Green Reaper – Farm Manager 2018 Review

Name: Farm Manager 2018
Developer: Cleversan Software
Publisher: PlayWay S.A.
Release Date: 6 April 2018
Platform: PC (click here for the Steam link)

April seems like an appropriate time to launch a farming title, what with the first signs of life creeping back after winter, and the daylight being that much brighter, causing you to close the curtains so you can see your monitor properly during daytime gaming.

I must admit to being a fan of these kinds of no-frills gaming titles – with a name like Farm Manager 2018, there is really no room for misunderstanding. You know 90% of what you’re gonna get before you’ve even seen a demo video. And that’s exactly what you can expect.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the remaining 10% seems to comprise mostly of bugs – and I’m not talking about the kind that’ll come along and eat all of your crops in-game. But we’ll come onto that shortly…

Focusing on the positives, Farm Manager 2018 is a cracking little title, scratching that itch many gamers have had since the days of Harvest Moon, and more recently Terraria and Stardew Valley. Unlike those titles, Farm Manager 2018 takes a much more realistic approach, with none of the flights of fancy, magic, or even a cutesy setting to elevate it beyond a real-world simulation.

And to a great extent, it really works – if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. You get government grants for planting fields of a certain hectare size, hiring and training employees, and building certain expansions to your farm. You can play the market by holding onto products until their price rises, but this must be offset against their expiration date. And how can hire workers with different skills and abilities, such as providing a boost to harvest yields, extra stamina, or production bonuses.

It’s a lot of fun figuring out the supply chains for different products, as whether by design or oversight, Farm Manager 2018 doesn’t go out of its way to make that kind of information accessible.

For example, you can build bee hives to produce honey, but if you also plant the seeds of specific crops nearby, the bees are able to produce a more specialist, expensive honey. Planting cereals doesn’t gain much profit, but they will feed your livestock; but not all animals will eat the same kind of crop, and require a varied diet to stay healthy and avoid costly visits by the local vet.

It was in exploring that maze of tweaking and optimising different combinations of crops, produce and animals I had the most fun tinkering with while playing Farm Manager 2018. But, sadly, not all of the game is fun. The micromanagement in particular can be really hard work, especially once the farm reaches a certain size.

There’s a certain amount of automation that can occur – the “autofill” function is especially invaluable in automatically choosing the best available workers for the specific task you’re assigning – but after a certain point, the sheer volume of tasks can become overwhelming, and worse, tedious to navigate.

Inevitably, this is most evident in early spring and late autumn, when sowing and harvesting occurs. Seasonal workers can be hired on short-term contracts to assist with the overflow, and although there’s a certain thrill in successfully juggling dozens of tasks during peak time, after a few years it becomes quite monotonous.

The campaign does a decent job of showing a prospective farmer the ropes, and there’s a nice story hook of an ailing father passing on his farm to his offspring, along with an old school friend who shows up to give tool tips. But largely it feels like it needs more balance.

For example, one objective instructs you to buy a type of combine harvester, and the next one tells you to buy a more expensive harvester. If left to my own devices, I’d have just saved up and bought the more expensive one, instead of investing in an earlier model and losing half of the capital by selling it on straight away.

The pacing can be frustrating, too. The next objective tells you to harvest a field of wheat with your shiny new combine harvester, which I received in late autumn. Therefore it was nearly a full year of game time before I feasibly had any chance of completing this objective.

Frustratingly, the biggest fail hasn’t even got anything to do with the gameplay. It’s in the myriad of bugs that can quietly occur, and they are often so subtle that it’s difficult to spot them right away.

For example, in the spring of one year, I tasked a worker to go and plow a field with a tractor and the appropriate attachment. With it being spring, I was swept away issuing orders to other farmhands, and it was almost a week of in-game time later before I realised that the worker had bugged and had never actually gone to the tractor.

Worse, I then found that the field itself had bugged and that cancelling the job request left it in some weird limbo where the task wouldn’t complete, and I was unable to issue a new one. Most of these kinds of bugs are resolved by saving and restarting the game, however it’s really not ideal that a hard restart is required on a regular basis.

