iOS Reviews

Review: Don’t Starve

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Been playing two weeks and still don't know what Evil Flowers do.

Been playing two weeks and still don’t know what Evil Flowers do.

After playing Don’t Starve for over a week now, I can definitely say that its title is something of a misnomer. If Klei Entertainment had wanted to be honest, they should have named it Don’t Get Stampeded By a Beefalo or Eaten by Spiders or Hang Out With Pigs During a Full Moon or Forget to Light a Fire at Night or Piss Off Bees or Chop Too Many Trees or Fight With Hounds or Build Things Close Together Without a Lightning Rod oh, and Remember to Eat. I can see where marketing might have put up a fuss, but in the end Don’t Starve as a title doesn’t capture everything. In fact, learning how to not starve is one of the earliest tricks you’ll figure out.

And there are a lot of tricks to figure out. That’s what Don’t Starve really is, a sandbox with toys that you’ve never seen before and need to piece together. Into what? You don’t know. Just see what works. It’s a game of trial and error and death–lots and lots of death–that makes you want to start all over again with the new knowledge you just gained. It’s all kinds of brilliant.

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Review: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion

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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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Review: Splendor

Shiny!

Shiny!

I’m not exactly sure how to write this review. Splendor is a card game which I’ve owned and played since it was released back in 2014. My kids love the game, as do many of the guys in my game group. I, however, do not love Splendor. In fact, I barely tolerate it. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, it just doesn’t push any of my buttons.

The app, however, is nearly perfect. Other than the lack of online play, it rivals every other digital board game out there, even what many would consider the grandfather of digital board games, Carcassonne.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been this conflicted. The previously mentioned Carcassonne is a game I’d prefer to never play again, but the app is one I would easily recommend to gamers looking for a digital fix. Splendor isn’t even the first Days of Wonder app where I’ve had this feeling. I loathe Small World with white-hot passion, and yet I cannot deny the app is a marvel. Of course, I didn’t have to write a review for either of those.

So, how to rank Splendor? Come follow along as I talk my way to the stars at the bottom of the page. I can’t promise it will make any sense, but if you’ve been reading my stuff for this long, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

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Review: Her Story

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Your window to the world

Your window to the world

After playing Her Story for a week now, I’m not sure I can classify what I’ve been doing as “playing”. I’m not really sure that Her Story is a game. It doesn’t have a goal or an ending that I’ve found, and even when I thought I was done, it turns out there are still many, many video clips I’ve yet to see. I’m left wondering if I should keep digging or have I learned all that I need to know?

The worst part is that telling you anything about the game would be akin to being that jackass Game of Thrones fan who’s read the books and can’t stop ruining it for the viewers who haven’t. Anything I say about the story will be spoilerific. What I can tell you is that Her Story is exactly what the title says, a story told by a woman. The story is told over seven different interviews that have been chopped up into bite sized pieces which can only be accessed a bit at a time. It’s like mixing seven different jigsaw puzzles together and trying to put them all back together again.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on my iPad.

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Review: Door Kickers

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The Jehovah's Witnesses are done with the softly-softly approach.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are done with the softly-softly approach.

Were, at this very moment, law enforcement to jimmy open my front door and flashbang my living room, they would not be met with force. They’d thunder into the confines of my home and find a man with sizzling corneas and ringing, blown-out ears, grinning and fumbling blindly with his iPad. I’d stand, trip over the table in front of me, apologise and reassure the burly officers that I’ll come quietly, just as long as I can grab the charging cable. “Thing is almost flat,” I would say meekly, ears still ringing.

“By the way, have you guys played Door Kickers?”

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Review: Fallout Shelter

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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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Review: Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp

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Damn. Should have stayed at the Severn City airport.

Damn. Should have stayed at the Severn City airport.

Back when I was growing up, we knew how to do armageddon right. One country pisses off another, bombs fly and everyone is vaporized in seconds. Of course, surviving the nuclear attack would suck, but even those mutants get to drive around really cool cars and hang out with Mel Gibson before he went completely insane. Nowadays, its humanity-ending disease that’s all the rage. Yuck. Slow and miserable, having to watch everything you know slowly fall apart. No thanks. Give me a nuclear blast and the ability to fight robots that look like Schwarzenegger’s skeleton any day. Yep, back in the day even that novel about Captain Trips ended with a nuke going off. Those were good times.

Of course, there aren’t many games involving nuclear war because, as we all know, the only winning move is not to play. Disease, on the other hand, offers up a scenario where we can find a cure and save the day. The latest example of this theme comes from a 2013 board game from Victory Point Games ominously titled Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp, lovingly brought to iOS from the more usually martial-minded HexWar.

There are already some fantastic plague themed games out there on the App Store, namely Plague Inc. and Pandemic, and Infection can walk amongst them with its head held high. This is a great game.

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Review: Spacecom

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Charlie Sheen dials back the bombast some.

Charlie Sheen dials back the bombast some.

If games like Defcon and Neptune’s Pride have taught us anything, it is that pace is never a good indication of intensity. Defcon needs no further feathering; the glacial NORAD simulator took what could have been a cliched and highly abstracted setting and made it into a bracing slow-motion horror show of wireframes and numbers. And Neptune’s Pride, well, that’s our closest living relative today to Flow Combine’s Spacecom.

In Spacecom, you’re a chin stroking and brow furrowing fleet admiral; bathed in the glow of a tactical map and shunting flotillas between systems, subjugating worlds with your wits and fleets. This sedately-paced space strategy game was fantastic on PC last year, and has transitioned to iOS in style. Prepare your comfiest captain’s chair.

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