Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Plants Vs. Zombies

Genre: Casual, Strategy (Defense)
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Released: 2009

Zolgar paid: $9.99
Beaten: Yes
Zolgar's rating: 7/10
Replayability: Moderate to High

Plants Vs. Zombies (PvZ) is one of those games which “real” gamers looked at and said “wow, that looks like an absolutely stupid game.” especially coming from PopCap (considered kings of casual gaming). However, once they downloaded the free demo and played it, they realized it was actually a very well made, fun little game.

PvZ has been called a 'gateway' game, leading casual gamers to playing “real” games. If you ask me, that's a very accurate definition of it, and it also got “real” gamers looking at casual games for entertainment (which makes it the perfect game for those of us who love both already). It's a quick, simple game to pick up, but it has a depth of strategy to it that actually makes you pay attention to what's going on.

PvZ is a form of Tower Defense game, though not in the typical sense that people are used to. The basic premise is Zombies have attacked! and you have an assortment of weaponized plants to defend your home with. Your yard is conveniently broken down in to 5 straight lanes, which the zombies are restricted to.

So as the Zombies shamble down the lanes, you place your various offensive and defensive plants. Things like Pea Shooters, Sun Flowers, Wall Nuts, Potato Mines, Chompers and so much more. Hopefully, you've built a defensive structure that provides you with an adequate amount of resources, and kills the Zombies before they reach your house. If they reach your house though, all hope is not lost! Each lane has a final line of defense, a lawn mower. If a Zombie reaches the lawn mover, it fires up and tears down the lane it's on, killing every Zombie in it. However if a second Zombie reaches the end of that lane, you're frelled.

Unlike the traditional Tower Defense, you do not get additional (resource) by way of killing the Creep, nor do you get it at the end of each wave.
There are two forms of resources in PvZ:
Sun: This is your 'building towers' resource, which comes in two forms. The first is falling from the sky in daytime levels, the second is from certain plants. When it spawns, you have to click it within about 20 seconds (I think) else it is lost forever.
Money: Money is used to purchase things like additional plant types, seed slots, etc. from your crazy neighbor. Money come primarily as random drops from defeated Zombies, as well you gain a bonus for each lawn mower remaining at the end of the level.

The game has 3 main 'stages', front yard, back yard and roof, each with a day and night phase as well. Front yard, daytime is the easiest and teaches you how to play the game, from there each one has certain special traits. Night time, of course, you get less Sun but you can use Mushrooms, which have a much lower sun requirement.. though this is countered by them not being usable during the day (without a special plant). All together totaling 50 individual levels.

If that's not enough for you, PvZ also features an assortment of mini games (such as 'Wall-Nut Bowling' where you use Wall-Nuts to bowl down incoming zombies), a puzzle mode (which I don't recall, it's not unlocked on the machine I'm playing it on now), Survival mode, and a 'Zen Garden' for if you just want to simulate a garden (with really weird plants). Meaning there's more than enough content to keep you happy for a while.

Also, PvZ has Achievements (at least on Steam), and for once we're not talking generic, pointless achievements that you earn for playing the game. Almost all the achievements in PvZ are ones that you have to do something special to get, like beating a daytime map with Mushrooms or activating Mustache Mode (which I won't tell you how to do).

As one might expect, the graphics are somewhat cartoony, however they're very well drawn, and I believe they will age well over the next few years.

Still not sure it's the game for you? Try the Demo. Remember, first hit's always free!

You can also get your fix on Android devices, iOS devices, Macs, Nintendo DS, and soon: LCD implants behind your eyelids, so you can play while you sleep. (OK, so one of those is a complete fabrication.)

(Screenshots shamelessly stolen from Impulse and Steam)

“Addictive, time-sucking games, and always a free trial version.. PopCap or PopCrack? You decide.”

Pricing and availability:
PopCap: $19.95 (wait what?)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Genre: FPS/Tower Defense hybrid
Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Released: 2011

Zolgar paid: $3.74
Beaten: Yes
Zolgar's rating: 5/10 (3/10 for the $15 regular price)
Replayability: Moderate

Not long ago I reviewed Prometheus, an indy game developed on the Unreal engine which took the idea of a FPS and twisted it much like Portal. Well now I bring you Sanctum, another Unreal engine driven indy game that's a major twist on the traditional FPS.