All that said, the developers are releasing almost daily patches and bug fixes, and so before long you should expect to see a fully functioning version of Farm Manager 2018 – the kind you really would’ve hoped to see on launch day.

There seems to be only a single plucky yet eventually repetitive piece of background music, but the game’s graphics are really quite pleasant and – one would imagine – realistic when compared to the source material. There are some dodgy animations – the bale trailer comes to mind – but largely it looks great watching all of your hired hands busy themselves in every corner of your farm.

Despite some teething issues, Farm Manager 2018 delivers exactly what it promises, and with a plethora of bug fixes, and maybe some UI overhauls, it’ll be a solid title for fans of farms and management sims. Maybe just let it flower before picking it up.

The Most Depressing Thing About They Are Billions Isn’t The Zombies

In the bleak, far future of They Are Billions, humanity has mostly fallen to an endless wave of billions of zombies. Your plucky group of colonists has ventured to the frontier to try and carve a new settlement among the sea of hungry, animated corpses. At any moment, they could break through the perimeter and destroy everything you and your community have worked to create.

But despite the constant threat of undead destruction, the most depressing thing about They Are Billions isn’t the zombies – it’s that so far along the destruction of humanity itself, capitalism has still survived.

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One of the primary (and probably the most important) resources of the game is gold – with it you pay for building maintenance, research upgrades and pay wages. More citizens in your colony means more coin you can raise by tax to pay for all of that good stuff.

How depressing is the thought that after everything else about humanity has been stripped away, all that’s left is to go to work, pay your taxes and hope you don’t get munched on by the billions of zombies on the other side of the city walls? I can do two out of three of those right now!

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I mean, what could the denizens of this post-apocalyptic steampunk world possibly be doing with all of that cash? It looks like art galleries, organised sport, nail salons and cinemas all took a major hit when the zombies attacked.

Judging by the soundbites of the military units, the Soldiers spend all of their spare time in their bunk “cleaning their weapon”, while the Rangers spend every evening lost in erotic bliss, almost too tired to perform their duties the next day. I don’t even want to know what the flame-loving Lucifer does during his time off.

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Thanos seems like he’d be fun on a night out, but there’s not even anywhere to go and get a drink. Unless you count the Tavern of Doom that pops up on Google Maps near your new colony. The place is under new management, and the locals seem a bit feisty, but it might be worth a look, it says that they’re offering a new menu.

Maybe you could mount a few strobe lights on the city walls, blast out some Kraftwerk and pretend you’re at a rave. All of those vacant faces waiting to get in to a venue remind me of a few nights out.

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Even the scientists are at it, sitting in their workshops on the edge of extinction with the rest of humanity, holding the essential secrets of sustaining human life – but not without a paycheck first, of course. Next, the government will be increasing tuition fees to try and plug the gap budget cuts make in grant funding.

But it’s not all bad out on the ragged edge. At least there’s still a democratic process, with periodically elected mayors granting bonuses to your colony with big promises and boons granted to them by private industry, like extra buildings, free technology or bonus troops. Almost a bit like a bribe. So, actually, pretty much like it is now.

Maybe life won’t be so different once the zombie apocalypse hits after all – get a house, get a job, pay your taxes and vote for the lesser of two evils. The only real difference is you’ll literally be eaten alive at the end.

Check out EnomView’s review of the excellent, ruthlessly challenging zombie RTS They Are Billions by clicking right here, and check out the game on Steam.

C’mon Gamers, Do The Locomotive – Railway Empire Review

Name: Railway Empire
Developer: Gaming Minds Studios
Publisher: Kalypso Media Digital
Release Date: 28 January 2018
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One (click here for the Steam link)

The transport game genre has been around for decades, being popularised by gaming pioneers like Chris Sawyer and Sid Meier, with their Transport Tycoon and Railroad Tycoon series way back in the 1990’s. These titles hooked gamers into plotting tracks across an isometric map, moving  passengers and cargo from one station to the next, trying to outdo competitors and make the biggest profit.

