Sunday, July 31, 2016

Steam Games Sunday - 31 July 2016

Vaas. One of the antagonists in Far Cry 3.

  1. War Thunder
  2. Rainbow Six Siege
  3. Star Trek Online
  4. Everyday Genius: SquareLogic
  5. Far Cry 3
  6. Squad
  7. Marvel Heroes
  8. Mount & Blade: Warband
  9. NBA 2K16
  10. The Division

So for this Steam Games Sunday it seems that there has been little change in most of the list. We still have War Thunder taking number one spot, Rainbow Six Siege in the number two slot, Star Trek Online is number three and Everyday Genius: SquareLogic in fourth place. What is different this week is Far Cry 3 shooting up to 5th place (mainly because I've been trying my best to finish the game so I can finally review it :)). This has resulted in Squad, Marvel Heroes and Mount & Blade Warband being pushed further down, but still in the same order. League of Mermaids, Sid Meier's Civilization and Call of Duty: Black Ops have been pushed off the list and now NBA 2K16 takes 9th place and Tom Clancy's The Division is in 10th place.

Again, if we took into account non-Steam versions of games, Rainbow Six Siege would probably be ranked highest and The Division would also be ranked higher too. Seems like the Tom Clancy games are very popular at the moment amongst the Choicest Games crew.

Anyway stay tuned for next Sunday to see if this list changes :). Are you playing any of the games on this list? How are you finding them?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wizardry 8 OST Review


  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Name: Wizardry 8 OST
  • Label: SIRTECH
  • Composer(s): Kevin Manthei
  • Number of Tracks: 33

One day I was looking around for the Jagged Alliance 2 soundtrack when I stumbled across Kevin Manthei's page. Kevin Manthei is a composer who has scored music for film, television and, of course, games. Besides Jagged Alliance 2, he has scored music for Disney Infinity, Star Trek Online and Wizardry 8. When I saw that a combined Wizardry 8 / Jagged Alliance 2 album was available, I just had to get my hands on it. In retrospect though, I probably should've spent a bit more time checking out what tracks were actually included since I immediately assumed all tracks were and while that may be the case for Wizardry 8, it definitely wasn't the case with the Jagged Alliance 2 tracks since it's missing my favourite track from the game - which I have no idea what's it called but you know, it's that cool, 80s action film music you hear while browsing the laptop. Yeah that track isn't included. How could you not include the coolest track in the game?



(Okay it turns out that Scott Daughtrey also composed music for Jagged Alliance 2 so maybe that's why it's not included in this soundtrack).

Anyway, back to my story. So I ordered the physical CD copy of the game which is $18 USD + $4 USD for international shipping and handling and a few months later, I finally received the CD in the mail. The CD contains 33 tracks: 21 tracks are from Wizardry 8 and 12 tracks are from Jagged Alliance 2. While there seems to be a lot of tracks on this album, keep in mind that the longest track just clocks over 2 minutes long so while you'll be listening to a lot of tracks, there are many that tend to be of short duration.

Okay so let's start with the Wizardry 8 music which is the bulk of this album. Most of the music is exploration music as well as several variations of combat music ([sarcasm] and you know how much I love combat music in video game albums [/sarcasm]) . My favourite track out of the Wizardry 8 tracks has to be "Arnika Theme" which plays when you're in the main town of Arnika. There's something about the medieval feel to the track and the calming nature of the harp that makes this track stand out from the rest. Other favourites of mine include the calming lute(?) music that plays when you're resting, simply called "Camping Theme" (although it's way too short), the mystical Asian cymbals and chanting in "Character Creation", the chimes and chanting, as well as some choice piano, in "T'Rang", and finally even more chanting and a tribal feel to "Trynton". I also have a soft spot for the marching theme that is used for the "Umpani" as well as "Underground" since it reminds me of the Diablo soundtrack.

"Win Combat Tag 1","Win Combat Tag 2","Win Combat Tag 3" and "Lose Combat Tag" are a waste of time though since they are basically just short clips of audio that plays when you either win or lose combat.

Okay so the second part of the album has tracks from Jagged Alliance 2 and once again, it turns out I'm not actually a big fan of the combat music which is what most of the Jagged Alliance 2 tracks on this album are. Again, you can forget about the short audio clips "Death" and "Triumph" altogether as they're terribly short and are only meant to signify you've lost a battle or won one respectively. The only worthwhile tracks to listen to are the peacetime/map screen tracks which have got very imaginative titles like "Nothin' A", "Nothin' B", "Nothin' C" and "Nothin' D". My favourites would have to be "Nothin' A" which wouldn't be out of place in a montage with a platoon preparing for battle, "Nothin' C" which has an 80s action film feel to the music and "Nothin' D" - probably my favourite out of the Jagged Alliance 2 tracks, only because a chap named Bart Klepka made an awesome remix of it called "Soldiers of Fortune". You should definitely check it out.



Score – 6/10

If you're a fan of Kevin Manthei's work and really, really, really love Wizardry 8, by all means get this soundtrack, otherwise, while there are some good tracks in this album, I ended up liking a lot of them merely because of nostalgia and not on their own merits. Or maybe I'm just peeved that the cool laptop music wasn't included in the album, but that's nobody's fault but my own :).

