How Can I Make This Better?

Schedule slip sucks. But while I keep working on my latest pieces, I’ve got a question for anyone that follows this blog- Any suggestions for sprucing up the page? I’ll admit it, I’m bad at making things aesthetically pleasing. I’ll be experimenting with some of the default layouts, but that only goes so far, so any feedback would be seriously welcome.

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Executive Assault

Welcome back, everyone! I told you I’d be covering this, didn’t I? Executive Assault is an Action-RTS game brought to us by Hesketh Studios in July of 2015. The story is a simple affair of two or more CEO’s and their Megacorps battling for the fate of a planet. There’s no campaign though, which is good in the sense that a more in-depth story is not needed, but having Skirmish as the only gameplay mode makes this title feel a little sparse. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Urban Assault, I’m going to stick to constructive criticism because it’s still a solid game considering the dev team is all of 1 person.

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Kudos for adding that personal touch

As before, the player can assume direct control of any unit on the field, and should as a skilled player can do much more damage than an AI controlling the same unit. Each CEO builds outward from their tower, constructing facilities for gathering resources, generating power, and building units to engage the other companies. The prevailing side will ultimately fight their way through the CEO’s complex before riding the elevator to their tower and retiring them via laser cannon to the face.

There’s a fair amount of fine control players are granted over their own base. The tech tree is more wide than deep, and power can be reallocated to suit the situation at hand, such as putting everything towards Iron Extractors to keep the pressure on with a steady supply of reinforcements, or into the perimeter defenses to keep the enemy out.

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Presentation is usually an area where I’m easy to please, so I was a little unhappy that certain attributes in this category started to grate on me. The battlegrounds are all a little too big and a little too sterile, making it a chore to cross the gaps between bases with anything but aircraft, which already have a huge edge in being able to avoid at least some incoming fire. If the maps had been a little smaller but had more unique features, such as better chokepoints, accessible high ground, maybe some hazards, it would have added more tactical options. Lighting could use some adjustment too, with things like explosions and other effects being needlessly bright and flashy to the point of being unpleasant. In spite of the overly enthusiastic special effects, the weapons feel anemic, with little beyond hitmarkers and reading out the target’s current HP to indicate damage is being dealt. Camera jitter or outright knocking the units about might be a bit much, but at least then my minigun would feel like a minigun rather than a basic machine gun with a different model.

The sound balancing is also lacking, with a building being constructed a football field away, a bullet ricocheting off a security door, and the “toggle sprint” sfx all drowning out other noise. Occasionally, the sound cuts out altogether, and while the music is suitably climactic when it comes up, the game has insufficient ambient noise to cover for the lack of it, again contributing to the sterile feeling one gets traversing the plains that look good for a top-down view but seem needlessly drawn out and barren as a foot soldier.

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Trion weapons are hard to ignore, between their brilliant white lights and tendency to punch through units like they’re paper.

While there’s a number of vehicles and defenses and other odds and ends, the fact that there’s only 1 set available to all teams contributes to a lack of style that runs through the rest of the game. Take Urban Assault, the game I’m most directly comparing this to: The Resistance is the obvious ‘jack of all trades’ with many varied units but few that are the best in their chosen field, while the Taerkasts have ridiculous amounts of armor and damage at the expense of speed and handling, and so on. The AI never uses anything but laser and Trion weapons so everything from tanks to gunships just fire pew pew beams. Not that I blame them, energy weapons are the definite winner in terms of armament, to the point where one could ignore the entire ballistic weapons section and lose nothing of import. I think more variety would help here. Ballistic weapons are ultimately outclassed, but at least one can see the argument for using, say, the cluster rockets over the standard ones depending on the scenario. Energy weapons are just “beam”, “pulse”, “beam++”, “pulse++” and so on, so unless you’re hurting for resources the choice is obvious.

I also think the “can only build in this square” restriction shouldn’t apply to defenses, as structures including the walls and gates would make much more sense to deploy in the maps natural chokepoints, making them more useful against vehicles while at the same time keeping aircraft useful for flanking and exploiting holes in the defense lines. While I love the concept of ending a match by personally taking out the enemy CEO, combat inside the buildings is cramped and messy, coming down to building as many killbots as possible and powering through the security doors and sentry turrets through sheer force while the defender has little choice but to put up as many barriers as possible while cranking out killbots of their own. More options for defending, such as traps, and more options for attacking such as disabling or bypassing said defenses would make it much more tense. Also, maybe remove the glitch that lets troop transports land in facilities and drop their troops directly inside the base, eh?

