Tag: Review

Factorio Review

Developer: Wube Software
Publisher: Wube Software
Music: Daniel James Taylor
Platforms: PC only – Windows, macOS, Linux
Released: 14th August 2020
Genre: Simulation / RTS / Building / Management / Tower defence

Factorio in my house has a reputation, for my wife knows I will be lost for two days, rave of mathematical ratios and alien biters, and somehow gain the focus of a cramming uni student abusing caffeine and amphetamines.

But what is this, my game of 2020 and drug of choice?

Factorio was successfully crowdfunded in 2013 and released into early access on steam in early 2016. I first played Factorio later that year after binge watching youtubers creating vast belted megafactories. Visually, it is a top down, 2.1D isometric game like RTS games circa 1999, while also having a dreary diesel punk aesthetic. Despite this the world is rich with biomes, natural fauna, and easily identifiable resources to feed the factory.

Game play wise it is a beast of real-time strategy, automation, resource management and base defence.

The basic premise of Factorio is that you have crash landed on a planet and need to survive. This is really only present in the tutorial and when you set off your first rocket, the endgame trigger. The rest of the game is the dieselpunk version of Man Vs Wild while you set your mind to the machinations of the machine, engineering an extravaganza of a mega-base while protecting yourself from the natural life forms attracted by your pollution and hell bent on destroying your creations.

To create your first factory you mine, belt, chop, hand craft and build before progressing to automating with belts, inserters, and trains. The final step, if you are brave enough, the birth of true automation with flying robots, wires and storage all controlled through logistics and programming.

Your factory is now vast and consuming, both in resources and time. You stare bleary eyed at not only how long you have been staring at the screen, but how many hours you have now accumulated in your steam profile. Calculations and spread sheets strewn across your desktop as you have calculated the exact ratios of ore to final products.

This game captivates the engineer in me. The organisation to compact and replicate, modularise and expand. But I’ll be honest, I play on peaceful. For without this, those biters, worms and spitters come in ever increasing waves. They expand and search for weaknesses, and one day you look up from your hard work and hear the alarm and they’re chomping at your power station and everything goes dark.

Speaking of sound, the atmospheric sounds are inconspicuous. I don’t mean that in a bad way, rather everything sounds right for the situation. Footsteps on grass, sand, concrete and metal all sound right for the situation. The intervals between the musical interludes are filled with the wind in the wilds, or if you are in your factory the hum of machinery and belts, the crackle of arching electrics or the soft bells of sonar from the radar tower.

The musical composition of Daniel Hames Taylor highlights the desolation and feeling of isolation while still remaining calming and optimistic, it is also memorable and repeated enough so that years after playing, reopening the game and listening to the game’s music brings back instant nostalgia to the hours of gameplay you previously invested. However, should the music grate on your psyche, as in most things in this game, there’s a slider for that.

Overall while I’m sure you can tell I enjoy the game there are some teething issues for new players. The controls and key board shortcuts are extensive and while the tutorial shows a good selection of the basics, the huge selection of inbuilt shortcuts can be overwhelming to learn. There’s also little after the tutorial to tell you what or how to do things. You are left to your own devices, a research tree, and your own brain to guide you. This tends to lead new players to restart their first map a few times before getting into their stride. And when you set up your map everything has a slider, from the progression of the biters to how rich ore patches are, how many natural cliffs, water fronts and trees you need to cut down, destroy or pave over to expand your ever growing factropolis.

The developers Wube Software continue to actively develop the game, while also developing new toys and squashing bugs. The modding community is also highly active and can add different gameplay loops and complexities to your engineering marvel.

If this has wet your whistle for a play you can find a demo available at factorio.com, or you can buy if from that same website or from steam.

 

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

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Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Website: http://harebrained-schemes.com/shadowrun/hongkong
Australian rating: Unrated

Cyberpunk was a very 1980s thing, and sometimes that comes through in the modern games reviving the genre. Shadowrun began as a tabletop RPG in 1989 and the video games based on it retain some of the era’s qualities, including a fascination with Asian culture as filtered through action movies. Street samurai wield katanas, every city has triads and yakuza, and the world is run by megacorps with names like Shiawase, Wuxing, and Renraku.

