Meet, the digital distribution price comparison site; Yasumi Matsuno moves to Level 5

1. Want to quickly check which digital distributor offers the best price on a given PC game? DDscout could be useful – I just discovered this site over the weekend. It allows you to compare prices across Steam, Gamersgate, Impulse, and more. You can also select your region from the US, UK and Europe (the man behind DDscout, Mr. Guido Wesdorp, told me that he plans to add Australia, too). Check it out if you’re interested!


2. Gamasutra reports that Yasumi Matsuno, the man behind Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and FFXII has joined Level 5 Games, developer of Jeanne d’Arc (next in my PSP queue after I finish Persona 3). I really liked Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my favourite games of all time, so I look forward to seeing what he’ll work on next.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – The Verdict


This is the fifth post in my series on Tactics Ogre. Check out my earlier impressions of the game’s character profiles; four things it does better than FFT (and one it doesn’t); how I used different character classes in battle; and an unfortunate mishap later in the game.




Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, the 2011 PSP remake of the SNES/Playstation tactical RPG, is a labour of love, and it shows wherever you look. It shows in the game’s beautiful character designs and in its soundtrack, performed by an orchestra even though players might only hear it through the tinny speakers of the PSP. It shows in the sweep of the game’s plot; in the natural sound of its mock-Shakespearean localised dialogue; in the lovingly written character profiles given to even spear carriers; and in the fluff text accompanying every bit of terrain. And it shows in features such as what is, effectively, an in-battle autosave; a perspective that can switch from top-down to isometric; and the ability to jump straight to important points in the game’s timeline during a replay instead of having to redo everything from scratch, all of which speak to thought and effort put into eliminating annoyances.


The gameplay


Most importantly, the basic in-game task, moving party members around on the grid so they can attack or use their special abilities, feels satisfying. The balance between offence and defence feels just right – blows do enough damage (generally, squishies will crumple after a few good hits, whereas heavily armoured warriors can keep fighting for longer) to keep things moving quickly and maintain tension, but not so much damage as to turn the game into an exercise in luck or frustration. Positioning matters, too: archers can shoot farther from the high ground; front-line fighters project zones of control to prevent enemies from rushing past to the weaker characters; wizards may be unable to cast spells if friendlies are in the way.


In between battles, you’ll choose classes and skills for your party members – in broad terms, knights tank; archers and ninja are the main damage-dealers; and mages are used for debuffs and crowd control. Archers in particular are devastating, but as not even the mightiest archer will be able to stand unsupported, it remains important to maintain a good mix of party members*.  And here, the gameplay’s main flaw reveals itself – the levelling system fails to eliminate grinding. All characters of the same class will share a level, and switching classes will change a character’s level. This works better than the traditional system found in, say, Final Fantasy Tactics, since now you only need to level a class once. Unfortunately, not only do you still need to level newly unlocked classes (of which there are quite a few) from scratch, high-level NPCs in new classes will revert back to level 1 when they join the party! By the end of the game, I was leaving even interesting-sounding new party members on the bench, because my patience for grinding had run out. And that is a frustratingly imperfect element of the system.


The story


As a storytelling experience, Tactics Ogre reaches for greatness, but doesn’t quite get there. This is not because its creators were untalented or unimaginative. Instead of  a stew of quest fantasy clichés, they attempted to give us a tale of ambition, compromise, loyalty, and love, set in a land riven by feuding pretenders – “A Game of Thrones” for the JRPG genre, if you would. The player’s choices will then drive that story down one of three branches that recombine for the game’s final act.


