Monday, March 25, 2013

Initial Impressions: Defiance (Beta)

I'm going to come right out and say this. From what I've seen of it this past weekend, "Defiance" is a great game. Not only that, but this is one of those exceedingly-rare cases where I can say that with almost no qualification.

So often when presented with a new game, I find myself conflicted about it on some level. I may like 90% of what it does but then some nagging shortcoming or fatal flaw rears its head and forces me to temper my enthusiasm for it.

"Defiance" is the first game in a very long time where I struggle to find the flaws in it. Beyond that, it feels fresh and exciting and compelling in a way that no MMO has for me since "World of Warcraft" (WoW).

A lot of really epic stuff happens in "Defiance" and I suspect that
most people would enjoy experiencing it.

But that's not because "Defiance" is anything like WoW. It isn't. If anything, it's more like the MMO offspring of "Borderlands" and "Fallout 3," with a little something extra swirled in for good measure, and almost nothing bad or tedious allowed into the mix.

Okay. Okay. I'll be a good little blogger and point out the handful of warts I've seen– like how the enemy AI can be a bit thick at times, or how some of the vendors could use filtering or sorting options to streamline access to their extensive wares, or how steering vehicles with the keyboard can be a bit twitchy, or how the user interface is occasionally cryptic– but none of that really matters.

As I've often said, there's no such thing as a perfect game. What's amazing about "Defiance" is how good it is prior to its release.

Oh, there are technical issues to be sure. Players in the same group can get out of sync and lose track of each other if they get too far apart or there's a hiccup in the game server. A friend of mine had the "View" and "Delete" buttons on the inventory screen not appear for him when he pulled it up once and I had to log out and back in a couple times to interact with the occasional quest objective. But again, that's not the point.

Everything that's technically wrong with "Defiance" in its current beta state can and likely will be fixed, and is overwhelmingly outweighed by what's right about it.

The only real question is whether or not players will find the core gameplay appealing. "Defiance" is a game about shooting things in a somewhat tactical manner. Dodging, taking cover, switching weapons, flanking, retreating, focusing fire, hitting weak spots for critical damage– all these things and more are required at various times during the game. Brute force may get the job done but it's not usually the best option for success.

Additionally, this is a game built from the ground up for co-op. While it's certainly possible to solo most of the content I saw in beta, you're rarely going to feel overpowered as an individual. To me, this represents the best kind of co-op, where you drastically benefit from the help of your friends and are often rewarded both experientially and via better loot for playing as a team.

Simply cruising around the game's world with your friends
can be a fun and exhilarating experience.

The gunplay, the weapon variety and customization, the mixture of traditional and dynamic questing, the sense of scale and exploration in the game world, the social systems, everything that really matters and is fundamental to the game's nature is just plain sublime. It's that once in a blue moon game that manages to take things you've done a million times before as a gamer and make them feel new and exciting again.

If you like shooters and you don't have this game on your radar or if you were dismissive of it, thinking there was no way that a game built to tie into a "SyFy Channel" TV series was going to amount to anything, it's time to reconsider. There is something to this game– something special that doesn't come around very often and it would be a shame to let it pass without due consideration.

Having said all that, I'm acutely aware that I've only experienced part of the game as a beta tester and that it would be irresponsible to recommend that you folks purchase it based on that; however, I've also gotten more satisfaction and enjoyment out of that beta than I have out of most of the "finished" games I've played recently. It's simply that good and that's not something I say lightly.

Defiance (via Steam)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Thoughts on Impire

I'm a sucker for a good dungeon building and management game. Ever since the original "Dungeon Keeper" back in 1997, I've always found that sort of gameplay inherently compelling.

Unfortunately, there haven't been any games since "Dungeon Keeper 2" in 1999 that have been able to successfully scratch that itch for me.

2011's "Dungeons" was the closest anyone had come in a while but its spin on things, while unique, didn't quite resonate.

"Impire" is much closer to the spirit of "Dungeon Keeper" but it too takes some liberties with the formula that could well be a turn off to hardcore fans of the genre.

Having said that, it's still the best attempt I've seen and therefore worthy of note while we all wait to see how "War for the Overworld" fares.

At first glance, "Impire" seems quite a bit like "Dungeon Keeper," with players excavating underground hallways and rooms, summoning minions to fight creatures and heroes, expanding and protecting their dungeon, and the like.

The main campaign, which exposes most of the gameplay systems through a series of increasingly-complex missions, can be played co-operatively with up to three friends now that several post-release patches have smoothed out most of the rough spots in the multiplayer "beta–" though it seems a bit suspect to have a feature in beta in a shipping product if you ask me.

Impire's campaign is often cheesy and underwhelming in terms of presentation
but it gets the job done, and is pretty fun to play with friends.

It isn't until you spend some time with "Impire" that you start to see the weaker parts of it and how it doesn't quite measure up to the legacy of the games that clearly inspired it.

