Clockwork Empires, Wondrous Melange of Steampunk Insanity and Bugs

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It should come as no surprise, since this game is currently in Early Access, that Gaslamp Games’ latest title is buggy, broken and incomplete as fuck.  That being said, it is the most fun that I have ever had with a game this broken, and at some points I am having a hard time telling what is broken and what is actually supposed to be happening.  Overall, if you have been waiting for a good game that well-represents steampunk, but you were wholly disgusted with Bioshock: Infinite, then this game is one you should consider after a long debate about whether Early-Access gaming is a worthy direction for the industry.

Clockwork Empires is a game with personality and a lot of bizarre quirks.  You are a group of colonists starting a small colony of the Great Clockwork Empire – at least I think you are since this is never really specified, just referred to as “The Empire.”  But fear not! This is nothing like sitting in a Jane Austin novel set on a frontier!  You have to help your people to survive in a world of horrors! HORRORS!

So when you start, you’ll want to start assigning work crews by clicking the work crew button and deciding which people will do which jobs.  Trust me, division of labor is a pretty important concept in this game, since it will dictate which jobs get done fastest.  My opinion is that breaking things down like this bears some of the best results.  2 crews for farming and foraging.  This is most important.  Foraging is how you will get the initial glut of goods to sustain your people in the beginning and you’ll have some food from the Empire, but airdrops are too infrequent, sometimes inaccurate, to rely on.  You have to get farming or starvation will set in briefly before cannibalism starts.  These little bastards don’t even think about it either, they’re just like “What ho!  I’m rather peckish and Nancy just died.  Guess we’d best start rationing her out, hey chaps?”

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Listen up, Steelwalker. You and your chaps will start looking for the best way back to the Empire, cause this place sucks!

After food income is determined, the next most important economy is the space economy.  This is handled mostly by one or two crews that are set to forestry, mining and hunting.  Forestry is a task that will have them chopping wood, removing terrain obstacles and other sundry natural objects.  Hunting will make them a useful source of occasional food.  The tasks I always break out are construction and workshop jobs.  Now, in the outset you can easily group these two together since there will be no workshops in the beginning, you’ll have to build them.  But if you keep your workshop crews constantly divided between construction and their workshops, goods production will go WAAAAAY too slowly.  Eventually construction will become its own job and given that there are so few people for all the jobs, and the more people you get the more likely you are to starve, it is something that will have to be done in spurts.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions are always important.  In the very beginning, farms should be among your first things you create, but farms alone aren’t great for producing food.  You’ll need workshops, and the two most used are the kitchen and the carpentry shop.  The tutorial actually recommends you make the carpentry shop first, and they are right.  The carpentry shop is where you will create planks that are necessary to build nearly everything else in the game.  After the carpentry shop, get on that kitchen.  Chances are that you chose wheat as your first couple farms.  Great choice, but without a kitchen you can’t use the wheat you’ve harvested to make bread.  Your people will die staring at sacks of flour.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our ubiquitous hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our glowering hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Construction in this game is definitely unique and undeniably irritating.  First, you have to build on the grid, but the grid doesn’t run everywhere.  Some areas are just not to be built upon.  No real explanation, but I assume there is a ditch or unstable terrain there or something.  Once you’ve cleared a spot to build upon, you now draw the outline for the building.  It doesn’t always have to make sense and it is the most impressive feature of the game.  You can make a thousand of the same building and each can be vastly different from the others.  Once you’ve got your blue outline, you then place your modules.  These are the things that give the buildings purpose and character.  Some are required, in the above case a door and a worktable, some are optional and the rest are decorative.  I like putting the massive bay doors on my carpentry shops.  Just gives the impression of industry.  And make sure you put one or two decorations.  It might just be a game, but it’s the little things that give a sense of immersion.  The most irritating things about the construction system is that you can’t add a few things in at the start and then finish up later.  You are building everything that is going to be in that workshop for the rest of the game.  That is irritating as fuck because gameplay develops as the player interacts with the game.  It is just restricting and never shows any growth or development.

So you’ve got the makings of a colony, and things are moving along.  You’ve got your basic workshops, goods are moving and you’ve finally gotten a few bunkhouses up for the lower class and the middle class.  You are going to start having issues.  Most namely among these issues are the foes: cultists, fishpeople and all manner of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors.  The best part is that the fishpeople will walk in at random intervals and menace your people.  Sure, you can forage their eggs as exotic caviar, effectively eating their children as a delicacy; but cogs only know why the beasts so hostile, amirite?

Charles, gather the basket.  I must defend the crown!

Charles, gather the victuals. I must defend the crown!

I haven’t really gotten very far with this game simply because it is so fucking broken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this game, but the level of incompletion and inoperability make this game absolutely frustrating to deal with.  My biggest gripe is that saves don’t really seem to work.  I have saved games and come back to them with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes they work, other times reloading a save causes the game to utterly crash.  If this were the only issue I would be less annoyed with the game, but sometimes it just crashes mid-game.  All of my plays invariably end with a crash of some sort and then me sighing about everything that I didn’t save.  Then I remember that the saves rarely even work and go play something else.  Sure, you might be saying “But Crotchety, this is an early-release you ass-burglar!  Of COURSE it’s buggy, they are still working on it!”  Let me say this to you little shits, never judge anything by what it could be some day.  That is how Hitler managed to convince people into the Holocaust.  One day we’ll eliminate all the weaker genes in the human race and the world will be full of happy, healthy blonde-haired blue-eyed babies.  Sure sounds nice until you remember you had to kill millions of people to get there.  Also, the price of the game on Steam is 29.99$ AS IT IS!  That is 30$ that would probably be better spent on a portion of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Malfeasant clawbulb.  Fucking.. what?!

Malfeasant clawbulb. Fucking.. what?!

