The Oculus’ Price Rift.

Oculus Rift.

My gaming rig is pushing 6 years now, and I can’t play any new games on it unless the graphics quality configuration is set low. Very, very low. It’s about to upgrade the hardware. Gaming these days isn’t too CPU intensive, the GPU is the component that takes the heaviest work load. So ideally I’d just buy a new graphics card, and my rig would be as good as new. Unfortunately, with a 6 year old mother board, I don’t have the necessary expansion slots to fit any of the modern graphics cards. Getting a new mother board would also mean I have to purchase a new CPU, new RAM chips, and since powerful hardware requires a lot of power, I’ll have to get a new PSU as well.

You probably see where this is going: I might as well replace the entire rig. But a new high-end gaming computer is expensive, and when I started thinking about upgrading, I wasn’t really sure if spending all that money on something I wouldn’t use that much was a good idea1). So I put the idea to sleep in the back of my mind. There was one gadget, though, that occasionally woke the idea up again and made me want to set fire to my credit card: The Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display, and after several prototypes, two development kits and 5 years in development, the Rift is scheduled to be available on March 28 this year. VR is damn fascinating, and the Rift is the first of several consumer VR devices that will hit the market this year. The development kits have mostly received rave reviews, and I’ve talked to a couple of guys who own one of the kits – they really, really like it.

The Rift, the huge potential for fun and it’s indicated price tag of around $350 finally tipped me over the edge: I was ready to get a new gaming rig and a shiny Oculus Rift. The prospect of getting tons of state-of-the-art hardware and a Rift to play with made me giggle like a little girl – until the actual price of the Oculus Rift was announced.

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Door Kickers.

Door Kickers Artwork.

Door Kickers is a pausable, real-time strategy game developed by the Romanian indie developer KillHouse Games. In top-down view, it puts you in charge of a SWAT team and lets you command it through missions of varying complexity. Whether you chose to go in with guns blazing, or chose the more sophisticated spy-camera, flash bang, three taps in the chest-way, is up to you.

While the sledge hammer and guns blazing-approach might be good enough to get your team unscathed through a mission, it’s more often than not the wrong way of maxing out the score you can achieve on each mission. In the classic Angry Birds style, you collect stars on each mission, with 3 being the maximum amount of stars you can get per mission. The stars you collect can then be used to upgrade your squad’s equipment and weaponry – and there are quite a lot to choose from: Primary weapons, secondary weapons, armor, support gear and utilities, everything from silenced pistols to assault rifles and breaching charges. That you need to collect stars to unlock new gear give you a great incentive to go back and retry missions you don’t already have a perfect score on. Maybe you also want to try some of the challenges Door Kickers gives you; like using a single plan or just one trooper to complete a mission. The game has virtually no loading time, which makes it very easy to retry a mission you’re not entirely happy with.

That Door Kickers is a pausable, real-time strategy game means that it is played in two modes: When the game is paused, you’re in planning mode. In this mode, you can plot paths for your officers to follow through a location and plan various actions they will take along the path. This can be to throw a flash grenade into a room before entering it, place a breaching charge, pick a lock, change from their primary weapon to their sidearm, or another action in a wide selection available to make sure the bad guys are handled in the most efficient way possible. When you unpause the game, all the planned actions are performed in real time. If you’re of the adventurous type, it’s also possible to play Door Kickers entirely in real-time, without pausing and entering planning mode, but keeping track of everything – squad members, hostiles, evidence, and hostages – in real-time isn’t exactly an easy task. Your squad members will automatically engage any hostiles they see, but that’s pretty much the only thing they will do on their own. Everything else is up to you to tell them.

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Cities: Skylines.

Cities: Skylines

Once upon a time, a guy named Will Wright sat down and created a game like no other game before it: SimCity, a city-building simulator. Despite its apparent narrow audience, the game became a massive success and spawned what became a well known and highly respected franchise. Many years later, Electronic Arts released SimCity again. The hype was massive, and the fall of the SimCity franchise was spectacular. The 2013 version of SimCity was a broken mess that only delivered on a handful of its pre-release promises. Many gamers felt cheated by EA and abandoned the game. In the end, EA decided to close down the studio responsible for the development of the failed city builder.

Then along came Colossal Order and Cities: Skylines.