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Riding the elevator to assassinate the enemy CEO is satisfying, generic elevator music aside.

The developer is currently working on a sequel, so I doubt my suggestions will be seen in this title, but I can say I still enjoyed my time with it, even with all the rough edges I got caught on. Executive Assault is $13 on Steam. It’s an inexpensive game and a passable Action-RTS. Personally, I’m more looking forward to the sequel the developer is currently working on, which will be a battle between space stations instead.

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Urban Assault

Welcome back everyone! Today we’re covering an old favorite that I could have sworn I’d covered but I’m not seeing it anywhere on here… Must be one I wrote before I made the site! I’m replaying it for the 5th or 6th time so I may as well cover it now. Urban Assault is an Action-RTS brought to us by TerraTools and Microsoft back in 1998. So, you may be wondering, why am I covering a game that is approaching 20 years old? It’s not like I’m trying to drive sales, as if that were even possible at this stage.

It’s because it’s a good, albeit old game, and I want it to get the recognition I feel it deserves. That and Action-RTS isn’t a genre that gets much attention (Brutal Legend, Battlezone, and Dragon Commander are the only other entries that spring to mind). Now, I’m one that doesn’t mind lower end graphics so much, but I know not everyone is that way, so let me warn you now: This game is why.

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(clip from a tutorial, the game itself looks like the top right image)

 

I mean, look at that. Good gravy, they had 320 x 240 as a resolution option. Anyway, if you’re willing to look past that, let’s continue.

The story concerns a distant future where Earth has been rendered virtually uninhabitable. The remaining humans are clustered in protective domes and are additionally splintered into warring factions. As if this wasn’t enough a race of aliens have come and embedded a device called the Parasite into the Earth’s core, putting all of humanity on the clock as the Earth’s protective magnetic field begins to falter. The player takes control of SDU7, the last of a line of cybernetically enhanced humans fused with floating warships/factories known as a Host Stations. SDU7 is tasked with battling his way his way across Europe, culminating in a confrontation against the Main Mykonian base. Along the way he’ll acquire blueprints for new vehicles and engage the other factions in combat as everyone seeks to whittle down opposing forces before the final battle.

The moment to moment gameplay is a tense balance of constructing and directing vehicles from the Host Station, and taking control of individual units during battle to use them to their fullest potential. Granted, the feeling of power granted by controlling a tank yourself is partially brought by the AI drones being complete goofs, but again, 20 year old game. If you ever think Blizzard did better, trying sending some Dragoons up a ramp in SC1.

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You can switch off the map’s terrain features and vehicle health if you wish for less clutter, but that option made more sense when the game came out, if you ask me.

Unlike Battlezone or Brutal Legend, there’s no penalty for your own unit being destroyed because you’re only projecting your consciousness into a particular drone rather than taking to the field yourself, and this honestly is a liberating feeling. Rather than holding back out of fear of the entire match being ended by your untimely death, you can attempt daredevil maneuvers such as engaging a Host Station with a single attack chopper. And if you still want to be truly risky, you can try capturing a Station’s power supply, jumping your own Station in on top of it, and hoping you win the ensuing slugging match.

Frankly, the game is more fun that way. The AI drones, God bless them, try their hardest but die in droves, so unless you have a serious resource advantage over the enemy, your AI drones will take a very long time to win on their own. The good news is that the resource management is simplified compared to most games: your vehicles, your host station, your defensive emplacements, all are made from energy your Station absorbs from Power Stations dotting the map. At the same time, they’ve put in some interesting mechanics to keep it from being overly flat, such as being able to recover the residue of recently destroyed vehicles to recharge the one you’re currently controlling, letting you keep slow, big-ticket items like bombers or heavy tanks alive just a little bit longer. Anyway, this means you can spend most of your time piloting vehicles into battle, with the occasional jump back into the Host Station to build reinforcements or man the point-defense cannons. Thankfully the tactical map is available at all times for monitoring the big picture, though it really should give a way to identify units on the lower zoom settings.