At times, this works very well. Some individual moments, in their injustice, left me shocked and appalled. In another scene, a tyrant sounds all too human, all too real, as he attempts to rationalise his misdeeds. And a  dying foe might show a hint of nobility that leaves the question of what could have been. At other times, it doesn’t. One of the two storylines I played is noticeably better than the other, which is more black-and-white and doesn’t hang together very well. Once the storylines do recombine, the plot feels rushed: key characters act on inconsistent or poorly explained motivations, some of the later twists and turns pop up out of nowhere, and good luck getting the desired outcome from one vital story decision without a FAQ. And characterisation of party members suffers as a result of the gameplay format. There are dozens of potentially recruitable characters, so they can’t be given much time in cut-scenes. (While party members do influence the ending, you can only see one character’s epilogue per game, an incomprehensible hold-over from the Playstation version and a noticeable flaw compared to Valkyria Chronicles, a game that was far inferior story-wise.) Party members do get in-battle dialogue, but consistent with other TRPGs, there’s no ability to talk to them in between battles. And this is a pity, because the one brief scene I saw where several party members hang out in town, bantering and enjoying everyday life, was done so well that I’d have loved more moments like that.


The verdict


All in all, Tactics Ogre is a very good game, and close to the borderline with greatness. Gameplay-wise, this is the highly polished epitome of turn/party-based combat,  for all it ends up too grindy as it wears on. And story-wise, while it suffers from flawed execution, it aims high enough, and gets enough right, to leave me glad that I played it. If you like turn- and party-based RPGs, and you have a PSP, I would recommend this game.


* I’ve seen the point made elsewhere on the internet (on a forum or by another reviewer? I can’t quite remember) that this is in contrast to Final Fantasy Tactics, where the key was mixing and matching class abilities to create unstoppable characters.


You can buy Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together from Amazon here.


I hope you enjoyed this post! To quickly find this post, and my other reviews, click the “reviews” tab at the top of this page.


The basis of my review


Time spent with the game: My playtime clocked in at around 80 hours, though there would have been times when I’d left the game on (either on AI control, or completely idle) while I did something else.


What I have played: The Chaos route, most of the Law route, the good ending, the first few minutes of the postgame.


What I haven’t played: The last few battles of the Law route, the Neutral route, most of the postgame content.

Persona 3 Portable’s setting: A pop-cultural window onto the world

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

Compared to other RPGs, Persona 3’s modern-day world may seem mundane. The main character buys healing items not from armourers and apothecaries, but from the pharmacist at the shopping mall. He/she traipses through school hallways rather than half-sunken temples or bridges in the sky, and his/her haunt is the dormitory lounge rather than a castle.


But there are a couple of twists. First, Persona 3 is set in modern-day Japan, and to a Western gamer, odds are that will be at least a little exotic. The game takes place in the big city, so many of the differences will be muted. But there are some you’ll notice straight away. The dialogue is laden with “-san”, “-kun” and other Japanese honorifics. The main character can pray at a Shinto shrine, either to boost Academics before an exam, or divine his/her fortune and strengthen a relationship. School clubs are a Big Deal. There are even love hotels.


Second, Persona 3 contains a bunch of little touches that help preserve the internal consistency of that setting, and hence, the player’s suspension of disbelief. Trees change colour in between seasons. NPCs change their outfits depending on the weather and on whether they had school that day. But for something a bit more substantive, take the game’s scheduled exams, two sets a semester. They form part of the time management aspects of the game. They’re well flagged, in dialogue and on the in-game calendar. They do have an in-game effect. And so, it makes perfect sense that right before exam-time, your party members lock themselves in their rooms to study – leaving them unavailable for dungeon-crawling.


That said, Persona 3 mostly limits you to a single city, unlike the typical RPG, which has you travelling across cities and continents. While this is also consistent with the game’s premise – most high school students stay put in one place – it does mean that this isn’t really a game about the joy of exploration. Still, when the characters do get out of town, on holiday or on school excursions, the destinations are well-realised enough for me to delight in running around and talking to every NPC – and they’re also host to some of the funniest scenes in the game*.


How does that single city hold up over the course of the game? Pretty well (though not perfectly), actually, helped by the little touches and the odd change of scenery I mentioned above; by plot sequences that take place in new parts of the town; and by constant interaction with NPCs through plot sequences, other social encounters, and  even the periodically refreshed dialogue from nameless townspeople. That’s no small feat, after all the time I’ve spent with the game. I’m not that far from the end, now, and I‘ll be interested to see how the designers might wrap up the player’s experience with this world…


* Which, I suspect, owe more to anime tropes than to real-life Japanese culture.