Everyone know what a First Person Shooter, or FPS is.. and if you don't, you can probably figure it out by the title. A shooter.. in the first-person perspective.

Meanwhile a Tower Defense, or TD, as most will know is a game where you have a 'core' or some other funky named thing that only exists for one purpose: lure baddies to it! You build towers to shoot said baddies. Simple enough, eh? If you've never played one you can check out DefendTheTowers.com

Now, on to Sanctum.. Sanctum tried to combine the fast-paced slaughter fest of a FPS with the methodical logic of a TD, and what they create is basically 2 games in one. You alternate between 'build phase' and 'attack phase', both of which are really self explanatory.

In the build phase you place blocks to form your maze, place towers on said blocks, upgrade towers and upgrade your guns. Oddly this is done entirely in 1st person, instead of allowing you to use the overview (which is only used for teleporting).

In the attack phase, your defense grid goes online, and you run around using one of 3 guns to help your towers kill foes. You 3 guns are: Machine gun with rocket launcher secondary. Sniper rifle. Slow gun with AoE freeze secondary... here lies the first flaw of the game, the guns are horribly balanced.
  • Sniper: Very powerful, most useful personal weapon due to foes which are invulnerable except for a weak spot. For critters like that you pretty much need the sniper, as a well built grid will defeat everything else.
  • Assault: Useful gun to be sure, but only early in the maps and for one certain foe.. and even then it's not needed beyond maybe T3 upgrades.
  • Slow: Awesome in theory, but it's firing speed is slower than the sniper, and it's slow duration is so minimal it's barely worth talking about.
There's also a 4th gun, but you don't get it in the main playthrough: a full-auto shotgun, and just by the stats.. I'd say that thing is broken completely.

You also have 6 towers to choose from:
  • Gatling Tower: You ever so basic ground tower. Full auto, low damage, cheap.
  • Lightning: Most games would give this a long rang and call it a Sniper. It deals high damage at a slow firing speed.
  • Laser: The only Ground/air tower, fast firing speed, low damage, targets randomly.
  • Anti-Air: Air-only, slow firing explosive rounds.
  • Mortar: Slow firing speed, arced shot, good damage explosive with a massive range.
  • Slow Plate: A plate that slows your foes (and you, WTF?) as they walk over it.

These show a bit better balance than the guns, but still show a certain amount of favor, in general, to high damage. Unlike most TD, you do better with a few towers at higher upgrade levels, than a lot of lower level towers.

You have 12 enemy types, each with specific traits and weak points, most are standard TD fare. Slow tough foes, fast weak foes, flying foes, etc. They all have a 'headshot' zone though (conveniently glowing red), and some of them can only be damaged by being shot there, or otherwise take vastly reduced damage. This is what makes the Sniper so useful (seeing as a 'headshot' deals something like x3 damage).

So what we have established is that, as a FPS Sanctum is .. well.. it doesn't compare to even the most basic of FPS. As a TD Sanctum is.. generic, at best and lacks a lot of useful features that many modern TD players have come to expect.

Combine the two and you have a very fun game though, but one that I feel needs a little something more. First of all, I'd really like it to act like a normal TD and allow you to upgrade towers on the fly, and I'd like the resources to come per-kill instead of a flat amount at the end of each wave, with this mechanic they could have you get a hair more resources for killing the foes yourself, and thus giving you a reason to shoot things other than Bobbleheads.

Also it needs a plot. Even most generic TDs these days have some semblance of a plot. Sanctum? “Defend the core from the monsters.” Why am I here, who am I? Why do the monsters want to attack the core.. hell, what IS the core? There's NO story, no plot, not a damned bit of flavor text. Every map opens up with “you're here to defend the core.”

Lastly: it's short, if you read my Prometheus review you may remember me snarking a bit about how short it was.. well Sanctum is shorter and I paid for it. Six maps. Yep, six of them. Five standard and one endless. Seriously? Even free TDs have more than that.