You’re also encouraged to explore the map to conquer sectors (essential for Power Stations to work at full output) and locate tech upgrades, which can be anything from making a particular vehicle slightly stronger to entirely new blueprints, giving you new units and structures to work with. The steady unlocks provide the typical RTS progression: The enemies get new units which require new strategies, which the player can then employ with their own new units. I will say that there’s potential for frustration as the number of available vehicles increases, as combat between drones often comes down to who can get a hit in first. So if the enemy, say, catches your tank column off guard with a wing of bombers flying too high for them to hit, they’ll likely be dead before you can send reinforcements on all but the smallest of maps. Again though, resource management is simple, and building quick, so you’re out nothing but time as long as your base is secure enough to build up another set of vehicles.

I will say the difficulty can be inconsistent. Most of the missions around the halfway point involve Corridor Missions with no room for flanking, or grant the enemy new units that players don’t yet have a good counter for. In contrast, later missions are often too easy, as it becomes simple to dig in behind an impenetrable defense line and gradually grind down the enemy’s vehicles and structures with even the most inefficient of strategies thanks to half your units getting double-shot upgrades. Additionally, as stated prior, the graphics haven’t aged well and the sound effects are limited, with the “heli squad down” notification in particular being needlessly drawn out.

Now… this is usually the part where I’d say “if you like X, go check this game out on Steam” or something, but I can’t do that now. Unlike Blizzard, Microsoft doesn’t have any re-release or remasters in mind for this old dog, and while I understand why in a business sense, the world would be a slightly duller place if this had never been released. I will say Steam has a game with a very similar gameplay premise in Executive Assault, which… I think I’ll be covering next. Take care until next time.

 

 

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Pyre (PC/Mac/PS4)

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Welcome back everyone! Summer in my chosen field is positively brutal, but in spite of that, I’ve managed to complete another title worth talking about. Today we’re covering Pyre, brought to us by Supergiant Games, just this July. They’re also known for creating Bastion and Transistor and while I still need to finish both of those, everything I’ve heard about them was praise, so I was looking forward to see what they had to offer this time. It’s… difficult to categorize, because mechanically it’s a 3 on 3 basketball game, but the narrative is thicker than that in most RPG’s I’ve played in recent memory, with stats and perks that would fit right into that genre.

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Oh, that’s hardly sporting!

The story concerns a group of Exiles in the unpleasant land of Downside. You, the player, are one such Exile, having been kicked out of the Commonwealth for being able to read. Thankfully, this means you can translate a book that details a ceremony called the Rite, wherein you and your new comrades may earn their freedom. So, it’s you and your batch of misfits against the other teams and their misfits, all desperately trying to make it home.

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The game gives you a dizzying amount of choices to be made. There’s countless forks in the path, each granting their own rewards for use in the coming Rites, as well as further characterization of one of the finest casts of characters I’ve ever seen. Through damn good writing, beautiful character portraits, and a bit of speaking simlish, the creators made these incredibly endearing characters that you want to see succeed, to come to terms with their banishment and hopefully escape this place.

But therein lies the problem, in terms of both mechanics and emotional investment. Once in a while, you are granted the chance to free a single comrade, in a high-stakes match against another team trying to do the same. Then… you must continue on without them. Each victory costs you both companionship and valuable players, reducing your options in later matches and forcing you to use characters you are unaccustomed to. Pyre is a game that tends towards bittersweet, and it does so incredibly well. If you feel conflicted playing this game, that’s okay, it’s intended.

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Let me say it was not easy letting Pamitha go. Easily my favorite character.

To return to the mechanical side, the roster of characters and items and perks provides a large number of combinations for strategies. Do you bring along Ti’zo the Imp, using his agility and implosive attack to hopefully clear the field in one shot? Perhaps block off easy approaches with heavyweights such as Jodariel the Demon? Or, as I often did, speed past everyone with Rukey the Cur? The decision to gradually narrow your options is a bold design choice, but one I came to appreciate, as forcing me to adapt made the Rites much more tense and thus enjoyable. Better yet, because of how the game is structured, you’re much more likely to free your more generalized characters first; This seems like a problem until you realize the latter characters, while specialized to a fault, still provide plenty of ways to win.

