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Real Time Strategy

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Act of Aggression
    Developed by: Eugen Systems
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release date: September 2, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Real Time Strategy
    Number of players: Single-player/ Online multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Eugen Systems for sending us this game to review!

    Following the success of Eugen’s 2005 Act of War, the developer promised a sequel that would play similarly to “90s Golden Age of Real-Time Strategy Games”. In 2015, Act of Aggression’s release was a bit rocky and due to the mixed Steam reviews, the developers overhauled the game and re-released the game as a “Reboot Edition”. The owners of the original game are eligible for a free upgrade to the enhanced version.

    Some of the improvements include a single-resource economy (as opposed to one requiring oil, aluminum, and rare Earth elements) as well as better looking and more responsive units. A couple of the units have been replaced and their scale has been increased too. Lastly, the construction costs are now deducted upfront.

    The story takes place in the near future in 2025. In 2019, the Chinese financial system plunges and causes an economic meltdown on par with the Great Depression. A private military corporation called the Cartel seize this opportunity to take over several weakened nations. The United Nations investigates the economic crash and the Carrtel’s actions with their military faction: the Chimera. The economic crash hit America pretty hard and their forces are feeling the pinch of defense budget cuts. Tensions escalate between the United States Army and the newly formed Mexican nation and it gets so bad that the other factions may have to assist them.

    You can play online skirmishes as any of the three factions (Cartel, Chimera, US Army) and they each have their own unique abilities. The Cartel has stolen high-tech weapons and armor at their disposal. The Chimera can upgrade their units on the fly to give them an advantage on the battlefield. The United States Army is combat focused and relies on specialized veteran units to get the tough jobs completed.

    Act of Aggression
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid futuristic RTS game; nice 3D visuals; engaging story; active online multiplayer
    Weak Points: The initial release of the game was rebooted with some major changes; a Eugen account is required; game crashes when it loses focus
    Moral Warnings: War violence; strong language (f*ck)

    Upon launching the game you’ll be required to create a Eugen account and enter the (Steam provided) CD key needed to play online matches. I like how the game benchmarks itself to automatically configure the best graphical settings for your system. You can cancel the process and configure them yourself if you prefer. One thing I noticed about this game is that it does not like to be minimized or have its focus taken away. Having a dual screen setup, I often keep an eye on my e-mails on my second monitor. I have experienced several game crashes by attempting to use another program simultaneously. By using Steam’s Shift+Tab key combination, I was able to access other applications successfully. For my failed attempts, I was happy to find that the game auto-saves whenever an objective is completed in a mission.

    The single-player campaign starts you off with campaigns for the Chimera and Cartel factions. These are a great place to start before diving into the multiplayer arena. There are eighty-five Steam achievements which are awarded to you for completing the story missions as well as taking part in online skirmishes. Thankfully, there are still a decent number of players online to do battle against.

    I enjoyed the story-driven campaign which has you hunting down prestigious insurgents who are often well guarded and slip away at the last second. On the flipside, you’ll sometimes have to keep a specific person alive. This is easier said than done since many of the foot soldiers and people to protect have hit points in the single digits.

    Act of Aggression
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There’s a good amount of soldiers, tanks, and airborne units available to help you get the missions completed. As long as you have your bases secured and enough resources on hand, you should be able to keep cranking them out. Like many RTS games, the better the unit, the more they’ll cost you. For every unit, there is a countermeasure so be mindful of the anti-missile/aircraft defenses that your enemy has in place and be sure to use them to protect your own military buildings. Non-military buildings can be used by your soldiers for cover or by snipers to pick off enemy units from afar. Scouting units don’t have any firepower, but they do come in handy in letting you know what you’re up against.

    As units come under attack, the game will let you know. When vehicles are destroyed, the explosions that follow look pretty good. The 3D graphics are decent and with the graphics cranked, they can slow down my R290X powered desktop. I like the news style cutscenes that bring you up to speed before each mission.

    The voice acting is good with various units having different accents and phrases. Sometimes the phases are pretty vulgar, but understandable when the units are under fire and dying. If there are a lot of enemies, the units will describe them as a cluster f*ck. The background music is serviceable,but often drowned out by the chatter amongst the troops.

    In its current state, I found Act of Aggression enjoyable and challenging. The asking price of $30 is reasonable, but sweeter if purchased on sale. If you like war themed RTS games, then you should consider adding this one to your watch list or collection.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Auralux: Constellations
    Developed By: War Drum Studios, E McNeill
    Published By: War Drum Studios
    Released: June 1, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Andriod, iOS
    Genre: Real-time Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
    Price: $9.99 (Steam); Free (Mobile w/ In-app Purchases)

    Thank you, War Drum Studios, for sending us your game to review!

    Star Trek calls space the final frontier. I argue eternal life in Christ is the real final frontier, but hey, in a physical sense, sure. Space is about as final as it gets. That is unless some kook cracks time travel, but for as stupidly impossible as that is, we have long fantasized the possibilities in science fiction. A beloved creative genre, sci-fi is the land where ideas push scientific fact to their improbable extremes. It inspires the practical and the imaginative. Naturally, this spawned stories of aliens, galaxies, star battles, and exotic planets in books, movies, TV, and games. With so much space-themed entertainment crowding the infinite, Auralux: Constellations by War Drum Studios will have a hefty task distinguishing itself among competing stars.

    Without a plot, Auralux runs on a single setup. You are the commander of your own planet, and it’s your objective to use your armada to conquer the system. Now that may sound tyrannical. I can already hear some of you asking yourself questions. Wouldn’t that make me a warmonger? The terror of the galaxies? Suppressor of all in my lust for power? No, not really. Auralux treats itself more like a board game than an all-out battle campaign. Besides, two differently colored planets are also competing for total domination, and you can bet neither will win pacifist of the year. Just be thankful they’re just as against each other as they are against you. Each match in the game takes place in a constellation. There are a total of fourteen constellations to conquer, and in order to control each constellation, you must win all its matches. A match ends when only one planetary color remains. You want that color to be your color, so you better get busy. ‘Cause, Auralux’s pace doesn’t mess around.

    Auralux is a real-time strategy game, meaning there is no turn taking. Everyone moves and strategizes freely. This also means good decisions must be paired with good timing. Sometimes it pays to wait before enacting your master plan, but a lengthy delay could spell your gradual demise too. Believe me, the latter can be a slow cruel death. Your color by default is blue. You’ll likely notice that your starter planet is pulsing, and for every pulse out pops two gnat-sized lights. These pretty little fireflies are your troops - your sole means of offense and defense. There are also grey, inactive planets scattered across the area. A few of them might have an extra grey ring or two, but you better think fast. Those uninhabited planets are liable to get snatched up quicker than cookies from a jar. Good thing Auralux’s mechanics, gameplay, and controls are easy to learn and work seamlessly together. Click and drag to select your troops then click on the barren sphere you want to claim. Once enough of your troops invade, your new planet will start adding its own lights to your army. Planets with extra rings are especially valuable. A ringed planet will double in size after consuming more troops, and bigger planets chug out twice as many lights.

    Auralux: Constellations
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Easy to Learn; Fun to Play; Relaxed yet Exciting; Free to Play Modes
    Weak Points: Nobody to play with online
    Moral Warnings: None!

    Hold on though! Before you go haphazardly launching attack waves, consider the cost. To put it bluntly, your forces must have learned from the combat school for kamikazes. Every action a single light does inevitably snuffs it out, so if you don’t have enough lights to fully capture a planet, yet put all your eggs in one basket, you’ll be left waiting for reinforcements - a very vulnerable and undesirable position no matter how you slice it. I say that because, unfortunately, defending your planets also costs troops. Leave next to nothing to circle your planet then next to nothing fends off invaders. Opposing lights cancel each other on contact, and any sustained damage to your planet can’t be healed without (you guessed it) soaking up more lights. There are no special circumstances or special stats assigned to your troops. They’re all one use, one serve. Simple as that. Auralux is focused on the total, not the skill of the individual. In other words, when the time is right you want to be the one with the bigger stick.

    Don’t set your sights solely on the grey planets, though. Gaining empty planets might help a lot, but that doesn’t win the war. Being the only color on the board is what really counts, and so long as an enemy has one planet to their name, it’s not over. You must amass your forces. After all, seizing an occupied planet is an uphill battle unless you play your cards right. Planetary invasion requires certain conditions. Step one, overwhelm enemy defenses. Step two, damage target planet until it turns grey. Step three, send more troops to claim planet. Finally, step four, prepare for counterattacks. That’s the straight-laced way. It’s pretty unremarkable but serviceable. However, in Auralux, you’re given legroom to concoct smarter victory plans. For instance, it pays to recall your competitors aren’t teamed up. They’re trying to destroy each other too. I for one like to play the opportunist. If one side expends troops to break another’s defense, I’d send a fresh swarm on the dulled planet and steal the spoils. Goes to show how rewarding thinking outside of the box is. I appreciate games that allow players freedom to form their own style. War is fun when you’re creative, but Auralux adds more inventive potential. The different constellations retain the same goal but bring their own unique spin. For example, one constellation has spaces that slow or quicken troops crossing them. Another constellation is plagued with interval shockwaves that render all planets grey when hit. There’s a constellation with teleporters. Another has changing barriers, and most memorably, there’s one where inhabited planets break apart when conquered, leaving them temporarily unusable to anyone. They’ll get you thinking and rethinking your strategies, and all are great at spicing up the experience after the original flavor gets dull. However, the best news is you can explore each constellation in the order you like. There’s no need to slog through levels you hate in order to find a favorite. You get to do it as you please. Try new surroundings. Test your methods anywhere. Challenge up to four online friends in multiplayer mode. In these days, where locked content is so prevalent, this, my friends, is an all-you-can-eat taco bar.

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    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

    It’s nice that Auralux: Constellations has some customizability to it. First off, the visuals are very pleasant. I’ve already spent much of my writing describing the light show, but it truly is like watching pretty little fireflies flitting about. Sure, it’s nothing all that new, but it’s certainly nice to see. Actually, it’s kind of mesmerizing. More fascinating to me, though, is how the game completely adheres to its music. The score itself is a crisscross between techno and meditative tones that possesses a fun energy without being hectic. The planets pulse to the tempo and never miss a beat no matter if you increase or decrease the game’s speed in the pause menu. The music is even incorporated into the activity. Clashing lights make these cute little ‘dings’ and ‘boops’ that move up and down the musical scale, and it actually complements the music. This balance between excitement and leisure is quite an achievement on War Drum Studios’ part. I never felt bored nor stressed. It gave a sense of fun without unintended pressure. Also to the game’s presentational merit is the planet customization. Here, you can customize the planets by choosing base colors, the secondary colors, and which pattern will swirl about the globes’ atmospheres. True, some options are locked behind achievements. However, most choices are available from the start. Auralux is sweet like that, both visually and musically.

    As far as morality goes, Auralux is squeaky clean. There’s no story to scrutinize. There aren’t any sentient life (human or alien) to judge on verbal merit or distasteful fashion, and the violence is as severe as an innocent chess game. The learning curve is pleasantly inviting too with its easy-to-follow tutorial and helpful tips. I’d describe Arualux as one of the few games that’s both enjoyable and courteous to all age groups.

    Auralux: Constellations might look unremarkable to some. It’s not a grand space odyssey. Nor is it a thrilling adventure experience. It’s not even all that mindblowing, but let me tell you what Auralux is. It’s inviting. It’s fun. You’re free to play your way for however long or short of time you have. Its gameplay, lights, and music go hand in hand. There’s nothing there to compromise your faith. It doesn’t demand more than what you’re willing to give yet ready dish out something substantial when you crave it. Rare, indeed, is the game that’s not only polite in morals but also polite in its very nature as an enjoyable game. It is unfortunate though that, unless you’ve got online friends to invite or can plug a controller in or two, you’re gonna run a bit dry for human opponents. Nevertheless, Auralux: Constellations is a finely crafted, family-friendly experience through and through. That’s definitely something worth cherishing. Some stars may not shine as brightly as others. The brightest of which gain the most attention, but even the dullest star from a distance can in actuality be the brightest one in the bunch. It’s just a question of perspectives. Where does yours begin? Does it begin from man’s view? Or God’s view?

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bad North
    Developed By: Plausible Concept
    Published By: Raw Fury
    Released: November 16, 2018
    Available On: Windows, Switch, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
    Genre: Action, Simulation, RTS
    ESRB Rating: T for Violence and Blood
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Raw Fury for the review code!

