A dystopian world where gun-toting anthropomorphs, recycled human brains plunked down onto metal robot bodies, and hippy rebels all co-exist under the oppressive thumb of a trigger-happy pharmaceutical company sounds like a neat setting to dig into. It could be, really, except Hoodwink totally botches its inherent potential from the get-go. Almost every major step of the way in this insipid, barely hour-long point-and-click adventure feels like a lesson in how not to design a game.
Navigating Hoodwink’s story might be a lot more enjoyable if it made some modicum of sense. Roguish protagonist Michael Bezzle (M. Bezzle)’s adventure kicks off with a night out on the town to pilfer the items he needs to propose to his girlfriend Francesca. Most of your time spent fiddling around with rote fetch quests in the dirty slums of Global-1 is dedicated to this seemingly mundane quest, yet sporadic encounters with a cat-detective and the comically oafish UniCorp troops hint at bigger matters afoot. Wisps of frayed plot threads pop-up along the way, but none of them really come together to explain or intrigue. This total lack of cohesiveness comes to a head at the awkwardly-placed cliffhanger ending that does precious little to inspire me to play a sequel in order to find out what the heck is going on, assuming one ever gets made.
It doesn’t help that things get off to a rough start. The impact of the clever narrative slight-of-hand that unfolds in the opening scene introducing Michael is lost amidst some of the most unwieldy point-and-click controls I’ve encountered in a long time. Simply moving around to access specific areas of the screen and interacting with objects is a constant wrestling match. Changing the camera angle and transitioning between areas is triggered by clicking vague hotspots around the environment, rather than walking over to where you want to go. While this will sound familiar to adventure gaming vets, the way its implemented here just doesn’t work that well.
After I accidentally walked past a crucial puzzle hotspot sitting on the back wall following a brief cinematic, it took me several minutes of cursing and frantic trial-and-error clicking to figure how to get back there. I knew what I needed to do. The game just wouldn’t let get there without a fight. This particular issue is less prevalent in the open areas found further along in the trek, but most forms of movement and interaction throughout Hoodwink’s brief jaunt are awkward and sluggish at best — and that’s when they’re not glitching out.
In several instances, using a staircase caused the camera to get stuck on the wrong floor, forcing me to restart the game from scratch. Wonky pathfinding also occasionally made Michael walk in the opposite direction of where I intended him to go before looping around to his destination in a bizarre roundabout way. These funky moments stand out among the more general feelings of frustration that set in when trying to get around.
Hoodwink’s poorly conceived puzzles are far from inventive, and most boil down to fetching objects and bringing them to the obvious spot where they’re needed. Some puzzle solutions are absurdly disconnected from their objective, like one early-on that has you hunting down matches, smoking a cigar, and cranking a machine on the wall to reveal the item you’re hunting for. Others are either too basic to begin with or are ruined by the erratic hint system, which alternately tells you exactly what you need to do next or spits out vague leads. There’s a rare instance or two where interactive mini-games have you turning cranks or catching bugs, but these tasks are tackled within seconds and add very little to the experience. It’s not terribly hard to figure out what to do simple because there’s barely anything to interact with in the environments to begin with.
The lack of puzzle creativity carries over into the one-dimensional characters that they frequently hinge upon too. Playful stereotypes abound, from the flower child hippie spouting “stick it to The Man” rhetoric to the agitated Asian food vendor peddling rat burgers in bad English, but they’re more hokey than humorous. Dialogue alternates between cheesy and obnoxious too, and while some of the voice work is well done, most of it is overdone. All of this is a shame, because the cel-shaded artwork is really quite good, and the setting itself is an interesting place to explore. Unfortunately, everything else is pretty weak.
The cool art direction and quirky sci-fi world get squandered on some truly uninspired adventure gaming drudgery. The best part about a game shouldn’t be the fact that it’s over quickly. With an hour or so of dull, confusing point-and-click frustration that resembles an expensive tech demo rather than a full release, Hoodwink definitely lives up to its name.
Few games in history were so saddled with unreachable expectations as Doom 3. With a huge pair of decade-old shoes to fill, and the hungry eyes of PC gamers everywhere fixed on them, id Software had undertaken mission: impossible – to create a Doom game honoring the series’ traditions while keeping in step with an FPS landscape transforming rapidly in the wake of Half-Life. While a quick glance at old reviews would seem to indicate an unqualified success, you don’t have to look far to find fans who were less than pleased with the results. After all, Doom 3 is about as much of a traditional FPS as Resident Evil 6 is traditional survival-horror, and sometimes change simply isn’t what players want.
