27 October 2014

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Game score: 75%
Platform: Steam, PC
Steam link:

It was 1992 and I was 12 years old. My country was in a bloody war and I lived in a besieged city. We lacked food and water while electricity was on and off all the time, completely random. I was fortunate enough to be living near a strategic point that had a priority for electricity, powered by a huge cable that went right under my first neighbor's windows. We used simple tools to hook up our own cable to it, providing electric power for our two apartments on the first floor of our building. That way we had power whenever there was any in the city, but we never knew when that might happen. Sometimes the lights would turn on at midnight or even at 02:00 and all I could think of (after turning off the lights of course, it was dangerous!) was playing games on my Commodore 64 and a "brand new" 386SX PC with amazing VGA graphics with incredible 256 colors. My mother was vacuuming the dust and washing clothes in the washing machine; dad was mostly sleeping as he really didn't care much. Ah the memories...

I used to play various games on that PC, ranging from simple Ski or Die or Xenon 2 to more complex Centurion: Defender of Rome or Simcity. Oh I was a happy kid, playing my little games, having fun without thinking much about what to do next. And then one day I laid my hands on a game that attracted me with the name of its creator: Sid Meier's Civilization. Now I knew that name, I played some of his games before (Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon) and loved them. A lot. So I gave this game a chance, it was worth "investigating". And that was it. I got hooked and I still am. 23 years later I still play Civilization (its sequels actually) and I probably always will. I never thought about it before yesterday, but I estimate more than 10.000 hours spent on Civilization. I am serious, Civ and its sequels have taken more than a year of my life so far and I honestly don't see the end to it.

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is the latest installment in the series. It's made with the Civ V engine and resembles it a lot, so you will be quite familiar with Beyond Earth if you played Civilization V. Maybe even too familiar, but more about that later. It's set up in the near future and kind of shows what happens after the events in Civ V when civilizations launch space ships to colonize other planets. You could say it's a sequel to 1999's Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, but with a modern engine and more features.

Now I am going to assume that you are reading this because you are familiar with Civilization (especially Civ V) so I will skip explaining how it works. It's just too complex if you are new to this and it would require several tomes to do that. Anyway, lets see what's different in Beyond Earth. First of all - the factions, or sponsors as they're called in the game. There aren't any classical ones so you will have to pick one of only 8 available, conveniently made as representatives of Earth's continents or several familiar nations such as American Reclamation Corporation, Polystralia or Slavic Federation. Each has a specific advantage over the others, but nothing really grand. Each faction can further be customized by minor starting advantages (bonuses to production, bonus starting units etc).

And then you start. Pick a spot to build your capital and start working on tiles around it, building farms for food, generators for power (power is the new gold), mines for production, roads to connect the cities... Sounds familiar? This aspect is exactly the same as in Civ V, the only difference is the surface of the planet which looks like it was ripped from Blizzard's Starcraft. Even the alien life forms (the new Barbarians) look like Zerg and are equally deadly.

Science and inventions are a bit confusing. It was a whole lot easier in Civ V because you knew what Navigation or Industrialization are or what they might give you once you research them. In Beyond Earth, you need to research Photosystems or Biosphere in order to build... Orbital Fabricator or Bioglass Furnace. Um... Say what? I guess it will take a while to remember what's what and how to get it. It's also quite hard to distinguish regular buildings from wonders, since there are no Great Libraries nor Eiffel Towers in space. Also, tech tree is no longer a tree - it's a tech web. You start in the middle of it and research technologies in any direction you want. I don't really like it, it's hard to find what you really want/need to research. It's probably a problem only in the first few games, but it's still a problem.

A great new addition are quests! Or at least it seems like it at the first glance. However, after you complete a few of them you realize that most of them are one or two step tasks which could have been awesome if someone really tried to make them awesome. Some are really fun, like "kill the Siege Worm and get a science boost" or "explore a crash site", but they soon become simple decisions on what your newly constructed buildings will do (for example, +1 production or 10% faster construction of military units).

One really big disappointment is diplomacy. It's exactly the same as in Civilization V. The community has been asking for more options and more depth ever since it was first seen, but we still can't do much about it. Very, very disappointing.

