Posts by: Owen Faraday

Papers, spasiba: ALFA-ARKIV is a document thriller unlike any other

Death is not the end in Carcosa.

Death is not the end in Carcosa.

We didn’t talk about ALFA-ARKIV when it came out a couple of weeks ago because I had seen a few screenshots and, frankly, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was supposed to. Now I’ve played it, and I still don’t quite think I know. But I am deeply intrigued by it.

I’ve sunk about 45 minutes into this thing, and I don’t want to make any judgements about its quality yet. Hell, I don’t know if it’s a game. In ALFA-ARKIV you’re a hacker who’s stumbled across the document drop of a Chilean revolutionary who’s trying to unravel a mystery about the lone survivor (and purported accomplice in) an Islamic extremist suicide bombing in a Russian puppet state. Who is she, and why did she survive?

The gameplay, such as it is, consists of poring over the documents in the cache, looking for clues that you can relate the AI-controlled people you meet in the in-game chat. Sometimes you’re looking at official police incident reports, sometimes hand-scawled diary entires, and occasionally videos: surveillance of suspects and propaganda reels from ISIS-like mujahideen. The production is slick and ALFA is trying hard to cast a convincing spell. The app acts like a new OS for your device, trying (like Republique did) to present you with a plausible portal to this game’s universe from your couch.

This is not a game to be played on a coffee break or while waiting for an elevator. It’s as demanding of your attention as an interactive fiction game like 80 Days. I can’t say yet how interactive it is, though — maybe there’s some puzzles waiting beyond the point where I jacked out — but I do know that ALFA-ARKIV is a absolutely unique experience. It’s not remotely afraid to tangle with touchy contemporary issues like surveillance and Islamic extremism. How insightful it is on those matters I don’t know just yet. But it’s got moxie for even attempting.

ALFA-ARKIV is iPad-only and it’s free to try; there’s an IAP to unlock the whole game after an introductory segment. Watch the trailer below.

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Out Tonight: The Nightmare Cooperative, Appointment with F.E.A.R., Bioshock, Tiny Tower Vegas, and more

I knew I was over-dressed.

I knew I was over-dressed.

From the Pocket Tactics New Release Assessment Centre and Horse Racing Tip Emporium high atop Mount Hexmap, the report has just arrived via PT HQ’s elaborate pneumatic tube messaging system: it’s a pretty decent Wednesday night. Also I have some hot horses for tomorrow’s 4 o’clock at Saratoga. Email me about those.

There’s three ports you’re going to want to investigate: two from other gaming platforms, and one from the pulpy world of books. But there’s also more made-for-mobile games that may catch your fancy. A lot of lighter stuff this week, but interesting. Trailers and chat after the jump.

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Renewed offensive: Open Panzer update adds new scenarios and Android edition

Hiss tanks.

Hiss tanks.

You might think you love Panzer General, but I promise that you don’t love Panzer General as much as Nicu Pavel does, who has been working on his free open source remake of SSI’s PC strategy classic for over two years now. In some cultures, Pavel is now legally married to Panzer General.

Back in January, Pavel brought the web-based Open Panzer to iOS, but this week has arrived for Android devices. “It’s also available on Google Chrome and FireFox OS,” Pavel told me, “but I don’t think it matters for many.” Nope, I don’t think it does either. What about Chumby, though?

Given its HTML 5 roots, Open Panzer doesn’t feel quite like a native app, but Pavel has stuffed it with content like a Zimmerit-covered Thanksgiving turkey. There’s a ton of campaigns in this turn-based operational level wargame, including the just-added “Great Patriotic War 1942-1945″ (Soviet side, 20 scenarios) and “Das Reich (1939-1945)” (Germans, 32 scenarios). It’s not as nice to look at or touch as Slitherine’s Panzer Corps for iPad, but you can’t beat the price.

Pavel’s planning his next update already: Open Panzer 3.0 will be ticking with a new AI and a new weather modelling system.

Halting probability: This is what Out There Omega Edition will look like

Send additional poets.

Now even more full of stars.

Gallic indie gaming hero Michael Peiffert sends across the above screenshot of the forthcoming Omega Edition of his extraordinary space exploration adventure Out There, and gosh that is pretty. The Omega Edition was announced back in July and will deliver an entirely new engine and expanded content to the game sometime later this year.

That screenshot “shows perfectly the direction I’m taking for the graphics improvement,” Peiffert told me. “Light use of 3D and lighting effects with hand-painted and much more detailed textures.” This will surely be 2014′s most-guilded lily, as Out There was already one of the most visually impressive games in memory. No word if the new engine will enhance the game’s suffocating sense of loneliness or induce a deeper sense of wonder, but the French have that technology, you know.

Read my review of the game from February to learn more if Out There passed you by earlier this year. Still no hard-set release date for the update (which will be free to existing owners of the game on iOS and Android) but it smells close.