Eight years later and sans expectations, Doom 3: BFG Edition feels like it’s arrived at the perfect time. You get the best looking version of Doom 3 ever presented on consoles, the Resurrection of Evil expansion, a solid new 8 level mini-campaign, plus Doom 1 and 2 with most of their expansions. Though certain elements of this re-release feel dialed in, and some of its visuals and mechanics date it pretty clearly, the quality of the game itself shines through in a way it couldn’t have for players with a Doom 2 sized chip on their shoulder.
Doom 3 casts you as the newest transfer to a civilian research outpost on Mars, where the Union Aerospace Corporation has begun analyzing artifacts excavated from a recent archeological dig. As anyone who’s watched any movie ever could probably have predicted, things take a turn for the demonic pretty quickly, and before long Hell is both figuratively and literally breaking loose all over Mars City.
In 2012, Doom 3: BFG Edition feels like it’s arrived at the perfect time.
Many games drop players into a world on the verge of going awry, but few ever do it as compellingly as Doom 3. Corporate propaganda disguised as public service announcements spews forth from information kiosks as overstressed employees toil at their workstations. You can zip through to make with the shooty-shooty if you like, but taking the time to read in-office correspondences and listen to the well-voiced audio logs invokes a Weyland-Yutani vibe that makes Mars City feel truly doomed before you so much as fire a shot. Doom 3 uses this strong sense of location to get your buy-in early, which makes its sudden decent into madness believable and frightening.
Intelligent (if slightly aggressive) lighting helps thicken the atmosphere, lending the complex an appropriate sense of soulless sterility before the inevitable demonic invasion, and a macabre, horror film menace afterwards. While it isn’t technically impressive by today’s standards, it’s applied artfully, elevating simple monster appearances to the kind of jump scares Resident Evil used to care about delivering. Anyone with a godly gaming PC experienced this back in ’04, but for those who only experienced Doom 3 as a watered-down console release on the original Xbox, BFG Edition is a real treat. Even some PC owners couldn’t have run it on the highest resolution at a blazing 60 frames per second as it’s presented here.
Doom 3 is, in every way, a post-Half Life FPS. It’s impossible to ignore the influence Valve’s opus had on id’s big sequel. The slower pace, the added emphasis on story, and the inclusion of light adventure elements were all radical departures for the franchise. Where Doom 1 and 2 were all about circle strafing while unloading hundreds of rounds into a swarm of imps, Doom 3 is about managing your ammo as you fight one or two at a time. That might sound a bit underwhelming, but the tight quarters and myriad ways in which your foes can ambush you makes it anything but. Enemies lurk behind dense shadows, jump down out of ceiling vents, and crawl through mangled pipelines in every room, keeping you from ever feeling safe.
Adding to this air of desperation is the way Doom 3 adheres to the old tenets of FPS gameplay. Health doesn’t regenerate, and hell knights don’t exactly drop shotgun ammo, so every time you eat a fireball to the face, or hit nothing but air with a volley of plasma bolts, it really hurts. You know that’s another health pack or ammo pickup wasted – consequently, each one of those feels earned. While there’s just enough munitions to scrape by on in plain sight, exploration is handsomely rewarded. Heading down a dimly lit corridor feels terrifying, but knowing there could be a shiny new plasma rifle at the other end of it makes facing the darkness feel entirely worthwhile.
Doom 3 keeps you from ever feeling safe.
This same sense of urgency and risk/reward carries over nicely to the newly added “Lost Missions”. While it’s only a short stint following a member of the ill-fated Bravo team from the main story, it still adds a few more hours of satisfying carnage to an already lengthy campaign.
Unfortunately, for all its merit, BFG Edition fumbles the ball in a number of baffling ways. Load times are atrocious, (particularly on PS3), mandatory auto-saves interrupt gameplay, and there’s absolutely no way to customize your control settings.
The BFG Edition also packs a few bells and whistles in the form of additional content and gameplay tweaks, but it seems like for every step forward, another gets taken back. An option for 3D displays is present, though setups prone to ghosting will suffer from it greatly. Doom 1 and 2 are playable, along with the bulk of their additional campaigns (including Thy Flesh Consumed), but their presentation makes them feel like a bit of an afterthought. Plain, ugly menus sit between thick black bars due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, and there’s no way to return to the title select screen from either, forcing you to quit out and restart BFG entirely. You’ll be thankful that the flashlight in Doom 3 is now a toggle instead of a separate weapon you need to equip, but it no longer casts dynamic shadows, even in the PC version. These are minor issues, but they represent missed opportunities to make BFG Edition the ultimate Doom showcase it rightfully ought to have been.