But! Espionage! It's the best espionage system in any Civ game so far. Once you establish the spy network, you can give your spies various missions inside other player's cities varying from simple nesting or power theft, all the way to more serious and hard ones such as... triggering a Siege Worm attack on the city! I wish to see such system in the next Civilization as well, it's way better than it ever was.

So how do you win the game? Aside from the standard conquest ending (capturing all of the enemy capitals), there's 4 more ways to win. Contact victory asks you to build a huge Beacon wonder, activate it and wait for sentient aliens to contact you. This one requires serious technological advancement and a lot of power (gold). The other three victory options are Transcendence, Promised Land, and Emancipation. They correlate to three available affinities and tasks given by reaching level 13 in either one of them.

Ugh, this is turning into a huge text already, I need to sum it up quicker. Lets see... There are no luxury resources any more. Culture points are spent on virtues that focus on might, prosperity, knowledge or industry. Ideologies are replaced by affinity: you decide whether you want to preserve humanity and reject any new world or embrace it and "live with the nature". The third option is kind of the best of the both worlds. These three are not mutually exclusive, but you will most probably focus on just one of them in each game you play. They influence the buildings and units you can build, as well as upgrades for the shared units.

I could go on and on and on about a game as big as this one, but lets get to the point. Civilization: Beyond Earth is a great game but... But it feels more like a Civilization V mod rather than a completely new game. That's the best way to describe it. I honestly expect a big patch in the near future since AI is kind of stupid - I beat the game three times so far and I had 5 wars during that time. Every single time it was AI that started it and it was AI that ended it... by giving away their cities for free and getting their armies crushed like bugs. Honestly, I had more trouble with alien bugs than with enemy soldiers. I guess the game was a bit rushed so yeah, expect some fixes. 

21 October 2014

Fallout 1, Fallout 2 (1997, 1998)

Game score: 95%
Platform: Steam, PC
Steam links: (Fallout 1) (Fallout 2)

War. War never changes.

The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth. Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory. Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower.

But war never changes.

In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth.

In 2077, the storm of world war had come again. In two brief hours, most of the planet was reduced to cinders. And from the ashes of nuclear devastation, a new civilization would struggle to arise.

A few were able to reach the relative safety of the large underground Vaults. Your family was part of that group that entered Vault Thirteen. Imprisoned safely behind the large Vault door, under a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world. 

Life in the Vault is about to change. 


It's been a while since I reviewed any game, eh? No wonder, I was just too busy replaying the first 2 Fallout games. For 5th or 6th time, I am not sure. Why am I reviewing these two together and why now, almost 20 years since they were published? It's simple - they're super awesome, they are pretty much alike and sometimes hard to distinguish and they recently had a nice little update on Steam, making them a bit easier to play on modern computers without the need to use unofficial patches. Rejoice the (kind of) high resolution and steam cloud support! And I will do my best to keep this short, I don't want to scare you away with too much text.

Seriously, these two games deserve to be on everyone's top 10 games list of all times, especially for the role playing gamers. They kind of marked a new era of RPGs, since RPGs were a dying breed in the first half of 1990s. I remember that era very well and it's not that there were no RPGs around to play, it's just that there were no really good ones, especially if you didn't own a console such as Super Nintendo (and those were a special kind of RPGs, not for everyone's liking). So Fallout came out as a savior and started a fantastic era of wonderful games that still warm every true gamer's heart (I have to mention Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale). The first Fallout game is considered to be a sequel to 1988 game called Wasteland, but it couldn't be official due to copyright. 

As you got it from the intro text, Fallout takes place in a post apocalyptic world. Your people have been sealed off in an underground vault and were unable to communicate with anyone else for decades. 84 years later, you have been picked by the Vault Overseer to save your people - a water purification chip malfunctioned and you need to find a replacement. It shouldn't be hard since there are many vaults nearby and someone should have an extra chip. Of course, things don't go as easy as expected.

Fallout 2 happens 80 years later. Your character from the first game set off a series of events that lead to... well, a lot of things. Among them was a creation of a settlement in which your new character starts his adventure to find a G.E.C.K., a device that can create fertile land out of wasteland and help your village survive and prosper. As expected, things go bad very soon.

