Oddball Game of the Month – Dark Sun: Shattered Lands

It’s been a busy month of preparing for life-changing events and I unfortunately haven’t had time to dig into Steam’s less well known offerings.

 

…So this month, we’re breaking all of the (arbitrarily decided and never fully explained) rules and kicking it retro!

 

May’s oddball game is Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.

 

 

 

Released back in 1993 by the now extinct Strategic Simulations Inc., Shattered Lands was the first true RPG-style game I ever played and probably the one I’ve had the most fun with. I’ve beaten it many times over the years and recently kicked it back up again thanks to GOG.com.

 

Based on the Dungeons & Dragons Dark Sun campaign setting (2nd Edition ruleset, for those that know what that means), Shattered Lands is a turn based game in which you play as a party of 4 slaves forced to become gladiators.

 

 

The world of Athas has been brought to the brink of destruction by the careless and excessive use of magic. The setting is one of desolation and desperation, where people struggle to find water and resources such as metal are scarce. Monsters are everywhere.

 

 

Your basic goal is to escape captivity and organize an army of freed slaves to fight off the forces of Draj and its evil sorcerer-king Tektuktitlay.

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One of the reasons I still enjoy Dark Sun is the fairly simplistic, fast paced combat. The graphics are definitely bad by modern standards; in fact, they weren’t great for the time. That said, they are still serviceable for the most part, but are prone to some pretty bad glitches. The entire game is plagued with bugs, which is a definite annoyance.

 

I personally found the weapon/armour statistics confusing for a long time as I have never really participated in Dungeons & Dragons, but they are true to form.

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If you’ve never played it and are in to classic CRPGs, give it a look on GOG.com. The hardcore CRPG players may find it too simplistic by today’s standards, but it’s some good fun.

 

As a side note, the sequel (Wake of the Ravager) is on GOG as well. It’s more of the same, but the bugs are magnified ten fold to the point of borderline unplayability. Unfortunate.

Oddball Game of the Month – Aragami

Welcome to the last day of April – the perfect day to discuss yet another oddball game.

 

April’s game is Aragami.

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Aragami (or as I like to call it, “Japanese Dishonored”) is a third person game developed and published by indie studio Lince Works.  You play as a vengeful spirit summoned from beyond the grave. In essence, you are a ninja assassin who can manipulate the shadows tasked with destroying an army of light wielders.

The strength of this game lies in the interesting use of light and shadows. You can teleport short distances, but only into a shadow. Spend too much time in the light, and your “shadow essence” (essentially your mana) will drain. Spend time in the shadows, and it will recover.

You also gain other shadow abilities that help you through your bloody journey, such as the ability to create shadows wherever you want or throw kunai. However, unlike many other stealth/assassination games, you cannot engage in hand-to-hand combat when detected, as a single swipe of a light-empowered blade spells the end of our shadowy protagonist.

Now let’s talk about the downside – the repetitiveness. You will basically be doing the same mission against the same enemies over and over without too much variation. It’s a fun game to play, but in its 5 or so hours of game time, it will grow a little old.

The story is also intriguing, but nothing to write home about. It’s somewhat predictable.

The final boss fight also introduced multiple crashes on my system mid-fight, which was frustrating. I don’t know if this is common or not.

 

In conclusion, there’s still 4-5 hours of fun to be found here for around $20. If you like stealth games or want an interesting variation on Dishonored, give this one a go…especially if you can get it on sale.

 

Oddball Game of the Month – Offworld Trading Company

Another month draws to a close, and with it comes another oddball game experience.

March’s Oddball Game of the Month is Offworld Trading Company.

Developed by Mohawk Games and published by Stardock Corporation (gurus in the world of strategy games on a grand scale), Offworld Trading Company is a bit of a different animal. While it’s using a hex-based system similar to games such as Civilization, it operates in real-time. The biggest change from normal RTS games is that it centers around  corporate strategy rather than military. You won’t be commanding battalions of tanks to destroy your enemies with reckless abandon, but rather carefully use corporate espionage and hostile takeovers.

The setting is a futuristic Mars where humanity has begun forging colonies. You, as a massive corporate entity, are charged with building resource gathering and manufacturing infrastructure on the new planet.

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The game’s matches revolve around quick expansion and earning enough money through various means to buy out your competitors. You are given a number of “claims” to use on individual tiles on the map to be able to build mines, greenhouses, or whatever you’d like there. You can stake these claims anywhere on the map, but be warned – the further your claim is from your base, the slower and more expensive it is to make use of.

Resources are listed on your heads up display, complete with incoming and spending numbers. Resources that you are using but not producing enough of will drain your economy pretty fast, so it’s important to become as self-sufficient as possible pretty early. If you create more of a resource than you spend, you can stockpile it and sell it for cash or ship it off world to create additional income.

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The main thing to keep an eye on is the stock price of all players. This increases and falls as one might expect, and will determine the cost to eliminate opponents via buyouts or how close your opponents are to doing the same to you.

One of the key components of the game is the black market, which gives you the ability to purchase devious items or abilities to be used to undermine your opponents – from inciting labour strikes all the way up to underground nukes to destroy resources.

