Tag Archives: In Praise Of

In Praise Of: Civilization’s City View.

city

I found myself cranking through yet another game of Civilization V the other day and a thought crystallised in my brain that’s been niggling me ever since I started playing it back in 2010: for a game that is based so much around cities and the civilizations built from them, a city in Civ V is a staggeringly two-dimensional entity. Open up the city screen for your capital and all you’ll see is a big list of numbers, symbols and building names. Open up the city screen for your newest colony and you’ll see exactly the same thing; the numbers might be smaller and the lists shorter, but there’s nothing to really differentiate the two as entities apart from the name. Cities in Civ V exist purely as resource gathering and production nodes, and while this is certainly how they are supposed to function mechanically I feel that the game loses something for not having them feel like places.

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In Praise Of: Covert Action.

Unusually for most of the old titles I talk about, Covert Action isn’t actually a very good game. It’s yet another relic from the age where Microprose was essentially cranking out collections of minigames with a loosely-connecting theme. In Covert Action’s case the theme is spying, so you do stuff like planting bugs, tailing cars, infiltrating hideouts, breaking codes etc., but while this is not the worst idea for a game that’s ever been had there’s just one small catch: unusually for a Microprose game – and for something carrying the Sid Meier name – nearly every single one of the minigames sucks.

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In Praise Of: Terror From The Deep.

For a series that purportedly spans twenty years, the XCOM games actually have a relatively short and chequered history. Before Firaxis came along to do their very respectable reboot of the franchise the last game to carry the XCOM name – the execrable Enforcer – had been released in 2001. Before Enforcer was the similarly-terrible Interceptor, but neither of these were really XCOM games as they’re popularly understood; Enforcer was a third person shooter while Interceptor plumped for a bizarre and awful space combat environment. You have to go all the way back to 1997 to find an XCOM game with tiny men running around on a tactical battlescape map, and so the “true” XCOM games consist of the original trilogy: UFO, Terror From The Deep, and Apocalypse.  Everyone knows about UFO, since that’s the game that got the high-profile remake last year. Apocalypse was… interesting, and probably a post for another day. What I’m here to talk about today, though, is Terror From The Deep, a game with a reputation it doesn’t really deserve since it was far, far better than it had any right to be, especially when you consider its origins.

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In Praise Of: Master Of Orion 2.

Note before we start: “4X” is an acronym invented by a moron for the same reason that the term “FPS” was inserted into the general gaming lexicon: because calling games “Doom clones” and “Civ-alikes” is seen as demeaning to the ones that might actually be trying to iterate and develop a genre. Genre labels are necessary; the term 4X, however, is spectacularly awful, standing as it does for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. I sometimes wonder if the bored gaming journalist/PR bod who came up with it ever regrets this most enduring of their contributions to gaming culture. Whatever. We’re stuck with it now.

If you cast your eye back over the last decade or so of strategy titles, you might notice that the 4X genre is littered with the corpses of dead and dying space-based empire building games. Some of them have been badly made buggy messes (Sword of the Stars 2, for example). Some of them have had a limited amount of impact but are ultimately fading away into obscurity (Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire). Even though the last year has seen an extraordinary number of these titles released – I can probably count at least five off the top of my head –  only one of them has had any staying power to my mind, and Endless Space is a game with many of its own problems.

Perhaps this isn’t that unusual. I’d expect sci-fi to be a popular setting for games because it requires even less thought than fantasy; you can basically do a hundred iterations of “Modern day thing X, but in the FUTURE” and then call it a day. But why the 4X genre in particular? Compared to sci-fi settings you can count the number of fantasy 4X games on one hand, and I think even historical real-world settings (which are largely propped up by Paradox’s prolific output) are outnumbered by sci-fi ones. This cornucopia of sci-fi games doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though. They exist for a reason. They’re trying to recapture and/or recreate the spirit and feel of an ancient classic. They’re trying to do Master of Orion 2 all over again.

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In Praise Of: Day Of The Tentacle.

While waiting for a rather large file to download the other day I stumbled across my ScummVM install of Day of the Tentacle. Day of the Tentacle is special to me. Most people cite Grim Fandango or one of the Monkey Island games as the pinnacle of Lucasarts’ adventure game prowess, but for my money nothing can quite beat the time-travelling screwiness of Day of the Tentacle. It’s an adventure split into three different games in three different periods that both run in parallel and in series with each other; changes made in the past will affect the present, changes made in the present affect the future, and items can be traded between different time periods. This all combines to make the game a twisty brain-teaser that’s somewhat akin to trying to complete three jigsaw puzzles at once that constantly affect each other as you add more and more pieces; the sort of thing that would burn your brain out if Day of the Tentacle wasn’t charming and funny to boot. I can usually finish old Lucasarts adventures in less than three hours (unless they’re The Dig) since the solutions to all the puzzles tend to be indelibly etched into my noggin. Let’s see how long Day of the Tentacle takes me, shall we?

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In Praise Of: Hidden Agenda.

Hidden Agenda: a game for people who really want to know what it’s like to be the doomed Presidente of a fictional Southern American country that’s just overthrown a brutal dictator in a violent civil war.

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