Both games look and feel exactly the same, so there's no need to separate the technical review of either of them. They're isometric, real-time games with turn-based combat (based around action points) with all the typical RPG elements such as experience, levels, skills etc. The real super feature of Fallout games are perks! Fallout is the one that introduced such concept into video games, a concept that was later used by many. Anyway, perks are special power-ups that you can pick for your character every three levels. These power ups range from abilities such as radiation or poison resistance, bonuses to movement or fire rate, awareness of enemy's hit points etc. Perks are so much fun, they will really make you want to level up so fast just to see what you may be able to pick up next (everyone always went up for sniper that allowed you to score critical hits with almost every shot!).

Fallout games are known for their MANY easter eggs

It is possible to complete both games without seeing more than 20% of the actual world and quests in it. And not just that, depending on your intelligence, charisma or luck, encounters with people and settlements will be very different: different dialogue options, different possibilities for upgrades etc. This gives Fallout games a LOT of replayability, even though the main quests always remain the same. Also, your actions really change the world and you will be given a recap when you complete the main quest. You get to decide if you want to be a good or a bad guy, almost all the "good" quests have an evil alternative.

What else to mention and still keep it short... These games feature quite a LOT of weapons (pistols, semi machine guns, shotguns, rifles, sniper rifles, laser and plasma weapons, Gauss guns, knives, various advanced melee weapons...), hundreds and hundreds of useful and useless items, NPCs that can join and die for you. You can even join a mafia family and become a made man. Or become a boxing champion. Or even a porn star! Speaking of that, be aware that Fallout is 18+ game due to adult content (swearing, gore, drugs). In Fallout 2 you can even get a car to move around faster (really helps a lot), as well as provide a storage for all the items you would otherwise sell or drop.

It's been 17 years since Fallout was released and the game didn't grow old. The only problem, although a rather big one, is the presence of many bugs. Some were fixed during all those years, but I guess that some were too complex to be removed and they still remain. Unofficial patches released on the net can fix most, but not all. So I suggest you save a lot and often, using more than 2 save slots. This saved me quite a lot of times after I encountered a bug that would make me go crazy.

Fallout created quite a lot of followers and the sequels helped a lot. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are great games, but they lack the spirit of the first 2 games (yeah, I am a sentimental fool). I am trying to explain the fascination with these first 2 games... I guess it's their greatness in the time when they were released. Not many games were as complex and provided so much and still had very good graphics. If you didn't get to play them in 1997/1998 you would never understand, simple as that.

Have fun, Vault Dweller!

13 October 2014

Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium by Bitmap Books

Oh boy... Before I say anything else, I must admit that there is no way I could be objective enough when it comes to ANYTHING about Commodore 64. It was my first computer, a machine that most probably made me who I am today, a lifelong companion and a true friend! It was 1987 when I first laid my hands on one of those and it was definitely a love at first sight. I was a seven years old kid who lived in a socialist country where not many people had computers at home. My cousin had one and it was probably accidentally in the room when I walked in. Who in the world would let a little cousin near such a treasure, eh? Well, it was there, I was there and my cousin was always good to me so... Jack the Nipper II: In Coconut Capers was officially the first game I've ever played in my life. That was it - a new gamer was born! I was fascinated by the game and what that marvelous machine could do. There was so much...

But I digress. This should be about the book, not my first gaming experiences. Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium by Sam Dyer is a KickStarter funded book about the amazing art of C64 games through years, or as the book itself claims:

"The book has been created to celebrate the visual side of Commodore 64. It features the stunning pixel art created painstakingly by hand (way before the days of Photoshop!), beautiful photography that captures the iconic product design and a selection of Zzap!64 cover artworks by artist Oliver Frey."

Again, I am definitely not objective enough, so that's why I let my wife take a look at the book. And she loved it! She didn't understand much of the art in it ("why are these images so blocky?") but she loved the quality of the book itself. The cover, the paper... absolutely fantastic! The guys over at Bitmap Books (I say guys, but it's just one person as far as I know) did a wonderful job with design and the book itself is simply beautiful! As for the content... do I even have to say it? If you ever owned the magnificent Commodore 64, you know the games that ran on it. Sam Dyer sorted them chronologically and started with Jupiter Lander, followed by Beach Head, Blue Max and so on. It would be impossible to mention ALL the games that made C64 such a legend, but the collection present in the Commpendium is more than enough. Besides, it's the art that was in focus and not all amazing games also featured the amazing art.

