Monday, May 30, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #232 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Bonny Morn



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Like "Jine the Cavalry", "Bonny Morn" happens to be another track in the game Sid Meier's Colonization that is based off an actual piece of historical music (I suspect this is going to become a common occurrence as I explore this soundtrack again). The real piece's name happens to be "Bonny at Morn" and is included in a book called "Northumbrian Minstrelsy" which is a collection of 18th and 19th century folk songs and pipe music from the North-Eastern part of England. It's definitely a beautiful piece and one that is popular with the fans as I've heard quite a few remakes and remixes of this classic track.

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #232 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Bonny Morn ]


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure Review

Decisions, decisions...
  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Cowcat
  • Publisher: Cowcat
  • Release Date: 1 June 2016
  • Time played: 7 hours

As you all know, I love point 'n' click adventures; in fact, so far I've reviewed 26 point 'n' click adventures on this blog and that's not including games that are probably similar to point 'n' click adventures like The Walking Dead or visual novels. So when Fabrice Breton of Cowcat offered me a review copy of his latest point 'n' click adventure Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure, it was an offer I couldn't refuse - especially considering I had it on my Steam wishlist :).

What was interesting was the fact he wanted me to review it after reading my slightly negative review of Bolt Riley, a Kickstarter-funded point 'n' click adventure in Early Access. When I asked if he was sure he wanted someone like me to review his game, his response was that "it's still better to criticize something than not talking at all".

The reason I mention this is that you can tell that Fabrice is a pretty choice bloke with his heart in the right place. So any criticisms in this review are not directed at Fabrice specifically but at the product itself and my relationship with it.

So without further ado, let's move on to the review!

What I like:


Well polished

I encountered very little bugs while playing the game, very little indeed. Occasionally there were issues with the save game overlays but they weren't showstopper bugs. The rest of the game runs very smoothly.

Merging of genres

While the game is technically a point 'n' click adventure, it's not like the ones made by Sierra or Lucasarts back in their heyday or even Broken Sword which the game is apparently a parody of. The game is played (mostly) from the first person perspective similar to classic ICOM games like Shadowgate or games by Legend Entertainment such as Frederik Pohl's Gateway or Companions of Xanth. The game also plays a bit like hidden object adventures too, especially when it comes to hunting for cookies on the screen (that are used for providing hints) and there are several other mini-games to play throughout the entirety of the adventure.

The difficulty is just right

Getting the difficulty just right in an adventure game is no easy task and I'm happy to say that Cowcat has managed to find a sweet spot with this one. There were a couple of times where I was stumped and I had to use the hints system but the solution was usually a pretty logical one or one that just required more persistence on my part. No King's Quest 1 style Rumpelstiltskin cipher puzzles here!

Multiple ways to die

Speaking of classic Sierra adventure games, Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure has a myriad of ways to die - not only that but it celebrates it in a way too by awarding you achievements for each unique way of dying that you find. This is actually a feature I really like and am glad to see it resurface in the genre.

Very detailed scenes

This goes hand-in-hand with what I mentioned earlier, how Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure manages to merge the point 'n' click and hidden object adventure genres. There is so much detail on each screen and lots of items you can interact with.

Can customise character names

Yes, I'm not sure why this is an option but it's an interesting feature nonetheless: you have the option of changing the character names to ones of your liking.

(Some of the) Humour

I enjoy some of the humour in the game especially the fact that the characters break the fourth wall and the frequent references to classic point 'n' click adventures, but that's about it.

What I dislike:


(Most of the) Humour

I find a lot of the humour in the game to be juvenile, toilet humour, which could appeal to a certain demographic (even a very large demographic considering how popular South Park is) but I really struggle with it - so much so I find it to be a severe hindrance to what is a well executed game. There's a lot of fart jokes, urinating on plants, defecation on photocopiers, etc. It's just not my thing but it might be yours.

Score – 6/10 (Okay)


Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure is a well-polished, competent, first person point 'n' click adventure game. There's quite a lot to do, it's accessible and it does happen to pay tribute every so often to classic adventure games of yesteryear. However, I really couldn't stomach the humour and if you're not into toilet humour you might want to give this a miss. If you like things like South Park though, this could be worth a try.

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes, provided you enjoy the humour. There's quite a bit of gameplay here for your money.


If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure Website ]

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Before the Echo Review

Time for a dance-off against... a Venus Flytrap?

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Iridium Studios
  • Publisher: Iridium Studios
  • Release Date: 21 October 2011
  • Time played: 10 hours

I love rhythm games so Before the Echo has been sitting on my Steam wishlist for quite some time - it's only during a sale where it received a ridiculous discount (I think it may have even gone below a dollar) that I managed to nab the game - and now I've finally had an opportunity to play it and finish it.

I also noticed that the game had a name change around March 2015 where due to a legal claim by Jax Ltd. the name was changed from Sequence to Before the Echo. However, when I took a look at the Before the Echo logo it reminded me of another game called There Was an Echo which has a similar looking logo and name; turns out this is no coincidence since both of these games are developed by Iridium Studios – in fact, I believe they are set in the same universe too. Something to consider if you're a fan of There Was an Echo.

