Playing a Classic Game for the First Time: Heroes of Might & Magic 3 in 2022

I had a classic game on my shelf for literal years, unplayed. It’s not the only one – although it’s one of the more prominent ones. It’s simultaneously a symbol of the dying physical game release and the lost excess free time of my youth. It’s the Heroes of Might & Magic III collection – the base game, plus two expansions, on one DVD. I bought it at a used book store for $10.

Might & Magic started as a first-person RPG series. King’s Bounty was a spin-off of that series, where you play a hero leading an army on a quest for magical artifacts. Heroes of Might & Magic then took the strategic combat of King’s Bounty and made it into a turn-based strategy game – you take command of a nation, with heroes serving as your generals. →  Read the rest

Review – The Last Remnant

I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about The Last Remnant. On the one hand, its Akitoshi Kawazu pedigree shines through, with an incredibly nuanced battle system that never fully makes up for its terrible plot. On the other hand, that battle system is really very good and worth playing the game for on its own, it’s just that the plot was made even worse – seemingly deliberately – to balance things out.

Kawazu has a long history of working on the SaGa games, and it is entirely reasonable to call TLR a stealth entry in the series, since it has many of the hallmarks. Aside from standard battle system/plot dichotomy, there’s a wonderfully imaginative world that very little is actually done with, entertaining side characters that never really break into the third dimension, incredibly good music that has only bits and pieces of substance to go with, and enough sidequests to deliberately avoid the main story for hour on end. →  Read the rest

Portal 2 Review Part 2/2: The Negative Review

Any motion picture–such as 2001:A Space Odyssey; Demon Seed; Silent Running or Forbidden Planet–or Star Wars–in which the most identifiable, likeable characters are robots, is a film without people. And that is a film that’s shallow, that cannot uplift or enrich in any genuine sense, because it is a film without soul, without a core. It is merely a diversion, a cheap entertainment, a quick fix with sugar-water, intended to distract, divert and keep an audience from coming to grips with itself.” — Harlan Ellison

It is probably safe to say at this point that everyone loves Portal 2. Just look at Metacritic, just look at the sales charts, just look at what anyone, anywhere is saying about it. So what’s even the point of different publications hiring different reviewers anymore? →  Read the rest

Portal 2 Review Part 1/2: The Positive Review

The first Portal seemed so undeserving of its success. It was essentially a Half-Life 2 mod similar to Research And Development only with a new gameplay gimmick. The story was only added later in the playtesting phase because players were getting bored with room after room of puzzles. Since the developers didn’t have time to model and animate characters a disembodied voice was created from the same disembodied voice that appears in both Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. The end result was barely marketed at all and distributed merely as a small bonus bundled with other “real” games. By all rights, Portal should have been enjoyed for what it was and forgotten afterwards, along with every other short puzzle game. But it wasn’t. Everyone loved the final product, puzzles, storyline, dialog, and all. →  Read the rest

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Non-Review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has been a game I’ve declined to review. There are some things I’m just not comfortable casting judgment on. A review implies that the reviewer has authority over the game, an intellectual superiority. I can tell you what I think about Stalker, but Stalker is a complex game full of loose ends; it calls upon a creative power within its players to piece them together. What I think about it is constantly changing the more I play and the more I learn. Any review of the game will say much more about the reviewer than the game itself. This is my non-review. It’s just what I think right now.

I’m going to go ahead and say that I like Stalker–a lot. It’s one of my favorite games ever and I still can’t stop talking about. →  Read the rest

Review – AquaNox 2: Revelation

The bottom of the ocean is a lot like space–both are dark and mysterious, both require special equipment in order for us to survive, and both appear as a peaceful shade of blue from our viewpoint. There are, however, some sharp differences between them. No one really goes to space (at least not outside of Earth’s orbit), whereas many people spend lots of their time living underwater. One reason for this is the fact that there isn’t much of anything in space. Every single book, movie, or videogame set in space is forced to make up a bunch of stuff to fill its multi-light-year spanning void. Unless you want to use the Moon as a setting (such as in Moonbase Alpha or the film Moon) then making up a bunch of fantasy stuff is really your only option.

 →  Read the rest

Review – Burger Island

I recently [not recently – Ed.] spent a good portion of my Memorial Day weekend remembering our fallen soldiers by playing Burger Island with my daughter.

“Do you want a turn making milkshakes, daddy?” she asked in a cute manner.

“I will do it! I will do it for those that died at Normandy!” I cried.

And thus began my nightmarish decent into the maddening world of Burger Island.

Burger Island, I learned the hard way while simultaneously paying tribute to the ultimate sacrifice of others, is a lie.