Despite the issues, there are still a number of reasons to be excited about this game.  There are some surprises like random crops growing in your farms, enemies and content updates.  The art is nice and the music is fun.  Every so often you will get drops and immigrants from the empire that will help your colony thrive, but there are so many bugs.  I read about this game back in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer and getting ridiculously excited about what I was reading.  Finally, a steampunk game full of cogs, gears and fishpeople and its an RTS!!!!  The unfortunate fact is that this is a game whose release I am still waiting for.  The best way to play these Early-Access games, in my opinion, is to buy it, play it a little bit to get the impression then let it sit for some months and let it get updates.  Sure this suggestion might make developers nervous, but if you can’t release a full game, it is going to suck and hurt to play.  Just like every time I have to be punished for not saving and, saving, have to be punished for buying the game early when my saves don’t load but, instead, crash the game.  Well, at least the game is fun and quirky.  Even the crash messages say “What ho! The game has crashed!” or some such irritating nonsense.  If your game crashes, it shouldn’t be cracking jokes.  This is where your skirt has blown up.  Fucking apologize for your broken game.

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Spice Road, Culturally Confused Economic RTS

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If you’re like me, few things give you greater happiness in life than looking down on an anthill and watching them run around collecting food, attacking other bugs and working the land.  Occasionally it’s fun to spit on them or zap them with a magnifying glass, but even that is just to see how their society absorbs the blow.  Spice road is a game that allows you all the fun of watching an anthill, except that the anthill is full of people and they are establishing a regional trade-network.

To further enhance the insect-oriented analogy, the game regularly quotes economic magnates such as Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca and others.  This gives you the feeling of being a money machine without having the crappy toupee.  If you have a toupee, you have my sympathy.  When you start the game, you are looking down on a region that is clouded by fog and filled with possibility.  Your initial task will always be to establish a town, which will be your primary base of operations.  City-building is a major part of this game, and it is a lot of the fun.  As you build your towns bigger and bigger, you will have more people come to live in your town.  Pretty basic shit, really.

Aw, fuck no.  I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog!  There could be naked cannibals in there!

Aw, fuck no. I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog! There could be naked cannibals in there!

Some of the first things that you will build at any settlement will be houses, for the plebs, and scout camps, for innocent exploitation.  On the region screen, you will see your scouts appear as little blue bullet-shaped things.  While your scouts meander the terrain, they will discover resources, which appear as white diamonds.  As you uncover these resources, you will be able to establish more and more resource buildings.  Now, having fucking resources is great, food gets you more people and makes them happy, alcohol lets you get drunk at the saloon etc.  You will be able to manufacture goods from ores you mine and have a full, booming industry.  The thing is, you are in this game to make some serious fucking money.

This is where trade routes come in and make things more interesting, simultaneously making your settlements much fucking weirder.  To start trading, you have to build “trade route” buildings (The names of buildings in this game are pretty abysmal but it is still fucking fun).  Setting up the trade routes will allow you to trade with foreign trade routes (they appear as white arrows on the edge of the region map), other towns you may have set up or other factions.  Sure, you can set up a town and make that your only area of operation in a region, but that makes things a little lame.  If you limit yourself to one town, that limits how much money you can make.  Not to mention, if you can get closer to the foreign trade routes, you’ll have a significant advantage over competitors.  And on top of that, controlling a majority of resources in a region will (fucking obviously) give you an undeniable trade advantage over competitors.  So getting a couple towns, maybe even just a small trade camp or two alongside your towns, will put you above the competition.

Yes! Make me money!

Yes! Make me money!

Now, not everyone is capable of building a massive trade empire and making money appear out of nowhere.  There are some men who just want to watch the world burn, which is where bandits come from.  These guys are fucking annoying, and they will attack your trade caravans.  First, you have to find them, which can be quite a fucking chore; but if you have little angry-colored arrows going after your trade caravans, all you have to do is build a few extra scout huts and they will locate them.  All finding them will facilitate is a solution.  You can pay them off, but as you make more money, these parasites will want more, so paying off a bunch of bandits all the time is not a long-term solution.

Eventually you want to cut their throats and leave their corpses in the sand for the vultures to feed.  You can build a number of public-order buildings like armories and watchhouses to keep your citizens in line; but to deal with external threats, you’ll need to construct a few barracks.  These babies create expeditionary forces that you can use to guard caravans and murder bandits.  Once you have a few of them built, you can go to the region map and select the bandits’ camps to begin negotiating with extreme prejudice.  This is also the final solution that you’ll end up employing with competing trade-nations, because no one likes to share profit!

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones.  That is bad...

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones. That is bad…

Meeting some of the goals set out for you in the campaign is difficult, but once you get the hang of it, the game is a lot of fucking fun.  You can build a vast empire that encompasses and entire region and vie for control of trade routes, like a true imperialist dog!  You’ll also be able to unlock new buildings and upgrade your existing buildings.  For those more keyed up by micromanagement, you can go into each caravan, see its trade statistics and monitor the number of camels in a caravan to optimize the amount of money you are making vs. how much you are spending to get your camels out there.  Chaining trade across a region also becomes useful as having a smaller town is good just to get your main town into contact with a closer trade target and so you can trade across undiscovered areas.  There is a lot to do in this game, and it is a lot of fun for anyone looking for a great economically-driven RTS.  Combat is an option, but not the main thing.

