter in place when naming the multiplayer session.  

    There is no voice acting in this game whatsoever.  All of the dialogue is text driven.  If the complex controls don't discourage getting this game for younger children, make sure they can at least read the dialogue so they can have a chance of understanding what to do in this game.  Even though I could read, I still didn't know what I was doing half of the time!  For what it's worth, sound effects were present and did the job nicely.

    Construction Simulator is available on Steam for $29.99.  The reviews are mixed and many people complain about the multiplayer lag and various bugs.  The reviews on Amazon are even harsher and several of the users are demanding their money back.  If this game still piques your interest, I'd wait for a sale before buying it.

     

  • Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!
    Developed by: Vertigo Gaming Inc.
    Published by: Vertigo Gaming Inc.
    Release date: September 13, 2017
    Available on: macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to two locally
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for mild language, violence, and alcohol use
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Vertigo Gaming Inc. for sending us this game to review!

    In 2013 I reviewed the original Cook, Serve, Delicious on my Android tablet and enjoyed that title quite a bit. The sequel takes place shortly after the first game with the skyscraper housing your original restaurant being seized by the government and closed down. With a little seed money, you must start-up a new diner and slowly take it from zero to five stars.

    With no reputation and a handful of recipes you won’t get many customers to begin with and the ones that arrive will be wearing some grungy clothes. Depending on the accuracy of your orders you’ll generate positive or negative restaurant buzz. Your menu offerings will also determine how excited customers will be to eat at your establishment.

    Some menu items like eggs and spaghetti are considered staples and can be on your menu indefinitely without having a negative effect. Most recipes have what’s called “menu rot” and can only be offered for a day or two before having a negative impact on your restaurant’s buzz. If the buzz is over 100%, prepare to have a busy day with lots of impatient customers. For days with lots of buzz you’ll want to provide meals that are quick and easy to prepare, and in a holding station if possible.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Frantic and fun gameplay that expands upon the first title; cloud saves
    Weak Points: Occasionally a level may set you up for failure if your buzz is too high to handle the impatient customers
    Moral Warnings: Some mild language (crap, jerk), and blasphemy (OMG); violence is described in e-mails; can serve alcohol at some restaurants; female patrons may wear some outfits that reveal skin and/or cleavage

    Holding stations are the greatest addition to Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!. They can prepare various recipes and have them ready to go when customers arrive. Some meals last longer than others so be sure to keep an eye on their freshness meters as rush hour draws near. Preparation stations are where you hand make or fry menu items on demand. Some recipes require holding stations so make sure that you have enough to accommodate your entire menu selection. Customers tend to order random menu items regardless of the time of day.

    The number of prep and holding stations can be configured in the menu. As your chef gains levels and increases the star rating of their restaurant, more stations will become available. The unlocked stations will not be added to your restaurant automatically. If you’re looking for a challenge you can max them both out. There are also several difficulties including Classic, Stress, and Zen mode. Steam achievements are available for completing a day in the Zen and Stress modes.

    Along with managing your own restaurant, you can become a hired chef at various eateries in the same skyscraper building! This is a great way to learn how to prepare various dishes and to see if you want to offer them at your establishment. Depending on how many orders are botched up, you can earn a gold, silver, or bronze rating for your performance. If you’re not happy with your medal, you can retry the level again.

    No matter where you’re cooking, your chef will earn experience which will transfer over. As your chef levels up they will unlock new menu items, more levels to play at other restaurants, and decoration items for their own eatery. In total, there are four hundred levels to play and over twelve hundred items to unlock. There’s plenty of replay value here.

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Another great addition is local co-op play. With split-screen support you can coordinate various cooking and cleaning chores with your fellow chef. On top of preparing meals, you still have to do the dishes, flush toilets, refill the soda dispenser, set/clean traps for rodents/insects, and take out/stomp on the garbage in the dumpster outside.

    Both gamepad and keyboard controls are available. I like how you can use keyboard shortcuts for many of the tasks. I did find that using a gaming mouse is mandatory as you need to have quick reflexes and reactions to handle the various tasks.

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is a pretty clean title though there are some things worth noting. Some of the customers reveal some skin and cleavage with their outfits. There is also an e-mail system with lots of random e-mails ranging from haiku to complaints about employees in the building. If you read through the e-mails you’ll find references to indecent photos and some violent acts like draining the brake fluid from someone’s car because they were annoying. There is also some minor language like jerk, crap, and blaspheming (OMG).