If you're interested in purchasing the soundtrack, it's either available in digital format for $9.99 USD or on CD for $18 USD + $4 USD shipping and handling from Kevin Manthei's website

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stop Online - Battle of Words Review

Stop online! Thank you very much. If I want to play this game I need the human tooooouch.

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: BRHP
  • Publisher: BRHP
  • Release Date: 16 January 2016
  • Time played: 2.2 hours

Here is another game I managed to grab from my number one benefactor of Steam games, Mix-Master – thank you for getting me this game!

Ever played the board game "Scattergories"? Stop Online – Battle of Words is pretty much an online version of this popular party board game from the 1980s; each round of the game players have to write down a word that fits within a category given a particular starting letter (which is determined by a die roll). For example, if the category is "fruit" and the die roll revealed "O" as the starting letter, "orange" would be an acceptable answer. "Onion" would not (as it's a vegetable) and neither would "apple" (since it starts with an "A"). Players are awarded points for acceptable answers in each category. After a certain number of rounds, whoever has the most points, wins the game.

Stop Online – Battle of Words works in a similar way but there are a couple of differences. Firstly, the categories are entirely made up by the player and are not preset categories that you can choose from (as it is with the board game "Scattergories") and secondly, you now have the ability to stop the clock to prevent other players finishing their answers (hence the name of the game).

What I like:


It's Scattergories online

If you like the board game "Scattergories" (which I do) this is a great implementation of the game online. It's quite easy to setup games and invite friends to play.

Clean interface

The game has a mostly clean and intuitive interface.

What I dislike:


Shift+TAB

A minor gripe that can't be helped but you know how when you want to use the keyboard to quickly go through different cells you use the TAB key? Okay, well that works in this. But usually, to go in reverse you have to hit Shift+TAB… and of course when playing a Steam game, hitting Shift+TAB brings up the Steam overlay! This isn't anyone's fault though, it's just I instinctively think if you can TAB why not Shift+TAB?

Answer rating system

Just like any game which relies on players voting on answers, it can be prone to abuse. Groups of friends could potentially gang up on strangers in the game by awarding points to their answers but not the strangers, regardless of whether the answers are correct or not.

Also, everybody are at a different level when it comes to their vocabulary. Sometimes you might know that an answer is correct but if the other players have never heard of the word before, they might award no points for it.

The system isn't perfect but unfortunately I don't think there really is an alternate solution. These kinds of games have to be self-policed just like it is when you play a physical board game.

Nobody plays it

Unfortunately, this is the biggest reason not to play the game (although by me giving you this advice, I am probably further compounding the problem!). After logging into the game multiple times, there's only been one time I've seen another person playing the game and on that one instance, it was a group of three people playing a private game (so I couldn't join them even if I wanted to). Oh, and if nobody is there to play the game with you, you can't play the game at all. It's not like you can play against bots in this due to the fact that categories are up to humans to decide as well as the voting of answers.

This is why I ended up buying a copy for my wife to play the game with me, so I could at least see if it's worth the fuss. Otherwise, this game would've just sat in my Steam library, unplayed, forever. Quite sad really.

Score – 6/10 (Needs more players)


If you and a bunch of friends are really into "Scattergories" but want to play it online, by all means, ignore the rating I've given this game and buy it now! This game was made for you and I suspect if you have enough people, it could be just as much fun as the physical board game, especially if you can chat to each other using TeamSpeak or something similar. Otherwise, the game is simply a waste of money because you won't be able to play the game without another human and from what I've seen, there aren't that many Steam users currently playing this game at the moment. I'd strongly recommend that the developer release maybe a 4-pack since it would encourage sales plus ensure there's automatically some potential opponents for the purchaser.

Is the game worth $4.99 USD?: If this game had enough players playing the game or you have friends who really love the board game "Scattergories" but want to play it online, then yes, definitely. Otherwise, it's a waste.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Stop Online – Battle of Words Steam Store Page ]


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dave Lowe composer of Frontier: Elite II, Starglider and Carrier Command releases new album

Album cover for "A Temporal Shift"

You may remember back in early 2015 that I mentioned Dave Lowe, video game composer on several PC games during the 1980s and early 1990s, and his daughter, Holly Jazz Lowe, launched a Kickstarter project to raise funds for a new album called "A Temporal Shift". This album was to have an orchestral cover of the Frontier: Elite II theme (a personal favourite of mine) as well as covers and reinterpretations of several old, predominantly Amiga game soundtracks. This album is finally complete and is now available for purchase!

There are 10 tracks on the album featuring remakes of music from several games native to the Amiga, Atari ST and ZX Spectrum such as Frontier: Elite II, Starglider, Beneath a Steel Sky, Carrier Command and Midwinter 2.

A full track list is below:

01 Frontier – Theme from "Frontier Elite 2"
02 Games – from "Starglider"
03 Brightest Star – Theme from "StarGlider 2"
04 Beneath A Steel Sky – The title theme from "Beneath a Steel Sky"
05 Enemy in View – from "Frontier Elite 2" Second Theme
06 Just Another Mission – Theme from "Carrier Command"
07 Electric Flag – Theme from "Incredible Shrinking Sphere"
08 The Longest Night – Theme from "Midwinter (Flames of Freedom)"
09 F1 Carrerra – Theme from "F1 Gran Prix"
10 StarBurner – Theme from "Afterburner" + "Starglider"

The soundtrack is available in MP3 and FLAC and costs £15. Physical CDs and vinyl will be available for order further down the track.