What I like:


Rhythm game but like Puzzle Quest

The core gameplay in Before the Echo is similar to other rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, or even Rock Band or Guitar Hero. You're given a scrolling board with four keys you need to press (which correspond to the arrow keys on the keyboard) and you'll have to press the correct keys in the correct sequence at the correct time (hopefully in time with the music).

However, the game is actually a hybrid of a few genres as it also adopts elements of visual novels and RPGs. It's like a visual novel because the story unfolds in a similar style (just like Puzzle Quest) and it's like an RPG because you have stats you can improve over time along with the ability to attack and defend against enemies. So it does bear some similarities to Puzzle Quest, except instead of using match-3, Bejeweled style gameplay for the combat, you instead have a more advanced rhythm game.

I say it's a more advanced rhythm game since you'll actually have three scrolling boards at the same time, instead of the usual one in most rhythm games. Each of these boards represents a different function: one of the boards is used to defend yourself against enemy attacks; successfully hitting the correct key at the correct time means you negate any damage you would've received if you hadn't pressed the keys at the right time. Another board is used to cast spells you'll learn across the way that can either damage your enemy or heal you. Successfully hitting the keys in the right sequence at the right time will result in the spell being cast. Finally, the last board is used to generate mana which is used to power your spells. If you don't have any mana you can't cast any spells. Successfully hitting the keys in the right sequence at the right time on this board replenishes your mana.

Having three boards scrolling at the same time means you'll be faced with constant dilemmas: do you take some damage to ensure you perfectly execute a spell or do you waste the mana you saved up for the spell so you can live to fight later on in the battle? Do you decide to generate mana during the easy part of the track at the risk of taking damage or do you just focus on defending?

The conundrums don't stop there either since you'll have to decide what spells to bring into a battle, whether it's a weak (but cheap) attack spell, a lethal (but expensive) attack spell, a health siphoning spell, a healing spell or a utility spell (e.g. spells that boost the power of the next spell).

Music

What's a rhythm game without a good soundtrack? Not a very good rhythm game, that's what. Thankfully, Before the Echo does have a good soundtrack, so much so that I just had to buy an album by one of its contributing artists: Ronald Jenkees. This guy is a bit of a virtuoso on the keyboard which makes for an energetic and groovy soundtrack. There are other artists that contribute to the soundtrack, but the tracks composed by Ronald Jenkees are my favourites.

Voice acting

The game's cast is fully voice-acted and by several professional voice actors too.

Humour

The game is actually quite well written, which is refreshing to see in a computer game since so often the story takes a back seat to the gameplay (which isn't necessarily a bad thing but why not get both right if you can). There's an abundance of funny jokes and banter, and the main character sometimes reminds me of another smartarse of the gaming world: Guybrush Threepwood.

My favourite sequence in the game is when you encounter one of the bosses you have to fight who only responds to commands you'd give to a text parser-based interactive fiction game! The exchange of words between the cast is hilarious.

Steam achievements and trading cards

The game has Steam achievements and Trading Cards. Awwww yeah.

What I dislike:


Lack of Steam screenshot integration

Despite the game having Steam Trading Cards and Achievements, you somehow can't take screenshots using Steam. Which is a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Difficulty spike

The last couple of boss battles are ridiculously difficult compared to the previous ones (which I was able to, more or less, cruise through). Consequently I was forced to be a bit more strategic with my battles - I had to learn to use utility spells that I never used up to that point (e.g. ones that could boost the power of other spells) and it took me a whole lot of tries to the point I was ready to give up on the game - but thankfully, perseverance paid off (mind you, I played on Medium difficulty so Easy difficulty might not suffer from the same issue, I cannot be sure). Another way to help you at this last part is of course to keep fighting normal monsters to give you enough loot to craft new armour and weapons, or to just simply level up your stats.

Consequently, the game can feel a bit grindy at times since you're trying to level up your character to give you every chance possible in fighting certain boss battles. Also, defeating enemies is the only way of gathering ingredients, ingredients you'll need in order to craft items such as the key to the next level. However, when you kill an enemy there's no guarantee you'll be rewarded with the ingredient you're looking for since the outcome is based on chance. This means you'll often find yourself fighting the same monster types over and over again just so you're able to eventually stumble across the ingredients you need to craft items. This is another way the game starts to feel boring and become a grind.

Score – 8/10 (Excellent)

Despite the game feeling a bit of a grind at times and the last couple of boss battles being infuriatingly difficult compared to the rest, Iridium Studios has cleverly morphed the humble rhythm game into a full-blown RPG and it surprisingly works well. Before the Echo has done for rhythm games what Puzzle Quest did for match-3 puzzle games and I like it. Before the Echo is highly recommended for lovers of rhythm games who want a bit more plot and strategy added to the mix.

