JaMiRe #105: Deponia

Deponia

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Deponia is a point-and-click adventure game by Daedalic Entertainment, a company that makes a lot of point-and-click adventure games, some of which I enjoy very much. As you might suspect, it is a very solid game from a technical standpoint, and the setting of the story is interesting. But there is one major issue dragging the game down, and that is that the main character, Rufus, is an utter, unredeemable ass.

Deponia is a dump. That is to say, the planet of Deponia is entirely covered by trash, dumped there by trains that travel to and from the floating cities of Elysium. Rufus, a barely competent handyman who is currently sponging off his ex-girlfriend while living in her house, dreams of escaping the junk heaps of Deponia and travelling up to Elysium, which in his mind must be a paradise where no one would ever try to make him do any work. (Which he doesn’t do anyway.) He has tried various methods of escape that never panned out, usually causing harm to himself and those around him. But this time, while his attempt to attach his escape pod to a train went amusingly wrong, he actually made it up onto the train in question; whereupon he caused another accident, and caused a young woman from Elysium to fall off the train before getting thrown off himself. Rufus believes this young woman, Goal, is his ticket off Deponia at last, and starts trying to ingratiate himself with her. Unfortunately, she’s lost her memory…

So yeah, Rufus. I understand that he’s supposed to be “comically” unlikable: he’s an idiot who never thinks things through, he is completely unreliable, and he is a self-indulgent egomaniac who blames other people for his problems. The only saving grace he has is that he causes far more harm to himself than anyone else — especially physical harm: that incident with the train in the beginning, for example, sees him dragged through rusted metal scrap, live electrical wires, and giant cacti. Nobody in town likes him, including and especially his ex-girlfriend Toni, and it’s clear that he doesn’t understand why. I don’t want to imply that the rest of the townsfolk are good people, since they treat Rufus pretty badly in all honesty…but he kinda sorta really deserves it. And I’ve got three more games with this tool… Seriously, I hope he undergoes some severe character development. Preferably soon.

Other than that, the game has some good points. The artwork is good, and I actually like the background music. Mouse controls are pretty standard with right-click for examining things, and left-click for interacting. Interestingly, you can choose between a standard “click to open” inventory, or using mouse-wheel down to open the inventory, and up to close it. The animation is a bit hit and miss: it’s usually pretty smooth, but occasionally character sprites will teleport around, or certain animations won’t play (or don’t exist, I wasn’t exactly clear). Voice acting was a bit questionable in places as well, and often subtitles and voiced lines didn’t match. But Rufus’ VA was actually pretty good, which…almost makes it worse, since he was voicing Rufus.

In sum, the main character didn’t really feel that funny to me, so a bunch of humor fell pretty flat for me. Oh, and because of the dedication to having a comedic tone, some of the puzzle solutions get really bizarre. But there were some cute gags in there, and an obvious amount of effort was made to make unique responses when you start using items on everything and each other in an attempt to figure out what to do next. I can’t pan it entirely, in other words; but if Rufus doesn’t improve over the next three installments, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay positive…

Pros: Good artwork; good music.

Cons: Rufus; bizarre and illogical puzzle solutions; also, Rufus.

Worth playing: …Let me get back to you on that.

Worth the price: At $10, it’s the cheapest of the Deponia titles. Hm.

Random observation: Honestly, I feel bad for Toni; the biggest plot hole in the game is why she hasn’t actually kicked Rufus out of her house. Wonder if that ever gets explained. 😦

Arbitrary grade: C+

Tomorrow: Deponia 2: Chaos on Deponia. To be fair, anywhere Rufus stays for longer than a day will probably experience Chaos in any case.

JaMiRe #104: Defender’s Quest

Defender’s Quest

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Let me say right away that I really like Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. Although it feels a lot like it was meant to be a mobile game (given it’s rather cartoonish art style and limited animation), it is a fun RPG/Tower Defense hybrid with a surprising depth to the story, given how silly it seems at first glance. (Actually, I just broke my no-research rule and checked, and it was initially a Flash game for browsers, which I suggest are basically the precursor to modern mobile games. So that checks out.)

The story is told from the perspective of Azra Livbar, Royal Librarian of the Kingdom of Ash. This sheltered young woman has caught the plague that is currently…er, plaguing, the Capitol, and thus she is taken and thrown into the Pit, a large crater where all plague victims are supposedly disposed of. However, it turns out that unbeknownst to Azra, the plague is actually a zombie plague, and in some strange dimension halfway between life and death, she has a vision of a shining golden man on a great throne, who attempts to command her in a language she can’t understand. Azra isn’t willing to lose her mind quite that easily, though, and instead of rising from the dead as an undead Revenant, she pulls a nearby Berserker into the Halfway World to slaughter the undead hordes on her behalf.