I’ve had a quick listen to all the tracks on the album and despite only recognising two of the themes on the album (i.e. the Frontier: Elite II themes) I really enjoyed what I've heard so far – it has a very retro vibe to it but in a good way. I think fans of the Elite series, retro PC gamers and even fans of 80s/90s pop in general will find something to like on this album. There’s even a smattering of what sounds like prog rock!

LINK:
[ Uncle Art - A Temporal Shift Downloads Page ]

Monday, July 25, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #240 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Successful Campaign



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

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Now we move on to some marching music that plays whenever you achieve a military victory in Sid Meier's Colonization. Seems appropriate that the name of this track is "Successful Campaign" then :).

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 #240 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Successful Campaign ]


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Steam Games Sunday - 24 July 2016

WAR! HUH! Good God Y'all. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again.

I've decided to again have a weekly segment on Sunday. Instead of what I used to do (which was "Spotlight Sunday") I'm now going to be posting up a top 10 list each week of which games the contributors at Choicest Games (Mark, Lanna, Choona and Luke) are playing. Since this list is going to be based on fortnightly playtime as reported by Steam there are going to be some caveats to this:

  1. It's only going to feature games on Steam or Steam versions of games. This means if any of the contributors are playing games such as Battlefield 4, the UPlay version of Rainbow Six Siege or a game like Guild Wars 2 for example, these will not be included.
  2. Hours played isn't always hours played. Some games will be running on Steam but are actually applying large updates/patches therefore inflating the playtime figure for some games.

Despite these caveats though, it should be fun to see what are the most popular games amongst the Choicest Games crew. Maybe if you notice a game that you're interested in and you want to know more, you could send us a message/comment. I also have a personal interest in these posts for the sake of posterity - it'll be interesting to see what used to be our games of choice :).

So without further ado, here are the top 10 games we're playing on Steam in terms of hours played:

  1. War Thunder
  2. Rainbow Six Siege
  3. Star Trek Online
  4. Everyday Genius: SquareLogic
  5. Squad
  6. Marvel Heroes
  7. Mount & Blade: Warband
  8. League of Mermaids
  9. Sid Meier's Civilization V
  10. Call of Duty: Black Ops

There's a good mix of genres here with three MMOs, three FPSs, two puzzle games, one ARPG and a turn-based strategy game. If we were including retail versions of games, Rainbow Six Siege would be the clear winner on this list but since we're not, War Thunder takes the lead by just a sliver this week (although it's well deserved, as the game is enjoyed by not just a couple of the Choicest Games contributors but also by many of their friends).

Anyway stay tuned for next Sunday to see if this list changes :). Are you playing any of the games on this list? How are you finding them?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Plague Inc: Evolved Review

Eeeeew... cooties!

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Ndemic Creations
  • Publisher: Ndemic Creations
  • Release Date: 19 February 2016
  • Time played: 4 hours

I actually received this game as a gift I believe from Choicest Games contributor Choona about two years ago but hadn't really played the game extensively until quite recently. So a big thank you to Choona is in order or else I may have never played this game.

Plague Inc: Evolved has actually been in Early Access for quite some time (since 2014) and is actually based off as a mobile game called Plague Inc which was released in 2012. The game was a huge success which prompted the development of the game on PC with many additional features not available on the mobile version. After two years, the game was finally released which is when I started to take an active interest in the game (since I'm always a bit apprehensive when it comes to Early Access games or games in beta).

The goal of Plague Inc: Evolved is to kill off humanity by creating a pandemic. You start off with a virus or bacteria that's not very deadly or infectious but over time as you start infecting more and more people you'll earn points that you can use to evolve your virus/bacteria into becoming more infectious or deadly. At some point, humanity will take notice of the virus/bacteria and try their best to stop its spread across the globe and eventually cure it. If humanity manages to find a cure to the disease, it's game over for you.

What I like:


Shows how easy a pandemic can occur

The game demonstrates how easy a pandemic can occur, so much so that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States invited the game's developer, James Vaughan, to give a speech in 2013. Vaughan spoke about how he modelled the spread of infectious disease in the game and how games like Plague Inc could be used to help educate the public. The CDC said that the game "uses a non-traditional route to raise public awareness on epidemiology, disease transmission and diseases/pandemic information" so it would seem that they agree with him.

It's like "Pandemic" but in reverse

There's a board game called "Pandemic" where you have to co-operate with other players to stop the spread of an infectious disease across the globe. In Plague Inc: Evolved the roles are reversed and now you're responsible for spreading the disease instead. One of the spinoffs of "Pandemic" called "Pandemic: Contagion", is apparently very similar in terms of gameplay to Plague Inc: Evolved but since I haven't played it, I can't comment on how similar it is (or how good "Pandemic: Contagion" is). All I know is that the original "Pandemic" board game was good fun and one of the best board games I've ever played. The game even won a couple of awards in 2009 and the franchise is quite popular. Having the opportunity to play a game where the tables are turned is also good fun.

Easy to learn, hard to master

The game is easy to learn since it's all mouse-driven and it comes with a helpful tutorial. You basically evolve your disease as it infects more and more people, and click on bubbles when you want the disease to start infecting a new region of the world. There are also research bubbles you can pop to hinder humanity's progress in developing a cure. The game plays a bit like a real-time strategy game except instead of directing tanks around a map you're enabling your pathogen to spread across the world.