Now this is inspirational – how one LittleBigPlanet fan was hired on as a developer

Talent + Hard Work + Opportunity = Success


The above formula is something of a truism, but in this week’s issue of The Escapist, I stumbled across a spectacular example in the video games industry: John Beech, a construction worker who hadn’t even finished high school, but who loved creating levels for LittleBigPlanet. His creations caught the eye of Media Molecule, the developer of LittleBigPlanet, and after seeing his levels in person, MM hired him on the spot: what Beech called “one of the best moments of my life”.


That article is well worth a read. Inspiring stuff…


(Note that the events chronicled happened some time ago – subsequent Googling reveals this article from November 2010 – but I believe they’re still worth highlighting.)

Could my dream of an open-world science fiction game finally come true? Prey 2

For years, I’ve wanted a really good, Ghost in the Shell-esque game that would let me wander around a futuristic city, gathering clues, wielding gadgets and hunting down evildoers. Now, it seems my wish may be granted: check out Gameshark’s E3 impressions of Prey 2 (published by Bethesda, developed by Human Head), described as a “science fiction, first person Assassin’s Creed” casting you as a bounty hunter in an alien city*. You can view a gameplay video below:



And here is a cinematic trailer:



The gameplay video mostly shows off taking cover and shooting, so I’ll be interested to see how other aspects of the game play out. Will the dialogue be well-written? Will the world be imaginatively designed and interesting to explore? (It doesn’t have to be Fallout 3, but I do expect at least some handcrafted little details.) How will investigation work?


We’ll find out in 2012, when Prey 2 ships.


* I understand this has little in common with the first Prey (a game which I never played, but which doesn’t seem to have left much of a mark) beyond the name.

Terraria first impressions: Patience seems to be required

Dig, fight, explore, build! Nothing is impossible in this action-packed adventure game. The world is your canvas and the ground itself is your paint. Grab your tools and go! – official Terraria blurb


I picked up Terraria, the 2D Minecraft-alike, over the long weekend, and I’ve spent a little bit of time messing around with it. So far, I can see how this could become either very addictive, or very tedious.


My first in-game day was a lot of fun. I knew I had to build shelter before nightfall, when monsters would come out, so that immediately gave the game a source of tension. I hacked down trees, dug away at the earth, and finally threw up a simple house for myself. It was satisfying to plonk each bit of wood down to form a floor, wall and roof, add a door, and build a workbench.


The problem became every day after that. Most games are built around offering the player a constant stream of rewards. In Civilization, this means building new farms and mines, researching the wheel or electricity, or completing a Wonder of the World. In RPGs, this consists of levelling up and recovering cool loot. And in Terraria, this consists of obtaining higher-grade ores that I can then use to craft better gear. Unfortunately, so far I’ve found very little in the way of decent ore. I have wood and stone aplenty; and I’ve found crumbs of iron and copper and even gold; but nowhere near enough to feel as though I’m actually making significant progress. So after several in-game days, or possibly even a week, my gear consists of a basic helmet and nothing more intimidating than a wooden sword.


Now, this issue undoubtedly arose from my inexperience leading me to “play the game wrong” (I’ve read the wiki and some forum threads, but I’m still very much learning as I go). I seem to be doing a little better now – tonight I found a cavern where I recovered some decent ore. But I was perilously close to boredom before I found that cavern, and I no longer have enough free time to be able to invest significant amounts of time in a game while I wait for it to become fun (or resume being fun). So the jury is still out….

