Anomaly: Warzone Earth has a typical three word, nonsensical video game title. It is also not a port from Android to PC, but I thought it was because I played it on my phone first and it seemed a bit to casual for a PC title. That’s life on Earth for you – a wild rollercoaster ride of confusing emotions paired with wrong assumptions. It was only a question of time until aliens would try to put an end to this madness and we would fight back by leading a small convoy of military vehicles through a maze spiked with armed towers, that try to defend something.
Reverse tower defense games usually have the same problems as non-reverse tower defense games – they get repetitive fast. Anomaly: Something Earth is no exception, but it tries really hard. The game has some things going for it: the graphics are better than expected (but I expected an Android port) and the game interface feels really slick. No complaints on the controls. It also tries to mix up the old formula by letting you chose the order of your upgradeable convoy vehicles and the route to your target, which you can, and often have to, change while on a mission. The insanely fast man you are playing gets a lot of special powers. It’s not front loaded, but has a progression of skills, units and enemies. It even tries to tell a story, which is very uninteresting and was probably written by someone who was impressed by Anno 2070‘s storytelling abilities. In the end all those nice little details can’t hide that it’s a (reverse) tower defense game – and they still get repetitive fast.
If you like playing on your phone, because you are a millennial or ashamed of playing real games, it’s a nice enough distraction, but on PC it’s not enough to make me want to come back to it.
Info: Anomaly: Warzone Earth was developed by 11 bit studios and released in 2011. Get it on Steam if you don’t own a phone.
No five minutes into the game I am told to kill someone. What’s this? Another Alpha Protocol? Sadly no, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a survival horror game, where you do the dying (if you decide to walk up to and hug the monster). It’s 1839, you’re Daniel and you awake in the East Prussian Castle of Brennenburg and, surprise, you memory is gone. You try to scrape it back together as you explore the badly lit castle, always making sure to pack enough oil and tinder so that you may not succumb to the darkness, which slowly drives you insane. Apart from East Prussia not being New England, it all feels very Lovecraftian, which is a good thing. It’s another of those games where, if it wasn’t me playing them, the person playing it might actually have great fun doing so. It still looks good (enough), it’s got a creepy, classic horror atmosphere and good sound design and it doesn’t annoy you with over-complex puzzles. It still does annoy you with puzzles though, that seem to be a notch above insulting Alan Wake-‘There are three buttons, please use the ones that got a green light above them’-level. For me, while not being nearly as exhausting as being hunted by a fantastic looking Alien, it’s just not fun hiding behind my oil lamp and running away from dark shadows. Over the years I’ve brought so much death and destruction to my virtual enemies, that now, being old and tired, I am too set in my ways to enjoy experiencing the other end of the stick. I wonder wether its sequel (the next game in line) might change my mind, and why the first steps of the mountain seem to be predominantly made from horror games.
Info: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, was developed by Frictional Games and released in 2010. You can get your uplifting horror adventure on Steam.
Alien Isolation is like owning a big, black cat, that hates you
It’s beautiful and you love it, but as much as you want to, you can’t keep it because it always tries to trip you at the top of the stairs.
Alien Isolation is probably the best looking game I have played so far. I am a fan of the original Alien movies (yes even the fourth one – shut up!) and no game in the Alien universe came even remotely close to capturing the look and feel of the movies (in this case, especially the first movie) so perfectly. That is why it’s utterly frustrating for me that Alien isolation is a survival horror stealth game – even though it’s a fitting choice. Again it’s not a genre I am particularly fond of (but I like to keep an open mind), especially if it’s so well done as in Alien Isolation. The intentionally cheap looking droids for example are a horrifying trip through the uncanny valley for me. Being spotted by one of them and starting to run straight into the arms of another one is impressively unpleasant. The sound design is great and knowing by the rumbling of the air ducts that a big, terrifying creature will probably turn up around the next corner, or from the ceiling or from a vent behind me, is exciting up to downright exhausting.
