Thoughts: Dungeon of the Endless

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Chances are that if you load up a review of Dungeon of the Endless — any review, doesn’t really matter which one — you will see, at some point, the words “tower defence” and “roguelike” in very close proximity to one another 1 . This is partially a reflection of DotE ’s refusal to be pigeonholed; while it does indeed smoosh together some elements from both genres (you build towers to hold off waves of advancing baddies, but you also have a party of four characters who you outfit in looted equipment and level up as the dungeon progresses) into a single game, it also has some very interesting mechanics that have nothing to do with it being either a tower defence or a roguelike, and which can only be found in DotE . That it’s picked up those labels in spite of its unique qualities indicates that it’s been pigeonholed nevertheless, however, and I think that to describe it as a “roguelike tower defence” could end up misleading people. I certainly bounced off the surface the first time I played it because it wasn’t what I’d been led to expect – playing it like a roguelike simply didn’t work, and it didn’t seem quite tower-defencey enough (you start off with a grand total of one offensive tower, which doesn’t exactly promote strategy) to engage the strategy part  of my brain. It wasn’t until I gave it a second chance after Christmas and accepted it on its own merits — rather than cramming it into a niche where it didn’t fit — that Dungeon of the Endless really clicked for me.

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  1. And yes, I’m aware that by writing this I’ve just added this review to the list.
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Thoughts: Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

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I have fond memories of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light . It was that rarest of beasts: a arcadey spinoff from a AAA series that actually worked, and moreover arguably transcended its source material with its emphasis on pleasingly brain-twisting puzzles that could be solved either solo or as part of a co-op team of two. The multiplayer puzzles worked so well, in fact, that I’d happily put Guardian of Light somewhere in my top five best co-op experiences of all time. Given that the first game was so good it’s a little surprising that it’s taken nearly five years for it to receive a sequel, but now that sequel is finally here. It’s called Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris , and..

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Thoughts – Alien Isolation

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It’s one of the more unlikely success stories of last year: Total War developers Creative Assembly, whose every previous attempt to branch out from the series that made their name has crashed and burned spectacularly1, make an Alien game that couldn’t be further away from Total War if they tried, in a genre they have no prior experience with, and with a very ambitious design brief that flouts most of the established rules of conventional first-person shooters. I think I could be forgiven for being somewhat skeptical of their ability to deliver on that brief prior to release, and yet a scant three months later Alien Isolation has ended up placing highly on nearly every single “Best Of 2014”  list I’ve seen so far 2 ; the sheer weight of critical acclaim resulted in it moving up to the top of my play list so that I could see what all the damn fuss was about.

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  1. Does anyone remember Spartan: Total Warrior ? Viking: Battle for Asgard ? Or *shudder* Stormrise ? If you don’t, rest assured you really weren’t missing anything.
  2. Even if you discount PC Gamer giving it their Game Of The Year award, since PC Gamer is pathologically incapable of giving AAA PC-centric developers a bad review.
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Thoughts: Shovel Knight

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I just took two weeks off for the Christmas holidays. While the first week was spent with access to only a laptop with a basic integrated graphics chip — and thus ruled out playing any game less than six years old — my avowed goal for the second week was to finally make inroads into two games that had been on my to-do list for a while: Alien Isolation and Elite Dangerous. I installed them both. Played them both. The idea was that I’d at least finish Alien in that week and have a review of it ready to kick off 2015; that the spot ended up being taken by Shovel Knight says a lot about both games, I think, but principally what it says is that Shovel Knight is really a pretty great game indeed.

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2014′s A Goner

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Not that it’ll really be noticeable against the backdrop of my recent slow output, but I am taking my seasonal break along with seemingly the entire rest of the videogames blogging community. The Scientific Gamer will return on the 5th of January – and hopefully I’ll have used the break to actually write something for it! In the meantime, three things:

  • Merry Christmas.
  • Merry Russian Christmas.
  • I am assembling a list of games to play in the new year. Currently I have Elite: Dangerous , Alien Isolation and Temple of Osiris , along with Dead State (which launched just before Christmas to a general reaction of “Are you really sure this game is finished?”)  That gets me through January, but up till March looks pretty dead in terms of new releases. So all suggestions and recommendations are welcome.

2014 End Of Year Retrospective

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Only one review in the last month? I feel like I’m slipping from my usual regular ouput, but with my Christmas break fast approaching I should accept the writing is on the wall and I’m not going to invest enough hours into any game to sneak a final review in under the wire. This is a shame since I was hoping to at least get some time in on Elite Dangerous before wrapping up for the year, but as I’ll shortly be spending a week in a place where only integrated graphics chips can follow me it seems like a better idea to attack that in the new year when I can get properly invested in it.

It’s not all bad news, though — the end of the year brings with it the annual Scientific Gamer Completely Made Up Awards Ceremony! Secretly this is actually a fairly worthwhile exercise since my opinions tend to mellow somewhat over time and it’s useful to take a second look at some games with the benefit of six months’ reflection, but mostly it’s a convenient excuse for me to look back on the year just gone so that I can regurgitate some of said opinions at you. So without further ado, let’s get stuck into the Best (and not-so-Best) games of 2014.

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Thoughts: Dragon Age Inquisition

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I must admit to a spot of hubris upon seeing the intro paragraph to RPS’s review of Dragon Age: Inquisition . ” I’ve spent almost sixty hours uncovering as much of Inquisition’s enormous open world and intricate story as possible”? Yeah, there was some eye-rolling going on when I read that. This is Bioware we’re talking about, who have cut and cut and cut at the core concept of the RPG until it consisted of nothing more than a dull series of linear dungeons propped up by their character writing, which is still consistently above average. There’s also the fact that games journalists are paradoxically terrible at actually playing the products they review for a living; as a general rule of thumb you can take any time they quote for completion of a game and cut it in half to get the actual length 1 . And after the debacle that was Dragon Age 2 I’d mercifully insulated myself from any further publicity for the series, assuming that Inquisition would at best be more along the lines of a semi-decent fantasy Mass Effect than a proper, meaty RPG. Eminently disposable, in other words. I thought I’d be able to blast through it in a weekend and then move on to the next item on the huge list of games I have to play.

Forty hours later, and I am forced to admit I might have been mistaken.

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  1. I have no idea what it is they do to inflate the time by 100%, but it certainly isn’t playing the damn thing.
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