    Bad North is a rogue-lite strategy game where you fight on a grid with groups of soldiers in units that you can move around during battle. Bad North is specifically a real-time strategy game, which means the only pause you'll get from it is the pause menu. You change where your soldiers are on the fly, in order to win. You start on a randomly generated island, with only 2 units of soldiers being given to you. Every island has a certain amount of houses that you must protect. Each unit only has 9 soldiers, with one being the commander. If all 9 die you lose the unit for the rest of the game.

    The starting units are the most basic you can get; they have nothing to shield themselves and only have some weak swords. You have to protect your houses as waves of vikings in boats wash ashore to go to battle with your units. The goal of the game is to survive the onslaught of vikings who come aground without the houses getting destroyed or your units dying. If you do manage to do so, you get a reward in the form of coins. How many coins you get depends on how many houses you protect and how big they were. The biggest houses give 3, while the medium and small give 2 and 1 respectively.

    You use these coins to upgrade your units through a couple of ways. The first way is by selecting a class. There are three classes that you can upgrade default units to. Archers, Pikes, and Infantry: Archers have bows that can shoot at vikings before they reach the shore and from far away on ground, but they can't defend themselves in close quarters at all. Pikes excel at defending the shore, stopping them from going beyond it, but they can't attack vikings while they move. If they go beyond where you are, you probably won't be killing them. Infantry have shields which also makes them good for defending the shores, although they can't kill as easily as Pikes can. The advantage they have over all other classes is the fact that their shields can protect them from hits close up and far away from archers. They can also attack vikings while moving, which makes them great for chasing people who run away. Speaking of running away, if you're about to lose a battle you can choose to flee by hopping in a viking's boat. If you have multiple units but one is low on people, you can also replenish them. They run into a house that's not being attacked or hasn't been destroyed, and after a decent bit of time come out with a full unit.

    Bad North
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great art style; Good gameplay
    Weak Points: Can get stale quick; Defending can be slow
    Moral Warnings: Some comedic violence and blood that can be disabled

    Each class has two upgrades which makes them stronger. All units when upgraded seem harder to kill, but each have their own special benefits as well. For Archers, they do more damage, shoot faster and are more accurate. For Pikes, they kill easier and hold their ground better. For Infantry, they deal more damage and have upgraded shields. Each class upgrade makes a unit better and more reliable, but each one gets more expensive. The first upgrade to choose a class costs 6 coins, while the first class upgrade costs 12 coins and the second 20. Pikes and Infantry are usually very strong from level 1, but Archers need to be level 2 or 3 before they can really shine.

    The second way to use coins is to buy skills for your units. Archers have Volley, where they bombard a tile with arrows. Pikes have Charge, where they run at a tile spikes forward. Infantry have Plunge, where they jump down from a cliff onto enemies. Each skill can be used without losing it, but they have a cooldown. You also have to be somewhat close to your enemy, usually within 3 tiles. Skills cost 7 coins for the first level, but like classes, have upgrades that cost 10 and 14 coins respectively, each making them stronger and more powerful.

    Another important mechanic is that of the map and storm. You jump between islands to defend them, but it's a linear process. You can't just jump to another island unless you beat one before it. It's a progression system, and if you've ever played FTL then you know how this progression system works. You start on the left side of the map and slowly work your way to the right. Just like FTL, a storm comes from the left side of the map, forcing you to continue moving forward and take islands. If you don't take islands that allow you to keep moving forward and get stuck in the storm, you'll lose. When deploying on an island you can only select four units. Sometimes you'll find an island that has a "Local Commander," a unit that's on the island. Local Commanders take up a slot, so you can only deploy 3 of your units. If you defend the island and he doesn't die, the Commander joins you and becomes a unit you can deploy.

    The vikings who attack your island also come in different classes. They can only come in the default sword, Infantry or Archer class. They also come in different strengths, with some being like cannon-fodder and others tanks. As you get further, matches get harder and the stronger vikings start to appear. The number in which they come starts to grow as well, sometimes with over 10 vikings on one boat. They also start appearing more frequently, with several boats coming at once, sometimes from different sides of the island. It starts to get hectic when you're moving your units from one side of the island to the other, while also deciding which units should go where. Should the stronger units fight the incoming force, or help back up the weak units?

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    Bad North has a cartoony low-poly 3D art style. It contrasts quite well with the gameplay, which would be very different and violent if it was in a realistic style. Everything in the world looks like it's been made out of clay, which gives a rounded look on models. The animations are smooth and expressive, and you can tell the artists put a lot of work into them. Everything looks colorful and sharp, allowing you to tell what's happening at all times. Of all the things in this game the graphics are the most polished, and really help make the game feel more approachable. The sound design is also good. Hearing the clanks of metal as they hit shields and the rattling of weapons as your units move is fun. Music wise nothing really strikes me as impressive, but it is good. Its empty dark atmosphere provides a sinister feel while you clash with the vikings.

    I do have some issues with Bad North, however. The game is fun, but I feel it gets boring quick. At around 10 hours I've seen everything there is in this game. I've seen all the enemies, all the classes, items, upgrades, etc. The only variation you'll see is that which is "procedurally generated" which is a fancy way of saying that the only things that will change are the islands and enemies. As such, if you like random variation or trying to get the perfect run, then this game might be fun for 20 hours or even more beyond that. But if you're someone who gets bored by these types of games, you probably won't like it.

    My last issue is that waves can be painfully slow. There's no speed-up function and sometimes you can destroy a wave in less than a second and have to wait almost 15 seconds for the next one. This doesn't sound like much, but rounds usually consist of 10 or more waves. And considering this is only on one island and you'll be doing at least a dozen in a playthrough... it can get slow. Now morality wise there's almost nothing bad with this game, there's only blood and violence, however the blood can be disabled and the violence is more cartoony since the soldiers aren't human.

    If you enjoy rogue-lite strategy games like Into the Breach, you'll probably like Bad North. But if you're looking for a deep game with loads of content, I'd suggest something else.

    - Remington

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Battle Ages
    Developed by: DR Studios
    Published by: 505 Games
    Released: April 20 2016
    Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Android, and iOS
    Genre: Real Time Strategy
    ESRB: E 10+ for Everyone (Mild Violence)
    Number of players: 1 (there are player settlements you can attack though, and they can attack yours)
    Price: Free to Play (micro transactions are available to help you get a head start)

    Battle Ages is the second game in a series that offers players the ability to create a settlement, upgrade their building and forces, and then prepare for an attack by other players across the world. Players also have the ability to attack other players or set out on a long campaign against AI opponents. The battles in the game are bloodless and mostly automatic except for who you attack, what troops you use for the battles, and the placement of the troops during the battle.

    Your settlement starts out in the Neolithic Age, 6400 BC with no walls and the weakest of building and troops, all the way up to the American Civil War 1860 (1861 was the start of the Civil War, but the developers list 1860 in their game and website). You need to quickly upgrade your forces and buildings, as well as build a wall to offer some protection. How you build up these are with coins that you collect from buildings that generate them, progressing through the campaign, and attacking players.

    The way to upgrade and unlock forces is to use your Research building. This building is very important to the player. You want to be upgrading all your forces as quickly as possible to ensure your forces can have greater success at attacking and defending. All upgrades, whether through the Research building or the various buildings offering upgrade capabilities, take real world time. At the beginning of the game some upgrades only take a few seconds to complete, but later in the game these same upgrades to your buildings can take hours and possibly days to complete. Always keep this in mind with what is needed for your attack and defense when considering when and what to upgrade.

    Battle Ages
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The game has cute graphics and nice sound effects; competent AI.
    Weak Points: No way to suspend your fortress, it will always be vulnerable to attack whether you're online or offline; no new maps or areas are available; micro-transactions.
    Moral Warnings: Bloodless battles.

    The player is in a constant state of upgrading everything and being ready to attack and defend. Other players can attack your settlement even if you're not online. The reason for this is that the game is an always online game. This will keep you checking your settlement several times a day to make sure your settlement is fully supplied with troops, and that you can upgrade your troops, building, and walls. Also you will need to repair certain defenses that are destroyed.

    The game offers players the ability to either purchase Gems with real world money or use Gems to purchase coins. The cost can range from $1.99 for 200 Gems to up to $99.99 for 15,000 Gems. Using Gems to purchase coins varies with on how many coins you want to purchase. For example, 720,200 to fill coins 10% will cost you 452 Gems, where as 3,601,000 coins will cost you 1,293 Gems to fill your coins to 50%. This percentage is based on the capacity of your storage facilities.

    The game runs very smoothly and has very little lag. The graphics are good for a game of this type, and the sound effects solid as well. Building up your settlement can be fun and keep you coming back several times a day to either attack a random player online, continue through the campaign, upgrade your settlement buildings, upgrade your troops through the Research building, or repair your settlement from an attack. 

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

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    There are several downsides to this game. The first and largest downside is that once you start a settlement it exists forever (well, until the developer pulls the plug on the games servers) and you can't take a break from it, unless you don't care if your forces and settlement are under constant daily attacks with no defenses (except the walls that regenerate automatically). Sadly for me it's a constant checking once or twice a day to make sure my settlement wasn't attacked. The developer should have put in an option to pause your settlement so that you don't collects coins, upgrades pause, and you're not threatened at any moment of being attacked.

    The other downside is the micro-transactions. If you want to have a chance to get your forces up to the level of other players, or if you want to have a chance in the later campaign missions you're going to want to buy Gems. These Gems will help you quickly get up to most players. I myself have spent $4.99 on a bundle of Gems when the developer had an offer of 100% bonus Gems if purchasing that bundle. From time to time the developer offers 30%, 50%, and 100% (100% is very rare) on certain bundles for a limited time. I would advise waiting for these type of special offers if you decide to purchase any one of these bundles.

    The final downside is that once you get to the final settlement upgrade (American Civil War 1860) then you have nothing to do but upgrade your buildings and troops, and attack and defend. Your settlement is never going to change other than that, which feels like a major letdown. Unlike games like Age of Empires and Civilization that offer the player tons of replayability of a variety of maps this game has one area for every player that plays this game. As a player there isn't any final objective or goal; it's just build, repair, upgrade, attack and defend (rinse and repeat over and over again), with no end in sight, ever.

    In conclusion, I would say that this game can be fun with the upgrading of your settlement's buildings, forces, attacking players, playing through the campaign, and seeing how your settlement changes as you advance through the various historical ages. Players needs to be fully aware of this important fact, and that is there is no end to the game once you start. A player can choose to walk away and even uninstall the game but their settlement will never go away. Also the micro-transactions can be helpful for a player to get a head start, but they are not required. Your settlement and account is only tied to your PS4 and does not carry over to mobile devices. I would advise watching gameplay on YouTube or Twitch before taking the plunge.

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    System Requirements
    OS: Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP. CPU: 400mhz AMD/Intel processor RAM: 64 MB (64MB recommended) HDD: 600 MB VIDEO: 16MB DirectX 7 compatible graphics card SOUND: DirectX 7 compatible sound card

    This is a fantasy real time strategy game based off of Japanese Mythology. The characters are a little on the anime side and they carry huge swords! This game has the best graphics I have seen for a strategy game. The graphics are not the main selling point, the coolest feature is custom building of your warriors. You get yin/yang points from battling your foes, to aid you in enhancing your forces. There are many ways to upgrade your peasants to elite warriors because they can harness up to three unique abilities. You\'ll have a blast playing with the different combinations, you can create anything from sumo-wrestlers with canons to elite samurai warriors.

    The demo only allows you to go through the tutorial and the skirmish. The full version will have a campaign as well as multiplayer available. With the multiplayer you can play up to eight people online. The tutorial has lessons on how to build up the economy. You basically get peasants and collect rice and water. Don\'t forget to keep your rice watered. Your peasants will have the ability to build buildings like watch towers, dojos, archery ranges, bath houses (not what you think), stables, fire works places etc. You will be able to convert your peasants to geisha (healers), archers, spearmen, alchemists, and you can mix and match from there. The only unit that cannot possess multiple traits is the healer. The healer is created by the bath house. See? It\'s clean! (no pun intended) The next tutorial covers creating your army. You will learn both offensive and defensive techniques. The final tutorial lesson covers Battle Gear which is how you upgrade your army. Most structures allow you to enhance your warriors with yin/yang points. Be sure to use them and give yourself an edge over your enemies. There are many options and combinations you can use. Creating and experimenting with your warriors is what makes this game fun! One cool thing about your army, when they get hurt pretty bad they slow down. It\'s almost realistic! After you master the tutorials, try the skirmish. It\'s hard!