Looking at the title of this article, you might be wondering what the fuck this game has to do with cultures.  Take a closer look at your town once you get it decently-sized.  Looks neat, huh?  Nations are mostly named after european powers like Burgundy and Moldovia.. You know, all the really important trade powers of their time.  The buildings that you use for trade routes look like these middle-eastern spires from downtown Baghdad and then there are these old-timey, wild west saloon that you build for your peoples’ recreation.  The town hall looks like a plantation from 1880’s Confederate America whereas the religious shrines are either little Ottoman-domed structures or Christian chapels.  Each settlement looks as culturally tangled as a set from Firefly so that you think one half might initiate a Jihad on the other half at any moment.  I was confused and a little terrified, but it just looks like a lot of ideas came together to make this game happen.  This is the only thing is suffers from is a serious thematic disparity.  If everything were added together and you told me this took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and made things look like that, it might be less confusing.  But as it stands, it seems to be pulled between some kind of Age of Exploration and Age of Imperialism discussion with wild west tossed in there somehow.

Dammit!  Where is the level tree for nukes?!

Dammit! Where is the tech tree for nukes?!

Overall, if you are the type of person that likes to win an RTS through economic dominance and politics, this is a game for you.  There are a lot of features that add to the combat aspect, but combat is not directly controlled.  There is equal development to the city-building, economic and political aspects and it constantly allows you to find ways to make money.  The art is a bit on the minimalistic side, but enjoyable.  Music feels a little generic, but the overall design of the game itself feels and looks clean.  One feature of this game is that it eases you into the greater game fantastically.  It is complex and easy to fuck up, and the game itself gives you a number of goals and levels to screw up before you get to the game itself.  Steam will sell you this game for only 19.99$ and I will tell you, it is worth it.  Check this title out, it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be and is worth a few plays!

Dwarfs!? Man-boobs of Glory

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Tripewire, the same looney bastards behind Killing Floor and Red Orchestra, are the ones that made this game.  It still has me scratching my head, but I try not to think about it too much.  This game, like basically everything else they’ve ever made, is a lot of fun.  It is sn RTS simulator that really lets you sit back, relax and control a colony of dwarfs.  As per the usual mythology, these dwarfs all seem to be male, though the thought of a bearded woman just kind of creeps me out.  Either way, you are talking about a magnificently man-boobed populace out for some digging!  Check out more about the game on Steam or the game’s site!

Ale, Gold and a Pickaxe are the three things necessary to sustain life for a dwarf.  These beardy little buggers probably eat dirt, since it seems to disappear and mysteriously produce gold.  So the game starts with the town hall, which produces the only two types of dwarfs in existence, diggers and warriors.  Your town hall sits on the only green patch of land in a massive cavern and just produces diggers via spontaneous generation, most likely using the combination of dirt, gold and ale.  As each of these dwarfs magically appears, they begin wandering aimlessly around digging randomly with their pickaxes.  At first the game feels like an ant simulator, but then you realize that these dwarfs have no real system and they live only to dig like robots and find shiny objects.

For the most part, this game is peaceful, but there are spontaneous issues you might experience like a subterranean version of Sim City.  First there are the natural disasters: lava and water.  Both of these have the same ultimate solution, but each poses its own version of the same problem: stopping the flow before it destroys everyone in your colony.

MUST FIND GOLD... MUST FIND GOLD...

MUST FIND GOLD… MUST FIND GOLD…

That is pretty much a visual representation of what happens every time your dwarfs find water or lava.  This is glowing and hot!… but there might be GOLD!  The reason you don’t just stop them yourself is because you really don’t know, although the outward signs should be pretty obvious in real life.  Of course, it’s a fucking game, so get over it.  As your dwarfs dig out into the.. um.. earth.. they will find small pockets.  These caves can contain nearly fucking anything: treasure, enemies, lava, water etc.  When your dwarfs break through one of two things happens: something comes rushing out, or the digger goes rushing in.

Water is fast, and that is really the biggest challenge that comes with its discovery.  Building a wall will be enough to block it off from the front, but a digger could still break through on another side and you’ll be right back where you started.  To prevent this the game lets you solidify dirt into rock. With beer-magic, I guess.  Once you build the wall, you have to solidify the dirt on all sides of a water cave.  Once that happens, you have to blow a hole with dynamite in front of the wall because.. fucking… IT COULD STILL LEAK THROUGH OR SOMETHING MAYBE!!!!  Not really, but that is how you effectively trap an underground lake.  I thought that dwarfs might use it for plumbing or maybe making ale.  Fuck no.  They trap that shit off and never fucking talk about it ever the fuck again.

Next is lava, which poses its own collection of threats.  Lava moves slow as shit, but it can burn through walls.  Normally, when breaking through into a lava cave (after the unlucky digger has been burned to a cinder), I fill up the cave leading to the cave with walls.  Why the fuck would I do this, you ask? Well, it’s not in case the digger gets wise and decides to run, though it might be fun to watch him shriek in horror as he realizes the hegemonic overseer has condemned him to death encased in liquid rock, that is not the case.  The lava burns down the stone walls, and with the way the dwarfs randomly dig, chances are that the nearest other digger is miles away.  I will need to buy him some time to get there and set off the dynamite to trap the lava.  The best part is that you lose two dwarfs for sure when finding lava or water.  One that finds it and the other that traps it, since the dynamite dwarf runs in like some kind of madman with a heroic martyr complex and kamikazes on it.  I guess these dwarfs haven’t progressed past bite-activated igniting mechanisms.

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That’s right. Dig to your death, you little maniac.

Dealing with random water and lava hazards wasn’t enough for the sadistic Tripwire team, though.  They had to throw in some enemies because, realistically, what kind of game doesn’t have actual enemies?  Well, aside from those super-boring simulator games.  I gave up on humanity when I saw rock simulator.  Anyway!  There are goblins, too.  They could be just one or two hiding in a cave, or you could find six of them.  They are pretty easy to deal with though.

