Category Archives: gaming

Thoughts: Per Aspera

aspera_oceans

I’m going to state up front that I really wish Per Aspera had turned out differently. My last few reviews have been reasonably negative, and contrary to appearances I don’t like slating bad games all that much; at the very least it becomes exhausting to do it five or six times in a row, so I was hoping that Per Aspera would break that streak. More to the point, though, is that I have been waiting the better part of two decades for somebody to make a game about terraforming Mars. Per Aspera should have been extremely my jam. It definitely looked extremely my jam when I played the demo, with all of the levers I was expecting like modifying atmosphere content, raising the temperature, melting the ice caps and so on. Finally, I thought, somebody has made the terraforming game that Surviving Mars wasn’t, and which Terraforming Mars was a bit too light to really satisfy my urge for1. I tinkered for around twenty minutes and then put the demo down, not wanting to have to repeat (or spoil) myself too much when I played the full product.

In retrospect this may have been something of a mistake, because if I’d played that demo for just a bit longer I might have noticed that Per Aspera is the most broken game I’ve played this year.

Continue reading

  1. This is not the fault of Terraforming Mars, which is a good boardgame precisely because it keeps things light and abstracted enough for a small group of people to grasp and play in a couple of hours.
Tagged , ,

LucasArts Time Machine: Monkey Island 2

mi2_beach

Did you know that the original Secret Of Monkey Island didn’t do that well commercially? It’s true; it sold strongly in Europe but these were offset by poor sales in the larger US market, and so it was only a moderate success. If LucasArts had known that ahead of time it’s likely that Monkey Island 2 never would have been made, but fortunately publishing and distributing a game on a global scale took much longer back in the 90s and so Ron Gilbert and co. jumped straight into the development of Monkey Island 2 after they finished Monkey Island 1, with no idea of how well the first game had sold because it hadn’t even made it to stores yet. This approach had its good and bad points; on the one hand we got a Monkey Island 2, but on the other the developers going head-first into a sequel meant they didn’t have time to critically assess why the first one worked and why people liked it.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Thoughts: Mars Horizon

mars_saturn

Mars Horizon is a modern take on Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space. Is it really any surprise that I had it bought and downloaded fifteen minutes after it released on Steam?

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

LucasArts Time Machine: The Secret Of Monkey Island

mi_twenty_bucks

So I guess I got what I wanted out of this project. Despite having played through The Secret Of Monkey Island six or seven times over the past three decades, and despite already thinking of it as a stone cold classic, experiencing the trials and travails of LucasArts prior to its release gave me a whole new appreciation of why it’s a classic. It’s an adjunct to my Bad Game Theory, where you need to play the occasional bad game to give you the right context for what a good one looks like; here I needed a better appreciation of the games that had come before it to fully understand why Monkey Island was such a groundbreaking tour de force of art, humour and puzzle design.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Thoughts: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

valhalla_curse

The reviews of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla mark yet another occasion where I wonder what on earth the mainstream games media have been smoking. “A saga for the ages!” exclaims Eurogamer, who are clearly hoping I’ll forget that they once gave the Bad Company 2 single-player campaign a 9/10 rating. “A big, bold, and ridiculously beautiful entry to the series!” bleats IGN, presumably because they couldn’t find a more generic set of superlatives for their review strapline. And quoth the usually-on-the-ball PC Gamer: “Valhalla is Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date!”, a statement that quite overlooks the fact that the series has undergone so many reinventions over its 13-year history that it’s like comparing Doom to Doom 2016. But assuming, for a moment, that that’s possible: as someone who has also played and reviewed quite a few Assassin’s Creed games, I am here to tell you that Valhalla is nowhere near Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date. In fact it barely scrapes in ahead of the worst of the pack, and it is a remarkable step down from 2018’s Odyssey.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

LucasArts Time Machine: Loom

loom_distaff

I have been aware of the existence of Loom ever since meeting the pirate in Monkey Island wearing an “Ask Me About Loom” badge who is otherwise monosyllabic, but who spouts flowery ad copy for the game at you if you Ask Him About Loom. A more serious, fantasy-themed adventure game from the same people who made one of my favourite games ever? Sounds great, sign me up! Unfortunately despite first hearing about Loom in 1995, I was not actually in a position to play Loom until 2009, as the game had almost immediately disappeared from UK shops and wasn’t available on digital distribution for another twenty years, and by that point I had all but forgotten Loom existed. Not only that, but so did nearly everyone else; it seems that despite the generous advertising plug, the release of Monkey Island in the same year massively overshadowed that of Loom. LucasArts were known as the Monkey Island studio afterwards, not the Loom studio1, and while Loom is more fondly remembered than, say, Zak McKracken, it remains little more than a footnote at the bottom of the list of LucasArts’ greatest achievements. Yet there remains a cult following of people who talk fondly about Loom, and not just because they’re characters in a game who have been explicitly written to advertise Loom, and so I was genuinely interested in experiencing Loom for the first time as part of this series just so that I could see what it was about.

Continue reading

  1. Now, you might wonder why LucasArts weren’t known as the Star Wars studio at this point since they were part of Lucasfilm and should have had easy access to the IP. The answer is very simple: the rights to make Star Wars video games had been sold to Atari years earlier, and so the first titles from LucasArts had to be based on original IP — this is why we got Maniac Mansion, Zac McKracken, Loom and Monkey Island instead of a cavalcade of Star Wars tie-ins. LucasArts didn’t get the rights back until 1992, with X-Wing appearing the following year.
Tagged , , ,