Doom 3 is a very good game, probably better than you remember. For PS3 owners who’ve never gotten any of this content, it’s a particularly great deal. BFG Edition is a tough sell for the PC crowd, but console jockeys who missed it when it was the next big thing should dive on in. While several nagging issues can make it feel more like a rushed port rather than the definitive director’s cut it should be, there’s no denying that Doom 3 has improved with age.
Farming Simulator 2013 is one of the purest and most focused business simulations I’ve ever played. You own a farm in a country town, and your only goal is to grow crops to make as money without any “final objective” to chase. There are no scores, storylines, cosmetic money sinks (such as new player skins or houses), or other long-term goals. You simply choose a crop from four possible seeds to start your career, plant it in your field, harvest it, sell it and put that cash back into the farm. It’s almost impossible to damage your crops unless you’re not paying attention, so it’s difficult to fail or find yourself in a no-win situation.
Still, you should harvest as much as you can because of the sheer number of investments you can make into your business. There are dozens of licensed vehicles, forty plots of land (of which you only start with one), and additional buildings such as solar collectors and greenhouses that you can sink your money into. As you increase the number of fields you own, it can take more than a dozen tractors and tools to coordinate all the work and minimize downtime. It could take hundreds of hours of work to afford everything, but you have complete freedom in how you accomplish your goal and what your priorities are. Livestock, more or bigger fields, and faster machines are all available, so you’ll have to think about what best suits your particular play style. More valuable crops take extra work and extra machines in order to maximize your profits, so you need to decide whether you’re willing to make the investment or stick to simple but low-value crops. The entire system gives you a tremendous amount of freedom in how to best approach your business, although that first week will be fairly slow-paced.
The most unusual aspect of Farming Simulator 2013 is the complete lack of competition. In a single-player career, there is only you, the farm, and the AI townspeople who wander around but can’t be interacted with. Even in multiplayer, all players work together on a single farm. In both modes, the game will not fail you for slow production or even no production at all. As a result the gameplay is incredibly peaceful, though possibly a bit daunting for newcomers to the series. Admittedly, the act of virtual farming doesn’t sound like it would require a complex series of steps to perform, given that most of your job involves jumping in a tractor, attaching a tool, and slowly driving in straight lines. However, there are subtleties that are under-mentioned or completely undocumented that require some practice to master. AI-controlled workers can be hired for most tasks, and watching how they perform can teach you techniques to use when you get behind the wheel. Hiring those workers is the key to running a successful and profitable farm, especially when you’re trying to manage a half-dozen fields or more at once.
The tutorials will help smooth out the learning curve, but the lessons are a mixed bag. All the tutorials focus solely on controls rather than techniques or theories. By the time you’re done, you’ll know exactly how to drive all your vehicles but not other essential tasks. For example, there are five selling points for your crops around the town, and each accepts different freight. The map doesn’t tell you what each building is, so you’ll have to drive around to learn the lay of the land. The map itself is huge, so you may get mixed up when you first start out. It’s a step backwards; the previous game in the series featured a tutorial that had you take a tour of the town and learn what exactly the buildings did, so it’s strange that it’s not included in this version.
Those aren’t the only presentation missteps. To help keep you busy during those slow early days, you’re given regular “missions” to earn you some extra cash. There is no punishment for failing a mission, and they pay really well when you’re starting out, but they’re executed poorly. There are only two types of missions that ask you to mow some grass or move heavy equipment across the town. The problem is, you don’t have the equipment to perform either mission when you start off with a new career, so you’ll be forced to decline the mission unless you spend all your first-day profits on the machines. Further, the mission types seem a little strange… no missions for delivering certain crops to certain houses? No scrambling to save a field from a pest outbreak? How about a mission where you have to drive your water trailer to assist the fire department to help extinguish a burning building? While reward money is good, mowing grass is incredibly boring, and the mission system simply doesn’t feel rewarding enough.
Despite the documentation and information the developers failed to provide, the community is incredibly friendly and helpful. It takes a certain kind of mentality to play Farming Simulator at length, and that mentality doesn’t lend itself to griefers or trolls. As a result, you can hop into any public game or browse the forums to find dozens of people ready to help you learn the basics and answer your questions.