Why is it hard to master? Because humanity are eventually going to try and prevent the spread of your disease and develop a cure. One of the dilemmas you'll have to face in this game is finding a balance between a really infectious disease and a really deadly one. A really infectious disease might mean you're better prepared to kill humanity in one fell swoop but there are a lot of people on Earth to kill meaning a cure is likely to be discovered before you get a chance to succeed. Conversely, creating a really deadly disease will scare the populace sooner which means they'll start working on a cure early with little opportunity for you to infect the rest of the world before a cure is found and it's too late.

Movie tie-in with Planet of the Apes

I usually find movie tie-ins as gimmicky but this isn't really the case with Plague Inc: Evolved. The gameplay when using the Simian Flu is quite different as you'll have to eventually manage colonies of apes as they traverse around the world, trying to avoid drone attacks along the way. It's actually good fun in its own right.

Multiplayer

The game gives you the ability to play the game cooperatively and competitively. I've only tried the cooperative mode where it has you and another player evolving your own diseases. While the gameplay is similar to the single-player mode one neat feature about co-op mode is that you can evolve abilities that either help or hinder your partner's disease. I suspect that if these abilities are used effectively, you'd be able to help a partner's disease evolve qualities that would allow it to become more effective (if you have evolution points to spare).

Leaderboards

The game has leaderboards so you can compete against friends and Steam gamers in general by trying to achieve the highest score.

Steam Workshop

You're able to create your own mods for Plague Inc: Evolved using the Steam Workshop and there are already quite a few available.

Steam Achievements and Trading Cards

The game has a whole swath of Steam achievements to strive for as well as trading cards to collect.

What I dislike:


Guilt?

I must admit, looking at all those photos as humanity neared extinction of empty, desolate cities around the world, made me feel guilty. Yes, I know it's just a game but I suspect it's the same feeling you get when you see the millions of people being killed by nuclear armageddon when playing a game like Defcon

Gameplay maybe too simple?

As you can tell, I'm really clutching at straws here to find something negative to say about the game. I'm not talking about the difficulty (since the game is definitely a challenge especially at higher difficulty levels) nor am I talking about how easy it is to learn the basics of the game. What I'm talking about is the fact that all there really is to the game is evolving your virus and clicking on bubbles every so often - that's it. It doesn't help that the game is effectively based on a mobile game which is probably why it ended up this way.

Score – 8/10 (Pretty Good)


It's hard to fault Plague Inc: Evolved since it does so many things right: the game gives you the opportunity to be the stereotypical, evil mad scientist, hell-bent on destroying humanity and while this can be a challenge to do (especially on higher difficulty levels or if you're going for Greenland – friggin' Greenland…) it's quite easy to grasp the basics of spreading your virus/bacteria and evolving it. Add Steam achievements, trading cards, multiplayer (co-op and competitive), leaderboards and the ability to make your own mods, and you've got yourself a great value-for-money game that should keep you entertained for a long time.

Is the game worth $14.99 USD?: Yes, despite each game itself not taking very long to complete, there are a lot of things you can do with this game that increases its longevity, such as hunting for achievements and trading cards, trying to beat high scores, playing with or against friends, and creating your own mods in the Steam Workshop.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Plague Inc: Evolved Website ]

Monday, July 18, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #239 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Joe Clark



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

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Once again, I find more music in the Sid Meier's Colonization soundtrack that is based off actual pieces of music. In this case, we have "Joe Clark" that's based off the tune "Old Joe Clark". Apparently it's an old folk song/mountain ballad that was "sung during World War I and later by soldiers from eastern Kentucky". Joe Clark is said to have been a mountaineer born in 1839 and murdered in 1885. Despite the tune being quite old, it's still anachronistic as background music in Sid Meier's Colonization considering it is set during the American Colonial era.

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 #239 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Joe Clark ]


Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Deer Review

Oh deer, it seems this game is really short and not much fawn.

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Chubby Pixel
  • Publisher: Chubby Pixel
  • Release Date: 2 December 2015
  • Time played: 10 minutes

The Deer happens to be another game generously donated by Mix-Master (seriously, I should just rename this blog "Mix-Master’s Choicest Games") – so thank you again Monsieur Master. I’m not quite sure why I wishlisted this game in the first place, but maybe I liked the artwork and the fact it claims to be an educational game. I’ve loved edutainment titles ever since playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as a kid and since I actually have a kid nowadays, I was hoping this game could potentially provide her some insight into what the life of a deer was like back in prehistoric times.

The game’s controls are very simple. You use the A and D keys to move the deer across the screen and you use the mouse to hover over facts and to click on mini-games. You can then use the mouse to play the mini-games aaaaaand… that’s about it. After five minutes I have explored all there is to explore in this game. So on to the review.

What I like:


Charming graphics

The game has some charming graphics thanks to the efforts of Giulia Airoldi.

Educational

As you explore The Deer you'll come across several interesting facts describing what life was like for deer back in prehistoric times. There aren't that many though and most aren't shown in a meaningful interactive manner.

Family friendly

The game is family friendly, as you'd expect for a game aimed at educating children.

What I dislike:


Extremely short

The game takes five minutes to complete. It says 10 minutes for the amount of time played because I actually tried it again to see if there was anything I missed.

Short on facts

As mentioned before, there really isn't much in the way of facts and half of the facts are probably quoted on the game's Steam page already.

