Depraved - title

Well, the NFL season has been as good as over for us Bears fans since November, which means my interest in this year's slate of football video games is waning. That means it's time once again to dive into my back catalog of Steam games. This time, I decided to boot up Depraved, a wild west city-builder that was sitting on my wishlist for years (back when it was still in early access), and which I bought during a sale earlier this summer.

Having really enjoyed Banished many years ago, I've had my eye on other historic city builders like Depraved, Foundation, Builders of Egypt, Atomic Society, and others. Depraved is probably the closest thing to Banished that I'm likely to find. It's basically just Banished with a wild west theme instead of a medieval theme.

Depraved shares a lot in common with Banished [RIGHT].

Depraved shares a lot in common with Banished. Both games are about small, relatively isolated communities of pioneers trying to get by in a harsh, unrelenting environment. Both require stocking up food, firewood, and warm clothing in time for cold winters. And both use depleting resource reserves to force players to expand out further into the map.

Where Depraved differs from Banished is that Depraved has a much greater focus on trade. Unlike in Banished (which has the player constructing one mega-settlement), Depraved keeps settlements relatively small, but allows the player to create additional satellite towns on the map, which can each be specialized for the exploitation of specific resources or the production of specific goods. Then all those small towns can trade raw resources and manufactured goods with each other. There's also small Native American tribes that the player can trade (or war) with, as well as the occasional bandit camp popping up to harass your population and rob your bank.

The other big difference is that Banished is a much better and more polished game.

How does any of this work?

My experience with Depraved suffered greatly from the lack of a robust and informative tutorial. If I recall correctly, Banished's tutorial takes the player through a guided scenario through creating a small settlement and surviving the first winter. There's still a lot of trial-and-error in Banished, but the tutorial does a good job of covering all the basics.

Depraved, on the other hand, gave me four pop up widgets explaining the basic mechanics in text, then just let me loose on the map. There's no playable tutorial at all, and additional tutorial pop-ups are few, far between, and less informative than I would like them to be. This lead to me just sort of winging-it for my first settlement, then restarting after I had self-taught myself the basics.

This is your idea of a tutorial?!

Don't get me wrong. Depraved isn't unplayably awful. It just isn't very good at explaining itself and requires a lot of tedious micro-management. If you're fine with that, then this game will be enjoyable enough. In fact, the first few hours are thoroughly enjoyable. Depraved starts off very small and simple, with just a single settlement, a dozen or so pioneers, and a few buildings. Getting the basics of hunting for food and chopping down trees for lumber is simple enough that the player can learn on the fly. It doesn't require extensive tutorials in these early hours.

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Since Canuck Play shuttered its studio, canceled Maximum Football 21, and sold the Maximum Football IP to Modus Games, the other major simulation indie title, Axis Football, found itself without any major competition in 2021. There are other indie football games on the market, such as Sunday Rivals, but that is a more arcade-style game and isn't a direct competitor to Axis. I own the Steam version, but haven't played much of it yet. The only other real competition for Axis Football is the indie game Legend Bowl.

I've received several requests to play Legend Bowl and create content for it, including a request by the game's creator, himself. Don't worry King Javo, I bought Legend bowl during the Steam Fall Sale, and will be playing it more this holiday season.

In the meantime, Axis Football has been the only indie football game that I've played this year. So I cannot do my usual thing of comparing Axis to Maximum because there isn't a Maximum Football to compare Axis to. I could do a direct comparison between Axis Football 21 and Madden 22's supposedly-upgraded Franchise Mode, but I'm hesitant to directly compare any low-budget indie product to a billion-dollar licensed game from a major publisher. Maybe I'll revisit that topic later, if I get a lot of demand for it. In the meantime, if you're interested in my thoughts on Madden 22's supposedly-improved Franchise Mode, you can check out my video on that topic, or my full review.

So instead of comparing Axis Football to its direct competition, I've decided that I will instead focus on sharing my hopes and expectations for where the game goes from here. With EA releasing its college football game in 2023, and 2k presumably releasing its "non-simulation" game in 2022, Axis Football needs to take big strides in the next year or two in order to remain relevant and competitive.

See the full wishlists on YouTube!

This wishlist was originally created as a series video essays, which I encourage you to watch. I'm not going to replicate the entire transcript here, but will instead just summarize the content of the videos. I'm also going to re-arrange this written list a little bit so that each item is in the most appropriate category. If you want more discussion, details, and examples, please watch the linked wishlist videos.

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Imagine Earth - title

I've been seeing more and more games putting an emphasis on mechanics oriented around environmentalism and sustainability. Games in genres that typically encourage unchecked exploitation of resources are now becoming more and more about the sustainable use of resources. It makes sense. Climate change is becoming more and more of a visible problem that affects our lives in tangible ways. Milliennial game developers are also searching for ways to cope with the fact that our generation and the next will be stuck paying the consequences of the short-sightedness of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Many members of those earlier generations are still, unfortunately in positions of political and corporate power, and make up a large voting block, and are continuing to make selfish, short-sighted decisions that will only make matters worse for the younger generations. It makes sense that younger game developers would be baking those anxieties into the games that they make.

Ecologically-focused colony-building

Imagine Earth is the type of city-builder / strategy sim that has typically been about conspicuous consumption, but it now wants the player to consume more responsibly. Not only does this game expect the player to industrialize the surface of entire planets at the behest of a corporation, it also asks the player to do that with an eye towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and other pollution. Developing a sustainable economy doesn't only mean cutting back on emissions from power plants, industrial activity, and so forth. It also requires restoring or expanding natural habitats by planting forests, growing corals, and so forth.