I’ve joined several multiplayer games of Farming Simulator 2013 blindly and never encountered any player who was unwilling to share helpful tips. Up to nine other players can join a farm that the host has taken online, and all those hands can make a serious difference in how much work gets done. Players can be instantly kicked or banned by the host, and any vehicle or tool can be reset with two clicks of the mouse in the map view, so there is simply no room for players who won’t behave. All money earned goes to the farm owner (the host of the game), so other players are there just to help out and socialize. Without competition in any form, and because any save file can be used in single- or multiplayer, all players naturally gravitate toward helping each other accomplish goals in their farms. It’s a relaxing environment that encourages teamwork and communication above all else.
Graphically, Farming Simulator 2013 is quite far behind the curve, but I suspect no one is getting it for state-of-the-art beauty. All the machines look good and are fantastically animated, but the environment is full of low resolution textures and low-polygon-count objects. It looks better than the previous game in the series, but that’s not saying much. While the graphics are serviceable for the most part, there are blatant draw-in lines that make for some ugly moments. You can’t adjust your draw-in distance in the option screen, so even if you have a top of the line computer, you won’t be able to stand on a hill and watch amber waves of grain sway in the breeze. In fact, while you can usually tell what’s going on with your farm just by the textures, certain states of the land (such as whether it’s wet with fertilizer) are actually cut off with those short-distance draw-in lines. That means you won’t be able to know exactly how much a particular field has grown unless you’re practically on top of it. The map view helps offset this problem, but it’s still a problem that can’t be ignored.
There is no music to speak of, and any sounds in the game are limited to the engines of your vehicles. This helps sell the atmosphere, but your ears may be a little bored. Your best bet is to put on some music while you play.
As with previous entries in the franchise, Farming Simulator 2013 has mod support for future machines, maps, livestock, or buildings. Although mods were sorely lacking for the American release of the previous game, there were several large official DLC releases, so hopefully more content will be available in the coming months.
On paper, Farming Simulator 2013 doesn’t seem all that thrilling, but there’s something intangible that keeps me coming back from more. The combination of the excellent community, unwavering focus on running the business, and the simplicity of the controls and your responsibilities creates a unique business simulation that rewards you proportionally to the amount of work you put into it. I’ve genuinely enjoyed playing it, and I’ll continue to do so even after this review is posted. It’s not the prettiest or deepest business simulator, but it would be folly to just dismiss it because of its subject matter. If you are patient and interested in a relaxing game without absolute winning or losing conditions, give it a try.
By Jon Michael
There’s something a little intimidating about Storm Legion. It’s supposed to be an expansion to Rift, but that’s about as much of an understatement as claiming the British just got itchy feet during the 18th century. Storm Legion adds two new continents, four new souls, seven new dungeons, ten more levels and an ambitious player housing system. When you consider this in light of the fact that Rift only shipped with a single continent, suddenly ’expansion’ seems inadequate.
But there’s very good reason for it: wandering through the original continent is almost claustrophobic, with rifts, quests, and an overabundance of distractions demonstrating quite how little room Trion Wolds left themselves with. Dusken and Brevane, the two new continents, should provide some much needed breathing room for a studio that has been relentless in its content updates since release well over a year ago.
With so much on offer, to expect it all to be incredible would be fool-hardy, and while the majority impresses, there are some missteps on the new continents.
There’s a main quest structure still in place, which will be familiar to the seasoned MMO player, but Rift has moved further and further away from that over the past few months, morphing into something that has its attention fractured between a few too many pursuits. With the Instant Adventure and Looking for Group features both providing the instant gratification of achieving something quest-like at the touch of a button, along with quests that are auto-assigned just by interacting with the world, the amount of tailored experiences start to get lost in a whirlwind of activities all vying for your attention to the point of feeling overwhelming.
Kill an enemy and you start a kill-quest, and interact with any slightly-shimmering object on the floor and you’ll probably have to collect ten of them. It makes the world feel fuller, but doesn’t do much to stand out from the same tired old MMO design that has plagued the genre for years. Better are the story quests which lead you through the ascent of the giant storm dragon Crucia. Right from the off you’re placed in epic battles with giant mechanical dragons and steel constructs, and by the time you’re plumbing the depths of the Golem Foundry the presence of the Storm Legion has been such a constant that you feel as though you’ve got a personal beef with them. Better still are the artefacts; collectibles that encourage you to explore and platform your way around Storm Legion’s beautiful landscapes.
