Tag Archives: Steam

Replay – Cities: Skylines

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There’s no serious way I can make Cities: Skylines sound sexy and I’ve tried at least six different drafts of this. It lacks the explosive action of popular games like PlayerUnknown’sBattlegroundsOverwatch, or anything that involves murdering people. Cities: Skylines is the complete antithesis of games like that: it’s slow, very mellow and about procedural growth. I’d forgive you if this is where you started tuning out but if you can, bear with me.

It probably explains a lot I smoke a decent amount of weed before zoning out for the next four hours in what is surely a bizarre stupor to any bystanders. There is no decipherable action to let you know you’re doing right aside from numbers being green, happy sounding noises, no angry looking icons floating above buildings, and the bright green smiley face at the bottom of the HUD telling me I’m doing a-ok. That’s not to say there aren’t frustrating moments. After all, nothing like spending an hour trying to revive a city imploded by my own lack of foresight.

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Skylines is without argument the best SimCity-esque game on the market today, beating out even the originator itself, SimCity. Of which was deeply shamed back in 2013 so badly EA had to do a LOT of damage control and probably won’t be heard from ever again. The goal is very simple: develop your provided property into a growing town and supervisor its development and growth into a full-blown city. However actually doing this is another, as unlike in SimCity 4 (the last decent SimCity), it’s pretty possible to fail making a town from the very start.

This is a supremely menu driven game, and many of your questions you’ll come across during your time building cities will often be answered looking for data within the myriad of menus, though perhaps not so obviously. Skylines asks the player to think ahead in terms of how to proceed, because while not impossible, it’s hard and damaging to your city to try and re-build segments after they’ve already started growing independently.

Your endgame is to create as large as city as possible, anyway you want so long as it is financially sustainable. This means watching your budget, finding ways to squeeze just a little more money from your properties without pissing off your constituents, and giving your city time to develop organically by letting its simulations run a bit. You’ll want to throw stadiums around and grow as fast as possible, however too fast growth can also mean your artificial population bubble will burst hard when the weight of the city collapses upon itself because you didn’t let its population catch-up to your rapid growth.

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Unlike the aforementioned SimCity, the world of Skylines feels organic and alive. Your citizens, each and every one, can be selected, followed and studied. They are born, they grow, they work, they die. They also unfortunately move into cities at the exact same age, causing what’s known in the Cities: Skylines community as a “death wave” if you grow a huge chunk of your city at the same time. Good luck keeping your cemeteries open.

Perhaps the biggest complaint against Cities: Skylines is the developer’s tendency to create weak DLC and charge premium prices. I don’t have any of the paid-DLC installed (there are bits of free DLC that are quite a bit of fun), but I can say I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. It’s also hard for me to justify spending $12.99 USD to include natural disasters, a feature I find myself asking why the fuck would I pay so much for. Seems like something basic that should’ve been included from the onset.

You could spend $5.99 USD to supplement the free Match Day DLC (which gives you the ability to place a large-scale football stadium in your city) with four actual recreations of real football stadiums such as FC Barcelona, Chelsea, PSG, and Juventus. Again, you might’ve missed where I said this $5.99 DLC just has four stadiums. This is the type of crap I was talking about.

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Look, again, none of this sounds sexy, like, at all. Cities: Skylines is meant for a particular audience: one tired of random violence and into methodical, zen-like construction. I enjoy the steady grind of slowly letting a city build its economy up itself. There is a sense of peace and focus I’ve never quite experienced with other games. Sure, it’s easy to zone out but the game also calls for a measure of attention to make sure your growing city doesn’t decay from within so easily. There is no end, just the infinite potential of growth and seeing what kind of civil creator you are. Or at least until you misappropriate the city’s funds.

 

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Review – Strike Vector EX (PC)

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Strike Vector EX is about one thing and one thing only: high-speed dog fights. Flashy, bright, colorful, dizzying dog fights. EX offers a basic, but addictive package with a decent single-player campaign and addictive online modes. Technically while EX is a re-release, with the original version released in 2014 to mixed reviews, I’m reviewing it on its own merit. EX feels like an amalgamation of Ace Combat and Star Fox Zero, which is a compliment.

Piloting your vector (those fancy jets) involves two modes: stationary and fast. This probably sounds obvious and stupid, but the ability to stop on a dime and make impossibly fast turns is a huge element to this game. You can also zoom in when stopped at snipe at enemies, but obviously in a game like this staying still for too long is you begging to be shot down.

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There’s a pretty reasonable amount of content here, from a cheesy, but fairly meaty single-player that’ll help you hone your skills, to the real jewel: the multiplayer. You can include bots if you’d like (they’ll join your matches by default if not enough humans are around which will happen unfortunately more often than I’d like), but the real joy is being locked in a tense fight with other human pilots thirsting for your blood.

The customization options available are relatively shallow. You have your choice from a small number of weapons ranging from the conventional gatling gun to the more irritating homing cluster missiles. You can also separate yourself from others by coloring individual elements your ship (head/body/wings) with a wide array of colors, most needing to be unlocked through play.

