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Now Playing: Halo 4

calenda man 11-5 halo 4 shot 1

In the interests of picking up the pace a little, I thought that when I didn’t have a proper feature to give you, I might start posting brief thoughts on games I’d been playing that week instead. Not a proper review, you understand, just a quick sketch. First up to the plate is the fourth iteration in the Halo series, appropriately known as Halo 4.

There’s an old adage that runs “if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it”, which I presume is emblazoned in thirty-foot high fiery letters on the wall of the Halo development office. Because my initial impression of Halo 4 is how very much like the original Halo it is.

You’re still limited to two weapons and some grenades, from a roster that’s barely changed, dropped by enemies that have barely changed, and occasionally you’ll come across some vehicle sections that have barely changed. As the saying goes, it ‘aint broke, so it’s still fun to charge around on Warthogs gunning down the Covenant and new Promethean enemies, but after three previous entries it’s a lot less fun that it used to be.

Of course as a late-cycle Xbox 360 game it looks amazing compared to its predecessors, and many of the scenes were clearly designed to wow the player. And there are a few new additions – a welcome raft of abilities for your armour and a less welcome portrayal of Cortana as some sort of super-curvy cyber-babe. I’ll be playing it a while yet. But if Microsoft are still seeing Halo exclusives  as a prime selling point for the Xbone, they really ought to do something about shaking up the rapidly ossifying gameplay.

Cracked LCD- Euphoria in Review

euphoria

A common complaint about worker placement games is that they don’t really have much to say in terms of expressing a theme or storyline. Euphoria, a new title from Stonemeier Games, is aiming to bring a little more narrative and a sense of world-building to the genre and by jingo, it mostly succeeds at contextualizing fairly standard production and conversion mechanics into a unique setting. The game is sub-titled “build a better dystopia”, and that is just a teaser as to the surprisingly effective science fiction story this game attempts to tell. This may be the first worker placement game where the worker pieces actually carry subtextual meaning. Continue Reading…

Brakketology Goes Ball’n, Gets Soaked

NBA 2k14 - VC

If you’re a JtS listener (and you should be, because we’re still awesome), you know I finally unpacked my, uh, kids’ Xbox One over the holidays. For scientific purposes, I also picked up NBA 2k14. The things I do for science.

Can I just say, right out, that for all the flack we give to EA (wholly deserved) for how ostentatiously they over-monetize their middling products, and treat their customers like drones who should just shut up an pay already, there’s not nearly enough disgust thrown 2k’s way? They’re awful. And consistently so. It’s not just an NBA 2k thing, although 2k14 is by far the most blatant, irritating, and just plain icky swindle so far. But even quality games like Civilization 5 ($5 civilizations and map packs anyone?) and XCOM ($5 to choose armor color?) are not immune.

As a gamer, I’ve lived with it because who really caress about an extra civ here and there? And $30 may suck for an expansion, but the expansions for both Civ and XCOM were extremely good. NBA 2k14, though? Yeah, Brave New World, not so much.

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Robinson Crusoe Review

crusoe-1

Mostly, I’m not a big fan of co-operative games. Games suffer terribly without the unpredictability and skill of human opposition, and the whole genre sometimes looks like a collection of semi-functional attempts to solve this big, blaring problem.

But there are a very few that make my grade. And I’ve noticed they tend to have certain things in common: they allow plenty of scope of individual player decision making in the face of the group, offer some sort of simple AI-like mechanics that make it look like the game is reacting to your decisions and have a deep well of variety to add to the narrative and keep things unpredictable.

But the most important quality of all is balancing the need for transparent mechanics that allow for strategic decisions with a strong wind of chance to make sure the game doesn’t become a mere logic puzzle. Lean too far in the former direction and you might as well be solving co-operative Su-doku with your friends. Too far in the latter and you might as well co-operatively shoot craps. It’s a hard, hard proportion to get right and none of the co-ops I’ve played so far, even my favourites, have quite got it right. Until I played Robinson Crusoe.

