Civilization V: Brave New World - banner

One of my biggest criticisms with the Gods & Kings expansion pack for Civilization V was that none of the features added really felt all that fresh. They were just redesigns of old features that were present in previous games. Granted, they were also the most highly-requested features by the player community, but as concepts, nothing really felt new or original.

The new expansion, Brave New World changes all of that by adding never-before-seen concepts to the game, and they add a great deal of flavor and dramatically change the way that the game unfolds.

Table of Contents

A few more of the missing concepts from Civilization IV are re-introduced with a new coat of paint in Civilization V: Brave New World: trade routes and a world resolution system. Both systems are implemented differently than in the previous game, and both are kind of hit-or-miss this time around

I have long been asking for the introduction of some kind of international trade route mechanic to be added to Civ V. Without such a feature, the vanilla game (and Gods & Kings) were missing one of the key incentives to maintain peaceful relations with your neighbors. Well now we have such a feature. In some ways, it's a step forward from Civ IV's completely non-interactive trade routes, but it's also a bit clumsy.

Civilization V: Brave new World - coastal city
Coastal cities might seem weaker due to the lack of gold on sea resources, but sea trade routes are more profitable and have longer range than ground routes, so coastal cities are still valuable.
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Amnesia: the Dark Descent game banner

Since Silent Hill Downpour failed miserably to scratch my survival horror itch, I’ve been looking for something else to fill that niche. I picked up Amnesia: the Dark Descent on a Steam sale for pocket change, and am very glad that I did.

Mainstream game companies don’t seem particularly interested in releasing good survival horror games. It’s a very niche market and difficult to find mass-market appeal. Modern horror games mostly ape off of Resident Evil 4 by being designed as an action shooter first, and survival horror game second (if at all). The genre is dominated by fast-paced "boo"-scare games like Dead Space and F.E.A.R., and gone are the days of the deliberately-slow-paced psychological games like Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame. The "survival" element has mostly fallen away since resource management is widely regarded as too tedious, and the "horror" is usually just represented with difficult combat.

But where mega-publishers and AAA developers have dropped the ball, the Indie market filled in the gap 3 years ago (Sept 2010) with Amnesia: the Dark Descent.

Amnesia: the Dark Descent - invisible water monster

Amnesia goes to the opposite extreme as Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. This game is not an action game.

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This review was originally published 10/17/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). In anticipation of the soon-to-be-released Brave New World expansion pack, the review has been republished here for archival purposes.

Civilization V

Civilization V cover art

For better or worse, I probably won’t be able to go back to Civilization IV after playing this.

I want to put my review into perspective before I begin. I’m not a day-one Civilization player. I didn’t start playing the franchise until Civilization III (after it had already been out for several years and both expansions had been released). Civilization IV, however, is probably my favorite video game ever -- or at least, my favorite PC game. The only games that I’ve probably logged more hours with than Civ IV are the Sims 2 (plus all the expansions) and the cumulative sum of all the Madden games I’ve played since 2000.

My hopes for Civilization V were sky-high from the moment the first details of gameplay were revealed about a year ago. This was despite my misgivings about the vendor and edition-exclusive gameplay content -- gameplay content should NEVER be exclusive to a vendor or edition of a game; anybody who buys a game should have the right to play any content that is released for the game (even if they have to pay extra for it) regardless of where they got it or when they bought! But now is not the place to discuss industry politics -- I’ll save that rant for another day.

Back on-topic: Civilization V promised a lot: competitive, tactical combat with a totally new rule-set; intelligent, interactive AI leaders; a simpler, streamlined interface; and simpler, more streamlined gameplay without sacrificing any of the series’ trademark depth. I’ve been spending almost every free moment playing this game for the two weeks since release. Does it measure up?

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This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Madden NFL 11

Madden NFL 11 cover

More than just a roster-update, but Gameflow is worthless and not worth the full price if you already own Madden 10.

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the annual release of EA’s powerhouse licensed NFL game, Madden. This year’s release promises to completely redefine the way people play football games by bringing the playbooks of hundreds of plays down to one pre-selected play based on a Gameplan. It’s the way NFL coaches really do it, and once you stop and think about it, the idea really is brilliant. But a good game needs more than just good ideas. The ideas need to work. And Gameplanning just simply doesn’t.

I’ve always played the Madden games for the strategy and coaching elements. So when I first heard that the game would now be picking my plays for me, I was skeptical and afraid. But after hearing the arguments, and thinking about it a little bit, the change actually did make sense and even had me excited.

The Madden developers were claiming that gamers would be able to Gameplan for their upcoming opponent by setting up which plays to run in any given situation -- exactly how real NFL coaches do it. The system also had the potential to make full-length, 15-minute-quarter games more playable and practical, since the combination of the Accelerated Clock and GameFlow means that all the time spent between plays is now simulated. A default-length game of 7-minute quarters takes half an hour. And a full-length 15-minute-quarter game can be completed in less than an hour. An in-game save would have also helped make full-length games more practical for those of us who still may not have a full hour to devote for one continuous game. But too bad, we didn’t get that.

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This review was originally published 05/15/2011 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Portal 2

Portal 2 cover art

Yes GladOS, we brought you back to life because we really do love to test!

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this game. I love the first Portal, as it was about as close to "perfect" as any game has ever come, but I couldn’t help but fear that Valve might turn this into a franchise, and in doing so, some of the allure of the game would be lost. But the game was released, and it is a triumph. Mostly.

Apparently, a very long time has passed since the first game. The Enrichment Center is very different. Under the care of the watchful AI, Wheatley, the entire facility has been slowly falling apart. The degrading, decrepit test chambers make for much more interesting visuals than the sterile, white and gray chambers of the first game. They are now overgrown with weeds and vines, panels are falling off the walls, broken glass litters the floors, and fallen and bent metal beams and girders obstruct some of your paths. It’s just too bad that with all the debris and vegetation littering the environment, that none of it is interactive. It slightly breaks the immersion when you walk through dangling leaves and they don’t react to your passing at all.

There is a lot of visual variety in this game. You travel through the dilapidated chambers of the early game until the facility begins to rebuild itself. You watch it piece itself back together. Then you get to travel through the deepest guts of Aperture Science. And finally, you come back to see the test chambers tear themselves apart again

Portal 2 - co-op characters

The co-op puzzles are fun, but not terribly replayable.
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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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