Your town hall will let you generate 8 warrior dwarfs, which you can allow to patrol around your town hall or you can divert their patrol to wander out into the caves.  If they get too far out there and you’ve an impending attack, hit the bell to recall your little troops.  A base-level dwarf warrior is usually enough to take on goblins one at a time, but if you have a tribe coming, get those fuckers back to base!  If they destroy your town hall, that’s the end of the game!  Of course, having eight little dwarfs can be limiting if you have a massive army of diggers wandering around an endless map.  At that point, you’ll need to create outposts, which expand your warrior army by 4 more dwarfs.  Doesn’t sound like much, but the outpost can also train them up so they’re powerful as heck.

Another main feature comes in handy when you discover a shaman, which is a giant goblin boss that has the power to summon goblin minions, perform cone area attacks and change the music into a doom dirge.  Often you’ll have to create an outpost just to deal with a new boss.  Once you have it in place and the warriors trained up, though, you can fire the whole squad out of a cannon on top of the outpost.  This springs a little surprise attack on the shaman and they surround and annihilate him!  Make sure you are quick to kill him, though, as he can summon up so many enemies that it becomes impossible to deal with, and you become overrun!

Kill them! Kill them all!

Kill them! Kill them all!

Other than that, this game is drawing arrows for retardedly simple AI and mining gold and minerals.  It is a little on the simple side, but it is still a lot of fun.  I often find myself wishing there were more to it than just all that, but the endless mode makes it a lot of fun.  I feel like there should be a way to trade with other cities, or a way to contact the outside world.  There are little objects that randomly appear, too, but it might be more fun if we could actually build a small city that had some purpose?  Maybe go to war with some sissy dandelion-eating elves.. mimsy fuckers…  If you really look at this game though, there is a dark undercurrent.  Think about this a second.  You are the dwarfs, living underground on the only piece of fertile land in this entire cave system.  You have these goblin, which probably need to cultivate some mushrooms or something to survive, but your dwarfs can just eat dirt, as long as they have their ale.  So you go on, killing the goblins and depriving their starving children of food until you have consumed everything.  Terrible. Tragic.  Oh, well!  Let’s go dig for some gold and get wasted on ale!  Definitely a lot of fun, and it’ll cost you 9.99$ on Steam.  Worth it, I’d say, but I love dwarfs in general.  So yea, a little bias there : P

Eufloria, Tripadelic RTS Invasion

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Eufloria is a game that defines some of my earliest days with indie games, and it’s far from showing its age.  There are those who would have you believe that indie is a style that can be encapsulated in a game with a whacky storyline or super-artsy hand-painted backgrounds, but I call bullshit on that.  You don’t have to put girls in cakes to make an indie game: what you need is balls.  Eufloria shows a lot of that brazen attitude in the way it took a bizarre concept, ran with it, made it work and did the whole fucking job well.  That is how you indie.

Eufloria is a game where you take control of an army of flying seedlings, and then impregnate various ‘asteroids’ with them.  The key to this army is their flexibility.  depending on the characteristics of the asteroid that spawns them, they will have a mix of 3 traits: energy, speed and strength.  Depending on their combination of these traits, they will look different.  If they have a higher strength, they will have a longer tail, of they have higher speed they will have wider tails and if they are energetic they will have longer beaks.  Each of these traits translates into something completely different in game.

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Like little, zappy death bugs…

Each of those little flying things is a seedling, and they serve any number of functions from soldiers to colonization.  When you send a collection of these little guys at an enemy, they will start zapping them with a little laser.  No fucking clue how that works, I will get back to you on that.  When you hit that button down there, they kamikaze into the asteroid and a tree starts to grow.  Logical in a sort of odd way.  As far as I have progressed, there are two trees: a dyson tree, which generates more seedlings, and defensive trees, which lob explosive pods.  Planting a dyson tree will generate seedlings with traits mimicking those of the asteroid.  Some important things to keep in mind on this point: speed seedlings are fast as fuck and are great for rapid reinforcements, strength seedlings are great for taking out enemies and defensive trees, energetic seedlings are great for taking over enemy asteroids.

Eventually, you will start dealing with enemies, and a fucking lot of them.  They swoop in low and start zapping fucking everything, and you have to counter.  Now, the way you direct your seedlings is by clicking and dragging.  This will launch all the seedlings circling an asteroid at the target in an awesome attack formation that makes me want to turn on Flight of the Valkyries every time I do it.  If you want to send only your fastest seedlings (in case you have to contact the Dread Pirate Roberts), you double-click and select the fastest seedlings.  This will turn your cursor blue, for speed, and then you drag from origin to target.  This can be done with any of the types.

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Ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada baaaa!!!!!

Reading the placement of the asteroids is important, too, because where you can go depends on which asteroids you control.  Each asteroid has a range that you can fly from it to reach other asteroids.  Once you get there, you’ll have to lay waste to the enemies like a swarm of genocidal gnats.  The best part comes when you take the asteroid.  To achieve this, the seedlings zap a tree until it explodes.  They then fly down into the remaining roots to attack the core, where they fucking explode.  If you have a fear of bugs flying into your ears and laying eggs in your head, this is not an okay game for you.  I fucking love it, though.

The older your trees, the more seedlings or explosive pods they will generate, so size matters.  Watching an old asteroid take hits is a bit gut-wrenching, but the respawn rate for seedlings is pretty good; I still recommend filling up the max tree level as best you can, though.  Once you strike an enemy, they will ALWAYS try the fucking dick move and strike at the asteroid you vacated to attack theirs.  That’s ok though, you can always pull a few from another location to clean those guys up.

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So… whatever is on that rock is about to fucking die.