So, Defender’s Quest is basically a tower defense game. Battles take place in the Halfway World, and enemies spawn and move towards Azra along a linear path. Using a resource called PSI, Azra can call units she has recruited and place them in fixed positions along the path in an attempt to rout the baddies; she can also pump more PSI into units to Boost them, increasing stats and allowing them to use better skills. As you progress through the game, Azra also gets access to spells that allow her to buff and heal her defenders, or pick off monsters that made it past them. She starts off with a single unit, a melee Berserker known as Slak (amusingly bloodthirsty and psychotic, but a friendly guy nonetheless) but she soon becomes able to recruit other units as well, including Rangers and Healers. Each character you add to your party costs more Scrap (read: money) to recruit, regardless of what type it is, so although you can potentially have six units of each type in your army, it quickly becomes very expensive to recruit more.

The RPG elements, while not very deep, are pretty decent. Each character including Azra gets experience for fighting and completing levels, and they get skill points each time they level up. Skill trees include Active skills, which units will use automatically if they are Boosted high enough, and Traits, which are passive bonuses that are always active. Units can also equip different types of equipment, which are available for purchase in towns and similar non-battle zones. In other words, if you are having trouble with a level you can always go back to previous levels, grind for XP and Scrap, attempt higher difficulty levels, and otherwise improve your army for another attempt. Losing a level doesn’t end the game, and you still get XP and scrap based on the enemies you killed before Azra died — minus a 50% penalty, of course, but it’s still something.

What I really like about the game, though, is all the incidental-yet-complex world building that’s going on in the background. The main storyline is all about the situation in the Pit, with the Revenants; but reading Azra’s journal entries reveals that there is actually a huge, complicated world outside the main setting. (They also reveal how sheltered she was, and how little she cares for the company she currently keeps, but that’s a different, funnier story.) For instance, Ash Kingdom had been at war with the Quaid Empire, before the plague wiped out the Quaid and left the Ashini trying to hold back the undead scourge while hiding the situation from the citizens. Beyond them, Azra mentions several nations to the west of Ash Kingdom that share the same religion; there is a race of nomads known as… Nomads (ok, not the most creative name ever); and rumors from the far north of “a Race that Ate the Moon” which raises all kinds of questions… All set dressing, of course, but it really gives the impression that the world is bigger than this one incident in this one location; and considering the somewhat silly tone of the game itself (I’m looking at you, Slak!) I was surprised and pleased by the obvious thought that had gone into describing the world outside the game itself. In a word, I was impressed.

So yeah, I can recommend this one. It’s got various technical limitations, especially when it comes to animation, but it’s a fun tower defense game set in a world with a surprisingly deep lore. There might be better tower defense games, but I definitely enjoyed this one a lot.

Pros: Deeper world building than an initial impression would suggest; fun tower defense gameplay that both encourages grinding levels, and makes grinding easy.

Cons: Minimal animation in cutscenes; slightly divergent in tone (i.e. it isn’t clear whether it’s supposed to be funny or serious at times)

Worth playing: Yes, I enjoyed it.

Worth the price: Not gonna lie, $15 seems a lot for a former Flash game, though if you think of it as supporting a smaller developer… Well, I’d still look for a sale, I think.

Random observation: The sequel to Defender’s Quest has been in the pipeline for a while, now, and I’m slightly disappointed that it will be set in a different world from Valley of the Forgotten. On the plus side, there will Turtle Tanks, which aren’t real turtles, but are real tanks. So that’s something. 😀

Arbitrary grade: B+

Tomorrow: Deponia by Daedalic Entertainment. I actually have all four Deponia games, and I’m not sure if I can handle that much Rufus in a row…

JaMiRe #103: DEFCON

DEFCON

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Yeah, I don’t like this one very much, beginning with its basic premise. DEFCON is a strategy game in the form of a simulation of an all-out thermonuclear war on Earth. I am, as usual, refusing to do background research on the games I review, but I really find myself wondering how ironic Introversion Software intends this title to be. On the one hand, it is a functional strategy game that can be played against AI opponents or other human players; on the other, one of the very first things that popped up on the title screen was a printout of the effects of radiation poisoning, which makes for rather unpleasant reading.

