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Game Info:

Disgaea 2 PC
Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
Published by: NIS America
Release date: January 30, 2017
Available on: PS2, Linux, macOS, Windows
Genre: Turn based strategy
Number of players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

Disgaea 2 was originally released for the PS2 in 2006 and was released for the PSP in 2009.  All of the content in those games along with enhanced visuals plus keyboard and mouse support is now available in the 2017 PC version.  Since characters from the first Disgaea make an appearance in this title, I highly recommend playing the original game before picking this one up.     

The main character in this title is Adell, the only human living in the netherworld which has been cursed fifteen years ago by the powerful Overlord Zenon.  The curse Zenon placed on the inhabitants caused the humans to lose their memories, conscience, and slowly turn into demons.  Adell doesn’t know what became of his human parents, but he loves his adopted demon family who fully support his quest of defeating Zenon to avenge those impacted by Zenon’s curse.  Luckily, Adell seems to be immune to it.

The story begins with Adell’s adoptive mother trying to summon Zenon (using her children as part of the ritual) and getting his only daughter instead.  Princess Rozalin is very stereotypical with her pampered ways and high demands.  The clash in personalities provides much humor and silly dialogue which is voice acted in cut-scenes.  

Since the princess lived in a secluded mansion, she hasn’t done much fighting and is unfamiliar with the world of Veldine.  Adell is relying on her to bring him to her father who he wants to defeat.  She hopes that he’ll succumb to one of the increasingly stronger demons along the way.  

Disgaea 2 PC
Highlights:

Strong Points: Funny characters, fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
Moral Warnings: Sacrifices are made to summon demons; language (b*tch, b*stard, d*mn, hell); sexualized outfits; gross humor

Adell and Rozalin won’t have to fight them alone though.  Along the way they’ll meet some people with interesting backstories who are willing to join their cause.  Several party members are available through the bundled in add-on content called “Summoning Experiments.”     

Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate. 

Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this series has a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

Another returning feature is the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the Panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the Panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

Disgaea 2 PC
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 71%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 6.5/10
Sexual Content - 6.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

After completing Adell’s story, Axel’s story becomes unlocked and there’s even more enemies and silliness there.  Axel’s starting level is 100 and party members from Adell’s adventure are at his disposal.  I like how Etna from the first Disgaea game is available as a party member later on.  Be warned that there are some battles that are meant to be lost to progress the story.  If you find that the boss has several thousand more defense and hit points than your characters, they’re probably not meant to be defeated.  If you’re struggling to defeat enemies and bosses perhaps it’s time to upgrade your equipment and power level to give your party a fighting chance.

The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases, you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  If their vote is leaning against you, they can usually be bribed with items from your inventory.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

Some of the female characters wear bikini like outfits and flaunt their cleavage and back sides.  Some of the humor takes a sexual tone with several breast (and lack thereof) jokes.  Language is scattered throughout the game, but doesn’t use the F bomb.  Other words like hell, d*mn, b*tch, and b*stard are said though.  Since there are lots of battles, violence is a given but there’s isn’t much blood seen if any.  Magic use is unavoidable since some of the enemies are practically immune to physical attacks and the long range spells are extremely helpful.

If you don’t mind magic use, sexual humor, and language, Disgaea 2 is a fun turn based strategy game that’s bound to entertain you for several hours.  The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and there have been bundle sales that included both games at a discount.  I look forward to playing more of the series on PC and other console platforms.

 

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Game Info:

Herolike
Developed By: Games Hut
Published By: Black Shell Media
Released: February 19, 2016
Available On: Windows 
Genre: Action, RPG
ESRB Rating: none
Number of Players: Single player only
Version reviewed: 1.5.0
Price: $7.99 on Steam

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

Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us a review code.

Games Hut's Herolike is a fantasy RPG that promises an experience similar to juggernauts like Diablo yet wants to add a customizable spin to it. It says you'll travel through a fantasy world, create the hero you've always wanted to be, and to save the land. First released in 2016 on Steam's Early Access, Herolike seeks to give an adventure that's defined by you. At least, that's what it advertises.