    From a Christian standpoint, there are battles so there is violence. There is a mature option where you can turn off the blood. My main gripe about the game is that it\'s overloaded with new age and spiritualism references. This game is from a Japanese culture so you have to keep that in mind. There are many yin/yangs, meditation and Zen references. You will also be using your spiritual powers and life force in battle. Other than that I think the healers can use more clothing. ;) The game was easy to install, it uses your typical install shield.

    The graphics were good, the best I have seen in a strategy game. They are 3D rendered and the characters are nicely detailed. It has good sound effects and music. I did come across a glitch in the sound where it kept repeating some noises, and I had to exit out and end task before my system stopped. There are no patches yet, but hopefully they will release one if this remains a problem with the full version. The voice acting was good for the peasants and warriors. The tutorial was a little slow and you could not skip ahead. :( Other than that the game ran great. If you like strategy and fantasy games I would highly recommend this one!

    Final Ratings

    Graphics A
    Game play A
    Sound A
    Interface A
    Stability B
    Offensive Content C+ 

    Overall B+

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II
    Developed By: Tindalos Interactive
    Published By: Focus Home Interactive
    Released: January 24, 2019
    Available On: Windows PC
    Genre: Real-Time Tactical
    Number of Players: 1 - 2
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Many thanks to Focus Home Interactive for the review copy!

    Battlefleet Gothic II is the sequel to Battlefleet Gothic: Armada from 2016. It's a game of combat in the void, of massive spaceborne warships blasting away at each other as they vie for supremacy in the space between the stars.

    The latest video game successor to the original tabletop game Battlefleet Gothic, this game looks and plays exactly the way one would expect as a veteran of the tabletop days. The player controls one or more starships of the Imperial Navy as they seek to enforce the Emperor's will on a massive and chaotic galaxy, crewed by loyal and worthy... Okay, I admit it's hard not to slip into a narrative voice as I describe it. The narrative in this game is one of its main features and it's far more engaging and compelling than the previous title. Now, that's saying something because the previous game was very immersive as well.

    Battlefleet Gothic II begins its story near Cadia, a world that serves as a bastion of defense against the Eye or Terror, a rip in space from which the forces of Chaos and their daemonic allies occasionally invade the galaxy. For ten thousand years Cadia has held the line against these invasions, but in the opening campaign of the game, the player takes on the role of a variety of starship commanders as they attempt to repel the largest invasion from the Eye anyone has ever seen... the 13th Black Crusade. I have to say, as a longtime fan of Warhammer 40,000 it was incredibly fun to play out these events, especially since the Fall of Cadia represents the largest forward movement in the 40,000 lore in a long, long time. As a dedicated Black Templars player I squeed when I got to command the Phalanx for a little while. Oh, and you get to see the Vengeful Spirit, too. All of this is in the game's Prologue, which serves as the tutorial for the game. (May I just add, the most amazing tutorial of any game I've ever played, hands down.) The tutorial culminates in the destruction of Cadia... Even as Imperial troops continued to fight desperately on the surface. It has been said the planet broke before the Guard did, and my beloved Black Templars were among them.

    Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent graphics, engaging narrative, smooth controls
    Weak Points: Doesn't make use of all 3 dimensions, cutscenes are a bit long
    Moral Warnings: This is a battle game set in a universe with evil gods, xenophobia and genocide

    So let's talk about gameplay.

    The game controls are much improved over the previous game. The buttons in the UI are larger and the icons much easier to see. Overall the controls are simplified and the game flows much more smoothly. I didn't feel overwhelmed with things to do, even in engagements between multiple ships on both sides. It also helps that ships can be given specific tasks, stances and go for specific targets (even ship subsystems) and then left to their own devices. By specific stances, I mean that the ships can be in different modes, to put more emphasis on defensive maneuvering, absorbing damage, accuracy in attacks, etc. Grouping and ungrouping ships is easy and intuitive, using the mouse to draw boxes around the ships to be grouped, and the Ctrl key to add or remove ships from a group. Of course, individual ships can also be given auto control as well. The game's UI has also been streamlined so that it doesn't take up as much space, making it easier to see what's happening. That may sound contradictory. How can the buttons be larger but the UI takes up less space? It's because of the streamlining and more efficient use of the space.

    The graphics are gorgeous. Zoomed-in ships look fantastic and particle effects really convey the feeling that these vessels are being blasted by devastating weaponry. Background visuals are beautiful, and more than once my ships took more damage than they should have because I was distracted by the scenery. I didn't notice any trouble with the graphics on a Windows 10 PC though when I zoomed in for extreme closeups on the ships I could clip through the ship's skin.

    The audio was a big factor in the immersion as well. Ambient ship sounds, explosions, the roar of the guns and orders shouted by commanders all felt real (to the extent that imaginary space combat from 38 millennia in the future can feel real). I also liked the background music much better than the previous game. It was a bit more energetic and faster, and made me wish my ships moved a little faster so I could get my teeth into the enemies of Mankind... (There I go again... slipping into the narrative.)

    The narrative is so awesome that it made me want to play more, not just watch cutscenes, and the game is heavy with cutscenes. Normally that's a good thing if you're into narrative play, but these do such a good job of making me want to get back in the Captain's chair that they felt a little long. Also, when the Silver Dawn battlegroup went straight after the Vengeful Spirit in the prologue, I didn't want to watch them go in, I wanted to PLAY it.

    Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    My one big complaint about Battlefleet Gothic games in general is they're still played on a two-dimensional grid in an environment where three dimensions are available. At one point I found myself thinking in terms of the same tactics I use when playing the sea battles in a game like Empire: Total War. I like that kind of play, but it feels limiting in a space game. To be honest though, I can forgive it because the gameplay is so smooth and intuitive as it is that adding a third dimension would feel tacked on at this point.

    Multiplayer consists of setting up one-on-one fleet battles, but you can only play against friends. There does not seem to be a way to arrange matches randomly. The scope of the battle can be set, with both sides evenly matched.

    In terms of morality, this game is consistent with other Warhammer 40,000 titles. Sexuality is not an issue here, language is mild if it exists at all, (I didn't notice any), and because this game takes place at the scale of massive starships, there's no visible bloodshed. At the same time, the scale works against it in that the size of these ships means a destroyed vessel represents the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In one moment during the prologue, it is reported that one of the ships is heavily damaged and has lost over 65,000 people, all in a matter of a few seconds. We don't see that loss of life onscreen directly, but we know it's happening.

    The game's dialogue is aggressive. Even when there's no action, characters in 40K, Space Marines especially, love to smack talk. It can get fairly intense and graphic at times.

    This setting is also heavy on occult references. Chaos represents evil deities, aliens and psychic powers are common. Also common is sorcery (explained as psychic power tapping into the Warp, but it's treated like magic) and there are demons... lots and lots of demons. They don't appear directly in gameplay, but they are a large part of the 40K setting and can be seen in cutscenes. Even the heroes of the story worship the Emperor of Mankind as a deity, often exchanging the greeting "The Emperor Protects," which is eerily similar to "Jesus Saves."

    Overall, Battlefleet Gothic II is an improvement over its predecessor, which was itself a great game. If you like Warhammer 40,000 you'll really get into this game for the story even if you're not that interested in space fleet battles. If you are into space battles, then this is a must-have game even if you're not into 40K as such. Because of the content and feel of the game I wouldn't recommend it for the kiddies, but older players can really have fun with this one.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Brutal Legend
    Developer: Double Fine Productions
    Published by: Double Fine Productions
    Release Date: February 26, 2013
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS3, Xbox 360
    Genre: Action, Strategy
    Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: Rated M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes   
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Have you ever had one of those friends who would never shut up about a certain artist or era in a genre of music? Have you ever had a friend who would not stop talking about a certain celebrity no matter how clear you made it that you just didn't care? That's what Brutal Legend was for me: a celebrity ego boost, a metal head's fantasy land that really overstated this genre of music. I’ve worked in music for a few years now on the side, and I respect all genres even if it's not my personal taste in music. Yet metal can and has been a lot more than what it was in the 70’s. This is Brutal Legend.

    Brutal Legend stars Eddie Riggs, a old school heavy metal roadie down on his luck, working for a modern rock band. Due to a stage accident and a small bit of blood on his belt buckle, a metallic demon teleports him to a world of hellish creatures, skulls, and rock. He discovers that humans are enslaved by General Lionwhyte and a demon named Emperor Doviculus. By uniting with other humans and building the IronHeade army, Eddie Riggs takes the show to these foes of freedom.

    Now while the story may interest some, the gameplay is depressingly average. You  have melee attacks and you can summon lightning strikes with your guitar. Throughout the game you'll unlock combos that give you knockback attacks, area of effect strikes and strong melee blows. You'll also find tab slabs, ancient stones that teach you guitar solos. These solos will give you powerful attacks to wipe out units or particular buffs. Some of these songs will just rally your living troops to your location or set a rally flag for new units to run to in the megastage battles. Megastage battles are the real time strategy components of the game. You and an enemy army will face off while you summon units through your grand stage. You must build merchant booths to channel fans as a resource to summon units. Victory is obtained by destroying the enemy megastage or outlasting a wave of enemies. Other then that the game consists of mostly exploring the world for collectibles and completing missions to buy upgrades from Ozzy Osbourne.

    Brutal Legend
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A decent hack and slash with a lot of clever ideas, It has a unique take on the RTS genre
    Weak Points: The story will only appeal to the most hardcore metal fans, everything else has been done better by games before or after this one
    Moral Warnings: Heavy Metal equals Heavy amounts of demonic symbolism in this game. You'll have blood and f bombs up the wazoo but you can censor things

    When you're not in a RTS style battle, the hack and slashing through enemies is just easy and boring. Once you get your first solo attack, facemelter, most enemies are a joke to deal with. Changing the difficulty of the solo game will not affect enemy health, only damage. This was most likely because, aside from one or two bosses, the enemies you face are all summoned enemies from the RTS parts of the game. One of the collectible things you can do in the world map, freeing snake statues, will increase your health and health regeneration by the same amount no matter the difficulty. If you are having a hard time, just go free a few more to get stronger. The game took me about 12 hours to beat on normal difficulty.

    The story reminds you how “great” Eddie Riggs is. I am sure Jack Black, the voice actor, loved it. The story and the world is way too metal for its own good. Statues of iron crosses, blades and guitars are everywhere. The world has amps and stage gear littered all over. Plus you can't go five minutes in this story without being reminded about the power of heavy metal. The other characters you meet, such as Lars, Ophelia and Lita are all boring. They are just there to add to Eddie's ego boost. Even when Ophelia drinks from the sea of black tears to become a evil emo zombie queen thing, you'll just be reminded about the ham-fisted love story between her and Eddie. If you don't love metal or Jack Black, you'll find this story to be a generic hero story. He's summoned from Earth to an alternate world, brings people together, saves the day and gets the girl.

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

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

    Morality Score - 18%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    Multiplayer is long since dead but you can face the AI. You can play as Eddie leading Ironheade, Drowned Ophelia leading Drowning Doom or Doviculus leading Tainted Coil. You face off megastage against megastage; first stage to fall is the loser. Changing difficulty only makes the AI smarter. Though each faction has different units and guitar solos that your leader can use, none of these factions stand out in a unique way. You don't feel like a commander leading an army, you're just pressing buttons to watch people do the work for you. Even if the leader gets involved, it feels hollow. I can't judge the balance of this mode due to lack of human players.

    The thing with stereotypical metal tropes is that it still affects the moral score. You'll have pentagrams, demonic symbols and gore up to your knees with this game. That also includes sexualized BDSM style portrayal of demons. You have plenty of foul language to deal with too. You can tone down gore and censor swear words if you wish. This game loves to celebrate rock and roll yet I feel this genre of music wasn't all piles of corpses, sexualized bdsm demons and blackness. However Brutal Legend really likes to remind you how brutal and dark metal really is.

    For gamers out there, it might be fun once yet you won't find much of a reason to play Brutal Legend twice. If you're not a fan of metal, you probably will enjoy this game even less.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Castle Battles
    Developed By: Light Arc Studio Ltd
    Published By: Light Arc Studio Ltd
    Released: December 16, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Number of Players: Single Player Only
    Price: $7.57 on Kinguin.net
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    [This review was finished after the April 25, 2017 update.]

    Thanks Light Arc Studio for sending us your game!

    Castle Battles sounds like your usual 'storm the fort' RPG or war simulation game. Well, this is a war simulation and you do storm forts, but in this game you'll find it's quite different from the normal fare. Developed and produced by Light Arc Studio, Castle Battles charges forward on the Steam market, ready to prove that there's more than one way to skin a cat - or conquer armies in this case.