Setting aside for a moment the question of why anyone would want to make (or play) the game, it’s actually not that complicated to learn. The game is played on a board that looks like a map from a situation room, reinforcing the whole “nuclear war” vibe. Each player is assigned a region on the map, in which they can place silos, airfields, radar dishes, and fleets in order to defend their cities and attack their opponents. You can only detect enemy units and buildings within areas that you have radar coverage of; however, launching nuclear missiles from silos causes their location to be pinpointed on the map, even if you can’t currently see them directly.

The game proceeds in a series of timed phases, starting from DEFCON 5 and increasing until DEFCON 1. At 5, you can begin placing your fleets and buildings; at 4, you can start moving fleets towards your enemies; at 3, you can start sending out fighter planes and bombers; at 2…actually, I don’t think anything happens at 2 but at 1 you can finally start shooting nuclear missiles from your silos and submarines. Silos are obviously your main source of nukes, but interestingly, they are also your best anti-air defenses; as long as they aren’t preparing to fire ICBMs, they will attempt to shoot down any enemy missiles or planes that come nearby.

And then we get to the object of the game, which is to…drop nukes on major cities in your enemy’s territory. That’s right, the way to “win” isn’t to defeat your foe, or destroy their ability to make war: it’s to kill as many civilians as you can. The game actually scores you based on how many nukes you manage to drop on cities, and little pop ups display how many thousands of people died with each successful hit. I don’t know, maybe it makes sense to someone, but to me, it just feels icky. Theoretically, I suppose you could refuse to attack enemy cities, and just target silos and fleets to protect your citizens. You wouldn’t “win,” of course, but honestly winning doesn’t feel like much of an achievement anyway…

The game is also glacially slow. Even when you turn the game speed up to maximum dilation (which is a mechanic you are fully expected to use, incidentally) every unit, be it plane, missile, or ship, moves extremely slowly. Which gives you plenty of time to rethink your life choices, I suppose. The controls are also a bit wonky, especially for fleets: there are six ships in a fleet, which all maneuver together, but each ship has to be selected individually to do things like send out bombers or launch missiles, and sometimes it can be tough to select the correct unit when they end up stacked together.

Yeah, I really can’t recommend this one. The underlying game is fine, if slow and slightly simplistic, but the context makes it really hard to enjoy. Plus, there is basically no story at all, so if you don’t like the gameplay, there is literally nothing else. Bleh.

Pros: It makes mass murder seem really boring, I’d call that a pro.

Cons: It isn’t fun to play; competing to see who can kill the most civilians is pushing the limits of moral ambiguity.

Worth playing: No.

Worth the price: Definitely not worth $10

Random observation: Oh, there is a function where you can draw directly on the map, like a whiteboard:Warbored

Arbitrary grade: D

Tomorrow: Defender’s Quest by Level Up Labs. Diametrically the opposite of today’s game, so I hope it ends up cleansing my palate a bit.

JaMiRe #102: Dead Space

Dead Space

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Dead Space is a science fiction action horror game, and it’s fine. It’s okay. I can spin this review out a bit further, but it doesn’t really change the fact that the game doesn’t really do anything special for me. There are some things I don’t like about it, but I can’t really say any of those points are objectively bad either. Well, maybe a couple of them are objectively bad, like the upgrade system, but let’s come back to that.

You play as Isaac Clarke, space repairman; and no, that’s not his actual title, but that’s what he is. You’ve been sent with a couple of other company stooges, Kendra Daniels the computer repair girl and Zack Hammond the security guy, to go repair the “planet-cracker” class spaceship, the Ishimura. (There are a couple other chaps onboard, but they don’t get named and thus die immediately. Such is life in space.) This supposedly routine mission goes sideways quickly when the Ishimura slightly blows up when you try to dock with it, forcing you to crash inside the vehicle bay. Not only that, it turns out that the crew of the Ishimura have mostly all become Genestealers from Warhammer 40K, and the entire ship is not only severely damaged, but under a completely useless quarantine which prevents you from going anywhere but not the monsters, who can climb through the rather overly-thorough ventilation system. Oh, and apparently your arrival has been expected, and something has plans for you…

So, yeah. I hesitate to call it a “standard” plot, but it certainly isn’t an unfamiliar one. In gameplay and tone, it really reminds me of the Resident Evil series, or The Evil Within; interestingly grotesque, but not really true horror. One thing I will praise the game for is the ambiance: a lot of effort goes into setting the mood, from dark corridors with flickering lights, malfunctioning doors and equipment making a lot of distracting noises, and of course the sound of mutant crew members that may or may not be in the room with you. Nitpicking a bit, when a monster catches sight of you there is a dramatic musical sting, even if that monster can’t reasonably reach you, and possibly preventing you from being startled by it.

