The holiday rush of huge game releases is over but we checked out the last of those huge releases, Star Wars: Battlefront II (at least the single player) plus a bunch of smaller games, a tabletop escape room and more.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (SP Campaign): Battlefront 2 is probably going to go down as one of the biggest PR disasters in gaming history with the battle over microtransactions and loot boxes between EA and places like Reddit. Despite all that, and also because I don’t really play much multiplayer, I was still interested to see what the campaign was going to be like, a feature that was widely recognized as one of the major things lacking from EA’s first Battlefront game. Having played it after a rental from Redbox, it’s kind of a mess as well. First of all, the story they were selling in the trailers isn’t really what’s the majority of the game. If you were looking for a full Imperial campaign of gunning down filthy Rebels, that’s about the first 3 missions before *Spoilers* your character Iden Versio has a change of heart you can see coming from light years away and defects to the Rebellion with her Inferno Squad partner Del. After that it’s pretty typical story progression as you work to stop the remnants of the Empire from fully launching a new diabolical plan called Operation Cinder. One of the things that is strange about the campaign is how it contorts weirdly to incorporate something from every era, like setting a mission on Naboo even though it’s post-ROTJ or various missions where you take control of Star Wars heroes like Luke, Han, Leia and Lando, most of which are heavy on fan service, light on relevance to the story being told (There’s an epilogue mission that is the worst offender of only existing for fan service and it leaves the whole story on a sour note with a cliffhanger that’s probably part of some sort of future DLC). There is some cool stuff, like most of the early Imperial missions and participating in things like the Battle of Jakku and the game looks and sounds incredible, but it’s definitely not what most people were probably expecting from a Battlefront campaign and especially one that seemed to be exploring and relatively (post-Disney) unexplored era from a unique perspective.
Exit the Game: The Abandoned Cabin: Since going to PAX Unplugged last month, we’re going to try and incorporate more board games into Gamebox 2.0 and one I recently got to check out was Exit the Game: The Abandoned Cabin. Exit is a whole series from Kosmos that won the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres, which is essentially the Oscars of the board game world. What the Exit series does is replicate the experience of an Escape Room in a box, with a series of puzzles to solve that get more interconnected and complex as the game goes on. It’s also unique in that it’s designed to only be played once, as they encourage you to to fold, cut and write on the cards and “journal” that’s included. The Abandoned Cabin has you and the people in your group trapped in a typical horror movie cabin in the woods, with the owner locking the front door and implementing other locks around the cabin that need to be solved with numeric combinations. You enter what you think the code is into a wheel, which points you to an “answer card” and it will either be right or give you another card where you have to say where the symbol you are trying to unlock is located. If you are correct, you get to progress to the next layer of puzzles. It’s a fantastic experience that really does replicate an escape room in your living room and there’s some cool twists that happen that I won’t spoil but involve some clever use of the provided material. I’m 100% going to look into the other games in the series and if you like escape rooms or wanted to try one but don’t have one near you or can’t afford it, the Exit series is a great alternative.
Riot: Civil Unrest: Arriving in Early Access this week, Riot: Civil Unrest is from Merge Games and designer Leonard Menchiari and gives you the opportunity to experience some major events in recent history from the side of protesters/rebels and the police, like the Indignados protests in Spain or the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt. The game plays sort of like a 2D, pixel art version of the Total War series, as you control large groups of units as opposed to just a single one at a time and you have a variety of options to complete your objectives, which for the protesting side is usually destroying objectives or occupying an area while on the police side, they are usually trying to move through the crowd to an objective or keeping a certain area clear. Despite the pixel art, the game has a gritty, realistic style to it that makes sense given the events it’s depicting and it almost feels like pixel art VHS or cell phone footage at times. It’s a unique idea for a game and if the subject matter and the strategy genre are both of interest to you, it’s definitely worth taking a look on Steam.
Hand of Fate 2: The original Hand of Fate was critically well received but didn’t make a lot of impact and it seems like Hand of Fate 2 might go a similar route, coming out in one of the most crowded holiday seasons in one of the most insanely jam packed year for games arguably ever. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on though, as it has an incredibly unique gameplay style that is also a ton of fun to play. Taking on a lot of the mechanics of a tabletop RPG, like a dungeon master giving quests, die rolling and decision making, you are playing a game against the Dealer, who presents various events that you need to decide how to navigate, like helping or hindering farmers being threatened by thieves. At certain points, the game will transition into action sections where you’ll fight Batman: Arkham style, with enemies to counter when they have an indicator and the same flowing combo system, although it’s definitely nowhere near as tight as what Rocksteady perfected. The way the text is written and the sort of things you are doing reminds me a lot of the Fighting Fantasy books from the 80’s except for combat you actually get into the thick of it instead of just relying on dice (dice are used for more skill based events and for determining how good or bad something may be). If you’re into board games mechanics, tabletop RPGs and solid combo based combat, Hand of Fate 2 is probably the only game you’ll see that incorporates them all into one, fun package.