Is the game worth $4.99 USD?: Definitely – in fact, even at full price, this is a bargain for a well-polished rhythm game/RPG with a half-decent story to boot.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Iridium Studios website ]

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rainbow Six Siege Review

Ahh... a hard-fought victory
  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 2 December 2015
  • Time played: 44 hours

"Co-op games. If only there were more good co-op games out there."

That’s probably the thought that went through my mate, Speirs’s mind while browsing the Steam catalogue for a new co-op game to play. Eventually he stumbled upon Rainbow Six: Siege which sounded like it had promise. He bought a copy of the game for himself and then generously gifted me a copy too! Chooooice!

Unfortunately, Speirs tried to play co-op with his brother but it turned out to be quite a challenge for them, so much so Speirs posted his first review on Steam ever, and it was a negative one.

Fair cop

Anyway, by that stage, I had only played maybe one or two of the tutorial missions known as "Situations" so things already looked grim judging by his account, although eventually I managed to get through all the Situations and even played a few rounds of 5v5 as well as Terrorist Hunt (co-op mode against bots). So, 44 hours later, how is it?

What I like:


Less is more approach

In Rainbow Six Siege you get to pick an "operator" to play with which specialises at a particular skill and has their own unique weapons loadout. For example, Sledge is able to breach barricaded windows and doors in one hit with a breaching hammer while I.Q. can detect enemy explosives. Each operator has a different special ability which adds a degree of role-playing and the game enters the territory of class-based shooters like Battlefield or Team Fortress 2 as a result.

I also love the limited choice of weapons (1 of 2) which reminds me of BF2 days. They’re also applicable to whichever faction you play as, e.g. the SAS can use the L85A2 and the GIGN can use the FAMAS. Although there are some weirder choices of weapons in there too (Magpul FMG-9 for the SAS? Seriously?)

It's actually fun

When it works, it's heaps of fun whether it be on Terrorist Hunt mode or Multiplayer; In Terrorist Hunt mode, you can team up with four other friends to do co-op missions against AI terrorists, whether it's defending a hostage against their attacks, extracting a hostage, disarming bombs or just plain "kill 'em all". It's a great co-op experience and an excellent alternative for those who prefer to play with their close circle of friends instead of subjecting themselves to the Idiots of the Interwebs - because let's face it, even though you've read those reviews saying the community on Rainbow Six Siege is "so nice", we're speaking in relative terms here - you've still got your mix of top blokes/gals and douches.

Speaking of Multiplayer mode, if playing against humans is your cup of tea, this is the mode for you. Multiplayer mode pits a team of five players versus another team of five where you get similar modes to Terrorist Hunt but with slight alteration to the rules. Also, since you're up against a small team of lethal human players, different operators are more effective in Multiplayer that might not be as effective in Terrorist Hunt.

In fact, the game is very addictive once you've had a taste of victory because it's often hard-earned.

The game also has a Ranked multiplayer mode that I didn't bother trying and you're also able to play the Terrorist Hunt mode in "Lone Wolf" mode (i.e. solo) although these missions are meant to be played with a full squad so it's usually quite a challenge doing it alone against hordes of AI terrorists.

Different avenues of attack

This is the bread and butter of Rainbow Six Siege. On each map, you'll have different avenues of attack but not just two or three doorways; despite there being many walls or rooftops that are impermeable to any damage, there are enough left to make things interesting and unpredictable. To mix things up even more you can choose at the beginning of the game where to spawn and defend (at least on Terrorist Hunt mode). Consequently, while knowing a map inside-out helps, unlike other FPSs where you can find prime camping positions, no such thing really exists in Siege due to the fact the enemy can alter the map to give themselves a tactical advantage.

It's like Counter-Strike, but tactical

It's like Counter-Strike to a degree but describing it as Counter-Strike would be selling itself short. Unlike Counter-Strike, you have drones and cameras you can use for gaining an edge in intelligence, defensive barriers such as barricades and reinforced walls, booby traps that can kill or injure unsuspecting enemies, and the ability to rappel up and down walls. It's not just a matter of camping at the bridge in de_dust and mopping up everyone with an AWP and deagle.

Just lying around

I appreciate the attention to detail they’ve managed to incorporate into this game, even something as simply lying down on the floor instead of going prone on your stomach is something that you hardly ever see in FPS games yet it helps so much with the realism since why aren’t you able to do such a thing? Rainbow Six: Siege gives you that flexibility.

What I dislike:


Matchmaking

Matchmaking takes time and for the first few games I tried to play of Rainbow Six Siege it took several goes and waiting for 15-20 minutes before I could finally enter a game. I’m never sure if it’s because the time I play just has low traffic or whether there’s something wrong with my connection (or if it's simply because I'm playing the least popular game mode). However, another night, everything worked flawlessly – I managed to play with four others with a ping of 100 on my ADSL2+ connection. Also, when I eventually convinced two clanmates to play with me, it was then much easier to find an available game (three fifths of a squad anyone?).

Ultimately, I think it would still be better if they had a server browser with dedicated servers though.