And yes, rather than a “horror game”, Dead Space is more of a “jump scare” game. Sure, there’s plenty of grotesque-ness on display, but the gameplay plays up the monsters suddenly jumping out of nowhere, rather than the terrible nature of what was actually happening on the Ishimura. For instance, there are big babies in jars that were obviously the subject of inhumane experiments; but then those babies immediately become a type of enemy, bouncing around the place and shooting out tentacles for you to dismember. It kind of distracts from the more psychological aspects of the horror, in my opinion.

Anyway, one of the reasons the game reminds me of The Evil Within is that the camera hovers just off Isaac’s shoulder, which makes him take up way too much of the screen. The inventory and other HUD screens are projected from Isaac’s armor, which means that if you rotate Isaac they become very hard to read…which isn’t a huge deal, but it came up often enough to annoy me. The keyboard controls, while functional, aren’t really well optimized either; I’m sure that you are really meant to play the game on a controller.

The thing that really annoys me, though, is the upgrade system. First, you can buy different weapons, equipment, and improved armor from the Store kiosks littered around the ship (and let’s not get into the question of why these things are selling this stuff, that’s a whole article of nitpicks in itself.) But to improve your equipment, you must collect Power Nodes from around the ship, take them to a Bench, and invest them in your equipment to improve their function by small amounts. Thing is, not every node you activate will give you benefits; this is especially noticeable when upgrade your armor to have more HP and air. Every Power Node you plug in is permanent as well, so you really have to commit if you want better equipment. And this is what really bugs me: there are also locked doors on the Ishimura that also require Power Nodes to unlock, which lead to bonus ammo, equipment, and even optional data logs and the like. So you have to decide whether to sacrifice upgrading your character for exploration, which drives the completionist in me nuts.

Long story short, the game is okay, a bit interesting, but not something I’m really inclined to play. It works fine and it does a few things well, and while I can understand why people like it, I don’t think it’s for everyone. At the very least, it isn’t for me.

Pros: Great ambiance; plot is familiar but well-handled.

Cons: Unfriendly upgrade system; a little too reliant on jump scares.

Worth playing: There are plenty of games in the genre I would play first, but it’s certainly worth trying.

Worth the price: I can’t recommend the game at $20. Watch for a sale.

Random observation: There was a moment of internal consistency that I liked: early in the opening section, you find a corpse with a “stasis” glove that can temporarily slow enemies and malfunctioning equipment. A little later, you can find a text log that explains how someone was sent to fetch the glove from storage in order to fix the piece of equipment that you are currently trying to fix. In other words, you found it where it was for the exact same reason that you needed it, and it wasn’t just randomly dropped where you could find it. Neat. 😉

Arbitrary grade: C+

Tomorrow: DEFCON by Introversion Software, the company behind Darwinia which I just reviewed yesterday. Interesting coincidence, that.

JaMiRe #101: Darwinia

Darwinia

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Welcome back to Jackel’s Mini Reviews! Now even shorter, hopefully, but we’ll see how it goes. Today I’ll be reviewing Darwinia, and to be honest, I don’t like it very much. I didn’t like it, but I kept playing it several hours past the point I would normally call it quits. I’m…not exactly sure why.

The story goes, a scientist (of some sort, anyway) is running a simulated world on a closed-off supercomputer where little two-dimensional AI creatures called Darwinians (and represented by the color green) are developing their own culture based on certain tools their creator left for them. However, a terrible virus (colored red) has infected the entire world, killing off the Darwinians and destroying the scientist’s research on their AI. Somehow. You play as someone who has apparently hacked into the Darwinia simulation, and although the scientist is not especially pleased with your presence inside his simulation, he quickly puts you to work eliminating the virus and restoring the Darwinian ecosystem.

Setting aside the slightly nonsensical setting, I have two major complaints. First, the game is…not exactly easy, but not challenging. You basically cannot lose, since there is no resource cost for making your fighting Squads; if your Squad gets killed, you can just respawn them ad infinitum. The virus doesn’t try to recapture control points you take over, and the virus monsters are fairly passive in any case. The only things that slow you down are, literally, how slow your squad moves (and they are very slow, even on level ground; on upward slopes, they slow to a crawl, or even stop entirely), and a few enemy spawners that can be a serious pain to reach, delaying you in clearing out big patches of enemies by respawning them while you spawn a new Squad and bring it forward. There are other gameplay issues, but I think that’s the main one.