Kick Ass Commandos: Coming out last month from Anarchy Enterprises, Kick Ass Commandos is an old school twin stick shooter that reminds me a lot of Total Carnage, the insane, military themed spiritual sequel to Smash TV. You control one of the Commandos, who have different starting skill levels like higher damage, more armor, etc, and then complete various objectives by blowing up everything in your path. There’s a bunch of insanely overpowered powerups to pick up, like rocket launchers, flamethrowers and grenades and one of the unique mechanics is that there are fellow Commandos to rescue and, once you do, they join you to provide more firepower, so you can have a squad of like six Commandos all blasting away as a group. It’s also wonderfully over the top with tons of explosions and your character exploding in ridiculously glory fashion if you get defeated and you can play as characters like Santa and George Washington as well.
Soldiers of the Universe: Coming out of Turkey, Soldiers of the Universe is from Rocwise Entertainment and is an FPS that follows an elite Turkish special forces team as they fight terrorism in the Middle East. You play as Hakan Kahraman, whose father is murdered while on the phone with Hakan and Hakan takes his place in the elite “Akinci Warriors”. Gameplay wise, it feels like a somewhat simpler ARMA, as it seems more realistic as far as how much damage you can take and how much you need to rely on cover. If you try to run and gun, you’re going to be dead quick but there’s also a lot of recoil and the scope moves all over the place if you are not stopped and crouched. While I appreciate the effort and the personal nature of the game for the team, this is a rough FPS that doesn’t feel or look particularly great. The enemies all stay in cover in one spot and, if you die a few times, you can start to memorize their locations so firefights are not exactly dynamic and presentation wise, the voice acting and character models are all pretty terrible. It has a very unique setting and story, it’s just a slog to experience it.
It’s Quiz Time: I love trivia games, anything from the official Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game back in the day to You Don’t Know Jack, and It’s Quiz Time is a new release for PS4 (coming soon to PC and Xbox One) that has some cool features if you have live people in the same room as you or the ability to stream over YouTube or Twitch. If you remember Buzz! back in the days of the PS2, which came with actual gameshow buzzers, It’s Quiz Time is from a bunch of that same team and uses the same mobile technology as games like the Jackbox or Sony’s recent Playlink titles. If you have a bunch of people in the same room, everyone can download the app and play along, which answers and category selection showing up on the companion app. The streaming option allows you to go live on Twitch or YouTube and play against viewers online. The categories are mostly general knowledge with a lean toward pop culture and sports although there’s some oddballs here and there, like an obsession with world airports that I got in the few games I played to check the game out. I also don’t know about the “host”, Salli. She guides you through the game and reads the questions but uses a text to speech program that makes her especially robotic and sometimes has some bizarre pronunciations of proper names and places (she’s supposed to be an AI but c’mon, we’ve got Alexa and Cortana now, we’re past Microsoft Jane or whatever the earlier attempts were). If you’re looking for some solid trivia with friends or want to take on your followers online, this is a solid choice to check out.
The Count Lucanor: Coming out a few weeks ago, The Count Lucanor from The Baroque Decay is a great throwback adventure game with some fantastic pixel art and great atmosphere. You play as Hans (who is kind of a dick BTW), who turns 10 and decides he’s now a man (and also fed up with his life of poverty) sets out on his own to seek fame and fortune. After a day that leads to a creepy graveyard, Hans seemingly falls under a spell and awakes at night to find the world a nightmarish version of itself and finds a mysterious blue being who claims to be the servant of the wealthy Count Lucanor. If Hans can explore the Count’s castle and figure out this creature’s name, he’ll become the Count’s heir and gain all his wealth and titles. Exploring the castle feels right out of Zelda but Hans isn’t a fighter like Link, so your only option against the creepy monsters stalking the castle is to hide under tables or run away. There’s a great mechanic involving decisions that you make as the game goes along, as helping out someone or not can have a big impact later in the game, whether it’s getting a special item or being forced to pay more for items. It’s out on PS4, Vita, PC and Nintendo Switch.