Review: Idol Hands

The god game genre has seen very little evolution in the last 30 years.  Ever since Populus every half decade or so someone tries and put out a new god game with a moderate amount of improvements.  But this is really the first time I’ve seen a god game that has taken a step back.

Idol Hands sets you running a village of idiots who are incapable of making decisions yourself.  You have to tell them their supreme destiny.  You sir, you are a farmer.  You sir you are a soldier.  You, you’re the priest.  And then there’s loggers, blacksmiths and the happily unemployed.

They will go out and collect various resources after building their little homes.  Your job is to provide them with flat land to build their facilities.  Each facility will provide a different resource with the exceptions of your soldiers.  Blacksmiths provide iron, lumberjacks provide wood, clerics provide religion, farmers provide food, and your soldiers go to war.

One of the weaknesses in the game is the very limited population cap.  In most of these games you can develop civilizations for an almost endless amount of map.  In this game you are limited to under 100 population total meaning once you max out your population, it’s a matter of spamming the enemy.

You do this with your god powers that require the religion resource.  These include volcano, earthquake, lightning, rain, and meteor.

The game unfortunately becomes very bland over time.  Initially you might get excited believing the game has potential.  But getting to the end game is all too easy.

There is a fairly long campaign but unfortunately it ends up being the exact same match up every single time.  You take on a computer player, the exact same one.  The computer player plays exactly the same way and you beat them in exactly the same way.

Overall this game is pretty weak and leaves me not expecting much from God games anymore.

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Review: Offworld Trading Company

From Civ 4 developer Soren Johnson comes Offworld Trading Company.

The game is described as being a 4X game without units, but that’s not entirely accurate.  The game is closer to an economic simulator along the lines of Port Royale, Rise of Venice, or Anno 2070.

The game is based around a dynamic open market.  You buy and sell goods on it.  After you purchase goods an item increases in value, when you sell goods it decreases in value.  With your profits you can buy infrastructure that in turn produces goods.

To keep things interesting the game requires you to have certain resources.  Consumption will draw away some of the necessities of life for your colonists.  Leveling up will require steel and glass.  Transporting goods will require fuel or energy.

As various elements of the game require more of these resources the value will go up, and as they need less the market will flood and lower the price.

Leveling up is an essential part of the game.  You can build so many buildings per level and then you are forced to invest in leveling up.  After Level 5 you are maxed.  After this the only way to build new buildings is by unlocking a black market perk to get a new zone license.

The game is multiplayer and the Black Market is your way of attacking people.  You can shut down buildings by EMPing them.  Or you can cause a mutiny and have a facility begin sending goods to you.  The underground explosion will shut down one building.  But all of these perks cost money that you need to have in hand.  They will scale up in cost over time and although you may be able to hurt one person, you are also taking a small hit yourself which will give you a disadvantage against the other two players.

The way in which you win is all about the money.  The value of your company is decided by your total assets against your debt.  Debt is earned by not being able to supply yourself with your consumptive goods and will automatically draw to your account.  As well there are often auctions being held to try and get goods from the Black Market or new technologies slightly faster.  This also adds to your debt.

Paying off your debt will increase the value of your company.  But money is needed or expansion.  Money is also needed for buying out shares in enemy companies.  Once a company is bought out you gain control of their whole operation and can develop and trade their resources.

Playing the game means balancing off your progress as a company with making sure your value doesn’t fall so low that your competitors can buy you out.

The game is very good.  It does have the early access tag.  The main issue with the game is the balance of it.  The game is set to spend a year in balancing before it makes its official release.  When the time comes it will be worth having in your gaming collection.  Right now though you will have to deal with wonky AI and cheesie play.

Review: It’s a Wipe

When you think of turn based RPG the first game that should come to everyone’s mind is Final Fantasy.  But why not think about an MMORPG?

It’s a Wipe takes all that you love about the Final Fantasy games, removes the story and replaces it with drama between your heroes.

The apt description of this game is the day to day management a WoW guild.  You have people apply for your guild and you have to select at least 9 players to raid with you.

Much like a real WoW guild you have a lot of bullshit.  Like not all classes are designed equally.  But you really should bring at least one of each because there are class linked loot that will drop.  That means often bringing a very underpowered raid in order to get the maximum amount of loot.

Then you have to deal with that other drama, some people get chosen for loot over others.  Yeah someone has to get loot and someone else isn’t getting loot.

The game uses a morale system to decide the general feeling of your guild members.  Like in a real guild, members will leave for a number of reasons. Just progressing is not enough.  People may have preset feelings like wanting to raid a lot, wanting to raid a little bit, wanting to get loot, not caring about loot, wanting to talk, not wanting to talk.