The island in the title is not a gigantic delicious hamburger. It is not a Burger Island. The point of the game is not to gorge your stranded survivor on the island itself in the name of survival, slowly eating the very piece of juicy, flame-broiled land that also keeps you safe. →  Read the rest

Review – League of Legends: Season One

Following many months of “live,” but not “ranked” gameplay, League of Legends, published by Riot Games, has gone pro, launching their competitive Season One. Featuring several ranked ladder modes: “solo” (actually solo or duo play) 5v5, full premade 5v5 and full premade 3v3, the ladders will culminate with tournament play and $100,000 of cash and prizes. Although Riot will not release simultaneous usage numbers, they have confirmed through various online sources they have over 3 million registered accounts. With the DOTA community estimated at 7-9 million players built over a decade, Riot should be proud of how quickly their game has caught on and distinguished itself in broad field of incumbents and competitors.

Unsurprisingly, Season One is mostly more of the same. On the cosmetic side, both the website and the game’s launcher UI received new snazzy themes and sound track. →  Read the rest

Review – Dragon Age: Origins

The machine slowly comes to life, the sound of whirring fans and arcane instruments powering up to a deafening howl. Then a blinding flash of incandescence, a painful sense of sudden detachment from where and when you were. Also all your clothes are apparently gone, unfortunately burnt away by the paradox. Uh-oh.

Yes, playing Dragon Age is like taking a trip back in time. Not back to the pseudo-historical-yet-entirely-fictional fantasy universe it is set in, because it never happened! I’m telling you, all that conspiracy theory stuff about William the Conqueror using dragons at Hastings is completely bogus. I was there, it never happened, no chance.

No, the time it takes you back to is around 2004, when the game was first announced. It was an extended development process, and as is often the case, elements of the game feel dated as a result. →  Read the rest

Armored Princess Review: Part III

When I initially conceived of the idea of writing episodic reviews I planned on concluding the series when I had also finished the game. Well I haven’t finished Armored Princess yet, but it’s also been almost two months since I posted part one of this review. I think the time has come to wrap this up. Actually it’s probably way past time. But better late than never I suppose.

Anyway, I spent part one and part two talking about different individual aspects of the game, so I’ll finish this by summarizing my feelings of the game as a whole.

– Part III: The End is Another Beginning –

This is the kind of game that I enjoy playing for reasons completely unrelated to any of the gameplay or presentation that I’ve mentioned so far. →  Read the rest

Review – Torchlight

Torchlight should be branded with a warning. The game is pornographic, it’s number porn and clicking porn with a Tolkienesque fantasy fetish thrown into the mix. After loading the game there is a brief introduction to set the scene, and immediately the player begins clicking madly on everything moving.

With each click the characters moan, scream, and produce other sounds juicy with stimulation. Of course it’s not the meaning of the sound they make, it’s the fact that each of these noises is calculated to be so brief and repetitious, fading in and out instantly and producing a peak at just the right tone. It elicits pleasure in the player’s brain, and without thinking he or she understands that another such buzz is only a click away. When the clicking is finished, the number action begins. →  Read the rest

Review – Children of the Nile / Alexandria

Children of the Nile is a continuation, and possibly the final installment of the fairly successful Pharaoh series, taking advantage of the excellent setting of ancient Egypt as a basis for a robust city builder. The people of ancient Egypt are civilized enough to be needy bastards– a prerequisite for any builder, and in an era filled with war and great deeds, we’re off to the races of conquest and glory.

COTN’s greatest strength, without a doubt, is the ecosystem of its city. Your people have multiple “tiers” of social standing, with each level having its own behavior and needs. Your job, of course, is to keep those needs satisfied so their efforts can be directed towards doing useful things for you: killing your enemies and building great works in your name. →  Read the rest

Armored Princess Review: Part II

Sometime while I was busy writing about how much the PC is awesome and how much BioShock sucks I realized that I was still actively playing King’s Bounty: Armored Princess and I’m overdue in my second review installment. I’m probably about half way through the game at this point. Considering I’ve spent a total of 35 hours so far, part of my brain is telling me to play something else that I have hope of finishing; but I just keep trudging on anyway.

Part 1 was about the world of Armored Princess. It dealt with things that people tend to think don’t matter in games. Whenever a critic rambles on about inconsistent details in fantasy worlds then they can expect insane fans to blow their comment section through the roof with defamatory accusations. →  Read the rest

Review – Eve Online Dominion

Being primarily an MMO gamer for the past decade, I am continually amazed at my ability to be angry when developers release an untested pile of crap and demand you pay for it–which of course a gamer will. However, much as an old faithful geyser, my naiveté and then resulting hatred spring eternal. The latest source of my ire is none other than my mistress Eve’s latest expansion: Dominion.