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Supergiant Games have a certain knack for creating positively stunning games, graphically speaking, and I’m happy to say they’ve done it again, even the unkind world that is the Downside looks gorgeous. Soundtracks are another strong suit of theirs and I’d say this game is another proof of it, with the Liberation Rite music in general having an impressive emotional charge to it. I only wish you could spend a little more time traveling through the world, as fast-travel comes in after the first cycle which I’m not a fan of for once, because it makes the latter part of the game feel a little rushed as it quickly turns into back-to-back Rites. This is especially draining because after the First Liberation Rite, the other teams officially decide to stop messing around and come at you with everything they have, on top of the Supergiant staple of offering an option (Titan Stars in this case) to make the game even harder for increased rewards.

I will say it’s not for everyone. The story to gameplay ratio is on par with Metal Gear Solid at times, so if the characters don’t manage to steal your heart you’ll be in for a very tedious ride. The sudden uptick in difficulty may also be a hurdle for some players, especially those like me that try our darndest to not lower the difficulty. Lastly, I’ll admit I was one of the people that was initially put off by the gameplay premise, but trust me when I say you’d be missing out on something special if you passed Pyre over for that alone. So, that’s Pyre. It’s on Steam and the PS4 for $20, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever played.

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Strike Suit Zero

Welcome back everyone, today we’re covering Strike Suit Zero, released in January of 2013 by Born Ready Games. It’s a spaceship shooter with a bit of Gundam action snuck in.

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So when this game started… I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The plot is a stock affair of Sci-fi cliches and stereotypical characters, and the first couple missions were filled the sort of awkward bumbling that usually happens whenever I control a spacecraft in three dimensions.

Then I started getting cooler weapons, and more importantly got better at using them. My replay of the second mission went a million times faster once I remembered my starting Fighter had rockets for punching holes in Capital Ships, and I was able to easily complete the optional objective after setting my targeting system to prioritize torpedoes.

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But then I got the titular Strike Suit. This prototype vessel comes and turns everything you knew on its head. It can stop completely so you don’t overshoot targets, it can automatically lock on to new targets when you hold left shift, and it can fire missiles at everything on your screen. The game wastes no time telling the player about all their new abilities before throwing them straight into a scenario that shows exactly how amazing it is. That is how you empower players. So many games involving prototype war machines would be that much better if players got to feel what the current “baseline” feels like.

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This mission broke me.

Sadly, the situation deteriorated quickly once I moved past the honeymoon stage. The difficult spike in the latter half of the campaign completely killed the mood for me. It started with the optional objectives going from “tough” to “inhuman,” the first being a cruiser that had to be taken down in a mere two minutes, while still giving the player a defense target. The game reaches a point where you’ll likely need to restart from a checkpoint just to restock ordnance to engage the heavies, and even this backfires, as the game, out of indifference or outright malice, decided to halve my defense target’s health after I did this, rendering the mission impossible without a complete restart. Even the Strike Suit wasn’t enough to take care of the sheer volume of enemies and health I had to plow through, and it started targeting enemies I couldn’t even hit rather than the ones directly in front of me and already within firing distance.

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Honestly, I’m outta gas after this exercise in hair-pulling. The graphics are okay, if a bit overly flashy. The targeting system either needs an overhaul or the game needs a dedicated radar to track targets of interest (of which there are MANY in the later stages). The voice-acting is just… meh, and all this would have been fine if I was still having as much fun with the gameplay as I was in the beginning. But I’m not, so it’s difficult to recommend this. The Director’s Cut supposedly smooths out the difficulty spike and has re-recorded voice lines, but I’m not really interested after the rough first showing.

That was Strike Suit Zero. It’s on Steam for $20, as is the Director’s Cut, so I’d go with the latter because it’s reportedly better.

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Small, Non-games Post

Just putting in a reminder that today is the day a whole fragging bunch of people are standing up to tell the FCC to keep the Net Neutrality rules intact.

“The hell is that?”
The reason why you can watch Netflix and download Steam games without your ISP charging you more for the bandwidth you already paid for. And don’t have to worry about your favorite site being blocked because your ISP disagrees with it.

“Are you serious?”
Dead serious. Chambering your last round in the face of an approaching zombie horde serious.