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Calendar Man – End of 2013 Edition

ChittyChitty

Black Friday is over, Cyber Monday is almost done, Regret Tuesday and Overextended Wednesday loom before us and with that, I’m calling this year in releases.

Wait! Gran Turismo 6 comes out this week. Ok, now I’m calling the year. Enjoy the rest of 2013 people, see you in January.

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Warage Review

warage-1

You’ll realise, no doubt, that Warage is a clever play on words. Making a compound of “war” and “age” cunningly creates the word “rage”, conjuring the white heat of fantasy melees, the ancient and primal fury felt my elf for orc and vice versa. It’s a smart title.

The game underlying it is not smart. It’s a dumb game, but it’s dumb in a good way, the sort of way that an overly playful rottweiler puppy is dumb, full of teeth and fluff and eagerness. It’s a game where you slap down cards, gloat and chug back beer.

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Calendar Man – Week of 11/25

state of decay

With two new consoles launched and Nintendo having sent new Mario and Zelda games into the wild, I think we can call 2013 done for new game releases. Well, except for Ys: Memories of Celceta and the State of Decay Breakdown DLC. Ok, now we can call it done.

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Calendar Man – Week of 11/18

xbox one

Here we go again. A week after all the hullabaloo that was the PS4 launch, we’re ready to do it all over again with the Xbox One. Me, I’m pretty happy with my PS4 because Remote Play is the best thing ever. That being said, I do wish there were better games for the system but this is the price you pay for buying a console at launch. If you have an Xbox One on preorder or plan on waiting in line for one, best of luck and be safe. Enjoy your new console when you get home and above all us, keep calm and have fun.

In non-Xbox One news, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds comes out on Friday and by all accounts it’s a pretty rad Zelda game. I’m still knee deep in Pokemon and now have the ability to play every PS4 game I own on my Vita so I can’t see spending money on yet another handheld game, even if it is supposed to be amazing. Luckily, Christmas is right around the corner. Also coming out this week is Mario Party: Island Tour, a game that will have to wait for the Christmas at the heat death of the universe to get played at my house. Hey, do you like farming? If so then Farming Simulator may be for you. If not, well, maybe picking a game called Farming Simulator isn’t the wisest choice. Hey look, another Adventure Time game with a weird name. I’m sure the kids love it.  A handheld game I will make time for this week is Tearaway if only to see the game’s cool art style. Hopefully the game itself will also be good. In other news, AC IV comes out on the PC, Need for Speed Rivals comes out on a bunch of non-PS4 platforms, AquaPazza hits the PS3 and the Walking Dead gets a collector’s edition on the 360 and PS3.

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Get British!

hms_spiffing

As the token Brit on NHS, it’s obviously my remit to drink copious quantities of tea, discuss the vagaries of the weather and get typecast in Hollywood movies as the villain. However I also take it upon myself to bring you occasional snippets of news from the UK games industry.

Here’s the latest: a kickstarter for a new British game, made in Britain starring British people and full of typical self-deprecating British humour. It’s a point and click adventure entitled Her Majesty’s SPIFFING and you can back it at the usual place. Take a look, have a think about it. We’ve fallen a long way since the 8-bit glory days, and frankly, we could do with the business.

Trains and Stations Review

trains-stations-1

I’ve always loved interaction in games. I’d bet that most gamers do, really, it’s just that those who’ve chosen to embrace the bloodless, over-balanced mechanical model that runs screaming as far from zero-sum games as it possibly can think that logic is more important than interaction. But there is, thankfully, an alternative. Instead of having players taking chunks out of each other, you can instead encourage them to co-operate for mutual gain.

My suspicion is that this what Trains and Stations sets out to do for the light family gaming crowd. Clearly influenced by age-old classic Poker Dice, the game sees you roll a handful of beautifully marbled custom dice, picking what they want to keep and rolling the others again. Except that, in a nod to modern sensibilities of choice and strategy you can actually keep certain dice from turn to turn if you find you didn’t roll the combination you were looking for and you have to pay for each re-roll.

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