Posts by: Owen Faraday

Review: Spymaster

Disavow all knowledge.

Disavow all knowledge.

There was a time, I’m sure, early in Spymaster’s development when it was a fun game to play. I can just see the fun down there, buried underneath all the strata of free-to-play crap that’s been layered on top of it. Somewhere in the world there is probably a game reviewer or critic who has the patience to play Spymaster long enough to dust off that fun and excavate a shortcut to it.

That game reviewer is not me. I’ve spent probably three hours in Spymaster babysitting my fragile little punnet of easily-bruised peaches that this game calls WWII spies and I’ve had more than enough, thanks. Spymaster wheedles you for cash a couple of different ways, but its primary means of poking your wallet is to randomly injure your spies mid-mission. They can be healed, it won’t surprise you to learn, with real cash money.

Spymaster is ostensibly a game about espionage in Nazi-occupied Europe like Where Eagles Dare, but in practice it’s a lot closer to Goodfellas. Spymaster gives you a bunch of characters to get attached to, then holds them for ransom. Actual ransom. With real dollars. “Wow, level 3! This spy of yours is pretty great, huh?” Spymaster says in a Joe Pesci voice. “You should give us a donation, because it would be a shame if anything happened to her, am I right?” A lot of free-to-play games are crass, but Spymaster is a bully.

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The trouble with tribulations: Rapture World Conquest is out for iOS

We cannot condone bouncing of the seventh variety.

We cannot condone bouncing of the seventh variety.

Good news and bad news, chums. Bad news: The Rapture is here. Worse news! If you’re reading this, you didn’t get beamed up. The good news, I think, is that the sudden decrease in population means that real estate prices should be falling and we can all move into bigger houses. Let the chosen ones enjoy heaven — I’ll be enjoying my 3-bedroom flat in Clerkenwell.

This fateful event was brought about the release of Rapture World Conquest onto the App Store, a Populous-meets-Galcon RTS we’ve been looking forward to all summer. You’re the patron deity of a band of people on a 3D globe, providing divine air support for their conquests of all the other peoples of the world.

I liked Rapture quite a bit when I played a preview build a couple of weeks ago, though the sight of in-app purchases gave me a moment’s pause, as I noted in that post. Developer Dan Collier wrote in to assuage my worries after I published that. “Just wanted to reassure you that it’s not going to be F2P,” said Dan. “There’s a few non-intrusive IAPs to let people buy extra gold if they wish.” So there’s some of those sigh-inducing plus signs in-game, but the devs consider them entirely optional.

Rapture World Conquest is $3 on the App Store. We’ll have it reviewed in the next week or so. Trailer follows.

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Cut (features) and deal: Crunch Time, a game dev card game

Petra Promises interned with 22 Cans last summer.

Petra Promises interned with 22 Cans last summer.

There is clearly no better way to start the week than with a game about work. Crunch Time is a card game for iPad and desktops (and a light-hearted one at that) from Spanish developer David Teruel Ledesma where your goal is to ship your game before your opponent does. You can deploy cards to sabotage your rival studio, which undercuts Crunch Time’s marketing claim about “discover[ing] how a video game is really developed”, unless there’s a hidden Spy vs Spy aspect to the games industry that’s being criminally under-reported.

It looks like it could be a lot fun — I’m going to put one of our guys on the case to review it. Watch the trailer below and check out Ledesma’s website where the industrious developer is collecting ideas for Crunch Time 2 already. I’m not sure if there’s multiplayer to this one — I’ll find out.

Update: No multiplayer, says Señor Ledesma.

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Sunday Almanac: Reader Survey data reveals shocking truth about PT readers

Here's to you lot.

Here’s to you lot.

Yes, it’s true. Pocket Tactics readers are smarter, more attractive, and uphold higher standards of personal hygiene than the average Joe or Jane. It’s been scientifically proven by the results of this year’s Reader Survey, which over a thousand of you graciously volunteered your time to fill out last week. I thought perhaps you’d enjoy seeing some of the data from it.

Fair warning: this Almanac is all naval-gazing inside-baseball tomfoolery about PT. If you don’t care (who could blame you?) then we’ll see you tomorrow for news and my review of Spymaster.

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Burn unnoticed: Spymaster sneaks onto the App Store

Radio free Europe?

Radio free Europe?