Your minions for example are pretty much dumb as rocks. They need to be constantly told what to do and micromanaged to achieve the various goals the game presents. If they're hungry, they don't eat unless you tell them to do so. If they're inexperienced, they don't train unless you order it. If a ladder allowing heroes direct access to sensitive areas of your dungeon appears, they won't do anything about it unless they happen to be set to patrol and happen to stroll past it.

Do any of these things make the game unplayable or awful? No, but they also make the act of playing it less fun than it would otherwise be, and reveal how there is often little to do beyond managing the minions. Objectives generally only feel difficult or challenging because it takes so much effort to get your minions and dungeon into a state where you can safely leave to perform the tasks required to complete them.

But it's not all bad news for "Impire." There are some genuinely cool features in the game– such as the ability to put minions in squads that allow creatures of various types to work together and compliment one another while fighting. Squads also allow minions to be instantly teleported to any part of the map that has been visited by any friendly player. Consequently, you can easily add your forces to those of a co-op partner who's gotten a bit ahead of you in the common areas of a given level, which reside outside your individual, isolated dungeons.

As a dungeon management game, Impire works and brings a few interesting
new mechanics to the table but it's no "Dungeon Keeper 3."

It should also be noted that "Impire" is a budget-priced title and for $20, it's one of the better looking and sounding (cheesy voice acting aside) games you're likely to find at that price point.

As I mentioned earlier, "Impire" shipped with more than a few serious bugs but most of them have been fixed via patches and the developers seem committed to continuing to improve it. Pun intended. :)

All things considered, I think "Impire" is a solid little game. It may not have the sophistication or staying power of the "Dungeon Keeper" series but it's not too shabby and kinda fun, especially in co-op, once you get a handle on the minion management and accept it for what it is rather than lamenting what it isn't.

Impire (via Steam)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Powergrids Special Event & Sale

As I mentioned previously, I'm working on a small update to "Powergrids." It's my current intent to have it up on the iOS App Store at some point in April.

In an effort to get as much feedback on the game while the update is being created as possible, I've decided to do something I've never done before and will likely never do again.

For this weekend only (March 15th-17th), "Powergrids" will be free.

Additionally, it will be discounted to $0.99 from March 18th until the 25th.

It's my hope that this will encourage additional feedback on the game that could be used during the development of the update.

As always, suggestions and feedback regarding "Powergrids" can be sent to

I would greatly appreciate it if you all would help spread the word about the free weekend and the sale. Every person you tell is another chance for the game to be played and for me to gain insight from players that could help make the update better.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Shout Out - Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army

New games often have a hard time attracting an audience. If it's not a sequel to a proven franchise from a proven developer with a slew of positive reviews and media buzz, a new game has a lot to overcome just to get on the average gamer's radar.

It's therefore unsurprising that "Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army" (NZA) was branded with the established "Sniper Elite" name despite it making for one of the clumsier video game monikers in recent memory.

What's really surprising is just how good this game is regardless of its awkward title.

Don't let the cheesy name fool you. This is a solid and fun game.

What we have here is a great example of how bending or outright breaking typical game design conventions can lead to something really special.

The secret sauce in this case lies in how NZA combines the precise, almost simulation-like mechanics of the "Sniper Elite" series with the freewheeling, shoot-em-up design motifs of classic action-horror games like "House of the Dead" and "Left 4 Dead" into something that feels both deep from a gameplay standpoint and deeply-satisfying in terms of esthetics and pure entertainment.

This is also one of very few such games that is equally as effective as a single player and a co-operative experience. In single player, it exudes a tense, survival-horror vibe, while co-op provides a more action-focused experience as everyone is given plenty to shoot at on a regular basis.

NZA's zombies are often varied and difficult to predict in a way that makes them a
much more credible threat than what's found in your typical zombie shoot-em-up.

The only real weak point I see in this game is that co-op isn't particularly well balanced for two players. Three or four feels like the correct amount, with the game throwing a bit too much at a party of two for it to be appealing to all but the most hardcore duos looking for a serious challenge.

Having said that, this is easily one of the best surprises I've had in a while where co-op gameplay is concerned and is an absolute blast if you have two or three friends to play it with.

Some zombies are less zombified than others and will take up arms against you.

It's also worth noting that the game sports some great visuals and audio that really seal the deal. From the highly-detailed and creepily-lit environments, to the buttery-smooth animations, to the eerie sound effects and spot-on "I'm a badass in an interactive horror flick" music, it all works and gels in a way that's easy to love.

There are ways in which the NZA concept could be improved and expanded but in the scope of the budget-priced title that it is, NZA is extremely successful at delivering a fun, unique and compelling experience that shouldn't be missed by anyone who finds the premise the least bit compelling.

Of course, there are those who may find the entire NZA concept too ridiculous or offensive. In which case, I'd say this game clearly isn't for you but it's hard to argue against the craftsmanship it displays or how fun it is to play relative to other first-person shooters.