Transistor

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There are many things that I wish to say about Transistor, but the story-related ones will have to wait for after the break.  I don’t want to spoil anything for you.

To start with, this is one of the prettiest games I have seen in a while, and it has a soundtrack that makes me want to close my eyes and sink into it.  I spent a considerable amount of time simply sitting and absorbing the game’s music, doing nothing else for fear of missing out on the songs.  I wish that the soundtrack had all of the various in-game versions of the music, including Red’s hummed accompaniment.

I’m hard pressed to peg the game to a single genre or type, but its construction and design bears a profound similarity to Bastion.  You do battle with an ever-growing variety and number of foes, following the protagonist from a third person isometric perspective as you wander through lushly painted land- or cityscapes, slowly puzzling out the backstory of the characters and learning what is happening around you.  As far as I’m concerned, what worked in Bastion works here too.

As a game, I found Transistor very appealing; designing my own powers, mixing and matching elements as I discovered new killer combos, and adapting my loadout to the situation presented were all quite satisfying.  Making sure that I wasn’t crippled when I lost one of my powers due to a mistake, and being forced to rethink my situation creatively when I failed in that, were both very rewarding as well.  And when battles became a little same-y towards the end, or failed to present me with situations that I hadn’t foreseen, I still wanted to follow the story.  Now that I’ve finished the game, I also want to see how it handles itself on a second pass-through.  But I’ve played it enough to be able to say that I like it, and that I suspect you’d enjoy it as well.  Now about those *SPOILERS*…

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Rimworld: Sci-Fi Frontier Shipwreck Fiction, Round 2

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The first time I played this game, my people nearly starved to death.  I tried to solve this by getting tricksy and using sunlamps outdoors in order to boost my crop’s growth cycle, only to discover that many electrical systems explode and catch fire when exposed to rain.  I did manage to pull through in the end, but it was pretty tight for a while.

That was all several releases back.  When I last reviewed the game, I mentioned that I thought it wasn’t yet worth its $30 asking price, but that it could be if it continued to develop as well as it had thus far.  Now, here I am several releases later, ready to tell you whether or not I think it’s continued to live up to its earlier promise.

My answer is easy: it has.  I’m not saying that it’s all the way there yet, but the game is damn interesting and its central features have been expanded aggressively over the past few months.  Any given change usually feels small, but the shift from when I first played back in early March has been impressive.  In addition to there simply being more junk that I can make for my colony, the world around my colony has gotten considerably more interesting, and often far more threatening as well.  I won’t cover everything, but…

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Europa Universalis IV: Becoming Leviathan

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Out of many, one.

I wrote a love letter to Crusader Kings 2’s intricate dynastic backstabbing a while ago, and I thought I should let you know about the game’s semi-sequel Europa Universalis 4.  I’ll even toss in a few tidbits about the myriad DLC available for both titles at no additional charge.

First, a brief introduction: Crusader Kings 2 is strategy-as-individual, a fascinating look at the intimately personal nature of politics and power, spanning the years from 1066 CE (867 CE with Old Gods DLC) to 1453 CE.  Europa Universalis 4 follows this with a shift from the myopically personal to the strictly national, covering the years 1444 CE to 1821 CE.  With both games and the appropriate DLC, it’s possible to convert a CK2 save game into an EU4 mod, letting you pick up the reins of your budding nation-state right where your Machiavellian ruler left them.

I loved CK2 from the start, even though it took a long time for me to feel like I could play the game without stumbling over my shoelaces.  Despite having an easier time learning how to play EU4, it took longer for me to really fall into it.  I think it was because the game is simply less personal.  It certainly wasn’t because of the interface, which has only improved.

In my first game of CK2, I was presented with a moderately ugly portrait of a lecherous Irish earl, told that that was me, and told that I really ought to get married.  I lived that earl’s life with gusto, trying (and failing) to better my position in the world, and I still have fond memories of him.  I identified with him, in much the same way that I have since identified with Queen Ximena and several other rulers of mine, and I felt connected.  EU4 simply doesn’t offer that experience, and at first I was dissatisfied.  I didn’t understand why I would want to play this grand strategy game without all the little people desperately trying to grease the wheels of power in order to ease their rise to the top.  I put aside the game and didn’t come back for a few weeks.

I’m still not sure what it was that pulled me back in, but I’m glad it did.  Despite looking so similar to CK2, EU4 is a very different game; it offers you the chance to shape a state as it transitions from the deeply personal politics of feudalism to the larger scale conflicts of colonialism, nationalism, and empire.  It gives you a chance to make Thomas Hobbes proud.

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The Queen is Dead, Long Live the … Oops

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It wasn’t my fault, I swear.

I died because I didn’t know enough battlefield medicine.  It turns out that you’re not supposed to push an arrow through yourself when it’s stuck in your chest.

It wasn’t really my fault: I’d never been lonely enough to put lots of time into mastering the basics of medical care, and I’d spent all my time focusing on intrigue, learning who’s who, and figuring out what plots I might have to worry about in the weeks before my coronation as Queen of Nova.  After my disastrous showing at the grand ball, I’d tried to play catch-up with my long neglected social skills.  Somehow I never got around to learning what to do about arrow wounds.