    If you enjoyed the first entry, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! brings a lot to the table with its many campaign levels to master. The decorating is fun too. If you think you have what it takes to quickly prepare meals during rush hour, you’ll have a blast.

  • Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
    Developed by: Vertigo Gaming Inc.
    Published by: Vertigo Gaming Inc.
    Release date: January 29, 2020
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to two players locally or via remote play
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Vertigo Gaming Inc. for sending us a preview code!

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! takes place in 2041 after a war has devastated the United States. Just like Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, your restaurant has been destroyed and you need to start over (again). This time, you’ll be taking your cooking on the road in a food truck driven by two helpful robot partners, Cleaver, and Whisk.

    Your goal is to travel across the nation (serving food along the way) and participate in the Iron Cook Foodtruck Championships. Before you can compete, you’ll need to hone your mobile cooking skills and acquire crowd-pleasing dishes that you can prepare before the crowd’s patience runs out.

    A new game mode, Chill Mode, is available, and this mode is much more relaxed by offering infinite patience from the customer. Food truck attacks (rush hours) are also disabled. The only limitation to Chill Mode is that you cannot get higher than a silver medal. If you want to go for the gold you’ll have to deal with angry mobs of hungry customers.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and frantic gameplay
    Weak Points: Some features are not yet available until the final release
    Moral Warnings:You can decorate your food truck with gay and trans pride stickers

    You can prepare food ahead of time by using holding stations. Some items like pretzels have only one cooking stage while other recipes are more customizable. For example, waffle cones all start with preparing the waffle cone, but then you have to manually select the ice cream flavors and optional chocolate dip. As great as it would be to rely on simple menu items, many levels have a complexity/tier requirement to play them.

    Many food items require a griddle or stove to prepare them. While some menu favorites serve many, others are individual. When the food truck is moving, you’ll get orders to complete before the next planned stop. I don’t know how these orders are placed, but they have to be ready to go regardless. Some foods have a cooking timer and if you don’t remove it from the heat fast enough, you’ll burn and ruin it.

    At the end of a level, you’ll be awarded a gold, silver, bronze or no medal depending on your performance. Messed up and slow orders will affect your ranking negatively. Fortunately, you can always re-do a level if needed. In order to unlock newer venues you’ll have to meet the medal quantity requirements. Profits earned during the day can be used to purchase recipes and truck upgrades.

    Previous Cook, Serve, Delicious titles have been a solo endeavor. Local co-op play is now a possibility in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!. Steam link streaming works too!

    Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay: 16/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    One gameplay mechanic I do not miss are the chores. Thankfully, this game just has you focusing on cooking. Between fully customizing the menu and setting your own difficulty, there is a lot of flexibility (and optional stress) in this entry.

    The graphics are well done. Especially the food art. You won’t want to play this game on an empty stomach as the food you prepare does look delicious!  In April 2020, the developer added gay and trans pride stickers that can be used to decorate your food truck.

    The audio is great as well. I especially enjoy the a cappella background music. The cooking sound effects are spot on and believable.

    Overall, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is shaping up nicely. I look forward to playing the final product. If you enjoyed the previous two games, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

  • Cooking Mama Sweet Shop (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Developed by: Office Create
    Published by: Rising Star Games
    Release Date: May 18, 2017
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to four players
    ESRB Rating: Everyone, Alcohol reference
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Rising Star Games for sending us this game to review!

    Cooking Mama is back and this time she’s specializing in sweets! If she keeps her customers happy, especially a particularly wealthy lady, Mama can open up several stores worldwide. At first, there are only a handful of recipes, but for each completed one, another becomes available until all sixty of them are unlocked. Each recipe has several steps/mini-games to complete and they all require different skills and techniques to master. Depending on how well you do, your creations will get either a gold, silver, or a bronze medal. Even one mistake will bring you down to a silver. Thankfully, you can redo your recipes or practice them to hone your baking skills.

    With over one-hundred and sixty mini-games there is plenty of variety in the recipes. While I didn’t mind most of the mini-games, there are some really annoying ones. In real life, I don’t like playing refrigerator Tetris to fit everything into it; is there anyone out there that does? At least in real life, I have more than a minute or so to get everything sorted. And yes, I have had an otherwise perfect recipe dropped down to a silver because Mama’s fridge was disorganized. Another annoying set of mini-games are the ones where Mama is carrying a tray over to the oven or the fridge. This sounds simple enough but Mama must have been sneaking some swigs of cooking wine when I wasn't looking because she is pretty unsteady and keeping the tray level takes a lot of effort. Many of the mini-games are carried over from previous titles and I was surprised to see that Mama still has the blender that requires you to tap the lid back into place every few seconds. Why hasn’t she replaced it? Surely if she can open up several stores worldwide, she should be able to splurge and buy herself a new blender, right?