E3, Days 3 and 4 – Enter the PC

The standout titles for me in the final couple of days of E3 were both forthcoming PC entries in the Paradox stable – one (Crusader Kings II) developed internally, one by a third party (King Arthur II: The Roleplaying Wargame) and published by Paradox:


Crusader Kings II: The sequel to Paradox’s 2004 feudalism simulator looks, and sounds, pretty good (see here for my uxorial misadventures with the original game). However, a one-minute trailer can’t address my biggest potential issues. One, will CK2 stay manageable over the course of the game? Or will the player be snowed under by an endless stream of pointless decisions about whether the fifth son of Newly Arrived Hanger-On Noble #987 should be taught by priests or soldiers? Two, Paradox games have always suffered badly from the typical strategy curse of the exciting early game giving way to the boring mid/lategame, and Shogun 2 addressed this well enough to spoil me for all other strategy games. A wait and see for me.


King Arthur II: Now this looks cool. Total War-style battles with the addition of AT-AT- sized giant insects and whole squadrons of dragons? Yes please! (As a bonus, it looks like the sequel’s art design will be every inch as cool as the original’s – check out this dev diary on the artwork for Morgana le Fay.) I didn’t play enough of the first game to form an opinion on its gameplay, but hopefully KA2 will live up to the promise of its visuals.

E3 2011 – Day 2 thoughts

So following Day 2 of E3 (or Day 1, if you exclude the pre-show?), here’s what stood out for me:


OnLive, the cloud-based game service, announced iPad and Android apps: This is not completely news – streaming games to tablets was one of Gamestop’s stated motivations for the Spawn acquisition; and last week, OnLive announced a unique controller that, it said, would work with tablets. And the collection of games on OnLive’s website is currently underwhelming – but that is not set in stone. I don’t know whether OnLive will be able to shift gaming towards a software as a service model or marginalise dedicated gaming hardware. I do think that it’ll be worth keeping an eye on those possibilities. (VentureBeat article, and video, here.)


Honourable mention goes to Nintendo’s Wii U – it’ll be interesting to see what developers can do with a controller that has its own touchscreen. If Nintendo region-locks the console, though, as it did for the Wii, that would likely be a dealbreaker for me.

One headline I’d like to see in a David Weber novel

The Honor Harrington series of space operas, by David Weber, features Space Commie bad guys who set out to conquer the galaxy when they realised their own treasury could no longer pay for bread and circuses to keep the mob happy. I can’t help but wonder, though, if events in the stories could have gone very differently…






This week, officials from the Interstellar Credit Fund arrived in the New Haven system to negotiate a bailout package for the People’s Republic of Haven. “We will never default on our debts,” said Chairman Pierre of Haven after meeting the ICF officials.


(PHOTO: The ICF delegation is greeted by anti-austerity protesters.)


Still, one policymaker close to the talks was sceptical. “Sure, the Havenites can trim their bloated defence budget,” said the policymaker. “Who do they think will invade them, anyway? But I question whether they have the political will necessary to reform their economy.” The source didn’t wish to be named, citing a lack of authorisation to speak publicly.


In other news…

E3 2011: Day One thoughts

It’s time for E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo! The various gaming sites offer a wealth of detail, but most useful to me was VentureBeat’s quick, one-page summary of the highlights.


For me, a few things have stood out:


The PS Vita: Formerly known as the “Next Generation Portable”. As with all things Sony, this looks like a marvel of engineering – at first glance, its graphics seem equal to those on the PS3! Its price is also competitive with the 3DS: US$250 for the base version (with Wi-Fi only); US$300 for the version with 3G. Still, don’t throw away your PSP quite yet: the Vita lacks a UMD drive so you’ll have to download PSP titles via the PSN store – but not every PSP game is available via PSN. This goes doubly so if you import games, because titles available on the PSN store are segregated by region. So far, I’ve seen no Vita titles that are must-gets,; the catalyst for me to buy a Vita would be good RPGs and TRPGs (since that’s what I mostly play on my PSP).