Also general connectivity issues are a pain too where sometimes you lose connection to the master server and are unable to play any multiplayer (it is primarily a multiplayer game after all). I also did experience a similar situation to my mate Speirs where I couldn't join a game with my wife even though she was in the same squad, but eventually we found out this was, again, a server issue, rather than anything else.

Not as tense as SWAT4

On a spectrum with Counter-Strike on one end and SWAT 4 on the other, Siege is definitely closer to SWAT 4 but isn’t quite there yet. SWAT 4 encourages you to use less lethal methods and to also follow proper police procedures like telling the criminals to surrender before shooting first. The more criminals you are able to arrest, the more points you are awarded. In SWAT 4 there’d always be that tense moment where you’re shouting at a criminal to drop their weapons wondering if they were going to comply or whether they were going to blow your face off. Gripping stuff, but not something that is present in this.

Score – 8/10 (Pretty Good)

Besides the occasional connectivity issues I can't really find much else to fault with Rainbow Six Siege. The dynamic nature of the maps where you're able to open new avenues of attack to gain a tactical advantage means you'll always be kept on your toes. Intelligence is key but so is co-operating with teammates since unlike other FPSs where you can be a jack-of-all-trades, in Siege each of the operators are meant to serve a certain purpose, and if you squander that special ability, it's game over for your squad. It's a very addictive game and definitely my favourite multiplayer game for the past couple of months.

Is the game worth $64 AUD?: Almost, but a fairer price would be $50-60 considering the game is effectively multiplayer only. Although the conundrum about purchasing later when it is discounted is whether there will still be a community to play with! But this is the issue with just about every multiplayer game out there and is not limited to Rainbow Six Siege alone.


If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Rainbow Six Siege Website ]




Monday, May 23, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #231 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Hornpipe



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Aye matey! I do love me a good hornpipe and that's exactly what you get when you play Sid Meier's Colonization! This piece of music plays after you've picked the difficulty level, the Empire you represent and your name. You're treated to a loading sequence where you watch as your ship is loaded to set sail on a grand expedition across the Ocean Sea! It's also amazing how similar London, Amsterdam, Seville and La Rochelle look during this loading sequence...

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #231 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Hornpipe ]


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Plug & Play Review

TURN IT OOOOOOOON. WHENEVER YOU CAN. TURN IT OOOOOON. YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN.


  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Mario von Rickenbach and Michael Frei
  • Publisher: Etter Studio
  • Release Date: 6 March 2015
  • Time played: 15 minutes

Plug & Play is one of those weird games where you either get it or you don't, you either appreciate the game on its artistic merit or you just consider it a complete waste of time. Despite the game being released in 2015, the actual short film, which the game is based on, was released a couple years earlier in 2012. It was shown at over a 100 film festivals and has won quite a few awards so there's obviously some appreciation of what Plug & Play is all about, but what exactly is it all about? And does it work well as a game?

What I like:


Animation

Definitely one of the stronger points of the game is its animation and how fluid it is. Michael Frei (the film's creator) has done a fantastic job of animating the film and, in turn, this game. What is even more amazing is he managed to create the whole film using only a single finger on a laptop touchpad.

Beautiful music

There isn't too much music in the game but there's some positively angelic music performed by the Saint Eliyah Church Children Choir, which juxtaposes with the crude imagery and mishaps you'll get to observe during the game (it actually reminds me of the introduction to Mr. Bean).

What I dislike:


Short

The game only took me 15 minutes to complete. So it's a bit longer than the actual film (which is 6 minutes long) but it's very short for an actual game.

Limited gameplay

You'll spend most of your time flipping switches, clicking on people or dragging power cables into sockets - and that's it. It's not really much of a game if you're rating it purely based on interactivity, but it's a pretty good interactive film I guess.

WTF is going on?

You're either going to get it or not; at the very least you'll get some sort of emotional response to it: I felt disgust and confusion. If you like to find meaning out of phallic objects going erect or people shoving their heads into each others' arseholes, then this might be the game for you. I think Michael Rogeau @ Animal New York sums it up best in his title for the interview with Michael Frei:

...Plug & Play, a game that's pretty much about dicks

Okay, I confess that there was one part of the game I did like and that was when it was trying to simulate conversations between lovers/potential lovers; to me it showed the one-sidedness of such conversations at times, on how sometimes people already have their minds made up and are inflexible to change - where decisions can only ever be binary, yes/no, black and white. Which fits in quite nicely with the dichotomies shown in Plug & Play so to me, that was pretty choice.

Score – 4/10 (Mediocre)

In terms of an actual game that is fun to play, Plug & Play fails on that account. So if we were to judge it as a piece of art, well that's obviously going to bring a lot of subjectivity into play. If you can find profound revelations out of fingers going erect when being turned on and flaccid when turned off, or people shoving their heads up the rear ends of others, this game could be fantastic. I sadly didn't though and consequently can't recommend it (except for the part with the binary nature of conversations, that was pretty cool).

