Posts by: Owen Faraday

Sunday Almanac: Deathwatch Talking Points Edition

A modern-day warrior, mean mean stride

A modern-day warrior, mean mean stride

I’ve been playing a lot of Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion. My iPad has grown accustomed to fairly light duty over the past couple of months, running catch-up episodes of True Detective plus the occasional bout of You Must Build A Boat. Deathwatch’s fancy 3D environments push the device a lot harder — I’ve started hearing a tiny sigh of resignation coming from the speaker when I pick it up.

So yes — lots of Deathwatch around here. Enough that the original draft of Friday’s review was about twice as long as the published product. After the jump, eight more collected thoughts about Rodeo’s latest opus: four more things that I love and four things that I don’t love about the year’s best game so far.

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Review: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion

Brothers til the end. Unless I get dealt a rarer model.

Brothers til the end. Unless I get dealt a rarer model.

The term “old-school” must be exhausted. It’s dragged onto App Store and Steam listings to describe such a vast spectrum of games that it’s all but meaningless now, like “terrorism” and “literally”. So I’m going to do something foolish and attempt to make old-school useful again.

Let’s suppose that the defining characteristic of the current “school” of gaming is procedural generation — the random algorithmic assembly of limitless worlds that makes Minecraft Minecraft and what causes that sharp intake of breath when you see infinity in the trailer for No Man’s Sky.

Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion might be the most cutting edge game on mobile (it’s one of the first to make use of Unreal Engine 4) but it rejects that new-school thinking completely. There’s no trace of algorithms here. It drops you into a world full of stuff (over 150 different pieces of loot, 40 unique Space Marines, and 40 levels) where every individual element has been made by hand. This game is old-school the way Swiss watches and sand mandalas are — thoughtful, intricate and head-shakingly beautiful.

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Watch the watchers: Sentinel Command reveal trailer

“In the game of chess, you can never let your adversary see your pieces.”

“In the game of chess, you can never let your adversary see your pieces.”

Venerable Dreadnaughts who have been reading Pocket Tactics since the Emperor was young will remember Heroes of the Revolution, a 2014 wargame that made my tiny black heart grow three sizes. Heroes was bold enough to jump off the tired old wargaming bus that shuttles back and forth between World War II and the Napoleonic Wars, presenting us with an inventive Cuban Revolution wargame fitted out with fresh ideas and gameplay mechanics. We deemed it one of last year’s most under-rated games.

Heroes developer GamerNationX (never was there a studio with a name more suited to inscribing on a Mead Trapper Keeper) have shown us their next title. It’s called Sentinel Command, and it’s a turn-based sci-fi starship fleet combat game. You are the commodore tasked with the defense of the province of Kernwall, the sector of space where noble House Sedaris maintains its mines and refineries and its fabulous selection of serif fonts. The other great Houses send raiding parties to capture your precious supplies of neo-platinum (used to make commemorative records for neo-Taylor Swift).

Your job is to assign fleets for the defense of Kernwall, intercepting the enemy where possible and employing the unique abilities of your fleets’ officers to prevail — but committing your best officers to a tough fight isn’t without risk, as injuries can take them out of the battle.  At the strategic level, your House War Council will periodically ask you to allocate your neo-platinum stocks to other provinces, which can net your new abilities and advantages.

I love absolutely everything about this. I love the look and feel of the game, which is a big step up from Heroes of the Revolution’s homespun aesthetic. I love the Dune-flavoured sci-fi gothic setting. I love the narrow focus of the setup, which suggests that GamerNationX designer John Ellenberger has another clever scenario to let us loose upon. I’m champing at the bit to play this.

After the jump, there’s the very first gameplay trailer for Sentinel Command awaiting your attention. GNX tell us that the game should be out very soon on iPad — possibly before the end of July. The game will be $6.99 US with no IAPs when it hits.

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Review: Fallout Shelter

I'm okay with the events that are unfolding currently.

This is fine.

I am playing a video game featuring an underground vault full of miserable pregnant women who are slightly irradiated and dressed in hand-me-down combat fatigues. This isn’t a Silence of the Lambs simulator: it’s Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter, the surprise iOS tie-in game that they unveiled at E3 yesterday.

If that description makes the game sound sinister, well… it’s not as bad as all that. Post-apocalyptic fiction has a base level of despair built right into it, and the Fallout franchise has always preferred its comedy slightly black. If you line it up next to, say, The Road, Fallout Shelter is pretty light-hearted, considering.

Possibly almost as surprising as the subject matter is the fact that Fallout Shelter is a freemium game from a big publisher that’s pretty fun, actually.