Far Cry 3: Sadly, this has not stood out in a good way. I’m disappointed by its choice of setting: an island populated by various gun-toting crazies (including one mohawked guy who looks like a Fallout 3 escapee). This stands in contrast to Far Cry 2, which at least on paper, offered the grounded, “real world” setting of an African civil war, rather than the typical FPS thinly veiled setup for the Adventures of Angry McShootsALot. Granted, Far Cry 2’s gameplay didn’t live up to the theme – in practice, the absence of a faction system or any NPC interaction outside town meant that it boiled down to the Adventures of Angry McShootsALot anyway – but from my limited time with the game, I still really liked the attempt.


Bioshock Infinite: A game set in a steampunk/dieselpunk-themed city in the sky! Now that’s a cool premise. It didn’t hurt that the gameplay conceit of shepherding a female companion initially reminded me of Ico (though upon reading the details, it sounds a bit more like Prince of Persia 2008).


I’ll try to update as E3 rolls on, so stay tuned!

The price of heroism: storytelling in X-Com

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Storytelling in Games

Note: Storytelling in Dominions 3, part of this feature series, is available off-site. You can read it at Flash of Steel.



Almost every game out there casts the player as a hero: someone who accomplishes great feats in the face of extraordinary odds. By the time we finish, we’ll have vanquished tyrants, terrorists, aliens and ancient evils. But few titles have had gameplay mechanics that convey heroism better than X-Com: UFO Defense (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown), the 1994 strategy game from Microprose where you led a multinational force – soldiers, scientists, pilots and purchasing officers – against an alien invasion. And X-Com managed this without a single line of dialogue or scripted plot event.


First, being a squad-level game gave X-Com an immediate advantage: it was built around individual characters. It was individual characters whose stats, ranging from marksmanship to carrying capacity to reaction speed, you pored over at base. It was individual characters whom you controlled in battle, telling this one to take cover behind a wall, while his sergeant prepared a grenade and a tank scouted ahead. It was individuals you named for friends and colleagues (you could freely rename soldiers), individuals who saved the day with lucky shots and well-placed grenades, and individuals whose progress you followed as their stats and kill counts inched higher with every mission.


So far, so good. But I could say the same of any RPG, tactical RPG or squad-level game. Thus, while the focus on individual feats was necessary to X-Com’s storytelling appeal, it was not sufficient.  And this was where the “overwhelming odds” part of the formula became important.


For in X-Com, those feats came at a terrible cost in lives. Think of any science fiction scene where human soldiers plink away at armoured monstrosities, only to be slaughtered once the aliens open fire; that’s what the start of X-Com felt like, especially when the aliens showed up with heavy weapons. As your technology improved – once your soldiers started bringing home alien guns and grenades for your scientists to reverse-engineer, once your workshops began turning out armour made from the same material as UFO hulls – the situation did grow less dire, and by the endgame, the balance shifted decisively in favour of a human player who brought an “A” squad loaded with the game’s most powerful weapons.


Yet that lethality never completely disappeared, because even with the best armour in the game, one (un)lucky shot could still kill. You may have become better at preventing the aliens from ever getting the chance to move and shoot, but your finest marksman, your most seasoned veteran would die as quickly as the raw recruit once the aliens drew a bead on him or her.  As a result, this was one game where it was so tempting to reach for the reload button when something went wrong – but where it was equally rewarding to resist that urge. For it was that sense of overcoming the odds, of bouncing back from slaughter and catastrophe, which made victory in X-Com so sweet.


I remember Swordlily the sniper, a key player on my “A” team and one who steadily rose through the ranks. I gave her one of the most accurate weapons I had, and a suit of advanced armour to keep her intact. Then one day, an alien fired a shot right into the transport plane – where she should have been safe, at the far end of the troop compartment – and killed her where she stood.


I remember the time three soldiers, the last survivors of their ten-strong squad, straggled across a field to storm a giant UFO by themselves – and won.