As you can see, the art takes a minimalist style, utilizing color to make the world feel warm and alive.  Every time you start a level you will have a different color and each level has its own challenges to overcome.  The way the colors seem to vibrate with life takes on a role of its own in the game though, and it really starts to feel more like a full region than just empty space.  As you conquer and cultivate each asteroid, you can zoom further and further out to see all of what you’ve created, and the later levels get pretty expansive.  The music combines with this warm sensation to create an ambient space of wonder and interest.  This is like playing an RTS painting and each factor is shaped specially for the task.  Despite feeling like you are a swarm of dust mites conquering the equivalent space of someone’s nostril, the game itself really has a life and style of its own.  I would like to see some major fucking publisher with the balls to release this one.  It’s available on Steam right now for 14.99$ and I recommend it highly.  It is a magnificent game that really draws you in and challenges you, but in a soothing and enjoyable way that isn’t like every fucking RTS Blizzard made since Warcraft 3.  It’s wonderful.  Fucking play it.

Reus, Sandbox of Giants!

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Reus is a game for hippies.  Rather than suggesting that the player represents the power of some god, as you might expect in a game of this nature, the player is suggested to be the planet.  Now, generally speaking, while a planet could be said to be a living organism, in Reus it cannot affect its own changes.  In order to make life, oceans, forests etc. you have to utilize four extensions of your planetary will: the rock giant, the ocean giant, the forest giant and the swamp giant.  Each has a unique set of abilities that have multitudinous effects on the land, which are limited only by your imagination.

There are the basics: ocean giant makes oceans, forest giant makes forests, rock giant makes mountains and the swamp giant makes swamps.  In order to create swamps and forests, you need water and the world you start on is a barren wasteland.  This means you need to make a couple oceans first.  Oceans will soak enough land on either side for you to create a full forest or swamp.  There is also the rock giant.  This burly fucker just lopes around like a badass all the time.  Use him to raise a mountain, and the side that faces an ocean will remain the same while everything past it changes into desert.  This can be used to destroy forests and if you make a mountain or ocean on a village, they all die.

The variety of wasteland shades go from a stunning grey to a lovely off-white

The variety of wasteland shades go from a stunning grey to a lovely off-white

Some of the less obvious abilities make a sort of sense.  The forest giant can make food plants and what comes out of it depends on where you put the plant.  In a forest it’s blueberries, in a desert it’s a dry bush (more on that later).  Despite looking like a monkey, the forest giant is fully unable to create animals.  The ocean giant makes domesticated animals.  These are things like chickens in the forest or desert tortoises in the desert.  At first you would expect the forest giant to make animals, but then when you realize that all life comes from the oceans originally, it makes a sort of logic.  Plus, why would a forest giant be able to make fish?  The swamp giant is another weird one: he makes exotic animals, but again, if you think about it, this makes sense too.  Swamps are dangerous places where some of the most fucked-up shit evolves.  That and Australia.  Swamps are where you find things like Bot Flies evolving.  The bot fly is something I will not discuss, but if you are fucking curious, check it out here.  It’s fucked up as all fuck.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. FUCK!  I just read the page a bit too much.. grah..  Either way, weird shit evolves in swampy areas.

As well as making the exotic animals, the swamp giant can also make herbs.  These tend to generate more tech or wealth than fruit plants from the forest giant.  Your rock giant will also generate a variety of minerals resources.  Alongside all of these differing resource-types, Giants are able to enhance resources with aspects.  These aspects are things like the leaf aspect, which will allow the Forest giant to add natura or food to plants.  The ways these aspects affect different resources varies based on the region-type, but typically you can transmute a resources two different ways depending on the aspects you place on it.  Be careful, too!  Some resources have a symbiosis.  These things will work together to create a bonus to what it produces.  Having blueberries in range of chickens will make it so that the chickens generate more food.  If you change what resources are next to each other, you will change the symbiosis for your resources, destroying what you had working before.  The game quickly becomes about efficiently managing what you have growing on the land of your villages after a while.

Have Number 2 step forward and say "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."  Thank you.

Have Number 2 step forward and say “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” Thank you.

The focus of this game is really on the villages, though.  The giants are just where you put all your powers.  Adding resources to the map makes villagers appear.  These villagers, in turn, build towns and settle lands and make the game fun.  All of the villages will start building various projects, too.  This might be a shrine, a granary or a school, and as they get higher level, they will start building higher-level projects.  Given that the effects of your giants’ powers vary based on what terrain-type you use them in, each village will have a different focus depending on where it is located.  Swamp villages tend to require tech for their projects where forest villages need food for theirs.  This isn’t always a set thing, but it all depends on what the villagers choose.  Each project is timed, too, and proper symbiosis match-ups will govern whether you meet the time-limits or not.  Once you finish a project, one of the villagers steps forward as an ambassador.  This person is someone that you pick up and allow to ride on you giants.  Having the little ambassador up there unlocks different abilities depending on where they are from and which giant they ride.  Properly managing which ambassador goes where will determine just how successful your villages will be.

This all sounds like a fun and free romp through a magical world, but there are dangers in this paradise.  The biggest among them is greed.  If your village gets too prosperous too fast, it will start to go ballistic and get dirty.  Eventually they will start attacking other villages and fucking everything up.  When this happens, you have options.  If you really really like that village, you can create “awe” among the villagers.  Do this through symbioses and properly locating different resources next to each other.  Another way to counter-act the greed of a village is with danger.  If you have desert tortoises in your area and you get wealthy and greedy, you might see the world as a desert tortoise that cannot keep up and is easy prey for the clever man.  If the giants transmute those tortoises into snakes, your ass will be too busy working on not dying a painful, poisonous death to make battle plans.  Finally, if your villagers just get too fucking greedy and are past redemption, you can always have the swamp giant launch mud bombs that burn with acidic death or send the rock giant to smash them into the dirt.  Granted,  the little bastards might just start fighting back after a while, so keep an eye on them.

Greedy little bastards...