So in Shadowrun: Hong Kong of course you work for a triad boss based out of a mahjong parlour and one of your missions is to mess with the feng shui of an office building to harm the owners’ profits. It trades in pretty broad stereotypes, but that’s the nature of Shadowrun’s pulpy adventure fiction background, which mashes up cyberpunk and urban fantasy so that the street samurais are likely to be elves, the triads and yakuza backed up by shamans, and the megacorps run by dragons.

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Audiosurf 2

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Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Dylan Fitterer
Website: http://www.audiosurf2.com
Australian rating: Unrated

You know those visualisation things you get with music software like Windows Media Player? The ones that accompany whatever song is playing with geometric patterns, rising and falling and changing colour in time with the music, sort of like what 1990s movies thought cyberspace looked like? Audiosurf takes that idea and makes a video game out of it. Feed it an mp3 (or, new in this sequel, a stream from SoundCloud) and its algorithm analyses the music’s tempo and beat and changes in intensity and then maps them to a rising and falling rollercoaster/racecourse hybrid, which you fly across in a spaceship.

Still with me? Good, because there’s more. While the speed you travel is entirely at the mercy of the BPM you can flit left and right across three lanes on that track to hit certain blocks while dodging others, collecting them in a grid beneath you and earning points. Audiosurf is two games in one – both a score-attack game of reflexes and careful choices about which blocks to grab, and a transformative experience that can turn your favourite music into a physical space and then pull you across it.

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Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

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Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Website: www.legobatman3beyondgotham.com
Australian rating: PG

The Lego games are released on a schedule as constant as Call Of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, and that means they can be formulaic. Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes was one of the series’ innovators, however, introducing fully-voiced characters and an open world. Between missions you and a friend could hoon around Gotham City in Lego vehicles or climb its buildings looking for secrets and punching on hoodlums. It basically had everything I want from future Arkham games and threw in a playable Superman as well.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham expands the roster even further, pulling various deep-cut characters from the DC Comics catalogue, while shifting the focus away from Batman’s home turf of Crimetown USA and into outer space. The villainous Brainiac has a plan to shrink the Earth and place it under glass like he’s collecting bugs, and he’s stolen the power of the variously coloured Lanterns to do it. Green Lantern isn’t alone, you see – in the comics he pals around with Red, Pink, Blue, Purple, Orange, and Yellow Lanterns. It’s a whole thing.

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Review: Costume Quest 2

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Platform: PC
Developer: Double Fine
Website: www.costumequest2.com
Australian rating: PG

Halloween in Australia is weird. I’ve only had kids come to my door in costume twice, but people love to complain about how this American holiday has invaded our calendar. White Australians complaining about cultural imperialism is odd, right? Kind of tone deaf and crass? Christmas isn’t any more Australian, and we mainly use Halloween as an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk anyway, like we do every other holiday.

The Costume Quest games are an insight into why Halloween is such a big deal for Americans, letting you play a gang of kids dressed up in dodgy outfits – a robotic suit made of cardboard boxes, a superhero costume that’s just a blanket cape and a pair of underpants on the outside – who are given free rein to roam the suburbs and pretend to be heroes and monsters while eating all the sugar. Those suburbs, by the way, are being invaded by aliens under the cover of Halloween and only you can stop them. Adults won’t believe that big green weirdo is a Grubbin from the planet Repugia and not just someone in a better costume than you, and anyway, you don’t need adults to stop them when you have The Power Of Imagination.

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Review: Wasteland 2

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Platform: PC
Developer: InXile
Website: https://wasteland.inxile-entertainment.com
Australian rating: MA15+

I hate reviews that start with a history lesson, but Wasteland 2 needs some context. I’ll try to make it a short history lesson at least. Here goes.