So in the instance of loot when you have two people who both want loot, one person will receive a +2 morale and the other will receive a -4 morale.  In this way the morale system is almost always working against you.  The game makes it very difficult to progress beyond the first few dungeons, as only the most elite can get that far.

The available recruits in the game also does not fill up very fast.  If you’re losing guild members it will eventually become impossible to replace them.  The trek to the top is difficult and may cause you to re-try over and over and over.

And that’s when I knew I liked the game.  When I hate again and it’s arduously difficult, I just throw the game away because the problem is with the mechanics, not the game.  In this case I feel like the investment was worth my time.  I was uniquely interested in seeing what the end game looks like.

The game does have some things missing from the overall guild leading experience.  You’re not going to see the nerf and buff cycles that will cripple top tier guilds that stack their raids for success.  You’re not going to see the forum drama that occurs between developers and players.  You’re not going to see any sort of website index for community news and events.  You’re not going to see complicated looting systems.  You’re not going to see assignment of guild management.  You’re not going to have consistent events.

The game is very narrow in its scope.  It’s a Final Fantasy style game that has limited guild interactions.

For $5, This is a win.

Review: Industry Empire

Industry Empire is another attempt at entering a very niche market.  Economy simulators are not for everyone.  In fact, very few people will be able to dig their claws into them.

When you go to the grocery store do you look at all of the products in front of you and immediately calculate in your head which is the best per gram/oz?  If not, you probably don’t have the kind of mind made for these games.  Economy simulators are designed around people who can curb every nickle and every dime to maximize profits.  They make spreadsheets in their head and can figure out the exact figure of every single profit margin.

Industry Empire is an attempt to try and soften the genre for less hardcores by making things more manual and thus less complicated.

In a general economy simulator the purpose of creating product is for the use of the population.  They demand TVs and you get them TVs.  In this game there is no local demand, it is entirely export basis… kind of like Tropico.

The game tries to get a little deeper than Tropico by making this all manual.

So let’s say you have begun producing Eggs.  You need to sell those eggs.  You go to an order sheet and pick which offers you’d like to accept.

You fulfill those orders by shipping product on trucks.  Trucks come in different types that have limitations on what kind of product they can ship and how much they can ship.  Min/maxing means only having as many trucks as you need to fulfill orders for each kind of product while having large enough trucks to fulfill the sizes of orders you need to fulfill.

As you continue to do business you level up and gain access to new products you can make.

The key to these kinds of games is the production chain.  So you start off with basic resources but as you level up you can make more complicated resources.  You might start off with cows.  Then you get a butcher to cut them into beef.  Then you might get a sausage factory to make beef hotdogs.  After this maybe you’ll get a hotdog factory to make microwavable hotdogs.  Each step in production increases your costs but also increases your profitability.

To further promote selling more products the game limits you on how many orders you can fulfill.

To further incentive you to sell different products they also have achievements which will give you bonus points when leveling up.

A secondary feature of leveling up is the Leveling Tree.  You will gain certain static points modifiers that will make life easier.  Your level stays for every single play so the game actually gets progressively easier as you continue to play it. It means good players will spend less time at the game, whereas bad players will spend more.

What the game lacks is a lot of character to get you into the game. With Tropico, Anno, and SimCity you are given missions and goals that will continuously pop up throughout a game.  This game has nothing like this.  You are left to your own means with no real direction on what to do.

Another major weakness to the game is the lack of automation.  You can schedule deliveries to your own facilities to keep your own production going.  But there is no way to automatically sell product to the various towns.  You have to fulfill the orders which takes endless hours and may be just too tedious for the average player to stomach.

On top of that the game has some minor issues with crashing.  This would all be fine if you were getting a phenomenal game… but you’re not.

Overall the game lacks a lot of design that you would find in similar games.  Unfortunately there are just far better simulators out there that are older.  Anno 2070 which was released in 2011 is a far superior game to Industry Empire which was released in 2014.  The catch is that Anno is the exact same price (including all DLC). Stick with Anno… unless you’ve already played Anno to death and want to try something different… then pick up this game at a Steam sale.

Tropico 5 Review

Tropico 4 was one of the greatest simulation games ever.  Even though it was largely a clone of Tropico 3 it offered a lot of great content and was on sale so much that almost everyone was exposed to it.

When it came down to it, they made content that was actually worth buying and extended the life of the game.  Kalypso earned my love for making such an amazing game.

And then came Port Royale 3.

And Rise of Venice.

And Omerta: City of Gangsters.

It all kind of just went wrong, and really for me Tropico 5 was my last straw with this developer.  If they couldn’t pay up on this game’s promises, they weren’t getting another penny from me.

So now we’re here and having sat down with Tropico 5 for a month… the verdict is…. not good.