Greedy little bastards…

Reus is a game that says a lot about people.  Those that want to work in unison with the world prosper and flourish in its favor.  Those that get caught up in their greed fight their peaceful neighbors, who are happy with what the world has given them, and are eventually vanquished to dust.  If they fight the will of the planet itself, they can win, but ultimately they just ravage and destroy the world, returning it to the barren waste it was in the beginning.  A great game and a truly interesting take on sandboxes, since it is a 2D game.  Well worth the 9.99$ asking price on Steam.

My biggest fucking issue with this game is how much memory it eats.  This thing is a memory beast.  I have 16 GB of memory in this computer and Reus still managed to crash it!  I was playing through the tutorials to understand the game.  I played straight through, got about halfway through the third one and BOOM!  blue screen fucker.  The only time I nearly ate my monitor in blind rage.

Plague Inc: Evolved, Eradicate Humanity!

PIE_Logo

 

So I wiped out 99% of humanity today and still fucking lost!  Plague Inc: Evolved is a game for the strategic mastermind in all of us.  Take control of an infectious disease, evolve and kill everyone ever known by everyone you’ve ever known.

This title starts out simple enough, but gives you an idea of the scope you are dealing with in order to get there.  Initially you can only control a bacteria, but later organisms include prions, viruses, nano-viruses parasites fungi and some things I have never fucking heard of.  You then name your virus.  In prior Plague Inc titles (previously known as Pandemic) I always named my disease something insidious sounding like Writhing Death or The Manacles.  I lost every time.  So one day I made a disease named Booty Shoe out of denominational ennui.  Booty shoe eradicated the world population.  So this one got to be Nut Slipper.  I started Nut Slipper out in Indonesia, and altogether solid start location for any disease.  It has ports for oceanic export, planes for aerial export and it’s a warm, moist climate, which puts it two evolutions away from stepping out into the greater world.  Plague Inc seems to have 3 phases of play.  It’s not actually a part of the game, but the way the flow of the game seems to develop.  I call these phases initial spawn, transmission and eradication.  In initial spawn, you get DNA points for evolution from a few gameplay milestones in the beginning.  This is where your disease starts in its natal region and starts to breed.  When you spread out little by little to people in your starting country, Indonesia in this case, you’ll see little red and orange bubbles appear.  Pop these for the DNA points to evolve your disease.

Exponential infection rates and the game gets excited over a few thousand? Psh.

Thousands of nuts are apparently warm and cozy. Why is this bad?

In Plague Inc, you don’t order your little bacteria where you want them.  Consider the game a simulation of the spread of a potential disease.  Your disease will spread on its own in an organic fashion across the various methods.  You control the disease by mutating it, granting it new characteristics along the way.  These characteristics fall into three categories: transmission, abilities and symptoms.  Transmission is how the disease is carried from one host to another.  These can be things like livestock, insects, air, water etc.  Being in Indonesia, I evolved air and water right away.  Now, the game also made it so that transmission via water would be hard off the bat for my disease.  Something about sanitizing boats.  But evolving that water transmission negated the effect.  Nothing would stop Nut Slipper from sailing the seven seas!  This brings us to where you are spreading to every country in the transmission phase.  You get DNA points for spreading to new countries and infecting large portions of the population.  People don’t need to know you are around yet, but you get the DNA points for infections.

Now one of the things that you get concerned about really fast is how well your disease spreads to other countries.  Does it like the climate?  How rapidly does it spread? Do they use class 3 or 4 antibiotics?  All legitimate concerns.  It used to be that getting your disease into Madagascar was a sure-fire win, but now fully infecting Greenland, Canada and other cold-climate countries is the true challenge.  Your disease will spread the slowest in these locations and if you get lethal too soon, you’ll kill the hosts before they can spread it to other people.  That is a no-go.

Only fifty-one percent of the world population is dead!? Time to step up my game.

Only fifty-one percent of the world population is dead!? Time to step up my game.

Once you have enough people eating, drinking and breathing in your disease it’s time to start the extinction of humanity!  This is my favorite part because once people start dying the music, which has sinister techno-ambiance, goes from ominous to downright fucking creepy.  It starts off with the EKG heart monitor noises woven into it just below audibility and the moves on to include some kind of sirens.  I think they might be the noise that ambulances make in countries not mine.  Ours are pretty obnoxious.  Either way, it moves on to people hacking and coughing and children singing ring around the rosey.  Awesome, ambient and creepy as fuck.

Now the extinction of humanity won’t be reached by making your disease resistant and transmissible alone, and this is where it gets tough.  In the eradication phase you get DNA points for wiping out populations and destabilizing governments.  Symptoms are the method for reaching these goals.  If you take symptoms too early in the transmission phase, your disease will be detected and cured fairly rapidly.  Take symptoms too late and you will not have enough points to develop the truly lethal symptoms.  Occasionally you will spawn random symptoms, but the game can be paused in order to devolve those and earn some DNA points.  With your bacteria, you want to aim for 70% – 79% of global infection to start taking symptoms, and when you take them take them fucking hard.  When I pump up the symptoms I will take them 3 – 4 at a time and let them go.  People start dropping dead faster than the game even knows how to react, and by the time the first death hits the news, hundreds of thousands are lying in their living rooms clinging fecklessly to their last breaths.  Even with Nut Slipper taking the world by storm, I was still greeted with this fucking screen at the end.

ninety-nine point nine percent of the world is dead and it is not considered a goddamn victory

ninety-nine point nine percent of the world is dead and it is not considered a goddamn victory

