In Games Worth Playing I take a look at noteworthy games released each month. This feature focuses on new games that are worth playing, but also contains an obligatory list of highly anticipated games that may not necessarily be worth playing.
I try to play a lot of the games I mention, but some will invariably escape my attention and be featured on the basis of reviews and player comments. These games will be accompanied by a no hands-on experience notice.
September was absolutely packed with interesting games despite only a couple of high profile releases. Civilization V rightfully takes the throne as expected with its excellent new take on the franchises’ classic strategic world domination gameplay, but R.U.S.E. was a truly disappointing experiment in enhancing RTS gameplay that failed to make its basics fun. Amnesia and Recettear proved to be very pleasant surprises with quite a lot of value at very little cost, but there are also numerous other worthwhile games to mention, so be sure to read about the lot below.
My apologies for the overly late feature, but I intend to get the October version up much sooner, in a matter of days in fact.
Game of the Month
Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Civilization V is a strategy game that kicks you off with a settler and some warriors which become the foundations for your attempt at turning your own civilization into the dominant force on the planet throughout the ages. That goal can be accomplished through diplomatic, scientific, cultural or military means, but given the overly aggressive AI the latter tends to be much easier to achieve and frequently even unavoidable.
This 4X strategy game plays out not in an epic singleplayer campaign, but with customizable skirmish matches against the AI or other players. These can be configured to your liking, from difficulty level to the number of civilizations in play and the map that you get to play on. Add in extensive mod support with an in-game mod system and you’ve got a game that will stay fun, fresh and interesting for hundreds of hours.
Civilization V is particularly good if you’re new to the franchise, because it’s so much more accessible than its predecessors. This is largely due to a massively improved interface that is very user friendly and nowhere near as cluttered as the one in Civ IV, but the excellent advisers and tips also help guide newcomers along to some early victories. Some depth has been lost in the process, particularly in terms of government functionality and the removal of the religion system, but these can easily be overlooked in the face of some interesting innovations.
The most obvious departure from previous Civ games comes in the way maps are structured: they’re now made up of hexagonal tiles rather than square ones. This makes for a big change in how units move, but it also allowed designers to create much better looking maps that aren’t nearly as rigid as those seen in Civ IV. It also paved the way for some major improvement to the way combat works, which now no longer allows for stacking units on single tiles and actually involves ranged units. Similarly, cities now automatically defend themselves and can only garrison one unit. They also require some serious assaults and siege equipment to take out. A new city state mechanic has also been implemented, which introduces neutral parties on the map that can really help out the major players but don’t compete for victory.
There are a few less desirable aspects to the game, most notably the lack of a proper manual save function in multiplayer, which can now only be done through an obscure keyboard command. With games that takes hours, if not days, you tend to want to take a break every now and then. Multiplayer also suffers from a lack of animations, which can make it difficult to tell exactly which unit attacked your units, especially as technology advances. The AI also leaves something to be desired in terms of difficulty and their weird diplomatic demands, but that’s really just a recurring flaw in the entire franchise.
The new accessibility also comes at the cost of some depth that was introduced in Civ IV. Civilization V does away with corporations, espionage, pollution, religion and even a few diplomacy options. But it never seems to lack depth in comparison to its immediate predecessor, because Civ V also introduces some great new gameplay elements like the neutral city states and strategic combat. It’s the first Civ game with engaging combat, which it accomplishes handily by introducing ranged units, formation and terrain bonuses, defensible cities and – most importantly – removing unit stacking on tiles.
Civilization V can’t rightfully be called the best game in the franchise, but it does so much right that fans of the series can’t afford to miss it, while newcomers would be well advised to start out with this one. Civilization V is the most immediately enjoyable and accessible Civ game yet.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent - no hands-on experience (yet)
Scary movies tend to be filled with dialogue and suggestive scenes rather than bloodshed and gore, but the same cannot be said for scary games. Not so with Amnesia, which is a first person survival horror game that sees you running, hiding and screaming from unseen horrors with no means to fight back whatsoever. It’s spooky, chilling, atmospheric and the best and scariest survival horror game in a long while despite occasionally spotty voice acting and so-so puzzles.
If you’re a fan of horror games then this game should already be in your collection, but if you want to know what you’re getting into first then I suggest you try the demo.
A side-scrolling 3D platform game with cell shaded graphics and a catgirl with pink hair doesn’t exactly sound like an exceptionally good time, but it is. The story is a bit strained as intergalactic bounty hunter Kit Ballard loses her ship to her competition and stumbles into bigger and badder things along the way, but that really falls away before the excellent fast-paced platforming gameplay that flows well between puzzling, fighting and jumping segments.
There’s quite a bit of variety to Kit’s moves, enemies and the environments. At 19 levels long and with some of those featuring a mountable moa-like creature instead of catgirl Kit, that’s quite a bit of bang for your (10,- EUR) buck. Also check out my demo impressions over here.
Darksiders – no hands-on experience on PC. Played Xbox 360 version.
Darksiders is an action adventure game similar to the Devil May Cry games on PC. It was already available on consoles previously, where it was met with largely positive reviews. This PC version doesn’t differ much from the console variant, which makes it an excellent action game for fans of the genre, but not worth your while if you already own a console version.
In Darksiders you play as Horseman War, who goes rogue when Apocalypse is started a wee bit ahead of time on Earth. So you take on Heaven and Hell to set things right in a story that’s never really quite believable, but doesn’t quite suck either. This extends to the actual game, which isn’t exactly as spectacular as a Dante’s Inferno or God of War, but comes close enough and offers some nice exploration and puzzle mechanics that those games lack.
