Posts by: Sean Clancy

Review(s): The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, and Blackwell Convergence

"Yeah, take that Monique! And you too Future Device Which I Assume Can Hear, and Understand, Me!"

“Yeah, take that Monique! And you too Future Device Which I Assume Can Hear and Understand Me!”

The Blackwell games are jazzy slices of paranormal New York biography, punctuated with the beats of a ’50s P.I. procedural. Wadjet Eye Games’ functionally traditional point-and-click series is unabashedly heart-on-sleeve with its tale of a reluctant medium coming into her own as the latest bearer of the Blackwell family legacy. Which is ghosts, by the way.

Rosangela, like her aunt and grandmother before her, is meant to find wayward spirits unaware of–or unwilling to accept–their own demise. She then works to shuttle them off to the afterlife, either by forcing them to confront the unreality of their own ghost-ness, or by basically tricking them into walking towards the light.

Rosa does this with the help of a blue-suited, wise-crackin’ Depression-era spirit guide named Joey Mallone, for goodness’ sake. Really. These are serious tales. Really.

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Review: Star Traders 4X Empires

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let's talk spice rates!

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let’s talk spice rates!

Star Traders 4X rounds all the requisite space-strategy bases for a game of its nomenclature; you find new systems, colonize them, strip them of natural resources and, in turn, funnel those resources into a burgeoning military-industrial complex. But, when it comes to mining the human drama which rests on the success or failure of this empire-building, the Trese Brothers’ latest isn’t as sure-footed.

Star Traders is a game where the fate of an entire system can rest on cooperation between three–often petty–groups of intergalactic merchants stranded in a remote stretch of the universe. These factions can either be an economic triumvirate fueling your conquest of the galaxy, or a perpetually warring band of toddlers who can’t be bothered to call off their trade embargoes, assassins’ contracts, and solar wars when a xenos fleet is steamrolling their holdings. To these traders, such grudges are just part of their (shockingly short-sighted) business, and to you–the overlord meant to keep all things balanced–they’re just another semi-obscured mechanic or cryptic maths modification among many, many others.

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Review: Blood & Laurels

Mistakes were made.

Mistakes were made.

You’re Marcus, a meek, middling historian struggling to survive in ancient Rome. His patron, Artus, is an ambitious general with designs on the Imperial throne. A poison-savvy widow, devil-may-care poet, chaste priestess, wicked Emperor, and—most importantly—a fortune-telling spirit round out the cast of this particular production. All are yours to befriend or spurn. All can use Marcus, or be used by him depending on what sort of tale the player wishes to tell. Many will fail to endure to the conclusion of this production, and damn if it doesn’t always seem like everyone’s trying to get in Marcus’ pants. Or under his tunic, rather.

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Review: MacGyver: Deadly Descent

The ultimate MacGyvering: Mac in the game has a copy of the game.

The ultimate MacGyvering: Mac in the game has a copy of the game.

MacGyver makes for a solid role-model. I say this as someone who a) has never watched an episode of the series, or even a clip of the undoubtedly explosion-filled introduction, b) probably never will, and yet, c) can still describe the setup for several different installments of a one-joke serial SNL sketch that exclusively lampoons the Richard Dean Anderson vehicle (a vehicle which had aired its last episode roughly fifteen years earlier).

But I get it. Science background, thrifty, aversion to guns, calm under pressure, etc. More like that, please, and maybe a little less prime time murder-porn. MacGyver: Deadly Descent is a fittingly bloodless outing which tasks Mac with rescuing a team of researchers trapped by their own security system in an increasingly air-starved laboratory. Which is to say they’re trapped by an odd collection of somewhat familiar puzzle games. Guess you should have played more Pipe Mania, nerds! HA! Heh. Oh hell they’re turning blue…

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Review: OTTTD

Monster mash.

Monster mash.