However, in terms of Plug & Play being a well animated short film, it succeeds in that regard and if you're curious about what all the fuss is about but don't want to pay $3 USD, you can check out the short film for free here.

Is the game worth $2.99 USD?: No. Would you pay $4 AUD for a 15 minute short film? Only if it blows your mind I guess but in my case it isn't worth the price of admission.

If you like this game, you might like…


[ LINK: Official Plug & Play Website ]

Monday, May 16, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #230 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Natives



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

It's a tune without much in the way of instruments besides a drum and pipes, but that's because it's trying to emulate the tribal sound of North America's native population (although whether it succeeds or fails miserably, you'd have to ask someone who is knowledgeable of Native American music from tribe to tribe). This track plays as background music while you navigate the main menu for Sid Meier's Colonization but it also plays the first time you meet the native population of the New World too.

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #230 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Natives ]


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rebel Galaxy Review

You're about to suck void, buddy.

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Double Damage Games
  • Publisher: Double Damage Games
  • Release Date: 20 October 2015
  • Time played: 30+ hours

I love sci-fi games, especially if they're space trading games in the same vein as classics like Frontier: Elite II, Wing Commander: Privateer or Freelancer, so when I saw that there was a new space trading game with a fantastic soundtrack to boot, my mind started flying into space in the Giggle Galaxy...



Wait.. what? No. Sorry, too much time spent watching Australian children's TV.

Anyway, the icing on the cake is that the developers behind this game are the same guys that developed the critically acclaimed Torchlight games (Choicest Games reviewed Torchlight 2 back in 2013 and gave it an 8/10).

I also want to thank my mates who happened to purchase this game for my birthday - otherwise, I probably wouldn't have got a chance to play it - so thanks guys!

What I like:


Music

The soundtrack is definitely the game's forte and it sounds like it's been inspired by music in the adored Space Western TV series "Firefly". It also sounds similar to music I've heard in the game Full Throttle (the licensed music in the game was performed by the Gone Jackals) and Starcraft II.

Blues Saraceno, The Blue News, Abbas Premjee and several more artists lend their talents to the soundtrack which is a mix of blues, blues rock and hard rock - and it's all friggin' amazing. In fact, I may have very well bought this game on the soundtrack alone... just sayin'.

Inspired by Freelancer and Firefly

If you've played Freelancer or any other space trading game such as Wing Commander: Privateer, Privateer 2 or Frontier: Elite II, you'll feel quite at home in Rebel Galaxy since it's actually very similar to these games in many regards. Just like Freelancer, you don't need a joystick in order to control your craft (in fact I think the ideal setup is just a mouse and keyboard) and the game is all about trading, smuggling, piracy and/or bounty hunting, whatever takes your fancy; the game is basically a modern take on the single-player component of Freelancer. There's also a main storyline you can complete but you can generally take the game at your own pace and explore the many space stations and star systems at your leisure. The game also contains a few nods to Wing Commander: Privateer, such as the inclusion of a Mercenaries' Guild and Merchant's Guild; there's even a re-used taunt: "You're about to suck void, buddy!"

The game also has a Space Western feel similar to shows like "Firefly" or "Cowboy Bebop" where space is very much the final frontier.

Threat Level system

The game contains a threat level system that gives you a rough indication of how tough a battle will be depending on which ships are in your vicinity. I personally love it; more games should have this as it reminds me of how in oldschool RPGs you could investigate/examine monsters to determine how difficult the ensuing battles would be. It makes the game more realistic to a degree in that you can scope whether a battle is worth fighting or whether living to fight another day is the prudent decision. It even applies at a star system and mission level too, giving you a rough indication on whether you're ready to move on to a new star system or the next mission respectively. I prefer it to the usual save-attack-die-restore-avoid approach you'd usually find in a majority of games (although admittedly I had to resort to this behaviour a couple of times).

Steam achievements

Thank God for Steam achievements as they actually helped to keep my interest in the game during the slow patches where I was doing a lot of grinding (more on that later). Most are pretty easy to get too (provided you invest the time and in-game money).

What I dislike:


Broadsides in SPAAAAACE

Look. I eventually got used to this, so it's not as bad as I initially thought, yet it's still weird... broadsides? In space? The reason I say it's not as bad as I originally thought is because the game is played on a 2D plane instead of the traditional 3D playing field you get in just about every other space trading game where broadsides would have very limited usefulness. However, thanks to the introduction of the 2D plane (probably to make broadsides useful) your ship now keeps crashing into things like asteroids (which wouldn't be a problem if you could fly over them) and you occasionally get useless camera angles where you can't actually see where you're aiming because your ship obscures the view.

Too much sandbox?

There's a reason I associate this game with Elite: Dangerous later on in the review and that's because like the game by David Braben, Rebel Galaxy may be accused of relying too much on the sandbox. What I mean is that most of the game just involves doing the same procedurally generated, random content and to some, this can get kind of boring.

Unlike Elite: Dangerous, Rebel Galaxy at least has a main campaign with a storyline, however it's admittedly a pretty weak throwaway plot with most of the focus placed on the sandbox part of the game instead.