And it is beautiful. Trion’s confidence is thrust right to the forefront and demonstrated with a scale that’s regularly breathtaking. Giant vines weave through the countryside of Brevane, while a perpetual storm darkens Dusken’s barren landscape. They create a sense of place that was often not quite there in Rift’s original areas, which favored fantasy tropes rather than breaking out into something wholly unique.
That confidence extends to the new Souls, one for each of Rift’s classes. They operate like sub-classes, and each class can have three active at any one time. It creates a versatility that allows you to really create a build that suits your play style. Storm Legion’s Souls take this to an extreme, with an eye on the esoteric.
The Mage gets the Harbinger, a Soul that revolves around enhancing the Mage’s trademark staff with ethereal blades, which turns it immediately into a melee class. It’s an impressive move, as it not only completely alters the role of the Mage in groups and raids, but also alters the entire class on a far more fundamental level. Using Eldritch Armor, the majority of channeled spells can now be cast instantly, vastly increasing the damage output of the class. It’s a tradeoff for placing yourself right in harm’s way, and it feels suitably powerful.
The Rogue’s Tactician, similarly, alters the class in a hefty way, providing a unique flavor. Taking cues from the likes of Team Fortress 2’s medic gun, suddenly the Rogue can hose down an area with healing, flame or necrotic damage in a sort of directed AoE that shifts it from being all about single-target DPS to something else entirely. Throw in a bunch of traps and placed contraptions, and the Tactician becomes a pretty interesting prospect.
Less revolutionary are the Warrior and Cleric Souls, Tempest and Defiler respectively. While the Tempest gives the Warrior a little more ranged oomph, it doesn’t have nearly as drastic an effect as the Tactician or Harbinger. The Warrior is still the guy that’s going to take the hits, and deal them out. The Defiler, meanwhile, is a new kind of healing, focused on stacks and ‘links’, where you essentially attach yourself to one target. There are some nice touches like the Beacon of Despair, a placeable construct that takes your aggro and tanks damage but fundamentally you’re still a healer, still supporting.
The dungeons, too, quietly rework the formula of what came before. Complexes like the Empyrean Core go a fair way to creating the illusion of a living compound, with soldiers going about their business and the indoctrination of Storm Legion troops going on around you. It’s not just bosses sitting around waiting for you to murder them, which gives just enough personality to maintain the illusion of a living, breathing area. The fights themselves are kinetic affairs, with lots of AoE nukes to keep you on your toes and make the battles feel fluid. There’s a certain disconnect between that movement and the static nature of spell-casting, but it works to keep things tense and involved. The trash mobs hit hard, and the bosses hit like garbage trucks, as befits any high level dungeon.
And then there’s Storm Legion’s player housing. Of all the things the expansion provides, it’s the Dimensions that most impress, taking the idea of giving players somewhere to relax and instead giving them somewhere to create and show off.
You’re provided a space and then tasked with filling it, taking the bare Dimension and constructing something personal and unique with it. You get items through playing the game — tables, chairs, light fixtures, wooden planks — and then place them in your Dimension wherever you see fit. More than that, you can resize, rotate, even levitate every single one, until you’ve got things exactly as you want them.
Players have already done surprising things with them, and thanks to a rating system and leaderboards, you can visit high-ranking Dimensions right from the get-go. One player decided to turn their Dimension into a wooden maze, elevated towards the ceiling so enterprising players can’t just pan the camera upwards and cheat. Another filled the large lake in the middle of a lagoon with a giant hotel, complete with draconic egg collection in the lobby. This is all just shortly after launch, and with the versatility of the editor it won’t be surprising if truly astonishing constructions start to emerge after a month or two. Player housing is always high on community request lists, but Trion Worlds have truly outdone themselves here.
This leaves Storm Legion in the odd position of being simultaneously impervious and enticing to newcomers. It’s undoubtedly created to serve the existing player base, which it does admirably, providing the space and content they need to stay interested and entertained, but at the same time with systems like Dimensions and an ever-increasing roster of Souls, Rift is looking more and more attractive to those who aren’t already subscribed.
Initially overwhelming, Storm Legion becomes more attractive as you play. The scale of the new continents is impressive, and the wealth of content available means that even if there are some weak points, by and large it’s more hit than miss. But it’s with the addition of Dimensions that Trion Worlds really breaks new ground, providing players with a powerful tool to create truly unique constructions.