    Long ago, as described by the Great Tapestry, a utopian country called Castle Land was home sweet home to facial hair loving Mustachiers, and like any good fairytale, it doesn't take long for things to go sour. Swarms of Evil Chaps from the Clearly Evil Empire invaded and forced the Mustachiers to flee far into an icy wasteland. Nowadays, they're cold, they're hungry. Their mustaches have freeze dried, and they won't put up with this any longer. The local hero, Meatstachio, has stepped up and vows to expunge Dark Lord Steriatype and his Evil Chaps from Castle Land once and for all. As expected, the Clearly Evil Empire won't leave quietly. Not to mention two other armies soon decide to crash the party for their own reasons, so there's that too. It seems there's a lot more going on here than anyone realizes.

    Castle Battles is structured through a series of four ten-level campaigns. You unlock more of the plot for beating levels, and each campaign focuses on each army's side in the story. However, these adventure threads are continuous and thus are locked to a specific order. I for one think this was a good, safe approach. Games that've tried to offer different sides to the same story often suffer from plot point overlap, but going at it as one long story avoids the pitfalls without losing the novelty. Before starting each level, you can set the difficulty between four settings. Winning harder levels will earn you bigger trophies. Now, the award system works out fine, but an issue arose after their recent update that I'll discuss in a minute. There's also this nifty Quick Match feature that allows players to make quick, customizable play sessions, so that's cool.

    As for the story itself, Castle Battles pretends to be this dramatic epic, but to my pleased shock, once those characters started talking, they shut that notion down fast. Mustachiers and Evil Chaps pelt each other with self aware wit, puns, and overt speeches that turn their dialogue into genuine comedy. Before long, their banter became something I looked forward to. I wanted to finish the challenges just for the sake of it. At least that's how it was in the first half. Once the Purperilous and Order of Awesome come in though, the plot decided to act more serious, but the creators just could not pull it off. Their attempts at conviction bored me. It killed the lighthearted mood so much that even the second half's sillier antics were dulled. What's more is that they tried to use some philosophical jibber jabber that I couldn't make heads or tails of. I think maybe they were trying to offer some deep commentary about gamers and gaming habits, but sorry, Castle Battles. Undertale not only beat you to it, they did it infinitely better. The whole result saddened me really. Here's a story that denied its own special identity to become another's cheap copycat. Take note, Light Arc. An ultra klutzy kid who can paint Rembrandt shouldn't trade his brushes in for dance shoes.

    Castle Battles
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid Intuitive Gameplay; Good Sense of Humor
    Weak Points: Not Good at Drama; Lacks a Rules Sheet
    Moral Warnings: Minimal Scariness; Mild Language; Questionable Purple King

    Well, despite its writing fumbles, Castle Battles got the most crucial aspect down pat: gameplay. To win, you must conquer a game board that's made up of hexagonal shapes. You claim territory by first building in spaces closest to your starting castle. Over time, your army and forts will grow, and once you're ready, you can seize enemy sectors by force. This does mean sacrificing some men, but omelets aren't made with uncracked eggs. If you're the last swarm standing, you win. However, any ole' idiot can shout 'Charge!' It takes a lot of cunning to win. In one instance fighting might be the answer, but other times it's best to wait it out. Even how you place your castles early on can determine the outcome. This leads to Castle Battles' amazing 'resource' mechanic. Among the empty hexagonal plots, there are spots that supply stone, gold, or food to the first castle built next to it. More stone means more building materials. Gold doubles an army's size and reproduction rate, and food spaces toughen defenses and speeds up fortification. The trick is securing these vital spaces. Do you now see how impressive this entire system is? It takes full advantage of real wartime needs to truly capture that feeling of running an actual conquest. Is it wiser to race your enemies for gold or to cut off their path? Do you have enough stone to build? Do you have enough men to defend new forts? Can you steal their castles and resources and squelch a counterattack? Decisions, decisions, decisions. My only complaint is that the game didn't have readable instructions on how to play. They haphazardly explain it once then leave you to your own devices. As a result, I had to re-learn everything by trial and error. Sure, I got the hang of it again, but I'm unsure if others would fare so well or have the patience to.

    Picking up on Castle Battles' controls are a breeze. In army mode, click and drag your mouse to highlight the men you want to send out then click the desired location. They'll make a beeline for it, but how quickly they get there will depend on their path. Naturally, crossing water is harder than land, so you've gotta take that into account. That's why in the top corner of your screen lies a handy-dandy fast forward button. It speeds up the game's pace, making for exciting offensive waves. Of course, if you thirst for total domination, first hit the space bar or toggle your team symbol. This alerts your entire army to your will. I've gotta say, it is most gratifying to swallow up your foes under your overwhelming masses. Last of all, if you want to add another castle to your evolving empire, building mode is accessed via the 'Shift' key. Press it then click on the available spot you want to claim. Everything about this control scheme is fine by me. What few complaints I have are quite small. Sometimes certain troops were highlighted for no reason, and I wish they had a 'cancel construction' feature for those times I picked a space I didn't really want. Oh, well. I suppose that just adds more weight to your choices.

    For visuals, the first thing I noticed were the extremely bold, primary colors. I almost thought this technicolor mishmash clashed a bit, but then again, 'clashing' is what Castle Battles is all about. The backgrounds were indeed vibrant, and the undiluted blues, reds, purples, and golds were fantastic at keeping our feuding armies distinct. There's even some texturing and hidden details that showcase the artists' extreme creativity. Now, I used to have one issue. I emphasize: used to. There's this strange visual blurring that would separate color layers into what looks like a cheap 3D effect. It bugged my eyes, but a recent update added an 'Off' switch in the options menu. Thank the Lord for that. As for music, it's pretty fantastic. The composer rooted his approach in a dominantly electronic tone yet worked it into many styles from classy to oriental. Most soundtracks had me tapping and bouncing my head to funky beats, and I loved it. I did notice, though, that some music loops had awkward pauses between cycles, but that didn't put a dent in its overall quality.

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

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Let's also take a moment to applaud Castle Battles for their voice cast. They too played a big role in the game's atmosphere. I groaned when I first heard the voiceovers, but to my surprise Castle Battles wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without it. From leader to subordinate, each personality was as distinguished as their team colors. The strong accented Moustachiers combine noble code with viking bluster. Purperilous are wraith-like, warble voiced creeps. Members of the Order of Awesome 'chillax' with their surfer dude attitude, but I had the most fun with the Clearly Evil Empire. Those Evil Chaps are so passionate about their cliched scheming, it's hilarious. I especially tip my hat to Dark Lord Steriatype. If his name wasn't funny enough, his actor treated him with the golden standard for lovable jerks. Over the top delivery, zany cackles, voice fluctuations: he clearly had the time of his life doing the role. You really can't help loving it. This game just so delights in hamming it up. How unfortunate then that our two female leads didn't get the memo. Yeah, when surrounded by such flamboyant energy, the ultra serious girls ended up flat and dry. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad to have females that are all business, but I would have liked at least one silly girl having as much fun as the guys. Oh, well. Chalk it up to my personal preference I guess.

    During my playthrough, Light Arc Studios installed that update I've mentioned. It did provide some positives like the blur effect on and off switch and a skip level option for those who only want to enjoy the story. However, while the update did improve some aspects, I think it also added some stability woes. I'm now barred from receiving Steam achievements that I legitimately earned. I also intended to win all levels, so you can understand why I didn't like getting thrown over into the aftermath dialogue - twice. Ironically, that rewarded me trophies I did not earn. It's hilariously reversed. Go figure. Also there was that one time the game got stuck and forced me to restart my computer, but I don't know how much of it was my fault or the game's fault. I wouldn't sweat it though. It only happened the one time and unlikely to happen again.

    To its ethical merit, Castle Battles stayed pretty clean. Violence is mostly just tiny team icons blinking in and out of existence, and whatever plot centric deaths or tortures occur are mentioned but never onscreen. However, oddly similar to the story, most questionable tidbits I found cropped up in the second act. A couple bits of crude language were poorly disguised as 'Arse' and 'H*lla'. There is one use of 'Da**ed' and three cases of 'A**'. Some character designs might scare smaller players, and to my utter dissatisfaction, both possible endings don't lend happy ends to the cast. Mustachiers do put a lot of faith in their mustaches. The Purperilous do have this demonic vibe and have sages that don't do much beyond spewing prophecies, and the Great Tapestry is reverently referred to, though I'm not exactly sure why. Last thing to trigger my alarm bells is when the leader of the Purperilous insisted she be called King. To be fair, she's a possibly genderless being, and thankfully the game doesn't really go anywhere with it. However, extreme feministic thinking or an LGBT implication could have been intentional. I really just don't know.

    Castle Battles has a lot going for it. It's got a welcoming sense of humor. Its rules are easy to understand once learned, and its gameplay system is pure intelligence candy. I cannot express enough how much I loved the 'resource' mechanics. In fact, this kind of unique approach is exactly what can make any game standout. However, some blunders did dampen my enthusiasm such as the questionable Purple King and minimal language misuse. I just still find it incredibly strange how the second part produced most of my complaints. It almost felt like two separate teams split the workload between themselves, then sketch taped their finished halves together. It's really odd. Anyway, it might be too complex for kids and too slow for action seekers. On the flip side, those who loved board games like Chess or Stratego will adore this thing. Well, Castle Battles may have tripped when it comes to story and morals, but it did put gameplay, its best foot, forward.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    CastleStorm VR
    Developed by: Zen Studios
    Published by: Zen Studios
    Release Date: July 7, 2016
    Available on: Oculus Rift, Gear VR
    Genre: Strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood and violence
    Price: $24.99

    Thank you Zen Studios for sending us this game to review!

    We originally reviewed CastleStorm three years ago when it first came out on the Xbox 360.  The asking price back then was a reasonable $10 and Zen Studios has now enhanced it to support virtual reality and have increased the price by 150%.  Is this just a cash grab or are the enhancements worth the price hike?   

    The majority of the game remains the same where your goal typically is to destroy your opponent’s castle with your ballista.  Your ammunition varies from javelins, garbage, chunks of ice, maces, sheep, boars, bombs, laser crystals and more.  Alternatively, you can send your troops and bring their flag to your castle to clinch a victory.  If you’re the kind of person who likes to get their hands dirty, you can momentarily spawn a hero into the fray to crack some skulls.

    When you first launch the game you’ll have a theater atmosphere with suits of armor and popcorn nearby as decorations.  The cut-scenes are shown on the theater screen and are the same as the previous versions of the game.  The battles are VR enhanced though they are not rendered all 360 degrees.  If you turn around behind you the battle fades out to a cream colored backdrop.  A common VR issue is blurry text and this game is no exception.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game with limited VR enhancements
    Weak Points: Pricey and lacks the multiplayer of the original game; some text is blurry
    Moral Warnings: Some potty humor and violence

     

    Another disappointment is that the multiplayer mode has been removed.  Granted, I haven’t used it much on my Xbox 360, but seeing it gone is still a shame.  The single-player campaign remains the same.  There are both storyline and optional quests to complete.  I highly recommend doing all of them since you can earn money to upgrade your troops, castle, magic, and weaponry.  There is a level cap of ten which gets quite costly since each level costs more than the previous one.    

    Besides customizing your troops, you can edit your castle layout as well.   Each castle room serves a purpose and when that room gets destroyed, you can no longer use its functions until the next battle.  For example, if your barracks are demolished, your army limit is back to the default of five and some troops may no longer be available.  The rooms in the back of the castle are safer than the ones in the front (line of fire).  Personally, I stuck with the default layouts which get progressively better as you get further in the story.  

    Each level has a main objective and bonus objectives.  Some of the bonus objectives may request that a particular unit is troop of the day (most damage) or that you complete the mission within a certain time frame.  Your final score is determined by several factors including the difficulty you played at, accuracy, damage your castle took and the time it took to complete the level.  You are awarded between one and five stars.  Five stars are only possible if you play at the hardest difficulty.  I beat most of the levels on normal.  

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    There is plenty to do and lots to love about CastleStorm.  The graphics are vibrant and the characters have a lot of detail.  Units of the same type all look alike, but the bosses are unique and intimidating.  Yes, this game is violent.  I don’t recall much blood, but you do get rewarded for multikills and head shots.  

    The humor is good but gets juvenile at times with bestiality, animal digestion issues, and outhouse cracks.  The rest of the jokes are great and kept me entertained throughout the story which comprises of two campaigns (Knights and Vikings).  The Knight and Viking kingdoms are divided and you begin by fighting against the Vikings and later alongside them.  