The genre is one of several that didn’t make the transition to 3D very smoothly. Some titles, like RollerCoaster Tycoon and other theme park-themed franchises have managed it very well; others that focus on the more pragmatic side of rails and tracks seem to struggle.

Despite an admirable effort, Railway Empire, the new title from Gaming Minds Studios – the minds behind the classic Patrician series of games – don’t quite manage to succeed in fully breaking free of those shackles that have inhibited similar recent transport genre games since making the jump to 3D.

But let’s focus on the good, for now, because there’s definitely a lot of that to find here. Railway Empire is, initially at least, every bit as engaging as its spiritual predecessors. At its core lies the addictive drive to perfect transport lines between different cities and industries, making the maximum amount of profit in the shortest time and distance.

It’s a really pretty game to look at and get immersed in. The art style sits in a happy place between cartoon-like exaggeration and accurate realism, while the music evokes a sense of the period its set in, with yankee doodle folk music trilling happily in the background.

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As you’d expect of a transport game, there are a vast array of historic trains to utilise on your lines. The tech tree has a really good selection of era-appropriate innovations to dig in to, and the industries scattered throughout the maps lend themselves to the overall ease with which you can slip into early nineteenth century America.

The story campaign mode is also surprisingly interesting, even outside of the gameplay. You explore the construction of one of the most important transportation routes in the world at different stages and times during its development.

You interact with historical figures from the time, and although Railway Empire displays a certain nostalgia and enthusiasm for the railroad, it surprised me by not sugar-coating the murkier side of that period of history. It hints at ruthless and possibly illegal  industrial practices, as well as portraying more obviously immoral acts such as the resettlement of Native American people for the sake of “progress”.

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There are also a few new interesting mechanics, like being able to send spies and saboteurs to make mischief with your competitors – who can do exactly the same thing to you, of course.

Railway Empire makes several advancements on mechanics that were major stumbling blocks for the likes of Transport Fever to result in an overall package that, on balance, is enjoyable to play more often that it isn’t.

For example, railway tracks can be planned in advance. For me, this is the single greatest thing about the game. Instead of laying a track halfway across the map and nearly bankrupting yourself in the process, you can forecast how much construction will cost, and plan the track’s route around obstacles to be as cost-effective as possible.

Railway lines are also, on the whole, easy to set up and assign trains to. There’s no need to place depots and buy a myriad of carriages and containers; simply select the cities the train is to visit, assign the engine, and the train will automatically pick up passengers and cargo, up to its maximum capacity.

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Sadly, this is where the system begins to derail. Railway Empire is great fun during the initial set up of rail lines; but when the game reaches the point where you have to go back and start adding to, or editing, what you’ve done before, it can quickly become a bit of a nightmare.

The biggest one for me was trying to expand the rail network. At first you’ll just be able to afford a one track line between two stations, but naturally, once more destinations and locomotives are added to your network, you’ll want to add to that. But short of deleting all of the trains currently on the tracks, it can be extremely frustrating to get anything built.

You’ll often end up in a deadlock where you can’t add a new track because of an existing junction, which you can’t delete because there’s a train waiting at it, because the line needs a new track for it to move on to. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation that usually ends up with the frustrating outcome that you’re best deleting everything and starting again; which is ultimately self-defeating, eliminating the benefit of pre-planning tracks before construction.

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It feels like there are several layers of menus and detail missing to allow you to micromanage the game to the extent that you need to in order to set up a well-oiled transport network. For example, once a city gets to a certain size, lots of passengers and goods start getting generated there to be picked up. It’d be really handy to have a means to tell trains what to prioritise when they’re choosing what cargo to take first, but there isn’t.

It’s hard to be so down on Railway Empire, because there’s definitely a lot of good to be found here. The transport genre is crying out for a modern-day rival to Planet Coaster, which triumphantly brought the historically equivalent theme park genre into the post-3D world. Railway Empire is that game – as long as you play the first 30-60 minutes of any game and don’t progress past that point.