So what it boils down to is them asking $15 for a ultra short, plotless hybridization of a mediocre TD and a lousy FPS. Someone somewhere is saying “It's got multiplayer, that's what games are about these days, the multiplayer!” This is true, it's got multiplayer, but I'm sorry.. only 6 map options, 4 gun options and 6 tower options, with 12 foes to fight.. that doesn't seem like it really lends itself to any kind of longevity in multiplayer.

Oh, and it has achievements! Well, that'll keep a perfectionist playing for a little while. Granted I didn't give much of a care about them when I got a fair chunk of them from my first (and only) play through and most of those I didn't get were 'Kill X of Y', most of the achievements are the ever-so-meaningless “Hey, you're playing the game, so let's give you a shiny badge every two frelling seconds!”

Of course, they're planning to release DLCs, to make you pay more money for content that should have been in the game from the start. If I had paid full price for this, I would be annoyed.

(Screenshots shamelessly stolen from Steam)
For today's TL:DR I'll bring you what I think the marketing meeting went like:
Let's see guys, we have no plot, mediocre TD mixed with lousy FPS gameplay, minimal content.. let's charge $15 for it!” “OK, but we have to give them lots of achievements to make it feel like they've done something!”

Pricing and availability:

(Note, while it's available from other sources, it has to be activated through Steam. As such it's been tagged Steam Only)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Genre: Crafting Sandbox/Adventure
Developer: Re-Logic
Publisher: Re-Logic via Steam
Released: 2011

Zolgar paid: $7.49
Beaten: There is no 'beating' Terraria
Zolgar's rating: 6/10
Replayability: I'm going to classify Terraria's replayability as an MMO, despite it not being one.

If you buy Terraria right now, you will most likely have fun with it, but find that it feels remarkably unfinished.. truth is, it IS unfinished you're paying $10 for the alpha release. As of writing this review, Terraria has only been in development for a little over 6 months.

Why, you ask, why did they release it so soon? Well, I'm not sure as to why, I've heard a rumor, but I also have a theory, if the rumor isn't true. The rumor is that the alpha was leaked, and rather than have a highly unfinished, buggy, feature-less pirate running rampant online ruining their reputation they decided to release the game.

My theory though, is that due to it's similarities to Minecraft, and the massive popularity Minecraft has built up, they decided to release their game while Minecraft is still 'in'. Also, there are plenty of games which have had people pay for the 'beta version', Minecraft included. If you think about it, for an indy developer it makes a lot of sense to sell the game early and release updates, because usually they're trying to develop the game either in hopes of making money, or in their spare time.

And unlike some games, Terraria isn't making you buy the game multiple times. $10 seems to get you the full game. Though that isn't to say there won't be DLCs later.

If you search around at all, you will see a lot of "2D Minecraft", while I've not played Minecraft myself, I can say that this assessment is .. somewhat accurate, but after actually playing Minecraft, I can say that this statement is rather inaccurate, it would be akin to saying:
"Diablo is a real-time Baldur's Gate" sure they have similarities, but they also have a lot of differences. It would be more accurate to say that Terraria is a 2D sidescroller hybridization of Zelda and Minecraft.

In short, you gather resources, most of them are gathered by digging in to the Earth, though some are harvested topside, and others are gathered from defeating enemies. With said resources, you build a house, craft items for your house, craft arms and armor, and improve your house.

Then you improve your gear, dig deeper to find better stuff.. and .. you get the idea. There's no plot, there's no quests, there's no 'end'. There's greater challenges, such as a dungeon and the Underworld, but that's it. Your whole 'goal' is to get better, so you can get better. That will keep some players entertained for quite some time, in and of itself, due to the size of the world the game spawns, and the fact the world is completely random.

The other draw is the building. The world is a fully destructible environment, that you can modify however you see fit, as long as you have the resources. You can create a vast underground fortress, a lake-side mansion, a solid-gold castle in the air, or just a simple log cabin.. in the middle of the ocean.