My second major issue are the controls, specifically the camera controls. You change the direction of the camera with the mouse, but you change the position of the camera with the WASD keys; it feels kind of like you are controlling a camera drone floating about the polygonal surface. It’s… a bit annoying, because it doesn’t follow your units as they move, and it can often be tough to find an angle that lets you see the angles of the topography while also being able to target enemies, which has to be done manually for the most part. It’s interesting, and visually it’s kind of cool, but in practice it makes it difficult to actually play the game. Movement controls for units are not especially consistent, either.

On the plus side, the concept of protecting a simple race of AIs from a virus is actually pretty interesting. I don’t think the game realizes the concept very well, but it’s cute and creative nonetheless. And I did play the game several hours more than I absolutely had too. Partly it’s because it takes forever to get anything done, but still, as long as you are persistent you’ll be able to make it through the game. Like I said, there’s no way to permanently fail, so… I just wish it was a little faster, a little more tactically diverse, and that it didn’t tank my framerate on more crowded levels.

Pros: Interesting concept, minimal but attractive graphics

Cons: Slow and not very difficult; slightly uncomfortable control scheme.

Worth playing: I’m going to be honest, it’s pretty dull. Interesting but dull, if that makes any sense.

Worth the price: $10 seems a bit much.

Random observation: There is a prologue/tutorial level that you can select that apparently was originally a demo, which is set after the events of the main game, in which the Darwinians create a rocket in order to launch themselves onto the internet, which they see as a constellation of stars in their sky. I honestly don’t know how to react to that. 😐

Arbitrary grade: C-

Tomorrow, Dead Space by Visceral Games and Electronic Arts. You may have heard of it before.

The Anubai Hero, Chapter 32

Chapter 32

Sun Ba waited until the last of the Fan elders had left the hall, dragging the nearly insensate Fan Gen with them, before he allowed himself to collapse.

Gentle hands caught him as he fell, slowing his collapse and guiding him to fall to his knees, instead of forward onto his face. “My lord husband, you are hurt…”

Sun Ba sighed. “No, Lady Chia. Not hurt, but dying.” He looked sorrowfully at his second wife, and for a moment, he seemed about to say some gentle word to her; but he had never known quite how to treat Fan Chia kindly. Even now, he couldn’t bring himself to speak words of concern to her — rather, he felt he didn’t even have the right. Continue reading

I’ve written 100 short reviews, but I’m the kind of guy that focuses on what I *haven’t* accomplished.

Hello, friends, and welcome to my dungeon! …I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, this is obviously a blog, not a dungeon. I’ve honestly had a lot of trouble lately figuring out what I want to say…but let’s come back to that. For now, I’m just celebrating properly completing one hundred of my mini reviews. There were some bumps along the way, but I managed to release them regularly and on time, which was the experiment at hand. So that’s good.

So the next question would be, will I be continuing the project? Well, I’ve got plenty of material. I still have hundreds of games in my GOG account, though I’m sure a number of them will be packaged together or skipped, so I can’t say exactly how many entries I could still potentially make. And I’ve actually gotten a pretty good reaction to the articles, considering the approximately zero effort I’ve put into advertising them. So I am inclined to keep the project going. On the other hand, it does take a certain number of hours each day to accomplish, which I may not be able to afford in the near future…more on that in a moment.

Of course, the original point of the project was to encourage me to keep writing, and specifically to encourage me to continue work on one of my web novels. This hasn’t been quite as successful, sadly. Trying to write fiction just makes me feel tired…actually, writing this ordinary article is also making me feel tired. What the hell. I blame winter. Anyway, I wanted to take a week off of reviews in order to release at least a couple chapters of Anubai Hero, but it’s been hard going. I’ve forgotten a lot of minor details about my own work, which is seriously annoying. I didn’t want to have to reread every chapter just to write a few more…I don’t know. The writing just hasn’t been flowing, in any case.

Anyway, I’m going to take a week off of reviews regardless. I will try to get out some Anubai, but if I get frustrated…I don’t know, maybe I’ll write something else.