“This is a bit bare-bones, you got any more?”
Yep. Get more info here.

Sites like mine couldn’t exist without NN. I doubt I’ll ever become a major reviewer myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for the mechanisms that would allow future reviewers to get the views and attention I feel they deserve.

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Project Abyss

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Project Abyss, an underwater exploration game based around scavenging for supplies around the Mariana Trench. As you reach the edge of the starting area, you find a mysterious note pleading for your assistance. These notes give hints of a sinister plot that must be thwarted, but this mostly hangs in the background.

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The darker area are drilled out rock.

In each area, the player is tasked with completing certain objective before being allowed to proceed to the next. Collecting gold and XP is something they’re likely to do anyway, as the submarine needs a steady stream of supplies and repairs to keep functioning, and this is where most of the gameplay comes from: seeking out small chests in the environment. Some are buried inside rocks that can be drilled into, some are inside wrecks that you must eject from your submarine to reach, some drop from boss fights. Each environment has an area marked by a red backdrop, and entering this area will initiate the fight with the boss. It’s a pretty standard affair of “dodge shots, return fire” in each case, being neither exemplary or poor in execution. The money salvaged from wrecks can be used to upgrade the submarine along three different specialties, with Offense and Defense being exactly what you’d expect and Survival containing several Quality of Life upgrades.

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Some wildlife is dangerous, but very little actively attacks you.

Now, I must note that the controls are very unwieldy at first. The submarine doesn’t move quite like the ones I’ve handled before. A and D control the pivot of the engine that controls movement, with W controlling the amount of thrust is generates. There’s an under-mounted claw used for retrieving loot but it only works on objects directly below the ship, while the front claw can only grab items to re-position them and it will toss anything it releases downward which was often not what I’d intended. These little quirks made it difficult to maneuver at first, to the point where I played the tutorial through a good 3-4 times before I was confident in my skills. The other reason was being afraid that I’d wasted too much time and too many resources to recover, but this game is fairly lenient in terms of supplies once you grasp the basics. Essentially, save fuel tanks you’re not using for later, turn off lights and sonar if you don’t actively need them, and keep pushing forward. By the third area I had enough money to upgrade every system on the sub to its maximum and still had plenty to waste on consumable ammunition and maintenance. While I know some people were complaining about the resource management being too harsh, I quickly passed the point of ever worrying about running out of supplies. Those are the risks of making a resource management game, so I’m not overly upset about it.

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You can fuel up at the shops, but there’s enough tanks around to get by.

The setting is well done, with nooks and crannies in the environment holding extra supplies and money while providing a lovely view of the bottom of the sea. Also, I really appreciated the white text in the backgrounds denoting the names of areas and the little blurb of information about each new encountered life form. There is some serious wasted space in the open ocean, though, with a ship that serves as a shop at the surface, a dozen interesting fixtures on the sea floor, and little of interest in between. The player will often be tasked with hunting sea life that spawns around these empty areas, but the lack of any sort of map, as well as the size of the area to search and blandness of it, made that my least favorite task when trying to move forward. In terms of sound, there’s maybe 3 songs in the entire game, and much like the boss fights, they’re acceptable but little else, with sound effects sitting in that same category. That said, combined with good visuals and a satisfying core gameplay loop, they’re important components of a solid underwater experience.

If you’re interested in playing an underwater game, but want something a little more simplified than Subnautica or a little less intense than Depth, Project Abyss is worth a look. It’s normally 7 dollars on Steam but is selling at half off thanks to the Summer Sale, so now is an especially good time to check it out.

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Status Update + Nier Automata Remarks

Hello everyone! I’m not dead, you hush your faces. I have been busy though. Basically, helping friends in a bunch of different games that I’ve either already covered, or am not interested in reviewing, so I haven’t had much to report back with… And I’ll admit I nearly forgot this was a thing I do.

But I’m here now, and I’m letting you know I’ve got my next review target: Nier Automata. Short version: I’m really enjoying it right now, and I’m eager to finish it so I can cover it in more detail, as it’s one of those games that needs a couple runs or so to really see it all, but not in that boring arbitrary forced way like Infamous’ Moral Choices. Also might cover this very nice mod I found for Last Stand… Anyway, I’m back, and I’m working on new stuff!

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