Between the exploration and the building, it's the type of game that is heavily fueled by the player's own goals and the sense of 'ooh, what's over there!', as opposed to built-in goals.

The game does have some downsides though:
There's no form of mini-map, no way to know where the hell you are in relationship to everything else. This can get really annoying, especially when you're trying to either dig your way back to the surface, because you stumbled across an underground lake which flooded your previous tunnel.

Most of your weapons are 'semi-auto' which means you have to click every time you want to attack. I've found that this leads to for most things, the pickaxe being a better weapon (as it's 'full-auto').

There's no means to craft things quickly, if you have 1000 sand on you, which you want to turn in to glass to make glass bottles, you'll be sitting there for a very long time clicking your mouse button over and over and over again.
I stand corrected on this point, as it was pointed out to me that holding down the Right mouse button acts as 'auto craft'. Very useful piece of information I missed somewhere.

If this were an MMO, I would say it's not 'casual player' friendly. As it's not an MMO, you really don't have anyone to compete or keep up with, but it's still very demanding and requires a lot of time to really get anywhere.

The size of the world vs. Travel speed makes it somewhat unforgiving, and very unfriendly towards distance exploring. It wouldn't be so bad if there were the option to build another house and teleport between them.
  • An edit to this note. While I still feel it's valid, it was pointed out to me one thing I neglected to mention here. Terraria allows you to create 3 sizes of worlds (small, medium and, large). Especially early game though, even small worlds are not friendly to distance exploration. Once you have a few key items distance exploration is nothing in a small world, and only a minor irritation in large.

There's no readily available 'delete item' function.
Apparently the developer listened, and there as been a trashcan slot added to the inventory. Not as convenient as just hitting 'delete' on each item, but better than nothing.

The 'Guide' NPC doesn't provide some of the most needed information for newbies. PCGamer has a very good Beginner's Guide though, and there's the Wiki.

Despite being released this year, it looks like it's like 15 years old. I think this is probably a style choice, but I think they could have gone with slightly nicer 2D sprites, personally. (Still looks better than Minecraft though)

While that seems like a long list of detractors to the game, they are all fairly minor, and just conveniences we have grown accustomed to with our new-fangled games that practically play themselves, and Terraria is still being developed, so it's quite likely that plans will be made to improve some of these as time goes on.

If you like Minecraft and/or oldschool Zelda, odds are very good you will get more than your $10 worth of entertainment out of Terraria.

"ZOMG! It's like a 2D Minecraft! Let's buy it!"

Availability and price:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Contest: Woo, the first contest! Wait, what's that? 2 contests?!

The 4th of July has come and gone. Massive sales on game sites are winding down, we're sick of giant balls of fire in the sky for another 366 days and it's back to the dreary, humdrum life of a working stiff until the next excuse to get drunk and party.

Also, it marks a month I've been running my blog, how incredibly uneventful is that? Well, let's spice things up and make it slightly eventful.

You see that icon over there in the corner, the black and white tin-type-shopped photo? That's what shows up for my blog on things like Failbook, and.. it's kinda 'meh' because it doesn't express a thing about my blog. It's just some weird schmuck dressed in a weird outfit, pointing a nerf gun at the camera man... I need a better one, but I'm not very artistic.

As such, the first contest is:
Design The Budget Gamer's Avatar!

To enter, create an entirely original 300x300 pixel image that conveys an idea of what The Budget Gamer is about, preferably in a color scheme that does not clash horribly with the rest of the Blog, and email it in a format that GIMP can open (if you are unsure ask me) to zolgar.thebudgetgamer@gmail.com Enter as many designs as you like.

Deadline: September 1st.

The winner will either be determined by me directly, or if I cannot decide on one myself a poll will be posted on on the Blog to allow my readers to pick from the finalists. Do note, however, a winner in this contest in not guaranteed, if no submissions meet my needs no winner will be chosen.

The prize: $10 worth of games from GOG.com (most likely a single game, unless there's a sale running), as well the winner might be commissioned to create a banner to match, if they are interested.