Lode Runner, Bruce Lee, Pitstop II, Elite, Mercenary, Karateka, Ghosts 'n Goblins, The Last Ninja, Maniac Mansion, Defender of the Crown... are just some of the games mentioned in the book. As you can see from the images above, there's a small text and some info about each game. The texts are written by guest contributors, artists and programmers that made the games themselves.

I spent 3 hours last night, just shuffling through pages, looking at the images and reliving some of the old memories. Mind you, I still own a Commodore 64 and I am one of those freaks who still use it and yet - this book still got me daydreaming. I just can't make up my mind right now - should I use an emulator and speed things up a bit or turn on my old buddy again and replay some of the games mentioned in the book?

The book has 232 pages and is printed lithographically to the highest possible print standards. It's dimensions are 230 mm x 170 mm and comes with a spot varnished cover and a loose dust jacket.

If you need more info just visit these sites: 

Another thing. And this is very fresh. Sam Dyer started a Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium Kickstarter campaign TODAY! If you are interested in funding it, just click on the link and read what's offered.

09 October 2014

The Strain, Season 1 Finale!

This show is weird, seriously. It goes up and down more than Nintendo's Mario in his most famous games. It started out great with a very captivating pilot, then it annoyed me (us) with boring and quite shallow episodes that made little or no sense (I already described that in my review of The Strain), and yet it still had some truly masterful episodes just to keep us from abandoning it forever. This finale... unsatisfying. And I am being really polite here.


Alright, we all expected the gang to charge onto The Master again and they did. They found his lair (again) and attacked it, but they also found out that he's stronger than they expected. The sun does hurt him, but obviously not enough. We also found out that Setrakian is a showman, it took him an hour to swing his sword and... try to hit The Master. That gave the creature more than enough time to escape again. Why... Why do they torment us with such scenes over and over again? If they wanted him to escape, why did they have to make it so... naive? And the head-on attack on the vampire lair that was defended by the Master's top minions such as Eichorst and Bolivar was a complete success with no casualties among the good guys? Aw, come on! Oh yeah, they also brought Zach with them. Yeah, a 12 year old kid is just what you need when you attack 100+ vampires that can kill you with a simple scratch.

On a bright side, we saw some more of the vampire hit squad and found a little bit more about them. It's still not quite clear why they are fighting The Master, but we're getting there. And they are about to recruit Gus to fight as their avatar. Fun!

Overall, this show obviously has a lot of potential, but I expect the producers to show us viewers a bit more respect. There have been sooooooooooooo many completely illogical decisions and behavior by both the main characters and the people of New York in general. I still believe they can fix that and live up to the show's full potential. We'll have to wait and see what season 2 has to offer in 10 months or so.

05 October 2014

Star Wars: Rebels


Finally! The first child of the newly wed LucasFilm and Disney! And it's a promising one, right from the start! Too many exclamation marks? You bet! Aren't you excited about the latest in Star Wars franchise? I sure am!

I'll be short - the pilot starts with a double episode called "Spark of Rebellion". We get to meet Ezra (who looks like Aladdin's twin from the galaxy far, far away) and watch as his encounter with a pack of thieves, who seem to like to steal from Storm troopers, turns into a long term relationship. What really amazed me is how quickly I learned a lot about all the major characters in just 43 minutes. A lot of shows fail to do that over the entire season and this one made it in just one episode. True, Star Wars was always famous for its fast pace and Rebels is no exception. The action seems to never end as our heroes get from one dangerous situation to another in a matter of no more than 2 minutes. And you really get to like the characters right from the start.

I was curious about what the characters would look like, now that Disney is in charge of the Star Wars franchise. Turned out alright, even though it's obvious it's Disney people behind the animation. Yes, they do have those big eyes and specific face expressions, but who cares? The story seems good, the characters seem amazing and the animation itself is fantastic. So if anyone was worried about Disney ruining Star Wars - relax, they did more than good.

I know it's too early to say, but I have a really good feeling about Star Wars Rebels. Then again, it's an old franchise and we're all quite familiar with it, so what could go wrong?