Another feature is the patent system. Once you build a patent office, you can research helpful technologies that only you can use. For example, you can buy the patent for teleportation which allows you (and only you) to forego shipping costs from your mines and manufacturing plants and simply teleport goods to your base.

There is also an auction mechanic that occurs every once in a while which pauses the game as players bid on whatever is up for sale, be it a claim or a black market item. This mechanic can get tiresome if you have little interest in the item, but fortunately the game allows you to skip over it when playing against AI opponents.

The game has a skirmish mode and a campaign, but you cannot play the campaign until you’ve one at least one skirmish. The campaign mode is really more of a series of specially restricted skirmishes with the overall goal of becoming a financial superpower on red planet.

Overall, I really enjoyed Offworld Trading Company for its rather unique take on a hex-based strategy game, but I will say my interested waned more quickly than I expected. There isn’t a ton of variation in what you do from match to match. While I don’t really have a complaint there, I found the lack of an interesting storyline to follow in addition to the fairly repetitive nature of the matches meant I wasn’t as invested as I could have been.

Therefore, I must conclude that the normal price of this game at ~$40-$45 is too rich for my blood. However, on sale, I recommend picking this up if you’re into strategy games and want to try something totally different.

Oddball Game of the Month – Nefarious

To cater to the secret supervillain in all of us, February’s game of the month is Nefarious.

Nefarious is a 2D action platformer where you play as plucky supervillain Crow, a witty mechanical genius from a long line of bird-themed bad guys. Your goal? Why, to capture princesses to power your death ray and subdue the nations of the world under your iron (mechanical) fist, of course!

In a world full of references to old video games, you must work your way through levels with nothing but your wit, jumping skills, a fist that can punch through blocks so long as they are purple, and a grenade launcher.

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The real interesting bit of this game is the boss battles, in which you, of course, are the bad guy. This means you drive giant mechanical abominations of doom and attempt to squish the annoyingly hoppy heroes as they attempt to bring an end to your evil plans.

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The platforming itself is decent (despite me being terrible at platforming), but there’s nothing revolutionary. The boss battles and humour is where it really shines.

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Unfortunately, this game still has a few glitches to work out. During my run, I fell through the earth to my untimely death on several occasions. Sometimes, after loading the game, the characters on your ship are just missing and cannot be interacted with. On one particularly frustrating level, I kept bouncing off of invisible walls.

The game is also around 3-4 hours unless you are a real completionist, and features two possible endings. A bit on the short side.

For $15 USD/ $17 CAD on Steam, I found it an entertaining venture.

Oddball Game of the Month – This Is the Police

It’s that arbitrary time of month where I regale you all with tales of weird games!

This time is different, though.

This time, I bring a game before you that I didn’t enjoy as much as I normally do with these reviews…but it is certainly still worthy of your attention.

January’s game is This Is the Police.

Yes, I know – yet another management game. You take on the role of the chief of police in a city plagued by all manner of protesters, killers, and just downright crazy people. This thing doesn’t pull any punches, either – you get the full brunt of crime, prejudice and corruption.

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You play as Jack Boyd, a 60-year-old cop being forced into retirement against his will. Without giving any spoilers, you follow a rather dark narrative of a man whose life is falling apart around him, leading to a hefty temptation to turn to a life of crime Breaking Bad style.

The story line itself is a highly intriguing premise that the overall game doesn’t quite live up to in my mind. I found it dragged on to the point of near boredom close to the end of the first act and at the start of the third act. The voice acting is mediocre and the graphics are pretty basic.

The majority of game play itself is fairly standard fare – putting together your team of officers and sending them on missions as they gain experience and the like, with some choices thrown in for how they handle varying situations. Of course, that’s when they haven’t invented some creative way to stay home from work that day. You must also decide which calls they get sent out on, as some are false and some are missions from various factions that force you into a balancing act of who to support and who to anger without getting canned or assassinated.

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The detectives add a different element than the officers. They are sent out on investigations that bring back clues to big crimes. The clues come in the form of fairly graphic (albeit cartoony) pictures that you must use in conjunction with the eyewitness accounts to piece together a proper chronological order, before ultimately sending your officers out to take down the scum bags. You can take down gangs this way as well. Sometimes these investigations also involve a basic interrogation puzzle as well.

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The outcomes to missions are determined based on your chosen personnel’s skill level vs a difficulty factor based on a few variables (including the choices you make for their behaviour), resulting in some randomization. On the other hand, the order and time that the majority of missions present themselves are set in stone, which means that if you screw up and get your squad killed resulting in the need to reload the game, you know what is coming.

Near the end, a new type of mission is revealed that requires you to gather clues similar to the investigations, but lets you use those clues to come up with a strategic plan. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending, but it left me wishing more of the game was like that.

Unfortunately, the ending really is actually a bit of a letdown and there are, from what I can tell, no real variation in the endings you can get (unless you count getting yourself killed). This might have been a thematic choice, but I always find it a bit underwhelming when a game that involves big choices ends with them not mattering in the slightest.

Overall I put about 25 hours into the game, although you can likely beat it in the 15-20 hour range if you don’t screw up royally as I did at one point. They were 25 decent hours, but nothing to rave about.

At the end of the day, it’s a solid management game with a great theme for around $15, so if you’re looking for something like that check out This Is the Police.