But here’s the thing: I’ve been out of paying work for quite some time, now. My wife has been working and keeping our family afloat, while I took care of the kids at home. But my daughter is in kindergarten now, and I’m starting to have decent amounts of time to myself. I have been using this time to work on my review project, but in the future I’m probably going to have to use that time to actually, y’know, work. It’s not what I’d call ideal, but… I’m honestly not cut out for many jobs, given a lack of transportation and reliable internet, combined with my mental health issues. Not sure what I can actually do…

Anyway, enough about that. I wanted to have a chapter of Anubai ready to go up tomorrow, but that’s not going to happen. I definitely will get at least one chapter up in the coming week, and if things go extremely well, I might get two. (Don’t hold your breath.) I plan to resume JaMiRe articles a week from Monday, unless I get feedback indicating that I shouldn’t, of course. I’m open to criticism, guys. 😉

Oh, and I forgot just how long I made Anubai chapters. What the hell was I thinking… 😛

JaMiRe #100: Darkstar One

Darkstar One

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I’m not gonna lie, I played this game for a lot longer than I usually do for these reviews. Not doing anything important, like advancing the plot — I was basically just cruising around, buying cheap, selling high, and killing pirates. And damn it, I had fun! In fact, I think I’ll go back to play some more… No, wait, let’s get this done first.

So, the story begins in a far off galaxy where newly-minted escort pilot Kayron Jarvis receives a brand new ship, according to the will of his late father, Simon Jarvis. This ship, the Darkstar One, is a prototype created with alien technology, and it can develop and grow by absorbing alien artifacts hidden around the galaxy. As well as the Darkstar One, Simon’s partner Robert delivers him some news: Simon’s ship had been sabotaged, leading to his death. Kayron swears revenge, and follows the lead Robert gives him to pursue the saboteur. The trail goes cold, but a mysterious woman named Aoen… Onea.. sorry, Eona, offers to put him in touch with people who could help him…as long as he gives her a ride off the station she is stranded on. And she’s totally not being pursued by bounty hunters, so don’t worry about that. (Yeah, that was totally sarcasm.)

And so, you could follow the plot and go where you are supposed to go…or you can grab a cargo of whatever is cheap at the current trade station, and haul it to another system to sell at a higher price. Like I did for at least an hour right at the start of the game. There are six types of reputation that the game tracks, including Merchant, Bounty Hunter, Mercenary, Pirate, Smuggler, and Killer. These are all independent of each other, even if they sound contrary; you can gain a reputation in Bounty Hunter for killing pirates, and get a reputation for being a Pirate by attacking cargo vessels, at the same time. If you get a high enough reputation, you get…some effect. Actually, I’m not sure, I didn’t get them high enough to check the effects. Let me quickly go back and kill a few more pirates– No! I have to finish the review! Grr!

Cough, ahem, anyway. Like I said, I spent a bunch of time just wandering in the very first sector, but frankly this isn’t the greatest idea. Like I mentioned, the systems on the Darkstar require artifacts to upgrade, including the ability to carry more cargo; and there just aren’t that many artifacts in the first few sectors. While it is worth it to explore a little, just to get a feel for the gameplay, I seriously overdid it… Oh, speaking of cargo, while you can carry 20 tons of goods on the Darkstar One itself, any more requires you to use a container connected to your ship by a drone remote, which drops your ability to maneuver and makes you a sitting duck in combat. Fortunately, you can drop the containers during the inevitable pirate attacks, but then you have to remember to pick them back up.

In any event, along with taking cargoes, you can also accept escort missions and other assignments at the trade station in every system. If you upgrade the Darkstar, you can also buy higher grade equipment. The pirates in the initial Terran clusters might as well be shooting water pistols at you, but they eventually become slightly more threatening; so having better weapons, shields, and other equipment is extremely helpful. As a note, different systems have different prosperity levels, so you will get the best prices to buy equipment in poor systems, and the best prices to sell them in wealthy systems. It won’t be enough to make it worth buying and selling weapons, mind you, but the economical pilot makes every credit count…

So, I’m not gonna lie, the game has some problems. The character models are…a little weird, and the animation in cutscenes can be a bit off; the voice acting isn’t the greatest (and Kayron’s accent is a bit weird); and there seems to be a few noticeable issues with parts of the interface. (I’m especially curious about the target list display, which seems to have reversed the labels on the columns for “Friendly” and “Neutral”.) But I am totally able to overlook some of the weirder bits, because the core gameplay works pretty well. A bit repetitive, maybe, but that’s mainly because I keep carrying different cargoes around just for fun… Uh, but the story is interesting too. Actually, there’s something of a power struggle going on, and an alien race of possibly-drones attacking research stations…

…But none of that has anything to do with me, really. Although, if I want to keep upgrading my ship, I’ll need to look into these things eventually… But for now? Now, I’ve got a cargo of illegal androids to get rid of, before the police ships catch on. So if you’ll excuse me…

Time played: I have no idea, but way more than two. Probably more than four. Maybe even longer…

Pros: Plenty of room for multiple play styles; interesting story; decent flight controls.