Although it should have been on track to deliver an engaging experience, a few points manage to derail it. But you may want to choo-choo-choose Railway Empire if your love for the transport genre can survive some frustrating gameplay niggles.

EnomView Score: 7 out of 10

 

Rage Quit Labyrinth – Hollow Knight Review

Name: Hollow Knight
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Platform: PC (click here for the Steam link)

It’d be really easy to sit here and liken Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight to any Metroid game, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Hollow Knight plays a helluva lot like classic and contemporary Metroid games. If there was ever a game that embodies the word “Metroidvania”, it’s Hollow Knight. Cut it in half and you’ll find a picture of Samus Aran running through it.

Ok, so you get it by now. Hollow Knight is a 2D platformer with a sprawling map to explore. Periodic skill upgrades enable you to backtrack and access previously out-of-reach areas, find more upgrades, and advance the story.

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But instead of super missiles and life-draining flying parasites, Hollow Knight offers a weird and wonderful world full of talking bugs, corporeal dreams and ancient prophecies. The game opens with a tough but diminutive warrior awakening and jumping from a really high cliff to find a largely abandoned village called Dirtmouth.

It sits above a ruined, ancient kingdom that was sealed a long time ago – only the well in Dirtmouth allows access. And there’s something down there stirring from a long slumber…

Mechanically, Hollow Knight is everything you could ask for from a modern platformer. Expanding on the classic basics, it adds in a plethora of new twists and ideas to provide a challenging title even for genre veterans. All of those speed run videos you can find will seem extra impressive once you actually play the game for yourself.

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The protagonist attacks foes with his trusty nail, bashing enemies at melee range. Supplementing this are some ranged spells, and later, advanced nail techniques that let you deliver charged power attacks. Enemies drop currency that can be used to buy map upgrades, more charms, or expand the nifty Stag system that serves as the ancient kingdom’s Underground network.

Adding versatility to how you play Hollow Knight is the charm system. Each charm has a different effect, and occupies a certain number of notches; the more powerful the effect, the more notches you use up. For example, you can use a charm that gives you bonus health, that shows where you are on the map, or extends the attack range of the nail to attack enemies.

You can gain more notches by purchasing them at stores, or unlocking them via challenges, but ultimately it comes down to the choice of having fewer stronger boons, or more numerous weaker ones. I found myself leaning towards the latter, though of course every player will be different. And the sheer volume of charms makes it fun to experiment with different combinations.

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And experiment you shall, because Hollow Knight can be savagely, ruthlessly, mercilessly hard. There’s a small safety redundancy in place in that if you die, all of your hard-earned cash stays in the same location with a shade of your former self. If you defeat it, you reclaim your lost loot. But if you die again before you do, it’s all lost. Forever. And that’s even before you play the game in Steel Soul mode, which inflicts permadeath.

Luckily, Hollow Knight is a pleasure for the eyes and ears, so although the repeated deaths you’ll endure will culminate in repeated rage quits, exploring the labyrinthine depths of the fallen kingdom of Hallownest will take the edge off the anger.

I continue to be a fan of understated graphic styles, and the sleepy, dusty kingdom of Hallownest certainly showcases one. There’s such a rich and varied texture to each of the areas; the palette of Hollow Knight isn’t that varied, which makes how distinct the different sections of the world are such an achievement.

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And what a world map it is. There’s a sprawling maze of interconnected caverns, rivers of acid, and forests of fungus to explore. And if there is a joy above all of the others in Hollow Knight, it’s in the exploration. The game places a high premium on the art of mapping, making it really difficult at first to navigate the mysterious depths.

Indeed, it’ll cost you a precious charm notch just to keep track of where you are at any given time. Incomplete maps of each area must be bought, and yet another item purchased to add new rooms to the map as you travel through them. Map pins keep track of places of interest – once you buy them, of course. Fortunately, Hollow Knight doesn’t operate a microtransaction system!

