Saturday, October 25, 2014

New Publisher on GOG tipped to be Lucasarts/Disney

Could Lucasarts be finally coming to GOG?

This is definitely some pretty big news if it's true, but unlike mere rumours that cropped up quite awhile ago now, it seems like there's a very good chance that GOG.com's next publisher will be a publisher behind many good old adventure games of the 80s and 90s. I'm of course talking about Lucasarts which was acquired by Disney not that long ago and all the classic adventure games of theirs such as Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, The Curse of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.

I mentioned those games in particular since some of you might mention, "wait, doesn't Steam already sell some Lucasarts adventure games?". Yes, they sell some of them but as you can see by some of the games listed above, the selection they have on Steam is meagre and incomplete (why wouldn't you have those games). If GOG.com can manage to get more of the oldschool Lucasarts adventure games available for purchase again, I along with many other adventure gaming fans will be happy campers. However, Jennifer @ the International House of Mojo urges caution since the "proof" that Lucasarts is the next publisher (some fonts that are in the style of popular franchises) happen to be Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Monkey Island - all franchises that are already available on Steam - well sort of (there's only Monkey Island 1 and 2 available for example).

[ SOURCE: The International House of Mojo - The LucasArts GOG.com Rumor Is Here Again ]

Friday, October 24, 2014

First Impressions - Civilization: Beyond Earth

Whooooa. I'm an alien. I'm a legal alien. I'm an a-lien ea-ting planes.

It's finally here. Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is a sci-fi take on Civ V, obviously inspired by the likes of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri aka SMAC. Just like in SMAC, you're responsible for a colony ship that has landed on a distant, alien world, and it's up to you to either embrace the planet's xenobiology or exterminate it, paving the way for a New Terra. Alternatively you can take another route and just evolve humanity by cybernetic means. Anyway, I've managed to clock almost 2.5 hours with Beyond Earth so far and here are my initial thoughts.

What I like

  • Quests: I'm really loving the quests system. It reminds me a bit of the ethical dilemmas you'd face in Galactic Civilization or indeed the random events you would encounter in Civ IV: Beyond the Sword. You usually get a choice of what you want to do which will give you different benefits for your faction. It definitely keeps the game interesting and helps immerse you into the role of colony administrator.
  • Ability to customise civ on the fly: Following on from the quests I was mentioning before, these (along with a more flexible civ creation system) means you're not only able to have more say in what your civ's abilities are from the start, but also during the game. This means your civ/faction can adapt to how the game plays out instead of you, for example, being locked in as Venice or the Mongols on a map with hardly any city states in Civ V. Your civ is no longer doomed from the start.
  • Raging Barb Aliens making the game more CvE than CvC: The aliens remind me of the Raging Barbarians mode in Civ V or the Native American tribes in Colonization: they're not to be taken lightly. Consequently this makes the game as much a Civilization vs Environment (CvE, to mangle an MMORPG term) game as the usual Civilization vs Civilization (CvC) game.
  • Radial tech tree instead of a linear one: In Civilization you have a linear tech tree. Sure you can pick different paths along this tree but you'd eventually reach the same endpoint: "Future Tech". So far, it seems that Beyond Earth is quite different. With a radial tech tree there's the opportunity to take quite different research paths in each playthrough of a game. I'm not sure if that will actually be the reality (I haven't played enough of the game yet) but I'm curious to find out!
  • Affinities: Yes, these may at first glance look like Civ V ideologies in different clothes, but there is a bit more to them than that. Picking a certain affinity path will not only alter how your units look but offer them different kind of promotions. For example, if you pick the Harmony affinity, your units can eventually benefit from the miasma that normally injures your units at the start of the game. Neat.
  • Music: Geoff Knorr returns to score the music for Beyond Earth and I think this is his best effort yet. He really knows how to make an epic science-fiction soundtrack and that's exactly what we have here. Too bad that on release fans weren't able to actually access the soundtrack as Firaxis claimed.

What I dislike

  • A lot of similarities to Brave New World: While Brave New World, the last expansion to be released for Civ V, is a good baseline to work from, it's obvious that many things have just been exported over and simply renamed or given a new coat of paint. For example, it didn't take me long to realise that this new thing called "health" is just another word for "happiness" from Civ V. I'm also disappointed that they've retained a very similar interface with respect to the notification pop-ups on the right-hand side. I still end up accidentally moving units whenever I right-click to close them!
  • Blandness of improvements/wonders: Yes, I know they've adopted a similar aesthetic to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri with respect to the improvement and wonder icons, but again they come off as a bit bland
  • Differences are minor between sponsors: Sure you can tell which sponsor is better for particular play styles but the bonuses are potentially minor in the grand scheme of things and when you take into account all the other customisation options you have for the expedition to the new planet, you might miss the clear cut differences between civilizations in previous Civ games, or even the factions in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. In that you knew Sister Miriam Godwinson was the religious fanatic and Lady Deidre Skye was the one to pick if you wanted to co-exist with Planet. Not really the case in this one.
  • This is no Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Since I came in without any expectation this was going to be another Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, this one isn't such a downer for me. For those of you expecting to be able to terraform to the extent you did in SMAC, you're going to be disappointed. Likewise if you expect to have more customisation options with your units.