Tropico 4 was basically a political leader simulator built within an economic simulator.  It was very creative and unique.  You could become any sort of leader you wanted, it was truly about the personality.

If you wanted to make a tyrant like Robert Mugabe who made genocide of a certain sect of his society… you could.

If you wanted to jail anyone who was against you, you could.

If you wanted to be a benevolent man giving everyone what they want, you can.

There were so many ways to successfully play the game.

That’s more or less gone in Tropico 5.  In terms of progression it is far more linear than the previous game.

You start off in the Colonial Era and advance to World Wars, Cold War, and Modern Era.

You need specific buildings and specific relations to get to each of these eras.  This means you are forced to make an exact set of buildings every single time.

This can be compared to the Modern Times expansion of Tropico 4 in which you just got buildings over time.

Another major difference comes in how you deal with rebels.

In Tropico 4 you had a lot of ways to deal with rebels.  You could just be so benevolent that no one rebelled.  You could put them in jail via prisons and police.  You could incite them to attack you.

But in Tropico 5 those options are gone.  There are no more prisons and your only options are all basically the same thing, kill them.  The only other option is to banish them and take their family’s money which just makes people more angry with you.

Rebellions however are not something you can avoid.  Rebels always exist.  The only thing you can do is change how often they attack and in what numbers.

But the point is the only way to deal with rebels is military buildings and that forces you to get military buildings, something you would have never done.

Instead of building a sandbox game that you can play and over in different ways you’re forced to follow an insanely narrow path.

The game has a bit of charm left to it and ends up being worth a single play.  But a single play is not worth the full price.

Steam Sales Review #78: Commander Conquest of the Americas

If you were looking to get a discount trading game, look elsewhere.  This game is simply of very low quality.

Let’s go for the beginning.  It’s a trading game.

What resources can you trade?

Commander 2013-11-03 21-34-52-37

It’s never made clear what any of these things are.  Maybe I’d want to try and make a profit outside of the generic “transfer to home city.”  But no, they are just ledgers with random unmarked information.  Was accounting really so bad back then?  In the middle there are some icons that tell you what the product is.  But it’s insanely hard to figure out where to sell these to and how they’re useful or useless.

When you go to your home city you get this

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Big blank Ocean with Bremen on the side.  Despite having modeled a giant chunk of the world they couldn’t put any effort into giving some indication of where Bremen is… it just simply ceases to exist.

The trade mechanics are very basic.  You buy resources from ports and sell them at your “Home Port” which is off map.  Then you come back with all profits, expand and do the same over and over and over and over and over.

map of Newfondland

Props to them for modeling a very specific and very good shape of my home province of Newfoundland.  But as  a resident I’m aware that the Long Range mountains pierce through half of this province… so it’s not modeled all that wel.  As well the major forestry for the province is located in the center and the west…. but you wouldn’t get an idea that Corner Brook (home of the Humber Valley) has any trees at all from this.

When you make your port you will have one local delicacy that you can grab a hold of.  You then ship it back to port.  If you’re smart you use auto-trading.

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However if you’re smart you just won’t play the game.  Unfortunately there are far better trading sims out there for you to buy.  Off the top of my head Rise of Venice, Port Royale 3, and East India Company are all overwhelmingly better games than this.

It was a nice attempt, but unfortunately everything is just muddled in non-intuitive controls.

Steam Sales Review #76: Papers, Please

Have you ever wanted to be a border security agent?

No?

That’s okay, no one did.  So from 3909 studios is the game no one ever asked for, Papers, Please.

The premise is quite simple, you are a border security agent who has a family and has to go to work every day and work the border.  The only difference is that this border is very tight similar to 1984.  Similar to how in 1984 the Ministry of Happiness presumably had nothing to do with happiness.

So the game is pretty simple, a person comes up to your booth, hands you their documents and you have to make sure the papers are good.  You are given a criteria, on top you have to make sure all of their details match up and whether everything is up to date.

If you make a mistake it is absolutely possible you could let a terrorist in who will bomb things.

The game is really interesting in that you have to keep your family alive as long as possible.  If you cannot pay the bills you lose the game.  So it’s absolutely possible that your family starves to death, dies from a lack of healthcare, or freeze to death.

The odd thing is despite none of this sounding very good at all, the game is surprisingly addictive.  You’re just playing this game and then BOOM you’ve clocked in 20 hours of it.

The campaign is even highly re-playable.  Every single time you play you get different people with different criteria.

As well the game has a really odd mechanic that just makes sense.

I call it, the alternate universe paradigm.

Basically you can play through the game and then start and any day you want.  Instead of wiping out your previous progress.  I honestly wish every single developer out there would pick this up and use it.

Papers, Please is full of hipster bullshit…. but dear god is this game fun and addictive to play.