Herolike's structure is segmented into choosable missions: Friendly, Hostile, Defense, and Gamble. Friendly missions involve aimless story snippets with random either/or questions tacked on. Hostile missions involve battling in one of six designated arenas. Defense missions are specialized fight or flight sequences, and Gamble will randomly send you into one of the previous three. Your accomplishments are rewarded with money, skill points, and 'renown.' Before you ask, no. I'm not sure what function 'renown' really serves. It didn't seem to do harm or favors, so unless I missed something, they're pointless. Anyway, to go further on some details, Hostile's battlegrounds range from caves to deserts to graveyards, and each comes with its own inherent hazards like darkness, windstorms, or poisonous fog. What goals you'll get and what kind of enemies you're fighting will also be a tossup. I admire Games Hut's attempt to preserve their gameplay's novelty, but I'm afraid the available conditions aren't unique or drastic enough to be game changers. Nothing really prompts you to change your strategy. Defense missions are just as if not more repetitive. Either you're in a tunnel to protect a relic or running from lava. Otherwise, you're lighting watchfires on a fort. That's it. It's a shame really. They tried to keep the experience fresh, but just switching out minor inconveniences don't quite cut it.

Of course, all adventurers need a pick-me-up once in a while, and a small town acts the part. This rustic village is your main hub. You can buy battle gear and potions whenever you visit, but there's one catch: You must build and upgrade the market yourself, which costs supplies. You earn your supplies like a daily allowance for completing missions. I hope you're good at stewardship skills, because knowing how and what to invest in will determine whether you thrive or nosedive. That's all well and good by me. However, there's one aspect here that soured my experience. You must erect an altar in case you die mid-mission. Otherwise, your progress, skills, weapons, town upgrades and all go bye-bye. Now, besides its ritualistic existence, the altar mechanic wouldn't be so bad if it only had to be constructed once. Unfortunately, its warranty is limited to once per death, so if you're prone to failure, prepare to reconstruct this thing over and over again. But the real kicker is that you can't revisit earlier missions to level up. Why is that the kicker? Because, assuming you're penniless, come the next unbeatable mission that altar mechanic will suck your supplies dry until your inevitable, permanent demise. Trust me. Games cease to be fun when you know you're toast, and it's just spreading the butter.

Herolike
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good music; Has potential
Weak Points: Glitchy; Repetitive; Unforgiving; Pitiful payoff
Moral Warnings: Fairytale magic; Runes; A scant clothed shaman; Alcoholic references

Gameplay is tricky, and I say that in a very mixed way. Your basic attacks can be used willy-nilly. Special attacks require manna (not related to the Biblical food), and your manna and health levels are gauged by the blue and red meters on the bottom of the screen respectively. Your attack style is determined by which character you chose. The hunter and shaman focus on ranged combat while the barbarian, guardian, and trickster center around melee. Everything I described so far is well executed. The special attacks are probably the best parts, but unfortunately, my experiences using each character only unveiled to me how unbalanced Herolike's gameplay is. Notice that there is no defensive option. Granted, each character has their armor/healing special and can buy gear to lessen damage, but that's a poor replacement for good 'ol dodging and blocking. Why am I saying this? Those teaming monsters may take damage, but they don't flinch to your attacks. They'll kill you unless you keep running away. I don't know about you, but that's not very heroic to me. The lack of defensive options also means melee characters must sacrifice survival in order to land their hits. Worst of all is the trickster class, because for some sick reason, they're denied armor and are as death prone as lemmings! Herolike also gives you little time to know your mission goal before the event starts. Simply reading what I was supposed to do got me killed on my first lava run. Lastly, the item menu doesn't pause the battle, so good luck trying to avoid enemies with an obstructed view while sifting through your inventory. Have fun.

Herolike has two control schemes: the top-down view and the hack'n slash view. Unlike what their names imply, they have nothing to do with camera angles. Now, both styles have some commands in common. You aim and click your mouse for basic attacks and numbered keys one through four are for your specials. For top down view, you move around with the A,W,S, and D keys, and in hack'n slash you move by clicking and holding your mouse in the direction you want to go. For ranged characters, I recommend the top down view, and melee users should probably use hack'n slash. The learning curve is confusing at first. However, my biggest complaint is the horrid reaction time. My avatar would react a second after my initial command. That's abysmal. I'm trying to survive charging goonies, but I can't when 'Mr. Sleepyhead' is too slow. This might be passable if you're constantly upgrading weapons, but then you'd have to be  King Midas with money coming out of your ears. Do you recall that all important altar mechanic? Yeah, that's just the salt in the wound. I tell you, if I didn't abuse the quit button before looming defeat, I never would have made it to Herolike's ending.