You can lose hours plumbing the depths of Hollow Knight, and just when things get too frustrating – and they will get frustrating – it’s easy to put the difficult area to one side in favour another far-flung corner of the large game map. A treat for the eyes, a nostalgia hit for old-school Metroid fans, and more challenges than a political election in Florida; Hollow Knight has a lot to offer.

EnomView Score: 9 out of 10

Darkly Atmospheric – Darkwood Review

There’s a quiet and tense energy that pervades the world of Darkwood. It’s not a traditional horror game in that there are monsters leaping out at you from every shadow – but it’s this that makes it even scarier.

Developers Acid Wizard Studio reportedly decided to create a horror game of their own as a result of not being fans of the genre, and after a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and a sometimes difficult four years of development in Steam Early Access, Darkwood officially launched in August 2017.

In many ways, this lack of background in horror shines through positively throughout the game. For a start, the top-down mechanic is at least rare, if not unique, in the genre. And all too often, horror games go for the jump scares, while Darkwood prefers a more psychological brand of terror.

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It begins innocuously enough – in the prologue, you play as a man living in a forest cabin and the game teaches you how to move around and manage your inventory. Things get a bit more sinister as you decide whether or not to euthanise your dying dog, and shortly afterwards Darkwood takes a deep breath and takes a long journey into the strange and surreal.

One of the first lessons you learn is to never, ever, under any circumstances, go outside during the night, because you will die a horrible and painful death. The lifeblood of this notion is the gasoline that fuels the generator in your shelter; as long as the lights are on, the paranormal beasties will stay away. Mostly. There are exceptions, such as the foreboding but unaggressive figure who imparts this nocturnal advice, standing with the body of a man and the head of a wolf.

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Cleverly, Darkwood slowly descends into madness, instead of plunging straight in deep. For the first few nights, not much might happen. But I recall early into the story, I was huddled in the bedroom of my shelter when the door swung open. There was nothing there. Another time I was pacing impatiently when I turned back around to find a person sat crying on the bed, desperate to go home.

As the loading screen warns you, Darkwood doesn’t hold you by the hand. Hence my confusion when, despite the earlier warning to never, EVER go outside at night, someone or something began knocking at the door after darkness had fallen. In such a situation, you’re gripped by a terrible indecision; do you go and open the door, or do you ignore it? It’s moments like these that truly set Darkwood aside from other horror games.

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Suffice to say that these are just the tip of a psychedelic iceberg that descends into trippier and scarier depths as the game continues, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to ruin the experience for a new player.

Despite the strange and terrible things that occur, there’s a reassuring logic that sits somewhere in the background; while it doesn’t hold your hand, neither does the game try and trip you up by changing the rules on you for the sake of adding confusion.

While it’s good, things aren’t perfect. The combat system feels very clunky to operate, and particularly from the mid-game on, it’s really difficult to walk away from a fight – and not in an “I appreciated the challenge” type of way.

But that’s a relatively small part of an otherwise phenomenal game. I’m a big fan of minimalist graphic styles, and here we can see an example of a game that basically just uses different shades of grey throughout and look amazing.

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And the sound quality alone is almost worth the cost of admission – moody, sombre drones ramp up the feeling of dread without you even realising it, particularly when you go anywhere near your lupine acquaintance.

Despite a somewhat clunky combat system, Darkwood presents a fresh and engaging take on the horror genre, which stays true to its roots at the same time as striking off in a new direction. Developed by guys who don’t normally like horror games, this one is bound to appeal to scare junkies and newcomers alike.

EnomView Score: 8 out of 10

5 Reasons Why They Are Billions Is So Addictive

Featuring more empty, hungry husks of people than a city centre takeaway on a Saturday night, They Are Billions has swept across Steam like the infection afflicting its billions of in-game villains. What is it that makes the game so addictive? Let’s take a look at a few reasons below…

1. Difficulty Level: Insanity

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Everyone loves a challenge, and in They Are Billions, gamers have found a doozy. Strategy gamers, in particular, seem to be gluttons for punishment, seeking more and more of a tactical trial; and keeping your colony free from infection is one of the toughest in recent memory.