I remember when the aliens came swarming in to assault an outpost manned by my “B” squad, undergunned and underskilled rookies. A guided missile sped around a corner and right into the midst of my defensive layout, turning half the squad to ash. One survivor, wounded and panicked, dropped her gun. But right opposite her was the less fortunate soldier who had carried my squad’s missile launcher. So on my next turn, once she pulled herself together, I sent her racing out of her hiding spot. Across the hallway she ran. With a few clicks, she grabbed the dead man’s launcher. With a few more, she returned fire with a missile of her own. And it worked. I salvaged that battle and saved the base. Not a bad accomplishment considering the odds – and it rested on one soldier’s courage.


If that isn’t a tale of heroism, one that X-Com made possible as so few other games could have done, I don’t know what is.


I hope you enjoyed this post! To quickly find this post, and my other feature articles, click the “features” tab at the top of this page.

Let’s Play the Empire: Total War Multiplayer Campaign – Episode II: Havoc on the High Seas, Losses in the Low Countries

When we left off with the first instalment of the Empire: Total War multiplayer campaign, Great Britain had held off the French at sea, while on land, the Dutch had driven a mighty French invasion force out of their homeland. What could possibly go wrong for Great Britain? (Wondering what this series of writeups is all about? Here’s the introduction.)


Read my  writeup, below, to find out…




The War of the World


At the start of the game, I had sent Britain’s shipyards into overdrive producing warships and merchantmen, and that pays off. With the defeat of the French fleet at the end of the first turn, this leaves the Royal Navy – and accompanying British ground forces – free to go on the global offensive, ready to make the world safe for tea, cricket and British trade.


Britain's targets in its initial Caribbean offensive


Britannia’s might lands most heavily in the Caribbean. The pirates, in their lairs at Antigua in the Leeward Islands and San Jose de Oruna in Trinidad & Tobago, learn that His Majesty’s soldiers do not know the meaning of the word “parley”. The undefended Spanish – formerly French – colony of Martinique surrenders without a shot.


To be sure, the Spanish computer player ensures that the naval campaign is not a one-sided affair. The Royal Navy takes its fair share of losses in a series of largely auto-resolved skirmishes in the Caribbean and in the East Indies. But when the smoke clears, the Spanish navy has been driven from the East Indies, leaving British trade fleets free to move in.


What’s Spanish for “‘tis only a flesh wound”? The Battle of the Invincible Frigate


When the Spanish fleet finally shows up in force in the Caribbean, my luck looks like it’s run out. Against my fifth-rate frigate and sloop, the Spanish have brought a frigate and sloop of their own, plus a galleon that tremendously outguns anything else on the field. My first response is to panic. And then, once the battle starts, I breathe a sigh of relief: the Spanish ships are damaged and missing most of their guns. It’s still not a done deal – even in its weakened state, the galleon is able to blow away my sloop when it strays too close.  Still, the frigate duel is as one-sided as I could have wished. I shoot away the Spanish frigate’s masts, destroy many of its remaining guns, leave its hull blackened and punctured. Yet the crew neither flees nor surrenders in the face of volley after volley of cannon fire. And, to add insult to injury, their morale remains high even as the ship rides lower and lower in the water.


The Ship of the Black Knights?


I am left wondering, over the in-game chat, what the Spanish sailors are eating for breakfast. It takes the outbreak of fire for the crew to abandon ship, by which time I am convinced that if they had been around 120 years earlier to man the Spanish Armada, history would have taken a very different course.


Disaster in the Low Countries (I): Never rely on a computer-controlled ally


Back in Europe, though, things don’t go quite as smoothly. When we left off, the French had been repelled at the gates of Amsterdam and John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was leading a mid-sized force into what is today Belgium. The small Spanish garrison in Brussels falls quickly, and I turn the territory over to the Dutch. I feel well pleased with my raid! While my army doesn’t have the movement points to make it back to the sea on the same turn, I am able to withdraw my army so that it’s close by a friendly, smallish Dutch force. What could possibly go wrong?