Grindy

Also like Elite: Dangerous, the game can be a bit of a grind if you're trying to save up for new components or new ships. While you don't need to save up for the best ship in the game, you will need to keep upgrading your ships if you want to branch off into other star systems as you will come across larger and beefier ships to fight with.

If you're content to take the game at your own pace though and just pop in every night to do a few missions to slowly work towards saving for a new ship, then this really isn't an issue.

Copy and paste character models

This isn't a major dislike, since previous space trading games are just as guilty of this, but sometimes you feel like they could've taken a bit more effort in making at least the characters in the main campaign look different to generic NPCs (I'm looking at you Militia Captain What's-her-face - yes, I don't remember the character's name and believe it or not there are no playthroughs out there on the interwebs for me to confirm the name either!)

Occasional graphical glitches

I'm not sure if it's an issue with my video card specifically or ATI cards but I occasionally observed some graphical glitches whilst talking to NPCs. Not a game-breaking bug but still annoying.

Can't land on planets

One feature I loved in the old Privateer games and even Freelancer was the ability to actually land on planets. You can't do this in Rebel Galaxy. All you can do is dock at stations.

Bad Australian Accent

No, we don't say "G'day" here in Australia when we're saying goodbye to someone.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

If you're looking for a modern take on classic space trading game Freelancer (and don't mind that it's just single-player), then Rebel Galaxy is probably going to be the closest you'll get. Coupled with a fantastic blues/rock soundtrack and a "Firefly"-like galaxy to explore, there's a lot to like in this game. If it weren't for the grind, ho-hum story and some other minor issues, the game would've been highly recommended.

Is the game worth $19.99 USD?: Yes. With the current exchange rate, that’s about $28 and considering it took me about 30 hours to finish the main campaign (without really hunting for all achievements or purchasing the larger ships), it's a fair price.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Rebel Galaxy Website ]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pretentious Game Review

You view the world as a grey square? Really?

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Keybol
  • Publisher: BulkyPix
  • Release Date: 21 May 2014
  • Time played: 1.3 hours

While I'm not usually a big fan of platformer games, who could resist a title like "Pretentious Game"? I also happened to get the game for free IIRC from the always generous Mix-Master, so once again, thanks man :).

What I like:


Lessons in Love




But seriously, this game is all about love, different kinds of love (whether it's romantic love or familial love) and maybe you'll learn some hard, sobering lessons about it.

A platformer for those who don’t like platformers

I'm not very good at platformers but I only found a couple of parts of the game pretty challenging; that's because Pretentious Game is actually more of a (jumping) puzzle game than anything else. Not only that, but it plays with its own rules each time you start a new challenge.

Beautiful music

Famous compositions by Romantic composer Erik Satie acts as the game's soundtrack. Playing a platformer game about love to the sound of Gymnopédie No.1 soothes the soul.

What I dislike:


Short

It took me just a bit more than one hour to complete the game and I'm not even that good at platformers. If you are, I could imagine this game finishing up very quickly.

Limited replay

Once you've clocked it, there’s no real point revisiting it.

No Steam stuff

No Steam trading cards and achievements makes me a sad panda :(.

It's actually a free web game

So you don't actually need to pay any money to play it if you don't want to - although you won't have it in your Steam library of course ;).

Score – 7/10 (Good)

Is the game a pretentious game? I don’t think so. If you want an example of that, check out Dear Esther. If you want a platformer that's more like a puzzle game, offers some insight into love and relationships, and has beautiful music by Erik Satie to accompany it, Pretentious Game is worth a (quick) whirl. It is available elsewhere for free though, so if you want to save a few bucks you can check it out on web-based game sites like Kongregate.

Is the game worth $4.99 USD?: Yes, despite the game being very short it has a couple of poignant and profound moments to justify the price of admission.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Pretentious Game Website ]

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Civilization VI to be released on 21 October 2016

Don't know if it was such a good idea to build that giant Atlas statue over the city...

It's the news all Civ fans have been waiting for (and CivAnon has been dreading...) but a new Civilization game is to be released towards the end of this year (21st October 2016 to be exact, which is coincidentally the same date that Battlefield 1 is to be released)! Hardly any details about it yet but there's a snazzy trailer that does what a Civilization trailer normally does which is celebrate all of Mankind's achievements.

I'm very excited about the news! Not sure what it means to Beyond Earth as a series as I suspect all development efforts will be focused on the new Civ game. It'll also be interesting to see what new gameplay concepts they will be introducing in this latest iteration of the classic turn-based strategy game from Sid Meier.

EDIT: It seems that the Steam store page for the game already has a few screenshots that I've uploaded below.