Target demographic isn't clear

Yes it mentions the game is for kids but how old? While my three year old found the games entertaining (and could solve them with a bit of help) the mini-game controls aren't too intuitive for her (despite her actually being able to play the game "Memory" using a mouse elsewhere). However, she's still too young to read the facts proficiently or understand them so in that regard, the game is probably aimed at older children. But then you run the risk that the older kids would find the mini-games boring.

Not much to do

There are three mini-games in The Deer and that's about it: a "Memory" mini-game, a Pick-the-Food-for-the-Deer mini-game and an Assemble-the-Skeleton mini-game.

Score – 3/10 (Poor)


It does deliver on what it promises but I was kind of expecting more – maybe a bit like an interactive version of the kids film "Ice Age" except with interesting facts as the deer traversed across an icy continent. It's not a bad experience, just a very short one that's not terribly fun or memorable.

Is the game worth $0.99 USD?: Yes, although only because the developers have managed to deliver their lesson about deer in a mildly entertaining manner. Otherwise, you could just read Wikipedia – for free.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official The Deer Website ]




Saturday, July 16, 2016

June 2016 Game Giveaway Winner

King's Quest The Complete Collection is up for grabs!

Well, the giveaway is over and we have our winner! Unfortunately, it's not actually anyone who entered the competition since it turns out that nobody entered the competition - not a single person! So the lucky recipient just happens to be fellow Choicest Games contributor, Luke - well done!

So with this rather embarrassing and sad news, it seems that I won't be running any further competitions on Choicest Games (at least for now) since either:

(a) not enough people are reading this blog,
(b) people really can't be bothered doing old school contests/giveaways any more or
(c) people hate King's Quest so much they wouldn't even grab it for free

Oh well, it was worth a punt :). If you have any suggestions or recommendations though, feel free to comment.

Friday, July 15, 2016

SimCity 3000, Dragon Age and Dead Space are now DRM-Free on GOG

We built this city on Ma-xis cooooOOOOOODE

Good Old Games (GOG.com) are now selling Dragon Age: Origins, Dead Space and, my favourite SimCity game of all time, SimCity 3000 which means the games are free of any DRM. While it's great to see Dragon Age: Origins and Dead Space on GOG, to me it’s not as big news as SimCity 3000 being finally available since unlike Dragon Age and Dead Space, SimCity 3000 isn't available on other digital distribution platforms like Steam and Origin (well, at least not yet).

It was an insta-buy for me even though it’s currently selling at 50% off for about $7 (quite steep for a 17 year old game but I love it that much). Too bad there’s no soundtrack bundled with the purchase since that was one of the game’s best features: the jazzy tunes courtesy of Jerry Martin.

LINK:
[ GOG: Dragon Age: Origins, Dead Space, SimCity 3000 Now Available! ]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shroud of the Avatar One Step Closer to Leaving Early Access

Where's the Dragonborn when you need him?

Portalarium have notified the backers of Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues (Richard "Lord British" Garriott's MMORPG that has been under development for the past 3 years) to ensure they've linked their Kickstarter Account to the official webpage so that backers can receive their rewards. This is because for Release 32 which is coming out on 28 July 2016, there's going to be a "final wipe of persistent player data" but "not social data such as friends and guilds". Portalarium says they'll "no longer be wiping the game state" from Release 32 onwards so character and properties should be persistent from the 28 July onwards. To me, this suggests the game is reaching a critical milestone in terms of development since they feel the game is stable enough for players to keep their progress from now on.

I don't usually like playing Early Access/Beta/Alpha games since unpolished, buggy games tend to annoy me, but I've been known to make the odd exception. While the game has gradually been receiving worse reviews as time passes on (currently rated as "Mostly Negative" on Steam with 37% of the recent 29 reviews rating the game positively and a "Mixed" rating overall with 64% of the 781 user reviews rating the game positively) I haven't given the game a proper go yet and I am a fan of Richard Garriott's previous works. I'm also a fan of the writer Tracy Hickman; back when I was much younger, I dabbled a bit with an online collaborative fiction project of his called Starshield (which sounded like a really good idea at the time) but alas, it never really amounted to anything substantial.

Also in response to the poor reviews currently on Steam, a couple of users on the Whirlpool forums provided a more balanced outlook on the game.

One user commented that the game might be a bit overwhelming for new players but conceded this was also the case with Ultima Online. He also found the game, in its current state, to have a steep difficulty curve but ultimately found the game to be "fun and engaging".

"I would recommend giving this a go, especially if you're a backer, and also if you're a fan of Richard Garriott's previous games ... namely Ultima Online." – Inferno89

Another user was impressed by how much detail went into the housing and how professions related to crafting items for houses (e.g. furniture) could potentially earn quite a bit of money. He also found the quality of the quests rather good. He does believe most of the bugs the development team are encountering stem from their use of the Unity engine and its limitations but ultimately thinks that

"Overall, it does get a bad wrap but I personally believe the game will be a neat little gem" – HK-47

Anyway, seems like it might be time for me to actually give the game a shot and see what all the fuss is about :).

LINK:
[ Kickstarter: Shroud of the Avatar Update #75 ]

Monday, July 11, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #238 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Fiddler's Dance



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

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Just like last week, we're featuring a track with a fiddle for today's Choicest VGM. This track is a lively one that I always associate with entering the city screen when playing Sid Meier's Colonization.