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Classic gameplay that gets kids interested in cooking/baking
    Weak Points: Other than the sugary recipes, not much has changed in this title; some confusing/annoying mini-games; multiplayer requires everyone to own the game (no download play); cannot rearrange store shelves
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol is used in some recipes

    There are lots of mouth watering recipes and you’ll get to help Mama make lots of goodies including caramel apples, churros, cream puffs, crepes, donuts, pancakes, macaroons, and plenty more. If you’re hungry and have a sweet tooth, it’s probably best to hold off on playing this game until you’ve eaten. I do like how this series gets my kids interested in baking/cooking though.

    Despite getting flour and batter on Mama’s face, she doesn’t lose her cool. Some of the recipes are generous with mistakes and let you correct them without penalty as long as the task is completed in time. Other mini-games grant you a couple of mistakes, or none at all. The interface can be a little confusing at times and I had to show my kids how to apply decorations. There are some recipes that I didn’t understand a task or two on and was dropped down to a silver as a result.

    If you own multiple copies of the game, up to four players can compete against each other in a cook-off. Since I only had one copy of this game and there's no download play option, I couldn’t test out this feature. My kids all enjoyed playing this game in single-player mode though. Even my son completed a few recipes despite that game being “girly”.

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Once recipes are completed, you can place them in your storefront and sell them. Unfortunately, you cannot rearrange your store, but once you start to run out of space, your shop will automatically expand to accommodate more tables. Money earned from selling items can be spent on various customizations including new store décor, customized aprons and cooking utensils for Mama. The AI for the customers is pretty basic as they walk around awkwardly until they find a random item to purchase. It can be rather painful watching them fumble around and waiting for them to make up their mind. I think they’ve been drinking some of Mama’s cooking wine too!

    When Mama has stores opening up around the world, she can partake in various challenges which typically include assembly line tasks. Other challenges rely on your memory to place as many fast food orders as quickly and accurately as possible. If you manage to earn a medal, you’ll be rewarded with an unlockable item to enhance your kitchen or storefront with.

    There is plenty to do in Cooking Mama Sweet Shop. If you enjoyed the previous entries then you’ll find much of the same content in this one. The same sound effects and Mama’s heavy accent are still present in this game. If you’re looking something different and exciting in this series, you’ll have to search elsewhere. The asking price of $30 is reasonable and if you have friends to play against, it’ll be fun to see who can make tastier treats.

  • Craft Keep VR (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Craft Keep VR
    Developed by: Arvydas Žemaitis
    Published by: Excalibur Games
    Release date: April 21, 2017
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us this game to review!

    While I have never fantasized about being a blacksmith, I must admit that Craft Keep makes it fun. In this VR game you get to craft made-to-order swords, arrows, pickaxes, and potions. Because you also brew potions and enchant weapons, you’re a bit of an alchemist too. There are seven chapters with different dilemmas that you get to solve by equipping the warriors and letting them handle the dangerous stuff.

    You start off with some gold which can be used to buy flasks and herbs for mixing potions or hilts and handles for weapons. In one level you have to mine your own ore, but most of them allow you to order it. Since all of the jobs are timed, it’s nice to know that orders arrive instantly after you click the order button on the clipboard. Sometimes an item has to be unlocked by completing another job before you can have it available for purchase.

    Your work area has a storage chest where your orders are deposited. This chest is where you have to put your reward money to have it credited to your wallet. Be careful as some items can fly out of this chest as you’re shuffling them around trying to grab a specific thing. I have lost significant progress due to items rolling out of my reach. Thankfully, story advancing requests keep coming by in case you lose or accidentally use an important item. There are also plenty of random jobs that can help you earn money needed to buy components.

    Craft Keep VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Brewing potions and crafting weapons is fun in VR
    Weak Points: The Rift version requires room setup to be completed using the Oculus software and Steam; it’s easy to get disoriented in and outside of this game; attaching blades/axes is a little cumbersome; some objects fall out of range and are inaccessible; level breaking glitches
    Moral Warnings: Language (hell, *ss); alcohol and drunkenness; rune magic and necromancy

    If you don’t have the necessary components or don’t feel like taking on a job, you can decline it without penalty. However, if you accept a job and don’t complete it due to running out of time or by not having the required parts, you’ll lose some gold. You have a limited amount of time before you can accept or reject a job before the customer gives up and walks away. One time a customer got stuck leaving my work area and I had to restart that chapter from the beginning.

