Thoughts: Project Wingman

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Project Wingman is an interesting one. It’s an indie take on the arcade-style fighter jet shenanigans of the Ace Combat series that’s been made by a tiny team with a fraction of the budget that a full Ace Combat game would get, but which is attractive to me for precisely that reason. I have never played an Ace Combat game, mostly because the trailers all tend to feature a rather larger quantity of pre-rendered cutscenes and interminable voiceovers than I’m really comfortable with in what’s supposedly an arcade shooter. I bought Project Wingman in the hope that an indie approach to it would cut all of that extraneous stuff out (because it doesn’t have the budget for it) and instead focus all of its resources on the part of Ace Combat that I’m actually interested in: re-enacting Top Gun with a console controller.

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LucasArts Time Machine: Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis

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Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis is second on the list of games I was most looking forward to playing for the first time as part of this series. Unlike most of the other games on that list it’s only ever referred to as a stone-cold classic — both at the time and by anyone you ask about it today — and I also quite liked Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade despite that game being comparatively clunky and obtuse by modern standards. The concept of an Indiana Jones adventure game clearly has legs, and I was excited to play something wholly original that wasn’t shackled to a movie script, and which had been developed during LucasArts’ true golden age.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that, contrary to everything I’d heard about it over the last quarter-century, Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis fucking sucks.

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Thoughts: Creeper World 4

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Creeper World 4, then. I do enjoy tower defence as a genre and have got on famously well with games such as Defence Grid and Defender’s Quest and even the ancient Flash classic Desktop Tower Defence, but I’ve never managed to get into the Creeper World series. I think this is down to the series’ gimmick, where rather than defending against waves of enemies who rush in from offscreen to charge through your gauntlet of towers, you’re instead engaged in more of a hybrid RTS experience where you aggressively shuffle towers around the map to beat back a huge, constantly growing mass of purple goo called the Creeper that destroys everything it touches. It’s an interesting spin on the concept, and the guy behind Creeper World basically really likes making games out of simulations of cellular automata so the Creeper has always behaved like a believable fluid, pooling and flowing realistically before surging towards your woefully underprepared defence line. Unfortunately that hasn’t been all that clear up until this point, because the previous three Creeper World games were all top-down 2D affairs where you couldn’t really get a good impression of the true scale of the Creeper infestation; I ended up feeling more like I was fighting a war against the colour purple than I was a all-consuming blob monster and fell out of Creeper Worlds 2 and 3 quite quickly as a result.

Which, in a roundabout way, also explains why Creeper World 4 has been the one to finally click with me: it’s the first title in the series to go fully 3D, and so for the first time I am able to see just how sodding enormous the mass of Creeper bearing down on my base really is. This one change transforms Creeper World from what was ultimately a fairly standard turtling RTS game into something far more distinctive — and fun.

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Thoughts: Per Aspera

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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.

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  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.
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LucasArts Time Machine: Monkey Island 2

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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.

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Thoughts: Mars Horizon

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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?

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LucasArts Time Machine: The Secret Of Monkey Island

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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.

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