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Out Tonight: Infection, Door Kickers, Spirit of War, Threes Free, and more

D-A-E-AYY-LMAO

D-E-AYY-LMAO

Owen here, covering for Dave while he attends an evil sidekick symposium. Did you know that henchmen are more than twenty times more likely to be injured on the job than sinister masterminds? Well, not at Pocket Tactics — safety is the most important thing in our volcano lair high atop Mount Hexmap. Well, aside from the volcano. There’s a few unavoidable risks associated with that. Some.

Anyway. Tonight is an excellent release night, you know? Maybe the best of 2015 so far. I’ve played almost everything in tonight’s crop, and I’m pretty enthusiastic about, oh, 75% of the games going. Let me tell you all about it after the jump.

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Night terror: One last Dream Quest update before Peter Whalen joins Hearthstone team

To sleep, perchance to dream, he said, moments before being gored by a line drawing of a unicorn.

To sleep, perchance to dream, he said, moments before being gored by a line drawing of a unicorn.

We merry few (and Richard Garfield) were not the only ones besotted by Peter Whalen’s extraordinary deck-building roguelike Dream Quest last year. The game that we deemed 2014’s RPG of the Year (because we hate logical categorization) drew the terrible, all-seeing gaze of Blizzard. Young Mr Whalen told me the other day that next month he’ll be joining the venerable studio as a designer on Hearthstone, a stroke of fate so just and so righteous that it might be evidence of a benevolent interventionist god.

But before he joins ranks with the heroes of Warcraft, Whalen has one parting gift for the Dream Quest true believer: a final update due out in the next couple of weeks which will add “a new class, a new monster, a few new achievements, some new talents, new cards, and some language fixes.” In the exclusive screenshot above it appears you can see the new class, which is what? A turtlemancer? One might conclude that the turtlemancer’s power is to forsee the dungeon levels and bosses from the very beginning — no small advantage.

If you’re just learning of Dream Quest‘s existence, you should probably read Kelsey’s review from last year, and my RPG of the Year homage to the game. Then once the hooks are in, you can come back for Peter Whalen’s strategy guide to the game. And then, despite the fact that it looks like something you might have found scribbled on a 13-year-old’s DeviantArt page, you’ll find that you’ve got another game you’ll never delete from your iPad.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see what wonders Peter Whalen performs when he starts tinkering with Hearthstone.

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Off-label application: Big Pharma for iPad likely

Bad medicine is what I need.

Bad medicine is what I need.

You might remember Big Pharma from when it was announced last year — a game about making a pharmaceuticals factory that borrowed ideas from SpaceChem and dropped them into the ethically sticky world of drugs. Publisher Cliff Harris sent me a build of Big Pharma last week and I’m mightily impressed with it. It’s a puzzle game married to a business sim with a Bullfrogian eye for detail. If you’re the sort that draws pleasure from puzzles that challenge you to make things and then make them more efficient, then Big Pharma will be a designer drug for you.

There’s a whole layer to the game that confronts you with real-life questions that there’s no good answers to: do you want to make a big-selling drug that brings a small amount of relief to a large number of people, or do you want to dramatically improve the lives of a small few? How much will you be driven by a desire to do good or by the profit motive? The two don’t intersect as neatly as you might like. At the current stage of development there are just a few hints of that kind of moral shading — I’m hoping the release version will delve into that further.

You can pick the game up in a very polished beta form right now for PC, but Cliffski was equivocal about his plans for a tablet release when we asked him about it last year. When I talked to him yesterday, he was entirely more positive about that. “It’s currently pretty RAM hungry so that will be an issue in making it to iPad, but it’s made in unity so I’m sure it’s something we can overcome.”

Even in its current pre-release state Big Pharma is one of the most memorable games I’ve played in a long time. If Cliffski and developer Twice Circled make the jump to iPad then this will be one of the biggest mobile releases of the year. Watch a video after the jump.

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Review: You Must Build A Boat

Get behind me, Satan.

Perhaps not the naval architecture sim you were expecting.

10000000 is notable around here for almost certainly being the fastest-paced game ever reviewed in these pages. 10000000 took elements from RPGs, match-3 puzzlers, and infinite runners and ground them up in a mortar, and then fidgetingly insisted that you snort the product through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. 10000000 was frenetic, but it was simultaneously cerebral and demanded careful planning, like a psychotic German bureaucrat.

Remarkably, You Must Build A Boat doesn’t just replicate that delicate balance of gameplay elements, it refines it all into an even more potent blend. So potent, in fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t handle a second sequel.

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