Also there's been a good Rock Paper Shotgun article posted that goes through some of the gameplay elements, to summarise what I think are most prominent:

- The game will be hex-based like Civ V
- Tech trees that depend on the geography of your nation, e.g. if you're a landlocked nation, it'll take you heaps longer to research sailing than it does for one with ocean
- Your city actually spreads to the entire radius of the city – it's no longer just the hex in the middle.
- Units can be assigned to "formations" and move around as one group



SCREENSHOTS:




LINK:
[ Civilization VI Official Announcement Trailer ]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TFX and Utopia Video Game Music Composer Barry Leitch releases new album



Yes, I do realise that Barry Leitch is probably more famous to fans of the venerable Amiga platform, but he had his MS-DOS fans too, me being one of them! Leitch was the virtuoso behind soundtracks for games like T.F.X. and Utopia: The Creation of a Nation; the soundtracks from both of these games are amongst my favourite game soundtracks of all time. So when I heard that Leitch was working on a new soundtrack for a mobile game called Horizon Chase (as I mentioned in my "Where are they now?" post on him last year) I was pretty excited.

The game has since been released and is apparently even coming to Steam soon (so I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it). But the most exciting bit of news for today is that Leitch has released the Horizon Chase soundtrack which is available digitally on his bandcamp website for $5.99 USD or as a physical copy handled by Amazon for $20 USD + shipping.

The soundtrack is evocative of his (now) retro style on previous soundtracks such as T.F.X. and Utopia and that's not a bad thing! If you like Amiga game music, DOS game music or just something really cool to play in your car, it's worth checking out.



LINKS:
[ Bandcamp: Barry Leitch - Horizon Chase Soundtrack ]
[ Link to purchase physical copy of Horizon Chase Soundtrack off Barry Leitch's website ]

Monday, May 9, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #229 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Jine the Cavalry



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo
Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Mind... blown. Before today, I never realised that the track "Jine the Cavalry" from Sid Meier's Colonization is an actual tune, i.e. not an original composition specifically for the game! "Jine the Cavalry" (or "Join the Cavalry") was a popular song amongst Confederate Cavalry during the American Civil War so it's a bit anachronistic having the tune play in Sid Meier's Colonization but ah what the heck, it's a really catchy tune, so catchy that not only does it play when the game's title appears but it's also the first track you'll here when you boot up a game, every time.

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #229 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Jine the Cavalry ]


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Der Clou! (The Clue!) Soundtrack Review



  • Name: Der Clou! Original PC Game Soundtrack
  • Label: Osutoria Holding GmbH
  • Composer(s): Hannes Seifert
  • Number of Tracks: 25

Before I let you know how I managed to nab this album it might help to explain what Der Clou! actually is because it's probably not a very well known game amongst the current generation of gamers or those living in the English-speaking world. Der Clou! is the Austrian name for a game known in English-speaking countries as The Clue!. Der Clou! was released in 1994 and is (apparently) a remake of a much older game released in 1986 called They Stole a Million. You assume the role of a burglar named Matt Stuvysant in 1950s London and your job is to assemble a crew, scout potential places to rob, plan every minute detail of the burglary and then execute that plan. I admittedly never got too far in the game but it had an interesting premise and who could forget gems like this when you accidentally entered a taxi:



Ah good times.

Oh, the game had a pretty groovy soundtrack for its day too and it's all thanks to the efforts of a man named Hannes Seifert. You see, not only was he the composer of this game, he also developed his own proprietary sound system and music file format known as HSC ("Hannes Seifert Composer" perhaps?). This guy went on to be a producer of pretty high profile games such as Max Payne, GTA: Vice City and Hitman Absolution. He currently works as CEO of IO Interactive, famous for the Hitman franchise.

Does the soundtrack hold up today? Probably not, so here's the disclaimer: you really need to love retro PC game music to even begin appreciating this soundtrack. If oldschool music similar to MIDI and MODs sound like crap to you, then please just ignore this review. If instead it tends to evoke a sense of nostalgia, then read on!

So every so often for the past couple of decades since playing the original game, certain tunes from the soundtrack keep popping in my head. This got me wondering if there was actually any possible way to legally acquire a copy of the game's soundtrack. Firstly, I had to find the right search parameters because searching for "The Clue! soundtrack" in Google would link you to sites selling or reviewing the soundtrack to that old film based on the board game Clue/Cluedo with Tim Curry in it. The original Austrian name for the game "Der Clou!" seemed to yield better results and apparently Google Play, iTunes and Spotify all have the soundtrack available!

Since I'm not a big fan of Apple products (especially iTunes) and I feel a bit weird paying a subscription to listen to music, I decided to acquire a copy off Google Play (since I also already had a Google Play account handy). Google Play's copy is dearer than iTunes ($12.99 compared to $9.99) but we're arguing over $3 here. Besides, Google Play mentions you can playback music by...

...exporting MP3 files to your computer and playing on any MP3 compatible music player

... which sounds good to me. While they're being perfectly honest about that fact, what they fail to mention is that if you don't download the Google Play app for Chrome (which is somehow rated at 2 out of 5 stars which is never a good sign) you'll be limited to download your music only twice and that's it. So just a warning to those planning to purchase music on Google Play: make sure you don't lose your backups (or use their app and you can ignore this warning).

