Reckless Squad is a newly released indie real-time strategy game from D2P Games which sees you take control of a squad set to defend a mysterious convoy as it travels the earth. As is to be expected you have a variety of units to choose from, anything from the humble peasant to a Black Mage can be employed, at a cost, to defend your convoy.
After my preview of some of the games coming out on the PC this October several people pointed me in the direction of The Ball. I had heard of the name and after paying a visit to the official website I knew where I had heard of the game before, from the Make Something Unreal competition.
Robots. Beautiful artwork. A haunting soundtrack. ROBOTS. There’s a lot to like about Machinarium, the latest game from Amanita Design that won the Excellence in Visual Art award at the 2009 IGF. A point and click adventure game in the very definition of the genre, you play as one of the many robot citizens of the city, you begin the game disassembled on a scrapheap, your first port of call to piece yourself back together and find out what happened. This game wants to prove it has a whole lot more to offer than just a pretty face? I’ll admit now, however, that I never have been down with the art gaming scene. The Graveyard was a bit too clever for me, and The Path passed me by without even a glance. So in looking at this game, I admit I did have some trepidation.
However, even the most art ignorant dunce like me can see that from the moment the game starts the visual style is striking, stunning and there’s certainly no room for doubt as to it’s breathtaking nature. The screens are gorgeous to look at, and as you can tell from the screenshots there’s clearly been so much care and attention thrown into every scene of this game. There’s truly nothing like it. Every building and every location is drawn and coloured to fit perfectly, and every character seems unique and defined. Most notably, Amanita achieves this purely through aesthetics of visuals and sound – there’s not a single line of dialogue to be found anywhere in this game. As the visuals capture you within their spell, so too the music and sound of this game work some incredible haunting magic, again fitting the style of the game perfectly and really giving your ears almost as much of a treat as the eyes.
Gameplay wise however, Machinarium isn’t quite as sure-footed. The first flaw comes in the story telling – and as much as it pains me to be brutually honest, I had no idea of most of the story until I visited the game’s webpage. In keeping with the rather minimalist take on extraneous things such as dialogue and text, I had a vague idea what was happening, but more than once during the game found myself not knowing why exactly I was say, helping the band or throwing myself down chutes other than it was the only thing I could do. Occasionally the game throws up hints as to what certain people require but there’s a definite sense of being left to fend for yourself almost too much. A massive offshoot of this is the lack of hotspots, and bringing back an often hated problem of point and clicks – the pixel hunt. Already having waxed lyrical about the graphics, it seems a bit of a double edged sword that for a lot of things in the game it’s impossible to tell what can be interacted with or picked up without mousing over it or even, in some cases, without moving the character next to it before trying to interact with it. Something as simple as the game automatically realising you want to walk over to the object before interacting with it might be helpful – and granted this does occur occasionally, but it does seem to be entirely random which objects this works on and which it does not.
The puzzles within the game are also very hit and miss. When done well, they are really done well, satisfying and at times there’s a real sense of achievement on some of the puzzles. Some of the puzzles are absolutely fantastic in their concept, but their solutions can be downright devious to the point where even after you’ve figured out the solution, you might still be scratching your head. To alleviate some of this frustration, the game has two ‘hint’ functions. One invokes a pictorial clue coming from your character in the form of a thought bubble, and the other in a rather genius move sees you playing a little minigame in which you have to guide a key to an exit while avoiding or shooting spiders. This mini game mechanic actually crops up throughout the game a Space Invaders clone and a literal head maze proving the highlights and invoking comparisons with DS title Professor Layton. And like that title seems to invoke a similar balance of frustration to a sense of cleverness when you beat it. Be warned though, if your diet of adventure games has mostly consisted of titles of the last few years you may find this game to be pretty tough going at times and find yourself seeing the spider minigame far more than you want to. In addition, sometimes the hints aren’t exactly what you’re after – most annoying is when you’re told the thing you’re after but not how or where it can be found, and you may end up spoiling other puzzles by looking at the solutions to current ones because the things happen to be on the same screen and you’ll have to backtrack to it later.