Finish developer Colossal Order is no stranger to simulation games. In their Cities in Motion series, you play as a city’s mass transit planner, laying out routes and setting up time tables for buses, trams, subways and other forms of public transportation people rely on to get around. But you have no direct control of the city itself. Depending on how you build your transportation network, the city will grow in different ways, but you can’t, say, zone a specific plot of land so it’ll become a residential area.

But all that changes with Cities: Skylines, which is a full blown city simulator. Think of it as the love child of the original SimCity and Cities in Motion. You’ve got full control of both your city and its mass transit system. Cities: Skylines became and immediate success, selling 250,000 copies within the first 24 hours of its release. It’s currently enjoying a “very positive” rating on Steam, and a metascore of 86 on Metacritic.

But does Cities: Skylines get rave reviews based on its own merits, or just because it managed to fill the hole EA’s SimCity disaster left behind?

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Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut.

With the release of Harebrained Schemes‘ third game in their hugely successful Shadowrun series just around the corner – Shadowrun: Hong Kong is released world wide tomorrow, August 20 – I thought it was about time to finally get my quick review of the second game in the series, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, finished and published.

I reviewed the first game, Shadowrun Returns, two years ago, and gave the game a solid 4 out of 5 rating. Building on the success of Shadowrun Returns, Harebrained Schemes released an expansion for the game entitled Shadowrun: Dragonfall in 2014. The expansion was then released again as a stand-alone game in early 2015 as “Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s cut”, and that’s the version I’ll be reviewing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s even possible to buy Dragonfall as an expansion for Shadowrun Returns anymore, and I have no idea if there are any difference between Dragonfall as an expansion and as a stand-alone game. So, for convenience, I’ll just refer to the game as Dragonfall from now on. Let’s get started!

Dragonfall takes you to one of the epic locations of the Shadowrun universe: Berlin. Torn apart by the Night of Rage, then ravaged by anarchists, West Berlin is now largely controller by corporations while the smaller East Berlin is occupied by the anarchists. You join a team led by Monika Schäfer, who takes you on a simple break-in job. But nothing is ever really simple in the shadows, right? The break-in job goes sour – of course – and you soon find yourself trying to hunt down a beast everyone thought had been dead for decades.

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Planetary Annihilation Collector’s Edition.

Planetary Annihilation.

Planetary Annihilation was once the greatest financial success story in the computer games category on Kickstarter. When the campaign was launched back in August 2012, creator Uber Entertainment had nothing except for a concept video and a need for $900,000. It was a long shot, but with promises of Total Annihilation-inspired gameplay on a planetary scale, and planets with rocket thrusters, the PA campaign quickly gained massive traction. After 30 days, Uber Entertainment had raked in an impressive $2,229,344.

I was one of the 44,162 backers who got caught in the headlights of the shiny Planetary Annihilation campaign. Not only did I pledge enough to get the game as a digital download when it was released, I also got access to the alpha and beta versions, the opportunity to name a planet in the game (I named it “vegard”, of course) and a physical collector’s edition game box. All in all, I threw $175 at the campaign, more than ten times what I’d usually spend on a game.

Then the waiting game started. Two years later, in early September 2014, after over a year on Steam Early Access and numerous delays, Planetary Annihilation was officially launched. But the reception was mixed. While the game had some original ideas, it turned out that it was quite hard to implement them. Planetary warfare, for instance, sounds great, but it’s very hard for the player to handle such a vast battlefield. Also, the game lacked a proper tutorial, and for a complex game like Planetary Annihilation, a good tutorial is essential to give new players – at least those of us who prefer single player – a little help to get off the ground.

The Kickstarter backers didn’t responds too well to what Planetary Annihilation turned out to be. In fact, when Uber Entertainment, just one month after the Planetary Annihilation launch, created a new Kickstarter campaign, Human Resources, it quickly became apparent that the campaign would bomb. The timing was terrible – players were using most of their time complaining about Planetary Annihilation – and the Human Resources campaign was pretty much created using the same mold as the campaign for Planetary Annihilation: No actual gameplay, just a lavish concept video and stellar promises of “insanely huge battles”.

But gamers tend not to allow themselves to be fooled twice1, and just shy of three weeks in to the campaign, Uber Entertainment admitted defeat and cancelled Human Resources.

It’s safe to say that Planetary Annihilation did not live up to the high expectations set by Uber Entertainment themselves both during the Kickstarter campaign and later during the development process. Now that the company has finally managed to provide their higher tier backers with physical rewards, can the arrival of the Planetary Annihilation Collector’s Edition make up for the disappointment?

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