As it turns out, plenty. The French army – numerically superior, even after its defeat at the walls of Amsterdam – moves in to attack Marlborough. The Dutch computer player, instead of taking up a good defensive position, charges out into the open field, and I follow suit, fearing the piecemeal annihilation of the allied armies. My infantry-short army lacks the numbers to shoot it out with the French, and I botch the timing of a cavalry charge at the French flank. When the dust settles, the British army in Europe is reduced to Churchill, a single artillery battery, and a handful of horsemen who escaped the rout. In an eighteenth-century version of Dunkirk, they slink back across the channel, and with them goes any thought of a quick land victory in Europe for Great Britain.


That did not go according to plan


Disaster in the Low Countries (II): Le Roi, Jeeeenkins!


Still, when the French army follows up on its victory by marching into the Netherlands and laying siege to Amsterdam for the second time, I am less than fazed. True, the Dutch are outgunned – the professional garrison is small, so most of the defenders consist of hastily armed townsfolk.  But as the first battle of Amsterdam showed, even armed civilians can put up a good fight from within the fortresses protecting the city.   “No problem,” I shrug. “I held off the French once, I can do it again.”


The turn ends. And the Dutch AI player abandons the shelter of its walls to attack the French.


The ill-fated Dutch sally


The resulting battle, trained and experienced French soldiers versus the Amsterdam mob on an open field, goes predictably. The best thing about the fight turns out to be a bout of unintentional comedy, when one Dutch regiment, retreating from the massacre, climbs the walls of its own fort to get back inside after the gates refuse to open.


Amsterdam falls soon after. And with that, Britain’s strongest ally is now out of the war. (Portugal remains in the fight, but is too far away to threaten France.) With the French in force across the channel – over the coming turns, they march out of Amsterdam and briefly lose control of the city, but retake it soon afterwards – and a mighty Spanish fleet of galleons crawling up towards the English Channel, I’m getting nervous. For all my successes overseas, the European theatre isn’t looking too good for the British Empire…


Unfortunately, at this point, we had to switch French players, as PC issues forced Peter Davies, our original France, to drop out of the game.  Stay tuned for the next update!

Frozen Synapse: A good first impression

Over the weekend, I picked up Frozen Synapse, a new, cyberpunk-themed indie squad tactics game, and so far I’m quite impressed.


First off, the actual game seems pretty cool. It’s stylish, with its green-and-red outline soldiers, blue backgrounds and futuristic music. It’s minimalist: there are only five unit types in the game. And it’s quick-to-play, due to the extreme speed at which units die off. But the real genius of Frozen Synapse is that turns execute simultaneously: the players input their orders, trying to guess what the other will do, and then they see just how little of their plans survived contact with the enemy (this synergises really well with the lethality of combat; one foe unexpectedly lying in wait can cut down half your squad). As a result, I get the impression that this is one of those “minute to learn, lifetime to master” titles.


The second area in which Frozen Synapse has impressed me is its multiplayer. This is one game where the basic concept – trying to anticipate what the other guy will do – is just tailor-made for playing against other humans, and the designers have taken advantage of that. The game’s multiplayer is asynchronous – i.e. players can take their turns at any time, upload them to the server, and load the latest turn when it’s ready – which makes it easier to work around clashing real-life schedules. And the designers were also shrewd enough to integrate a touch of Web 2.0 – at the end of a multiplayer match, there’s a handy button to upload a replay to Youtube.


The experience so far hasn’t been flawless. The documentation is practically nonexistent, even by my “never read the manual” standards; I had to visit a forum to find answers to basic questions such as “what are the units good for?” and “who shoots first if two units spot each other? Correction: the game is in fact pretty well documented by the readme file in the game directory. The playerbase is currently split amongst several different servers (which the designers have said is just a stopgap), and the servers themselves have a tendency to go down (for maintenance?) when I’m free to play in the evenings after work. Still, none of these issues has been a game-breaker for me – now I have found answers to my questions, and I could also play the single-player campaign or botmatches.


All in all, Frozen Synapse is definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the game’s genre.  Check it out on Steam, Impulse or the developer’s website!