So what is your quest really about? The usual. An evil overlord corrupted a sacred artifact. Beasties were unleashed, and you're the hero. Typically, I prefer a meatier plot than this, but given how Herolike claimed to tailor to the player's tastes, I see the reason behind a barebones narrative. The only problem is Herolike doesn't give you much story to work with. You do get plot bits from Friendly missions, but they're about as interconnected as untied shoe laces. There's no arching conflict. It doesn't help that this quest gets wrapped up by quite possibly the laziest ending I've ever seen. For all your struggle, there's no pay off. I'm serious. They congratulate you via cue card then throw you back to the beginning without the weapons or skill levels you strived for. It feels like a punishment. You don't even get to fight the evil overlord. You're delegated to his right hand mooks and are simply told he slunk off - The End. You know, that reminds me of a certain mushroom headed twerp who informed players their princess was in another castle - except this time there's no 'other castle' to get to. Not cool Games Hut. Not cool.

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

Game Score - 58%
Gameplay - 10/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 1/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 80%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 7.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Visually, Herolike has its good points. I'm not a fan for ugly monsters (especially zombies *blech*), but I can certainly appreciate their designs. The loading screen artwork was especially neat to look at for style alone. You can see the labor of love painted into them. The six Hostile arenas look nice too but aren't that impressive. I do praise the Games Hut for their fluid animation and special effects, though. Unfortunately, there are some flaws. Narrow corridors leave the sky mapping edges exposed, and I wouldn't recommend messing with the graphics controls. It really messed up the color swatches and textures. However, the best thing in Herolike is the music. I've gotta say, for all the missed potential, Games Hut didn't skimp out on the score. The soundtracks fit the world's theming well yet possesses enough individual flare to be memorable in their crisp, rich tones. I'll thumbs up for that.

Okay. I've had a few complaints earlier, but now comes my grudge. Herolike is glitchy. So much so, I don't think quality control even glanced at it. That may sound harsh and unfair from me, but let me put it into perspective for you. Herolike crashed on me no less than nine times. Enemies failed to spawn three times. The music dropped out in the middle of the final boss fight. Those aforementioned graphic screwups produced rainbow trees, blinking objects, and blocky leaves and wouldn't let me fix it for a while. One Friendly mission had their choices missing. The in-game Options button refused to work. Screen display for a time wasn't consistent. I could go on and on and on and on and on! I once considered I was the only one with these problems but nope. Several other customers reported these tech issues and then some. At first, I wanted to call these bugs mere accidents. However, Games Hut came out and admitted their product wasn't finished. Shortsighted mistakes I can understand, but this blatant negligence just infuriates me.

For moral ethics, fantasy settings like this have their usual pitfalls. I'm sure you've predicted most of them, but I'll give you the rundown. Many special attacks involve spirit summoning, and the shaman in particular specializes in these mystical crafts . . . and lingerie attire apparently. Runes and charms can be bought for protection, and I've already chatted about the altars and sacred relics. One mission goal also involves cleansing an altar. Your foes gallery includes silly looking orcs, demons, zombies, and skeletons. Violence is pretty tame, but bodies do linger post mortem. Some demons bleed lava pools, and bright red squirts or spills out of you upon death too. I guess I should also mention that Friendly missions do include immoral choices, but that's no different than basic life anyway. 

Ho boy. Repetitive tasks, unbalanced battles, sluggish avatars, unforgiving mechanics, and game breaking bugs. Herolike really set itself up for disappointment didn't it? Not only is its system unfair and unrewarding, but this game touts customizable features without lending you the freedom to do so. You get to choose, sure, but they're choices between pre-made characters, position locked buildings, and determined paths. It's a controlled environment. However, does that mean Herolike is junk? There were times I did have fun, which means Herolike could be so much more if Games Hut would fix those bugs and push it further. The potential exists, but the sheer fact that they willfully released their glitchy game doomed it from the start. I've gotten completed, unbroken games for cheaper than their asking price, so why is their defunct project more expensive? I'm sorry, but if they're using their paying customers as guinea pigs, that shows such utter disrespect for people's time and money. I know you've got something here, Games Hut. Please, please, please, finish Herolike. Make it blossom into the adventure it's meant to be. Then we can talk playtime.

