It has been some time since I last wrote about playing computer games. Largely because I have been trying to write games rather than play them. Still over the last year I have played a few and here are my thoughts.
Torchlight is an action RPG from a few years ago. It is the first of its genre I have played and found it initially very fun. As a player you go around fighting monsters, looting the dungeon and becoming more powerful, thus gaining more impressive abilities (at least graphically) as a result. The levelling up mechanic and the missions seem to be the only RPG-like component - all the better to gamify the player I suppose. Over time the game becomes a button mashing exercise. Beating the final boss was just a matter of spamming the same 4 buttons repetitively for about 5 minutes. I blame the diminishing levels of fun on the paper-thin story - not nearly strong enough to grab me (as opposed to Witcher which had enough decent story to happily drive me through the button mashing). Torchlight required conscious effort to reach the end of story. Then I just stopped.
Conclave is a browser-based HTML5 RPG. I played the beta after accidently backing it on Kickstarter. Actually I played through all the available quests twice - once when first backed and again nearer the release. It improved greatly over that time. It is quite pretty for a HTML game and more polished than before, but it is also much easier. Originally a player needed to join other players to complete quests (in a cooperative mode) and success was not guaranteed. Now it can be played solo - the difficulty scaled to player. The second time through I never failed any quest - it has become quite easy. The quests mainly involve fighting with a few multi-choice story decisions (but it was never clear what affect these decisions had, if any). The turn-based combat becomes repetitive as the appropriate action is normally obvious. The players choose two actions (from a character specific list) and then those actions play out with their opponents’ actions. I didn’t find the story very interesting - there is a sort of gothic horror dreaming in a traditional fantasy setting. Now the game is available to the public (with the first 10 missions free), but I haven’t played it again. Still it is worth a try (as it’s free).
Cardhunter is a similar brower-based game to Conclave, but uses Flash rather than just HTML. Cardhunter is partially free (many quests are free, but there are extras that must be purchased). It is very pretty and polished. It has a nice little meta story. You are an old-school gamer playing some traditional fantasy tabletop RPG controlling the actions of your party, while the computer plays the part of the game master. Thus all the graphics try to look like a tabletop: the characters are folded player models; there are dice; and, the in-game currency is pizza! There is no real story beyond this and the game is all about fighting. However, a little extra is added to the turn-based combat through cards. To perform any action, a character must have a card for that action - moving, attacking, spellcasting, or anything else. The cards come from the level of the character and their equipment (all their cards together are their “deck”). Only a small number of a character’s cards are available to play at any point (their “hand”) and once played they are lost until the next combat, but replaced at random by other cards in their deck. So the combat tactics are enhanced with deck-building strategy. Interesting and fun.
FTL is hard to describe. You control a Federation space ship trying to escape rebels. Jumping into a star system will trigger a random encounter, ranging from pirates and rebels to markets and SOS beacons, or sometimes (although rarely) just empty space. The ships are shown in top down plan and when firing the player targets particular rooms. The effect is slightly roguelike and extremely compelling. Like Binding of Isaac this simple little game soon becomes fiendishly difficult. Yet as each game is over fast you are always thinking “just one more”. FTL is highly recommended and remains on my desktop for the occasional game.
Uplink is an old (released in 2001) computer hacking simulation game. It is set in 2010, so it is a game of future past. While a hacking game is an interesting idea, the game is showing its age and felt repetitive. The process of hacking is one of making a convoluted connection to the target machine and then running your security cracking programs before you are traced. Not much thought is required once the system is identified, it is just a matter of improving your server until it is capable to hacking fast enough for your desired target.
Thomas Was Alone is a platformer, not the sort of game I would normally enjoy. However, this cute game is the exception. It seems good-natured for a platform game, the difficulty ramps up slowly. It is not punishing like most of the genre. While the graphics are simple, the camera and animations are just right. I particularly like the way the view was occasional off-angle. While fast reactions are sometimes necessary, there is also a good amount of thinking required. The game contains a number of different characters each with various abilities (or lack thereof) and many levels need to be thought through as puzzles to solve with the provided characters. The story is not important in the game, but told in a humorous manner. Recommended.