Eve has continued to capture my attention for a variety of reasons. It remains an incomparable sandbox of player driven activity, a unique novelty amongst the “theme park” style that dominates MMOs today. The fact that it is a single server, one giant, interrelated universe also adds to its charm. And finally, the fact that their expansion packs, as a result of the other two reasons, are always free works to developer’s CCP’s favor. →  Read the rest

Armored Princess Review: Part I

I’ve been playing King’s Bounty: Armored Princess for almost sixteen hours now. For lots of games that would mean I’m approaching the ending, or perhaps I even surpassed the ending and cycled back to the beginning for another playthrough. Such is not the case with this game, I’ve only traveled to two and a half islands out of… I’m not sure. But judging by my incomplete map I’ve only covered a small percentage of the world. This is my primary motivation for taking a break and writing a partial review. It makes no sense to me if I wait another week or month to complete the entire game and then write a review summarizing all of the dozens of hours, at least those that I can recollect. Is it unfair to judge a game I have not yet finished? →  Read the rest

Review – League of Legends

League of Legends, the stand alone Defense Of The Ancients clone released by Riot Games, bills itself as better than DOTA. The good news: it lives up to its billing. Without a doubt, LoL is a superior product to DOTA. This should not be surprising. Being able to draw from established source material, recruit one of the recent caretakers of the map (Pendragon) and build a real, non-volunteer design team, made the first part of Riot Games’ job easy. But credit should be given where credit is due: these ingredients do not automatically make a good game, but Riot has ensured that they have taken the best of DOTA and added much more.

As one would expect, there is much to love about LoL. The evolution of the DOTA concept can be extended to two distinct aspects: the community interface, and the game itself. →  Read the rest

Review – Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon

After a few minutes of playing Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon I realized that this was a game that I’ve always wanted to play but never knew existed until recently. I was quite late to the party since the game came out in the early 90s, back when point and click adventures were cool and “interactive movie” sounded like something futuristic and not something cheesy. It was also a time when technology didn’t quite know what to do with itself; for some reason Access Software couldn’t quite figure out how to use a keyboard and mouse to make someone move around a 2.5D world in a way that makes sense, and there are specific instances where the smooth gameplay suddenly breaks into jagged fragments.

Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to be able to load Tex Murphey in DOSBOX and travel back in time to the past’s virtual imagining of the future. →  Read the rest

Review – Personal Nightmare

There once was a time where games were designed to ease the player into the gameplay, get him addicted, and then proceed to murder him. This was naturally because the games could only be sustained through a diet of quarters, and demanding a constant flow of money from addicted players was the most effective way to separate a gamer from his cash. Games today have the liberty to come in a lot of forms and sustain themselves in many different ways, so that cliché difficulty curve isn’t used so often anymore. Personal Nightmare, for example, simply murders the player right off the bat.

Personal Nightmare was made by Horrorsoft, creators of Waxworks (which I reviewed previously). Both inhabit the very specific niche genre commonly called “survival horror,” although they existed before that term was coined. →  Read the rest

Review – Hearts of Iron III

Paradox Interactive is becoming known in the innermost of hardcore gaming circles as “the only grand strategy gaming company left on earth,” a level of praise earned by their constant desire to take giant swaths of history and make games out of it. Instead of reading this, you could in fact be playing what we insiders call the “unnecessary gauntlet” of grand strategy gaming: repeating all of human history from 200 BC to 1956, the last moment in history that needs to be covered because Eisenhower’s presidency is the absolute pinnacle of mankind’s achievement. Year by year, hour by hour. No, Paradox Interactive doesn’t cheat like Firaxis, doesn’t do things like assigning one turn of gameplay a five year value in world time. You want to play five years? Then you better be prepared to play them out. →  Read the rest

Review – Dark Souls

Indie games aren’t always incredible. I’ve had great experiences with Mount & Blade, The Spirit Engine 2, and World of Goo. After these outstanding games, my expectations were high coming into Warfare Studios’ Dark Souls, which is a classic-style RPG with a darker-than-usual plot… perhaps a bit too high.

The first thing that should have lowered the bar was the fact that it was clearly made in some flavor of RPGMaker. RPGMaker games have been around for years – every time I have tried one, I stopped playing in less than an hour due to difficulty and/or incredibly bad production/script quality. Everyone wants to make the next Final Fantasy VI, but nobody has the passion and ability to create good artwork, compose fitting music, and write a polished script. Teams larger than two or three tend to dissolve due to a lack of sustained interest or go nowhere, and the end result is that the games that are released just don’t seem that great. →  Read the rest