 

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Game Info:

Goetia
Developed by: Sushee
Published by: Square Enix
Released: April 14, 2016
Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
Genre: Adventure
ESRB rating: T (violent references, partial nudity)
Number of players: 1
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Young Abigail Blackwood passed away in 1902. She never expected to rise from her grave 40 years later and return to her childhood home, Blackwood Manor. Now as a ghost, she finds the place largely devoid of life, but there is a malevolent presence within the dilapidated mansion. Driven by curiosity, she must discover what happened to everyone and uncover a sinister mystery that has been haunting the region for more than four decades.

That mysterious synopsis is what drives Goetia, a point-and-click adventure game from Sushee. This game drips with atmosphere, from the gloomy backgrounds to the haunting music and spooky sound effects. You play Abigail, represented by an ephemeral, luminescent orb that follows your mouse cursor around the scenes. Left clicking on an object will bring up a menu allowing you to look at objects, try to manipulate them, or possess them. Other keyboard buttons allow you to bring up your journal, look at the documents you've seen so far, or highlight objects you can interact with. The interface is minimal and the controls sharp, allowing you to get drawn into the mystery without getting distracted by the minutiae of game design.

As you explore the mansion and the environment around it, you are able to learn more about the mansion, the nearby village, the forest behind the mansion, and more. You'll unlock clues about what happened to your family and what they were involved in, and Abigail's role in the events as well. One of the elements that deviates Goetia from other adventure games is inventory management; since you're a ghostly orb, you don't have a backpack or pockets to keep the items you come across. Instead, you can push your essence into specific objects in order to "possess" them for as long as you need. The object will float around and can interact with some parts of the world in order to solve various challenges. While Abigail can float through floors and walls unless they're sealed (more on that later), the object can't pass through solid objects. Sometimes the challenge can simply be to get an item from one place to another while trying to figure out how to get around a locked door. 

Goetia
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent graphics, sound and music; challenging puzzles; intriguing story
Weak Points: Some puzzles have confusing or convoluted solutions
Moral Warnings: Nudity; language; undead references; significant occult presence throughout the game

There also are a variety of puzzles to solve as well. Some of these are familiar challenges, like trying to rearrange a torn note into its original form so you can read it. Others provide more of a challenge, including trying to match sheet music to a musical score. Some of the puzzles may prove to be too challenging, though – even to the point of making very little sense. I admit that I had to look at the solution to a few of the puzzles, and even with the answers I couldn't figure out the puzzle. This is something that even the author of the walkthrough admitted. Although all the dialogue is text based, you'll need to have a good set of speakers or headphones to solve some of the challenges, since some of them are based on audio clues, including a couple of musical challenges. 

You'll want to listen to the game, anyway. The eerie sound effects and music do an excellent job of drawing you into the environment. You also can manipulate a slider to darken the game, to further add to the spooky atmosphere (I kept mine brighter since it makes the screenshots clearer to see. It wasn't because I was scared... honest!). This game is gorgeous in its art style – although desolate and decrepit, the details in the artwork are amazing. Even the "Silver Labyrinth," which is an area where you pass through old photographs, look like you are traveling through scratched and speckled black and white photos. The game may be classified as "horror," but the environment is more unsettling than terrifying. There aren't any jump scares, and since you're a ghost, you really don't have to worry about anything killing you. In fact, once you get to a certain point in the game, you can freely explore and solve the puzzles in whatever order you'd like. Backtracking is required, as you'll unlock and uncover different areas, and enjoy the new discoveries in the process. The only plot hole I could find is trying to determine who has been paying for the electric lights in the manor and nearby Oakmarsh long after both locales have been deserted!

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

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 57%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
+3 for demonstrating the consequences of messing around with occult practices.