Cons: Slightly inferior production values, in animation and acting; certain systems are not well-explained.

Worth playing: Not that I’m biased at all, but yes, it is.

Worth the price: $10 is fine.

Random observation: From trade stations, you can look at a so-called “Panoramic” view of the outside of the station. There…usually isn’t much to see, honestly. 😐

Arbitrary grade: A-

Ok, if I can drag myself away from Darkstar One long enough, the next game on my list to review is Darwinia, by Introversion Software. But before that…

JaMiRe #99: Dark Reign + Expansion

Dark Reign + Expansion

darkreign

So, there’s a giant elephant in the room that must be addressed: namely, the version of Dark Reign available on GOG has a pretty bad graphics problem. On my machine, running Windows 7, it wouldn’t play videos and the colors on the menu were horribly messed up. If I pushed forward and tried to play the game anyway, it would be playable, but would still look remarkably awful.

Knowing the GOG tech support page is generally worthless, I went straight to the forums to see if this was a common problem (it was) and how to fix it. The two solutions I found were, one, download a fan-made patched version of the game; or two, taskkill explorer.exe in a batch file before running the game. (One thing that this brought to light for me was that Dark Reign still has a pretty active fan base, considering the game is over 20 years old by now. There’s even a Discord channel for it, which is cool.) It is something of a testament to how much I wanted to play this game that I actually some effort into trying to make it run correctly… Anyway, while I was messing around and trying to remind myself how batch files worked, I noted that the game would occasionally load without problems, playing videos and displaying graphics appropriately. After testing it for a bit, I noted that the problem was arising when something grabbed focus away from the game while it was loading (probably something to do with the vestigial “please make sure your CD is inserted” that kept popping up); as long as the game kept focus the whole time, the graphics displayed properly. So, my simple solution was to quit and restart until the game loaded properly, which worked on every second or third try.

The upshot of all this is twofold: first, I’m actually going to review the game, and second, I’m not going to recommend it in the end. (The first is pretty obvious at this point, of course, since you are literally reading the review right now.) So, here’s the thing: I really like this game a lot. Not that I’m much good at it — I believe that I’ve mentioned how bad I am at RTS games in general — but Dark Reign has an almost surprisingly deep lore, and the two main sides feature asymmetrical units and abilities, which is one of my standards for a good RTS.

So, it is far in the future, humans have colonized the galaxy, and they are engaged in a ridiculously huge civil war between the Imperium government and the rebellious Freedom Guard. You, on the other hand, belong to neither of these forces; you are a member of the Tograns, followers of the scientist and prophet Togra. Your world had been caught up in the Imp/FG war, and you barely escaped the razing of your colony in a small scout ship. By sheer coincidence, you soon encounter a probe of Togran manufacture, that contains a message from Togra himself! It seems your prophet had died several hundred years ago when the Imperium annihilated the planet he had been hiding on; but before he died, he sent out a probe with technology that could transport one of his followers back in time, in order to fight off both the Imperium and the Freedom Guard and save Togra himself! The probe also contained information on several historical battles between the Imp and the FG, which Togra required you to complete before the time travel tech was unlocked. It would only work once, and Togra had no intention of letting anyone less than prepared try and save him.

So yeah, there are 12 missions, which you can attempt as either the FG or the Imps; you are only required to complete one side, but it’s better to get an idea of how both sides operate since there are some big differences as the tech tree goes up. FG units focus on stealth and hit-and-run tactics, for example, while Imp units tend to be higher tech and rely on overwhelming force. There are several different types of terrain, which not only can restrict your vision but actually affect different types of units differently: for instance, hover units can cross over water, but can’t handle slopes at all; on the other hand, infantry units can cross even steep slopes.

There is also a relatively huge archive of background information, including the history of the civil war (and the origin of the Tograns), various important NPCs, unit specifications for both FG and Imp, and even the journal of the poor Togran trying to learn how to become a great commander for his prophet. Not gonna lie, this is probably my favorite feature in the game; the lore presented here would make a pretty good sci fi novel all on its own.

But despite my love for the game, since the version commercially available has such well-documented problems with graphical compatibility, I can’t actually recommend that anyone buy it. Which is a huge pity, since it does a lot of really interesting things with the genre, but there you go.

Time played: I’m not sure, I spent a lot of time working with the graphic issues, and then I spent a bunch of time reading the archives, and then I didn’t feel like starting the timer as I played a few levels… So, who knows? At least two hours, I bet.

Pros: Very interesting and deep sci-fi story; unit AI can be tweaked to a surprising degree, considering the era.