    Nothing has changed on the sound front, as the sound effects are fitting and I still enjoyed the background/menu music.  Even though it was repetitive, it managed to get stuck in my head regardless.  

    While CastleStorm is still a great game, I have a hard time recommending it due to its inflated price on the Oculus store.  If you haven’t played it yet, it’s definitely worth picking up on sale.  If you already own the game, I recommend sticking with that version.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dawn of War III
    Released: Month day, year
    Published by: Sega
    Developed by: Relic Entertainment
    ESRB Rating: M
    Available on: Windows PC, Linux, macOS
    Release Date: April 27, 2017
    Genre: RTS
    Number of Players: 1+
    Price: $23.21
    (Kinguin.net Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Kinguin.net for sending us this game to review!

    Following the amazing trailer and two amazing games that came before it, Dawn of War III had a lot to live up to.

    I really enjoyed the previous Dawn of War titles and have eagerly been looking forward to this one. I have enjoyed the story so much I actually went ahead and read the novelization of the Dawn of War story by C.S. Goto and yes... I liked it. I added a detachment of Blood Ravens to my Black Templars army in Warhammer 40,000 and got up to my neck in the lore. (The Blood Ravens are totally, secretly a loyalist successor chapter to the Thousand Sons, amirite, 40k fans?)

    So about this game...

    For you 40k fans: This game is not designed with 8th Edition in mind. Eldar are Eldar and there are no Primaris Marines (so far, at least).

    The campaign story picks up after the events of Dawn of War II (good guy ending), but does so with a slight retcon. Gabriel Angelos is the Chapter Master of the Blood Ravens but appears to look a lot better than he did at the end of the previous story. This tale begins with an Imperial settlement under assault by a massive force of Space Orks, and Chapter Master Angelos orders the Blood Ravens to land on the planet to help with the defense. The problem is that the Imperial Inquisition had told the marines to stand down, but Angelos doesn't take orders from Inquisitors...

    What I found a bit jarring is that a few missions into the campaign, the player switches from controlling the Blood Ravens to playing as the Orks. The reason I found it weird is that it felt strange to be working in the defense of the Imperial settlement at one point, then switching to the Orks whose goal it is to come in and cause as much mayhem and destruction as they can. It's true that a lot of games involve a campaign in which the player switches from one faction to another as the story progresses, but usually it doesn't involve having to work against one's own goals in the story. To its credit, Dawn of War III seems to be trying to get the player familiar with, and maybe even a little invested in, the villains (or foils, if you prefer) in the story to have a greater narrative payoff at the end. your mileage may vary here, so I don't mean to be overly critical on that point. Of course, after the Ork missions come some Eldar missions. Completing missions advances the storyline and it is possible to set the difficulty of each mission independently, so if there's a particular mission that feels too difficult or too easy, it can be played at a different setting. Also, warlords gain experience as they progress through the campaign which can be spent on upgrades.

    There's a tutorial available that helps the player get used to the new features available in Dawn of War III. That's a good thing, because it's now possible to construct different buildings which unlock access to a greater variety of units and upgrades. For the Eldar, Webways can be built from buildings to allow units to teleport across the map. To be honest, it's really starting to feel like StarCraft, in that there's even a worker unit that is assigned to building construction, which is a semi-new feature for the franchise. It's nice to have more options than before, but at the same time it feels less original. This is what I mean by feeling derivative. There have been lots of Real Time Strategy games that work on the same basic formula of having worker units to build buildings, using those buildings to construct units, and having some kind of mechanism for harvesting and managing resources. While some of these elements have been present in Dawn of War titles before, the worker units really tip the balance. Dawn of War now feels less like Warhammer 40,000 to me and more like StarCraft in this edition.

    Dawn of War III
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Delivers an experience that's consistent the Dawn of War series
    Weak Points: Feels derivative and not very original
    Moral Warnings: Lots of violence and some occult themes

    If you've ever been playing a previous version of Dawn of War and thought to yourself "Gee, I really love using the special abilities of the Commander, but sometimes it's kinda hard to see him in that huge group of marines and Orks" then maybe the game developers heard you. Angelos is huge compared to the other Blood Ravens, and I mean Primarch proportions. (If you don't know what that means, I'm saying Angelos is nearly twice as tall as the marines around him.) This makes him easy to find on the screen, but breaks the immersion a bit for me. Of course it makes perfect sense that the Ork Warboss is huge compared to his followers, and I do admit this makes it easier to find your most important unit. On the Eldar side, Macha is also much larger than the other troops.

    In terms of the toughness of characters, gone are the days when a named character was knocked down and you could revive him by bringing along another character to aid him. Now, characters are tougher to kill, but when they go down, the mission ends in failure. Needless to say that means gameplay is decidedly more conservative now than it was in previous Dawn of War iterations. A large health bar appears above the head of the character to make it easy to see, which is very, very useful with how quickly such a character can get mobbed by enemy units.

    Mission length hasn't changed much, with each mission taking around thirty to sixty minutes to complete depending on how thoroughly the player searches the map or what tactics they use. Thankfully, there is a manual save feature that can be used at any time in case the player is interrupted and has to complete the mission later, or wants to simply create a save point. (Immensely useful now that the mission fails if the commander dies.)

    It's nice to have access to Knight Titans now in Dawn of War as well, but I honestly didn't find it to be much of a game changer. It's like using TItans in Tabletop Warhammer 40,000. Huge, impressive, terrifying, but still it's the same game. In a way, that's a good thing, because it does help make the game feel true to its 40K roots.

    I did find it annoying at one point where I placed an Ork "Da Boyz Hut" down in a space where I thought there would be room for units to move around it. I was wrong, and every other unit it generated was trapped behind it and couldn't move. As far as I could tell, there is no mechanism for destroying your own buildings so I was stuck with it there and the units behind it never got to do anything.

    The upgrade system for unit equipment is changed, now being handled at the new buildings. Marines can also return to these structures for reinforcements when they take losses from their unit. Orks upgrade their units by gathering scrap and again I see a move toward more "standard" RTS (Real Time Strategy) games in that there's resource gathering. Dawn of War has always had a mechanic for resource gathering through structures built on control points that generate materials needed to build new units, and that system does still exist here. It's just that upgrades to units (like adding armor to Ork Boyz) requires the extra detail.

    Dawn of War III
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    The game control setup is the same as previous Dawn of War titles, using the keyboard and mouse. As before, units can be selected by clicking on one of their members or by drawing a box around them.

    The game has an Army Painter feature, which isn't unusual for a 40K title where you can experiment with different color schemes for your army. This lets a player who also owns a tabletop army to try out different ideas before putting the brush to the models. Of course, this also determines what your army will look like when playing in Multiplayer. Default options for established chapters like Black Templars, Ultramarines or Blood Angels are there, with the ability to create custom chapters. The downside is that the chapter badges on the marines' left shoulder has to be chosen from existing logos, which makes it hard to feel like the custom chapter is truly your own. Also, (and this is incredibly minor, I admit) all of the chapter iconography on the right shoulder is selected from codex chapters, like the up arrow icon for Tactical Squads, crossed arrows for Assault Squads, etc. Some chapters don't use this pattern in the 40k fluff.

    Multiplayer games can be played in 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 formats, and the player can even select the difficulty of the opponent to be played against. The player can choose which faction (Space Marines, Orks or Eldar) and which sub-faction (which affects the look of the army). It works basically the same as playing the A.I. in that the player controls key strategic points on the map and builds useful structures on them in order to ultimately destroy the opponent(s).

    The graphics are not much different from previous Dawn of War titles, but I'm okay with that, as they've always been good anyway. My machine did have a low framerate but I blame my machine, not the game. (I am running an HP EliteBook laptop with 8GB RAM and a 2.70 GHz Intel i7. Graphics card is an AMD Radeon HD 6470M.)

    This is nitpicky, I admit... but the Cockney accent used with Orks gets incredibly annoying when you're hearing the same phrases over and over as you give commands to your units. It's funny for about the first five minutes but after that I was ready to mute the game. I know that's purely thematic and just my own personal opinion, but man... The sound effects are fine, which is to say they were competently done and held to the standards set by 40K games in general. I didn't have any issues with the sound quality, though at one point during a loading screen a bizarre, high-pitched buzz came blasting out of my speakers until the mission started, but it only happened once and was fine after.

    The game plays smoothly and didn't crash or freeze when I was playing. I did notice a couple of minor issues. At one point the health bar for a particular Ork was about three inches to the left of where he actually was. I had to occasionally order the Ork Warboss to throw his claw a couple of times before it worked. Lastly, at one point I was unable to get a depleted unit of Ork Boyz to realize that it was close enough to a Boyz Hut to enable the reinforcements button.

    Dawn of War III

    I know I say this with every 40k game I review, but it's still true and needs mentioning. This is a game set in the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40,000, which means it's violent, bloody and brutal. When troops are slain they lay in a splatter of blood until they gradually fade out, and the level of destruction in the setting is reminiscent of the climax of Man of Steel or The Avengers. All in all, fairly on par for a 40k title.

    On the upside, the 40k setting has never been one for any kind of nudity or significant sexual content, and I didn't see any in this game either. (I haven't finished the campaign yet but I'd be shocked right to my toenails if there is any later on.)

    Again, as is common in the 40k universe, there are occult themes in the form of human Psykers (people who can use psychic abilities) and the Chaos Gods. Also, the Space Marines revere the Emperor of Mankind almost at a godlike level. (In older game fluff they did see him as a god, now only the Black Templars do.)

    I was glad that when playing the Orks, there was no call for the player to kill civilians or engage in any over-the-top brutality. Yes, you do fight and kill soldiers, but that's all. All of the violence is within the context of battle, not just wanton slaughter. Even so, the Orks are a violent, hostile alien race that lives only for battle, and you control them as they attempt to destroy humans and other aliens. Thought provoking question though; gameplay isn't really different between Orks, Eldar and Space Marines. What does that say about those factions?

    I really enjoyed this game, but it isn't much of a change over previous Dawn of War games. It gave me exactly what I expected in that the game developers competently created a game that plays much like its predecessors, but they didn't take many risks here. I recommend it to anyone who liked the Dawn of War series or who is into Warhammer 40,000 in general. This game isn't for the little kids or those who are uncomfortable with violence.

    Kinguin Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III 728x90
  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Deck Casters
    Developed By: Rock Nano Global
    Published By: Rock Nano Global/Maximum Games (PS4)
    Released: Apr 4, 2017 (PS4); Jan 10, 2018 (Steam)
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Windows
    Genre: Card Game, Real-Time Strategy, MOBA
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+: Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood
    Number of Players: Up to four players online
    Price: $15.99 (Steam), $19.99 (PS4)

    Thank you Rock Nano Global for sending us a review code!

    Have you ever had a moment where you, being a fan of Hearthstone, StarCraft, and/or League of Legends (and similar games), ever say, “Well golly gee! I sure wish I could play all those genres at the exact same time!”? Of course you haven’t, that’s such an asinine thought in the first place. Well, that didn’t stop Rock Nano Global from sticking all those genres in a blender anyway and pouring out this union called Deck Casters!

    So Deck Casters is basically a real-time strategy, a card game, and a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) all smashed up in one whole package. Deck Casters consists of 1v1 or 2v2 battles where you make a deck out of 20 cards consisting of all kinds of mythical creatures from genies and fairies, to necromancers and mermen. The mythology aspect doesn’t pertain to one specific group, and like the genre of the game, is a conglomerate of otherworldly beings beating each other up (how delightful!).

    Deck Casters begins with three prebuilt decks, but it’s in your best interest to customize your deck to your preferences. Cards are separated by type, which consist of unit types and spell types. Every deck must be assigned a champion card, which can be chosen from any pool of the unit cards. Champions are unique in that instead of being consumed like regular cards, they are put on a cooldown instead. Even though cards are separated by element, there isn’t much of an incentive to actually make an element-based or archetype-themed deck, like in most PvP card games. One of the exceptions is with the wolfkin cards, which gain various effects depending on how many other wolfkin cards are on the field. All cards featured in the game are unlocked from the beginning so you can immediately build that deck your beautiful heart desires, instead of wasting your valuable and precious time and/or money obtaining cards you otherwise wouldn’t use. (Gives you more time to binge those Netflix shows, am I right?)