I am only partially joking about that, too.  I wiped out 99.9% of humanity and it was still not considered a fucking victory!  To give you an idea, the people who survived lived in Greenland, Canada, Italy and Sweden.  Everyone else in the entire fucking world was dead.  My problem was that I took symptoms around 65% world infection and killed all my hosts too fast.  I have no fucking clue how Italy, of all goddamn places, fucking survived, either.  I guess they didn’t go to the Olympics in London that year…   Granted none of them survived unscathed, but they survived.  One of the more fun features of this game is how you can make spectacular effects occur, like projectile vomiting, by combining various symptoms.  Projectile vomiting occurs when you have coughing and vomiting at the same time.  Once you have started to wipe out the population of planet Earth, people will start to do research in an attempt to survive.  This is signified by a blue plane that flies around.  You can slow them down by clicking little blue bubbles, too, but the best part is when you stop research by killing everyone in a country.  Then the country just goes dark as everyone slowly collapses.  This game is a tough one, but rewarding for the strategic enthusiast.  It can be gotten for 14.99$ on Steam and.. wait this is early access?  Well for an early access game, this one sure is well done.  Worth the money, in my honest opinion.  It also feels like one of those games that some people think might save the world by thinking about how to solve realistic problems, except in this one you are the problem.

Of all the things this game does right, there is one thing that still haunts my dreams.  The children.  When you start to go nuclear, as stated, you hear a group of grade-school children singing Ring around the Rosey.  I swear to fucking god this is the creepiest thing I have ever fucking heard in ever.  It is like the children of the corn, or some shit.  The music is fucking awesome, mind you.  That just enhances how creepy the children are.  They are like the fucking harbingers of the goddamn apocalypse!  I will be waking up in a cold sweat singing ring around the rosey tonight, I just know it.

 

Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville, Post-Apocalypse Mayorship

RebuildlogoEver wondered what it would be like to take the place of Rick Grimes or the Governor?  How would you run things differently? What policies would your band of survivors have to get accustomed to?  Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville is a series that allows you to decide just that.  Lead your rag-tag band of survivors to take back the city from the dead.  Fight the ravenous hordes, train your people in various skills and work to bring back the world of the living amidst the hordes of undead.

Developed across two previous titles by Northway Games, Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville is a title that I have been following for a couple years now.  This latest incarnation is by far the cleanest version of the game, but because it is an early-access title, it is not without its issues. So don’t say you weren’t warned.  Where previous games, available in browser or on iOS platforms, drove for a more serious tone with a soundtrack out of a horror movie, Gangs feels more like a video game.  Rather than the realistic portrayals of survivors featured in Rebuild and Rebuild 2, Gangs uses vector graphics to portray its heroes.  Personally, this makes it a lot easier to detach myself from them.  If Rico Simms goes out for food and comes back holding his intestines, I will be more likely to just bury a hatchet in his head.  No worries.  That guy was annoying anyway.  Though the characters are now a little more toony, this has allowed the developers to make the town itself look altogether better.  Where before you had some simple doodles, now you have a more detailed and gritty map.  Granted, sometimes the map feels more like a page out of “Where’s Waldo?” but that makes it fun and slightly nostalgic to pan the view and looks at your surroundings.  One more major add-in for the city itself in Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville were rivers and coastlines.  This way you can reimagine that famous trailer for another run-of-the-mill zombie-smashing RPG at E3 2014.  Did you like this map? Good.  Save the seed and you can regenerate it every time you play or take a random seed for endlessly replayable apocalypse action.

From dismal winter to decrepit post-apocalypse, the styles really inspire the creeping depression of being the last people on Earth.

From dismal winter to decrepit post-apocalypse, the styles really inspire the creeping depression of being the last people on Earth.

Gangs of Deadsville also features other players.  In Rebuild 2 you had the possibility of running into a gang called The Last Judgement Gang.  They would frequently harass the colony, attack, steal food and generally provide villains for the player.  As your colony grows, it eventually becomes evident that you have to deal with them, and this culminates in a final showdown of epic proportions.  In Gangs, you get to deal with other factions.  As of yet, the only interaction I’ve had was with this russian guy named Gustav.  He always comes by and tries to get my people to gamble away precious resources, buy hookers and accept food loans.  That guy is more of an annoyance, really, but if you piss them off enough, their faction comes crashing in guns-blazing.  This isn’t the only other faction, but it is the only one I have met so far.  You can also run into enemy NPC colonies that basically end up battling you for dominance.  Instead of having a typical cut-and-dried enemy, now you have a real us vs. them feeling with a battle for survival with a group of people you might have been best buddies with in another life.

When I started Gangs of Deadsville, I was given the standard options: make a character, pick a profession set town parameters.  As I clicked through the random name generator, I noticed a few fun monikers I might take on.  Among them were Johnny Dangerously, Arma Geddon and James Tyberius  Kirk.  Clearly the character I was concocting was a man of honor.  As if that didn’t make it obvious enough, the selection of former occupations is spectacular: politician, Police Officer and Doctor are fairly well coveted in the real world, but more realistically, you can choose to play as a Retiree or a Shop Clerk.  Each occupation starts your leader off with an item and a bonus quality, which makes them unique.  Being clever and dashing, I chose the Shop Clerk occupation, which made scavenging easier and got me better deals when bartering and trading.  And of course, started me off with the tool most favored by shop clerks worldwide: a crowbar.  I would have pick a backpack or a flashlight, but shop clerk comes with a crowbar.  I mean, I am not disputing the realism of a game where you spend your time fighting zombies, but every self-respecting gamer knows that the crowbar is default weapon of the scientist.  Jeez.

Reminds me of where my in-laws live minus the mindless, brain-eating hordes.. but then again, they do live in Jersey...

Reminds me of where my in-laws live minus the mindless, brain-eating hordes.. but then again, they do live in Jersey…

Each survivor has their own story involving things ranging from baking and homelessness to gardening and shoulder-lizards.  As your people level you will choose news perks for them, skill enhancements, equipment etc.  Equipment becomes important, too.  While your main source of food should start off angled toward farming, you will still need to avidly scavenge for weapons, tools, ammo, fuel, building materials and an array of other goods that are hard to come by and expensive to purchase.  And with other factions and colonies searching for the same goods, you need to move fast.