I just didn’t think they’d be an issue, you know?  Or at least, not as big an issue as accidentally starting a rebellion by pissing off my nobles.  I’d already had one of them assassinated, and had only succeeded because of all the time I’d put into mastering my network of agents.  Next time, I’ll make a different mistake.  I’m sure of it.  Welcome to Long Live the Queen.

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Rimworld: Sci-Fi Frontier Shipwreck Fiction

GmX9a8LuhHI set down on the planet with complete awareness of the dangers that I would face, and a steady sense that I would do better than those who had come before me.  As I established my new outpost, eagerly digging into the cliff face nearby to harvest the easily accessed metal and provide my fellow accidental colonists with shelter, I was certain that I was in the right place, doing the right thing.  I planned out my dwelling carefully, designed it with defense in mind, and laughed at the idea that I might have missed any of the silly issues which had so beset the Let’s Plays that I had watched before I picked up the game.

I forgot, of course, to plant any food.  Welcome to Rimworld.

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Dominions 3’s Manual Seduces, Conquers All

I sure did say a lot of mean things about Dominions 3 when I wrote about it last time.  I finished on a positive note, to be sure, but if you didn’t read that last bit it might have looked like very mild hate mail rather than an admission of my affections.  I won’t take those comments back (I still think they’re true, confirmed through further play), but I do have a few other thoughts to add.  First of all, giving me a copy of this game for Christmas is both wonderful and somewhat mean.  Secondly, I’m (not so) secretly in love with the game’s manual.  Third… well, my third thought is that the game is far more captivating than I had realized that it would be from my time as a spectator.

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Dominions 3, God of Time-Consumption, Awaits You

Remember how I mentioned that I would tell you about Dominions 3?  Today is your lucky day.  First off, here is what I said last time:

Dominions 3 looks like someone fell in love with Master of Magic and then decided that it wasn’t nearly complex enough.  And that it needed more gods, wars, and magic.  At a glance, it looks like something that will most appeal to a certain core of strategy lovers, but the concept is absolutely wonderful regardless of your interest in the genre.  You play a god rushing to fill the gap left by the disappearance / death of The Old God, and you must expand to outdo all the other pretenders and secure your own position.  It has territory based command and control, resource management, spell research, a military focus, and more numbers than you can shake a stick at.  Several of my friends are very excited about it, and I’ll let you know more when I’ve played it for a bit.  If it is more accessible than I anticipate, I will do my best to proselytize and spread the good word of the new god, Dominions 3.

That sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it.

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Sword & Sworcery

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The Scythian.

I finally finished the magnificent Sword & Sworcery.  This game is a sumptuously designed experience.  Sword & Sworcery shattered my expectations by providing such a beautiful and completely enveloping story that I almost want to call it a story before I call it a game.  And don’t get me started about the sound design.  Or rather, do, because the music is simply a delight and the sound design creates a beautifully ethereal and dreamlike space that lends an air of enchantment to the entire piece.  I’m listening to the music right now, just because I can.

This game is wrapped up in a bizarre shell of self-awareness, with the other characters completely cognizant of the duality of the game and maybe even aware of how everything will end.  And yet it still has an emotional pull that I haven’t found in any other games I’ve played recently.  Stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, yes.  Games?  No.  Despite a one year hiatus part way through completing the game, I’m still exceedingly excited about it.  I want to play it again all in one sitting just to get the full and immediate impact.

This is a game worth discovering.  It is an adventure that is glorious and sad and perfectly appropriate, all in one.  Let me tell you more…

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Sir, You Are Being Alpha’d

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Your merciless foes

Jim Rossignol of Rock Paper Shotgun also runs a game company, called Big Robot.  For one month last year, Big Robot ran a kickstarter project to fund their game Sir, You Are Being Hunted (now available both directly from Big Robot and through Steam).  I backed that project.  This summer, just a few days ago in fact, Big Robot released an alpha of their game to their backers.  Can you see where I’m going with this?  Good.

What follows is a collection of my first impressions of Sir, You Are Being Hunted, a game about traipsing across faux-British countryside in search of important MacGuffins while being mercilessly pursued by a very large number of robots with guns.

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DEFCON: How about a nice game of chess?

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Just kidding.  We all know you just want to play Global Thermonuclear War.  Poor Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare never gets any love.  DEFCON, developed by Introversion Software, offers all the Global Thermonuclear War you could ever want.  Its spartan and elegant graphics looks just as appropriate today as they did on release in 2006, with clean glowing lines showing up beautifully on the dark background of the world; Introversion took the design aesthetics of the global tactical displays from various Cold War nuclear war thrillers, and created a game that perfectly delivers their inhuman reductionism.  It is a cold, hard, unfeeling game that leaves you feeling challenged, rewarded, and maybe a little bit broken inside as you watch the megadeaths pile up and desperately hope that you can kill a few more people than you lose.

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