    Deck Casters
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Colorful graphics; no grinding required for the cards
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is completely dead; very basic for a mishmash of multiple genres; PC version is actually watered down for reasons unknown
    Moral Warnings: Magic usage; wraith creatures; some cards have the requirement of sacrificial offerings to deal damage; some of the female character art shows off cleavage

    Once you get that deck all “decked out,” you are now ready to fight! The objective of Deck Casters is to whittle down your opponent's health bar to zero, which is accomplished by capturing monoliths, destroying your enemies, or collecting crystals on the map. Your cards are gathered over a period of time, as well as a resource called mana. Mana is used to play your cards that can cost one to eight mana. Monsters are summoned on the field, which can be directed with the usage of the mouse and its various “clickity-clacks,” while spell cards can be used anywhere on the map, as long as you have vision of that area (with a few exceptions). As the game has RTS and MOBA elements, camera work is left to the mouse either by touching the ends of the screen with your cursor, using the directional arrows, or clicking on the minimap. The depth of field can also be adjusted with the mouse wheel. The controls are kinda awkward to use due to quite a lot of actions being mapped from the Q to F keys so most of them end up being in a strange place. Using a second monitor with this game is a pain as your cursor will move over to that second screen. The controls are usable and functional, but can be rather uncomfortable for some.

    With the huge combination of genres, one would think that the game has an insane amount of depth in it, right? Well that happens to be incorrect. Deck Casters is a rather simple game in all aspects. There are only two maps in the game, and most units act very similar to each other. The MOBA elements don’t really feel MOBA-like, or simply take away from the game. The strategy required is very basic due to the lack of synergy between the cards. Even the card game aspect doesn’t feel like it has much to offer due to the lack of card game elements. The multiplayer is also deader than the love child of disco and a doornail, so that aspect doesn’t help out Deck Casters in any way.

    The graphics, while also simple, are workable and the card art is rather well done. The creatures and environment have a nice, vibrant color pallet as well as the scenery. The field has a nice and coherent design to it, and I also like the designs of the creatures too. This is one aspect the developers did well in. Can’t say the same for the sound or music. No matter how much I try, the only thing I can remember in terms of sound is a rather annoying phrase by the mermen ("We move like the waves!") when directing them to their destination.

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

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 3/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In the title, I mentioned another title by the name of “ArmaGallant: Decks of Destiny.” When doing a little research, I found out that Deck Casters is a port of the PS4 version, but somehow has less features such as the inability to level up your cards. No one really knows why the name change for the PC release. Maybe Rock Nano Global lost the name rights due to a bet at a poker game. Maybe they wanted to rebrand the product?

    Getting to moral concerns, there’s the whole situation with a boatload of mythical creatures, and a ton of them use magic to fight. Some of the spells might be based on a higher power, such as “retribution” and “judgement,” and the dark element typically uses sacrifices to power their spells. Wraiths, undead creatures, and “necrowitchers,” are just some of the many combatants. The female character art also shows off cleavage. According to the ESRB, there is blood in the game, but I personally didn’t see it.

    Deck Casters (also known as ArmaGallant) tried a lot with its concept, but didn’t manage to stick out in any meaningful way. As the game has no sustainability whatsoever in its player base, the only thing you can do is smack around the AI [i]ad infinitum[/i] unless you can convince a friend or group to put down $15 (or you gift the game to friends yourself). If you can successfully manage to do that, you might get some value out of it. I wouldn’t call it a bad game, but it’s not a good one either. I feel that Deck Casters came out way too late to capitalize on the MOBA craze as anyone who wants to play a MOBA at this point will stick to the four or five established ones. It potentially could have found more success if it focused completely on the real-time strategy aspect, but it’s best to pass on this product, unfortunate that it is to say.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Distant Star: Revenant Fleet
    Developed By: Blazing Griffin Ltd.
    Published By: Blazing Griffin Ltd.
    Released: April 7, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy, Roguelike
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $9.99(Humble Store Link)

    Thanks to Blazing Griffin, Ltd. for the review key!

    The A’Kari people have faced their fair share of warfare, fueled both within and without by an immensely powerful artifact called the Ark. Their current war against the Orthani, however, has become too much to handle. The Orthani have developed a weapon, the Erebus Platform, which is capable of eradicating the A’Kari homeworld outright. To make matters worse, their premier Warleader’s fleet was decimated by an act of betrayal many sectors away. It’s up to the Warleader to scrape together what’s left of the fleet and begin the long, perilous journey home – after all, they’re all that stands between the Orthani and their people’s extinction.

    In Distant Star: Revenant Fleet, you participate in ship-based combat and random events as you warp your way across a war-torn galaxy to save your homeworld. Readers familiar with the game FTL: Faster Than Light might find the premise familiar, but the similarities pretty much end there, especially on the gameplay front. You control a fleet of up to five ships, juggling their shields, health, and energy levels as you maneuver around hordes of enemy vessels in real-time, though with a handy pause feature to plan your attack. Random events are the order of the day, and you’re often given a set of choices that can change how the incident plays out. Every event that involves combat usually has a second objective of some kind, often protecting or capturing a ship or space station, but expect to face two waves of two fleets of Orthani every time you’re given direct control.

    With eight ship classes, four weapon types, and a host of active and passive abilities to equip, there is no shortage of options. Ship types range from your typical gunboat to a tanky dreadnaught to a drone-launching carrier to a craft that spits ion storms at enemies. Each one fulfills a specific role and can only equip certain weapons and upgrades; while mostly balanced, taking too many squishy or defense-focused ships early on when your funds are limited can make for a quick failure. While you’re at the mercy of the random number generator to find weapons, parts, and extra ships, the gameplay allows skill to make up for bad luck. Weapons have no tracking ability, so a quick, constantly-moving fighter can avoid a lot of damage – the harder-hitting weapons are slow, have a hefty cooldown, and/or require a charge-up period of anywhere from two to ten seconds. Weapon fire also can impact an object or ship in its way, allowing for stronger ships to protect weaker ones by simply parking their shields over them. Furthermore, when a vessel’s shields are depleted, they get fully restored after thirty seconds. Altogether, a quick-thinking – and quick-moving – Warleader can keep shuffling the fleet’s more battered ships around, preventing the incoming damage from doing permanent harm.

    v
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A good amount of options makes for varied, variable gameplay; challenging but fair; good atmosphere
    Weak Points: Could use some more fleet control options; may get stale quickly
    Moral Warnings: Ship-based combat; can make some immoral choices, which can be rewarded or punished

    Should permanent harm prove unavoidable, the ship becomes disabled rather than destroyed – at least at first. Should you make it out of the fight, the battered ship will be damaged, weakening it in some way, such as removing a chunk of shield strength. Damage can also be sustained by running out of supply: you use one supply with each jump and can buy more if you find a trading station, but jumping without supply, while possible, is risky. Once a ship sustains three system failures, the next damage it would incur will instead destroy it. As certain stations can also repair damage for a small fee, the damage mechanic is challenging, but overall quite forgiving. The same applies to the game’s four difficulties: while the easiest setting allows you to sit in place and eat all incoming fire with little issue, the hardest requires proper maneuvering and strategy, not just with your own ships but in corralling your enemies into manageable clumps to maximize your own fire. The actual boost to enemy health and strength is relatively negligible, however, with the majority of the difficulty coming from facing stronger ships early on; such tuning keeps the game feeling fair throughout.

    Still, though the gameplay is engaging, it could potentially wear thin after some time. Outside of picking more troublesome targets to focus fire on, you’ll command your fleet to do donuts around your enemy for the vast majority of encounters. With no squad commands or formations to be found, proper fleet management can feel more like micro-management at times. Most events you come across are similar, and even the mini-quest lines you stumble across tend to feel samey after a while – and it doesn’t help when they start repeating themselves in the same playthrough. Even so, the generally good gameplay design helps keep things feeling fresh even when it’s not: enemy ships come in the same flavors as your own, and a fight against two carriers plays out vastly different than one between three gunships and a support-oriented Pulsar. You’re still driving circles around your foes, sure, but it presents different problems to puzzle through, as well as varying opportunities to mess it up if you get complacent. It’s also worth mentioning that the game can fall victim to some relatively long load times, especially towards the end of a playthrough.

    Distant Star: Revenant Fleet
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

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

    Distant Star provides a solid presentation to supplement its gameplay. Both the graphics and sound design provide a grim, though not edgy, look to the universe, with darker tones dominating the visuals and heavy drums accompanying the admittedly limited soundtrack. Each ship type is visually unique even at a glance, and an A’Kari Assault ship looks decidedly different than an Orthani or a pirate one. There is a hefty amount of little details that add to the atmosphere as well: lighter ship engines accelerate faster and sound lighter than the heavier ones, which seem to groan and struggle to push the mass along. Enemy ships lose chunks as they’re damaged, and the ensuing explosion varies depending on their size – tiny automatons give a little pop, while gigantic dreadnaughts explode in a gigantic fireball and an earth-shattering kaboom. The final enemy’s defeat is also perfectly timed with a loud, mechanical tone signaling the end of combat – though a second, more grating one will sound if another wave comes in. Even with its rather simple plotline, Blazing Griffin built a highly detailed world, though it’s mostly drip-fed to you; while it keeps things interesting and mysterious, it’d be nice to have a compendium of some sort in-game. It all comes together to make a style that’s perhaps more than the sum of its parts, though its parts are certainly worth quite a bit on their own.

    Even with the somewhat-oppressive atmosphere, Distant Star holds up pretty well on the moral front. All combat is ship-based, with only the occasional hand-to-hand violence that’s relegated to descriptive text. The language is clean; though there may be an event or quest line I didn’t find that could contain some swears, the general tone of the rest of the game makes it seem unlikely. Perhaps the biggest question mark lies in the options you’re given, as some of them can be quite cruel – for instance, attacking a civilian colony that won’t give up its supplies. It’s always an option, however, and you’re never forced into it; sometimes, you’ll even be rewarded for playing morally and punished for being bloodthirsty. The opposite is true as well, however.

    With its varied options and detailed atmosphere, Distant Star: Revenant Fleet has a lot going for it. If you can get around its potentially repetitive gameplay, its Roguelike nature lends itself to repeated playthroughs with different fleet configurations, giving it no small amount of longevity. Currently sitting at $9.99 on Steam, it’s certainly worth a close look.

    -Cadogan

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dungeons 3
    Developed By: Realmforge Studios
    Published By: Kalypso Media Digital
    Released: October 13, 2017
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
    ESRB Rating: TEEN (Blood and Gore, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence)
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 2 online
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    The Ultimate Evil, having been completely victorious over the forces of good on its continent, soon became bored of having nothing to do. As such, it set its evil heart on conquering another land across the sea. To accomplish this feat, the Ultimate Evil set its Sauron-esque eye upon an avatar to serve as its champion in that land and conquer all the good and pretty things within it in its name. That avatar’s name is Thalya the Dark Elf. The Ultimate Evil dispatches its shadow to Thalya’s land to corrupt her to its side and begin the conquest of all that is good within it. Thus begins Dungeons 3, a direct sequel to Dungeons 2 and another humorous and tongue-in-cheek conquest of good in the name of the Ultimate Evil.

    Dungeons 3 plays like a typical real-time strategy game (RTS) with a top-down view of both the overworld and the underworld. The overworld is where all the pretty things dwell that the Ultimate Evil is bent on destroying. The underworld is where you build your lair, or dungeon, if you will. In many ways, Dungeons 3 plays very much like its predecessor, but it makes a number of improvements upon it that I enjoyed. First, Dungeons 3 allows for researching improvements to creatures and rooms to make them more efficient or powerful. This process uses both gold, mined from the underworld by your little snots and stored in your treasury, and a new resource called “evil” that is gathered over time by corrupting sources of “good” on the overworld. For every source of good you corrupt on the overworld every few seconds that source of corrupted good will grant you a few points of evil to be used in your research endeavors.

    Another improvement I like over its predecessor is a change in how many units you can have. The first major difference in units is the addition of the undead to the unit roster. In Dungeons 2 you only have horde units and demons. I like the addition of the undead to the forces of evil, and their ranks contain some of the most powerful units available. Additionally, in Dungeons 2 units have a point value based on their relative strength and a certain number of unit points to allocate. So, you can have a small army of powerful creatures, a large army of wimpy creatures, or a moderate combined force of strong and weak creatures. Now you research the ability to have more creatures by spending gold and evil in progressively larger amounts until you reach the maximum number of units available (typically 20). Each unit only takes up one unit slot, no matter if said unit is a lich (top tier) or a goblin (bottom tier). So, if one were so inclined, one could build an army of 20 liches, (overkill much?) or 20 goblins (underkill?).