If it wasn’t so good, I could enjoy it more
The game is so well done it had me at the edge of my seat most of the time I played it. It’s just that I really don’t enjoy feeling helpless and hunted all the time. I like games to provide me with the means to live out my basic power fantasies – stealth and horror games usually can’t provide this. Yes, there are ways to fight back, but most of the time firing a gun got me into more trouble than running away screaming or just sitting in a locker, being grateful that the black monster does not seem to have a functioning nose.
It’s not just playing monster bait that bothers me, but I find that waiting in a locker, or a dark corner, or a vent, is rather boring. Especially in a game where you die often and that doesn’t allow you to save anywhere. I understand that it’s a design choice to only be able to save at certain points, because it adds a lot to the tension, but for a player like me it becomes frustrating fast. I don’t enjoy finding the perfect route to get unseen through that corridor. I want to know what happens next. Stop killing me all the time and let me enjoy my space adventure!
Alien Isolation is a great game if you are into survival horror, and it’s a masterpiece when it comes to set-design and atmosphere. Some time in the future, when I’m all grown up, I’ll give it another try.
I remember reading about the first Alien Breed game in a (printed – on paper) PC-gaming-magazine – and by ‘first’ I do not mean the direct predecessor to the game, that I will be talking about shortly, but the original game released for PC in 1993. The screenshots promised a dark alien top-down-shooter full of violent action and suspense, which made it frustrating that it took me some time to get a copy of the game through the usual schoolyard connections. When I was finally able to install and launch the game on my trusty 386 (21 MHz, 2MB RAM) excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. It wasn’t what I had hoped for. The graphics and gameplay became bland and repetitive fast.
I didn’t play the first entry in the remake series, ‘Alien Breed: Evolution’, but since the first two games where released suspiciously close to each other in the same year (2010) I’m guessing the experience won’t differ that much. This is certainly the case with Alien Breed 2 and 3, which is why I decided to put them into one article. Team17 managed to transfer the series very well in the spirit of the originals. After a really nice comic intro, I quickly felt unimpressed again. The graphics are nothing to get excited about. They’re functional, which would be okay for me if they didn’t use the same mud-color palette all the way through. It all feels too familiar. Abandoned on an large space ship infested with (standard, run of the mill) aliens and some rouge AI talking too much. Which is about all the narrative we get. I felt myself reminded of Dead Space most of the time. ‘Go there to repair the bridge/reactor/door/cart that brings you to the bridge/reactor/door/cart, that you went out to repair in the first place’ – just less exciting, uglier and without the ultra violence. I realize that this is an unfair comparison because Alien Breed clearly didn’t set out to be another dead space and it’s certainly not a AAA production, but that’s what you get for being so unoriginal and having no depth at all.
I guess apart from the bland setting it’s an okay, but very superficial top-down shooter, which might keep you entertained for a short while. It probably works best as a coop experience. I probably won’t try to confirm that and instead play ‘Dead Space’ or ‘System Shock’, or even the also not very good, but still better game ‘Space Siege’. At ten Euros per game they are fairly priced, but if you buy all three entries you might feel that you bought the same game thrice.
Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers is an air combat arcade game with an unfortunate name. It was released in 2012 by Games Farm and is part of a series of other Air Conflict games with less silly names.
As the name suggests, it’s set in the pacific, in World War II, and you either destroy Japanese or US ships and airplanes. You do this via ultra simplistic controls (‘hold ‘Y’ to take off carrier’), which don’t get in the way of the arcade appeal. If you want to, you can switch to ‘simulation’ controls, which will then get in the way of the arcade appeal. If you’re at it: switch to the beautiful cockpit view, that takes away two thirds of your (preferably TV-) screen and you are set for disappointment. This goes well with the boring multi stage battles, which make up the game’s campaign.
But if you take the game for what it is – a simple arcade game – you can actually have fun with it for some short intervals. It even looks pretty if you stay far enough away from the ground and any naval vessel. Sometimes the graphics glitched on me, but it remained playable.
It’s not the game I asked for, after enduring some Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Especially since it lacks the ridiculous and cinematic story telling, but gameplay wise it’s a little bit more up my alley. I might return to this if I remember it at the right five minutes of boredom.