Anyway, I downloaded a copy of the soundtrack and you get 25 MP3s @ 320kbps. Total playtime for the album is quite short at only about 38 minutes total, but that's because most of these tracks are very short in themselves with many only being a minute long and the longest track clocking in at 3:31. The tracks are basically all the background music you hear in the game while visiting the various locations; it even contains the burglary victory and burglary failure music, although I'm not sure why they were included as they're merely sound bites of only a few seconds.

Despite all the tracks using synths (live music in games was uncommon in 1994 unless you were using Red Book Audio) there's a diverse range of styles here including reggae-inspired pop tracks, synthpop, 90s dance and classical music. There are way too many tracks here to name favourites although I fondly remember the groovy "The Streets 3" and the cool stakeout music that is "You Investigate" - I always loved it how the music seemed to play in sync with the thought bubbles. New favourites of mine include "The Getaway" which seems to channel the best of early 90s electronic music and the epic "Burglary is Running" that almost sounds heroic towards the end of the track - which seems a bit out of place during a bank heist.

However, the trio of tracks that truly stand the test of time for me are "At the Hotel" (which is perfect brisk walking music), "At Pooley's", which is obviously inspired by "All That She Wants" by Ace of Base (what do you mean you don't remember Ace of Base? Man I'm getting old...) and "At Cars and Vans", since the image of a mechanic tightening a bolt to this music always makes me laugh (yes, I'm weird like that).

In terms of disappointing tracks, the only one I could fault is perhaps "Gludo's Theme" which at least sounds like something you'd play for a bumbling inspector (so I suppose it achieves its job admirably) but the tempo changes are just too wacky for me.

Score – 8/10

If you want to experience what good PC game music was like back in the early 90s, this is a perfect track to have a listen to. Yes, it's probably a bit pricey considering it's $13 for only just over half an hour of synth blips and bleeps, but some of these tracks are so catchy that to me, they're timeless classics.

You can get this album for $12.99 on Google Play, $9.99 on iTunes or on Spotify.

LINKS:
[ Der Clou! Soundtrack on Google Play ]
[ Der Clou! Soundtrack on iTunes ]
[ Der Clou! Soundtrack on Spotify ]

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Synonymy Review

It's going to be TOUGH to ESTABLISH a connection between these two words

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Christopher Cinq-Mars Jarvis
  • Publisher: Christopher Cinq-Mars Jarvis
  • Release Date: 12 December 2014
  • Time played: 1 hour

Synonymy is another of those games that I got really cheap and seemed to stand out from your usual indie title. The premise of the game is simple enough: navigate "a path between random words through their network of synonyms". However, you'll find this isn't as simple as it may sound, especially if your grasp of the English language is poor (yes, I'm not ashamed to put my hand up for that category!)

What I like:


An interesting way to look at synonyms

I don't think I've ever played a game quite like Synonymy before and therefore I consider it unique. The concept of assessing your ability to navigate between two words through a network of synonyms as efficiently as possible is a novel one.

Quick games

Games only last a matter of minutes so it's a great little time waster when you don't have that much time to waste!

Training your brain?

The game can probably be considered educational too as not only do you learn the definition of your target word (which is displayed to you when you start) but you also expand your vocabulary by learning a whole bunch of synonyms along the way.

Richard Dawkins

If you're a fan of Richard Dawkins, you'll be pleased to know that he narrates the tutorial (for what that's worth).

Profits go to educational charities

Apparently profits go to educational charities so you can get that warm, fuzzy feeling while searching for synonyms.

Competitions

I'm not sure if they're still running these but the game at least used to have competitions where you could win actual prizes each week. Neat!

What I dislike:


Limited appeal

Well there's not really much to the game besides hunting down synonyms and it's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, even if you like the game it's probably not something you're inclined to play for long.

Mobile port

The game is a mobile port and it shows. For example, the tutorial shows you using a touch screen to swipe between the screens and the controls are engineered that way. Also, the game isn't full screen by default and there's no exit button (you have to close the window instead).


Score – 6/10 (Okay)

I don't see Synonymy as a game you'd play for a long time, but it's definitely recommended in short bursts. If you're the sort of person who loves reading a thesaurus or likes challenging yourself when it comes to your English vocabulary, this little game is perfect for you.

Is the game worth $1.99 USD?: Yes, despite the game being short and the limited gameplay.


If you like this game, you might like…


[ LINK: Official Synonymy Website ]

Monday, May 2, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #228 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Introduction



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo
Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Ah Sid Meier, designer of many of my favourite games - although here's a random bit of trivia, did you know that many of the games that have Sid Meier's name on it aren't actually designed by him (especially the more recent titles)? Games just tend to sell well when they have a rockstar developer's name on it I suspect :). Anyway, one of my favourite games of all time happens to be Sid Meier's Colonization which is where this track comes from. It's played during the introduction of the game and for those that are true Sid Meier fans, they might notice that the theme sounds very similar to another game made by him ;).

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #228 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Introduction ]