The modes are pretty standard: death match, team death match, capture the flag, demolition (two teams must destroy each other’s bases target by target),  bounty hunter (accrue more points than other plays by collecting coins or killing players), and king of the hill where two teams compete for the designated territory. While not genre defining, they’re good modes for a game built on a pick-up-and-play premise.

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The thing about Strike Vector EX is that as it is, there’s a lot of good in it that justifies its very soft price tag ($11.99 USD). While there aren’t a whole lot of flashy modes and baubles to distract, it’s core gameplay is more than solid and can get addictive. It’s fast, easy to grasp, and more importantly makes me feel like I’m really involved in a high-speed mecha dog fight. At the time of writing the online community is quite shallow, but the game is also young. I’m optimistic more will see the light of this very shooter.

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Review – Fire! Explosions! Knocking Bitches Out! Mad Max

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Mad Max is a game that should’ve been made long ago. The films are cult legends, even the shitty one with Tina Turner. Fury Road reinvigorated the franchise and brought it back into public consciousness despite the game missing the film’s release by months (though landed alongside the DVD release). Open world games have grown in sophistication, opening up possibilities. Mad Max is about driving hard, being mad and fighting crazy people. As open world titles go this game a no brainer. So why hasn’t it gotten the love it deserves? As fun as Mad Max can be, it doesn’t feel like it’s gotten much TLC.

Let’s be straight about this though: the Mad Max franchise isn’t about intellectual discovery or a deep narrative. It’s about watching angry, psychotic people committing mass vehicular manslaughter as an unhinged Mel Gibson stomps the desert. The game pretty much reflects this down to the letter, minus Mel Gibson. Instead Max is voiced by a man I swore was Kano from the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie (it’s not unfortunately, for the record). Avalanche Studios did a great job making the world look very gritty and real. This is where the Photo Editor is a blast to mess with, as you creator your own Road Warrior-styled shots that look great.

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Much of Mad Max’s gameplay has been cribbed from other games, sort of like how Darksiders played out. Combat is taken directly from the Batman Arkham series; it’s free-roaming, systematic base-blowing up/wire-shooting antics was provided by Just Cause (which was also developed by Max’s creators), and a fun photo editor as last seen in Shadow of Mordor. The whole package comes together alright but doesn’t feel wholly fleshed out. Combat feels sluggish and without fluidity. I get Max isn’t Batman. You’re a banged up wastelander, but combat still doesn’t feel responsive. It’s also easy to simply blast on the offensive and roll away, versus trying to take on crowds of people with a stunted counter system.

The game forces you into on-foot confrontations more than it should. Car combat is the star of the game, hands down. Fighting off four cars while blaring down the wastes is a blast, ramming into each other at high speed is exciting. Especially when you start tooling around with your grappling hooks and pulling drivers right out of their cars, or ripping their wheels off. Fighting fisticuffs? Not as great as you’d think.

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On-foot controls feel sluggish and awkward, but have a satisfying sound to knocking someone out. While Max is always equipped with a shotgun (and a sniper rifle in the Magnum Opus), gunplay is super weak and awkward to control. Not to metion ammo is in short supply (both on the field and how much you can carry), so for the most part you’ll need to rely on Max’s fists to solve most of your out-of-the-car problems.

Outside of base-busting, committing public service by picking up scraps and playing through the story there aren’t much else in the way of distractions. There are desert legend quests given by specific NPCs that challenge you to hit certain jumps and kill small groups of enemies, but the biggest side missions are death runs. It’s what it sounds like: races designed with car combat in mind. To get to the point, they’ll likely be the last things you choose to do since they are largely frustrating races.

Mad Max is a lot of fun buried under a lot of repetition. Base busting, or just rolling in with your car and picking fights to clear outposts, is a lot of fun. Max is a bad ass and isn’t intimidated by jackasses painted white. After some upgrades Max is a force to be reckoned with both in and out of his car. Enhanced shotgun kills that freak your opponents out, prolonged rage mode to crush opponents quicker, crushing knockout blows are waiting. Granted you have the patience to keep engaging in the same fetch activities over and over and over.

Mandatory Score: 6/10

Fans of the films will get a kick out of taking to the wastelands Road Warrior style. It’s also a fun, post-apocalyptic distraction until Fallout 4 ships out in November. However there are plenty of other action games out there, so it’s hard for me to recommend Mad Max at full price. Much like the films this isn’t one of those games you need to look deep into. Instead it asks you to accept it at superficial value and just roll with it. If you can get past its short comings, there’s a lot of fun to be had. Especially since this is the first time proper fans have gotten the chance to be in the (very unlucky) shoes of Max.

Personal Score: 7/10

For the all the negativity I’ve had throughout this review, I really like this game because I like the source material. The game does a good job of putting me into the mindset that makes the movies so much fun. It’s not about a strong narrative, because there isn’t one. It isn’t about anything else exception knocking people out, starting fires, blowing things up and running goons over. It’s a game I can come home from work to play that doesn’t require me to focus hard. Just sit back, crack open a beer, and enjoy.