    Dungeons 3
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A story-driven real-time strategy game with clever and humorous fantasy references from other media and a witty narrator to tell the story.  It improved on some of the weaknesses of its predecessor by implementing scenario-based achievements and a stronger difficulty mode for those seeking a harder challenge.
    Weak Points: Combat is not truly strategic in nature.  Rather, it’s more of a simplistic horde swarm without much strategy needed.  
    Moral Warnings: This game makes you play as the "Ultimate Evil," and even if it's tongue-in-cheek you still control evil creatures and kill humans and cute animals because that’s what villains do. There are also many occult references and you control demons and undead. There is alcohol use, as the ale your minions brew keeps your horde happy. Also, it is a game about killing humans, so there is violence as well. Finally, there are some mild instances of bad language, like d*mn, G*d(dess), and arse.

    The game does a good job of making sure such shenanigans aren’t really practical in a couple of ways. First, various units do various jobs throughout the dungeon. For instance, goblins and orcs operate the tinkerer shop machines which churn out doors and traps, naga work the brewery to make sure the rum isn’t gone, while imps and spiders use the arcanium to keep your mana supply filled. Banshees and liches and vampires work the crypt to revive fallen horde creatures, and also work the magic laboratory to create even nastier traps. So basically, almost every unit has a job to do when it’s not killing things that help the dungeon run smoother.

    There are other units that do not take up unit slots, but are limited independently. These are little snots, zombies, skeletons, converted heroes and titans. Little snots work the dungeon, tunneling and digging out rooms. They build rooms, set out the traps, mine the gold and collect stray mana. Zombies and skeletons are made from the corpses of heroes who you either kill (zombies) or imprison (skeletons). You can research the ability to have up to two packs of 4 of both zombies and skeletons. Converted heroes are heroes that join the ranks of evil after being seduced by the succubus demon in the torture chamber. Eventually, you can recruit a titan from each of the three classes of evil creatures (horde, demons, and undead). These are gigantic units with vast reserves of hit points and destructive power. As mentioned, the titan does not take up a unit slot, but you can only have one of each class at a time (so no, you can’t recruit 20 ogres or demon lords). I really like these changes from Dungeons II in terms of creature additions and management.

    Another improvement in Dungeons 3 is gameplay stability: In Dungeons 2 there were a couple of bugs I experienced with terrain not being changed properly and a mission being unfinishable. I did not encounter any buggy behavior or poor scripting in Dungeons 3 which was very encouraging. Overall, the graphics in Dungeons 3 were better than in Dungeons 2, the creatures were better sculpted with more detail and were less blocky.

    In my review of Dungeons 2 I mentioned that a weakness was that the game was too easy. Well, they must have heard me because, while the normal mode of the game felt just as easy as its predecessor, they included a "Hellish" mode which can be activated per scenario if you want more of a challenge. In addition, there are three achievement goals per scenario that you can attempt to complete, which added to the difficulty because you were either "on the clock" or having to accomplish something specific and often difficult like lose no units or take no damage.

    I do have a critique of Dungeons 3 in comparison to its predecessor. I felt that there was a diminishing of the strategic elements in terms of combat. Dungeons 3's AI is good, and your units automatically use their abilities as needed when off of cooldown. Despite this, I feel that this hampered my ability to strategically deploy a particular ability or make full use of my units myself. This feature cannot be disabled, so your units basically just do their own thing making combat seem much more about moving your mob into position and letting them do their thing than actually strategically commanding them. Dungeons 2 was better about this, as some units in Dungeons 2 could change from walking mode to artillery mode where they would become immobile but hurl rocks great distances, adding an element of strategy to how you wanted to use that unit. That unit is not even in Dungeons 3, but a unit that is in both is the goblin and in Dungeons 2 making use of the goblin’s stealth abilities was the key to some missions and useful for drawing out enemies into an ambush or killing or weakening a powerful hero prior to engaging the rest of your units. In Dungeons 3, the goblin’s stealth ability is a passive ability that simply makes it get attacked after all your other creatures are killed off. If it goes in solo, it will be targeted and summarily killed.

    Dungeons 3
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The story in Dungeons 3 is just as amusing as it was in Dungeons 2, with many humorous Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and other fantasy literature/film references throughout. The avatar of the Ultimate Evil, Thalya the Dark Elf, has a recurring Gollum/Smeagol-like self-dialogue that is quite humorous. The main antagonist of the story, the Paladin Tanos, while supposedly good, is really a self-righteous egotist who you don’t feel too badly about defeating in the end. All his underling antagonists are also “bad” to some degree. His dwarven friend Grimli is a raging racist, and Yaina Overproud is, well, you get the idea. So despite the fact that you control the forces of evil, the game goes out of its way to show that even “good” people are bad (or at least these particular "good" people are really evil also). (Minor Spoiler Alert) For instance, at one point in the game an antagonist resorts to destroying his own city and all the people in it in order to kill Thalya. An antagonist also tries to torture the evil out of Thalya for an entire mission, in an extreme example of irony. I found this to be a very Christian-affirming concept. At its core, Christianity is about being saved from our evil inclinations, which we all have. Even the "best good person" is fatally flawed and needs to be saved. Just like there are no "good" guys in Dungeons 3, there are no "good" guys in the world we live in either (see Romans 3).

    On the moral score, Dungeons 3 scored lower than its predecessor for the following reasons: The succubus demon is now wearing significantly less clothing than in Dungeons 2 and actively tortures captured heroes in a torture chamber which looks a lot like a dominatrix’s dream come true complete with padded rose-colored floors, and devices of pain-inflicting restraint. Use of the torture chamber by a succubus demon is how captured Hero units are converted to your side. Thalya’s outfit, while not revealing, is still provocative in nature. While you no longer have to sacrifice units at a pentagram in order to recruit demons, pentagrams are still seen in structures and architecture and you can still sacrifice units at the undead temple to receive a reward from the Ultimate Evil if it deems the sacrifice worthy enough. Also, I noticed more instances of bad language in Dungeons 3 than I did in Dungeons 2. Another reason for the moral score being reduced is violence, which is kind of a given in a strategic combat game involving killing things. Also, alcohol use is depicted without any negative side-effects. Apparently, the horde creatures cannot get drunk. (Minor Spoiler Alert) There is a mission where you must continue to serve the Ogre (the horde titan unit) copious amounts of alcohol for it to complete the mission.

    Overall, I enjoyed Dungeons 3 more than I enjoyed Dungeons 2. It was humorous with an entertaining story and a pithy narrator. Once again, I loved all the references to other fantasy literature. I also felt that the subtext of “good” guys being “bad” guys who aren’t really even “good” at all a very Christian world-view affirming concept. While Christians are supposed to desire to do good, our goodness doesn't come from ourselves or even from the things we do or abstain from doing. Despite these accolades, the game does have a fair amount of morally questionable things, especially the succubus and torture chamber, alcohol use, language and violence. If you like real-time strategy games that are light on strategy and heavy on story, I'm sure you'll like Dungeons 3.

    -OrionStar1979

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Firmament Wars
    Developed By: Neverworks Games
    Published By: Neverworks Games
    Released: September 3, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Multiplayer; real-time strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player; up to 8 players online
    Price: $2

    Thanks to Neverworks Games for the Steam review keys!

    Have you ever played the board game Risk and wished it was faster-paced, simpler, and real-time instead of turn-based? Neverworks Games asked the same question and then developed Firmament Wars. The game takes the same formula of building up a large army and then taking over the map except forces you to do this at the same time as everybody else. It works very well and in a way anybody can understand.

    The only goal in a game of Firmament Wars is to eliminate the opponent. To achieve this, you use 3 separate resources to create troops, long-range weaponry, and defense systems. Attacking the other player is simply a numbers game. If you attack a space that has 10 soldiers on it using a space with 20, you’ll win and take over that space. You can only attack adjacent spaces unless you have long-range weapons. Depending on what government each player is using, and if that space has defenses, your attacks will either do less damage or you could even fail to take the space. Simultaneously, the other player is doing the same thing on the other side of the map without you knowing. It’s real-time tactics, meaning both players move at the exact same time. There is a turn system, but instead of a player’s movement taking a turn, it’s on a short timer. The game becomes chaotic and fast-paced with most matches being 15 minutes long or less, and you’re constantly thinking on your toes.

    Firmament Wars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast-paced; easy to understand but hard to master
    Weak Points: Minor bugs; no playerbase
    Moral Warnings: Gunshots can be heard; public chat room; text talking about assassinations appears

    There are 4 resources you will use to help you in battle. On each space on the board, there’s 3 bars under the number of units in that space. The bars represent how much of that resource you will get per turn if you have control. Food gives you reserve troops every few turns. The more food you have, the more troops you’ll have in reserve when the turn happens. These troops can then be deployed on whatever space you want for an energy cost. Otherwise you can pay 2 energy to rush troops onto a space. Science is used to research defenses and long-ranged attack methods. It’s also used to build your defenses or shoot off the cannons and missiles. Culture is used to boost chances to get a great person. The great people give strong bonuses in resources. Energy is used to move troops, attack, deploy, and rush troops. You get energy at the end of each turn, or from science and great people bonuses. There’s a lot of resource management, and a large part of the game is capturing as many spaces as possible to make sure you get more resources than your opponent.

    Your choice of government plays a big role on the outcome of a battle. There are 7 types of government, ranging from democracy to communism to a republic. Each government has different bonuses that can change your play style. Fascism has a heavy focus on attacking and is great at taking out spaces with defenses on them. Monarchy is more defensive with a +2 defensive bonus and 50% more cultural influence. From what I’ve played, most governments seem balanced, although communism is a little strong with its ability to deploy troops on any tile not already owned.

    One of the largest issues Firmament Wars has is a complete lack of players. I haven’t seen any other players aside from me and my friend in the player list, and while there is a server list and public chat, both are barren. You can play matches against bots, and the bots are competent enough to offer a challenge. There is a Discord server and you could possibly set up a game with somebody there, but otherwise make sure to bring a friend.

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

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    Bugs are limited mostly to weird issues with the menus, and we had no problems once in an actual match. We couldn’t set up a team match because it wouldn’t let either of us switch teams. A lot of times when setting up the server for a match, the server would crash or the game would claim there was no host. After a game is done, you can’t go back to the lobby, so you must create a new server each time. Just a lot of weird little stuff that doesn’t impact the game necessarily but is there often enough to be a bit tedious.

    The game takes place on a 2D map of whatever continent or part of Earth you choose to play on. Combat is shown by numbers and light-colored dashes that make gunshot sounds. The art is nothing crazy, but the simplistic nature of the game gives you all the information you need. The UI is easy to understand and never gets in the way of things.

    Controls are keyboard and mouse. There are hotkeys assigned to each action you can take, or you can just click the buttons with your mouse. Controls cannot be re-bound to other buttons, and there's no controller support. There aren’t many sounds aside from defenses being built and attacks. The soundtrack is not really worth mentioning and doesn’t stick out.

    Morally there isn’t a whole lot to note. You can hear gunshots whenever something is attacked, but you never see anything but numbers go down. Technically the goal is to defeat the other player with violence. There are assassinations that happen randomly, but it’s only described in text and not in detail. Public chat rooms are accessible and uncensored, but there isn’t an active playerbase to pollute it.

    Overall, Firmament Wars is very fun with its simplicity, quick matches, and fast-paced gameplay. There’s no fanbase for the game, so you need to have some friends around to enjoy the multiplayer. For 2 dollars there’s a great game here, and I recommend it fully.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Golem Gates
    Developed by: Laser Guided Games
    Published by: Laser Guided Games
    Release date: March 28, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Real-time Strategy
    Number of players: Single player, up to 4 players competitive/cooperative online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you, Laser Guided Games, for sending us a review key!

    Golem Gates sets out to twist two common traits of the real-time strategy (RTS) genre: games are too predictable, and games are too slow. To mitigate the issue of predictability, Golem Gates borrows card battle tropes with abandon. To speed things up, the game uses point-control resource collection and unit placement anywhere the player has vision. Golem Gates is designed to get around problems in an entrenched genre; as such, it largely assumes the player is familiar with the interface, statistics, and controls of its older genre siblings. If you are willing to learn a little, Golem Gates appeals to genre newcomers and veterans through its streamlined gameplay. Whatever your previous experience, this game messes with genre conventions and pays the price in the form of new problems. It’s interesting; it’s experimental; it feels repetitive eventually. I’m not sure that everything Golem Gates tries works, but the effort is appreciated.