As beautiful as the game is, though, there are some significant moral concerns which make me hesitant to recommend this game. Of course there are the undead elements, since you are playing as a ghost. More alarmingly, though, is the presence of the creatures inhabiting the house. It seems that your father was a professor of "demonology," and for some reason, five demons are trapped within the mansion. These aren't made-up demons, either – the ones that Sushee selected have historical backgrounds dating as far back as the 15th century. I recognized the name of the first one you encounter – Malphas – but a Google search of the other names revealed that some of these demons have been theorized for a few centuries, including the sigils and symbols that appear in Goetia. In fact, the name of the game itself refers to a work called the "Ars Goetia," which appeared in the 17th century and focused on the identity of demons... and how to summon them. Needless to say, this game is steeped in occult references, to the point where it could be considered a primer in demonology itself. A strong spiritual center is highly advised if you're considering playing this game, and I wouldn't recommend it to children because of its potential influences. Almost as a minor note, there are also language issues, as "Hell" is mentioned several times – for the most part, as a location, rather than a curse word. In one of the journal entries, one of the demons appears as a nude male, and another is composed of three creatures, including a topless woman. A corpse does appear in one location, as well as skulls in another. Finally, one of the puzzles involves the use of a ouija board.

Goetia is a beautiful game with a powerful story that compels you to learn more. The atmosphere is immersive and the length of the story, combined with the entertainment of the puzzles, makes this one of the more entertaining and intriguing adventure games that I've played. But the significant amount of occult symbolism, combined with how subtly it is presented, should give anyone reason to hesitate. Be firm in your faith if you wish to explore the haunted ruins of Blackwood Manor. 

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Game Info:

Hollow Knight
Developer:Team Cherry
Published by: Team Cherry
Release Date: Feb 24, 2017
Available on: Windows
Genre: Action, Platformer
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

 

Why is it that games in horrifying worlds always seem to be the most challenging and fun? We have plenty of great games with bright and colorful worlds or stories. Yet the game Hollow Knight has a mix of challenge and intrigue. I never realized the world of insect's was so terrifying. 

Hollow Knight is a platformer adventure game brought to us by Team Cherry. You play as a mysterious insect knight with no memory. His driving force is to find the secret to why the kingdom of insects is in ruins. Those that live above ground live in poverty and darkness. Those that did not survive wander with no mind or soul of their own. The ruins of the insect kingdom drive you to find the dark magic that laid this world to waste. 

Hollow Knight
Highlights:

Strong Points: The story, combat and music of Hollow Knight are all great. It is easy to sink time into this game.
Weak Points: Platforming doesn't have any unique aspects to it. Backtracking can be a chore for people who get lost easily.
Moral Warnings: This game deals with soul manipulation and dark occult themes. It is a dark game in more then just its art style and has a lot of Dark Spiritual symbolism. You'll need to take other souls to use your abilities.

 

The gameplay is what you'll make of it. The platforming itself are things we have seen time and time again. Wall jumping, dashing and double jumping are nothing new. The thing that drove me forward is the combat. Your knight only has a rusty nail to fight with. Whether it's the enemy insect knight Hornet, mantis samurai or soul sucking dung beetle mages, you will have plenty of challenge surviving in this world. As you progress through the game you'll find plenty of skills, passives and upgrades to your nail.

My biggest credit to the game is the story. Hollow Knight doesn't give you a lot to work with. Despite not knowing what happened, the air of mystery drew me to continue this strange quest. Every small bit of information was satisfying as I progressed through the game. Usually the dark and dim art styles don't do anything for me. Games like Inside or The Binding Of Isaac overdid the dark tones for me. Something about this strangely somber kingdom kept me going. The mystery was aided by the artstyle in the best way possible. The music also added to the driving tones behind this game. I felt relief whenever I heard the sound of the bug train station so I could save. The song heard in the drowning city echoed the pain of a civilization lost. 

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

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 76%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

The exploration in this game also has a negative side to it. The map system is not very helpful. You'll need to equip one of the game's charms to see exactly where you are on the map. This wastes a valuable slot for potentially more powerful passives. You also have to buy markers from the map shop to mark where important sites are in each area. If you do not find the map maker in each area before you defeat the main boss you'll have to buy the map from the shop once you beat the boss. While exploration is fun, backtracking can be annoying if you are going for 100 percent runs. The platforming is average, The jumping and navigation are things I've been through time and time again. It's done well but nothing unique jumped out at me.

Despite being the kingdom of bugs, this game deals with soul stealing, occult magic, backstabbing and betrayal. In some people's view, Hornet might be a hero as well as a villain. This kingdom has fallen in ruins due to people trying to go beyond their station as mortals. This game does push going beyond the rules quite often in order for the Hollow Knight to get what he wants. Soul manipulation might be disturbing to some people as well. Souls are required to use some abilities.

The Kingdom of Bugs has fallen. Save it, or destroy it in Hollow Knight.

 

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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)

 

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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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