The fine print:
The artwork cannot contain any copyrighted images or trademarked likenesses for which the individual entering the contest does not own said copyright or trademark. The winner of the contest agrees to allow Josiah Higginson, AKA Zolgar, to use the image indefinitely and in any fashion he sees fit without any expectation of compensation beyond the noted prize. The winner of the contest also agrees not to use the image in any fashion aside from as an example of their work (such as in a portfolio), without prior approval from Josiah Higginson. Josiah Higginson agrees that he will not make use of any artwork not chosen as the winner, with the possible exception of it being posted to The Budget Gamer for the purposes of a poll as mentioned above, without consent of the artist.
(Honestly, just covering my arse.)

Now, I always hate it when I see an art-based contest, because I am a terrible artist. It also just so happens that I'm really new to this whole Blogging-thing.. so that leads us in to contest two:
Help Improve The Budget Gamer!

To enter, simply email your suggestions or feedback on The Budget Gamer to zolgar.thebudgetgamer@gmail.com Limit 1 entry per person, however.
It should be noted that when I say feedback or suggestions, I mean articulate ones which I can use. I don't expect a 5 page long dissertation as to why my Blog sucks, however I do need more than "make it funny" or "it's good". I'm not going to set an arbitrary word limit, but I do require at least a full paragraph.

Deadline: September 1st

The winner will be determined at random by the emails being assigned a number, then a number being chosen by random.org. If there is an exceptional number of entries, I simply feel generous, or I find a particular entry exceptionally useful, more than 1 winner may be chosen.

The prize: $10 worth of games from GOG.com (most likely a single game, unless there's a sale running)

This contest doesn't need fine print, but because I feel like it:
No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, bribing Zolgar with bacon may increase your odds of winning. I like puppies.

Well folks, that's it! Let's see my in box get flooded, eh?

Warlords BattleCry III

Genre: RPG/RTS hybrid
Developer: Infinity Interactive
Publisher: Enlight Studios
Released: 2004

Zolgar paid: $9.99
Beaten: No
Zolgar's rating: 8/10
Replayability: High

Did you ever play a game that you were like "This would be so awesome if you could just combine it with X game!"? Well, Warlords Battlecry III (WBC3) is at once both one of those games, and one that is often the X.

If you could combined WBC3 and Warhammer 40K: Dark Crusade, you would have the bestest, most awesome RPG/RTS hybrid ever. As it is, WBC3 is kind of like what you would get if you combined Warcraft III and Dark Crusade. If that means something to you, you probably already know if you're going to like this game or not. If it means nothing to you, read on!

WBC3 released at the height of the 'Hero-Driven RTS' run, and it was unfortunately competing with some really heavy hitters in the RTS genre. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War had just come out, Warcraft III's expansion was still fairly fresh, Age of Empires III was just about released, and that's just the heavy hitters.

To most people, myself included at the time, Warlords Battlecry III was just another game jumping on the RTS craze. Amazing what marketing and name recognition does for the industry, isn't it? In truth, it's probably the best RPG/RTS hybrid on the market, and it definitely was back in 2004.

Like any good RTS, you start off by choosing if you want to play the campaign, or a Skirmish. Either way you go, you're presented with selecting or making a hero first. When you make your hero, you will be blown away by the options. 16 races and 28 classes, which equates to 448 potential heroes! Four Hundred and Forty Eight! I'm sorry, there's such a thing as 'too many options'. And no, all (insert class) are not the same regardless of race. An Undead necromancer will be vastly different from an Orc Necromancer, for example.

Your hero playstyle will be determined by your race and class, letting you play the game how you want to. Want to tuck your hero in a corner and leave them there getting passive buffs from them? You can do that. Want to charge in to the fray and attack your opponents head on? You can do that. Want to stand with your army and support them? You can do that. Want to be a diplomatic merchant who doesn't care what's going on in the world and just has an army to protect him as he hunts down valuable stuff? You can even do that.

Unlike other games, the race of your hero doesn't determine the race of the army you're going to be playing.

If you go for a Skirmish, you choose your hero, and then you choose the race you're controlling, plus of course picking a map, special rules, etc.

If you're playing the campaign, while you start out playing the race of your hero, but as the campaign goes on you will be able to choose other races.

