With the latest regular update its time to remind myself about Magic Duels, the online version of the tabletop game Magic the Gathering. Does the venerable game translate well? Maybe not.
The tabletop card game Magic has existed for over 20 years and I have played it for a decent amount of that time. Recently I started playing the online computer version Magic Duels, but am less than impressed when comparing it to other computer card games such as Hearthstone or Duelyst. It has all the standard parts of Magic, well-designed and balanced card mechanics, collecting cards, designing decks, duelling real opponents in what can be exciting and close matches. However, instants slow down the game as the computer pauses for possible interrupts (either too fast or too slow depending your plans, or lack thereof) and mana problems are endemic so many games are not competitive. Notably these parts of Magic have been skipped by more recent computer card games to great effect. The game has a slight pay-to-win issue, although mainly for new players trying to collect the increasing backlog of cards. Older players can keep up through regular play and quests to get everything without paying real money. Also there are no draft games (my personal favourite) and opponents have a tendency to quit early if the match goes against them. Overall, Magic Duels is an acceptable translation of the tabletop game, but there are many better, similar online CCG’s available now that have improved the basic formula – try them instead, unless you particularly want Magic (in which case why read this review?).
Magic Duels is out free on the Steam store for PC only. It contains micro-transactions.
Want to go on a fantastical adventure, unleashing magical mayhem as you go? Well-made and fun, but way too fast for me, Magicka has you more than covered.
In Magicka the player is a novice wizard out to save the world by battling monsters. I can’t say much more about the story, because I find this game insanely hard. After several hours of painfully slow progress, I have given up. This is not because it is a bad game, just one that requires fast and accurate keystrokes. Well into my middle-age, I do not have the reflexes to play it well. The issue is that to cast a spell you have to type a set of keys representing which of the 8 in-game elements (water, fire, life, ice, etc) to include, plus a target, plus a optional boost. There are various pickups in the game to add extra abilities (and keystrokes) and special spells. There is tons of DLC and multiplayer modes (including coop), but I didn’t try any of them. The gameplay is basic monster fighting, largely on rails. However, the fights are quite interesting and feel substantially different to each other. A big part of successful fighting is working out the best spell combinations for each fight/enemy. The story is also mildly humorous. A good game, but too much button-mashing for me.
Magicka is out on the Steam store for PC only at US$9.99. It has been bundled.
Alien Breed: Impact manages to create a tense isometric shooter game inspired by Aliens, but is somewhat let down by controls.
This top-down shooter scores top marks for evoking the feel of being trapped on a failing spaceship infested with aliens. The decent but dark graphics, irregular save points and long missions interspersed with surges of aliens works well. However, a few things prevent this from being a totally positive review. Mostly the problem is the controls! The camera is positioned behind the player, so to move (and face) in the opposite direction, the camera must be swung around by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen. This is fine when nothing is happening, but in the thick of the action while under heavy alien assault it can mean temporarily facing away from the enemy in or to just see them properly – very annoying and often lethal. Each of the 5 missions are quite long (around an hour) and you often find yourself backtracking. Saving only occurs at certain points which means significant progress can be lost on player death – not sure if this is a bad thing or not (it certainly ramps up the tension). There is an ok story line and a co-op mode. A decent little game – not a great game, but definitely worthwhile.
Alien Breed: Impact is out on the Steam store for PC only at US$9.99. It has been bundled.
Like transporting cargo across the galaxy? Well you are in luck, because that is the entirety of better-than-it-sounds Space Run Galaxy, with short, action-oriented tower defense (huh?) gameplay.
In Space Run Galaxy you are a member of an intergalactic transport company. Various organisations give you cargo of various sizes and configurations to be moved to another star system. These are placed upon your 2D hex based ship before starting the 5-10 minute journey to the destination. Along the way you are attacked in tower defense style, with waves of enemies coming in known patterns. Also like tower defense you can place various equipment (guns, engines, repairers, etc) on your ship to defend it and these then act independently of your command. This gameplay loop is repeated ad nauseam. There is a campaign, but the missions are all the same – move stuff. Items and ships can be levelled up by the purchase of resources and then crafting improvements. The issue is that resources stay where they were acquired unless moved (see basic gameplay loop). This means the game can become a bit of a grind with much time spend moving items around in order to progress. Or, you could get other players to move them for you. This highly integrated online component is limited to transport contracts, but means the game requires a constant link with game servers – ensure you have a good Internet connection! I’m not sure the extra missions available from player contracts is worth it – they are all just the same as the campaign missions and just seem like more of a grind. This game has a good idea, well implemented, but has perhaps given up too much single-player balance for its always online additions.
Space Run Galaxy is out on the Steam store for PC only at US$19.99. It has been bundled.
The original Portal was a FPS puzzler of near perfection, can lighting strike twice with its sequel? When using portals, definitely!
Playing this is as close to gaming perfection I have ever managed. I found myself getting lost occasionally in the middle transitional levels – that is the only negative thing to say about Portal 2 – everything else is praise. The FPS gameplay is super smooth. The puzzles are just right. They take a little thought and make the player feel like a genius once solved, but never get so hard as to cause frustration and rage-quitting. There are lots of little extras and hidden features. The story is entertaining. Glados is one of the best computer game villains ever. The new character Wheatley is good too. It is actually a funny game – a rare achievement. Seriously, if you haven’t played this, you should. Don’t just take my word for it. According to Steam it has a 98% approval rating and completion rate of 37% – a huge number (it is normally under 10%, my game has a completion rate of <1%). Highly recommended.
Portal 2 is out on the Steam store for PC, Mac and Linux at US$19.99.