    Sadly, customers are not the only ones getting disoriented in this game. I really got myself turned around and managed to twist up my Oculus Rift cable quite a bit. If your play space doesn’t meet Steam’s VR requirements, you can configure it to standing only and get around via teleporting. With all of the teleporting I did, I got rather disoriented after leaving the game. For several minutes after exiting the game my brain was expecting me to be somewhere else every time I blinked! Thankfully, I didn’t experience any motion sickness while in the game.

    Configuring Craft Keep for the Rift takes a little more effort than the Vive because you have to calibrate both the Rift and Steam VR programs. Even though I have enough room for Oculus’s room scale, Steam needed more space. When I first launched the game, I only had the Rift calibrated and everything was too high for me to reach and the tutorial was difficult to navigate through. Once properly calibrated, the game functioned much better with the exception of a few glitches.

    Craft Keep VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 75%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some of the alchemy recipes are not clear and you’ll have to rely on customer instructions or your memory when they stop telling you. Attaching the blades to their hilts takes a couple of tries and is not very intuitive. When pouring molten metal into the mold you’re left with the pouring canister which you can’t do much with. The mold has spots for four of them, but you’re often required to make more than four in a chapter. Without any other alternatives, I found myself throwing them in random directions to keep my work area clean.

    Later on in the game, you’ll be asked to etch runes into blades and to enchant them. One of the common enemies is a necromancer who you help warriors defeat by providing them with weapons. You’ll also be asked to brew poisonous concoctions. I was disappointed by the language (hell, *ss) in this game.

    The main campaign can be completed in a couple of hours. There is an endless mode and a firing range if you want to shoot human shaped targets with a crossbow or gun. If you don’t mind the bloodless violence, magic use, and language, Craft Keep is a fun VR title worth picking up. Just make sure you have plenty of room to enjoy it without getting tangled up.

  • Detached (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Detached
    Developed by: Anshar Studios
    Published by: Anshar Studios
    Release date: May 18, 2017
    Available on: Windows (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR)
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single/Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99

    Thank you Anshar Studios for providing us with a review code for this game!

    Everything done in space is more complicated and there is no such thing as an easy job. In Detatched you play as an astronaut who gets stranded during a routine re-supply job. Since you’re flipped off by an astronaut floating away, the parting seems to be intentional. In order to find out why you were separated from your crew, you’ll have to fix your space station first.

    Your initial goals are to repair the communication relay, reactor chamber, power relay, power inverter, and the emergency bay to activate the escape pod. All of these objectives have to be completed before you run out of oxygen or fuel for using your thrusters. Floating through space are refills of oxygen and fuel. If you’re big on Steam achievements there are forty of them and there are ones available for collecting all of the canisters or ignoring them altogether. There are multiple chapters and there is a Steam achievement for completing the entire game in less than an hour.

    Detached
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and challenging concept; well polished audio and visuals
    Weak Points: Motion sickness likely given the zero gravity environment and sudden movements; not many people playing online; short single player campaign
    Moral Warnings: Many ways to die; language (d*mn, b*stard, getting flipped off)

    The single-player campaign has two difficulty settings (arcade & astronaut) with the arcade mode offering simpler controls. The tutorial goes over the controls, which are pretty easy to grasp. What does take some getting used to is the movement which can be sudden and disorienting. The first time I played this game I made the mistake of doing it while standing and it didn’t take long for me to get motion sickness. I did much better playing it seated though it still made me a bit woozy after a while. Shaded peripheral vision is in place to help combat motion sickness, but that may not be enough for some people. If other VR titles have given you motion sickness I would recommend giving this game a pass.

    If you’re blessed with an iron stomach, there is a lot to like in this game. The space exploration is very immersive and fun. With the oxygen and fuel levels dwindling there is always a sense of urgency and you don’t have much time to explore for fun. Besides running out of oxygen or fuel, there are plenty of other ways to die in this game. I have collided one too many times with asteroids and other objects floating around in space. There are suit repair stations, but they are sparse and not helpful when you make contact with an object at high speeds. Using the gravitational boosters is fun, but you have to be careful.