It's noteworthy that you can use the same hero, with the same progression in a Skirmish or campaign.

The campaign seems a classic Fantasy RTS campaign of "OMG DEAMONS!!!111one" when you fire it up, however it progresses much differently than that, and is a bit of a sandbox in where you go and what you do. The campaign itself does not change much by what race you're playing, a few missions will be different, and your diplomatic relations with X race will be different.

To understand the campaign's gameplay, you need to imagine an overworld map. There are points on the map we will call 'locations'. Each location will have 1 or more missions, and possibly merchants and mercenaries.

Some missions are 'optional side quests', giving magic items, changing diplomatic relationships, offering money, anything like that. Others, of course, exist to tell the main campaign story. In a given location, you are likely to find that the competition of one mission opens up another mission at that location. Occasionally you get a repeatable mission, allowing you to run it multiple times for extra XP/money.

There are two main kinds of missions, both give you a set amount of points (which can be boosted by your hero's stats) which can be used to bring regular units or units from your Retinue along:
"Hero missions" which you take your hero and a small band of soldiers to complete a task. Hello, I'm playing a frelling RTS, not Diablo. I wanna build shit.

"War missions" which are what we play RTS for. You know, building fortresses and smashing your enemies under your army.

WBC3 does an excellent job of giving us a true 'war' feeling, as opposed to so many modern RTS which feel more like a tactical assault. The hard unit cap is 250, most units take 1 maybe 2 points, and the highest is 5 I believe. While the unit cap is increased by buildings, it's not some worthless building that just adds +5 or something. Every building you build ups your army cap, even towers.

It also doesn't needlessly restrict the number of any building you can build, or arbitrarily make buildings cost more, the more of them you build.

Given the time to build up, you can create a massive force to sweep in and crush your foes without them standing a chance. The problem is, your foes are building the same force! The AI is actually intelligent enough to send small strikes against you, while amassing a larger force to crush your assault with.

It's also interesting that not only does your hero gain XP and level up.. so, too, do your units. Each kill grants your units XP, leading to them getting better, making healers much more valuable, especially when the mission ends. Units which have surpassed a certain level may become available to select as part of your retinue.

This is the part where for a normal RTS I would break down the differences between the races. I'm sorry, I don't love you guys enough to break down the similarities/differences between 16 races. Especially when not one of them is a complete re-skin.

Due to it's age, some of the races do share a few units or buildings, and of course with that many races, there's some that share playstyles. Every race however, has enough unique about it to make it not seem like you're playing a carbon copy of another race.

Until you start dealing with the air units. I swear, the developers got lazy when it came to the air units. Almost every race uses one of the same two air unit buildings, and some of the air units are barely even re-skinned. 16 races, all of them with fairly unique buildings, and even the races that have similarities (Dwarf and Dark Dwarf) have slightly different skins on all their buildings.. and then you get the air buildings. It's like they just stopped bloody caring.

Anyways, aside from the air units, every race has it's own strengths and weaknesses. Just for some examples: Fey have an extremely high demand for Crystal, and are fairly heavy on the use of all resources but if they hold out for a good amount of time they are epic. Undead use a hefty amount of crystal and iron, but have the ability to create a massive standing army and change it to what you need. Wood Elves have limited resource needs, but their builders can't increase resource production. Empire has a high demand for gold and with time and resource expenditure is actually able to surpass the 250 hard cap.

Simply put, there is a playstyle for you. With 16 races to play, and 28 classes for your hero, you are bound to find something that fits your playstyle. Unless your playstyle is a sampling of everything, at which point your head will probably explode.

"Orc Necromancer? Fey Paladin? Imperial Deamonslayer? Demon Warrior?Knightpriest?swarmdefilerbarbarianchief..... Graaaaah *head explode*"

Availability and price:
GOG: $9.99 (note: GOGs edition has the unofficial patch that fixes a lot of problems with the game.)
Amazon (physical): $7.91
Amazon (Digital): $19.99 (Seriously Amazon?)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Special update: Aleph, an in-development indie RPG

I bring you another special edition of The Budget Gamer today, to point you in the direction of a Kickstarter project for anyone who is a fan of oldschool Final Fantasy style RPGs.