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 #238 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Fiddler's Dance ]


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Collection Review

I'm telling you now... the butler did it!


  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: ICOM Simulations/Zojoi
  • Publisher: Reverb Triple XP/Zojoi
  • Release Date: 9 June 2015
  • Time played: 2.5 hours

So I happened to be a Kickstarter backer of the Shadowgate remake which was released in 2014 and this remake was developed by a company called Zojoi which is basically ICOM Simulations resurrected. ICOM Simulations was the original developer of Shadowgate along with many other games including one of my first forays into the world of Full Motion Video (FMV) games: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

Well shortly after the release of the 2014 Shadowgate, Zojoi started selling DRM-free copies of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective through their website (as previously they only sold the game on mobile platforms and Desura). I grabbed them straight away but it wasn't until mid-2015 that the game finally made its way onto Steam.

When I originally played the game back in the 1990s, the three cases "The Mummy's Curse", "The Tin Soldier" and "The Mystified Murderess" all came on one CD and together were "Volume 1" of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. When Zojoi released the game on Steam in 2015, they split the game up into the three cases and sold them separately - however you can still get all three cases together in a bundle called the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Collection for a slight discount. This is what I am reviewing today.

I bought the collection on Steam when it was on special during some sale at the end of 2015 for only a couple of bucks so now I have a DRM-free copy of the collection and a Steam copy.

It wasn't until quite recently though that I finally managed to replay all of these classic games and I can quite confidently say I'm no better a sleuth than I was back in the 1990s. I guess it isn't so elementary my dear Goninon.

So how do you play this game? Well the goal of each case is to discover who is responsible for murdering someone, how they did it and what their motives were. You'll eventually have to go to a judge with all your evidence and select the right answers to the questions he will ask you. If you correctly answer all of them, you solve the case! Pretty simple, huh? The catch? Well you're only able to set foot into the courtroom once you've gathered the right pieces of evidence (and the game doesn't tell you what those pieces of evidence are) plus the more time you spend making enquiries (especially when they end up as being dead-ends) the more points you receive - and you'll want to get as low a score as possible (so you can beat Sherlock Holmes's best score). Each time you interrogate the citizens of London you're treated to an FMV sequence and each case usually has several of them.


What I like:


Cast of colourful characters

If you're a fan of the world's most famous detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you'll probably find it hard to resist the urge to play just about any Sherlock Holmes game. Not only will you follow Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they investigate their cases but you'll also come across other characters from the Sherlock Holmes canon such as Shinwell "Porky" Johnson, Langdale Pike, the Baker Street Irregulars and who can forget Inspector Lestrade?

Immersive

Considering how old the game is, it's surprisingly immersive. I don't recall being able to read the newspapers in-game with the original version of the game (you actually had mini physical copies of the newspapers contained in the CD case) but you definitely can now and the way they're presented seems quite authentic - very helpful in immersing yourself in Victorian England. Also, the cases tend to mention things that seemed to be in vogue at the time such as mesmerism/hypnosis and Egyptology.

Challenging

The game can actually be challenging, especially the first time you play since unless you're really paying attention, you might inadvertently talk to people who are unable to offer any clues. Also going too early to the judge will result in you gaining points, which is what you don't want to happen if you want to beat Holmes's score.

Only a mouse is required

Seems like a minor thing but I love games where only a mouse is required - that's how you can tell that it's a true PC game ;).

What I dislike:


Poor acting

Occasionally some of the actors are a bit hammy in terms of their performances or their accents are obviously put on British accents (every so often you can hear the American pronunciation for a word).

Low quality FMV

The FMV is obviously low quality by today's standards since you had to fit all of these onto a CD-ROM which only stores a few hundred megabytes!

Limited replay

Once you know how to solve the case it's just a matter of repeating the same steps and picking the same answers when the judge asks you questions about the case at court. The only reason you'd want to replay the game is to get a better score and that's all dependent on how efficient you are.

Short

Each of the cases can be finished in under an hour and that was when I was stumbling around basically talking to almost everyone in London before I finally solved the case!

No Steam Trading Cards and Achievements

Surely this isn't too difficult a thing to add?

Score – 7/10 (Alright)


Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is worth giving a go if you want to see an example of a game that helped pioneer FMV gaming back in the early 90s. It's also worth it if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes in general who wishes to test their sleuthing skills against the great detective. The only criticisms I have about the game are that each case is pretty short, there's limited replay value and the game suffers from simply being too old: 1990s technology meant low quality FMVs and since this technology was new back then, the audience was more forgiving when it came to low quality acting.

Is the game worth $4.99 USD?: Yes. While each of the mysteries will take under an hour to complete it's worthwhile taking a trip down FMV memory lane and immersing yourself in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Website ]



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Horizon Chase OST Review



  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Name: Horizon Chase OST
  • Label: Barry Leitch Audio Studios
  • Composer(s): Barry Leitch
  • Number of Tracks: 26

I'm a big fan of Barry Leitch's work as a video game music composer, or at least as big a fan an old DOS gamer can possibly be (I have a little post dedicated to him and his career here ; I mention that I used to play DOS games because Leitch is probably better known amongst those of you who played on other platforms such as the Commodore 64, Amiga or SNES in the 80s and 90s. So while I was enjoying his work on games like Utopia: The Creation of a Nation and T.F.X., you were probably enjoying his music on games like Lotus Turbo Challenge 2, Super Cars and, most importantly, a SNES game called Top Gear (which has nothing to do with the famous British T.V. show).

