The Witness

Do you like puzzles?  Yes!  This is a must buy.  I’m biased toward games designed by Jonathan Blow, but I think it will become the new standard of puzzles games.  It is also one of the most bright, cheerful and beautiful games made in, well… ever.  It stands out for not being dark and gritty, which is all too common.  You can tell that it is made with care.  It obviously is not the cookie cutter profit margin dream game of some Suit.  It may seem pricey but it is many hours of entertainment, and if you consider a movie is $10-20 for 2 hours of entertainment, $40 is a bargain bin deal.

World in Conflict

World in Conflict is a real time strategy game in which you play a modern commander. It is set in a time line different from our own history, in which World War III breaks out.

World in Conflict looks great. The chaos and mayhem of the battle are superb. Seeing the huge planes swoop in and drop a phalanx of heavy tanks is really a sight to behold. You’ll also be impressed by the tactical nuke strike, even as you are left licking your wounds.

Perhaps, though, you are the type to emphasize gameplay over looks? Well, it isn’t as disappointing as you might have come to expect from other indie RTS titles. The gameplay does have an element of the rock-paper-scissor doldrums, but its effect is to encourage cooperation among team members. Unlike many supposedly cooperative games, you will find it difficult if not impossible to ignore what your teammates are doing and strike out on your own. You’ll quickly find it necessary to call in air strikes and request heavy armor support from your allies in order to survive.

World in Conflict also takes the RTS genre in a new, more action-oriented direction. Games don’t last hours and there is rarely a boring moment. Of course, if you are the type of careful thinker who tends to think for ten minutes about every decision, this game will cook your goose!

I would recommend purchasing the game if you have the extra cash. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend waiting until several of your friends have shown a commitment to playing, as the cooperative mode is what really makes it worth the price. Either way, a free demo is available, and it is definitely worth a look for any strategy fan.


Dawn of War: Soulstorm

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War Soulstorm is the 4th title in the Dawn of War real time strategy game series. The original Dawn of War was a critical success, garnering high scores from many reviewers. Personally, I was impressed by some of its revolutionary game mechanics, such as the squad sergeant reinforcements, which kept the player’s hands free from the need to rearrange squads manually. Dawn of War’s success spawned two expansions prior to Soulstorm: Winter Assault and Dark Crusade. These are stand-alone expansions, which is a plus, but unfortunately, you can’t play the factions from the earlier titles in multi-player mode.

Metacritic gives Soulstorm a 72 – a very low mark by their standards – and I tend to agree with their assessment. For one thing, I wasn’t much impressed by the new faction, named the Sisters of Battle. The style of play with them felt much like the Space Marines, only weaker, and I often found myself wishing that I was playing the Marines. After losing patience and abandoning that game, I didn’t have the heart even to try the other new race, the Dark Eldar, and started over with the Marines.

Another big beef I had with the game was the strategic “Campaign” mode, which never made me feel as if my decisions were particularly important. I certainly didn’t feel like I was given the opportunity to sacrifice one advantage in favor of another. This absence breaks what I think is the most important rule of strategy games, which is that you must have the ability to work towards goals you think will give you the edge in the long run. War isn’t about winning every battle, after all: it is about pushing your advantage wherever you have one, and wearing down the opponent over the long run.

The worst part of the experience, however, was invading other factions’ strongholds, which consist of carefully laid-out maps filled with objectives. This sort of over-planning by the game designers breaks the illusion that’s so critical to player immersion. Throughout the mission I felt less like a commander in the midst of a chaotic battle, and more like a plastic miniature, reenacting a pre-scripted battle on a meticulously engineered diorama.

The bulletted list on the back of the box proclaims, “Liberate, enslave, or destroy entire worlds as you unleash your army’s fury on an interplanetary scale.” There isn’t even a half-truth in this sentence. During my time playing, I never did any of those things on the scale of “an entire world.” I did destroy a lot of the other factions’ soldiers, but that’s about the entirety of it. Worse, I never felt like I had much of an army to speak of. I quickly discovered that the cost of the honor guards – the game’s most powerful units – is completely out of prop with their size and firepower. This is not to mention extra attention required to keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t die wastefully, which is particularly hard in some cases, because several of the honor guard squads consist of a single character, who cannot be reinforced.

In summary, I think this real time strategy game is a complete pass. Assuming you already own one of the previous games in the series, Soulstorm won’t seem like anything new or special. Meanwhile, if you’ve never played a Dawn of War game, you’d be better off finding a used copy of an earlier title, or waiting for all of them to be sold as a bundle. The real disappointment for me is that the first Dawn of War contained a lot of ground breaking ideas, so I had great hopes for the franchise. Sadly, as is too often the case in the industry, Relic seems to be content to coast on the momentum of its real time strategy games earlier successes and continue grinding out bland remakes for as long as people keep buying them.


Harvest: Massive Encounter

Harvest is one of those games I almost dismissed after playing the first time. I guess I expected too much bang from the tutorial. Thanks goodness it looked nice, had a straight forward GUI and seem polished because I didn’t quit right after the first game, but looked around. Its beauty didn’t hit me until I saw the High Score page. “HOW THE HELL DID THEY GET THAT SCORE!,” my brain screamed. Instantly I was hooked. I began playing game after game. Searching for what I was missing what magic detailed would enable me to increase my score by 10 times?!?! I felt challenged, but not overwhelmed. I could get to level 21 and then the aliens overwhelmed the perimeter. Once that happens you are done.

So YouTube to the rescue! I watch a couple of game play video which inspired me to break the level 41 barrier and then level 70. I was having a blasted. I felt full engaged. I didn’t feel patronized, or crippled by the interface. I experimented with all kinds of different laser tower configurations. Then I tested all the different ways to flow energy to the towers. Lately I’ve been experimenting with the energy node overload bombs.

I highly recommend this game. Massive Encounter is a piece of art. I imagine trimming down to the minimal elements that makes this game great was very difficult. I stand and clap. Oxeye has done a wonderful job and I pray that they make massive piles of money so we can see what they do next.

Go buy it now! Harvest: Massive Encounter