Just one zombie can be the catalyst for bringing the base you’ve worked on for hours to come crashing down. And when there are billions of the blighters running around, one slip can be all it takes to see the plague infecting all of your colonists, and the dreaded game over screen.

Add to that the feeling of triumphant satisfaction when you finally win, and it’s a recipe to keep gamers trying to reach that ultimate goal. After all, the more difficult the battle, the sweeter the victory…

2. Dem Graphics

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While zombies and steampunk are popular (and arguably, overused) choices for games, doing them both together is a winning combination in the case of They Are Billions.

Steampunk, when done well, is a striking and engaging graphic style that has served well titles like 80 Days, Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored, while zombies provide a universally recognised menace that almost anyone can immediately engage with.

Add to that the post-apocalyptic setting and you’re left with an absolutely gorgeous retro-style aesthetic, with vibrantly coloured human settlements holding fast against the endless waves of grey undead flesh.

3. Made Like They Don’t Make Them Anymore

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As many people over a certain age might tell you, the past holds examples of superior craftsmanship and style that have faded away with the inevitable progression of time.

In this instance, I am one of those people – RTS games never seem to be as engaging as I remember, with classic genre titles like Age of Empires II or Command & Conquer holding special places in my heart from my younger days.

As such it’s easy to see how They Are Billions captures the imagination of gamers like me, with its old-school RTS play style that embodies the best of those classics and updates them into the future. Sure, there are a few niggles like the patrol pathway system, but it is still in Early Access, remember…

4. Doom is Inevitable, Why Rush?

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Sometimes games fall into the “bigger and better” trap, where the solution to innovation is making things larger, faster or more complex.

In the case of They Are Billions, it’s almost as if the design process has taken a step back, and bucks the trend of trying to make games that require the reflexes of an alert cat and memorising twenty different hotkeys to play well.

With its pause system, the game encourages players to take as much time as they need to make decisions, plan a strategy, issue orders, and still end up watching your colony fall to the undead hordes. But at least you thought about it first, right?

5. Higher Stakes Than A Vegas Casino

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Despite the apparent safety net that the pause system affords, it’s really easy to forget that one tiny slip up can mean endgame for your colony.

In an era where loading up from a less perilous time when the going gets tough is commonplace, the ruthlessness of They Are Billions’ save state system forces gamers to really pay attention, even being impervious to alt+F4 rage quitting.

Knowing that at any moment, one teeny tiny zombie could infect your whole colony within seconds really raises the stakes – especially when failure means having to start again from square one.

Did we forget any? Post the things you love or hate in the comments. And check out EnomView’s review of They Are Billions here!

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Gloriously Difficult – They Are Billions Review

Every so often a game comes along that is so fiendishly difficult, it consistently reduces you to the very ends of frustration. They Are Billions is such a game; so ruthlessly, gloriously hard, it never fails to keep you hooked.

They Are Billions places you in charge of a fledgeling colony in a future steampunk era where humanity has largely been wiped out by a zombie plague, with the roving undead being the titular “billions”.

It plays remarkably like a classic RTS game like Age of Empires II, Command & Conquer or Empire Earth; off-scale buildings sit on the main map alongside your own units, where battle is waged with the roving undead.

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As the leader of the colony, it is your responsibility to find more resources to harvest, fuel the growth of industry, and of course, prevent the zeds from infecting every last one of your citizens.

That last one is much, much easier said than done.

The zeds already on the map are usually manageable – the real trouble starts when one of the periodic stampedes pours in from a random direction in a relentless assault on your defences.

I’d like to think that I’m no strategy game novice, but They Are Billions is on another level. I have yet to beat even one game on the difficulty rating encouragingly, but perhaps inaccurately, described as “accessible”. Time after time, I watch, with my head in my hands, as zombies overrun my base, wiping out my command centre, and losing yet again.

All of this might seem as though I’m leading to a negative place, but quite the contrary. I can’t quite recall playing a game that provides such a tactical challenge as They Are Billions, to the extent that I just can’t tear myself away from it. And from an Early Access game, that’s quite an achievement.