You should look into this game if you like action-packed gameplay with combo moves and epic bosses. The graphics aren’t really up-to-par with the latest games, especially on PC, and the default key layout can be a bit wonky at times, but it offers support for game pads and is certainly good for a fair few hours of fun.
King’s Bounty: Crossworlds
Crossworlds is a strange sort of stand-alone expansion that doesn’t just introduce two new mini campaigns, but also offers up an enhanced version of King’s Bounty: Armored Princess’ campaign. This makes it an excellent introduction to the franchise and great value if you don’t own Armored Princess already, but it doesn’t add too much for those who’ve already played the previous King’s Bounty turn-based strategy / role-playing games.
In this game you assume the role of Princess Amelia and explore a crazy fantasy world in a fashion that’s very similar to the Heroes of Might & Magic games. On the overmap there’s just you and your pet dragon, but combat involves the armies under your heroes’ command on a smaller hexagonal map, where you get to issue orders and fire off magical abilities. It differs from the HoMM franchise by adding a humorous tone to just about every aspect of the game and generally offering better and more expansive gameplay in all regards. It even feature more varied environments with some truly epic boss encounters in some very crazy places.
If you’ve never played a King’s Bounty game before, then this is really where you want to start and there’s a great chance that you’ll absolutely love it. But if you already own Armored Princess, then its only real selling point becomes two mini-campaigns and a game editor. The mods that might come out of that could be worth it, but it’ll take some time before anything truly interesting comes out of that.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
A very interesting departure from the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light is an isometric co-op platformer with intense combat. It has fancy graphics and the grand level design that fans are used to from the Tomb Raider series, but everything is viewed from top-down and it’s more fast-paced, with more arcade combat and better platforming elements. Totec joins Lara in this quest and is the other playable character in co-op, which is clearly what this game was designed for as many levels require heavy cooperation to complete and aren’t quite as intense in singleplayer.
It’s unfortunate then that co-op is currently limited to splitscreen only, with online co-op scheduled to unlock ‘sometime in the future’. It’s a great game when played with a friend, but in singleplayer it lacks some of that charm and sense of cooperation, which is why it may be best to wait for online co-op to be unlocked before moving to purchase this game, despite its quality.
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Recettear is a strange twist on Japanese RPGs that involves a girl who opens up her own item shop in order to get out of debt. It’s presented with fairly mediocre 3D graphics seen from a top-down perspective, but the cute chibi anime style and excellent gameplay more than make up for this.
You basically run an item shop and set prices for the items that you sell, while also trying to obtain better items, improve your shop and save enough money to pay off the loan sharks. This also includes an interesting way to gain items: hiring adventurers to run dungeons with in a hack & slash RPG game, with loot dropped resulting in new items to sell! These adventurers can also be decked out in your own items to enhance their survivability, which they’ll certainly need as the game progresses.
It may all sound a bit like a small indie game, but Recettear is actually surprisingly large with a lot of depth to it. The shop can be expanded in many ways and there’s a good few dozen hours of fun to be had with the campaign alone and there are other game modes to explore as well, such as a Survival Mode where you eventually simply can’t afford to pay off the loan sharks anymore or an Endless Mode that … never ends. The randomized dungeons and numerous different adventurers also ensure that the fairly basic dungeon running doesn’t get boring too quickly.
All in all, this is a surprisingly fun game and any hack & slash RPG fan should at least give the demo (available on Steam) a go. I’ll be surprised if you don’t move to buy the full version afterward.
Highly Anticipated Games
Dead Rising 2 – no hands-on experience
An over-the-top zombie killing game with baseball bats, chainsaws, electrocutions and dozens of other ways to get rid of the thousands of undead roaming about your neighborhood. It features a leveling system, co-op and competitive multiplayer and mostly just a lot of zombies that need killing. It doesn’t have much in the way of a story and the voice acting is mediocre at best, but it’s a game about killing zombies in inventive ways, not getting involved with an epic and engaging tale spanning dozens of cutscenes.
It’s effectively a game that you’ll either love or hate. Fans of the Postal games will probably want to give this a go, but those looking for a bit more substance or well implemented multiplayer should look to a Left 4 Dead, Killing Floor, Alien Swarm or some other zombie game.
R.U.S.E. offers an interesting new take on the real-time strategy genre with its introduction of ruses to the basic RTS gameplay elements of mining, building and killing. It’s an attempt at making a more realistic warfare game that incorporates real-life information warfare into its gameplay, but effectively boils down to calling in fake strikes and trying to see through your opponent’s fake buildings. It’s a neat twist, but not one that stays interesting for too long nor does it really touch the basic gameplay of the genre.
The game ships with a lackluster singleplayer campaign set in World War 2 and a well designed multiplayer component complete with matchmaking, rankings and player leveling. It’s unfortunate that the actual gameplay proved to be dreadfully dull, with large unit variety but little variety in effectiveness and ruses that are predictably either completely useless or indispensable in multiplayer matches. The board game presentation with limited unit numbers and mediocre graphics certainly don’t help its case either.
It’s hard to recommend grabbing this game in the face of recent releases like StarCraft 2 and Civilization V which offer much better experiences in both single- and multiplayer. It’s disappointingly standard for an innovative strategy title and simply lacks the wondrous engaging qualities of other innovative strategy games like Battle Realms, Ground Control, Homeworld, Sacrifice or World in Conflict. I’d been looking forward to trying it out, but R.U.S.E. only managed to disappoint.