    Multiplayer mode is promising, but I didn’t see anyone online to play against. Your objectives in multiplayer are to secure a package, call a dropship, and deliver the package to it. All of this has to be done quickly and without getting killed. To deal with enemies you’re equipped with a missile launcher and a shield that can break glass or grant temporary immunity. A speed boost is also at your disposal, but will require recharging after using it.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are great in this title and it utilizes the Unreal 4 engine nicely. The background music and sound effects are top notch as well. The fully orchestrated score is composed by Mikołaj Stroiński who arranged music for The Witcher 3 and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

    Morally speaking this game has a couple of flaws. There is some language and inappropriate hand gestures. Deaths are possible though bloodless.

    In the end, Detached is a fun ride for those who are immune to the nausea inducing sudden movements. Sadly, I was only able to enjoy this game in short bursts. Since the single player campaign isn’t that long and there’s not much of an online presence, I can’t recommend paying full price for this title. If you have friends to play against its worth picking up for a great multiplayer VR experience.

  • EVERSPACE (PC/HTC Vive)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    EVERSPACE 
    Developer: ROCKFISH Games
    Published by: ROCKFISH Games
    Release Date: May 25, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: space simulation shooter.
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you ROCKFISH games for the review code.

    Today's game is a mixed bag of tasty goodies and pennies in your Halloween bag. For everything this game did that made me clap my hands in excitement, it also made me go “awww” in disappointment. This game is a real fifty-fifty for me, so let's fly right into the 6 Degrees Of Freedom space shooter EVERSPACE.
     
    EVERSPACE puts you in the role of a pilot with no memory, only a goal to go forward; the story of the game is told in flashbacks and NPC interactions. You'll learn more about the pilot as you move forward. You'll be met with waves of enemies in each location to fight against as well as ruined ships and meteors to explore. You'll mine gathering points as well as taking useful materials from defeated enemy ships. Materials you gather can be used to craft new equipment and upgrades as you progress. If you die in a run, money you earned can be spent to upgrade your ship's stats or to buy a new ship. Keep in mind if you die, you'll have to start at the beginning with only the upgrades you purchased; upgrades are the only things that carry over to new playthroughs.

    EVERSPACE
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Keyboard controls are excellent and the ship controls like a dream. The game is challenging but fair. 
    Weak Points: You'll lose part of the control on a gamepad. The variation in enemies and activities is low. Vr controls are at least slightly improved from a normal gamepad.
    Moral Warnings: Exploding ships are the only moral problem this game may have.

    The controls are amazing for this sort of game; the ship can move in each and every direction at every angle fluidly. Barrel rolls, 360 degree strafing and hovering around obstacles or exploring meteors are easy with these controls. However, controller support is rather bare bones. I tried to play with an Xbox controller. The flight feels a bit awkward on a controller. It reminded me of those old Star Wars ship flight games. You'll have a better time with keyboard and mouse just like the Steam page recommends.
     
    The environment and entire game world keeps you immersed: you'll find yourself relaxed as you try to survive the endless waves of enemies and explore the vastness of space. Sadly some of that relaxed state comes from the repetitive nature of the game. A quick note for readers: for me personally, I don't always mind repetitive games. Many of my favorite games are Rogue-lites and games with a purposeful repetitive design such as Monster Hunter. While some people may want me to dock points on EVERSPACE for its repetitive nature, I can't. However what I will dock the game for is variation. The game's enemies have no unique aspects as you progress. While there are factions in this game, aside from names you're just avoiding lasers and missiles. Variation also lacks in ship customization. While you have one of three options you can purchase with in game currency, the ships only vary in the upgrades you can get.

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    On the one hand, your available upgrades are the usual standard fare in Rogue-lite games: critical hit chances, new equipment slots or things like that. However the game is balanced in a way where you can beat the entire game without a single upgrade. This game rewards skill first, and any strategy you come up with will be that of a pilot improving their own skills, not “hey what upgrade am I going to buy when I die?” For the hardy gamer you can access a hardcore mode for additional challenge after you beat the game the first time. This game also supports VR experiences.

    So a quick note for readers, I did have a short time with the VR mode of this game. Not only was the time short but this is my first VR experience. The camera moved smoothly with my head, I had no lag or jarring motions that would cause motion sickness. The controls for the game were smooth like the keyboard controls.
     
    Exploding ships are the only real problem you'll have with morality. You won't have issues in the way of dialogue or visuals.
     
    While it felt like a game that could have been perfect, EVERSPACE is still worth a purchase. It may not appeal to everyone but it's designed to teach everyone how to soar through space. Even if you have to avoid lasers at every turn.

  • Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition
    Developed by: Giants Software
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release Date: October 13, 2014
    Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to sixteen online
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Uber Strategist for sending us a review code and a loaner Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System!