The reason Top Gear is important is because there's a mobile game out at the moment that is basically a tribute to this game called Horizon Chase by Brazilian developer Aquiris Game Studio. Not only is the gameplay similar to this retro, arcade racer but Aquiris even managed to recruit the original composer of Top Gear to score their game! I'm still waiting for the game to come out on Steam which the developers plan to do sometime this year since I'm not really a big fan of mobile games but since I am a big fan of Leitch's work (I did mention I am a big fan, right? :)) I purchased a digital copy of the soundtrack off Leitch's bandcamp page for $5.99 USD.

As this is Bandcamp we're talking about, you have several options when it comes to formats (i.e. MP3, FLAC, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, ALAC, WAV and AIFF). The album contains 26 tracks in total with the first 15 of these tracks being composed by Barry Leitch himself. The other 11 tracks on the album are remixes of Leitch's work on Horizon Chase by several guest artists; I don't actually recognise any of them except for Tim "Cold Storage" Wright who is the guy that composed the soundtrack for Lemmings as well as some of the music for the critically acclaimed WipeoutI also typed up a little article on him too :).

Leitch manages to channel the retro sound he was famous for back in the 80s and 90s so you'll feel like you're being transported back to the days of classic PC gaming – a lot of the music wouldn't be out of place as background music for an Amiga game or on an old DOS game like T.F.X.; the best way I can describe Leitch's style on this album is that it's synth baroque along with a few other instruments like electric guitars to keep things fresh.



Picking a favourite from the 15 tracks that Leitch has composed on this album is no easy task since there are a lot of good ones here: Besides the catchy, retro main theme and all the tracks that are variations of it, you've got "Race 1 - Going off the Rails'" with a very "Blade Runner" feel to it at the start, the fast-paced "Race 5 The Finale" which manages to successfully incorporate Western motifs into a catchy VGM tune, the 80s synthpop of "Race 8 - Vyper" which almost sounds like something Mark Klem would've composed for Wacky Wheels, and the rockin' electric guitar on "Race 9 - Balls to the Wall" which really gets that toe tapping. It's also worth noting that fans of the original SNES Top Gear will be pleased to hear a modern take on the track titled "Easter Egg - Top Gear Reprise".

But as those video shopping channels always say: "Wait! There's more!"

I've only talked about the tracks that Leitch has composed but some of these remixes are equally phenomenal Рand there's an eclectic mix of styles and instruments used too. While the lion's share are occupied by "DOOF DOOF" dance remixes, there's a light-hearted, breezy acoustic guitar version of the main theme performed by Yraê Araujo as well as a heavy metal version of "Bleeding Fingers" by Megadriver. Personal favourite remixes of mine include D.Notive's badass remix of the Title theme which is pure 80s synth goodness (complete with slap bass!), Cold Storage's (TIM WRIGHT!) remix of the Title theme which manages to emulate a retro VGM Amiga MOD sound with lots of phat beats and the short but sweet Vyper remix by Kaue Lemos which gives the original theme the Dubstep treatment.

Score – 8/10

If you're a fan of Barry Leitch's work this is obviously a must-buy. If you're a fan of retro VGM in general, I'd also argue that this is a must-buy especially if you grew up on classic arcade racers of the 80s and 90s. Considering there are also 11 remixes on the album there's a lot of music here to keep almost anyone happy and as a result I highly recommend it.

If you're interested in purchasing the soundtrack, it's either available in digital format for $5.99 USD or on CD for $20 USD + shipping and handling from Barry Leitch's website

Monday, July 4, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #237 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Little Fiddle



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

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

The appropriately titled "Little Fiddle" is a little track (only slightly longer than 30 seconds) that just features the fiddle as an instrument. It's a light-hearted interlude that fits nicely between the longer tracks that make the Colonization soundtrack.

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 #237 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Little Fiddle ]


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ticket to Ride Review


If you play this map, you'll be treated to Swiss yodelling music

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Days of Wonder
  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Release Date: 25 May 2012
  • Time played: 3 hours

So there are a couple of motivations for me working through my backlog of games, colloquially known as my "pile of shame", and both involve guilt. The main reason which applies to the entire thing is that I own way too many games and that there's a very real chance I won't be able to play them all. I try to keep my hopes up though that I'll at least manage to have a good crack at almost all of them, at some stage during my lifetime :).

The other reason I play a particular subset of my "pile of shame" is because they have been gifted to me by friends and family for such events like my birthday, Christmas and Father's Day - so I feel extra ashamed (which translates to, extra motivated) to complete these titles. One game on this list happens to be the one I'm reviewing today: Ticket to Ride

I can't quite remember who gifted me this but I have a good feeling it was my brother as he's also played the digital version of this popular board game and has recommended it to me before. Judging that I got this around December 2013, I'm guessing it was a 2013 Christmas pressie... geeze 2013?! That means it's taken me over two years to finally play this game (sorry bro)!

Anyway, outside of computer games, I do enjoy playing board games as well and have quite a collection of them in my home. Unfortunately, ever since spawning children (instead of Overlords) it's a challenge to invite friends over or attend board game nights and successfully play some games. So I happen to have quite a lot of board games that are unopened and unplayed (SHUT UP! I'M NOT STARTING A BOARD GAMES PILE OF SHAME THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Oh, who am I kidding :( ). I actually almost played Ticket to Ride (the actual board game) at my friend Danno's place, but this never eventuated since it was home time for a very cranky toddler.