Planned release: 2012
Planned release price: $20ish w/ pdf book, more with physical book. (Pledge $20 or more to the Kickstarter project on or before July 14th and you will get a copy of the game, and something special and silly.)
Developed and published by: PVGames

So I know what you're thinking "But Zolgar, that's $20 for an indie game, most sell for $5 to $15!" and normally, I'd say that you're right PVGames, however, has some very impressive plans for this baby.

First thing to mention is this is an RPG in the styling of the 80s and 90s RPG epics, many hours of gameplay to drive an epic story. So, if you're a lover of the JRPG genre, you'll get more than your money's worth out of it. (And you get the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting an indie game developer!)

That, alone, however is not enough to get me to do this special update. That's more what got me to share it on my Failbook. PVGames has some plans that put many modern games to shame.

World size: You think Final Fantasy has big worlds? Hah, the overland map would take upwards to half an hour for a player to walk from tip to tip, if they could do it in a straight line. Fear not though, players will be able to obtain a vehicle that will do the trip much faster.

Realism: Aleph will have such mechanics as players requiring food and water, being able to break bones and be infected with diseases. It makes progressing the story feel like far more of an achievement than some little pop-up that says "you took a poo."

There is also a rather in-depth Crafting system planned, but PVGames has not made any announcement pertaining to specifics.

The game also sports a rather massive back story, to give you more of a feel of what's happening in the game world, and make you feel like what you're doing has more of an affect on the world than a fly sneezing. If you'd like to read the general back story, it can be found here. It will also be revealed over time and through finding things in the game world.

The game world itself will be a rather impressive feat, as well, the goal is to create a fully organic, 'real' world. Borrowing a quote from PVGames 'promotional material':
It is a large open world, meaning everything is to scale and persistent. There is a day/night cycle which can effect a number of game elements, as well as a weather system. Townsfolk do not exist just to spout one-liners and are highly interactive. In fact, the whole world of Alpeh is interactive. If something is not nailed to the floor, you can pick it up and bring it wherever you wish. This offers a large myriad of opportunities for you to create housing, bases, storage areas for your equipment, and so forth as you see fit. Although you do get an official housing area, there is nothing stopping you from taking any number of locations in the game as your base of operations. Libraries are overflowing with books, many of which offer relevant or helpful information to the player who can utilize it right. Aleph is a living, breathing world, but only if you can protect it from the scores of hideous creatures out to destroy it!

This leads in to what is perhaps the most ballsy move for an indie developer:
Moral choices, and the consequences thereof.

Yes, you can kill anyone, you can take anything that isn't nailed down.. you can even amass an army and send it to destroy towns on a whim. You can become the ultimate Evil Overlord! If you do so, though, you have to live with the consequences. Followers may abandon, or even turn on you, other cities will hate you, you may even get heroes gunning for your head.

Most games use a 1 or at most 2 axis scale. "Good/Evil" and maybe something like "Law/Chaos" Aleph uses a 7-axis scale, which ames things far less clear-cut as good and evil.

And almost every action in the game will move at least one scale. You might find your 'champion of justice' is an arrogant son of a troll. In most games, that's to be expected, but in Aleph.. you're facing an evil entity which is made up of all of man-kinds negative traits, so that arrogant streak gives it a hold on you.

The two 'main endings' are the 'pure good' and 'pure evil' endings. However, there are numerous other endings available depending on your 'alignment' and how you handle numerous things throughout the game.

Oh, and did I mention that you can raze towns? This is the mechanic that really sparked my interest.
So you can steal, murder, lie, cheat, and so forth... but what is really the most evil thing you can do? How about wipe out a village with your own personally-funded army? From within the designated player housing area, you can at one point in the game begin to build your own small army to do your bidding. You talk with your strategist and send the troops to designated locations for differing reasons. There are two primary functions (so far) to raising an army: Securing dungeons and razing towns. If you send your army to secure a dungeon, the troops will clear out the top several levels of any monsters that might live there. This allows the player to explore at his liesure and not worry about encountering any creatures until the lower levels. If the army is sent to raze a town, then that town will be destroyed, but all of its plunder will be yours!