    In most RTS games, the player collects resources to construct soldier units to destroy enemy units. Such is true in Golem Gates, sort of. The game is played from a bird’s eye view, but the player is also present on the battlefield in the form of a “Harbinger,” a powerful humanoid who, much like the king in chess, is the most important unit; lose it, and you lose the match. The player can summon units anywhere on the map that there is clear vision, removing the need for production structures. This keeps most of the tactical decisions at the points of conflict and, unless your deployed army gets wiped, removes the need to truck units across the map in the middle of a match. Unit construction is limited by the Harbinger’s energy bar, which slowly increases over the course of the match and depletes whenever a unit or spell is used. The energy maximum grows over the course of the match. The most powerful units cannot be produced early, and the matches have rising tension, stakes, and fireworks.

    Energy production is tied to control points across the map. Holding them refills the energy bar faster, thus allowing steadier unit construction. The early game is primarily composed of pushes to control these points. Golem Gates does not allow players to stockpile an army at the start of the match to prepare a devastating rush on the enemy; energy gain is simply too slow if you do not commit to control points.

    Golem Gates
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Improvisation-heavy and fast-paced real-time strategy (RTS) gameplay; decent amount of single-player content with good mission variety; detailed statistics on each unit informs deck-building and play decisions; good variety of unit types
    Weak Points: Unit construction cooldown can stretch matches after the outcome is obvious; lack of multiplayer community; some pathfinding issues
    Moral Warnings: Sentient robotic creatures attack each other with swords, guns, and energy

    Energy production and control points are designed to give matches a fast pace. In short, they succeed. Control point locations are always visible on the map, along with their current owner, so you never have to wonder where the fight is. On-site unit construction keeps battles lively. Knowing that the enemy can also spawn a giant mech wherever they have a single scout keeps you on your toes with an eye on your backline and Harbinger. On the downside, energy production in the late game is sometimes too slow if you need to replenish a large force. Maybe you have strong units guarding each of the control points, but the army you’re using to assault the enemy leader got destroyed by a few strong fireball spells. The enemy is behind a wall of turrets and cannons, so you need a sizeable force to break in and finish him off. The best course of action is to slowly stockpile a new army while the energy bar creeps up and drops down again with every unit you create. This has not often been a problem, but it is an issue inherent in the energy system: battles can continue long after the final result is certain.

    Thus far Golem Gates is an RTS with a brisker match pace. Now we add card game mechanics, and the game gains deckbuilding and forced improvisation. Every spell and unit is summoned with a glyph (essentially a card) from the deck you construct outside of a match. At the start of the match, you are given six glyphs and allowed to mull (switch out for a random different glyph) any, all, or none of them. Then, at fixed intervals during the match, you draw a new glyph from your deck. When your deck runs out, you can choose to take several seconds of inaction to reshuffle. There are an impressive number of glyphs with wildly different effects and uses. Many are standard foot soldiers, different only in cost and strength. Other glyphs spawn stealthed scouts or kamikaze bombers. Some nullify enemy spells. Glyph structures might spit fire, heal, displace, or return units defeated in its radius to your hand. There are many hero glyphs which, while powerful, cannot be used again until the hero unit dies. Glyph traps can act as landmines or poison traps. Some glyphs simply draw more glyphs into your hand. The effects go on and on. The deckbuilding screen explains the glyphs well, and they each have their place. Alas, the start of the match is the place for few, and if the initial draw and mulligan does not get you cheap units to capture control points, you can easily fall behind early as the enemy captures points with units you simply don’t have the energy to counter. This is the biggest factor of randomness, and there does not seem to be an easy way to mitigate it.

    This particular type of randomness is not a great issue in Golem Gates’s single-player offerings; you can simply restart the match. Campaign mode gives a tutorial and fifteen missions. They are simply structured but enjoyable enough, with map variety and regular rewards of new glyphs to take you along despite the incomprehensible, long, and boring pre-mission cutscenes. Some missions have you face an opposing leader in the field; most pit you against one of the eponymous Golem Gates, which function exactly like a leader (spawning enemies, defending itself) except that they do not move. I enjoyed campaign mode a good deal. Then I discovered the Trials, and the story missions haven’t seemed the same since.

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    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

    Trials is a challenge scenario mode. Those scenarios are almost as varied as the glyphs. To name a few: you spawn endless creep units and must escort them with structures and spells only; an ally Harbinger must be defended; you cannot draw glyphs and instead must collect them from the battlefield; one supercharged hero unit must be destroyed before it gets to you. You can build decks for specific challenges, giving them a puzzle feel. This is my favorite mode, and the story missions are a bit bland in comparison.

    Survival mode is just what it sounds like: you must survive against an enemy onslaught for a set period of time. It is won by making tradeoffs between point control for energy and defense of the Harbinger. In survival mode, you can theoretically be joined by an ally, either random or from your Steam friend list. I say “theoretically” because it is possible that no one else is trying to play this game online at the moment. This is a shame, because Golem Gates clearly aims to be a competitive multiplayer game. There is a versus mode for 1v1, 2v2, and 4-player free-for-all matches on one of several maps. I’m sure it would be fun, if I could find an opponent. I could not. There are, fortunately, AI battles with a variety of maps and AI types. Even the enemy deck can be customized. If you enjoy the gameplay, there’s plenty to be had.

    Moral issues are limited thanks to the mechanical nature of almost all the creatures in the game. The cutscenes attempt to present some scary imagery that is undercut by the uninspired voice acting. As games centered on fighting go, Golem Gates is remarkably clean and inoffensive. The game runs smoothly once you get the right setting on your computer. I had to tone down the beautiful hi-res graphics to ugly-yet-functional to prevent jittering and overheating. Once I did, the game ran with few issues. Units often have pathfinding problems beyond, “Why did you choose to go around that rock the long way?” In one story mission, units would get stuck for a time at an open door. In general, units struggle to stay within the radius of their friendly turret structures, choosing to take the fight out to the enemy where they can die without cover fire. It’s annoying, though not game-breaking.

    There is nothing special about the soundtrack. Controls are standard, at least if you have played an RTS before. The game does not go out of its way to make all your control options obvious. Units can be grouped up, individually controlled, and set to use their special abilities automatically. The map can be scrolled and zoomed. There’s nothing unusual, but little things like this are not explained well and could take some experimentation to learn.

    I would recommend Golem Gates to people who enjoy RTS games or think they might enjoy marching a small, varied army from skirmish to skirmish. I wish I could recommend it on the basis of its multiplayer potential; there just aren’t enough players for me to evaluate its viability as a competitive, changing multiplayer game. What Golem Gates does to distinguish itself, it does well. Where it stumbles, it does so because it is reaching for specific goals. If the online servers are never inhabited, you could still have a good time with this game for a while.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Grey Goo
    Developed By: Petroglyph
    Published By: Grey Box
    Released: January 23, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Real-time strategy (RTS)
    PEGI Rating: 12 (Violence, Online gameplay)
    Number of Players: 1-6 offline, 1-6 online 
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Grey Box for sending us this game to review!

    Grey Goo feels very much like the real-time strategy game series Command and Conquer.  Perhaps it's because the development team consists of the same people.  And that's a good thing.  It’s an RTS made by veterans who have honed their skills over many years to create a worthy RTS title which includes a story spanning over 3 factions through its campaign.

    Convinced they are alone, mankind is forced to cleanse a man made exploration tool gone awry, the Goo, which threatens their survival.  Starting the campaign, you begin as the Beta on their home planet.  The Beta are an alien race attempting to secure their own survival from an ancient enemy.

    Catalyst is the primary and single resource for Grey Goo.  Build a refinery and resource collectors will start collecting catalyst from the pools dotted around the map.  Catalyst is then used in base production and building of units.

    For all factions you have logistics, limiting the amount of structures and units you can produce.  Each structure and unit has its own logistic cost depending on its strategic value.  When you reach your logistic limit production is stopped.  I suppose this adds a strategic element for those who really want to delve into the rock paper scissors element of RTS games towards building specific units to counter enemy units effectively with minimum loss to your own.

    Grey Goo
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid RTS mechanics; each faction has a unique base building mechanic
    Weak Points: Slow paced
    Moral Warnings: Violence, humanoid characters can be killed

    The way in which each faction builds its bases are unique.  The humans use conduit lines that expand out from their headquarters which other structures are built off of.  This limits the expansion of the humans as conduit lines can be blocked by terrain or destroyed, cutting off power and disabling structures.  On the plus side structures can then be teleported around, so long as they remain attached to a conduit line connected to the headquarters.  That means, if you have some turrets that are on the opposite side of the base in relation to an enemy force, you can teleport them to the conduit line closest to the attacking enemy.  You can reposition as many times as you want, allowing you to spend your catalyst and logistics on offensive forces instead of defensive structures.

    The Beta can build anywhere, provided they have line of sight.  Their structures need to be attached to hubs that have capacity for either 2, 4 or 6 structures.  Dropships are called to bring down buildings from the air.  This allows for rapid expansion, so long as there are enough units to defend the structures from patrols that roam the map in single player.  

    The Goo mixes up base building entirely.  Instead of a static headquarters they have a Mother Goo that sits on top of a catalyst pool, which spawns units and more Mother Goo.  Mother Goo are mobile and the Goo in general can traverse the most difficult terrain, making it more difficult to track them down and kill them.  Producing more Mother Goo and sitting them on other catalyst pools not only speeds up production but allows the Goo to potentially attack from multiple directions.

    All units and structures are grouped under different tabs.  This design choice makes it difficult to find what you are looking for until you get used to the interface.  In the long term this helps reduce the amount of information displayed on the screen and allows for faster access without having to scroll through a long list or select a specific building to queue up units.  A simple technology tree allows the unlocking or enhancement of abilities for a selection of units.  There are 3 choices per unit, with only 1 choice that can be applied.

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

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    A great deal of effort has gone into creating the CGI cutscenes used to deliver the continuing story sporadically throughout the campaign.  Mission briefings are delivered by talking heads that look realistic and move naturally.  At first glance it closely resembles CGI mixed in with real actors wearing makeup and prosthetics, and it is entirely created via CGI.  A nice touch in the opening cutscene, the Beta talk in their own alien language.  The voice acting is great and fits in well with the narrative and characters.  You can feel the love and dedication that has gone into the production.

    Voice acting, sound effects and music fit very neatly.  Command & Conquer veterans will be pleased to know that the music is scored by Frank Klepacki, adding atmosphere and tension to the game.  A vast array of options is provided in the audio setting department, more than you would expect, yet pleasing to have.  There are various sliders for all the different sound effects and voices for tuning to your heart’s content.

    The game suffers from longer than expected loading and save times.  If you like to save and reload often after a mistake then long saving and loading times may encourage you not to do so.  Saving and reloading often isn't really needed, at least on the normal difficulty I experienced.  On average I saved no more than a few times on some missions (if I even remembered to do so).  The normal difficulty was more challenging than expected, but rewarding to overcome.  On my first play through I needed a few restarts on some of the earlier missions, but once I became more familiar with the interface and game mechanics I was able to improve my skills, so that the rest of the campaign didn’t feel overly challenging.  There is a hard and easy difficulty for those who want more of the challenge or prefer to just enjoy the experience and story.  The game's pace is slow in comparison to StarCraft and less intensive as it’s not a race of how many actions you can perform per minute.

    For players interested in multiplayer, there is skirmish (player Vs. AI) and multiplayer (player Vs. player).  In skirmish, the AI has an increased range of difficulties and behaviour presets to choose from (i.e. offensive, defensive, idle, etc).  Multiplayer offers online with ranked and unranked matches, with 1v1, 2v2 or Free For All ranked matches or choose to customise your own unranked match.  There is also a replay feature and LAN (Local Area Network) support is also included.

    The game requires the destruction of enemy forces, with some variations which require you to survive a certain amount of time.  Violence involves the destruction of mostly mechanized units.  There are some humanoid alien units who will fall over on death and then vanish.

    Overall, Grey Goo is a fun game to play and has been crafted by the veteran developers who know what their core audience is looking for in an RTS.  They have crafted an interesting and unique story driven campaign uncovered by progressing through each of the 3 factions.  The different building mechanics and unit selection offer up a unique gameplay experience for each faction, adding to the game's longevity for those who wish to master each race in skirmish or multiplayer.  If you have overlooked this gem of an RTS on initial release, then now would be a good time to pick it up.

    Dan Woods (@themudpig)

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Heathen Engineering's Terran
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Thunderful for sending us this game to review!

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

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

    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thanks to Ironhide Game Studio for the Steam review code!

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

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

    Iron Marines
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you MunkyFun for sending us this game to review!

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

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

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

    League of War: VR Arena
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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