But overall, it’s really really hard and seems so wrong to condemn this game. Beautiful aesthetics which are unlike anything else – even little incidental details you don’t notice the first time, the subtle animations and music cues. The way the entire game feels like one of those classic Ivor The Engine cartoons that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ll be honest, it’s a game that makes me wish that we at the Reticule had a more detailed scoring system, as I don’t think it’s a miss by a long way, but it’s still a tough game to recommend to everybody. Machinarium as an art project ticks all the right boxes. As a game, it can veer a little too haphazardly on the side of frustration thanks to the interface issues. Certainly worth a try – moreso if you like artistic games – but make sure you’ve got a lot of patience if you’re going to give it a shot.
It’s a Machiavellian style politics and strategy game set in Milton’s picture of Hell. Oh my. I think we knew Vic Davis’ next game would be good, given how excellent the last, Armageddon Empire’s was. Solium Infernum looks set to improve on what made that great, but also more importantly, deliver a totally unique game play experience if all goes to plan. But what is it exactly? I’ve set about here to put together the information released in blogs and interviews (such as our own here) to give a little preview for all those foolish enough to resist subscribing to Vic’s Blog.
The Prince of Darkness has gone for a well deserved rest, and his minions refuse to sit still. The underworld has been neatly divided into cantons/hexes, and it’s up to you to sieze ultimate power one turn at a time, using and abusing your card hand to face down your opponents . So far, so very Armageddon Empires. But this, it seems, is where similarities end. Where before, your starting position was governed by the hand you build, in Solium Infernum you start off by choosing your Archfiend Avatar, and customising his stats and perks to gain an advantage should you choose wisely.
Unit cards, the aptly named Legions are now gained by bidding every turn in the “Infernal Bazaar”; the agora of the Damned and the marketplace of the malevolent. But this time, you can’t simply just put together your “ultimate force” of 9 incredible cards and go on a claiming spree. You need legitmacy. And this is where diplomacy comes in; there’s a loose order of things in the plane of Hell, and you effectively have to goad your opponents into a state of war via the means of the Conclave; the council of archfiends who you must gain prestige and supremacy over in order to be chosen the new Prince of Darkness when it convenes. This is achieved via the means of hurling abuse, making claims, and generally being an argumentative arse hole. You have to undermine your opponents via any means necessary, and force the vendetta.
At this point, you can seize territory and reduce your opponent via a number of means. First, and probably least subtle, your minions, led by a Praetor can march on the enemy’s lands and fight it out. Second, you can use Rituals Destruction to rain fire and brimstone on their lands and legions. Finally, and excitingly, you can challenge them to a one on one duel between two Praetors who act as champions for your honour. The number of options available should make for a manifold array of strategy, meaning you don’t necessarily have to invest in vast legions, instead focusing on diplomacy, fire from the sky or a brute in the arena or two. When the dust settles, the loser will lie broken and battered and the winner will occupy a larger slice of the Infernal Pit.
Those are more or less the basics of the game. You play your cards in order to build or shatter diplomatic ties, provoke Vendettas, and then denigrate your unfitting opponents in battle or the arena. But there’s so much more to it, since there’s so many different strategies available. Take for example, the Blood Tie where you can petition an opponent to become his Blood Vassal, should you be reduced to great to remain an independent power. At this point you can’t win, but will come second if he does. At least that’s how it may seem – as a Blood Vassal, you can potentially earn the perk “The Power Behind the Throne”, effectively meaning you win if your Blood Lord does. Another interesting feature is the Excommunication. Occasionally, and supposedly rarely, an Archfiend can be deprived of his place on the Conclave with all its benefits, such as having your turn at being the Regent, while all your opponents turn on you. All for a little attempted invasion of the neutral city, Pandemonium in order to win the game… Essentially, what all this means is there is a huge number of methods of winning. You can brute force your way through, or carefully poke and prod diplomatic affairs to victory. Alternatively you can pretend to be someones bitch while in reality you’re wispering in their ear, calling the shots. Ultimate victory is never a sure thing, and you’d best be sure you’ve got a good enough hand before you play it. Even that is no guarantee that someone else isn’t playing you.
Solium Infernum looks set to expand on the excellent Armaggedon Empires in unique and exciting ways. Certainly it holds that same charm of character coupled with complexity of mechanics that will challenge and confuse alike initially, but under the demonic clicking of a skilled Prince will reign supreme. And the best bit? I’m going to be able to kick your pale white demony arse up and down the Abyss over PBEM come late this year. Grab the Prince, summon Virgil to guide you, my legions are champing at the bit! When Dante pays a visit he’ll be entering my infernal realm…