Imagine Earth prioritizes limiting greenhouse emissions and pollution.

Either the player has to plan the growth of your colonies in a sustainable fashion and prevent emissions and pollution from ever getting out of hand to begin with, or you have to spend the back half of each mission doing damage control.

Unfortunately, just like in real-life, any individual person or corporation or government's environmental efforts aren't necessarily sufficient to curtail the effects of climate change. There are often other corporations or settlements on these planets which don't have the same noble ecological goals, and who will happily ruin things for everybody else. They are there to make a quick buck by exploiting as much of the resources as possible, with no plans for sustained long term habitation -- the other people living on the planet be damned. But the corporation we work for in Imagine Earth does plan on prepping these planets for long-term colonization, so we have to pick up those other corporations' messes. Sometimes through violence, coercion, or sabotage, but usually through a hostile takeover of majority stake.

Not all corporations are concerned with long-term colonization that requires a stable environment.
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Axis Football 21 - title

Axis Football is still a tough game to review. It's a very playable game that I support and recommend, but without Maximum Football to make Axis look better by comparison, it's a lot harder to overlook Axis' flaws, limitations, and lack of large-scale improvement. There's forward progress and noticeable changes, but still so many long-standing issues. The slow rate of progress is much more forgiveable than Madden, however, because the developers at Axis Games do not have access to hundreds of programmers and animators, or billions of dollars in cash. Progress is slow and steady, and that's pretty much all we can ask for given the company's limited resources.

If you're looking for a remarkably different game, then you'll be disappointed. Axis 21 feels largely identical to Axis 20, which felt largely identical to Axis 19 If you like Axis Football and are OK spending $30 to play more of it, then you'll get your money's worth.

Axis Football 2021 still looks and feels very similar to previous years.

Customization is the focus in 2021

The primary focus of development for Axis 21 seems to have been in its customization options. Previous iterations offered only limited options for customizing teams and uniforms, but Axis 21 has a much more extensive customization suite. Team uniforms and logos can be edited, and whole new uniforms can be created. Team playbooks and play-calling tendencies can be edited. Even the field is customizable.

About the only things that are missing from this customization suite are the ability to create or modify stadiums, and a playbook editor. Maybe we'll see those next year.

The customization suite is much more extensive this year.

This more advanced customization suite should hopefully draw in some of the crowd that got left in the dust when Maximum Football was canceled. If you're a fan of customizing teams and uniforms, and you haven't played Axis Football before, then 2021 might be the year to hop on the Axis Football bandwagon.

Another nice inclusion in this year's customization suite is the ability to update team rosters, which means I could modify my roster to match my roster from several seasons into Axis 20's Franchise Mode, instead of having to start over with the same initial roster that I've been using since 2018. It's a lot of work though to modify every player on my team (let alone the entire league), and I opted instead to just randomize my roster and go from there. Randomizing the roster is, I think, also a new feature in this year's game. I wish Axis would include the ability to import last year's Franchise rosters so that I can have a sense of continuity and progress between releases, without all the tedious busy-work on my end. Being able to import team customizations from year-to-year would also help reduce the prep work required by the user, and allow us to get right into enjoying the game.

Using the roster editor, I can re-create my team from last year, but it's a lot of busy-work.
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12 Minutes - title

It may have taken almost 20 years after Majora's Mask, but it looks like time loop games have suddenly become an emerging fad. Not that it's a bad thing, per se. Outer Wilds has, after all, become one of my favorite games ever. Twelve Minutes is much more scaled-down and far less ambitious than Outer Wilds; it takes place entirely within a small, one-bedroom apartment, and the individual loops average 5-10 minutes instead of the 22-minute loops of Outer Wilds.

12 Minutes has a high-degree of responsiveness to player actions.

12 Minutes is also a much more straight-forward point-and-click puzzle-adventure game in a vein much more reminiscent of classic Lucasarts games. There's only a handful of interactive objects in the apartment, and each one has a variety of different uses. In this way, 12 Minutes rather explicitly telegraphs the solutions to puzzles, since there's only a handful of things that the player can even try. The options available to the player lead the player down the path to progress, and if you ever get stumped, idle conversation will often provide clues as to what you could maybe try next.

Although the seams in the facade do become evident if the player gets stuck repeating a particular loop too many times, I did find myself impressed by just how naturally reactive 12 Minutes is to player interference. The wife and cop will react believably to many things that the player might do, including some off-the-wall things. The wife might comment on weird or rude behavior by me, or the entire time loop may go in a completely unexpected direction because I chose to do something slightly different. It's a surprisingly wide and robust possibility space.

The short duration of time loops, and the relatively small amount of intractable objects really encourages lots of player experimentation. Screwing up any given loop doesn't lose a whole lot of progress, so there's very little penalty for trying some seemingly-crazy solution on a whim, and sometimes, it will even reward the player with some new piece of information that you didn't have before, or a clue to how you might proceed.

12 Minutes provides lots of subtle clues for ways to proceed.

12 Minutes is also quite good about providing clues that are subtle enough to not be obvious spoilers of what to do next, but which might still make you facepalm in retrospect "of course that's what I should have done!" What makes these clues work without feeling like they solve the game for you is that there is often multiple ways to go about testing them. The wife making an off-hand comment about needing to clean the closet is, in retrospect, an obvious clue that the player should check the closet. There is a useful object in there, but its usefulness isn't necessarily immediately obvious. What might also not be immediately obvious is that there's another way that the closet is immediately useful, it just has nothing to do with the object you found there.

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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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