Remember my last post? The one about Age of Empires II – HD Edition, where I told you, that right now I’m not in a situation where I want to spend hours upon hours in strategy games, because of life? A life I mainly want to spend playing hours upon hours of CRPGs I already put hours upon hours into when I was a teenager? Well, lucky me – next entry is ‘AI Wars: Fleet Command’ by Arcen Games, released in 2009. A deep, ultra complex, hardcore space RTS with a lot of text, and even more text. If a game offers you three different ways to execute a command in the first tutorial, you should be wary. After 45 minutes I was still stuck in the tutorials, and after I understood, that this is mainly a co-op endeavor, which wants to be played with other humans (boo!) I stopped trying to get into it. Which is a shame, because it felt like there’s a really good game hidden beneath all the samey looking buttons, boring menus and ‘practical’ graphics. This goes straight on the ‘when I am a pensioner’-pile.
Ah, the mighty ‘Age of Empires II’ by Ensemble Studios. It’s a classic Real Time Strategy Game – resource gathering, base building, killing of all enemies on the map – with a bit of ‘Civilization’-like progression on top. I bought this purely for nostalgic reasons. As a teenager I probably put hundreds of hours into this game (without ever getting any good at it) back in 1999, as I had done with its predecessor two years before. The HD Edition, by Hidden Path Entertainment, makes it run smoothly on newer systems and seems to add a lot of content, which is a shame because I really don’t feel like putting time into it. I used to really like the more realistic look of AoE2, compared to its competitors of the time, but the game certainly aged worse than I did. It’s not just the looks though – it just feels old. There’s still a certain charm to it, but it doesn’t manage to recreate the same magic for me as, e.g. a ‘Baldur’s Gate’ manages to do again and again. It’s a clear candidate for the ‘I will come back to this, should I ever get unemployed and/or alienate my social environment enough’-pile.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon – Enhanced Edition was originally released in 2011 for consoles and it only took Namco two years to port it to PC. I already played the game for a short while after I bought it – it happens – and only remember being unimpressed and slightly disappointed. I now relived those emotions. The game looks like a really (really!) stupid action movie from the 80s or early 90s, which I regard as a thing of beauty, but it just doesn’t deliver. There’s not even a volley ball scene with pilots all oiled up in sunscreen.
The tutorial is fun. You shoot rockets at planes and the results are beautiful, but as soon as you realize, that you have to engage half the enemies in ‘dog fight mode’, it becomes clear how extremely dumbed down the controls are. It’s a really basic arcade game. This comes even more apparent in the second mission, which lets you play as a door gunner of a helicopter just pointing the mouse at everything that moves.
Speaking of controls – why is this game easier to play with a keyboard than with a controller? Who cares! It got repetitive with Mission 3 and I consider this ‘done’. Is there something similar out their, that feels less like an arcade game and takes a more realistic approach, without being a hardcore simulation? That’s what I want.
The semi-sequel ‘AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome’ (released in 2011) to the game ‘AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity’ (2009) made by Dejobaan Games is a falling simulator, or a gimmick blown up into a whole game, or a not-so-funny-joke-to-begin-with told a thousand times in slight variations. It’s base jumping with slightly awkward controls into a really awkward mid 90s color palette. It’s ugly. It’s not as funny as it thinks it is. It’s fun for a few jumps, but it gets repetitive fast. A lot of people seem to like it anyway. I am glad my OCD does not apply to score attacks. I feel like washing my eyes.
The 11th Hour was actually the first game on my list, but I didn’t want to start off with a 20+ year old fmv game, which is also a sequel. You can read how well that turned out. Playing this directly after the 7th Guest I was relieved to see that the graphics had much improved by 1995. The pre-rendered sequences were much smoother, and more importantly, much faster. The videos like the charming 90s-tv-schlock looking intro movie were also less painful to watch. The other thing that seems to have changed is that the difficulty of the puzzles has been noticeably increased. It all takes place in the same old mansion, and Old Man Stauf seems to have become even more MEAN! over the years. He mocks me at every turn (because I’m shit at his puzzles).
If you’re into puzzle games, I think the game would still be worth playing today. I’m not into puzzle games, and I’m sick of being mocked.