But dedicating your people to one set of tasks constantly will leave other areas of your colony neglected.  There are 5 classifications that survivors fall into: defender (red), leader(blue), builder(green), scavenger(yellow) and engineers (purple).  Each of them play an integral role in the sustenance, expansion and strength of your colony.  Sure, everyone likes to kill zombies, but not all your survivors are good at it.  Send a builder out with a hammer to kill zombies, and he can get small groups, but as the numbers of walking dead rise, they will only be able to support the real fighters.  Likewise, an engineer might be able to lend a hand with manpower when expanding the colony into new sectors of the environs, but he is much better suited in a laboratory.  This is where the leader of the town comes in handy.  Sure, you might be a shop clerk, but you are a special shop clerk.  You are able to use your leader for any task and level him up in all skills, while your other survivors only level in their specific skills.  Of course, that makes it so that you are the only non-drone in a colony of ants, but as long as you address them with titles and call them specialists, they shouldn’t rise up in revolt.  I mean, doesn’t “Rage Specialist” sound so much better than “instrument of my own vengeance and violent will”?  Yea, I know, has a sort of ‘I respect your autonomy and special snowflake-ness despite the fact I control your every action’ feel to it.  Just what you need in a leader of men and women.

Cause you also need to keep those fuckers in high spirits, too.  Now the aforementioned hiring of hookers is a good way but costs food and the dignity of many people involved.  A better option is to renovate a nearby bar or church and let your people spend time there.  They can also do ‘time off’ missions in their quarters, but hanging out in a run-down apartment complex is only fun to a point.  There is more to life than seeing how many birds you can hit with your spit from above. Trust me.  Another neat feature of this game are the random events.  People show up at your gates, animals might attack, someone might find a fucking raccoon in the goddamn shed.  Whatever, the odd-ball and.. uh.. RANDOM fucking nature of these events adds a tangential factor to the game, making it feel like it takes place in a real and changing world.

Now, there are zombies in this game.  Did I mention that? Ok, good. Pay the fuck attention.  Now, when the game starts you have a few straggling zed-heads, which are easily dispatched by your survivors, builders, scientists, defenders alike.  But as you progress, your people, who presumably haven’t showered since the fall of modern civilization and can be smelled in the next state over, attract zombies like North Koreans to a bulgogi buffet.  Thus, the zombies start to shamble toward you in ever-growing numbers like the rotting parade of stank-sniffing gut-munchers they are.  This means you need to seriously amp up your game if you don’t want to end up as fertilizer.  Zombies aren’t the only way to die, though.  Go ahead, rely on scavenging as your main food source.  Your people will die THE DAY AFTER YOUR FOOD RUNS OUT!  And your people might die on a mission, get caught up in a random event or just catch a mother fucking fever.  Still more neat mechanics exist, like the ability to switch between real-time and turn-based strategy.  Seriously, the problem is choice!  So reach out, expand your reach and get that technology research moving!  Did I miss that too?

So as you expand you will encounter labs and drive-in movie theatres and other neat shit.  Now, you could ignore the messages and subtle hints, but as you move your game along, you can even get technology up and going again.  Like, refrigeration, movies, PORN!  Christ’s sake PORN man!  Is there a more noble cause to reach back into the annals of knowledge left by the ancients?!  O, yea, there is also the ability farm more efficiently, build better walls, kill zombies more effectively, but shit, man, who doesn’t like to watch other people fuck on film?  It’s purely for research.. and morale.. and stress relief.. or something..

All-in-all, this game allows you to live the fantasy of leading people to salvation through a gurgling masses of horrifying flesh-suckers, and Sarah, the developer, has done everything to make this a title worth your time and money.  The best part is that the game is still coming out with more content.  I mean, that is good news to me!  It means that if the game’s state bothers you, come back to it in a few weeks and there should be another update to explore.

"You, there!  Peasant!  Throw yourself in front of those zedheads so I can escape." You'll miss the days of just 'tripping the fat guy'

It says “kill 5.651153016444607 massed zombies”.  Documentation of the last fucking time I ever let the engineering team go on defensive maneuvers.

Above you will see an excessively accurate detail of how many massed zombies those guys were fighting.  Evidence of the only thing that truly angers me about this game.  Bugs.  Of course, this is a PRE-RELEASE title available on Steam through the combined auspices of Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter.  But that does not make it any less fucking frustrating when you have a memory error appear on your screen after about an hour and a half of non-stop gameplay.  I mean I can’t even fucking binge-playon my favorite goddamn game!  If I want to waste HOURS of my fucking time murdering zombies and micro-managing my people’s lives, I want it to be uninterrupted by binge-halting errors.  The base game is $14.99, but fuck that.  Don’t do that to yourself.  You WILL love this title.  Just spring for the extra 10$ and get the deluxe edition.  You can even download that AFTER you decide whether you like the base game or not as it is listed as DLC!  This DLC will bring you some neat art and such later, but will also grant purchasers 5 extra professions, each with their own unique item.  So, you’ll be cursed with more fucking choices!  And if you’re into that whole ‘instant-gratification’ thing, the DLC ‘deluxe’ version will also give you Rebuild 1 and Rebuild 2 in all their formerly browser-embedded glory.  That way you can formulate your strategies on the earlier (but by no means easier) games.  So go on Steam, and throw 24.99$ at getting this title moving.  Its end state will be a title to make Sid Meier jealous.  I mean, seriously, that guy is probably like making a title called Sid Meier’s Zombies! Too late, ya bastard! Too fucking late!

You can find more from Northway Games here, follow the development of the Rebuild Series here and check out another title by this development family here.