The great thing about They Are Billions is that it is possible to tweak the difficulty, and much more than on a simple “easy/medium/hard” scale.

Each survival game lets you tweak the difficulty settings before you start, defining both the game duration and zombie population. A shorter game might seem like the more attractive option, but a higher number of zombies in a smaller timeframe means more frequent raids.

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Each combination yields a percentage score modifier, and beating each map over and above a certain amount unlocks the next one – for example, the first map needs over 20%, and the second over 60%.

Despite the scalable difficulty, even on the easiest settings, the looming threat of defeat lies in the grasping hands of just one zombie. This is truly the unique selling point of They Are Billions and the root of its insane challenge. Yes, there are billions, and if you let even one in, your colony is probably undead toast.

This is because once each building is infected, each human working or living in it becomes a hungry corpse. Before you know it, there’s a cascade effect where half your colony is now an infected husk, and it’s far too late to do anything about it.

And to make things even more difficult, buildings often only have to take two or three hits to become infected. It’s not like the good old days of C&C, riding the cavalry in to rescue a flaming building with 10hp left – by the time you’ve been notified your base is under attack in They Are Billions, it’s usually too late.

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This potentially crushing pressure is offset by the fact that the game strongly encourages you to make liberal use of the pause function, which you can do at any time. They Are Billions is in no rush; it’s not about memorising keyboard shortcuts to act in as few seconds as possible, it’s about thinking through a strategy and employing it in as much time as you need.

Just by looking at the global achievement stats on Steam, it’s clear to see that I’m not the only one being challenged by They Are Billions. And look at the graphics, with such a gorgeous colour palette

The game was a viral hit over the festive period, infecting thousands of Steam accounts faster than the in-game zombies. At this early stage of production, it’s exciting to consider that They Are Billions could mature into an even more impressive title. If you’re not a fan of difficult strategy games, you’ll hate it – but RTS buffs do yourself a favour and pick it up.

Check out the Game: http://store.steampowered.com/app/644930/They_Are_Billions/

Silence Falls – Cobalt WASD Review

 

The problem with making a game that relies on a multiplayer community, is that as soon as people stop playing it, it basically becomes redundant. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with the otherwise fun Cobalt WASD, developed by Oxeye Game Studio and published by Mojang of Minecraft fame.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Cobalt, also developed by Oxeye, was released about 18 months earlier.

Cobalt WASD starts off promisingly enough, with two teams of cute little avatars rushing around a multitude of arena maps trying to plant bombs in each other’s territory. If you’re imagining a hybrid of Counter-Strike and Worms, you’re not far from reality.

There are a few different items on sale; ranged and melee weapons, and different suits of armour that endow different abilities, like a stealth suit that allows your avatar to turn invisible. You start off with an initial amount of currency, and after victorious rounds, you earn more cash (and less after defeats) to change your arsenal.

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After a few rounds playing with bots, it slowly dawns on you that it’s such a shame that the online community for Cobalt WASD doesn’t seem to have taken off. It’s like wandering alone around a deserted amusement park; lots of the rides look like great fun, but the total lack of people makes it a bit of a soulless experience.

The other strange thing about Cobalt WASD is the decision to release it as a separate game. It would seem like a much better idea to introduce it as a game mode to its parent game, Cobalt, rather than fragmenting the player base into two different games.

Admittedly the game mechanics for each are totally different, and this perhaps has led to the introduction of the separate title; there was feedback about Cobalt that players missed the “mouse+WASD” method of other titles.

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That said, there is some mileage playing with the bots in single player, which have a satisfying amount of range in difficulty settings. And there are a variety of different maps to play on, each of which looks stunning in the retro, pixelated graphics style.

I especially enjoyed how each of them tells a story about why each side is trying to blow it up; for example, “Boulevard”, which depicts a feud between rival hipster bars; and “Hotel”, where both sides are disgruntled guests leaving pseudo-Trip Adviser reviews about their poor stay.

