Black And White

Argh! This game is going to be a low scorer for all the wrong reasons. You see, I like this game. I like this game a lot. It as a lot to offer. And still…

So where did it all go wrong? Well, it’s the controls. Awful. Just plan awful. To the point of being completely unplayable. The idea seemed to be take a fully open 3D world and layer on top a real-time-strategy god game controlled entirely by the mouse. Everything is based off the left/right, up/down movements of the mouse roller and the click of its two buttons. There are no other controls and everything is entirely context sensitive based on the positioning of your God Hand on the screen.

The main issue is camera and movement. Everything else would work if these were move to the keyboard, and lets face it every PC this game is playing on has a keyboard. Instead I found 90% of my game play involved correct and fighting with camera positioning. Often times finding the view either too zoomed in, or too zoomed out. Rotating the camera is an art form and movement breaks as you hit areas of mountains or open water.

Get past the controls and there is a really good, fun engaging game at the core. You can see and feel the evolution in Peter Molyneux’s career. The roots of Black and White are very much in the Amiga classis Populous series married with the humour and story telling that Fable would bring to later XBox systems.

You control the hand of God. As God you must perform miracles that will provide for your followers. The more followers you gain the greater your godly powers become, the more miracles you can perform, etc. Most of this takes place in a very real time strategy like micro management. Pick up followers and place them in locations to make them experts (forester, builder, farmer, etc). Move wood and food to locations for your followers to pick up. Create water, wood and food out of thin air using miracles.

As I say the core game as a lot to commend it and is laced with that British Humour Molyneux’s games have become known for. It’s just a shame it is all brought to its knees by a control system that is not fit for purpose.

2/5

Call To Power II

The Civilization games have been a personal favourite since their inception on the Amiga back at the start of the 90’s. They pretty much invented the modern 4X strategy format that puts a heavy emphasis on exploration. You control a fledgling civilization born at the dawn of time and over a few hundred turns must guide them to world domination some 4-5,000 years in the future.

At some point between Civilization II and the release of Civilization III in 2002 the rights to the franchise some how split in a very James Bond “Never Say Never Again” way and Activision published two of the best games in the franchises history. The first Call To Power came in 1999 and was quickly followed by Call To Power II that legally had to drop the Civilization moniker.

Call To Power brings a few improvements over the then aging Civilization II and it would have been really nice to have seen this rival franchise develop further in competition with the primary Feraxis brand.

The two biggest features that really improve the overall moment to moment gameplay are the ability to combine multiple military units in to armies and the option to assign build queues to cities. You can even create custom queues that can be assigned to each city as required. Mayors are also an option in automating the assignment of the build queue and prioritising civic works but although I set Mayors for each city I did find myself resorting to micro-managing unit building, especially in times of war.

Call To Power II is not the perfect Civ game but it did make giant leaps in the right direction that I’m not sure Civ III, when it finally arrived, fully expanded upon. There are things missing that latter Civ games got right. Religion is one the things Civ IV brought to the field that really opened the dynamics of the basic 4X gameplay. Likewise connected empire bonuses and culture/religion flipping boarder cities. Add these features with hexagonal unit spaces to CTPII and I think there is the makings of the perfect Civilization experience.

4/5

RISK II

Believe it or not I’d never heard of the board game RISK until I was in my early 20’s. My sister’s boyfriend of the time introduced it to us and I very quickly become addicted to it. In some ways it is a highly simplified version of Warhammer which I was vaguely aware of at the time (and still have never tried playing).

The board game offers up a simplified map of the globe for up to 6 players to battle it out. Each player controls an army and is given a mission card with an objective to complete to win the game. Examples include “Capture Africa and North America” or “Eliminate The Green Player”.

RISK II is Deep Red Games second recreation of this board game for home computers. The first game came out in 1996 with this version arriving four years later in March 2000. Out of the box it offers a very faithful and highly playable recreation of the original board game. The first noticeable bonus of computerisation comes from a worthy roster of A.I. players. Since gathering six humans for a good game has always been a challenge it’s really nice to be able to enjoy a single player match against good computer opponents or mixing some AI unpredictability for a smaller number of human opponents.

But RISK II doesn’t stop there. They actually attempted, and succeeded, to improve upon the original. As well as the classic board game there is now a “Same Time” version of the game that allows players to issue their orders simultaneously (for networked and/or AI players). This is designed to get rid of the slow pace nature of turn base gameplay and reduce the wait between play.

The other addition allows for some optional rule changes including adding some additional countries/connections to reduce the isolation of Australia and South America in particular. There’s also options for auto allocating territories at start and playing capture the capital or domination games instead of using the traditional mission cards. There are also options to alter how the reinforcements are allocated.

All in all Deep Red did a fantastic job of expanding the basic board game and providing a good amount of variety and longevity. And this is all topped by the piece de resistance – Tournament Mode. For single players there’s a 16 level ladder to complete that pits you against ever increasing difficulty in AI opponents. Each level offers a different challenge and regular mix up of the various rules and options available.

