Surviving Mars.

Surviving Mars had a difficult birth. Now, three major patches later, is the game finally living up to the expectations?

Surviving Mars is a city builder set on Mars. It’s developed my Bulgarian video game developer Haemimont Games (Tropico 3, Tropico 4, Tropico 5), and published by Paradox Interactive. This combination made every science fiction, and city builder fan go a little giddy when the game was announced last year. Haemimont Game’s run with the Tropico franchise was quite successful, and Paradox Interactive also published another great city builder, Cities: Skylines, that one set on Earth.

Unfortunately, Surviving Mars didn’t quite live up the hype when it was released. The game received mixed feedback from the players, who cited bugs, a rather terrible UI, and even more bugs as their major gripes. Not the kind of ticker tape parade you hope for when you release a game. There have probably been some long days at the office for the Haemimont Game developers since the game was released in March, as the game has received three major updates.

They have addressed many of the issues raised by the players, but has the effort turned Surviving Mars into the game we wanted?

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Tropico 5.

Read my long overdue Tropico 5 review to find out why the fifth installment in the series doesn’t live up to the expectations.

I hope you don’t mind me continuing to review semi-ancient games. Tropico 5 was released way back in 2014, but for once I didn’t wait until the game and all DLC were on sale to purchase it. Since I really enjoyed Tropico 4 (review here), I bought Tropico 5 in 2015, quite close to the release date by my standards. I even started writing this review in 2015, meaning it’s been in my drafts collection for three years before I now finally managed to get it published. That’s probably not a good sign for the final score.

Many of you are already familiar with the recipe used to cook the Tropico series, but for new readers, here’s a quick summary. Tropico is a series of city builder games where you play as a dictator, El Presidente. The goal is to build and manage a thriving city on an island (or several islands, depending on which game in the series), and to stay in power. If the rebels, or a foreign power, manage to throw you off the island, it’s game over, man!

The games have a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and is pretty laid-back. I’d perhaps go as far as to call both Tropico 3 and 4 borderline casual games. And that was one of the most appealing aspects of both of them. Kick back, relax, and rule your island with an iron fist! Tropico 5, however, makes a few changes to the Tropico formula, changes that make the game a lot more stressful than its predecessors. The experience is even downright annoying at times.

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American Truck Simulator.

Does SCS Software manage to recreate the trucking magic from Euro Truck Simulator 2 in American Truck Simulator?

You might know Czech video game developer SCS Software from their raging success Euro Truck Simulator 2. I reviewed the game back in October last year, and gave it a solid 4 out of 5 score. The game is also enjoying a solid 96% positive score on Steam, making it one of the platform’s highest rating games. Since SCS Software was funded in 1997, it has developed no less than 25 games, with American Truck Simulator being the latest addition to their catalogue.

American Truck Simulator takes everything you know from Euro Truck Simulator 2, and moves it across the pond. As the name of the game implies, you’re trucking the once great United States of America. Making a truck simulator set in the land that has given us fine trucking movies like Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit seems only natural, but does American Truck Simulator manage to offer the same experience that ETS2 does?

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Block’hood.

What happens when a design studio decides they want to take a stab at making a computer game? You get Block’hood.

The Plethora Project (or perhaps it’s “Plethora-Project”, they can’t make up their mind, and that annoys me), is a “design studio with a mission to accelerate computational literacy in the frame of Architecture and Design.” In 2017, they released Block’hood, a city building simulator video game that focuses on ideas of ecology, interdependence and decay. From the screenshots, it might resemble a tower building game, but it’s not. In Block’hood, you don’t create towers, but entire create ecosystems, called hoods, with the goal of making them self-sufficient.

I really like the premise of the game. It reminds me a lot of The Settlers series, of which I played a few of the titles for hours on end. The ecosystems in The Settlers are pretty basic compared to those in Block’hood, though. In The Settlers, you would plant some wheat, harvest, make flour at the mill, then a baker would make bread from one part flour, and one part water. An equivalent ecosystem in Block’hood would be similar, but involve a lot more components, or “blocks” as they are called in the game, and be more complex. Blocks in a Block’hood ecosystem more often than need several inputs to function, and produce both products and bi-products.

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The Confederate Express Mess.

Over the years, I’ve backed over 40 Kickstarter projects. Most of the them have delivered as promised, but Confederate Express turned out to be a spectacular failure.

The Confederate Express campaign launched on Kickstarter way back in 2013. The game was touted as “a strategy-oriented tactical RPG”, and the campaign launched with an impressive tech demo showing off the pixel art graphics engine. Confederate Express got mentioned by high traffic gaming sites like PC Gamer, and Destructoid, which undoubtedly boosted the campaign’s popularity. When it ended, 2,386 backers had pledged nearly $40,000. Several of the stretch goals were met, some of which drastically expanded the scope of the game. A small venture capital investment firm also threw some money at the game. With the extra money, the developer decided to use to expand the scope even further.

While the extra money sounded like a good idea in theory, it didn’t work out very well in practice. Adding more features means adding more complexity, and the addition funding wouldn’t be available until after the developers helped the VC firm finish another project. After Confederate Express was successfully funded in November 2013, little was heard until July 2014. The developer, now using the company name Kilobite, announced Knuckle Club. With that announcement came also the news that the development of Confederate Express had been postponed, citing “recent restructuring of Kilobite” as the cause. Kilobite also tried to get Knuckle Club funded through another Kickstarter campaign, but the site suspended the campaign before it reached $1,000.

By now, most of the backers were screaming bloody murder, and they started to dig around in the dirt to try to figure out was really going on. The media also got involved, and what they discovered was quite fascinating.

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