Verdict

This is definitely no SMAC but it's a pretty good game in its own right so far and there's enough going on in the background here to keep me busy for awhile. Think of it as a standalone, sci-fi expansion to Civilization V if you will with a revamped tech tree, raging barb aliens, a quest system and limited unit customisation thanks to affinities. If that sounds like fun to you, you're likely to be happy with Beyond Earth.

[ LINK: Official Civilization: Beyond Earth website ]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

First Impressions - Jagged Alliance Flashback

BAR FIGHT (guns sold separately)

So another one of the games that I backed on Kickstarter has finally been released; Jagged Alliance Flashback, by Danish developer Full Control, is meant to be a prequel of sorts to the venerable turn-based tactics franchise, Jagged Alliance. The game is set in the 1980s on the Caribbean island chain of San Hermanos. As usual, a harsh and brutal dictator has taken over the nation which means the place is ripe for a revolution. Cue your squad of mercenaries that have come in to aid this revolution and bring an end to "The Prince" of San Hermanos.

So far, so good, if you're a Jagged Alliance fan. It sounds like the typical plot and setting and the game has more or less stuck to the franchise's turn-based tactics roots. So why the mixed Steam reviews?

Mixed reviews for Jagged Alliance Flashback a couple of days after release

Here's some food for thought after playing the game for 5 hours.

What I like

  • Music: They've definitely got the 80s action movie feel to the soundtrack which means it's perfect for this game.
  • I.M.P. Test is back: Yep, that humourous aptitude test that you had to complete in order to create your custom merc in Jagged Alliance 2? It's back.
  • It's turn-based tactics: Ultimately, this game is still a turn-based tactics game and boy do I love this genre. The game can be fun at times, like the many times I'm holed up in Spice's bar fending off a horde of the Prince's troops from the windows.

What I dislike

  • Frame rate drops: As you can see by the graphics, this game doesn't look like the most graphic-intensive of games, however occasionally I get some pretty bad frame rate drops while playing and I can't pinpoint the reason why.
  • Difficulty curve: The game seems quite difficult at the start - even moreso than Jagged Alliance 2. It doesn't help that there's no place to buy guns and equipment either like you could in Jagged Alliance 2. Eventually you get access to a guy in town that can sell you some weapons, armour and ammo but some of it is really basic stuff and he doesn't offer other things like bandages, medkits or repair tools - meaning the only way to acquire these is hiring a merc that has them. I miss Bobby Ray's.
  • Missing hotkeys: It's good to see the return of hotkeys like PGUP and PGDN corresponding to changing the stance of your mercs, however it's strange how they managed to bring that back but not others, such as "L" for turning your merc around: this is now done with the mouse.
  • Voice acting: This is one of my biggest peeves but it's probably a minor one by the standards of most fans. I know it would've been a big ask to get all the original voice actors to reprise their roles and I know Full Control probably lacked the budget to do so, but as a result some of the mercs you've come to love in the previous Jagged Alliance games, such as Ivan, sound totally different. There also seems to be a lot less dialogue as well. In Jagged Alliance 2, mercs would often comment on situations or even developments with the story's plot. They even compliment or whinge about other mercs in your squad. So far I haven't seen any of this in Jagged Alliance Flashback and I'm not sure if I ever will.
  • Lack of cutscenes: Cutscenes don't maketh the game but it's a glaring omission when compared to the previous Sir-Tech Jagged Alliance games which both had cutscenes. Really bad cutscenes by today's standards, but cutscenes nonetheless.
  • Ugly UI: Whenever presented with long names or lots of conversation text, the game seems quite content in lowering the font size in order to fit them in a preset box size. This means it's very hard to read the text sometimes which seems kind of lazy. Also the UI isn't the nicest - something similar to Jagged Alliance 2 would've been fine.
  • No authentic gun names: It's obvious what an N1 Dagrand rifle is or an Uci sub-machine gun but it would've been nice if they used the real names like they did in Jagged Alliance 2
  • No climbing on rooftops: On the plus side, this means enemies can't do it either.
  • No sneaking: I think stealth is meant to play a part in this but there's no actual ability to change the walking pace between walking, running and sneaking, at least I haven't seen the option yet.
  • No voice pack choice for custom merc: In Jagged Alliance 2 when you created your custom merc you were able to pick from three voice packs. This time you don't get a choice.
  • Female names for male NPCs: Unless the islands of San Hermanos are inhabited by a large demographic of cross-dressers, I think there may have been a mistake or lack of caring when it came to assigning the names from the NPC pool to the NPCs as there are a lot of male NPCs with female names.

Verdict

Is this the Jagged Alliance sequel/prequel fans have been waiting for? So far, it doesn't seem so. While you'll see some familiar faces and some familiar gameplay elements (i.e. turn-based tactics, controlling towns in order to generate income, training militia to defend those towns, etc.) the game isn't the same due to a lack of personality with the mercs. I've mentioned a lot of negatives in this post but keep in mind many of them are quite minor and some may even be fixed by Full Control in future updates (they're already promising to fix the shop UI for example). At its core, the game is still a competent turn-based tactics game in the vein of recent titles such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and that's a good thing. Just don't have very high expectations if you're a Jagged Alliance fan looking for a modern replacement. At least not yet.

[ LINK: Official Jagged Alliance Flashback website ]