The original Wasteland was a turn-based post-apocalyptic roleplaying game designed by Interplay in 1988, in which cowboy Desert Rangers protected irradiated Arizona from raiders and robots and, if you played like me, got gnawed to the bone by giant mutant rabbits like they were fleshy carrots being chomped by Bugs Bunny. It was popular enough that Interplay started work on a sequel, but not popular enough for publisher Electronic Arts, who cancelled it and then refused to sell them back the rights. Interplay self-published a different post-apocalyptic RPG instead, and that’s the origin story for the classic Fallout. Years later, the Fallout series has changed hands and members of the original Interplay team, now calling themselves InXile, finally got the rights to their game back and – with help from fans via Kickstarter – made the sequel they wanted to make decades ago.

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Review: Gauntlet

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Platform: PC
Developer: Arrowhead
Website: www.gauntlet.com
Australian classification: MA15+

The first time I played this remake of Gauntlet I accidentally shot the food within the opening five minutes, so if the only thing you need to know is whether it’s possible to destroy an entire roast turkey with a single, poorly aimed arrow just like in the original, there you go.

Gauntlet is a remake of the 1985 arcade game that gave us one of our first four-player co-op experiences and birthed a bunch of memes about the wizard needing food badly. Arrowhead, the developers of Magicka, have focussed on that arcade multiplayer experience and created a fast-paced action RPG that boils Diablo down to potent stock.

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Review: Hack ‘n’ Slash

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Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Double Fine
Website: www.hacknslashthegame.com
Australian rating: Unrated

In the Legend Of Zelda games Link spends a lot of time doing the fantasy equivalent of mowing the lawn. He’s constantly swiping at tall grass with his sword while shouting “Hah!” because that grass contains the hearts he needs to replenish his health bar, because video games. In Hack ‘n’ Slash you walk up to a bush, shout “Hah!” and stick your sword in it, but then things get weird. Your sword ends not with a blade but a USB connector and the bush has a matching plug, and when you join the two a text box pops up with a set of variables in it. One of them says “ON_FIRE false”, and you can exchange that “false” for a “true”. As soon as you do the bush bursts into flames with a FWOOSH. Only then do the hearts appear.

Hack ‘n’ Slash is about the other definition of the word hack.

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Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

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Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, iOS, Android, Ouya, Kindle Fire HDX
Developer: Telltale Games
Website: https://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead
Australian rating: R18+

The second series of Telltale’s Walking Dead game stars a new protagonist: 10-year-old Clementine. If you thought having a child hero might involve toning things down from the previous season’s tough choices and brutality, the first episode proves you very wrong. It’s not long before survivors are turning on each other and zombies having their heads collapsed, and at one point Clem has to suture a serious wound. I’ve never found it so hard to perform a simple click and drag as I did when pushing that needle.

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Review: Murdered: Soul Suspect

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Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Developer: Airtight Games
Website: http://murdered.com
Australian classification: M

My favourite thing about Murdered: Soul Suspect is the cigarette. The main character, Detective Ronan O’Connor, has this hip bartender look: trilby, waistcoat, tattoos, stubble, nicotine addiction. I’m pretty sure he sold me a Corona once and was polite enough not to sneer. But he’s dead now, and also a detective – a ghost detective who has to solve his own murder before he can move on. Since he was smoking when he was attacked he’s still smoking now. At a couple of dramatic moments he flicks that ethereal ciggie away and moments later it’s back in his mouth again, eternally half-finished. Just like he’s stuck wearing that hat until it comes back into fashion, he’s stuck with that smoke, which is maybe a commentary on addiction or just a cool little detail in a game that’s full of them.

Here’s another one. It’s set in Salem, Massachusetts, the town still infamous for its witch trials of over 300 years ago. The locals must be as sick of everyone bringing them up as Australians are of convict jokes. Being a religious place, all Salem’s buildings are consecrated, meaning ghosts can’t cross the thresholds and Ronan has to wait for someone to open a door like a cat who wants to be let in. Many of the town’s old structures have left ghosts of themselves behind as well; you’ll see burning spectral ruins where an old house caught fire, or an overturned cart in the middle of the street. The consecrated walls and ghostly leftovers force you to be creative in crossing town from one crime scene to the next, and also happen to look great. The old Salem overlaps with the new like the scabs of history refusing to heal.

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