There was no fanfare, no advertising or media push around PlayRaven’s WWII espionage game Spymaster this week, which finally released worldwide after a long Canadian soft-launch. In fact, I didn’t even know it had launched until PT agent GiHub emailed me about it, but it’s out on the App Store and it’s free. But is it worth your time?

I don’t know yet. If you put a Welrod to my neck and demanded an answer right now, I’d say that it probably isn’t. That gives me no pleasure to write, because there’s lot to like about the game: the app itself is of the highest quality, and it’s dressed up with a neat faux-board game graphic design and some lovely music. The UI is fun to poke at and responsive. But the gameplay is a hostage to Spymaster’s free-to-play monetisation scheme, and in the couple of hours that I’ve spent with it, I’ve been regularly reminded that I’m playing a game on a needy cash register.

Spymaster is a game that captured our imaginations when we first heard about it in the spring of 2013, a game where you manage a network of spooks operating in occupied Europe, sabotaging rail facilities and narrowly escaping the attentions of the Gestapo: Football Manager for spies. Then we did an interview this January, and I’m sure you can pinpoint the exact moment in the conversation where Playraven break my heart and tell us it’s free-to-play.

I continued to hold out hope for two reasons: the first being my eternal optimism about all things video games, and the second being the precedent of games like Hearthstone and World of Tanks that make free-to-play work. But the vast majority of free-to-play games are an unpleasant, antagonistic experience, and I’m sorry to say that it looks like Spymaster is one of those. I’m more wary of the in-game monetization than I am of the in-game Nazis, and that probably says it all.

I intend to stick with Spymaster for a while longer to see if my tune changes, and I’ll let you know this coming week if it does. I’ve grabbed a few screenshots as I’ve played, and those are after the jump.

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The new Bohemians: A hands-on preview of Pike & Shot

There's Popery in them there woods.

There’s Popery in them there woods.

When Slitherine first introduced me to Pike & Shot at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think much of it. This iPad-bound wargame models 16th- and 17th-century battles on a very big scale — but it started life as a mod of Battle Academy, a WWII game that zooms things in to a company-level scale. How well could a game engine designed to simulate 20th-century armoured manoeuvre warfare possibly replicate giant clashes between musketeers and cuirassiers?

Pretty damn well, as it turns out.

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Strike it up: Matchstick Memories brings puzzles to A Dark Room-style narrative

You know how lonely one can feel.

You know how lonely one can feel.

Here’s by far the most unusual thing to land in my inbox in the last few days, and keep in mind that this is the week Kapsula came out.

Matchstick Memories describes itself as a “meta-text adventure”. If you enjoyed A Dark Room, this game is absolutely for you. If you didn’t like A Dark Room (and fair enough — it’s a divisive experience), Matchstick Memories might appeal to you regardless.

This is a puzzle game, or to be more accurate, lots of different ones. There’s a Dungeon Raid-like line-drawing game, there’s a tile-swapping Puzzle Quest-style game, and a couple more. Solving each puzzle — and how you solve each puzzle — progresses a storyline told through terse prose snippets that sketch out the barest outlines of a game world. Behind the puzzles is really an old-school text adventure game: you’re navigating a world and collecting quest items, but your only means of interacting with the world is the puzzles.

Matchstick Memories is three dollars on iOS — it’s the first release from the delightfully-named dev Cooper Buckingham, who sounds like a character from Clue. Kelsey’s reviewing this one for us.

DOOP or die: Tiny Trek must ship this year

Christmas boarding party.

Christmas (boarding) party.

Last week I talked to Chris Carson, the creator of Tiny Trek, one of our most-anticipated games of the year. The open-world procedurally-generated space exploration adventure has been in development since last year and Carson has posted sporadic progress reports on the page of his successful Kickstarter for the title. The game was originally planned for release in May — clearly Carson’s plan to turn back time by slingshotting around the sun in a captured Bird-of-Prey didn’t pan out. Sorry whales.

But Carson tells me that Tiny Trek will be released this year without fail — and there’s a good reason to believe him. “If I don’t have it done and submitted to Apple before the 24th of December I lose the name,” quoth Carson. “Hence, it must be done one way or another before then!”

So there it is. It’s Christmas or bust for Tiny Trek, or Carson will have to find a new name and start drumming up awareness for the title all over again. Carson knows how to ship a title when he needs to; his studio Gamesare has shipped about a dozen of them, including the minimalist iOS 4X Vincere Totus Astrum.

The game itself is looking good — there’s a real Starflight feel to the galaxy map that I particularly appreciate. Watch a gameplay video after the jump.

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