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Flat Earth society: Gameplay video of SettleForge, an original iOS board game

Hexes from heaven.

Hexes from heaven.

You have never played an empire-building game that takes its genre quite as literally as SettleForge does. This game is Carcassonne as played by the Olympian gods: it’s a solitaire digital board game where you create a kingdom one tile at a time, trying to place tiles that synergize to win the trust of your people.

Developer Andreas Mank told me last week that this is his first original design, but he’s worked in the games industry for some time; his portfolio includes work on Jowood’s PC fantasy RPG Spellforce 2. I played a preview build over the weekend and the game is still pretty rough and full of placeholders (plus the in-game text is a mix of English and German and my Deutsch is nicht so gut) but it already sports what is quite possibly the most beautiful art I’ve seen this year.

At the start of each game, you’re given three missions from your populace (pretty presumptuous of them to drop a to-do list on the guy who’s busy creating the bloody universe) which you fulfill by placing tiles in the right places — hunters need forests to stalk around in, miners need mountains, and so on. Not all tiles can live happily together and some more advanced tiles require prerequisite links to be present — you can’t have a jeweller without working diamond mines and metal smiths. Most of all, you have to be strategic about your placements so as to not paint yourself into a celestial corner.

SettleForge has been in development for three years and will ship this winter for iPad, the devs hope, and it’s going to be a proper game. “We hate in app purchases and we decided to create a game that we love to play ourselves,” Mank told me. Righteous.

Watch a gameplay video after the jump, and remember — this is a work in progress. You can follow SettleForge on Facebook for more frequent updates.

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Charlie does surf: Vietnam ’65 submitted to Apple

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I was trying to make a statement about the duality of man, sir.

I was trying to make a statement about the duality of man, sir.

I’m no Nate Silver, but I do know that two data points isn’t sufficient to declare a trend. But I sure hope that the twin occurrences of Heroes of the Revolution and the forthcoming Vietnam ’65 are the harbingers of a wave of in mobile wargames in non-traditional settings. I love WWII, man (I’m writing this while wearing my Carl Spaatz spats and the room is lit with my Operation Torch torch) but I’m dying for for some non-European hexes to stomp.

The devs behind Vietnam ’65 kindly wrote in to tell us that their turn-based iPad game has been submitted to Apple and is due out in the next couple of weeks — you might remember it from when Neumann wrote about it here in April.

It’s not just the setting that has me interested in Vietnam ’65 — it’s also the unique-sounding gameplay. Playing as the US Army’s 1st Air Cav, your job isn’t just to militarily defeat the North Vietnamese Army, but to ensure that the local villages don’t turn against you. If you don’t keep the NVA away from civilians, you’ll start to lose the hearts and minds of the people in your area of operations, which will give the Viet Cong guerrillas a foothold on the map. It sounds like it could be a counterpart of 1950s Cuba wargame Heroes of the Revolution (which I reviewed a couple of weeks back) where you played the guerillas.

I’ll let you know when this one launches, but until then there’s gameplay video and screenshots below.

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Holiday re-run: Winning Blimp tell us about Stratolith their unabashedly analog RTS

PT‘s off today for the summer bank holiday in the UK. This feature, which reveals the inner workings of Winning Blimp’s still-forthcoming iPad RTS Stratolith originally ran on March 24th of this year.
The time has come to push the button.

The time has come to push the button.

A couple of weeks ago we saw the trailer for Stratolith for the first time. What grabbed me right away about Winning Blimp’s forthcoming iOS & desktop game was how much effort had obviously gone into the game’s presentation. A third of the screen is taken up by a big skeuomorphic control panel that would feel right at home in the worn-in blue collar sci-fi universe of Alien. You can’t ask for nicer window dressing for a game.

“Actually,” developer Bear Trickey told me, “everything you see there is functional. Every control you see in the screenshots and in the trailer has meaning and utility.” Oh. Oh, wow.

Stratolith is an analog game.

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We both go down together: The Nightmare Cooperative comes to iOS this week

My grocery co-op in Brooklyn was just like this.

My grocery co-op in Brooklyn was just like this.

Finally, a game developer that understands why we play mobile games: to insulate ourselves from the fiery love of our families and to block out the excruciating beauty of the natural world. Nightmare Cooperative’s trailer invites us to do exactly that on August 28th, when the PC game makes the jump to iOS as a universal app, just as we foretold back in July. Android is in the works for some future date.

Nightmare Cooperative is a puzzle roguelike where a small village has started a commonwealth scheme to rid itself of a troublesome nearby dungeon. The unique twist here is that when you move one character in your party, you move them all. Lucky Frame’s music toy/tower defense game Bad Hotel has been delighting players and confounding TripAdvisor search results since 2012, and this is the Scottish studio’s first game since — I expect greatness.

Watch the trailer below.

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