Cons: Major graphical issues, and dated graphics in general.

Worth playing: Once you get past the graphics problem, it is a very fun game.

Worth the price: I can’t suggest paying $10 for a game that may or may not work properly.

Random observation: Almost forgot the expansion; yes, it has more units, but it no longer has the archive to look them up in. It definitely requires more player knowledge than the base game, in any event, but otherwise it plays just the same. And has the same graphical problems, too. :/

Arbitrary grade: B, but a very qualified one.

Well! I wish I had something a little more special lined up for the 100th review, but I suppose Darkstar One by ASCARON Entertainment and Strategy First will just have to do. (And by “just have to do,” I really mean “I honestly like this game a surprising amount.” Spoiler. 😉 )

JaMiRe #98: Dark Fall 2: Lights Out

Dark Fall 2: Lights Out

darkfall2

Dark Fall 2 is very much like Dark Fall, mechanically and thematically. One thing I’d like to note up front, however: Dark Fall 2: Lights Out has about 100% more journal than Dark Fall: The Journal. By which I mean, I actually found a journal. The subtitle of DF2 remains inaccurate, however: in truth, only one light is out, albeit a big one. (This has been your daily allotment of facetious obtuseness, always part of a well-balanced review.)

Setting that nonsense aside, Dark Fall 2 starts in 1912 with a young cartographer named Benjamin Parker. He has been sent by the Royal Academy to chart the coastline around the town of Trewarthan in southern Britain. Upon arrival, he is surprised to find that there is a small island nearby that doesn’t appear on any maps of the area, one with a lighthouse built atop it. A few days later the local doctor, a man named Robert Demarian, secretly (and creepily) informs Parker that a passing ship reported that the lighthouse hadn’t been lit, and he asks Parker to quietly head over to the Island and check on the three lighthouse keepers: Drake, Shaw, and Wolff. Parker accepts the task, but things at the lighthouse are worse than he expects. He keeps hearing whispers in the dark, and he hears the voices of Shaw and Wolff warning him that Drake has been taken over by a demon, glowing with light… And then, things get really weird.

So, the mechanics of this game are exactly like Dark Fall, so I’m not going to waste time describing them again. One notable omission is that you can’t turn on subtitles with F1, which might be unfortunate depending on your ability to parse British accents. One thing I didn’t mention yesterday is the sheer number of false leads these games give you; you can zoom in on many areas that actually have nothing of interest, including a lot of photographs and artwork. Fortunately, it tends to be pretty obvious what is an actual clue and what is just window dressing, but since you still have to check basically everywhere for hidden clues, it does slow down your progress through the game a bit.

Now, here’s the thing. About two hours into the game, I encountered a shocking twist! And by “shocking twist,” I mean, “Something that was blatantly foreshadowed way back at the beginning of the game.” (Or even earlier, if you read the description on the store page, which I was smart lucky enough not to do.) Now, the game becomes much more complex and interesting after this event, but I don’t want to spoil it for you, so there isn’t a whole lot I can say except note that Doctor Demarian is an even bigger jerk than he first appears… Well, even though the twist is fairly obvious, I still think it was well done, and I enjoyed it.

And that’s pretty much it. The graphics and mechanics are dated, the sound design tries to heighten tension without ever paying it off, and the hardest part of the puzzles are 1) actually finding them and 2) remembering where you saw the clues to solve them. That said, and although my grades for the two games are relatively low, I definitely enjoyed playing them. Putting together the stories of the missing people are pretty fun, whether it’s in the Station Hotel or the Fetch Island Lighthouse, and I’m curious as to whether the big bad of the two games are actually the same creature. There seem to be connections between the two games, but hey — no spoilers.

Time played: 3 hours (I got interested for an extra hour after the shocking twist!)

Pros: Interesting story; mostly logical puzzles.

Cons: Dated graphics and mechanics; there is less ground to cover than in Dark Fall, but oddly it seems to make it easier to get stuck.

Worth playing: I think so, yes.

Worth the price: $6 like the original, which still seems reasonable.

Random observation: I really was being facetious at the beginning; technically the entire lighthouse had a power failure on the night of the three lighthouse keepers disappearance, so there were multiple lights out. Gosh, I feel guilty now. 😛

Arbitrary grade: C+

My Series Ranking: I liked Dark Fall 2 slightly better than the first, but only because the story is slightly more novel; but in truth, they are both good stories.

Moving on, it’s time for a bit of real-time strategy: Dark Reign + Expansion, by Auran and Activision. This was one of my favorites back in the day, so I wonder how it holds up…