Consequently, my first experience at playing Ticket to Ride is this Steam version of the game and I must say, it's not a bad board game. The goal of the game is to construct railway lines between cities and each time you lay some track you are awarded some points. You receive bonus points from completing missions (i.e. ensuring you complete a track between two specific cities) and having the longest track. You have a limited number of track tokens so when these run out, the game ends and in order to use these tracks you need cards of a particular colour. You see, most of the railway lines are colour coded meaning you'll need a certain number of cards in that colour in order to complete the railway line between two cities. There's obviously an element of chance involved with respect to drawing the cards that you need but there's also some strategy too as you'll need to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to.... *ahem* well, you get the idea.

What I like:


Based on a popular board game

The actual board game Ticket to Ride is a German-style board game designed by Alan R. Moon back in 2004. The game won several awards in the mid-2000s and the game has sold over 3 million copies. So as you can see, it's pretty popular. The game has evolved into a franchise with several variants, expansions and, of course, this computer game. Consequently, if you don't believe in argumentum ad populum being a logical fallacy, then more than 3 million people can't be wrong!

Quick games

Games are very quick, at least if you only play against one AI player, so it's an ideal game to play when you're waiting for something else or when you don't have the time to commit 3 hours to a World of Warcraft raid (not that I've ever participated in a WoW raid but I suspect it'd take some time :))

Multiplayer

The game has local and online multiplayer so you're able to challenge other human players (just like the actual board game). You'd be surprised how many conversions of board games on Steam don't include multiplayer and only allow you to play against bots...

Family friendly

The original board game is a family friendly board game and so is this. Perfect if you're a father or mother and concerned about games with mature themes or violence being played in the background. If you have older kids, you can even play the game with them thanks to the aforementioned multiplayer!

Game modes

There are plenty of game modes that change the rules of the game and some of these have been provided free by Days of Wonder (cheers guys). Others (especially expansions set on different continents) require you to pay for the DLC.

Achievements

If you're motivated by achievements then there are a lot of in-game achievements to collect (which also translate into Steam achievements as well).

What I dislike:


Music can get grating after a while

Especially the music that plays for the standard USA map - argh! I do like Scott Joplin's "The Easy Winners" for the main menu theme though (or at least I think it's "The Easy Winners" - it sounds very similar).

Occasional flickering and graphical glitches

On my system the game frequently flickers and there are occasional graphical glitches. They're no showstoppers but it's still annoying.

Wouldn't you rather play the actual board game?

Sure the digital version takes less space, is quick to setup and you can play with people from all across the world - so it's definitely convenient. But like playing at a LAN, playing online isn't quite the same as playing in person :).

Score – 7/10 (Good)

Ticket to Ride is a faithful rendition of the popular board game that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. It comes jam-packed with lots of modes and expansions (provided you can dish out the money for them). Besides the occasional graphical glitches and the questionable choice of music at times, there's a lot to recommend if you're on the lookout for a family friendly board game... but on Steam!

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes, the game is bound to provide hours of fun just like the actual board game. If you can get the game on sale (like it is now) it'd be worth grabbing all the DLC too.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Ticket to Ride Website ]



Saturday, July 2, 2016

June 2016 Game Giveaway - King's Quest: The Complete Collection

King's Quest The Complete Collection is up for grabs!

Back in the day when people still used to read print magazines (i.e. before the 2000s), I used to love reading a British PC gaming magazine simply called "PC Review". Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer in print but one of the neat things they did was a monthly giveaway or contest where you would have to answer a question, submit your answer by snail mail (yes, snail mail) and then the correct entries would go into a sort of raffle. If you were lucky enough, you'd be one of a few that would win a free game and have your name in print in next month's edition of PC Review. You could imagine my surprise when I found out I won a copy of Sid Meier's Colonization this way; I suspect it was less surprising than PC Review realising they had a loyal reader from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates reading their magazine though!

So which games did PC Review choose to have in their giveaways? Well usually the game that rated best that month; ones that were given the badge of "PC Review Recommended". I basically want to start an informal contest similar to what PC Review did where each month. The best rated game on Choicest Games will be a prize for whoever can submit the correct answer to a question I will pose (related to the game and its review). In the case of a tie, the winner will be randomly selected from all correct responses.

What are the rules for the contest? Not much. Anyone can join so long as you make sure you only submit one entry per person (don't be greedy now :)) and that you provide some means for me to send your gift. I'll also need a name or nickname to address you by when I announce you as winner on the blog.

So for the month of June 2016, the highest rated game on the blog was King's Quest - Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb with 8/10. I'm going to be extra generous for this first contest though as the winner will receive King's Quest The Complete Collection (which is usually $29.99 USD - although cheaper at the moment thanks to the Steam sale).

All you have to do is answer the question and fill out your details on the SurveyMonkey form below and you're in the contest!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7L2NGB5

Entries close at 11:00pm 15 July 2016 Australian Western Standard Time (AWST).

(Also, the judge's decision, i.e. me, is final :). Let's keep this fun and informal please. If at any stage it doesn't I'll be closing down these contests :). Also, if it turns out nobody actually enters the contest, there'll probably be no reason to do another!)

Good luck!