Battle Brothers is the low-fantasy mercenary company management game I always wanted.
I started Mass Effect: Andromeda last Friday with every intention of finishing it, or at least finishing the majority of it, by Sunday night. Based on my experience with other Bioware RPGs this seemed perfectly doable; my completion times for all three previous Mass Effects clock in at under 20 hours and I had nothing else to do that weekend, and they’d all at least been fun enough for me to blitz through them in a similar timeframe. It’s not Bioware, but when Alpha Protocol came out I completed it three times in a single week1. What I’m trying to say here is that I have absolutely no problem smashing my way through an RPG in a very short space of time, and I’ll usually enjoy doing it unless the RPG in question is Dragon Age 2.
On Sunday morning, faced with the choice between playing more Mass Effect: Andromeda and doing literally anything else with my time, I instead elected to clean my fridge. I took all of the shelves out, washed them in the sink, dried them, thoroughly wiped down the inside of the fridge to remove some pretty gnarly hidden stains, replaced everything, and then went on to clean the microwave and the easy parts of the oven for good measure. Doing a proper job of it meant enduring a couple of hours of the sort of mild intellectual tedium that accompanies all housework, but you know what? It was an infinitely, infinitely more thrilling and satisfying experience than playing Mass Effect: Andromeda.
For the last week or so I’ve been making the joke that Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world game whose major innovation is that the towers that you climb to uncover the surrounding area on your map now walk slowly around the map themselves. This crack is only slightly unfair. In terms of mechanics there is almost nothing surprising about Horizon Zero Dawn as it fuses bits and pieces from the rest of the genre together into something that developers Guerilla Games are clearly hoping will turn out to be more than the sum of its parts, and my initial impressions of the game were somewhat unfavourable. It looks absolutely stunning, to be sure1, but aside from the robot dinosaurs there didn’t appear to be a huge degree of difference between it and Far Cry Primal. Does the world really need another fairly standard open world game, even one as pretty as Horizon Zero Dawn?
I have something of a bone to pick with the Numenera setting. By extension I also have something of a bone to pick with Torment: Tides Of Numenera – as is implicit in the name, this is a spiritual successor to the immortal Planescape: Torment that replaces the oddball worlds of Planescape for the even weirder reality-bending madness of Numenera. Planescape: Torment is considered by many to be the Best RPG Ever; I don’t go quite that far and merely consider it to be the best-written RPG ever, but nevertheless these are extremely large shoes to fill for Wasteland 21 developers InXile. The strategy equivalent would be trying to make a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri or Master Of Orion, and I’ve completely lost track of how many contenders have shattered themselves trying to ascend those heights over the last couple of decades. Doing something like this is all but setting yourself up for a fall, in other words, and so I’m not all that surprised that Torment ultimately fails to attain the lofty goal it has set for itself. What is interesting here is the manner of that failure, however, as it hasn’t fallen down quite the way I expected it to.
I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.
Back in 1998 a small Spanish developer called Pyro Studios released the first Commandos game. Commandos was a strategy game with a difference: instead of jumping on the Command & Conquer RTS bandwagon that was trundling along at full speed at around about this time, Commandos was instead a World War 2-set Mission Impossible-style series of infiltration missions where you took command of a small squad of 4-6 Allied operatives as they blew up various bits of critical German infrastructure and assassinated key personnel. It was a game notable for the massive strength asymmetry between your squad and the opposing forces — each level was infested with dozens and dozens of guards and your commandos were unfortunately rather realistically squishy, quickly succumbing to just a couple of rifle bullets — which in turn engendered an extreme focus on stealth and on using the unique toolkits available to each individual commando to unpick the enemy patrol paths so that you could reach your objective.
Commandos was successful enough that it spawned its own real-time tactics sub-genre. As well as two sequels (Commandos 2 arguably perfected the formula, while Commandos 3 was a bit of a cash-in from a studio that was running out of ideas and talent), it inspired two Desperados games, Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood and even Star Trek: Away Team. But then a funny thing happened: after the initial rush of imitators, this particular strain of stealthy strategy game died an abrupt and premature death. Save for Desperados 2 in 2006, nobody has made a Commandos-style game in almost fifteen years.
That is, until Shadow Tactics was released last month. And oh my goodness, it is Commandos to the core.