    To be perfectly honest I’ve never had much of a desire to become a farmer.  Though I must admit that raising chickens for a steady egg supply would be nice.  Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition lets you raise chickens, sheep, and cows.  If you’re not into animal husbandry, there’s plenty of other tasks such as growing and harvesting grains and vegetables, cutting grass or trees down.  With realistic day and weather cycles there is not much time to get everything done.  Fortunately, you can hire competent help if you have enough funds.

    Your starting finances depend on the level of difficulty you choose.  There’s easy, normal, and hard.  In easy you’ll have more starting capital, earn more money for completed tasks, and get cheaper labor. The normal difficulty is recommended and is the most balanced.  If you’re experienced with the Farming Simulator series and are looking for a challenge, then the hard mode will not disappoint!  In the hard mode you start off in debt and hiring help is more expensive.  To make matters even worse, completed missions pay less money.

    There are three different locations in the single-player campaign.  The default location, Bjorholm in Scandinavia, has a tour mode to teach you the basics of farming.  The other two locations Westbridge Hills in USA and Sosnovka in Russia assume you already know what you’re doing.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty of equipment to purchase and use; lots of tasks to complete yourself or delegate to paid workers; active online play to farm with others across the world
    Weak Points: Never enough time in the day to get everything done!
    Moral Warnings: None!

    If you’re new to the game, there’s plenty of tutorials and guides to help you in your goal to be the number one supplier of natural goods.  The tutorials will teach you how to plow, harvest, spray, cultivate, bale, transport, chop corn, and feed livestock.   If you’ve forgotten anything you can walk to a phone booth and access the helpline for tips and instructions.

    There’s plenty of work to be done and if you’re looking for some paying jobs, be sure to check the job boards.  Pay attention to the deadline before accepting the work though!  There is no such thing as a quick job.  The fields are large and preparing them for crops and harvesting takes quite a while.  Especially as you buy more land.  Fortunately, you’re able to delegate some of the tasks to hired workers.  

    When undertaking tasks by yourself there’s much to take into consideration.  You have to have the right tools for the job and they are all available for purchase with many official brands being represented.  Once you have all the necessary equipment, it’s time to put it to use!  When plowing the fields, you have to add a weight to the tractor, then attach and lower the plow to begin the time consuming process.  Just like real life, this can take minutes to hours to accomplish depending on how much land is in your possession.  I wish there was an option to listen to music while driving the vehicles.  If I was doing this in real life, I’d at least be listening to an mp3 player to make the task more enjoyable!  There isn’t any voice acting, but the sound effects for the machines and animals are spot on.

    Other than music, the controls you can use for this game can enhance your experience as well.  Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition supports keyboard, gamepad, and the Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System.  I was sent the Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System to evaluate and this kit certainly adds to the realism of the game.  

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Once I enabled steering wheel support in the game, the controls worked flawlessly and the numbered buttons each had a function that the game automatically recognized and prompted me for as needed.   Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System is sold in two bundles.  The pedals and steering wheel with ten buttons and two analog sticks sells for $150.  If you want the complete experience with the wheel, pedals and vehicle side panel with nearly thirty buttons, it will set you back $300.  

    The complete package was fun to play with and made driving the tractor more realistic.  I liked the steering knob for easier steering and the auto return spring mechanism.  The scroll wheel on the side panel providing cruise control was helpful too.  My only disappointment with the side panel is that many of the buttons look like switches but they do not toggle.  Some functional switches would have been nice, especially for a device with a $150 price tag.

    Using the steering wheel and pedals for other games is possible.  We configured the steering wheel and pedals for Dirt Rally and after increasing the sensitivity for both the wheel and pedals it worked really well.  While it doesn’t have the same feel or design of racing wheels, it'll get the job done.  There is no force feedback support so if you want to feel your collisions in a racing game, you're better off with a racing steering wheel.

    Before parting with $300 on a Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System, make sure you enjoy Farming Simulator 15.  There’s plenty to do between the single-player scenarios and the ability to join up to sixteen players around the world to cooperatively manage a virtual farm.  Most of the online game servers are based in Europe and they are still quite active which is good for a game that has been out for over a year.

    Farming Simulator 15 brings a lot to the table and is very realistic when it comes to the look and feel of operating heavy machinery and managing time/assets wisely to turn a profit.  This is definitely a good tool to utilize and learn from for anyone considering a career in agriculture.  Even though this game isn’t my cup of tea, it does make me respect farmers even more for all the work that they do.  

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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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