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It’s a good title to have a quick blast of, put down and then come back to later; there’s enough variety to engage for a few rounds and provide a bit of diversion. But unfortunately, it does all come back around to the fact that, at its core, Cobalt WASD is a multiplayer game that apparently doesn’t have any players.

Of course, you can host private matches and play with friends. But as of writing, I waited for over 10 minutes to find a public match with no joy; browsing the hosted servers reveal player counts of zero. Silence has fallen on what could be a fun title, if only there was a community there to support it.

EnomView Score: 5 out of 10

Dead in Space – Space Pirates and Zombies 2 Review

If there’s ever a game that delivers exactly what it says on the tin, it’s Space Pirates and Zombies 2. You’ve got your pirates, and you’ve got your zombies. Dozens of each. And they whizz around space blowing holes in each other until one wins.

It almost seems like it could be the result of a crazy drunken conversation, like the answer to who’d win in a fight – a caveman or an astronaut? Space pirates or zombies?

But once you get past the initial incongruous premise, there’s a surprising amount of depth that the apparently silly name belies. The unfortunately abbreviated SPAZ2 delivers a persistent galaxy containing 200 unique space captains, each with their own ship and equipment, who can all do exactly what you can as the protagonist.

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This ranges from simply flying around the galaxy map, picking fights and evading stronger rivals, to building starbases and harvesting resources. You can issue bounties, gather allies, and eventually defeat the zombie threat that rears its ugly head again.

I say again, because of course Space Pirates and Zombies 2, as the number at the end there signifies, is a sequel. Not being familiar with the first title, I occasionally got a bit lost with the cast of characters that kept reappearing, and past events being alluded to.

However, the plot is structured in a way that playing the first title isn’t necessary. And there’s a great lore system that lets you unlock historical facts about the background of the franchise and familiarise yourself.

But enough about idling on the galaxy map and the historical facts – the real star of the show in Space Pirates and Zombies 2 is the combat system, paired with a rich and diverse catalogue of parts to customise your perfect mothership.

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There are several types of part – cores, wings, noses, weapons, knees and toes…maybe not the last two. But each part provides different bonuses to shield strength, armour, turn speed, acceleration, and other factors. Weapons operate in a similar way, but different types causing various damage types to enemy ships.

All of these different modules make for an extremely robust and varied system to construct the perfect ship for your playing style. Personally, I opted for a speedy little number that could close in to point-blank range, quickly blast the opponents’ shields away with front-mounted shotguns, and then ram their hull into oblivion.

But equally valid would be a long-range sniper, an artillery ship, a carrier fielding dozens of smaller craft…the variations are extremely diverse. Combat is really fun, and put me in mind of Rebel Galaxy, with the added benefit of being able to skip all of the long haul journeys by switching back to the galaxy map after combat is over.

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Even better is that there’s an arena system that lets you try out pre-configured ships with different styles. And of course the other 199 captains in the galaxy can each upgrade their own ships.

The result is a constantly evolving mass of faction politics, betrayals, and sectors changing hands from one group to another as combat rages across the galaxy. And that’s even before we throw the zombies into the mix.

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The undead menace in Space Pirates and Zombies 2 are presented as a mutation of flesh and technology, but essentially, whenever the zombies beat another captain, they join their ranks as per the classic rule of the dead rising again with a hunger for flesh; or biomatter and technology, in this case.

They can be healed by spending a large amount of the game’s sparse and precious fuel source, Rez, or repeatedly battled. Fortunately for the captains of the galaxy of SPAZ2, being defeated doesn’t necessarily mean death; as a last resort, an escape pod takes you to the nearest starbase, or for their vanquished undead counterparts, a spore pod.

The main story will take about 15-20 hours to complete, and there’s a sandbox mode to extend the fun indefinitely. Space Pirates and Zombies 2 is a fun game that balances humour and peril adeptly; it’s pretty to look at, and offers a rich and diverse combat system. You could definitely do a lot worse with a name like Space Pirates and Zombies 2!

EnomView Score: 8 out of 10