So few games let you get even close to that! The only complaint I have with that mechanic is there's currently not plans to allow you to send your troops in to re-build the town and have it be re-populated but under your control.

If you're not willing to back it, come back sometime in 2012 when I give you my review of it!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Freebie Friday: Prometheus

Genre: Puzzle (First Person)
Developer: Quantum Flux Games
Publisher: Quantum Flux Games
Release year: 2009

Freebie type: Demo
Paid option: Not yet.

Zolgar paid: Nothing!
Beaten: yes
Zolgar's rating: 6/10
Replayability: Low

I was first planning to review one F2P MMO or another for my first Freebie Friday, but let's face it. F2Ps come and go faster than a John. I stumbled across this little gem by complete accident though, and instantly fell in love with it.

Prometheus is.. well, on the surface it seems like a Portal rip off. Oh who am I kidding? It IS a Portal rip off. It's a mod for a FPS engine (Unreal), which uses an atypical mechanic to create a rather unique puzzle game. But you know what? It does it well! So well in fact, that I decided to review a fairly short demo (of a game that doesn't look like it'll actually get released).

The game play in Prometheus is simple and honestly, not all that original. It's been the central focus of several Flash games.. however, Prometheus brings it to 3D and actually puts a story behind it. A story that leaves you wondering what the bloody hell is going on, and wanting more of it at the end.

The game starts up with you coming to your senses in a testing chamber (Portal anyone?) initially you hear a brief conversation between two people, then you're welcomed to the Prometheus Project by a man who then explains that it's a project dealing with quantum states. In the brief tutorial he gives you, you are given control of a device that will split you in to multiple Quantum States.

Your Quantum States are like clones, to an extent, except that the whole thing exists within a set amount of time (say a minute and a half), and each Quantum State does a specific task.

So you run in, trigger a switch and then activate the next quantum state. You watch the previous 'you' hit the switch, and then you go through the door it opens. Simple, huh? Well, it gets a little more complex when you have a total of 5 quantum states running around, and a lot more than just 1 switch that opens 1 door. And then you get a gun. Yes, a frelling gun.

After a couple missions, you switch over to using the Epimetheus Device, which works a lot like the Prometheus device except instead of 5 Quantum States, you only get 3.. but you can control each one multiple times.

When you get to Epimetheus it's a lot like playing a really weird game of Simon. Watch your clock, run through the game the same way each time and remember when and how you did each thing, so that you don't screw one of your other two Quantum States up.

This is all tied together by a bit of a story that, much like Portal you're left to try and piece most of it together as you go.. and at the end it really leaves you hanging and wondering what the heck is going on.

Much like Portal it seems to get slightly easier as you go on, even though technically the puzzles are actually harder, because you start thinking with por- I mean Quantum States.

Now for the games flaws:
First it's short. I mean.. really damn short. If you played Portal and thought it was short, Prometheus is even shorter. But hey, it's a free game. It may not entertain you for a long time, but you'll more than get your money's worth. Depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles, you're looking at between half an hour, and an hour and a half to beat it.

It's got very little replayability. Mostly just trying to get all the achievements or beating levels faster. A slight positive note about the achievements though: it's not like a lot of games where you get an achievement for every bloody action you take! “You shot a gun!” “You walked 5 feet!” “You ate a cheeseburger!” Seriously, WTF? Game companies need to learn that achievements are meaningless when you get them every 2 seconds! Prometheus only has 10 achievements, there's the standards (beating the game, switching to Epimetheus, things like that.) The others are all things you .. don't have to do in the midst of game play anyways.

It's an indie game from '09, based on the Unreal Developers Kit, so honestly.. it's graphics suck a little.

The female protagonist is no where near as cool and well designed as the girl from Portal.

In closing: seriously, it's a free game that has a lot of potential. Go play it.

“Oh god, GlaDOS got a hold of the Prometheus Device! RUN!”