The most over-the-top thing about Over the Top Tower Defense is the unwieldy abbreviation it’s swinging around as its name. Yes, there are steampunk crustaceans and floating eyeballs here, true enough, and an overzealous inter-dimensional military contractor putting mercenaries to work in the field of “preemptive defense.” Somewhere between those two camps is where you’ll find the tons upon tons of meaty giblets and invariably fish-shaped bones your artillery emplacements and freshly employed soldiers of fortune will paint the ground with.

You’ll also find your “slow” towers there, your sniper towers, your rocket towers and machine gun towers and so on. They’ll be in those predetermined slots you expect them to be in, dotting the predetermined paths enemy mobs travel placidly along towards your home base, which has also been placed for you, and which you need to protect. Now, your soldiers are something different, and it’s on their shoulders that OTTTD places a burden. The burden is this: make this game only somewhat like every tower defense ever played, instead of entirely like every one ever played.

It’s a heavy burden but, then again, these mercs have power armor. And ‘tude.

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Review: Glorious Maximus

He cut my head off because we were wearing the same hat. *Embarassing.*

He cut my head off because we were wearing the same hat. *Embarassing.*

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Now I’m Julius Caesar! I can hold two swords and, and, and they named a salad after me. S’true! Roman’s honor it is. Now I’m going to be SPARTACUS. He’s got a scawy mask. Wee-ooo wee-ooo wee-ooo. (That’s the sound Spartacus makes.)

Despite the day-glo color scheme that wouldn’t look out of place airbrushed on the side of an Econoline van in 1974, Glorious Maximus aims to capture the gritty one-on-one attrition of ancient Rome’s gladiatorial bouts. The blood-stained weapons, glistening armor, and self-mythologizing combatants are all here, as are the relentless trading of blows, back-and-forth footwork, and eventual near-total dismemberment. Technically here, at least. Because in trying to approximate the deadly grind of the world’s most loincloth-friendly bloodsport, Glorious Maximus risks confusing brutal simplicity with undercooked, one-note mechanics.

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Review: Wayward Souls

Oh, you lovable orcs. Have you ever not had *that* accent?

Oh, you lovable orcs. Have you ever not had *that* accent?

The trick to Wayward Souls is that it offsets the poor, poor player’s inevitable failure with modest pinches of refined badassery. You will cleave through waves of sentient jelly monsters, nimbly dodge the thrown pickaxes of zombie miners, and conjure up columns of flame to drive back floating magical hardcovers pinging mana bolts at you in an enchanted library.

And undoubtedly these moments will be far, far outnumbered by those when you, say, accidentally detonate a barrel of dynamite in your own face with an errant spell, or fatally misjudge an evil knight’s attack pattern and sync yourself into—not away from–a series of mace blows, or simply when you’re rushed-down by a pack of bads and dispatched with all the ceremony of someone taking out the trash on a Thursday.

And, undoubtedly, you’ll give these moments roughly equal time in the spotlight when you’re relating gaming tales to a savvy pal. Fair enough.

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Review: Evolution: Battle for Utopia

Are those healing grenades? Those look like healing grenades. Healing grenades *is* a damn promising start.

How exactly does the “healing grenade” work? A gaming mystery.

When we talk about currency, we’re really talking about time. People spend time doing things. If you spend time engaged in “work,” you’re allowed to exchange a few semi-abstract timeness units in for slips of paper, or coins, which you can in turn spend to take up someone else’s time—say, having your oil changed, or getting a turducken cooked properly. Not everyone agrees this is the best arrangement, but many do, and at worst you could say this system has always pretty much worked for those latter people. Evolution: Battle for Utopia must be on the bleeding edge of capitalism then (as its name would suggest), seeing as it has at least four or five different kinds of scrip.

There’s a green battery-looking thing, a red rock thing, and an odd DVD-looking thing which makes a 1990′s dial-up tone whenever you pick it up—super great, that. Battle for Utopia wants to treat these currencies more like resources, in keeping with its near-RTS (also near-shooter) aspirations, muddling the line somewhat between a “resource”—something with value in and of itself, like oil or food or a satisfying game mechanic—and a currency which, again, is really just your time. In fact its main resource as a digital entertainment product is in blurring the notion between something earned, within the game’s economy, and something spent, outside of it.

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