5/5

Railroad Tycoon II

I love this game! It’s that open-ended sandbox experience offered up by the likes of SimCity and Civilization. It’s a chance to let out your inner Pete Waterman. Not all of us as the time, money and space to layout a Hornby set in our homes. Railroad Tycoon lets you live this fantasy electronically. The core fun comes from that same laying out of your own tracks and watching passenger carrying locos steam along them.

Like many of these style of games there is the option to delve in to the sandbox as deep as you want. At it’s heart it is really a business management sim like Rockstar Ate My Hamster or Theme Hospital but it’s a testament to the game design that you can delve in and out of this aspect much or little as you want. For me I was just interested in enough money to lay more track to transport more passengers. The deeper scenarios of hauling specific products between destinations and keeping an eye on competitors and stock market positions being more than I can handle.

The game does have one or two minor annoyances but again tis a testament that none of these, either individually or combined, are enough to take dull the core gameplay loop of laying track and watching trains travel between cities.

The initial menu UI is a little confused. The difference between Scenario and Campaign not being overly clear at first. Scenario being more the sandbox experience and Campaign the more mission target level design. That said true Sandbox is an extra tick box away as each of the Scenario’s, maps, have their own start date and game ending requirements.

There’s also a pretty mean challenge jump. After the first couple of Campaigns the game pushes you you juggle more factors with each level. Likewise moving up from Easy in Scenario mode quickly pushes the aggression of any computer controlled players and asks you to manage the cargo runs more closely. For me this is a game that just cries out for the player to experiment around the wide breadth of wordwide maps in Easy Scenario mode.

5/5

Hidden And Dangerous

This has to be one of the most frustrating gaming experiences I’ve ever had. There’s a core game here that is really, really good and interesting and you want to play and experience. And yet what you have to work with is a nigh on unplayable mess.

The idea is simple, guide your four man SAS team in a mixture or strategy and stealth 3rd person gameplay to complete each given mission. The general style is of that of a classic 3rd person cover shooter but you also get some RTS and 1st person shooter elements thrown in. And here in lays the first issue. The game doesn’t know what it wants to be.

The RTS ideas are the most interesting, and remind me of an old 8-bit (CPC/Spectrum) game called Laser Squad. However it’s very much half baked and it doesn’t take long to realise that when not under your direct control the player characters AI are incredibly dense. Happy to commit suicide, ignore enemies, and do anything other than work as a team. In a three vs one fire fight your three men will die.

Which brings us to the enemy AI which is just plan brutal. Draw distance is of the era crap anyway, but the enemy NPC’s can be less than a pixel high in the distance and be happy to see your guys laying flat and single shot kill them with very high precision accuracy. A game quickly looses it’s charm when your troops can’t shoot for toffee with a high powered machine gun but the enemy can dispatch you at 200m with a single shot from a handgun.

The first mission was to merely cross a guarded bridge. That was it. Kill some guards and cross a bridge. I did it first try on medium difficulty with two of my four man team surviving. However the second level looked a little more complex involving rescuing prisoners and blowing up a depot. Let’s start again on easy, think I, give myself a fighting chance…

Just couldn’t complete level one on easy. Couldn’t cross the bridge without my men diving in to the river, diving under a train, or throwing themselves at enemy bullets without bothering to return fire. Three hours of move, save, move, die, load, move, die, load, move, save, die, load, move, save, etc. And I’ve two surviving men at the end of the bridge. One man dies, god knows how, the other throws himself under a passing train.

2/5

Grim Fandango

Back in January 2016 the remastered edition of this game was given away free with that months PlayStation Plus subscription on the PlayStation 4. While I had heard of the game before it was the first time I’d actually seen it and played it. I must say it captivated me right from the outset. Such is Tim Shaffer’s excellent story writing.

This version is the 1998 original for Win9X era PC’s. It’s a classic adventure game that clearly has it’s roots in the early text adventures of the 1970’s and early 1980’s like Colossal Cave and Zork. The evolution away from text input through to fully realised 3D worlds being seen clearly through the likes of Everyone’s A Wally on the ZX Spectrum and Beneath A Steal Sky on the Amiga.

Like many games of this nature it lives and dies on the quality of the puzzles the player needs to resolve to progress the story. Thankfully the majority of the puzzles are, while not obvious, entirely logical in their setup and design. That said I did find the puzzles on just the wrong side of having to get lucky and stumble upon a solution out of frustration. Indeed I actually reverted to playing the game with an IGN Walkthrough open in a web browser to pick up some hints and tips whenever, I far too often, got the feeling of having tried everything. Still I never felt cheated by the solutions. They were always of the – now why didn’t I think of that – nature.

Graphically Fandango is a game of its era. It’s clearly a PlayStation 1 era game. A time when, despite Tomb Raider showing what’s what two years earlier, game designers were still struggling to find how to present games in 3D environments. This game opts for the fixed camera and tank controls of contemporaries such as Resident Evil. This really is the most frustrating aspect when going back to replay over 20 years later.

If it was just for the puzzles and controls this game would have been a mediocre disappointment. What lifts it up and set’s it for many among the best games ever made is the story. Sure if you sat and thought about it for five seconds you can drive a bus through the plot holes but the characters are all spot on. The dialog feels natural. The voice acting is first class. You just can’t help but fall in love with the diverse cast paving your way through the ninth underworld.

4/5